SAGINAW, Mich. – The lady at the Barnes and Noble checkout eyed my pile of Plane & Pilot magazines. “Is this all for you today?” It was her coded way of saying, “Are you certain you wish to buy three copies of the same magazine?” I stammered a little as I started to explain, but then gave up. “Yes, this is exactly what I came for,” I replied.
One copy for me to save. One for mom. One for the captain I’m flying with.
For those of you who subscribed to this blog and then wondered why there were few updates, you’re about to find out why. I haven’t blogged lately, but I never stopped writing. Instead, I saved everything, polished a few samples, and sent them to Robert Goyer, the editor at Plane & Pilot magazine.
I still kind of don’t believe it, but my second column is on page 18, a story I sat down and wrote on my nine-year-old laptop. If you run out to your own Barnes and Noble, or subscribe digitally, I’ll be happy to tell you about the time when I got furloughed from flying, and un-retired my toolbox for 10 months to keep food on the table. I went from breaking jets to fixing them, just like that. (Spoiler alert: I got recalled and am back to breaking jets again.)
I’ve been flying with a captain who reads a few other aviation publications and speaks of the columnists there as if they were his friends as he recounts their exploits. Tomorrow, I’ll hand him a copy of Plane & Pilot and he’ll find that he has a friend who writes a column!
Stay tuned… and pick up a subscription. No, I can’t comp them to you. I’m buying them myself!
On December 1, 2012, I plugged in the battery on my little Aeronca Champ model airplane and flew circuits outside the Oglethorpe University library with some airplane buddies hanging around. Inside, upstairs, Amy and her support group worked their way through applying makeup, donning dresses, and polishing off a small pitcher of mimosas.
One of the music students donned a bow tie, unleashed his violin from its case and filled the air with beautiful music. We all stood around making those last minute checks of ties, zippers and gig lines. Nobody wanted to look a fool for a wedding.
“We got married in a library.” I still smile when I say that. My flight kit at work bears bumper stickers from bookstores, one of which proclaims “reading is sexy.” Invariably a flight attendant, TSA screener or random passenger asks about them every trip. I get a little moist-eyed because I get to tell them a love story, one of the few I know firsthand that don’t involve odd notions about loving flying machines.
At age 30, I ran back into a high school girlfriend. Amy and I met at a marching band contest and we wrote letters back and forth through high school. We dated a little, but went our separate ways before college and life scattered us to the winds. She noticed my name in a comment on a mutual friend’s Facebook wall and sent a request. Almost an hour’s drive from our hometowns, we wound up living less than ten minutes apart. We chatted and eventually got a bite of barbecue together. I invited her to a ton of get-togethers I hosted.
Our ages are pretty close, and we both came from similar backgrounds. We’d both caught a figurative midnight train out of town once we finished high school. I can’t say “we never looked back,” because family keeps us coming back, but we’ve both embraced lives that really could not have happened in our hometowns. Everyone asks, “Don’t you wish you’d been together all this time?” HECK, NO! We both had to go see the world, live through some phases that no relationship could survive, and grow into adulthood. We took vastly different paths, but wound up in the same place.
I thank God for that every time I send much of a prayer along.
We’ve traveled, laughed and cried. It’s not always storybook material around the house, mainly because there are no story books about adults talking like children and being nearly as silly as we are together. We have our little struggles from time to time, but working through those are what make the good times even better.
Hey Amy: Happy Anniversary. We’ve put most of the Hollywood marriages to shame in terms of quality and longevity. I’m looking forward to continuing that trend.
Massive amounts of selfies follow. For that, I apologize.
NORFOLK- As we eased away from the dock, my sailing instructor, Kelsey, stood to start raising the mainsail as I held the bow into the wind.
“So is this your day job?”
“For a few more days, it is,” she replied.
“I’ll be a mama.” Turns out, Kelsey was due in about 10 days. “By the way, that’s the Navy hospital over there. If I start having contractions, that’s where we’re headed.”
A couple months ago, I wandered around Norfolk on a long overnight stay and happened across Sail Nauticus behind Norfolk’s maritime museum. There I met Ryan Newland, the program manager, who nearly sold me on a membership, until I remembered a key point: I don’t live in Norfolk. Membership in a boating club this far from home made no sense at all.
“What if I just wanted to book a boat and an instructor, could I do that?”
Two months later, I signed a waiver and buckled up my loaner life jacket. There was a front not far away, and the gray skies yielded a good eight knots or more. There’d be no sunburns today. It looked like a great day for sailing.
A Decade of Rust
My love of sailing is deep-rooted. A few of my friends had small sailboats I when I was a kid, and in my sabbatical from flying, I fell in cahoots with a fairly relaxed racing league on Lake Hartwell. Kelsey asked right away about what I meant by a relaxed league.
“Saturday morning pre-race breakfast was a Natural Light and a country ham biscuit,” I said.
“I’m surprised y’all bothered with the biscuits,” she said.
Maybe she’d raced with them at some point, too.
As we got the sails up and the electric outboard stowed, I noticed the old habits coming back into play. A gust would hit and we’d heel heavily, but I was generally on it and pointing back into the wind as we clawed our way up the Elizabeth River. Close hauled, we were angled just as far into the breeze as possible. I popped the main sheet and juggled it with the right hand while the left held the tiller. With each gust I’d give a little line on the main and dig in a little with the tiller.
Sailing is a lot of give and take, a forced relaxation that demands a keen eye on the weather and the world around. A matte patch of water on a glossy sea is a gust, and if you read its approach, you’ll seamlessly harness its energy with a minimum of fuss. The wake from a boat can be mitigated if you see it coming and nose into it instead of taking it beam-on.
In other words, it’s no wonder most sane folks prefer pontoon boats for their weekend party activities.
As we neared the point where we’d glimpse the golf course at Old Dominion, a K-Line container ship neared. “I know sailboats generally have right of way, but I’m pretty sure that fellow is a little less maneuverable than I am,” I said. Kelsey agreed. We laid off the wind and floated by. I’d never sailed in the vicinity of anything bigger than a 40-foot boat. “The wake isn’t too bad,” Kelsey said. “The tugboats are doing most all the work, and they spread the wake widely.”
We passed through the wake in the flattest water I’d seen all morning. In fact, as we neared the University campus, the waves started picking up. “Let’s turn downwind and find a better ride,” I said. Kelsey didn’t seem to mind that idea one bit.
Running with the wind and waves, the ride smoothed out and we talked about life around Virginia, travel, nomadic life (her husband is in the Coast Guard), and she asked a few questions about my day job with the airline.
I found myself working a lot less to manage the boat as my two hours wrapped up. I did ask her to dock the thing, though. “There are folks watching, and I never was too graceful about it anyhow.”
As we got to our hotel in Baton Rouge, I spied a dirt bike parked out front. It was laden with extra fuel tanks, bags all over and a patina of dust that indicated it’d covered several miles.
Its license plate read Nova Scotia.
I told Andy, the captain I’m paired with for this trip, that I hoped the owner would come down for the manager’s reception.
“He’ll stand out like a sore thumb, either pale or burned to a crisp, and speaking much better English than we do,” I said.
I was right. He showed up for the free beer and he did stick out a tad. This is how I met Dave, who was on quite a ride. He’d just ridden down the continental divide from Canada to the Mexican border. He’s a retired Royal Navy officer who rides around the world… He told plenty of stories, some hair-raising, others heart-warming. Check out his blog at Potted Roads and Bumpy Tracks
Add this character in with the WWII vet I met earlier today, who landed on Omaha Beach with a rifle in his hands, and I’ve certainly had a great day of work!
I should know better than to seek out southern food in the Pacific Northwest. At Amy’s insistence, we laced up our walking shoes and hiked more than four miles from our downtown Portland hotel to the Alberta neighborhood, turning down public transit in favor of burning calories. Where we were headed, we’d need all the calorie surplus we could get.
A couple of years ago, three North Carolinians headed west with a kick-ass biscuit recipe, and a dream to establish a center of southern food and hospitality in the northwest. Welcome, friends, to Pine State Biscuits. Step in, place your order and grab a seat at the end of the bar, where you can gaze down the grill and assembly lines. What your eyes feast upon, your mouth will quickly also enjoy.
At Pine State, you’ll find the same kind of biscuits I fell in love with at Tupelo Honey Cafe, in Asheville, and I’ve made a decent copy of them at home. There is no shortening-the fat comes from frozen, grated butter, and I think their biscuit cutter was fashioned from a cafeteria sized soup can.
But even though these biscuits are pretty big around, they’re disproportionately tall.
Think edible skyscraper. Start with a Sabre-toothed cat-head biscuit, split it and put a goodly-sized fried chicken breast on it, about what you’d get on a Chick-fil-a sandwich. In the spirit of remembering that this is breakfast, two strips of bacon go on that. Wait, the girl is still throwing stuff on top! Here comes a fried egg and a slice of cheese, before she throws it under the broiler. Once the cheese melts, out comes this tower of southern breakfast goodness. Honestly, I can’t remember the total order of operations here, but if my geology class taught me about how to tell which sedimentary layers came first, the gravy went on my biscuit before it went in the broiler as well.
Meanwhile, Amy ordered a much more reasonable breakfast: two eggs, bacon, toast, a biscuit with apple butter, and hash browns. The hash browns covered a plate the size of a cafeteria tray. As is our custom, we both ordered something the other liked, ate a bit and swapped plates at halftime. I cut my biscuit in half and laid my half its side, trying to decide how to eat it. A fork and knife seemed proper, but without a pitchfork, there was no way to shoehorn all the elements into a single bite.
So, in a very Man-Versus-Food moment, I cowboy’ed up and grabbed my half in a death grip, determined to get a bite with everything included. I found myself quite like a dog who caught the car he chased-I didn’t know what to do with my catch, so rather than put it down and have to regroup, I kept eating on it.
This biscuit looked like the object of a you-can’t-eat-all-that challenge, but it was great! I ploughed through my half and came out with a grin.
The girl behind the counter latched onto Amy’s accent. “I grew up in Charlotte,” she said once we identified ourselves at Atlantans. I wanted to march behind the counter and give Miss Charlotte a hug before we left. Amy’s half of the meal was great, and we walked out full as ticks, grateful for the long walk before we ate.
The location downtown is closed for a move; soon we will have to walk past one location to justify our gluttony at the other location when we come back to Portland.
Oh yeah, we will do this one again.