Sunday, December 16, 2007

Random Acts of Kindness

Christmastime is here! The season of giving! When I was a kid, I used to think that Christmas was about eating good food and getting great gifts! Well, it's still about eating good food but somewhere along my journey to adulthood, I've realized that it's not about getting gifts, it's about giving gifts. Buying (or making) a gift for somebody, watching them open it, and seeing the expression on their face is more fun than getting a gift any day. What I've also found is that giving a gift when you can't see the person or don't even know who the person is, can also be fun! Some people refer to these gifts as "random acts of kindness".

I've always been a fan of random acts of kindness, yet I don't "walk the walk" as often as I should. This got me thinking, "What can I do to spread some Christmas cheer?" I recently read on the side of a Starbucks cup that if you were driving through a toll both you could pay for the car behind you. That's a great idea, but we don't have too many toll roads in Minnesota. Hmmmm, what else? Then it struck me, the next time I go through the drive through at Starbucks, I'll pay for the person behind me!

A few days later I found myself in the drive through at Starbucks. A car pulled up behind me and the person driving ordered a drink. When I arrived at the window I asked the cashier if I could pay for the person behind me. He looked a little shocked and said, "Ummmmmm, yeah." After he took my money, he asked, "Just out of curiosity, do you know the person behind you?" I said, "No, this is just a random act of kindness." What he said next caught me by surprise. "Wow, that's really cool. I haven't ever seen anybody do that before. That makes me want to go do a random act of kindness." I thought to myself "That's what it's all about!"

It wasn't about me performing one random act of kindness. It's about the cashier and the person behind me seeing a random act of kindness and then maybe doing something for somebody else themselves. You never know, you might perform a random act of kindness toward someone that is considering suicide and you're one little act is enough to get them to reconsider and realize that there really are good people in life.

Maybe you're saying to yourself, "That's great, but I can't afford to be driving through Starbucks or buying people lunches all the time." That's okay, random acts of kindness don't have to cost anything. Just the other day I saw a girl spill some tea at a store in the mall. The girl who spilled the tea laughed about it and walked away, leaving a puddle of tea all over the floor. A different girl walked up, grabbed some napkins and cleaned up the mess. She didn't say anything to the people working at the store, I don't even think they had noticed yet. She just cleaned it up with a smile on her face. Not only did she perform a random act of kindness to the store employee that would have to clean it up later, but she did it with a smile!

Now, I told you about the random act of kindness that I did as an example. I think it's important that you're not doing it as a bragging tool to your friends. Random acts of kindness need to be just that.....random. You don't need to tell anybody about it, just know in your heart that you've done something to brighten up somebody else's day.

It's the season of giving! Go do something random!

Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

My New Extreme Sport!

It's officially winter in Minnesota as we got about six inches of snow on Saturday and another four to five inches already today! I know a lot of people moan and groan about how cold it's going to be and how traffic is going to be bad but I look at it as an adventure.

Earlier this summer I bought a new mountain bike and enjoyed beating myself up on the bike trails so I decided that I am going to make biking a wintertime activity as well. Today I went and bought some cold weather biking pants and a balaclava to keep my head warm under my helmet. Usually this time of year most people are running to the outdoor shops to buy new ski clothes or maybe a new snowboard so I'm sure the people at the bike and ski shop that I went to laughed a little when I came in asking if they had any bicycling pants.

I got home and put on my cold weather clothes and pulled my bike out. Keep in mind that it was still snowing and only the main roads had been plowed. It took a little getting used to constantly slipping and sliding (and a few falls) but after a while it became a lot of fun and a great workout! I got a few strange looks but I didn't care, I felt like a kid again out playing in the snow and having fun!

With another four to five months of cold weather ahead there so much to do, snowshoeing, downhill skiing, and my new favorite wintertime activity.....extreme bicycling!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Wright Brothers Would be Proud!

The new Airbus 380 stopped by the Minneapolis/St Paul Int'l Airport this week. It arrived on Monday evening. On Tuesday, it did a demonstration flight with several local media personnel and a lot of Northwest Airlines uppity ups. I'm sure Airbus had hopes that Northwest would order a few of these new airplanes. Today it left MSP at around 10 AM and headed out to Los Angeles, CA to continue it's tour.

I decided to drive out to the MSP airport today to watch it take-off. I showed up with my handheld scanner in hand and my camera around my neck. I stood out in the frigid cold with all the other aviation nerds waiting for this huge airplane to take-off. There were about 45 people standing up on a hill near the end of the runway, a lot of them brought their cameras, a few others brought scanners as well to listen to the pilots receive their take off clearance.

Although we couldn't see the body of the airplane where it was parked, at nearly 80 feet tall, we could see the tail protruding over other buildings. As the A380 taxied out to runway 30L, it finally came into full view and I have to say, it is very impressive. As you may know, it is a "double decker" airplane, much like those "double decker" tour buses you might see in Europe. Unlike the double deck tour buses though, the A380 has a roof over the second level. It weighs over 1.2 million pounds at it's maximum take-off weight and will carry about 525 people over 8,000 nautical miles.

After it taxied on to the runway we heard the tower controller on the scanner say "Airbus 380 Super, runway 30L, fly runway heading, cleared for take-off." We could see the dust start to fly behind the A380 as it started it's take-off roll. With a very light load, it lifted off about half-way down the 10,000 foot long runway. Because of it's size, it looked like it was going very slow when it was actually accelerating through over 200 MPH as it flew overhead. It turned to the west and left a cool vortex in the clouds as it was climbing out.

It's been just over 100 years since Orville and Wilbur Wright flew the first airplane and I have to say, we've come a long way since then. Although I may never get the chance to fly an Airbus 380, it sure was fun to see one of the biggest passenger planes in the world right here in my hometown.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Giving Thanks

Well, if you watch TV today and turn to your favorite news station you'll probably see some 3rd chair reporter sent out to the airport to do the big "Thanksgiving Day Rush" story. He'll talk about how long the lines are at the airport. Haven't the lines been long since 9/11? He'll also talk about how it's going to snow somewhere and it's going to affect the departures and arrivals to certain airports. Well, it is November and it tends to snow in the winter time.

You may also hear stories of how bad traffic will be on the roads and how expensive gas is. As far as I can figure, most people aren't working on Thanksgiving or the day after and those same people are driving somewhere else to visit family so, it's probably going to equal out. I don't foresee any big traffic jams because there's a turkey in someones oven. As a matter of fact, Thanksgiving is probably the biggest carpooling day ever because everyone is driving around and they at least have their significant other or more likely, the whole family, in the car with them.

As far as gas goes, it's been expensive for a while, it might be an extra $0.05/gallon but what's that equal per tank, an extra $1....maybe an extra $3 if you're driving a motor home. Not a big deal.

So, if you have to travel today or tomorrow, take it from somebody who travels for a living. Don't freak out about things, show up at the airport, get on the plane, go fly somewhere. Get in your car, if traffic slows down, slow down with it. What's the hurry? When you're on your way to visit your family and you get to the gas station, be thankful that there's someone working there to take your money instead of being at home with their family.

If you're reading this blog on a computer, consider yourself blessed. Be thankful for everything you have, sure there may be some people that have more than you, but there's a lot of people that aren't nearly as blessed as you are....and they're not wasting their time reading my blog.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Banks and Grocery Stores

Yesterday a TCF bank located in a South St Paul Cub Foods grocery store was robbed. What's funny about the story is that the bank was robbed twice. Not twice in the last year, not twice in the last month, it was robbed twice.......yesterday!

According to the news article it was robbed by two different people. The police investigator and FBI had literally just left the store and minutes later, a different fellow walks in with a gun and demands money. The first guy said he had a gun, apparently the second man showed them a gun.

How do you think the first robber felt when he heard that the same bank he robbed was robbed later that same day? Maybe this went through his head, "I thought I got all the money, they had more money that they didn't give me?" Should he go back to the bank and complain? "Yeah, I was the one who robbed you earlier today, I hear you gave more money to another robber this afternoon? When I said, give me all your money, I meant all of your money! I didn't mean, leave some money for the next robber. Can I see your manager?"

As I said earlier, this bank was located within a grocery store. Why are there so many banks in grocery stores? Who decided that would be a good idea? I guess they want people to get all their errands done at once. What if it were the other way around though? A grocery store inside of a bank. If someone went to a bank manger and said, "I'd like to install a grocery store in your bank, would that be okay?" I'd imagine the bank manager would just laugh as he escorted the man out of the building. Yet, a bank inside of a grocery store....that's a good idea.

As of late, they haven't found either of the robbers. Maybe the robber went to the bank at the grocery store because they needed money for groceries and they figured it was a "two birds with one stone" type of thing. Wouldn't it be funny if while the FBI is at the bank investigating the robbery, the robber is in the dairy aisle picking up some milk for dinner.

I think I'm going to stick with grocery stores without banks for a while, of course, what if someone robs the grocery store?

Monday, November 05, 2007

What Time Is It?

Well, yesterday was the big test to see how well adults follow directions. I'm pretty sure "they" purposely have daylight saving times on the weekend so if you screw it up, you have all day Sunday to try and figure out why you just missed the first hour of the football game. I'm not really sure why "they" have daylight saving time. Do people know that changing the time doesn't change how long the sun shines on us during the day?

I'm sure it's published somewhere but the weekend that we all change our clocks always seems to be a rumor that's just floating around. You never see it on a calender or anything, you just hear it from random people, "Hey, don't forget to change your clock tonight." You might hear from your local weather person on the news or read it in the newspaper but you'd think something like this would be published on all the calendars. My desk calendar tells me important things like when the moon is going to be full, but not when the entire nation is going to change the current time.

Then there's the clocks that automatically change, I really hate those things. Because of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 that Bush signed into law, we're now "falling back" an entire week later so some of the clocks in my house were an hour off when I woke up last week . I wish none of the clocks changed automatically because now I have to remember which clocks I have that change automatically and change them by an hour the week before daylight saving time to accommodate for them automatically changing when they're not supposed to, then I have to change them on my own anyway a week later. What happens if you change a clock that was going to change on it's own but you didn't know it? Now you wake up and your two hours off.

When I was a kid my dad and I were going to go deer hunting the Sunday of daylight saving time. For some reason "fall back" didn't sound right but "fall forward" sounded good to us so we set our clocks forward an hour before we went to bed. We awoke and got out to the forest we were going to hunt in at 5 AM. Well, we thought it was 5 AM but when we noticed that there wasn't any hint of the sun coming up we realized it was actually 3 AM, not 5 AM.

As a pilot, we use a standard time year round. It's called UTC which stands for Universal Coordinated time. It's also known as "Zulu" time. It never changes.....ever. If I told you to call me at 1000 Zulu time, regardless of where you were in the world, it would be 1000 Zulu where I am. There's no AM/PM crap, it's a 24 hour clock, it's actually very simple. I think the whole world should use that to simplify things. Of course, your kid might be going to school at 1300 instead of 0800 but it would still be in the morning when the sun is coming up.

Well, I'm running late for an appointment.....actually, what time is it?

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Who is Your Hero?

According to Merriam-Webster, the definition of hero is this: a man admired for his achievements and noble qualities or one that shows great courage. So it makes me think, who are our heroes and what qualifies them as a hero?

Some people consider a hero to be their favorite musician or maybe a sports celebrity. I don't know about you but whenever I hear about how Brittney Spears hit a car and drove off or how OJ Simpson got arrested for assault with a deadly weapon it makes me wonder, are these who people are looking up to?

I don't think you have to look very far to find a hero. Walk through your neighborhood and talk to your neighbors. Are there any teachers on your street? What about a policeman or fireman? What about soldiers who are serving in the war?

I learned the other day that teachers on average spend between $500-1000 each year buying supplies for their kids. The average teacher salary in Minnesota is $49,906. That doesn't seem like a lot of money for someone who is responsible for the education of our future, yet people still teach with a passion despite their small wages. Are teachers heroes? I think so.

What about a policeman or fireman? In 2000, the starting salary for a Minnesota State Trooper was $39,396. Someone who is driving hundreds of miles everyday, standing on the side of the road with cars flying by at 70 MPH, helping someone change their flat tire, walking up to a car not knowing if the person driving is a known felon and has a gun, searching a house for a guy who is high on meth. Are these people heroes? I think so.

I learned after the I-35W bridge collapse in Minneapolis that one of the men that died was from the town I live in. I consider this man a hero, not because he died on the bridge but how he died. You see, he survived the collapse of the bridge, yet he saw some other people who were struggling and examiners believe he died trying to save someone else.

I recently read a newspaper article that talked about a soldier who threw himself onto a grenade that landed in their truck in order to soften the blow to his fellow soldiers. With a split second decision, he sacrificed his life for the life of others. Whether you agree with the war or not, this man is a hero.

Even if you don't know a teacher or a soldier. Everyone should have a hero in their life, someone to look up to. I'm fortunate to have two heroes, my mom and dad. Two people who taught me everything I need to know about life and still loved me when I screwed up. Two people who sacrificed time and money in order for me to succeed. Are these people heroes? I think so.

Who is your hero?

Saturday, September 08, 2007

I Flew Under the Golden Gate Bridge!

A few days ago, I was in San Francisco, CA sitting in the cockpit of the 737 I fly. We were about to take off on runway 1R. It was my leg and I was excited to go flying! The tower controller cleared us for takeoff. As we started rolling down the runway, a huge smile came over me because I knew what we were about to do.

As soon as we lifted off the ground, we put the landing gear up, retracted the flaps, and I leveled off about 400 feet above the ground and accelerated to over 300 MPH. We flew over the San Francisco Bay for a while. After that we buzzed the downtown area, coming within 100 feet of the buildings going over 300 MPH! After we got back over the bay I dropped the plane to the deck and aimed for the Golden Gate Bridge.

As we approached the bridge I got the plane down to 30 feet above the water. I was being careful not to bank too much because I didn't want the wings to hit the water as that would mean a sure disaster. As we approached one of the most famous bridges in the world, we were now going over 350 MPH! As we passed under the bridge I can only imagine what the people watching this were thinking, "Did I just see a 737 fly under the Golden Gate Bridge?" After we flew under the bridge we had a lot of built up speed (which equals energy) so I pulled back and banked to the left. Now we were climbing at over 6000 feet per minute! What a thrill! Probably something I'll never get to do again!

You may be asking yourself, "Is this legal?" No, it's not legal and I would have been fired for that little stunt had I not been in the simulator for my annual recurrent training. As you can imagine, flying under the Golden Gate Bridge is not part of recurrent training. After we had finished all the training required for the day, we had some extra time and the instructor asked us if there was anything else we wanted to do. I said, "I've always wanted to fly under the Golden Gate Bridge." So, they repositioned the "airplane" to the runway in SFO and I got to live another one of my dreams!

Play the video below to see what flying under the Golden Gate Bridge looked like!

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Going to the Doctor

This morning I made a visit to my favorite AME (Aviation Medical Examiner) to have my aviation medical certificate renewed for another six months. For some reason I always find trip a little amusing.

My favorite part is the urine sample you have to give. There's always so much pressure go. You know that on the other side of the door the nurse is standing there just waiting for you to fill up the 2 ounce jar they give you. I know there's only one nurse but for some reason, when I'm in the bathroom I think that my nurse has called over all the other nurses and they have little bets going on how long it's going to take me to fill up the cup.

That brings me to another question, how much of a sample do they need? Do they want a whole jar of urine? I can give them a whole jar if they need it but that seems a bit excessive. Obviously they need more then a couple drops though. Today I split the difference and gave them half a jar. Is there anything more humiliating then walking out of a public bathroom with a cup of your own pee and handing it to the nurse? And then they get to do there own little science experiment with it, sticking all sorts of different Ph papers into it to see what kind of horrible disease I might have. You're just standing there waiting for the nurse to look at you like you're about to die.

Then they say, "You can wash your hands if you'd like to." I wonder to myself, "Does anyone ever not wash their hands at the doctors office when a nurse is watching?" My hands are never so clean as when I just finished washing my hands at the doctors office. I scrub them like I'm getting ready to perform surgery. I use soap twice, I'm lathering up my arms, after five minutes of scrubbing my hands the nurse finally says to me, "Ummmm, are you about ready?"

Then comes the hearing test, where they put you into a sound booth and give you some headphones and say, "just click the button whenever you hear three beeps." Oh, I try so hard for this test, like my life depends on it. Some of the beeps are obvious but then you start thinking, did I just hear one and by the time you think you heard one you click the button during another set of beeps. The rest of the year I couldn't care less how well I hear stuff but all of the sudden I'm trying to be the bionic man in this booth listening to a squeal so high a dog can't even hear it. Then my stomach growled and I thought I missed a beep because my stomach was louder then any of the beeps. After they tested my right ear they started testing my left ear although I could swear I could still hear beeping in my other ear.

Finally after all the testing with the nurse, it's time to see the big man, the head honcho, the doctor! When he first walks in, I put down the latest version of a magazine I'd never think of subscribing to. We have a little chit chat about life, sports, whatever, trying to have a grown up conversation when all I'm thinking about is how in 5 minutes this guy is going to ask me to pull down my pants.

After a quick check with the doctor I'm on my way for another six months! I better start studying for my next hearing exam!

Friday, August 24, 2007

My Radio Debut

Yesterday I made a trip to the Minnesota State Fair. My main goal was to sit and watch my favorite radio show, Garage Logic. It's an AM talk show and everybody who listens is a citizen of Garage Logic where everything that needs to discussed can be discussed in the garage. Garage Logic is the seat of Gumption County, down the road from Diversityville, but not as far as Liberal Lakes. It's a place where common sense prevails, the 2-car garage is revered and cigar smoking is allowed.

During their broadcast from the State Fair they bring in many different guests. Yesterday, one of the guests was a man named Scott Flansburg, also known as the "Human Calculator". To say this guy is quick at math is to say the Mississippi River is damp. His ability to do math problems is incredible. He is literally quicker than a calculator. You can even give him your birth date and he'll tell you in a matter of seconds what day of the week you were born on (which also gives him the nickname the "Human Calendar").

Towards the end of the segment they allowed a few audience members to ask questions, I was fortunate enough to ask the first question. To know that your voice is going out on 50,000 Watts of AM power is a little intimidating. Fortunately for myself, I had "played DJ" enough when I was a kid to not totally screw it up. If you'd like to listen to my radio debut, click here. Once you get it pulled up go to 33:57 and you'll be able to hear my question shortly thereafter. If you'd like to hear the whole segment with the Human Calculator, go to 15:10 and you can hear his incredible ability.

As much as I think being a DJ would be cool, after I heard myself on the radio, I realized that I shouldn't quit my day job.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Proud to be a Minnesotan

Last week Minneapolis made national news with the collapse of the I-35W bridge that connects downtown Minneapolis to the northern suburbs. It is truly a tragedy whenever multiple people die and several others are injured. I was fortunate to not have known anybody who was on the bridge during the collapse but the people who were on the bridge and their families are in my prayers.

It's times like these when race, sex, and religion get thrown out the window and everyone helps everybody else. Times like these put other things in life into perspective. When you have to stand in line for 8 minutes at your favorite coffee shop, when the waiter at the restaurant gets your order wrong, or when your flight is delayed a couple hours. All of a sudden, things like that don't seem to matter as much.

What makes me proud about being a Minnesotan during times like these is hearing the stories of people on the bridge and others from nearby. I haven't heard any stories of people running away from the bridge after it's collapse. I have only heard of people running to help those in need. Even people who were on the bridge when it collapsed helped those who were injured worse than themselves. That's truly what "Minnesota nice" is all about. Not only does it make me proud to be a Minnesotan, but proud to be an American.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Now I'm in the big bucks!

A few days ago I had an overnight in Dallas/Fort Worth, TX. The next day we had a very early departure to Newark so myself and the rest of the crew left for the airport around 0500. When we arrived, we went through the typical pre-flight duties that we all have. The captain went to operations to retrieve the paperwork, the flight attendants were pre-flighting their emergency equipment in the cabin, and I got the cockpit ready and then went outside to do a pre-flight walk-around.

I started my walk-around and noticed a police car at the back of the plane with a cop leaning against the hood. I thought this was rather odd, either there was some security concern that I wasn't aware of or our tabs were expired.

I didn't think much of it and noticed a man in dress clothes watching some cargo being loaded. I figured he was probably a manager doing a cargo audit. Then I noticed that he didn't have any sort of ID which is required to be out on the ramp. I asked him about his ID and the police officer said that he was with him.

I started looking at what they were loading into the cargo compartment and couldn't figure out exactly what it was. There were a bunch of briefcase sized packages but they were wrapped in dark packaging and I wasn't able to see what was inside. The man that was counting the packages being loaded said to me, "Here, hold one of these." He handed me one of the packages which was a lot heavier than it looked. I asked, "Well, this is neat but what is it." He said, "You're holding $880,000 in your hands."

I was pretty amazed at how much money I had in my hands but what shocked me more was how many of these cases they were loading. There was literally an entire baggage cart full of these things. I asked him how much money was being loaded he said, "$92 million in $50 bills." My jaw dropped wide open!

What I thought was funny is how he was counting each case of money being loaded. One would think they would have fancy scanners and computers ensuring that each case was accounted for. Instead, this guy had one of those cheap little mechanical counters that you might see a high school kid using at a movie theatre on a busy Friday night.

Before I finished my pre-flight I chatted with the police officer and asked him what the story was with the money. He said it came from the mint in Fort Worth, TX and was on it's way to New York, NY. Apparently New York City was running short on $50's and we were in charge of transporting them in what would be, at least for the next three hours, one of the largest armored vehicles.

When I got back in the cockpit I told the captain about all the money we had on board. We briefly discussed flying to Mexico and never coming back but decided against it. After we pushed back and started taxiing to the runway we noticed that the police car was following us with it's lights on. I felt pretty special to have a police escort to the runway.

After an uneventful flight to Newark we landed and parked at the gate where there were more police officers and guards waiting to take the money. I guess they didn't want to leave the unloading to a ramp guy making $6 an hour. I was a little disappointed that we didn't get some sort of percentage for safely transporting this valuable cargo, even 1% would have been fine with me.

Next time I have an overnight in Dallas/Forth Worth, there's a chance we might transport more money, so if you don't ever hear from me again, you might have to come look for me in Mexico. Drinks are on me!

Saturday, June 23, 2007

"Breaking News"......well, almost.

The other day in my hotel room I woke up and turned on the news. The "Breaking News" of the day was a helicopter shot of Paris Hilton's house. The banner on the bottom of the screen said something to the affect of "Judge sends Paris Hilton back to jail for 45 days." I think this was the second, or was it the third time, that she'd be sentenced to 45 days in jail. First, her 45 day sentence was reduced to something like 23 days. Then she got released after 2-3 days because she had some sort of rash that apparently no prison doctor has ever seen and didn't have the know how to deal with.

Then there was Anna Nicole Smith who apparently died while legally taking nine different prescription drugs. I can't tell you how saddened I was by her death, it was really hard to get up in the morning knowing that I wasn't going to see her smiley face on the television saying something like "TrimSpa baby!" Now there's a catchy slogan. Little did I know that I was going to hear about who the father of her kid was and where she should be buried for the next month and a half.

My big question is, who really cares how long Paris Hilton is going to be in jail or where Anna Nicole Smith was going to be buried? Whatever happened to real news like a firefighter jumping out of a window as the house blew up while trying to save the lives of little children inside. Or a dramatic rescue by the US Coast Guard swooping in and lifting someone off the roof of their house as it begins to flood.

Maybe a story about what the firefighters and police officers from New York City are doing now, six years after 9/11. My guess is they are still out there saving people everyday, just not quite as dramatically as they did back in 2001. I guess until then I'll sit by my television waiting to see who the next celebrity is that goes to the clink.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Flying South of the Border!

Last weekend my career as an airline pilot took me to a new level. As a matter of fact, it took me to a city I have never heard of before, Guayaquil, Ecuador. A lot of people seem to think you aren't a real airline pilot unless you fly internationally. I personally don't really care where I go, as a matter of fact, I prefer to stay in the United States where I can speak the language, eat whatever I want, and be home in a couple of hours if I have to. For some reason though I was looking forward to this trip. It was my first time going south of the equator, first time to a new continent, this felt like a real international trip. Sure, I've been to the Caribbean and some of the exotic vacation destinations in Mexico but this was different.

We left the gate a little late in Houston, TX due to a weight and balance issue but after we got it figured out we were off. We made our way out over the Gulf of Mexico, passed over Merida, Mexico, then south towards Belize City, Belize, we continued toward Tegucigalpa, Honduras, right over Managua, Nicaragua, then towards Liberia, Costa Rica, finally passed over Quito, Ecuador and then crossed the equator just before we started our descent into Guayaquil.

About half-way to Guayaquil I left the cockpit to use the restroom. For security reasons we (and all airlines) have a flight attendant go into the cockpit when one person leaves so he or she doesn't get locked out. As I was about to go back into the cockpit, the flight attendant who was in there opened the door to come out. As she opened the door I heard a loud scream and then she closed the door. I couldn't figure out what had gone wrong but a few seconds later she opened the door and I entered the cockpit. In passing I asked the flight attendant what was going on, she said, "Nothing." When I got inside I noticed the captain sitting on her seat with her feet up. I asked, "What's going on?" She said, "A huge cockroach just crawled out from your seat, walked across the lower pedestal and is now under my seat." Now, I'm not a huge fan of small bugs, and I'm definitely not a fan of big bugs! I asked, "Do those things fly?" She said, "Yes, they fly, and they're huge!" Not wanting to sit down and leave myself vulnerable to an attack, I stood in the back part of the cockpit hoping I would see it and be able to kill it. I took out my flashlight and shined it down by the captains seat and then noticed it walking around by my feet. I started jumping up and down until it stopped moving. I was glad to have killed it but was still a little leery that he may have brought friends.

Once we were south of Quito we went into a non-radar environment. Being non-radar isn't a big deal, but it does make for some more work on the part of the air traffic controller and the pilots part. It involves making position reports and time estimates of your next fixes. With no one else flying into Guayaquil during our arrival time we got right in and taxied to the gate.

Our hotel van was waiting for us and we took the 15 minute ride to the hotel. Once we arrived the captain and I decided to spend some time at the hotel casino. I'm not a big gambler but I decided to donate $20 to the blackjack table. It made for about an hour of entertainment but the only thing I took away with me was the smell of smoke in my clothes.

The next morning I awoke and was anticipating the huge breakfast buffet that other pilots had told me about. I rushed downstairs and was awed by the huge spread they had, and did I mention, it was free! I spent the next hour sampling over a dozen freshly squeezed juices, tables of fruits and breads, waffles, pancakes, several different types of meat, and omelets made to order! Who says there's no such thing as a free lunch?

Since I had stayed out late and got up early, I was desperately wanting a nap but since we were doing a red-eye flight back I wanted to save my nap for later. I spent about an hour in the hotel gym and then decided to go lay out by the pool. After getting my fair share of South American sun, I went back to my room and slept for about four hours. After my nap, the captain and I decided to go to a steak restaurant across the street.

We found our way to the restaurant and I noticed that the "doorman" also happened to have a handgun on his hip. I'm a big fan of security but this guy didn't seem like security, he just seemed like someone who works for the restaurant and likes to have a gun with him. Either way, he apparently didn't see us as a threat and welcomed us to the restaurant. It was a good thing the captain I was with spoke a little Spanish because there was no English speaking people anywhere to be found. I ordered the one thing I recognized, fillet mignon. When it appeared that our waiter was asking what else I wanted with it, I heard him say "papa fritas" and I remember that being french fries from my two years of high school Spanish. The food was delicious and the bill was even better! For two pieces of fillet mignon, vegetables, and "papa fritas" the grand total was $10!

We headed back to the hotel and got ready to go back to the airport. After I put my uniform on, I walked outside to get on the hotel van. I noticed an old beat up Toyota pickup truck sitting behind the hotel van with two shady looking characters sitting inside it. I didn't think much of it until we left the hotel and the truck started following us. The hotel van had to make several U-turns on the way to the airport and this truck continued to follow us. I was starting to get worried and I told the captain, "This truck has been following us since the hotel." The captain said to me, "Yeah, that's hotel security." Why didn't someone tell me we were going to be followed by hotel security. I was thinking we were about to get blown up by one of those suicide bombers that always seem to be driving those old beat up Toyota pickup trucks.

After we arrived at the airport we cleared customs and security. Then I saw what is probably the best marketing idea I've seen in an airport. There is no way to get into the terminal after clearing security without walking through the duty free store. What a great idea! I fell for their little scheme and bought some chocolates which I thought were some sort of exotic chocolate only available in South America, turns out I could have bought them at our local Sam's Club.

We took off at 1:00 AM and arrived back in Houston at 7:00 AM. By 11:30 AM I was back in Minneapolis sleeping in my own bed! I guess you can call me a "real" airline pilot now because I've done a big international trip. I have to say it was fun, but I'll still take an Omaha overnight any day.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Commuting to Work

A lot of people commute to work. As a matter of fact, if you work anywhere, odds are that you have some sort of commute to make. Some commutes are short and some are long. My dad drives about two miles to his office, my brother rides his bicycle six miles to his office every day in order to save on gas and get a little exercise. I know some people who spend one hour in their car to get to their workplace. As an airline pilot who lives in Minneapolis and is based in Newark, my personal commute involves driving twenty minutes to the airport and then hopping on a plane for a 2 1/2 hour flight to where I'm based.

Usually, flying to work is pretty easy. I show up to the airport and hop on one of several non-stop flights to my base. Of course there's more involved than just hopping on a plane. I have to check to see how many open seats there are on a flight, check to see if there's any adverse weather that would affect my flight, and of course, I have to leave a couple back up flights in case my first choice flight gets canceled or oversold. I also might have to leave the day before if there aren't any flights that get me to work on time, I may also have to come home the day after a trip if I get in after the last flight of the day back home has already left. All this along with showing up an hour or so before the flight makes commuting a very time consuming process.

My last commute to work didn't go quite how I was planning. I had to be at work on Thursday afternoon at 1:00 PM. On Wednesday night after all the passenger airline flights had left I decided to check how many open seats there were for the next days flights. I had three flights that would get me to work on time. Earlier in the day the flights had quite a few open seats and things looked good. But something must have happened after the last flight of the day because suddenly, all my flights were oversold by several people with dozens of passengers on the standby list. I also noticed that there were several other pilots listed for the flights so it was going to be a fight for the jump seats. Oh, and there were thunderstorms forecast for my departure city.

There's another airline that flies boxes late at night that we're very fortunate to be able to ride on. I called them to see if I could take a red-eye out to my base instead of worrying about the flights the next day. It would mean being up all night long and sleeping in the crew room the next day before my coast to coast flight but it would also mean an almost guaranteed seat to work. I decided to take the red-eye freight plane. Fortunately I was already packed and all I had to do was shave, throw my uniform on, and head to the airport.

It's customary to bring cookies to the pilots of this airline whenever you jump seat with them, so I stopped at a bakery (actually, it was a gas station that had a bakery section) and picked up some cookies for the crew. I actually had to pick up enough cookies for four people because my flight was going to stop in Chicago along the way and there was most likely going to be a different crew bringing me the rest of the way.

I introduced myself to the crew in the weather room and we made our way out to the plane. I felt like Tom Hanks in the movie Cast Away as I was walking up the steps to get on the plane. I was pretty sure though that we weren't going to crash in the ocean on a flight between Minneapolis and Newark.

As the pilots did their pre-flight, and the ground crew loaded all the big cargo crates, I tried to stay out of the way. I'm always amazed at what a smooth operation it is. It runs just like a passenger plane, except with boxes instead of passengers. After a quick safety demo by the first officer (yes, even cargo airplanes have to give safety demos to jump seaters on how to use everything in case of an emergency), the ground crew closed up all the cargo doors, verified everything was okay with the flight crew and we were off.

Most big cargo planes have some jump seats behind the cockpit along with a couple jump seats in the cockpit. Just like on a passenger plane, we're required to ride in the back unless those seats are full, then we're allowed to sit in the cockpit. Flying on a cargo plane is a lot like riding in the back of a semi-truck, kind of cold, loud, and there's only one small window on either side so it's very hard to figure out where you are. I was the only jump seater and there was a row of 4 jump seats where I was sitting, so after we got going I folded them all down into a makeshift bed.

I made friends with a moth that stowed away on the flight, also hoping for a free ride. We quickly became enemies though when he started buzzing around my head while I was trying to sleep. After I showed him the front page of a magazine he seemed to be content lying, very motionless, on the floor. I let the turbulence from the storms we were flying around rock me back to sleep and before I knew it, we were arriving in Chicago.

I sat up and put my shoulder harness and seat belt on before we landed. We taxied to the "gate", actually, it's more of a big parking ramp than anything. The cargo doors opened and just as quickly as the plane had been loaded, it was unloaded and on came new cargo. The crew I was with got off and went to the hotel and on came a new crew.

I asked the new crew if it was okay if I go with them. They said they would love to have me ride along but I wasn't on their paperwork so I should go inside and talk to the operations people. I walked inside, apparently the person who listed me for the Minneapolis to Chicago flight, didn't list me for the Chicago to Newark portion of my trip. You're supposed to list at least two hours in advance and the flight I wanted to be on left in less than one hour. I called the jump seat phone number and explained the situation. The person I talked to was very helpful and got me listed right away.

I walked back out to the airplane, and told the crew I was on the list now and their final paperwork should reflect that. Once again I got another safety briefing from the first officer and we were off. It was now about 1:00 AM and I was very sleepy. I looked for anymore stow away moths and quickly put the other jump seats down to make my "bed" for the next couple hours.

I slept very soundly and awoke to the landing gear coming down. I quickly sat up to put my shoulder harness and seat belt on again and we landed a few minutes later. We got into Newark around 4:00 AM but by the time I got off the plane, took the shuttle bus over to the passenger terminal, then took the train to the terminal my airline flies out of, it was 4:45 AM.

My next stop was the crew lounge where I would sleep for the next few hours. Unfortunately, the lights in the crew lounge are kept on all night long (probably so pilots don't sleep there too often) but I had an eye mask that I took from a hotel once. The eye mask, along with my ear plugs, and a semi-comfortable couch gave me another four hours of sleep. I woke up around 9:00 AM. Only four more hours until I had to be at the gate.

After I made myself presentable to the general public I found some breakfast at the employee cafeteria. Shortly thereafter I met the crew at the gate and we headed out on our four day trip.

Most of the time commuting is pretty easy and stress free but this last trip to work was not. So when you get in your car and are at work thirty minutes later, think of me and how I left for work fifteen hours before I needed to be there. Maybe it'll make you appreciate your "quick" commute.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

What's with signs?

Tonight I was taking the stairs from my hotel room down to the lobby. The door I used had a sign on it that read "This door to remain closed at ALL times". I thought to myself, if the door is supposed to remain closed at ALL times, why is there even a door? Shouldn't there be a sign that reads, "We were going to put a door here but instead we put a wall"? It got me thinking, there are a lot of stupid signs out there. Are there stupid signs because there are stupid people?

For example, the sign on a 7-11 gas station reads, "This door to remain unlocked during business hours". Well, aren't 7-11's open 24 hours a day? Therefore, there is never a time when the door should be locked because they are always open. Which brings me to my second question, why are there locks on the doors?

My biggest pet peeve is when people don't read the simple signs. For example, when I'm in the airport and someone asks me, "How do you get to baggage claim?" I will usually respond with a polite, "Go to the coffee shop, take a left and head downstairs." What I say is far different from what I want to say. What I would like to say is, "You see the big sign that reads 'Baggage Claim'? Follow that until you see a belt with a bunch of bags going round and round...then you've arrived in baggage claim!"

I guess what I'm trying to get at is, I thank God for stupid people. They make me laugh!

Friday, May 04, 2007

What is a 710??

When it comes to my car, I'm not exactly what you'd call a "handy-man". I don't change my own oil, I don't install new tires, and I'm not afraid to admit it. I'd rather pay someone who has the correct tools and is properly trained, do it for me.

A few days ago I was having some work done at my local garage. A blond came in and asked for a seven-hundred-ten. We all looked at each other and another customer asked, "What is a seven-hundred-ten?" She replied, "You know, the little piece in the middle of the engine, I have lost it and need a new one."

She replied that she did not know exactly what it was, but this piece had always been there. The mechanic gave her a piece of paper and a pen and asked her to draw what the piece looked like. She drew a circle and in the middle of it wrote 710. He then took her over to another car which had its hood up and asked "Is there a 710 on this car?" She pointed and said, "Of course, its right there."

We all had a good laugh when this is what we saw:

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Five Things You Might Not Know About Me

A good friend of mine recently sent me an e-mail that asked some questions that were used to get to know the other person a little better. So, since this blog is all about me, here are:

Five things you might not know about me:

A) Five jobs I have had in my life:

1. Librabrian (well, I probably wasn't considered a librarian but I put books away).
2. Gopher, at the Stanton Airport (jobs included mowing, painting, shoveling rocks, and filling in gopher holes in the grass runway).
3. My Dad used to pay me to mow the lawn.
4. Assistant Manager at Brookstone at Mall of America.
5. Someone gave me $10 once to deliver a little plastic bag full of powder sugar to a guy on a street corner (not sure if that counts as a job or not).

B) Five movies I would watch over and over:

1. Always (a movie about fire bombing planes and their pilots with Richard Dryfus)
2. The Interperter
3. School of Rock
4. Big Daddy
5. Anger Management

C) Five places I have lived:

1. Newark, NJ
2. St Paul, MN
3. St Cloud, MN
4. Memphis, TN
5. Houston, TX

D) Five TV shows I love to watch:

1. Yes Dear
2. King of Queens
3. Friends
4. Mythbusters
5. Comedy Central Presents

E) Five places I have been on vacation:

1. Hawaii (twice)
2. Sanibel, FL
3. San Francisco, CA
4. Flathead Lake, MT
5. Los Angeles, CA

F) Five web sites I visit almost every day:

1. Yahoo! Mail
2. The Hangar (an aviation message board)
3. My Brothers Photo Blog (he takes some good pics)
5. You Tube

G) Five of my favorite foods:

1. Steak
2. Potatoes
3. Pizza
4. Ice Cream
5. Candy

H) Five places I would rather be right now:

1. Hawaii
2. Friends cabin on Flathead Lake
3. Riding on a motorcycle
4. Outside
5. Space (outer space that is, not just the space that's close...I'm talking OUTER SPACE!)

Sunday, April 29, 2007

My Idea of a Great Day!

For those of you who forgot, Friday, April 27th, was my birthday. My wife had something planned for us to do in the evening but I had the whole day to do whatever I wanted so I decided to make the best of it.

I started by sleeping in until about 1030 which felt great! The previous day I had done a red-eye flight so I was still trying to catch up on my sleep. I decided that I was due for a massage so I made an appointment at Aravada Massage. A friend and former co-worker along with his wife own this business so I thought it'd be nice to throw a little business their way. After I made the appointment for the massage and had breakfast, I went for a bike ride on what was shaping up to be a beautiful, sunny, 70 degree day! After a great ride I came home and took a shower.

I still had a few hours before my massage and I was trying to figure out what to do when a friend called wanting to go shoot handguns. I thought that would be a great way to spend the afternoon! We met up at the gun range and put a lot of holes in a little target that, had it been a bad guy, would have wished he hadn't run into me. After we satisfied our quench for the smell of gun powder and muzzle flash, I headed over to get my massage.

I got signed in and talked with my friends wife who happened to be working that day. I filled out all the medical questions they ask and was anxiously waiting for the relaxation to begin. For some reason I was expecting a chick to come out and say, "Hi Paul, I'm Suzie, I'll be your massage therapist." Instead....I got Bruce (name changed to protect the innocent), an obviously gay man. "What! I don't want a guy rubbing his hands on me!"

I have to say that at first I was very uncomfortable with a man giving me a massage, especially when he was rubbing my hands. But after a while, I have to say that it was very relaxing and I eventually fell asleep. Bruce was nothing but professional and I didn't once feel like he was trying to sneak a peak at my "hoo-hoo-dilly".

After I finished my massage, I ran a few errands and then headed home to meet up with Erin. She hadn't told me what we were doing that night so I was pleasantly surprised when we ended up at the Dakota Jazz Club & Restaurant, in downtown Minneapolis. We got there around 7 PM to have dinner and watch a show that was going to start at 8 PM.

We went out of our stomachs comfort zone and ordered “Beef & Basil” Carpaccio, prime beef tartare for an appetizer. Don't ask me what that means, it's some kind of meat that is cooked in it's own juices and then wrapped around something. Either way, it was way too fancy for me but it was actually pretty good. It was a little spicy, of course, "mild" salsa is too spicy for me. When we ordered dinner I went with something I'm a little more comfortable with, a New York Strip Steak served with baby red potatoes and onion strings.

The chef's name is Jack Riebel and is apparently very well known. He has cooked for the Mikhail Gorbachev Dinner at the Governor’s Mansion, the National Taste of the N.F.L. Super Bowl event for Share Our Strength, and has made multiple visits to the James Beard House in New York. He also won the 2005 Masters in the Marketplace Celebrity Chef Cook Off and the national 2006 American Cheese Society's "Iron Man Cook Off."

At 8 PM the band came out to start playing. I was expecting a nice relaxing jazz band to play some light jazz during dinner. What we got was an awesome concert by a great pianist from Cuba named Nachito Herrera. I can't explain how fantastic his music was, he had the whole place rocking with the help of a great drummer, percussionist, and bass guitar player. There's a link on his website to his music and you'll have to listen to it to get the full effect.

After dinner and the show we headed home and I opened some cards and gifts from Erin and some other family members. It was a great day and a great way to celebrate getting older and smarter.....well, older anyway.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

A Good Start to Summer

Yesterday I finished my 7 day detox/body cleansing program! Part of the program was to take a bunch of pills with breakfast along with a tasty fiber mix and then take a bunch of pills with dinner. That wasn't so hard to do, the fiber mix was pretty disgusting but I usually mixed it with some sort of juice to hide the taste. The hard part was not drinking milk, not having any cheese or eggs, not having ice cream, not having any candy or sugar, in other words, eating healthy.

Overall I think I did pretty well. I turned down a lot of candy bars that came with our crew meals, I never went to Starbucks throughout the week, and I ordered things like a chicken wrap with no cheese and no dressing. The hardest thing of all was turning down an ice cream sundae that a flight attendant offered to make on one of our flights home.

I did stumble a little bit when I had a daiquiri on a layover in Cancun, somehow a brownie made its way out of the wrapper and into my mouth on one of my flights, and on my commute home I was in first class and couldn't turn down a egg and cheese omelet. Overall though, I think I did pretty well. As you may remember me writing the positive effects of the body cleansing program were supposed to be better skin, weight loss, and more energy.

I can't say that I have better skin or lost any weight but I think I do have a little bit more energy. Yesterday I celebrated this new energy with a FORTY MILE bike ride from Cannon Falls, MN to Red Wing, MN and back to Cannon Falls. The Cannon Valley Trail is an old railroad bed that rides along with Cannon River, it's 20 miles one way and I had never seen the whole trail so I thought I would celebrate the beginning of summer with a great bike ride. The first 20 miles went fine but I have to say that the ride back was tough. Not only was I going into the wind but my legs have never seen a 40 mile bike ride before and I think they were getting a little upset about my decision to go so far.

I finally made it back to Cannon Falls and was never so glad to see my car! As tired as I was, it was a good way to start the summer and I felt great that I had done it. I'm hoping to do a lot more biking this summer but I don't think my 13 year old bike is going to cut it. My birthday is next week so maybe a new bike will be in my future (hint..hint..nudge..nudge).

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Cleansing My Body

I subscribe to a magazine called Men's Health. In it, it talks about different workout routines, ways to eat better, and in general, how to stay healthy. In one of the recent issues it mentioned a body cleanse. A "body cleanse", also known as a "body detox" is supposed to help rid you of all the bad toxins that accumulate in your body from eating processed foods, candy, sugar, caffeine, etc. When I thought about how much processed food I've taken in by being on the road, how many times I've stopped at Starbucks, and how much Easter candy I've had, I figured a body detox might be just the thing I need. After I talked to some friends about it and did some research online, I found that the results after doing a body cleanse include; more energy, better skin, weight loss, and more, trips to the bathroom. So I made a trip to the local general nutrition store and found a 7-day body cleansing program.

When I brought it home I opened it up like a kid on Christmas day. I read the instructions was a little disappointed to see that I am not supposed to drink milk, have any eggs, sugar, caffeine, etc. during the cleansing period. How am I supposed to make it a week without milk! Maybe I can get soy lattes at Starbucks this week instead of the ones made with milk. Wait a minute, isn't it called a latte because it's made with milk? Wouldn't one made with soy be called a "satte"?

So this morning I started my body detox which so far, as gone pretty smoothly, of course, I've only been doing it for about six hours now. I was a little worried that the powder mix that I put in my juice this morning was going to taste like crap but I actually didn't even notice it. I drank my juice and had my four horse pills and sat down for breakfast. I had oatmeal with raisins for breakfast, a steak and carrots for lunch, and am planning a grilled chicken wrap with a side of vegetables for dinner.

So far I'm on a good track. I'll be sure to let you know how things turn out in seven days when I can celebrate and have.....some skim milk? I can hardly wait!

Thursday, April 05, 2007

21 Way to Make the Most of Life

Here's a list of 21 things that I think everyone should take into consideration in order to make the best out of life.

1. Give people more than they expect and do it cheerfully.

2. Marry a man/woman you love to talk to. As you get older, their conversational skills will be as important as any other.

3. Don't believe all you hear, spend all you have, or sleep all you want.

4. When you say, "I love you," mean it.

5. When you say, "I'm sorry," look the person in the eye.

6. Be engaged at least six months before you get married.

7. Believe in love at first sight.

8. Never laugh at anyone's dream. People who don't have dreams don't have much.

9. Love deeply and passionately. You might get hurt but it's the only way to live life completely.

10. In disagreements, fight fairly. No name calling.

11. Don't judge people by their relatives.

12. Talk slowly but think quickly.

13. When someone asks you a question you don't want to answer, smile and ask, "Why do you want to know?"

14. Remember that great love and great achievements involve great risk.

15. Say "bless you" when you hear someone sneeze.

16. When you lose, don't lose the lesson.

17. Remember the three R's: Respect for self; Respect for others; and responsibility for all your actions.

18. Don't let a little dispute injure a great friendship.

19. When you realize you've made a mistake, take immediate steps to correct it.

20. Smile when picking up the phone. The caller will hear it in your voice.

21. Spend some time alone.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

I ORDER you to bring me a cheeseburger!

Often times I've thought that our use of the English language is somewhat strange. One of the words that immediately comes to mind is the word "order". It is often used in the military. A higher ranking officer orders a lower ranking officer to do something such as, "I order you to fire that missile into the enemy camp!", or "I am ordering you to run 8 miles with 70 pounds of gear on!" Orders always seem to be accompanied by exclamation points because usually orders are given to someone that doesn't necessarily want to do something.

What makes me laugh is when we use the word order at restaurants. You pull up to McDonald's and the drive through guy says, "Can I take your order please?" Most of us aren't used to giving orders and so we say something like "Yes, I'd like a cheeseburger please." I think next time I pull up to a drive through I'm going to say, "Yes, I ORDER you to get me a cheeseburger meal!" (Note the exclamation point.) When he asks if I would like to super size it, I'm going to say, "I am ORDERING you to super size it!"

What do you think the waitress at Applebees would say if you said, "I ORDER you to bring me the grilled chicken wrap!" What is she, your slave? Slaves were given orders weren't they? Are the hardworking college kids and single moms working at restaurants......slaves?? After all, we give them orders. If they do well, and the food that they had nothing to do with making comes out well, we give them money. This money is used to provide them with food and shelter, right? Didn't slaves get food and shelter when they obeyed orders?

Shouldn't we tip the cooks? After all, the server doesn't have anything to do with how the food tastes. She relays a message to the cook who prepares your food how you asked for it. I guess the servers are kind of middlemen, aren't they? Maybe if we just told the cook directly how we would like our food, our orders wouldn't get lost in translation. I'm not trying to pick on servers, after all, I think they are some of the hardest workers out there. For people that have office jobs and are used to sitting all day long, try running around a restaurant for 8 hours sometime.

I'm going to end this story like most comics end their shows at comedy clubs. Don't forget to tip your servers and tip them well. After all, you may be taking their ORDER someday!

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

English! Do you speak it?!

The other day I picked up my wife to go have lunch at a restaurant called Fudruckers. They are known for having great burgers and shakes! It's kind of a combination fast food and sit down restaurant. You order your food at the counter, get your own drinks, but they give you one of those light up buzzers for when your food is ready.

After we ordered, we got our drinks and headed outside to sit on the patio. We were sitting and talking when our buzzer went off indicating our food was ready. I was going to go inside to get the food so I told Erin, "I'll get your burger if you stay here and watch our drinks." She said she wanted to come inside because she wanted to put condiments on her burger and apparently I can't do that. I said, "Well, I don't want to loose our table or our drinks." She said, "Nobody is going to take our drinks." I looked around at the other tables that had been sitting there with empty cups and baskets for several minutes and decided that it would probably be okay. We left our drinks on the table and both went inside to get our food.

After we picked up our burgers we we're walking back outside when I saw a young worker taking our drinks from our table and putting them in the bus boy tray thing. I wasn't upset or anything but I went up to ask him if I could get some more cups because he had taken ours. He was a young Hispanic man, maybe 19-20 years old and didn't speak English very well.

Our conversation went something like this:

Me: "Execuse me sir, we were sitting at that table over there and I think you took our drinks."

Him: "No."

Me: "Ummm, well, we went inside to get our food and left our drinks there, I was just wondering if we could get some new cups."

Him: "No."

Me: "We can't get new cups."

Him: "No."

Me: "Why not, we were sitting there and you took our drinks."

Him: "No."

Me: "But you took our drinks."

Him: "No."

Me: "Yeah, you did, I just want to get some new cups."

Him: "No."

Me: "Okay, I'm going to go inside and ask somebody else."

Him: "No."

At this point, I just walked inside because I don't think he spoke anything but Spanish and obviously our conversation wasn't getting anywhere. He looked at me kind of funny when I walked past him and went inside to the front counter. I didn't want him to get in trouble because it really wasn't a big deal, I just wanted to have something to drink with my meal.

I told the person working at the front counter, "We were sitting outside and came inside to get our food and the guy..." Before I even finished what I was going to say he turned around and got me two cups. It seemed as if he's seen this problem before. Once we got back outside with our food and our new drinks, the bus boy kept looking at us trying to figure out how we got past his sneaky plan of depriving us of drinks.

I guess it bothered me a little bit that this kid working at the restaurant didn't speak any English. I think if you live in this country, you need to speak at least basic english and "No" doesn't count.

After we finished our lunch, we got up to leave and he asked if he was getting a tip.

Me: "No."

Swimsuits and Ice Cold Water

This past Monday was a record breaking day for Minneapolis/St Paul! We reached a high temperature of 81 degrees F. Considering we had gotten two feet of snow about three weeks earlier, it was a nice change. I was out and about running errands Monday afternoon and thought I'd swing by one of my favorite lakes to see how many people were out enjoying the nice weather.

When I drove up to the lake I saw some families BBQ'ing and even a few people laying on the beach wearing swimsuits. Now, there's nothing odd about people laying on the beach on a beautiful 81 degree afternoon. What IS odd was, THERE WAS STILL ICE ON THE LAKE!!

It had warmed up so quickly that the ice hadn't had time to melt before the bathing suits came out! Only in Minnesota will you see people hanging out at the lake enjoying the nice weather and still be able to walk on top of the water....although I don't encourage walking on the ice, I think it's getting pretty thin.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Homeless for a Night

Last Friday I flew out to Los Angeles, CA to meet up with some friends! I knew it was going to be a long day but it turned into an even longer one. I was just finishing up my reserve days in Newark so my plan was to leave early Friday morning, hang out in California until about midnight and then catch a red-eye flight back home to Minneapolis.

I left Newark at 6:45 AM and enjoyed a movie, breakfast, and a couple naps during the six hour flight out to Los Angeles. I wasn't meeting my friends until about 5:00 PM so when I landed at 10:30 AM, I had a few hours to hang out. After I arrived, I picked up my rental car and headed up the Pacific Coast Highway. I found a few popular canyon roads and figured I should probably test out the performance on my rental car, so I headed into the hills and enjoyed the curvy roads that southern California seems to be covered with.

After a beautiful 2 hour drive up the coast I made it to where I was going to be meeting my friends and still had a couple hours, so I took a nap in my car (knowing that I would be up late and taking a red eye-flight home) and then went for a short walk by a marina. I met up with my friends and we eventually headed to dinner.

I'm normally a "meat and potatoes" kind of guy so when we ended up at a Persian restaurant, I was a little nervous. What I thought was funny is that my friend Meghan is the one who suggested the Persian restaurant.....and she told me she is a "meat and potatoes" kind of girl.....yeah right. Not wanting to be the party pooper (and because I didn't really have a choice) I went to the Persian restaurant with an open mind of trying something new and enjoying the time with my friends.

As I was looking through the menu I was having a hard time understanding what everything was. I finally saw something that I recognized.....Shish Kabobs! I was so excited because I've actually had those before! Meat and vegetables on a stick, for a guy from Minnesota where everything comes on a stick, what could be more perfect?

Well, I apparently wasn't the only person who wanted shish kabobs because when we started to order the waitress said to everybody, "I don't know how many shish kabobs we have left, I'll have to go check." I was thinking, "Great, the one thing I found that looks good to me and they're short on it." When the waitress came back she said, "I'm sorry but we only have one order of shish kabobs left." Now the question was, who's getting the shish kabob?

I didn't want to take the shish kabobs from anybody else so I started looking for something else. I was asking what other people were going to get and they all had found something else that appealed to them and everyone started telling me, "It's okay Paul, you can take the shish kabobs....but you better like them and we don't want to see any leftovers on your plate!" Just what I need, pressure to finish my dinner.

After the food came I started looking around at the other meals and noticed something interesting, it appeared that regardless of what you ordered, you got some sort of meat and rice. What could be more perfect for a meat and potatoes guy! I thoroughly enjoyed the shish kabobs but what I enjoyed more was the time I got to spend out there with great friends, it was truly a wonderful evening!

It was creeping closer to the end of the night and knowing that I was trying to catch a 1:00 AM flight, I knew that I would soon need to leave or I would miss my flight. I didn't want to leave the restaurant, but I'm pretty sure my wife wanted me to come home as soon as I could. After the others learned that I was catching a flight home they encouraged me to go so I wouldn't miss it. I apologized for having to leave and left for the airport.

It was a mad dash to the airport! I returned my rental car (without putting gas in it knowing that I was going to pay $6/gallon so they could fill it for me) and then hopped on the shuttle to the airport. I had just missed the Northwest Airlines flight so I headed to the Sun Country flight. The gate agent said it was full but maybe someone wouldn't show up. Eventually he closed the door to the jet way and said to me, "You don't have a seat." Great, Sun Country doesn't allow other airlines pilots to sit in the cockpit so I was out of luck. I would have to wait until the 6:30 AM Northwest flight.

Since it was only going to be 5 hours until the next flight I decided to just stay at the airport versus getting a hotel. I had never slept at an airport before so this was going to be another new experience for me. I found a nice wooden bench to lay down on. Let me just say that again, I found a nice WOODEN BENCH TO SLEEP ON! I have to say, that's not the most comfortable thing I've ever slept on.

As I was trying to fall asleep I was reading a magazine called "Best Life". In it they had all sorts of great places to live, great foods to eat, places to visit, etc. Somehow, I think sleeping on a wooden bench at LAX is not what they had in mind.

After about 1 1/2 hours of sleep, I awoke to a very large Hispanic woman sitting on my bench down by my feet. I don't know why she didn't sit on the EMPTY bench next to mine but there was a ticketing line forming near my bench so I thought I should get up and leave. It gave me an appreciation of having a place to sleep every night. You notice how I say "MY bench". I think when you don't have very much, you become very protective of what little you do have.

I headed to the bathroom to clean up and eventually headed through security and to the Northwest gate. It didn't look like I was going to get on the first flight back to Minneapolis and I was about to loose my cool. If I had to spend another two hours in the airport I was going to go NUTS!! I was very thankful when the gate agent said she could get me into the cockpit for the ride home!

The crew on the way home was awesome, although I think I was starting to become a little delirious. After we landed, we waited about 30 minutes for our gate to open up and then I ran off the airplane! I was pretty excited to be home! My wife greeted me with the loving words, "WOW, YOU STINK!" Yeah, I guess after being up for 31 hours, I probably do stink. I got home around 1:00 PM and stayed up until about 8:00 PM, then I was dead to the world for about 13 hours!

I have to say, despite all the traveling, lack of sleep, eating new foods, and spending the night on a wooden bench, feeling the LUV from great friends made it all worthwhile!

Thursday, March 22, 2007

My trip to the Big Apple!

Today I decided to make a trip into the big city! Ever since I've been based in Newark, I've been wanting to make a trip over to New York City but have never found the time. Today was my last day of reserve (for the week) and the odds of me being used for a trip were slim, so I went on my own little adventure.

First I had to make a 25 minute walk through Newark to get to Newark Penn Station. It wasn't quite as bad as I thought it was going to be. Once I noticed 8 year old girls running around by themselves, I figured I would be okay. I found Penn Station and figured out how to buy a day pass and what train to take. Once I got on the train it was a 25 minute ride into New York City.

The train I took stops at the World Trade Center so I decided to get off there. I've always wanted to see where the two towers once stood. What I saw when I got to the WTC Station was not quite what I was expecting. What I was expecting was a big hole and a bunch of memorial spots to overlook the site. What I SAW was what looked like any other construction site. I was a little disappointed at how little they had honoring the people that were lost on 9/11. They did have some photos of firefighters and police officers but for the most part, it was very minimal. After I walked around the WTC I found Broadway Ave and walked down to the south side of the island.

I thought about going to the Statue of Liberty but by the time I got there, they had sold out for the rest of the day. I stood and watched some street performers for a few minutes and then walked north up Broadway Ave. At one point, a girl came up to me and asked how to get the Canal St Subway. Being a kid from a small town and living in a city where there is basically no train system, I honestly thought she was talking about Subway the restaurant. I almost said to her, "I just saw a Subway around the corner, but I don't think it's the Canal St Subway. It looks like there's a Quiznos up the street." I'm glad I stuck with, "Uhhhhhh, I'm not from here."

I was trying to keep my mind open to eating at a restaurant that I had never been to before but in my two hours of walking up and down Broadway, I couldn't find anything that appealed to me.....except TGI Fridays. So yes, I'll admit, I made a trip to the Big Apple and had dinner at Fridays. I think I was trying to stick to something I knew.

I had big goals of walking to Times Square and Central Park but the sun was going down and I was a little worried about walking back to my crash pad at night. I made my way back to the WTC train station and rode back to Newark Penn Station. Next time I head to New York City, I think I'll buy a subway pass so I don't have to walk three hours just to see a park or building. Maybe I'll take a a Subway!

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Sifting through the nuts and bolts of life

A few weeks ago, I got a friendly reminder from the people at the Minnesota Department of Safety. It said, "We notice you've been driving around on our roads for the past year and we think that you're probably going to keep doing so over the next 12 months so we'd like to charge you $114 for that privilege."

Since the roads we're clean in the summer, plowed in the winter, construction was minimal last year, and the other people from the Minnesota Department of Safety (the state troopers) have always treated me well, I decided that I would give them my hard earned $114 for another year of Minnesota driving.

I paid for this privilege on-line, which for some reason cost another $1.50. I would think that since I was not taking time away from someone at the city office, they would charge me less. I think next time, I'll spend $2.00 in gas driving to the city office in order to save the $1.50 on-line fee.

A few days later, I received a package in the mail. Like a little kid at Christmas, I opened it with anticipation, like I was actually receiving a present from somebody. I soon learned that I wasn't only getting some stickers for my cars license plates, but I was also getting brand new license plates! No longer will I have to drive around having license plates with rock chips or covered in bugs that can't be removed. What a relief!

Today I went out to my car to put my new license plates on. I think the State of Minnesota likes to put salt all over the road in the winter so the bolts on your license plate rust, then once your car has been through about 5-6 Minnesota winters, they like to send you new license plates and then laugh knowing how you'll struggle while you remove your old license plates and install the new ones.

As I started to strip the bolt that holds the rear license plate on my car, I was thinking, "These nuts and bolts are going to be worthless by the time I get them off, maybe I should buy new ones to start fresh." It'd be like new ear rings for my license plate. Before I took both bolts out of the car, I realized that if I'm going to buy new nuts and bolts, I'm going to have to go to the hardware store. Of course I can't go to the hardware store in my car if the license plate isn't firmly attached to the back, otherwise I may get to chat with one of Minnesota's finest. So, I left it attached by one bolt and made the drive to my local hardware store.

As I was sifting through the nuts and bolts of life, I found some nuts and bolts for my license plate. I brought them home and with some brute force was able to detach my license plates and install the new ones in a way that Honda probably never intended. Nonetheless, my car got a new identity today, and with it's new identity, got some new jewelry to go with it.

They say that Minnesota has two seasons; winter and road construction. We are about to enter into the season of road construction which I think is really just half-time between winters.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Shopping for Toilet Paper

Today I found myself at the grocery store shopping for toilet paper, or as college kids or anyone else who seems to get embarrassed with these kind of things like to call it, T.P. I always dread the toilet paper shopping trip.

I'm always amazed how many types of paper are available for, well, wiping yourself. I don't think I've once purchased the same brand and type of toilet paper. As I walk into the aisle, I try to convince myself that it's not as hard as it seems, but it always is. Time seems to slow down as I stare into the vast sea of white rolls. It doesn't help that the stock boys like to put paper towels right next to the toilet paper. Maybe it's their little way of getting back at the man. I haven't yet brought home paper towels when I meant to bring home toilet paper, but I don't doubt that a day like that lurks in my future.

As I study the different types of packaging, I try to figure out if 24 regular rolls is better than 12 big rolls, and if 12 big rolls is better than 6 jumbo rolls, or is it better to have a bear on the front of the packaging which apparently indicates that it's going to be soft. I don't know about you, but if a bear were near that part of my body, I would need some toilet paper. It seems it's never possible to buy just a 4 pack of toilet paper, it always has to be a 24 pack, indicating to cashier that you probably never leave the bathroom.

Then there's the question of how you carry the toilet paper out to your car? Do you proudly tuck it under your arm and walk through the parking lot with your chest out, showing the world that your not ashamed of pooping. Or do you put it in a cart? How much does a package of toilet paper weigh....maybe a pound? Do you really need a 4 wheel cart to transfer something that weighs a pound?

Today I went with the 12 big rolls and choose to proudly tuck it under my arm on my walk to the car, oh, it also had a bear on the front. When I got home, I opened the toilet paper and I got a whiff of, well, it smelled like flowers. What I didn't realize until I got home is that I had purchased scented toilet paper, I happened to get Winter Berry Breeze. It made me wonder what my other options were when it came to toilet paper scent. Could I have purchased toilet paper that smelled like, I don't know, the ocean? That's a smell I like. Why does the Winter Berry Breeze scent smell like flowers? Is it because we can't buy fresh flowers in the winter. Shouldn't they call it, "Smells like flowers"? Can one buy the Winter Berry Breeze scent in the summer? Who wants to be reminded of winter in the summer? It also made me wonder what happens when you combine the scent of flowers, well.....poop.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Birthday Bash at the Beach House!

Last weekend was my grandmothers 80th birthday! In celebration of that, my grandparents decided to have a big birthday bash/family reunion in Monterey, CA! Getting my wife and I there was going to be the big challenge.

After getting up at 5 AM on Friday to start a trip, I hopped on a plane at about 6 PM and flew straight from Newark to San Francisco, rented a car, and then made the drive to Monterey. Talk about a long day! By the time I flew my trip, flew all the way across the country to San Francisco, and then made the two hour drive to Monterey, I had been up for 23 hours! My wife Erin had tried to come on Friday but couldn't make it because the flights were full, the joys of flying standby. The party wasn't until Sunday at 5 PM so she decided to give it another go on Saturday and ended up making it to San Francisco (via Cleveland) around 8 PM.

I drove up to San Francisco to pick her up. Erin called me when her plane had landed. About 25 minutes later I thought to myself, "Well, she probably is getting close to getting her bags by now, so I'll head into the airport and pick her up." I circled around the airport for about 30 minutes while Erin was waiting for her bag. She finally called and said that everyone had gotten their bag and the carousel just stopped moving. I thought to myself, "They didn't loose her bag did they? She's only going to be here for one day!" As it turns out, they DID loose her bag! They gave Erin a toiletry kit and a phone number to call the next day to find out where her bag was. Needless to say, Erin was not a very happy camper at this point.

The party was the next day and it was a black tie dinner. The only problem was, Erin's "black tie" dress was in her suitcase which was probably sitting on a baggage cart somewhere. Erin talked to my mom who said if her suitcase didn't show up she'd take her shopping the next day for a new dress. I think Erin was starting to like the idea of loosing her clothes.

The next morning (with the party just a few hours away), we called the airline to try and locate the bag. They said, it's on a flight to the Monterey airport and should be there in about 40 minutes. We decided to drive out to the airport and retrieve it ourselves. After the flight arrived, Erin spent another 45 minutes waiting in the baggage claim to no avail. Her bag still wasn't here! The people at the airline said, "Well, hopefully it'll show up on the next flight which comes in at 12:30 PM, the next flight after that though isn't until 4:30 PM." By then it would be too late to make it to the party on time, hopefully it was going to show up on the next flight.

Erin and I decided to make the most of the morning and went for a hike down by the rocks and enjoyed watching the seals playing in the waves. We hiked around on some rocks and then joined my parents for lunch at Pebble Beach. During lunch, my uncle called and said that the airline had just dropped off Erin's bag at my grandparents house! What a relief!

We headed back to my grandparents house (via the famous 17 mile drive) and got ready for dinner. We met everyone at the Beach House, took some pictures, and enjoyed cocktail hour overlooking the ocean. Some of my grandparents other friends showed up and we enjoyed a wonderful dinner full of great conversation and lots of laughs with friends and family. The picture you see is one that my brother Adam took close to where we had dinner.

It was so fun to meet my grandparents friends. They all had nothing but good things to say about my grandmother and always talked about how much they treasured being one of her friends. I enjoyed sitting next to one of my grandparents friends who had flown Hellcats off of aircraft carriers in WWII, and my brother Adam (the computer genius) sat next to the inventor of the video game Tomb Raider.

The weekend was by far too short and I had to wake up early the next day to fly back to Newark. My wife just barely made it back home, again dealing with some very full flights. I felt bad for her because she was in Monterey for only about 36 hours, and half of that time she didn't even have her suitcase with her. Despite all the travel required, being able to spend time with my relatives in one of the most beautiful places in the world made it all worthwhile.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Home Away from Home

Now that I'm based in Newark, NJ, I needed a place to stay. Most airline pilots that "commute" have crash pads. Usually, they're apartments or houses that have a bunch of bunk beds and 8-14 guys staying over at any one time. Usually, there are only a couple guys at a time but occasionally there can be more. It's a lot like a college dorm, furniture that doesn't match, bunk beds all over the place, random food in the fridge, and one T.V. for everyone to share.

I found my crash pad through a friend of mine. It sounded great, a 10 minute walk from the employee parking lot, no "hot bunks" meaning you have your own bed, and a reasonable $210 per month. But, did I mention it's in Newark, NJ?

For those of you who haven't been to Newark, it's not the prettiest place in the world. There are a lot of warehouses, shipping docks, and railroad yards. I've heard the walk between the employee parking lot and my crash pad isn't the "safest" but I thought, it's only 10 minutes, how bad can it be?

When I flew in tonight, I found the keys to my new "home away from home" along with a not-so detailed map. I found my way out of the parking lot and felt like a farm kid lost in the big city. I can't imagine I looked like a "local". While everyone else was wearing Carharts and stocking caps, I was wearing an airline uniform and had my suitcase dragging behind me.

After I made my way past the shipping dock, under the train tracks, and through a dark alley, I finally found my way to my crash pad. It's a nice duplex and we have the bottom half of the house. I arrived to find nobody else here and got settled in. I packed some sheets with me which I put on my bunk. I get the top bunk because I'm the junior guy in the crash pad, it's kind of like being in college again.

There are four other beds in my room, hopefully none of those guys show up tonight because I have to get up at 0400 tomorrow morning! Another new experience with a new airline! Tomorrow my schedule shows one flight to Los Angeles, CA and a long layover! Should be fun!

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

My First Week as a Major Airline Pilot!

Well, I've finally made it! Last week I finished my check ride on the Boeing 737 and am now out flying "the line". It almost seems unreal; this is what I've been working toward for years. I'm actually a major airline pilot!

My first couple trips are with instructors to make sure I can fly the airplane to company standards. The two instructors I've had so far have been great! I've been learning a lot and having fun at the same time. My first trip started in Houston, followed by a trip to Cozumel, Mexico and back and then an overnight in Phoenix, AZ. Cozumel was fun, but we were only there for about 45 minutes so I didn't get to see much. It sure looked like a place I wouldn't mind coming back to sometime though. The flight to Phoenix was on the biggest 737 we have, a B737-900. We left with 160 passengers on board. When we got off the plane and were walking to catch the hotel van, I was a little confused. I didn’t even recognize half the flight attendants we had! I got on the plane after they had started boarding and 3 of the flight attendants were already in the back of the plane so I didn’t have time to meet them. It felt a little weird meeting them for the first time after we had worked a flight together. After a short night at the hotel, we flew back to Houston the next day. My next trip started a few days later in Newark, NJ.

My second trip didn’t start out not quite how I expected it to. I walked on the airplane and one of the flight attendants said, “There’s a pigeon back here.” Now, I’m not exactly the crocodile hunter. To say the least, dealing with wild animals is not my forte. I tried to put on a brave face but to myself I was thinking, “I don’t want anything to do with that pigeon.” The captain got on and went to the back to try and scare it out of the plane. I was standing in the front galley making small talk with the other two flight attendants when I heard my captain say, “Look out! The pigeon is flying up your way!” I turned to look toward the rear of the airplane and all I heard was, “flap, flap, flap, flap” and all I saw was a lot of wings very close to my face! This pigeon just about landed on my head…..just about! I let out a little scream and dropped to the floor! I had my full uniform, hat, coat, and everything on and I’m lying on the galley floor! Meanwhile, the two petite flight attendants are staring at me lying on the floor wondering why a 6’2”, 230 lb man is so scared of a little pigeon. Well, let me tell you, pigeons aren’t so little when their wings are flapping and they’re 6 inches from your face! This whole event certainly loosened things up for the rest of the trip.

We flew to Indianapolis, IN where I had what I thought was my best landing so far (because I’ve made all of 4 landings at this point). Then it was on to Houston where my landing was so good that it was similar to some of my best landings in the CRJ. I was even thinking to myself, “Don’t get too cocky, you’re really not that good, mostly just lucky.” Well, that was proven when we arrived in McAllen, TX tonight. If our passengers weren’t aware that we had arrived, they were well aware now. Probably my worst landing yet! Of course, I’ve only got 6 landings in the B737 under my belt and I’ve got 32 years to practice so I’m sure I’ll see some more good ones, and I know I’ll see some more bad ones. My captain had a salad sitting by his bag in the cockpit and told me, “Well, thanks for tossing my salad tonight, that’s one less thing for me to do at the hotel.” “Sure, no problem, glad to help”, I thought to myself.

We all know an airline pilot or a flight attendant, and as you know they’re a very dynamic bunch. I have no doubt that it’s going to be a fun 32 years. As much as I’ve enjoyed my first week as a major airline pilot, another one of our more senior pilots recently passed away while working a flight. As it turns out, I had met him just two weeks ago at the training center. It makes me realize that we never know how much time we have on this planet and I thank God that I get to go to work everyday loving what I do.

Blue skies and tailwinds!

Friday, January 12, 2007

Published! Sort of???

I've often said that I would like to someday write for an aviation magazine on a regular basis (like monthly) but don't really know how to get into it. What would I write about?? Well, I haven't figured that out yet but I do like to write, and I especially like to write about aviation. In December I was finally published in a real aviation magazine.....kind of.

I subscribe to a magazine called "Professional Pilot". It's mostly related to corporate aviation and the issues that corporate pilots deal with but there's usually always an article about weather, a quiz on an approach plate (an approach plate is kind of like a map), and various other articles that all pilots can learn from. There is a section called Av Hazard where people can write in regarding "hazards" they've found while flying around. These can be anything from an air traffic controller reading back clearances so quickly that you can't understand, problems with airport lighting, etc.

I wrote in a few months ago because whenever I flew from Minneapolis, MN to Moline, IL it was always hard to listen to the Automatic Terminal Information Service (ATIS) frequency in Moline. Basically ATIS is the frequency we listen to when we want to hear the current weather at an airport. The reason it's hard to hear is because Minneapolis air traffic control uses the same frequency. When you're up high and half-way in-between the two airports, the frequencies are always "blocked" by one another which means having to listen to the ATIS frequency a lot longer than normal, when you could be doing something else more important.

I didn't really think that they would publish something like that but they did! It's in the December version of Professional Pilot! Now, my name isn't attached to it, but I'm proud to say that I'm one step closer to having my own column in an aviation, very small step!

Click here to see how it looks in the magazine. Scroll about half-way down to where it says "Frequency Overlap" and you can read what I wrote.