Monday, December 28, 2009

A Good Reminder

"Ladies and gentlemen, we will be landing in approximately an hour and a half. For the last hour of the flight you will not be allowed to stand up, go to the restroom, or have any blankets or coats in your lap. If you need to use the restroom or move about the cabin, now would be a good time to do so."

Those were the words I heard the day after Christmas during my break while I worked a flight from London back into the United States. Those types of announcements, security personnel searching every passenger and their bags in the jet-bridge during boarding, not being able to tell passengers what cities we're flying over; it all seems very familiar. It seems like the stuff we used to see and hear right after 9/11.

Now granted, all of these rules seem rather silly. After all, if a terrorist is going to blow up a plane and knows that everyone will need to be seated during the last hour of the flight, what's to stop him from blowing up the plane right after take-off, or during the middle of the flight, or 61 minutes before the flight lands for that matter. And what's to stop a terrorist from mixing six 3-ounce bottles of liquid explosives together and blowing up a plane on the ramp - near the terminal.

The point is that regardless of how many rules are put into place, they're only effective if a terrorist hasn't been watching the news and is planning on doing the exact thing that the guy before him tried. Let's say tomorrow, someone tries to blow up a subway train but right before he pulls the trigger, he stands up, jumps around one one foot, sings "Mary Had a Little Lamb", and then BOOM! The next day, the subway police would come out with a new rule that would probably read something like this, "No jumping around on one foot or singing allowed on the subway." Seems kind of silly doesn't it, but it also sounds a lot like what the TSA has done. Moving blankets to the overhead and not allowing passengers to stand up for the last hour will certainly piss people off, but will it stop someone who has been training for the past 8 years to blow up a plane? Probably not.

Personally, I'm kind of glad that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab tried to blow up a plane. Don't get me wrong, it upsets me that he made it through several security checkpoints while being a "person of interest". I certainly don't want to see anybody hurt and the economy probably wouldn't improve because of another terrorist attack. However, I think a failed attempt, like the one that occurred Christmas Day on Northwest flight 253, is a good reminder that we still live in a post-9/11 world and it's everyday people that need to make it safe. There isn't going to be a cop on every corner or an air marshal on every flight but there are normal people like you and me that, by working together, can prevent another attack on the country.

Terrorist's are training every day to attack our country's weakest points. Are you ready to attack back?

Monday, December 21, 2009

Is Christmas a Swear Word?

"Happy Holidays".

We've been hearing that a lot lately. What we aren't hearing is "Merry Christmas", and honestly, it bothers me. For example, I saw the words "Holiday 2009" printed on a can of Coke the other day. I guess they don't want to advertise what "Holiday" they're talking about. Minneapolis has a "Holidazzle" parade, instead of a Christmas parade. I've even heard the trees we bring inside our houses called "Holiday trees" instead of "Christmas trees".

According to a recent poll, 76% of Americans are Christian. There are, of course, many different variations of being a Christian (ie, Baptist, Lutheran) but they all have one thing in common - a fundamental belief in Jesus Christ (who's birthday is coming up). So why, when the majority of Americans believe in Jesus, are people more likely to say a swear word than they are to say "Merry Christmas"?

Maybe saying "Happy Holidays" has become such the norm that some people are afraid to stand out in the crowd by saying "Merry Christmas"? Maybe they're afraid of offending someone? Although I'd think with 76% of Americans being Christian, the odds of offending someone is rare - about 1 in 4. I probably offend 1 out of 4 people with my presence alone - but it doesn't stop me from showing up.

So what are we afraid of? No one is afraid to say Happy Thanksgiving. Banks and post offices are closed, so even the government recognizes it as a holiday. It's even on all the calendars I see at those calendar kiosks at the mall - which are ironically only open around Christmastime.

So, if Christmas is a real holiday, celebrated by a big majority of people, and it's even on calendars - why not say "Merry Christmas"? After all, it isn't a swear word, and it'll make baby Jesus happy.


Monday, December 14, 2009

How's Your Commute?

I'm writing this from seat 5A. Not a bad seat considering I ran up to the gate, a sweaty mess, 3 minutes before departure time, begging for a free ride home. Today I'm in the bulkhead row of an Embraer 175, there's no one sitting next to me which is nice considering I've been awake since midnight (body clock). Why I'm writing this for my blog and not sleeping is beyond me (although I think it has something to do with the Biscoff cookies Delta serves).

Odds are, if you have a job - you probably have to commute. Your commute may be a short walk or bike ride, maybe it's an hour drive in rush hour traffic, or if you're like me - you have to fly to work.

Because I'm based in Newark, yet live in Minneapolis, I have to fly to work. Being able to fly to work has it's advantages and disadvantages. The advantage being that I can live anywhere in the world and still get to work. The disadvantage of flying to work is that I spend a lot of time in airports, on airplanes, and often find myself sleeping in places most people wouldn't consider.

According to, the average person working in Downtown St. Paul, spends 21.7 minutes driving to work. Depending on how many flights are going my way, the weather, and the number of passengers booked - I usually leave my house 8-20 hours before I have to report for work.

You may hear pilots talk about "jump-seating" to work. That's usually what we call it regardless of where we sit. There are usually one or two extra seats in the cockpit and cabin that are considered jump-seats. They're used for check rides, international relief officers, or the most common use - a pilot trying to get to work. Just because a pilot says he's jump-seating though, doesn't mean he's in the cockpit. As a matter of fact, the TSA prohibits someone from sitting in the cockpit if there is an open seat in the cabin (unless they are there for official duties). I guess the TSA doesn't want an extra set of eyes and someone with experience in the cockpit when something goes wrong. I'm pretty sure they consider pilots a security risk.

Often times I end up in first class, which is always a nice way to ride to work. Often times, I'm in the jump-seat in the cockpit, which means I'm getting one of the last seats on the plane. Sometimes I end up in the middle seat between two linebackers. Every once in a while though, my commute is a horrible mess and I seriously consider wanting to move (even to Newark, yeah, sometimes it's that bad).

One of the most memorable commutes I've had, started after working a red-eye from Las Vegas to Newark. We landed in Newark at 4:45 AM, however because it was a weekend, the first flight to Minneapolis didn't depart until 8:00 AM. I managed to stay awake until departure time and found myself in the last row of the airplane with the whole row to myself - perfect for sleeping. Before we pushed back from the gate (but after the ever-important safety briefing from the flight attendants), I had my eye-mask on, my ear-plugs in, and I was sound asleep. I was woken from my deep sleep about an hour and half later to someone tapping my shoulder. When I lifted up my eye-mask, I saw a lady with a baby who asked me, "Can I sit here?" Okay first of all, who the hell decides half-way through a flight that they need to switch seats? I'll tell you who, someone who has already annoyed their 80 year old seat partner enough to drive them to take their hearing aids out. I didn't think much about it (because I had just woken up) and nodded in the affirmative. She sat down, I put my eye-mask back down and tried to go back to sleep. I wasn't giving her much room but her kid never stopped crying or jumping around. Finally a flight attendant came by and told her, "Ma'am, this is one of our pilots, he's been awake all night and needs to sleep, you need to go back to your original seat." Then this lady - who needs a lesson in parenting - said, "Can I go to first class?" Uhhhh, NO! You don't just get to go to first class, especially when you have a kid who won't stop crying! The pièce de résistance was at the end of the flight when she had moved to the seat across the aisle from mine (and next to another guy who looked as excited about sitting next to her as the rest of the passengers did). As we landed, her kid spilled a bottle-sized canister of Cheerios all over the floor. As if she was going to avoid detection, she quickly ran up to her original seat before the airplane had even stopped moving. Seriously, has this person never been out in public before? What made me laugh the most was during deplaning when the aft-galley flight attendant told the first-class flight attendant OVER THE P.A.; "Suzie, we're going to need an extra cleaning crew because that lady with the baby who's standing at row 7 right now, she spilled Cheerios all over the floor back here, it's a huge mess." Maybe not the most professional P.A. I've ever heard, but a little public humiliation might have been just what this lady needed.

That wasn't the first time someone tried to wake me up while I was sleeping with my eye-mask and ear-plugs. On a different flight home, I was equally as tired and sleeping soundly when the drink cart bumped me into a mild state of awareness. I was half-awake and knew that the flight attendants were close by serving drinks, then I felt the flight attendant scratch my knee, trying to wake me up. I heard the guy next to me say, "I think he's trying to sleep." I wanted to flip up my eye-mask and say, "What do you think someone wearing an EYE-MASK and EAR-PLUGS is doing?!" I'll tell you what they're not doing, they're not thinking about what kind of tasty soda they're going to get from the magical drink cart. Unbelievable.

Sometimes it's not the people that make my commute a miserable experience, it's the commute itself. A few months ago, on a Friday afternoon, I had a trip with a 3:30 PM show for a 4:30 PM departure from Newark to San Francisco. I showed up at the Minneapolis airport at 5:30 AM, hoping to get on the first flight out to Newark. Since the airline I work for doesn't fly from Minneapolis to Newark, any pilots that work for the airline I'm jump-seating on, have priority over me when it comes to getting a seat. The first flight was full with five jump-seaters, needless to say I didn't get on that one. The second flight was cancelled, the third flight still had four jump-seaters trying to get on. Then I thought I could go to LaGuardia and take a shuttle over to Newark. I went over to the LaGuardia flight, it was full and the jump-seats were already taken. Then I decided to go to the JFK flight and see how it looked. It had plenty of seats so I took one of them and we headed out to JFK. We arrived at the JFK airport at 2:00 PM. Keep in mind, I needed to be in Newark 90 minutes later. I found the ground transportation center and arranged a shuttle to Newark. The shuttle picked me up at 2:37 PM. If you've ever been in the New York area on Friday afternoon, traffic is bumper to bumper. Every couple minutes we would hit some sort of snarl that would drive my blood pressure through the roof. I watched the time tick away but eventually we made it to the Newark airport. For job preservation purposes, I won't tell you what time I showed up but the flight left on time (with me sitting in the cockpit).

Finally, one of the worst commutes was on an Embrarer 145. I was assigned to the cabin jump-seat, which on the E-145 is next to the last row of seats and blocks the lavatory when it's extended. The general procedure with someone in the cabin-jump seat is - sit there for take-off, then move forward to the other cabin-jump seat (by the main entry door) while the flight attendant does the service, then back to the rear jump-seat for landing. However, on a flight that's two hours long, once the flight attendant finishes her service, there's still over an hour to go until landing. Obviously the jump-seater can't go sit in the rear jump-seat because it blocks the lavatory, so they just have to find a place to hang out. Usually the flight attendant will do another service, or hang out in the small galley and read (the flight attendant manual, of course). This particular flight attendant wanted to sit in her jump-seat (by the main entry door). I obviously wasn't going to argue, it is after all, her jump-seat. She asked if I would like to sit on a ice-box in the galley. I've seen this before, the flight attendant will take one of those tin boxes with all the soda cans in it, throw a blanket over the top, and call it a seat. So when this flight attendant mentioned that, I figured that was what she meant. Nope. She actually took one of the ice-buckets, dumped out the ice into another ice-bucket, flipped it upside down, gave me a incredibly thin blanket to sit on, and went to her jump-seat. Now, the ice-bucket is maybe 7 inches tall. I, on the other hand am 6'3". Sitting on a 7" bucket for over an hour, isn't the most comfortable thing in the world. Oh, and did I mention that I was sitting on a plastic ICE BUCKET!!! Ice buckets are cold, especially when they just had two bags of ice dumped out of them. The blanket she gave me wasn't one of those nice comforter type blankets you'd use to snuggle with on a cold winter afternoon either, it was see-through-thin and provided no warmth whatsoever. So, after my legs fell asleep from the odd sitting position, my butt fell asleep from the subzero sitting surface it was frozen to. And as if those two things weren't bad enough, I just about went deaf from the wind noise blowing past the galley service door. My 21.7 minute drive home was the most comfortable part of the day.

So sometimes when I commute, I'm hanging out with the pretty people in first class, and sometimes I feel like I'm in one of Saddam's torture chambers, but either way, it gets me home.....and home is where the heart is.

Glad I haven't had to sit next to this guy yet!

Thursday, December 03, 2009

A Letter to a Mugger

You probably don't need to read this blog....unless you're the guy who tried to mug my wife and I while we were shopping at Gander Mountain last night. In case you don't remember who we were, I was the guy wearing the black pea coat that you demanded I hand over, shortly after you pulled the knife on my wife and I, threatening our lives. You also asked for my wife's purse and earrings. I can only hope that you somehow come across this rather important message.

First, I'd like to apologize for your embarrassment; I didn't expect you to actually poop in your pants when I drew my pistol after you took my jacket. The evening was not that cold, and I was wearing the jacket for a reason. My wife had just bought me that Kimber Model 1911 .45 ACP pistol for our anniversary, and we had picked up a new holster for it that very evening. Obviously you agree that it is a very intimidating weapon when pointed at your head....isn't it?!

I know it probably wasn't fun walking back to wherever you'd come from with that brown sludge in your pants. I'm sure it was even worse walking bare-footed since I made you leave your shoes, cell phone, and wallet with me. (That prevented you from calling or running to your buddies to come help mug us again.)

After I called your mother, or "Momma" as you had her listed in your cell-phone, I explained the entire episode of what you'd done. Then I went and filled up my gas tank as well as those of four other people in the gas station - on your credit card. The guy with the big motor home took 150 gallons and was extremely grateful!

After we left the gas station I drove by a homeless shelter and gave your shoes to a guy outside, along with all the cash in your wallet, he seemed to be really happy. I told him it's the season for giving. That made his day!

Later, I called a bunch of my friends over in Europe. It's been so long since I've talked with them, I usually don't call them from my own cell-phone because it's so expensive. As I was searching through your contact list I found a guy named "Probation Mike", I can only assume he is your probation officer?? I called him a couple times and made some threats to his family. I thought he knew I was kidding but he sounded pretty serious, you might want to call and explain what happened. Oh, the FBI called too - I think it might have something to do with the bomb threat I made toward a bank. The FBI guy seemed really intense and we had a nice long chat (I guess while he traced your number).

In a way, perhaps I should apologize for not killing you ... but I feel this type of retribution is a far more appropriate punishment for your threatened crime. I wish you well as you try to sort through some of these rather immediate pressing issues, and can only hope that you have the opportunity to reflect upon, and perhaps reconsider, the career path you've chosen to pursue in life. Remember, next time you might not be so lucky. Have a good day!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Giving Thanks and Helping Others

The other day my brother said something I thought was great, he said, "I wish Christmas was more like Thanksgiving." When asked what he meant, he said that Christmas should be more about getting together with friends and family. I think he's right, there's no pressure to get anyone gifts on Thanksgiving, it's all about sitting down, enjoying a great meal and great conversation with people you love, and giving thanks for everything you're blessed with.

When is the last time you sat down with all your family and had a meal together? It seems that a lot of people start their day by rushing to the office with a cup of coffee and a power bar, and finish it with a trip through the drive-through. That's why I love Thanksgiving, it's the one day of the year we're forced to slow down and enjoy great food and time with family (or anyone else you feel comfortable slipping into a turkey coma in front of).

For some people, Thanksgiving is about tradition, but for me it seems that every Thanksgiving is different. Some years I'm at my mom and dads, and some years I'm stuck in a hotel. But whether it be you and your spouse or you and 20 cousins, the goal is the same - great food, great conversation, spending time with loved ones, and giving thanks for all we have!

It may have been a rough year for you; maybe you lost a loved one, maybe you are struggling to find a job, or maybe life's just not treating you the way it should. But you no doubt got through those rough times with loved ones by your side, that's something to be thankful for right there. Sometimes it may seem like you don't have much, but if you look around, there's probably someone less fortunate than you not too far away.

So, this Thanksgiving, be thankful for everything you have, and while you're giving thanks, don't forget those less fortunate. This year instead of ringing a bell outside a Target for 3 hours, I thought I'd start my own Red Kettle. There's a link on the right side of my blog to donate to the Salvation Army. There's no bell ringing here, just a chance to give back to those a little less fortunate this year.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Behind the Badge

We've all been there; parked on the side of the road, flashing lights in your rear view mirror, a police officer walking up to your window and explaining why they pulled you over. It's not the best situation to be in, but have you ever wondered what it would be like to be on the other side of the badge?

Earlier this summer, the Rosemount Police Department began advertising for a Citizens Police Academy to be held this fall. I've always had an interest in becoming a police officer so I figured this would be the perfect fit for me. I applied for the program and shortly thereafter received my acceptance letter. Little did I know, I was one of over 50 people applying to fill the 25 open spots. So, you might be asking yourself, why was I selected? While I don't know exactly what they were looking for, I have a feeling it was because of my good looks, flawless criminal record, and ninja-like reflexes. Well that.....and it could be because I applied the year before and they had to cancel it due to lack of interest.

In all seriousness, the Citizens Academy is a program designed to give residents an in-depth knowledge of their local police department. The academy I was in consisted of newspaper reporters, a state representative, law-enforcement students, local businessmen, retired citizens, The academy started on October 5th and class was held every Monday night for 7 weeks. Every class was supposed to last 3 hours, however they usually ran 30 minutes to an hour late because of the interest everyone had in the topic at hand.

Over the course of 7 weeks, they taught us a variety of topics. It started with an overview of department operations, a tour of the police facility and a review of typical police calls. One week they did DWI demonstrations with people that had actually been drinking (under the watchful eye of the police). An investigator came in from the Dakota County Drug Task Force for an interesting presentation on narcotics and his undercover work. The SWAT team (which is locally known as MAAG) showed us all of their cool toys, including armored vehicles and a flash-bang demonstration. A detective went through investigations and crime scene processing, kind of like the television show "CSI Miami" except without the beautiful women and computers that can translate a drop of blood into an address. We went out to a training facility to perform mock building searches, traffic stops, and felony stops. We also got a tour of the Dakota County Communication Center which is where all the 911 calls for the county get answered. An officer spent one of the nights teaching us about the use of force continuum. He then taught us some self-defense techniques including the use of an ASP baton and how to handcuff suspects. The 7 weeks went by very quickly and I was disappointed that it came to such a quick ending with last nights graduation. I learned a lot over the last 7 weeks but if there is one thing that stuck out, it's that the police are truly there to "Protect and Serve".

If you ever have the chance to attend a Citizens Police Academy in your town, I'd highly encourage it. Even if you don't have any interest in becoming a police officer, it's a great way to gain a greater knowledge and respect for what the police really do - when they're not busy pulling you over for speeding.

Special thanks to Chief Kalstabben, Officer Richtsmeier, and all the other officers of the Rosemount Police Department who went above and beyond to make this a great opportunity for the latest "grads" of the Citizens Police Academy.

The Squads

The Dakota County Communication Center

SWAT Team Toys

Field Testing DWI Subjects

Handcuffing the Perp

Building Searches

"Calling out" a felony subject

He's going to wish he hadn't hid in the trunk


Watch the video above to see what the police have to deal with on a daily basis.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

When Words Hurt

It's amazing how just a few words can ruin your day; we're going to let you go, we lost the heartbeat, you have cancer, I want a divorce, you need a new transmission.

Up until earlier this week, I had been blessed not to have heard any of those said to me. That was until I received some hard-hitting news on Monday; "Paul, I've got the worst possible news I can give you, your carrier bearing is broken. Our recommendation is a new transmission." Now, I understand, that's probably not the worst news I'll ever hear in my life, but it is probably the worst thing a service advisor at the Honda dealer can tell me. The total estimate of a new transmission - $4,500! That's a lot of money to spend on a car that's worth just that. Not exactly a day-brightener.

My once-trusty Honda is almost a decade old and has enough miles on it to have driven the circumference of the world almost 5 1/2 times. Maybe it's time to put this old girl out of her misery. Maybe, but my last Honda lasted twice this long and still ran great when I sold it. Typically, Honda's are known for running a long time with a lot of miles. My car should be just entering it's mid-life crisis, not picking out burial plots.

After a little research, I discovered this particular year and model have known transmission problems. So much so, that Honda extended the warranty to 109,000 miles. Of course, this car has 134,000 miles on it. I always wonder if the warranties they provide are designed to last as long as they know the parts will, minus a few thousand miles. I don't know, call me a conspiracy theorist.

So, now I'm doing research on where to bring my sick car, because I'm pretty sure the Honda dealer isn't in the business of giving people deals. In the meantime, if you happen to be driving through my town and see me walking home from the store with a handful of groceries and a bag of rice balanced on my head - feel free to give me a ride, I'm not doing it for the exercise.

I remember when I was a kid, people used to say "Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me." Whoever said that was wrong. Words can hurt - but they can hurt your wallet even more.

Monday, October 26, 2009

A "Grand" Layover!

I've had a lot of great layovers as an airline pilot. I've gone on ferry rides across the Puget Sound, drank wine under the Eiffel Tower, hiked around the Acropolis, partied in Times Square, and laid on the beach in Mexico. This past weekend however, I had one of the best layovers I can remember. I was on a 26 hour layover in Sin City - Las Vegas - although this particular activity didn't involve any sinning.

I called up Scenic Airlines to ask about going on a tour flight over the Grand Canyon. The reservation agent told me that they have a special rate for airline pilots. The price they quoted for the flight was too good to pass up, so I set up my reservation. I was, of course, flying on a standby basis, but if I didn't make it, I still had the rest of Vegas to explore.

They have a shuttle that picks everyone up and drives them out to the Boulder City Airport. I was picked up at 7:30 AM and had a nice chat with the other passengers during the 45 minute van ride to the airport. Once we arrived, I checked in at the ticket counter - just like one might do when flying on any other airline. The only difference I noticed during check-in was that they weigh you and your bags. Airlines like Continental, Southwest, United and Delta use an FAA approved "average passenger weight" instead of weighing each passenger individually. (For those curious, it's 190 lbs in the summer and 195 in the winter.) Because it's a smaller airplane, they need an actual passenger weight so they will have an accurate weight and balance.

After about 30 minutes of waiting in the gate area, we headed out to the airplane. We jumped in the De Havilland Canada DHC-6 Twin Otter and got a safety briefing from the first officer. The Twin Otter is a super cool twin engine turboprop that hold 19 passengers plus 2 pilots. It's a high-wing airplane which makes it great for tour flights, a lot of places use them for skydive airplanes as well because of the over sized door in the back.

We took off and within a few minutes were over the Hoover Dam. I kept hoping for the National Lampoon's Vegas Vacation, Clark Griswold quote: "Where the hell is the damn dam tour?" After we circled around the dam, we headed out over Lake Mead and towards the Grand Canyon.

They were playing an audio tour through our headphones and somewhere between the Hoover Dam and the Grand Canyon, the tour got kind of quiet. I figured there wasn't much to say about Lake Mead but when I noticed all the passengers look out the left window at the same time, I realized I might be missing something. I followed my headset cord from below my neck to the plug and realized my headset had been unplugged for about 10 minutes. I'm sure there's some great history about that part of the country that I could pass along but you'll have to go on your own flight to find out - because I missed it.

It wasn't long before we arrived at the Grand Canyon. I took a lot of pictures and video but like most pictures you've probably seen of the Grand Canyon - the pictures don't do it justice. To fly 500-1,000 feet above the canyon was just awesome! By the time I was flying it was almost mid-day but an early morning or late evening flight would be incredible! The different colors of the rocks reminded me of the changing leaves of autumn in Minnesota.

We circled around the canyon for 20-30 minutes before it was time to head back. After an hour of flying we landed back at the Boulder City airport. I chatted with the pilots after I got off to thank them for the ride and before long, I was on the bus back to my hotel.

I was flying a red-eye flight that night and normally when I do red-eyes, I try to wake up early so I can wear myself out and take a nap in the afternoon. A scenic flight over the Grand Canyon was certainly a good excuse to wake up early but when I arrived back at my hotel, I was so excited about the flight that it was hard to take a nap before we left for the airport - nothing a little Starbucks couldn't fix, however.

To see a video from my flight, click here!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

It'll Stop a Bullet? It's a Booster Seat? No, It's a......

I got home from the gym the other day and noticed a package on the front doorstep. After I parked the car, I hurriedly walked outside to the front door, anxious to see what had arrived. As I walked out of the garage, I glanced across the street and noticed a few neighbor's had the same packages. It was then I realized this package wasn't exclusive to my house, the whole neighborhood had received them. My heart sank, it wasn't even a coupon book, it was........phonebook day.

About once every six months another phonebook arrives on the front doorstep. I'm not sure who uses these things anymore but do we really need a new one every six months? I remember a nice summer day last year when I was able to intercept the group of people delivering them. I told the guy that I didn't need a phonebook and he could save one from being thrown out. I'm not sure that he was bilingual and it was obvious that English wasn't his first language, but when I shook my head, he understood what I meant.

You probably can't call me a "tree-hugger", but I certainly do feel bad taking this 1,956 page book and throwing it right into the recycling bin. I don't even open up the bag it came in. I guess I'd be really disappointed if I found out that I just tossed a big bundle of money that someone put in a QwestDex bag, disguising it as a phonebook.

Seriously though, when is the last time you used a phonebook? If I need a phone number, I usually use my handy dandy iPhone to look it up. If you don't have an iPhone, most people have computers with Internet access and more search engines than you know what to do with. If you don't have a computer - get one. They're really very nice and you will sound smart by saying words like; browser, RAM, hard-drive, and modem.

Phonebooks do come in handy for some things I guess. Booster seats are probably the most obvious use, who hasn't strapped their kid into the backseat sitting on a phonebook? They also make great kindling for fires, if you're ever lost in the forest and have the white pages, you could start a fire with it - provided you had matches. I've even heard they can stop a bullet, if you happen to have a phonebook handy while being shot at, be sure to hold it up - it may just save your life.

I have a feeling I'll never use a phonebook for any of those events, however. Maybe there is someone I can call and ask them to stop delivering phonebooks. That shouldn't be too hard, their phone number is probably in the..........oh crap.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Time for a Wardrobe (and Climate) Change

I am not sure what the temperature is supposed to be this time of year, but it seems awfully cold here in the great tundra of Minnesota. Summer finally kicked into full swing a few weeks ago, but we seem to have skipped fall. The leaves didn't even have a chance to turn into the beautiful red's and amber's before we got our first snowfall this weekend. More proof of global warming, I guess.

So, once again it's time for Minnesotans to re-learn how to drive on ice covered roads and figure out where the snow shovels are. Time to shut off the water to garden hoses and put away the motorcycles. Time to pack up the swimsuits and bring out the snowsuits.

It's also time to stock up on hot-chocolate and logs for the fireplace. Soon we'll enjoy playing in the snow followed by those great evenings for snuggling on the couch watching classic movies and our favorite television shows.

That's what gives Minnesotans their character. We tend to make the most out of whatever the weather brings. We go to the beach when it's warm, and build snowmen when it's cold. We try not to take the weather for granted because we know the snow can fall just as quickly as the sun can shine.

So as winter approaches and the snow gets deep, remember that spring is just a few months off. It won't be long before you're back at the beach and you will have forgotten the time your car got stuck in the snowbank or the countless times your nostrils froze the second you stepped outside.

The climate is changing - get outside and enjoy it.

Friday, October 02, 2009

A Great Adventure!!

Have you ever had one of those great days? A day where everything seems to be going your way, one of those days that feels like an adventure? I had one of those on Wednesday this week.

A few weeks ago I bought a ticket to the Dave Matthews Band concert in Kansas City for this past Wednesday. If you didn't know, I'm kind of a DMB fanatic, I've been to a lot of his concerts but the reason I wanted to go to this one specifically was because Willie Nelson and The Family Band were going to open up for him. I've never really followed Willie Nelson but he seems like one of those guys that you have to see before you die (or before he dies), so I thought this would be a perfect excuse to check that off my bucket list. I was going by myself because it was a school night - that didn't bother me though - I was looking at the day as an adventure! It's amazing how things work out when you really don't care how the day goes. As far as I was concerned, as long as I made it to the concert, I'd be happy.

I took a mid-morning flight down to Kansas City and the nice people at Northwest (in Delta uniforms) put me in a first class seat. After a short nap and a television show on my iPhone, I arrived in Kansas City. It was one of those beautiful days where the weather can't quite figure out if it's summer or fall yet, so it's somewhere in between - just perfect, 68 degrees, and not a cloud in the sky. I hopped on the rental car bus and went to go pick up my car.

The people at Budget were all out of the sub-compact clown cars that I had they gave me a red 2-door, Mitsubishi Eclipse convertible! When the girl working at the rental-car counter asked if a convertible for the same price would be okay, I only had to think about it for 1/2 second. I said, "Yeah, I guess that'd be okay." Inside I was doing cartwheels like a 8 year old would do when he finds out he's going to Disney Land instead of school.

I got outside to the car, put the top down, and the adventure began! I stopped by the hotel to drop off my bags and get checked in. I decided since it was such a nice day and I had a great car for cruising, I might as well go for a cruise. It's been a long time since I went for a drive with no particular place to go. I left the hotel and headed west. There's something refreshing about just driving with the top down on a beautiful day! There was no schedule, no traffic, no worries and nothing but me and the open highway! After an hour or so of cruising through the Kansas countryside, I ended up in Lawrence, KS. I stopped to get a sandwich for lunch, cruised through the University of Kansas campus, and then found another country road that would take me back to Kansas City.

I arrived back in Kansas City after a beautiful afternoon of driving and thought I'd find my great-grandparents house. My great-grandparents have been deceased since I was young but they used to live in a great neighborhood called Mission Hills, KS - a few miles south of downtown. They actually lived on State Line Road, their house was in Kansas, across the street was Missouri. I always thought that was kind of neat. After I found their house, I drove around and checked out some of the other houses in their neighborhood and then headed downtown for the evening!

I headed into the Power and Light District, which was right across the street from where the concert would be held. I found a place for dinner and saddled up to the bar. Within a few minutes a gentleman sat down next to me. As it turned out, he was going to the concert by himself as well. He's a school teacher from a Kansas City suburb, we had a great conversation and eventually a couple of his friends showed up as well. The four of us hung out for a couple hours and before I knew it, the show was about to begin. We headed into the Sprint Center and parted ways.

As I found my seat (on the floor about 20 rows back from the stage), the lights dimmed and out came Willie Nelson! Like I said, I haven't followed Willie Nelson much so I don't know many of his songs but there were a few I recognized; "Ain't It Funny (How Time Slips Away)" and "On the Road Again" were two of my favorites. After about 45 minutes, he finished his set and they started setting up for Dave Matthews. The auditorium was almost full by now and there was an indescribable excitement in the air.

As soon as the lights dimmed again, the crowd let out a deafening roar! The Dave Matthews Band came out and within minutes the concert was rocking at full volume! Their latest album, "Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King", is a tribute to their former saxophone player LeRoi Moore. LeRoi passed away last summer, due to injuries received while riding an ATV. After his passing, the band became much stronger after they realized what they lost and what a unique friendship they all have. This is possibly one of their best albums ever.

Two and a half hours later, when they'd exhausted their set list which consisted of long jam sessions and plenty of songs, both old and new, they said their goodbyes and left the stage. Traditionally their drummer, Carter Beauford will throw drumsticks into the crowd after the show. Wednesday night was no different and I rushed closer to the front to see if I could grab one. A few got close but after about 20 sticks had been thrown, he left the stage. Although I left the auditorium empty handed, I had some great memories!

I headed back across the street and thought I'd see what was happening at the Power and Light District. I found a guy named Ryan Patrick Imming performing outside one of the bars. I got a drink and sat down to listen to him play! This guy was amazing, he plays guitar, bass guitar, drums, and harmonica! He mixes it all together live and gets some great music out of it! While I was watching him, I recognized another guy that was there with some friends. I had seen him on YouTube several times doing Dave Matthews covers and I have to say, he is probably as good, if not better than Dave Matthews! We had written back and forth a couple times so I knew what his name was. When I asked him if his name was Drew, he looked a little shocked. I told him that I recognized him from YouTube and that we had written a couple times. We hung out for a while and then I decided it was getting late and I needed to head back.

I drove back to my hotel in the rain, which I thought would make for some great sleeping weather. I was right, I was exhausted and slept great! The next morning I returned my car and caught a flight back home!

Sometimes life hands you an adventure when you least expect it, Wednesday was one of those days! A great drive through the Kansas countryside in a cool convertible, dinner and drinks with some high school teachers, a great concert, and hanging out on a patio listening to some more great music until the wee hours of the morning! It doesn't get much better than that!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Kids Say the Darndest Things

I love hanging out with kids! Maybe that's one of the reasons I have a part time job driving school buses. Kids keep you young, they're full of energy, and often times they say things that most adults would never say.

My mother always reminds me of something I said when I was young. My brother Adam was just home from the hospital and was all of 5 days old. Like any highly coordinated 4 year old would have done, I decided that my 5 day old brother laying on the floor looked a lot like a hurdle, and he'd be perfect for me to jump over. I came running down the hall and hurled myself through the air and over my baby brother. About 1/8th of a second later my mom and I had this conversation:

Mom: "Paul, I don't EVER want to see you do that again!"

Me: "Well, then don't yatch me." (I had a hard time pronouncing my w's.)

Kids are so honest with their feelings and emotions, I think we can learn a lot from them. Watch the video below and meet Logan, he's only 13 years old, but he is wise beyond his years.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Merit Badges

I was in the Boy Scouts when I was younger, although I'll be the first to admit that I wasn't much of a Boy Scout. I only went to den meetings because there were snacks, I never learned any cool knots, I can't start a fire with sticks, my pinewood derby cars usually came in last place, and my idea of camping is a Holiday Inn.

One of the things Boy Scouts proud themselves on is earning merit badges. There are more than 100 merit badges a scout can earn by learning something new or performing some sort of community service. There are merit badges for obvious Boy Scout activities like archery, wilderness survival, canoeing, woodworking, first aid, and rifle shooting. Then there are merit badges for activities that I never thought a Boy Scout would be involved in; railroading, salesmanship, lifesaving, and bugling for example. I don't know how many bugle playing train conductors there are, but like I said - I wasn't exactly a model Scout.

Tonight while I was out on a bike ride, I rode through a neighborhood intersection. There was a little boy standing on the corner, he was maybe 5 years old. As I rode by him I said, "Hi buddy!" He looked at me, and then shortly after I passed him I heard him exclaim, "I need help!" I stopped my bike and turned around to ask him what was wrong. He explained (in five year old speak) that he was at a friends and he was supposed to call his mom when he wanted to come home, but he kept calling and she didn't answer because she's always on the computer playing games (which is another topic in itself). So, he was trying to get home but he wasn't allowed to cross this particular street unless a grown-up helped him across. He probably didn't know that I don't qualify as a grown-up, but I asked him if he wanted me to help him across the street, he shook his head yes. As we crossed the street together I asked him where he lived. He pointed to a house that was kitty corner to where we had started this adventure, there was a dog in the yard. He told me the dogs name and then said that it was as wolf. I was confident that I had gotten him home safely - I wasn't so confident that this dog was actually a wolf. He went running inside and I continued my bike ride, happy to have helped a little boy across the street.

I don't remember what I earned merit badges for when I was a Scout, but this kid deserved one for street safety, decision making, and asking a grown-up for help. I don't think he's quite earned the Mammal Study merit badge however - because that was no wolf.

Monday, September 14, 2009

The garage door's open - and will stay that way!

My wife and I live in a townhouse located in a great neighborhood in one of the cities finest suburbs. We have wonderful neighbors, kids play in the street, it's close to schools, there are plenty of trails and parks nearby - I couldn't ask for much more. Although townhouse living is great, someday a "real house" will be called for.

One of the conveniences of townhouse living is having "people" to clean the driveway in the winter, and mow the lawn in the summer. As an airline pilot, this is wonderful because I know my wife won't get stuck shoveling 4 feet of snow or cut her toes off in the lawnmower while I'm away. Don't get me wrong, I'm not the kind of guy who normally has "people" to do those things for me, and if we lived in a real house I would do those chores myself, but it's part of the deal I signed when the house was purchased. I would love to boost my cylinder index with a lawnmower, snow blower, and other loud power tools, but for the time being, it's just not necessary.

There are downsides to townhouse living however, some of these include; shared walls, no choice as to what color the outside of your house can be, and having to get a permission slip just to plant flowers. I can deal with most of these disadvantages, but recently we received a letter from the association that put me over the edge. Before I go on a rant, I'll let you read the letter:

Dear Resident:

One of the most difficult tasks of a manager's job is to inform homeowners when they are in violation of their association's governing documents. This notice to you is one of those tasks. Quite often, owners are not aware that they are in violation of their associations governing documents.

Your Board of Directors conducted a recent property inspection and noted you have been leaving your garage door open for extended periods of time.

To assist the Board of Directors in their efforts to preserve the integrity of the community, your cooperation in keeping your garage door closed when not in use would be appreciated.

Rule 8 states:

"To reduce the risk of theft, pest infestation and improve the property appearance, garage doors, must not be kept open for extended periods of time. When not in immediate use, doors must be kept closed."

Please refer to your association Rules and Governing Documents if you have concerns or would like further consideration of this matter.

I am confident that you understand the necessity of having an established Rules and Regulations program and will take the required corrective action on this issue.

Tamara Eiden
Multiventure Properties, Inc
Edina, Minnesota

Are you kidding me! The association has taken the time to send us a letter explaining why the garage door should be shut! MY GARAGE DOOR!! This is the same association that did nothing after a weeks worth of phone calls when there was raw sewage flooding the lawn and floating in the street (thanks to some neighbor kids clogging the outflow line with rocks). This is the same association that calls the tow truck every time a car has been legally parked on the street for 24 hours because it doesn't look nice! Do these people have nothing better to do!?

In the letter they talk about preserving the "integrity of the community." Wouldn't the "integrity of the community" be better preserved if all the garage doors were up and people were outside talking to each other, instead of closing the door as soon as the car's bumper clears the garage door track? We have all winter to be holed up inside but when the weather is nice, the garage doors should be up and we should be outside, talking to our neighbors, keeping an eye on things, preserving the integrity of our community - whatever that means.

I wonder what's going to happen if we keep leaving the garage door open? Are they going to stop mowing the lawn or shoveling the walk? Maybe they'll send another nasty-gram, I'm really very scared. As far as I know, we still live in a free country, this isn't Nazi Germany or Communist China - leaving the garage door up is one of the many freedoms we enjoy as Americans. We have that freedom thanks to the soldiers of the United States Military, some of which are my neighbors - who I've had the opportunity to meet, only because their garage doors were up.

As far as I'm concerned, the association can send as many letters as they want, but as for me and my garage, the door will stay up until I'm ready to close it!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Music All Around Us

If you take a minute out of your day to stop and listen - what do you hear? It's very rare that you hear nothing. If you were at my house right now, you'd hear me listening to the Dave Matthews Band play a concert through my computer speakers. Earlier I was out on a bike ride, listening to my favorite workout mix on my iPhone. When I got back, you may have heard me trying to learn a new song on the piano, or maybe strumming away on my guitar. Later tonight you'd probably hear the town's state championship marching band practicing for their upcoming performances. What does it sound like where you are? Is your neighbor in the cubicle next door listening to a radio station? Maybe you're about to leave work and are looking forward to listening to a new CD on the way home. Maybe you went to a concert last weekend and are still humming some of the tunes they played. If you really stop and listen, you can hear the music all around us.

Music does so many things for different people. It expresses our emotions - love, anger, sadness, joy. You can use music to entertain guests, relax after a long day, tell someone how you feel, get pumped up for the big game, you can even use it to walk down the aisle when you get married. It's really the modern day poetry.

What's even better than listening to music in your car or on an iPod is listening to a live concert. Whether it be a huge amphitheatre with 40,000 people, a local band at the neighborhood bar, or just a few people gathered around a street musician - there's nothing I love more than watching someone play.

Recently the Washington Post did an experiment with a violin player. They put him in a Washington DC Metro Station. He played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time, over 1,000 people passed by him. Most paid very little attention to this "street performer" that many probably thought was just trying to earn a buck. Little did the people walking by him know that this was world famous musician Joshua Bell playing some of the most intricate musical pieces ever written on a $3.5 million violin. Two days prior to this experiment, Mr. Bell had performed at a sold out theatre in Boston where the tickets averaged $100. Just the other day, I was running through an airport and heard a couple of people in the gate area playing a guitar and violin. If my flight hadn't been leaving in 2 minutes, I would love to have stopped and heard them play. Who knows, maybe it was a world famous musician and I didn't have the time to listen. Makes me wonder what else I've been missing.

Listening to music is one thing, playing it is an entirely different thing - it's an art. A little over a year ago, I started taking guitar lessons. For me, it was something that I had always wanted to learn. I soon realized that it was more than learning a new instrument though, it was almost like learning a new language. It engaged different parts of the brain and allowed me to escape from whatever was bothering me on that particular day.

Thomas Edison has said of music: "Of all the various forms of entertainment in the home, I know of nothing that compares with music. It is safe and sane; appeals to all the fine emotions; tends to bind family influences with a wholesomeness that links old and young together. If you will stop to consider how the old songs are loved in all the homes, you will realize what a deep hold music has on the affections of the people."

I don't think it could be put any better than that.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Today I Got Beat Up By a Girl

It's been a while since I've worked out with a personal trainer. I guess the two main things that have been stopping me are (1) the cost, and (2) the embarrassment of passing out at the gym after lifting those little baby weights that they have in the child care area. My gym recently offered three free 1/2 hour workouts with a trainer - I figured it'd be a good time to get back and learn some new exercises, plus the price was right.

I signed up with a girl named Cassidy. Cassidy is one of those super humans that you see on television shows. She has lost over 130 pounds by - get this - eating well and exercise! No one can complain around her about how their face feels a little puffy or they just can't loose weight. She's been there, done that, and through lots of hard work is now one of the top personal trainers at the gym. She also teaches the cycling class that I take when the weather is bad. Since the weather has been so nice lately, I haven't been in her class for a while - I think our workout today was her way of getting back at me.

I showed up early to warm up on the elliptical machine. I figured that would show motivation and maybe she'd go easy on me - she didn't. We started out with some sort of lunge with one of those big balls against a wall with weights and lots of pushing and moaning and quivering legs. She said, "Wow, you're already sweating." Yeah, that's what I do when I workout for 25 seconds.

For some reason we had to run from exercise to exercise, next was burpee's with push-ups. For those of you who don't know what a burpee is - imagine standing, then squatting, then throwing your legs back into the push-up position, back to squatting, then jumping up to the standing position again. Oh, except we couldn't do just a normal burpee, we had, I had to do three or four push-ups while down in the push-up position during the burpee.

We continued through the rest of the exercises and got to one called "skull crushers". There's nothing more encouraging to a guy who hasn't lifted weights in a while to do an exercise in which, if you screw it up - you will crush your skull! While I was laying there, wondering how I got tricked into doing an exercise called "skull crushers" with a girl who clearly knows how to exercise, she said, "Don't forget to breathe." Oh gee, thanks, I almost forgot to breathe! Can you remind me to blink my eyes every once in a while too so they don't get scratchy!?

After we finished the first set of exercises, she reminded me to let her know if I was feeling lightheaded. "Okay," I said as my tunnel vision focused on the clock and I noticed that we had been working out for a whopping 13 minutes! Why is it that I can go ride my bike for two hours, yet 13 minutes of pushing weights around puts me into the flight mode of the "fight or flight" response to stressful situations.

We started out again doing the ball lunge with bicep curl and it wasn't too long after that I thought I might throw up, or pass out - or both, in which case I would probably drown in my own vomit. I told her I was feeling a little dizzy and she quickly lightened up on me, which is when I realized that I should have mentioned that much earlier. My brain must have been lacking oxygen during this period because at one point I thought I saw purple drops of sweat coming off me. I thought to myself, "It must have been that grape Gatorade I drank earlier."

We eventually worked our way through a modified version of the workout she originally had in mind and by the time we were done, I felt pretty good. It's always such a good feeling to have a good workout, get those endorphins going, and know that you're going to have that "good sore" the next day (or three).

Cassidy definitely gave me my money's worth and as long as I'm with a personal trainer, I'd rather have it be too hard than not hard enough - that's what she said!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

It's a Small World After All

After a month in classrooms and simulators, I've finally finished my
training on the B-757/767. The best part of training is getting back
in a real airplane and doing what I love - flying.

The culmination of ground school is a check-ride in the simulator
where the examiner puts you and the other pilot through a series of
normal and non-normal situations to see how well you handle them. Once you've passed your check-ride you are required to fly at least 25 hours in the real airplane on real flights with a check-airman whose job it is to give you instruction on normal, day to day flying. This is called Initial Operating Experience, or IOE. My IOE was scheduled for two trips, the first was Newark-Paris, and the second was Newark-Athens.

I flew out to Newark a couple days before my first flight to take care
of some re-current ground school. After I finished ground school I
headed into the city to meet an old friend that I don't get to see
very often. After dinner and people watching in New York, I headed
back to my hotel around mid-night. I stayed up until 3 AM hoping to
sleep as long as I could the next day, since I'd be staying up all
night flying to Paris.

After sleeping until noon, I took advantage of the nice workout room,
then headed over to the airport. I met up with my instructor a couple
hours before departure time to go over the flight papers.

Something new to me is the planning that goes into flying over the
ocean. Flying over land is kind of a no-brainer when it comes to an
emergency, you land at the nearest suitable airport which is generally
pretty close. Over the ocean however, we plan for the worst possible
situation - an engine failure and de-pressurization at the same time
right over the middle of the ocean. We plot where this critical point
is, where we're going to go if an emergency occurs and how much gas
it's going to take to get there at 10,000 feet with one engine shut-
down. Sounds pretty scary, but to have all that happen at once would
be highly unlikely - it's nice to know that we're prepared for that

After looking over paperwork, we headed out to the B-757 we were going to fly to Paris. The instructor and I headed outside to do my first pre-flight. The instructor was pointing out things like brake wear-pin indicators, oxygen blow-out discs, anti-ice vents, air conditioning exhaust, etc. I looked at him with a smile on my face and said "It's really big!" He laughed and said, "Just wait until you get on the 767, it's a lot bigger than this."

We headed back inside, set up the cockpit and before I knew it we were getting ready to push back. Before we did that however, one of the flight attendants asked if we had a chance to look at the menu yet. That was another one of the new parts of flying international, the pilots actually get menus - not leftovers.

We took off and headed up the Hudson River. As I looked out the
window, it was almost like a ride at Disney World - the city looked
like a painting, a beautiful clear night with the buildings reflecting
against the water and the streets bustling with cars.

We headed out over the Atlantic, watched a full moon rise over the
water and a few hours later, the flight attendants brought us our
meals. After about 6 hours of flying we arrived into Paris. The farm
fields looked like those of the ones in Minnesota but there was one
landmark in the distance that made me realize we had found the right city - the Eiffel Tower!

After a successful landing - which means everyone walked away and
nothing got bent - we headed to the hotel. A few flight attendants and I met in the crew lounge for celebratory champagne. I wanted to stay up and see the city so I went to the avenue des Champs-Élysées with a flight attendant. We saw the Arc de Triomphe and of course the Eiffel Tower (which was actually about a block from our hotel).

A handful of pilots (from all three Newark-Paris flights) and I headed
to dinner at a great place my captain knew of. On the menu was lots of wine, salmon, steak, french fries, and crème brûlée for dessert. After a wonderful dinner and great conversation, we headed back to the hotel for some more wine in the crew lounge.

About mid-night (Paris time) I was feeling pretty tired. Actually, to
say I was tired is to say the Atlantic Ocean is damp - I was
exhausted! No wonder why, I had been up for over 30 hours!

The next day we headed back to Newark except this time we had an
International Relief Officer (IRO) because the flight was scheduled to
be over eight hours. The nice thing about having an IRO is they do the walk-around, pre-flight the cockpit, get your drinks, and give you a couple hour break during the flight so you can go sleep in Business First. So basically you show up - and just fly.

When I showed up for the Athens flight, everything was very similar
except this time I was flying a B-767. I did the walk-around and my
first instructor was right, this airplane was huge! There are
certainly other airplanes out there that are bigger than this one, but
it is quite the sight when you walk around the outside of one. At take-off, the airplane weighed about 400,000 pounds! That's 400 times heavier than the first Cessna I ever flew back when I was 14 years old.

Our trip to Athens was about nine and one half hours so we had an IRO to give us a break during the flight. During the last part of the flight we were over the Mediterranean Sea (or "Med" as we call it). A clear day provided for some great views of the Italian, Albanian, and Yugoslavian Coast. We even saw the island where they filmed Captain Corelli's Mandolin - simply beautiful!

Once we got there, I decided a nap might be a better way to spend my first couple hours. After I woke up, the IRO and I headed over to the Acropolis to learn a small bit of Athens history. Later, we had dinner on a rooftop restaurant overlooking Athens. We finished the night on the roof of our hotel having a drink by the pool. Not a bad way to spend a day at work.

Our flight home was delayed about four hours due to a hydraulic leak
the in-bound crew found before they left Newark. After flying the
longest flight I've ever worked, we arrived 10 hours and 26 minutes
later, just in time for me to catch the last flight home to
Minneapolis for some well deserved days off.

This new type of flying will be something to get used to but great
crews, exciting destinations, and a new airplane should make for some wonderful adventures. I guess this new airplane is like Disney World, it's a small world after all.

Standing in front of the Arc de Triomphe

The view from my hotel room in Paris

Friday, June 26, 2009

A Legend Has Died

As I'm sure you all have heard, the entertainment industry lost a legend yesterday. I'm sure we'll all remember his white gloves, his unusually high voice, his love for children, and his amusement park out in California. It is truly a sad day for everyone.

I remember visiting his amusement park as a child during our annual summer visits to California. I even got to sit on his lap once and have my picture taken. As you can imagine, security was tight, and I wasn't able to visit long but he seemed like the kind of friend everyone would want to have. Of course, who wouldn't want to have a friend that has his very own amusement park with rides, games, and unlimited junk food. I think that's what I'll miss the most, running around the park with him and all the other children, just laughing and enjoying the beautiful California weather.

Because he was so famous, a lot of people tried to get at his money by suing him for various accusations. I never believed any of those accusations to be true, he was just a kid at heart. Sure he had a lot of money and fame, but all he wanted was your friendship. As long as the children were happy, he was happy. That's one of the things I'll remember about him, he was the happiest when children were around.

In case you haven't heard, the man I'm talking about - is Mickey Mouse. That's right, Mickey has died. They found him in Peter Pan's Neverland yesterday - a magical place where boys never need to grow up, a place where you think you can fly, some say you can even walk across the ground like you're on the moon. It was a magical place where kids could come to get away from it all and just have fun.

We're all going to miss Mickey - oh, hold on - let me read the newspaper a little closer - oh my gosh, I can't believe I've done this - it's not Mickey that died, it's Michael. Michael Jackson died, so Mickey is okay. Wow, I'm really sorry about that. Okay, don't worry folks, there's nothing to be sad about, Mickey will still entertain your children for years to come. Phew, and I thought we all had something to worry about.

Who's Bad!?

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Grab a fire extinguisher and give me a hand!

Punk'd. Candid Camera. Girls Behaving Badly. What do all these television shows have in common? They're all about pulling pranks on unsuspecting people. I love a good prank, and I'm guessing I'm not the only one, otherwise those shows probably wouldn't be so popular.

I remember one prank I pulled on my girlfriend in high school. She was working hard at a local pizza place and I was sitting at home waiting for her to be done working, you know what they say about idle hands. I called her up one afternoon imitating a radio celebrity who was known for calling various businesses and making the person on the other end sound like an idiot - and you wonder why we're not still together. If I remember right, I was trying to convince her that I had run over a squirrel with my car and I wanted to bring it in so she could make a "squirrel meat pizza" for me. I think she knew it was me because about two seconds after we hung up she called me asking if I had just called. To this day I've vowed that it wasn't me - I guess the secret is out.

When my friend Mark was in high school, he was the victim of a prank. What's funny is that it wasn't the school bully or one of his buddies that got him, it was his parents! After he went to bed one night (I believe it was March 31st, the eve of the greatest day to play pranks on people), his parents set all the clocks ahead an hour - including the one on his nightstand, his wristwatch, and the clock in his car. The next morning his parents were downstairs having breakfast when he woke up, stumbled downstairs, and rushed off to school. It wasn't until he arrived at school that he realized he was an hour early.

I'd never be able to pull anything off quite like that without laughing at some point and giving it away. I've always wanted to eat five or six Oreo's as I walk into my dentist office for my regular cleaning and see what they have to say about that. I'm assuming they'd say with a serious face, "Paul, why don't you go brush your teeth real quick before we get started." Then I'd be "that guy" who showed up with Oreo teeth.

A few days ago there was a prank pulled on a Holiday Inn Express in Conway, Arkansas. Someone called the hotel around 6:00 AM and told the girl at the front desk that he was calling from the sprinkler service company. He explained to the hotel employee that there was a problem with the hotel's fire sprinklers and that she would need to pull the fire alarm in order to reset them. The hotel employee (who had probably been working all night long) decided that this sounded reasonable so she pulled the fire handle, causing the audible fire alarm to go off.

Then the prankster told her that in order to prevent the sprinklers from coming on, she would need to break all the windows in the hotel lobby. Not only did the hotel employee start to do this, but she was aided by a hotel guest armed with a fire extinguisher - which, when not being used to extinguish fires, is great for breaking windows.

The caller then advised her that she would need to break a sprinkler head in order to keep the sprinklers from activating. As I learned from an incident in my college days, that only leads to a very wet building and a lot of upset people. I guess with the hotel fire alarm going off and broken glass all over the lobby, I can see how you might think that breaking a sprinkler head would help get things back in order. Within a few minutes she had one of the sprinkler heads broken off, and thousands of gallons of water flooding the hotel.

To add insult to injury, the caller then instructed the hotel employee that she would need to reset the control panel and in order to do that she would have to shut down power to the entire hotel! Not wanting things to get worse, she found the electrical room and shut down power to the hotel.

So, within a few minutes of someone calling her hotel, the dedicated hotel employee had (1) set off the fire alarm, (2) broken all the windows in the hotel lobby, (3) set off the sprinkler system, and (4) shut down power to the hotel. By now the police and fire department were on the way. I'm sure they've seen a lot of funny things but I can't imagine they've ever seen someone cause so much damage to a hotel in so little time. The total cost of this prank - approximately $50,000!

In this economy, times are tough and jobs are hard to come by. But if you're interested in working the overnight shift at a hotel, I think I know of a place that might be hiring.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

The Wild West and Player Pianos

A few weeks ago, I was at my parents house playing their piano. They own an old player piano which I really enjoy playing because I feel like I'm stepping back in time when I sit down to "tickle the ivories". When I think of player pianos, I picture a few cowboys sitting around a saloon with the piano playing in the background, horses tied up out front, a few good looking ladies walking around in those big dresses, some tumbleweed rolling through the streets, the swinging doors - the wild west.

I don't know that my parents piano was ever in a saloon in the wild west but when I sat down to play that day, it got me thinking about how a player piano works. With a little research I discovered that it took several people during the late 1800's to develop a piano that could play on it's own. Basically, the notes to be played are represented by tiny perforations on interchangeable rolls of paper, while the player mechanism is powered entirely by suction, generated by the operation of two foot pedals.

The operator, or "pianolist", achieves dynamic shading of the music by varying the degree of pressure applied to the foot pedals. In addition, a set of hand-operated levers mounted just below the front of the keyboard provide accentuation, tempo control, activation of the sustain and soft pedals and selection of play and rewind modes. In the hands of an accomplished operator, a convincingly lifelike musical performance is achievable.

A player piano can of course be played by hand in the normal way, as the piano action and keyboard are entirely conventional. In fact, it is usually possible to play the keyboard while the roll mechanism is in operation, should any additional notes or harmonies be desired. The term "Pianola" was originally a trademark, first used by the Aeolian Company just over a hundred years ago, but in more recent times has become a generic reference to the self-playing piano.

The player piano was, for many, the main source of home entertainment during its peak of popularity between 1900 and 1930. You don't see too many old player pianos these days, however I've noticed a lot of hotels have player pianos that use MIDI to interface with computer equipment.

Even though I'm not a cowboy and there weren't any horses tied up out front, it sure was fun to sit down and play an old player piano for a while. To see a video of me playing my parents player piano, click here. By the way, this piano was converted to a "normal" piano years ago so if you think I was just moving my fingers to imitate the piano - think again.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Mayday, Mayday, Mayday!

Today I flew from Houston, TX to Minneapolis, MN. Normally, that would be just another flight but today was different. It my last flight as a Boeing 737 first officer - well for a while anyway. I'm sure I'll be a B-737 FO again at some point, but tomorrow I start training to fly the Boeing 757/767.

The B-757 and B-767 are two somewhat different airplanes, the main difference being the B-757 is a narrow body and the B-767 is considered a wide body. However, the FAA says that since the cockpits are so similar, the pilots that are trained on one, can fly the other with a just few hours of differences training. There are actually a lot of airplane types that are different but can be flown with the same rating, even the different models of the B-737 I used to fly are dramatic. For example, the 737-500 holds only 114 passengers. The 737-300 has old analog gauges in the cockpit. However, the biggest model of the 737 is the 737-900ER (extended range), it holds 173 passengers and has a "glass cockpit", meaning the instruments are laid out on a TV type screen.

Since I've had training on all the different models, I could walk off a B-737-900ER that came out of the factory 2 months ago with satellite TV, and walk into a 30 year old 737-300. Once you get used to it however - it's like getting in a car, it doesn't matter when it was built, all the controls are basically the same. You push the throttles forward and the airplane goes faster, you pull them back and you slow down, you pull back on the yoke and the houses get smaller, you push the yoke forward and the houses get bigger - no problem. Of course, if it was that simple, training for a new airplane wouldn't be two months long.

I've been through a few training courses in my day. I went through all my "small" airplane training at a few different airports in Minnesota. My favorite place was this little grass-strip about 30 miles south of Minneapolis. Talk about the good ol' days - when I was in high school I used to paint hangars, wash airplanes, help out the mechanic, and mow the lawn in exchange for flying. There were no paychecks, I just kept track of my hours on a scrap piece of paper and turned it in to someone, who I'm pretty sure didn't even keep track of how much I worked or flew. I got a few ratings there and then got the rest while I was in college. I had a lot of fun learning to fly in college, but it wasn't the same as the grass-strip I started at - too many kids running (and flying) around. I missed the days when it was just me flying around the pattern watching the sunset over the farm fields of southern Minnesota.

I eventually got hired by an airline and spent two months in Memphis, TN getting checked out on the CRJ-200. That particular airline didn't consider you an employee until you passed the check ride so, for two months there was no paycheck and of course, no company provided lodging. In an effort to save money, my best friend Mark and I stayed together in one of those hotels that are set up for extended stays, much like an apartment. It was $30 cheaper per week to have one bed instead of two so we agreed that I would pay a little more to sleep in the bed and Mark would sleep in his sleeping bag on the floor. Mark kept pictures of his wife and I kept pictures of my girlfriend on the mirror, that way the cleaning people wouldn't get the wrong idea.

A few years later I decided that buying a type-rating in a B-737 might help me advance my career so I attended Higher Power Aviation in Dallas, TX. This had to be one of the most enjoyable training courses I've been through. I hadn't felt so at home somewhere since my days at the grass-strip where I got started. It seemed like everyday they provided us with some sort of food - pizza on one day, root-beer floats on another day, even lunch at Ranger Stadium. Since I was doing this on my own, I had to provide my own lodging. My friend Mark happened to be there at the same time as me, so we once again shared a hotel room - two beds this time!

Eventually, I was hired by my current employer and went through training again on the B-737. Even though I was already rated in the airplane, each airline is responsible for training you on their procedures. Now after a few years, I've decided to upgrade to the B-757/767. The B-737 is fun to fly and I've seen cities all over North, Central, and South America and even the Caribbean. After I finish training on the B-757/767, most of my flying will be over to Europe with an occasional Hawaii trip. There will still be some South America, Caribbean, and domestic flying but most of my trips will involve crossing the Atlantic.

So for the next month or so, I'll be spending most of my time in the classroom learning about the aircraft systems and running through all the normal, non-normal, and emergency procedures in the simulator. Some of these scenarios include engine fires and failures, electrical malfunctions, and even what to do when you have a medical emergency while you're over the North Atlantic.

I wonder if they'll teach me why a 300 lb man with a 48 pound bag pays less for weight than a 100 lb woman with a 52 lb bag??

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Priceless Memories

A few days ago my dad invited me to his somewhat exclusive gun range for an evening of trap shooting. I say his range is "somewhat exclusive" because there is a limited number of people that are allowed to be members and the only way for someone to become a member is if a current member quits - or dies. Right now it's about a five year wait to become a member, although there were a few WWII-era gentlemen walking around which makes me think the wait time might be coming down. Members are allowed to bring guests who want to shoot or if they are interested in joining the club. Since it takes so long to become a member, no one ever really leaves the gun club. If I were a member, I'd be a little worried about inviting potential members with their weapons to come out and play, when the only way for someone to join is for a current member to die.

I have experience with handguns but have never shot trap before so while we were driving to the range, my dad explained the etiquette of trap shooting. For those who don't know, shooting trap is when you shoot a shotgun (which sprays out hundreds of little BB's) at clay pigeons launched from a shack out in front of you. Clay pigeons look like those discs that people throw at track and field events during the Olympics. Now that I think about it, I'm not sure why they're called "pigeons". Shooting a pigeon with a shotgun is the equivalent of making hot-coco and mixing it with an electric blender. It'll get the job done but you'll be left with a mess and about half as much hot-coco had you just used a spoon from the kitchen drawer. You can shoot a pigeon with a rock from a slingshot and ruin his day, but shooting a pigeon with a 12 gauge shotgun is overkill - literally.

We arrived at the gun club on a beautiful Minnesota evening - a comfortable 65 degrees, no humidity, and no mosquitoes (which are actually the size of pigeons later in the summer). There were a few older gentlemen standing around recollecting the good ol' days when times were simpler. One gentlemen in particular had some good war stories - that's probably because he was on the beaches during the Normandy invasion on D-Day. I could have listened to his stories all day long, but the sun was approaching the horizon and I was anxious to destroy some clay pigeons, which I was about to learn is easier said than done.

My dad gave me a quick checkout on his shotgun (which I hope comes my way when he gives up his spot at the gun club). He told me how he bought this Ithaca shotgun when he was in the 10th grade from the local hardware store. Before he had saved up the $97 he needed to buy it, he'd stop by everyday after school and make sure it was still there, maybe hold it up and "shoot" as he imagined a duck flying over. Talk about good ol' days - no permit to purchase, no worry that he was going to go nuts and try to kill all the kids at school (half of which probably had shotguns too), just a 16 year old boy buying a shotgun. I'm pretty sure if a 10th grade boy walked into his local hardware store today and tried to buy a shotgun, the police would probably show up.

I didn't really think shooting clay pigeons would be that hard - well, I was wrong. Once you yell "Pull!" the pigeon comes flying out of the shack. You only have a split second to acquire the target, track it, get slightly ahead of it, and pull the trigger while still following the target. During each round there are five guys shooting from five different spots. The guy in the first spot starts and after his first shot, the person to his right gets his turn, then the person to his right, and so on. You go through that cycle five times, then everyone rotates to the next spot to the right. After each person has shot five times from the five different spots, that round of shooting is over. For those who didn't major in math, that's 25 shots for each shooter. In my first round, I hit one clay pigeon - ONE!!

My second round went a little better, I think I hit five of those elusive little discs. That being said, my dad was in charge of launching the clay targets and he noticed that I was hitting the targets that veered off to the left more often than not, so he kept firing my clay pigeons that way - gotta love a dad who makes you look good on the range.

Next was my dads turn to shoot. He told me on the drive to the club that he's not very good at trap shooting. I was beginning to doubt that statement when he hit his first five targets. I felt better once he began to miss them as he rotated through each firing position. When he hit the target he'd look over at me and pump his fist with a smile on his face, probably much in the same way he did when he first bought this weapon in the 10th grade. It was then that I realized our evening was more than just a father and son out at the range trying to destroy clay pigeons, it was more than that - it was two friends doing something that they love, spending time together.

45 year old shotgun: $97
3 boxes of shotgun shells: $30
Watching dad act like a 10th grader: Priceless

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Do what your mommy says to avoid the swine flu!

I'm sure you have all heard by now, there's a "scary" disease spreading around called the swine flu. It's contracted by contact with pigs that are infected but is spreadable through humans. The symptoms of swine flu in people are similar to the symptoms of regular human seasonal influenza and include fever, lethargy, lack of appetite, and coughing. Some people with swine flu also have reported runny nose, sore throat, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

Wow, that is scary! I got the flu about one and a half years ago and these symptoms sound identical to what I had! I wonder if I had the swine flu before people were even aware of it. Maybe I should call the Center for Disease Control and let them know about my swine flu from over a year ago? Maybe I'm the one who spread it around? Over the last year and a half, I've flown to all the places it's popping up; New York, California, Kansas, Texas, Mexico - it's probably all my fault! I better call my counselor because I'm going to have some serious post-traumatic stress disorder over this!

Richard Besser, acting director of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, noted that although ordinary human flu accounts for 36,000 deaths every year, he was concerned by this strain. "I fully expect we will see deaths from this infection," Besser said at an Atlanta news conference.

"36,000 DEATHS FROM ORDINARY HUMAN FLU"!! Now, how many deaths have occurred from the swine flu in the United States so far - NONE! ZERO! ZILCH! NADA! Why are we so worried about a flu that hasn't killed anyone in the US when there's another flu floating around - the ordinary human flu - that kills 36,000 people a year!?

My favorite advice from the CDC on how to prevent the swine flu is this;

-Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. Immediately dispose of the tissue.

-Wash your hands frequently with soap and water to protect from germs, especially after you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hand cleaners are also effective.

-Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth; this spreads the germs.

-Avoid close contact with sick persons and stay home if you are sick.

-Practice other good health habits, including getting plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids, and eat nutritious food.

I remember when I was, ohhhhh, about five years old - my mom gave me the very same advice! I guess some people need the government to be their mommy. So boys and girls, do what your mommy says and maybe you won't get the swine flu.

Good luck.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Earth Day

Today is Earth Day, a time for the tree huggers of the world to tell all their non-tree hugger friends that they should recycle more, drive less, and try not to breathe as much - you know, because of global warming. They'll tell you that the Earth is our mother and we need to respect her and what she provides for us.

Can I just say something? B as in B, S as in S! The Earth is NOT my mother. I have a wonderful mother who I have great respect for. But the Earth, well....the Earth is a place. Since when did it acquire a gender?

I hope no one was offended by the term "tree hugger." I love to give people hugs - people - not trees. One time, I almost hugged a tree accidentally. I was trying to stretch my calf muscle after a bike ride and the only thing I could prop my foot on was a nearby tree. I put my arms on the side of the tree, much like a 6th grade boy dancing with a girl for the first time would put his hands on her hips. After I started stretching my calf, I quickly stopped when I realized that it could appear to a passerby that I was literally hugging a tree. So let me just clear the air, I have never hugged a tree.

When it comes to being Earth friendly, I'm not always the friendliest. I try to avoid public transportation. I'm probably never going to drive a hybrid vehicle. I never bring my own grocery bag to the grocery store. I don't use any sort of alternative energy like solar power or wind energy. I certainly don't use fluorescent lights either, they give me a headache and remind me of high school history class.

Now don't get me wrong, I love the outdoors, I love the endorphins I get from a long bike ride, I even love my granola cereal in the morning. For those of you thinking I don't recycle - I do. As a matter of fact, the recycling bin is usually much fuller than the trash bin. I don't pour oil down the drain, but that's mostly because I don't change my own oil. I like organic fruits and veggies, I even ate a Cliff bar for breakfast yesterday.

Holy cow, now that I read all that. It makes me realize that I might be more Earth friendly than I think.

Oh well - Happy Earth Day.

Monday, April 13, 2009

It's Tough Being Famous

There's a song by the Dave Matthews Band called Steady As We Go. It's one of the most beautiful love songs I've ever heard. I decided to learn how to play it on the piano over a year ago. Anybody that plays the piano probably could have sat down in an afternoon and learned this song, it wasn't so easy for me though because I don't really know how to read music all that well. When I got the sheet music I went through, note by note and actually wrote out the letters that corresponded to each note on the page. I started learning this song and practiced hour after hour, day after day, week after week, and finally I got to the point that I had it memorized. I eventually posted a video of me playing it on YouTube. It's been on YouTube now for about 7 months and has had over 1,700 views! I've had several good comments on it despite the poor sound quality and occasional mistakes.

A few weeks ago, a girl named Melanie wrote me and asked if I would record this song onto a disc to be used in her wedding! I was really surprised and humbled by this request. I couldn't believe someone actually wanted to use something that I played, in something so special as her wedding! I told her I would get it done and have it ready for her special day. All I needed to figure out was how I was going to record this onto a CD.

I started taking guitar lessons about a year ago. My guitar instructor Matt has a studio in the basement of his house. It's quite the place, mixing boards, synthesizers, four computers that all talk to each other, walls filled with speakers and sub woofers, not to mention all of his guitars. Because of this, he also has guard dog's and a high tech security system that rivals Fort Knox (so don't even think of trying to get in). I asked Matt if recording a song onto a CD would be possible. He kind of laughed, apparently that's like asking a librarian if you can apply for a library card, not really an issue. We ran over the different options of how to record and decided that I would bring my keyboard over to his studio and record it onto one of his computers.

When the time came to record, I was excited! I had never recorded anything that would be put onto a disc and actually be used in public. I arrived at the studio under tight security. After signing a few autographs on my way into the studio, we got the keyboard set up and started recording. After I finished playing the song, Matt transferred it to another computer for finishing and burning. He has the technology to fine tune the playing and fix any mistakes I might have made. In order to save time, however, we did a raw recording first and it actually turned out well enough that nothing needed to be fixed.

We're in the final phases of production (which is basically printing a picture of Melanie and her fiance onto the disc) and then it'll be shipped out to the fans. Well, it'll be shipped out to one fan anyway. I may not be a famous musician one day, but thanks to Melanie, I got to experience something that a lot of people only dream of - recording a song onto a disc in a music studio.

By the way, I'm available for public appearances and performances.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

YouTube Videos

With all the forms of on-line communication and entertainment out there, one of my favorites is YouTube! I can't tell you how much time I've wasted watching 30 second videos. I think I'm only going to watch one or two videos but two hours later I find myself giggling as I watch a kid with an English accent let his brother Charlie bite his finger.

I have also wasted a lot of time making YouTube videos. I guess I have always secretly wanted to be a movie producer. I don't think I'm the only one out there who's had this dream. Haven't we all wanted to be part of the glamorous Hollywood lifestyle at some point in our not-so-glamorous lives? Yesterday I made a really cool behind the scenes look at what an airline pilot gets to see on a daily basis. You won't find it on YouTube anymore though. After getting some advice from a well respected friend and collegue, I took it down. As proud of this movie as I was, it was too behind the scenes for the average YouTube viewer.

I'm getting ready to make another YouTube video soon (and yes, I realize I have too much time on my hands). Until the next video comes out, you can see other YouTube videos I've made at: