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 requested......so 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!