Monday, January 13, 2014

Reading, Writing . . . and Publishing?

A guy I know reads 100 books a year. He is the president of a huge company and flies almost more than I do. So, at the beginning of last year I made it a goal to read 100 books. I didn't think it'd be that hard. I work about four trips per month and each time I go to work it involves six hours of flying back and forth, not to mention the hours and hours I sit around waiting for my trip to start, or the long layovers where I'm laying by the ocean. So, 100 books should have been a piece of cake, right? Wrong.

How many books did I read in 2013? Drum roll please............seventeen. Eighteen if you count the one I started in late December and finished in early January. Seventeen freaking books. Not great, but more than a lot of people. Here's the comprehensive list and then I'll tell you which one I liked the most:

1. Kill Shot - Vince Flynn
2. Dear John - Nicholas Sparks
3. East of Denver - Gregory Hill
4. Protect & Defend - Vince Flynn
5. Gone Girl - Gillian Flynn
6. Out of Mormonism - Judy Robertson
7. The Art of Racing in the Rain - Garth Stein
8. Where We Belong - Emily Giffin
9. The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald
10. The Light Between Oceans - ML Stedman
11. In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex - Nathaniel Philbrick
12. A Sport & A Pastime - James Salter
13. Wild - Cheryl Strayed
14. The Hunters - James Salter
15. The History of Love - Nicole Krauss
16. The Panther - Nelson Demille
17. The Longest Ride - Nicholas Sparks

You may be asking yourself, "Why are there so many 'guy books' and so many 'chick books'?" That's easy, I'm a lover . . . and a fighter. But which book was my favorite? Without a doubt, The Light Between Oceans by ML Stedman. This debut novel about a lighthouse keeper living on Janus Rock, an island west of Australia, after WWI is by far one of my favorite novels. The premise of the story is that while on a leave from the island, the lighthouse keeper falls in love with a woman. After unsuccessfully trying to have a baby, one day a rowboat washes up onshore. In it, is a dead man and a living three-month-old baby. While they should really report it, they ultimately decide to keep the infant for themselves, which of course is where the story begins.

My goal for 2014 is not necessarily to read 100 books, or even 50 books . . . but to increase the quality of books I read, especially in the non-fiction genre.

And maybe finally get my novel published. One can dream.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Happy, Happy, Happy

So, here I sit. Amelia just threw a huge tantrum. A strand of lights on the Christmas tree is out. My dad has cancer. My sister-in-law is having open heart surgery in a couple weeks. And lately, I can’t seem to stop crying.

But I’m not crying because I’m sad. I’m crying because I’m happy.

Seriously. Happy.

Sure, cancer sucks. So does open heart surgery. But you know what doesn’t suck? My three year old daughter trying to sing along to Silent Night in the backseat of my car. Or my wife making Christmas cookies in the kitchen. Christmas doesn’t suck. And neither does the hope and joy that comes with knowing Jesus and His ability to perform miracles. And as someone who has seen a miracle or two, I have no doubt that diseases and broken hearts aren’t really that big of a deal to the One who was born from a virgin and raised from the dead.

And it’s His birthday.

So celebrate. Be happy, happy, happy.

Merry Christmas.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Corporate Pilot for a Weekend

“The team is leaving the stadium now. Is the mechanic going to be done by the time they get here?”

That was the question we faced the other day during a charter for the NFL. One hundred sixty passengers on seven coach buses were on the way to the airport and we had just discovered a major maintenance problem. Oh, and the police had closed down the freeway so they could get there quicker. Wonderful.

One of the emergency slide rafts had a rope hanging out of it. That rope would be attached to the sea anchor in the event we ditched in the water. Of course, ditching in the water on a flight that wouldn’t leave the Upper Midwest wasn’t likely, but that’s probably what Sully thought too. From what I know about slide rafts, the FAA is very picky about their operation. Phone calls to maintenance control were made to see if there was a fix. If there wasn’t a fix, then all the players, coaches, media, and the security team would be stuck until we found a solution.

The team coordinator said, “We need to let them know if they should stay at the stadium.”

We still didn’t know if the mechanic could fix it or not.

“I’m not sure,” the captain said.

Hundreds of steaks and pasta dishes were being cooked in preparation for their arrival. It would be the players first meal after the game and if there was one thing I didn’t want to do, it was get in between a bunch of 300 pound men and their food.

Finally a phone call from maintenance control. The raft could be fixed (versus being replaced which would involve flying in a new one). Good news.

The team coordinator, whom I’m pretty sure was about to throw up, said, “The team is leaving the stadium in five minutes. Where is the mechanic?”

The mechanic didn’t work for us, so an outsourced mechanic was in his office (on the other side of the airport) talking to our maintenance team trying to understand what the fix was.

“The team is leaving the stadium now.”

Pacing back and forth wasn’t doing much so the coordinator and I ate a big steak dinner. Flying charters has it’s benefits. After we finished eating we went outside to the air stair and tried to figure out if the team would board through one air stair or if operations should hook up the jetway to door one. Air stairs were attached at door two and door four of the Boeing 757-300, but the broken slide raft was at door four and if the mechanic was still working on it, they couldn’t use that for boarding. Jetway stairs aren’t the sturdiest things ever and to make someone who made more money in one day than I will all year board on a rickety staircase didn’t seem right. Despite that, time was essential so we decided to attach the jetway to door one.

The operations agent said, “The team is exiting the freeway now.”

A couple minutes later, I began to hear police sirens in the distance. It was the team escort. In the back of the airplane was the team coordinator, the captain and a handful of flight attendants, all anxiously waiting to see if the sole mechanic would fix the raft. I was at door two looking for the first sign of the convoy.

My palms were getting sweaty when finally, from the back of the airplane I heard someone yell, “He fixed it! We’re going to board through the air stairs. Have them remove the jetway.”

The mechanic came forward and began filling out the paperwork. The operations agent removed the jetway from door one just as I saw two police motorcycles and three squad cars escorting a group of coach buses pull onto airport property. Not a minute to spare.

As if nothing had ever been wrong, the team boarded and within 15 minutes of their arrival, we were pushing back and on our way. The flight back to their home base was literally the smoothest flight I’ve ever been on or flown. I managed to grease the landing and we pulled into the FBO (which is where corporate planes park). Over 100 cars were running and waiting, talk about first class service. The team disembarked and an hour later I was on a flight home.

I love it when a plan comes together.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Home


Home |hōm|
noun
1 the place where one lives permanently, esp. as a member of a family or household

The above may be the definition of home, but I think there’s a lot more to it. A few months ago, my wife and I started looking for a new home. What I realized, however, is that what we were actually looking for was a house, and we would turn it into a home.

After our offer was accepted but before we moved, we told our 2 1/2 year old daughter about the “new house.” We’d drive by occasionally; to see what it looked like at night, make sure a tree hadn’t landed on it during the latest storm, maybe catch a glimpse of the neighbors. I even made a test drive from work to see how long it took and get familiar with a new route. Whenever we drove by or talked about it, we referred to it at the “new house.” So that’s what our daughter started calling it. “The new house.”

As closing day got closer and closer, the emotions ran high in our household. The season finale of The Office aired during our last week in our townhouse. I never thought about it until the last episode’s credits were rolling, but The Office started when we moved into our townhouse, nine years later it came to an end as did the time in our townhouse. In a lot of ways, our lives paralleled the characters of Jim and Pam in the show. I fell in love with Erin (my wife), we bought a house, went through a few rough patches, had a baby, and now we live a pretty good life. But the place where all that life happened, was our home. Sure, it was just a little townhouse, but it was where we made all our memories; our first Christmas, birthdays, new jobs, preparing for a baby and finally bringing our daughter home.

Home.

I kept referring to our new house as our death house, meaning it’s where we would die. Mostly because I despise moving, but partially because I apparently don’t handle big changes very well. My wife did most of the packing which I’m forever grateful for, but when I was home packing, it was incredibly emotional. Often packing up the smallest little thing would turn Erin and I into a sobbing mess. Whether it was our daughter’s baby clothes or some old paint. Packing it all up and lugging it out to the garage meant there wouldn’t be anymore memories made in that place. 

When the moving truck finally pulled up, we both lost it. That was it. Everything was going to the new house over those following four hours. Like a band aid. Before the movers knocked on the front door, we wiped the tears from our eyes, then tried to hold it together while they did the heavy lifting. (Side note: hire movers, keep your friends.) After they unloaded all our stuff and drove out of our new neighborhood, we looked at each other with a look similar to when we brought our daughter home from the hospital, “Now what?” We started the process of trying to find a place for everything, but it wasn’t home. All our stuff was in it, but when I went back to our townhouse, even though it only had a random lamp and a few leftover boxes, that was home. I felt more at home in our empty townhouse than I did at the place that held all our belongings.

For a while it felt a lot like going to a friends cabin. We didn’t take a lot of showers and we didn’t know where every light switch was like we would at home. It was safe and secure like a home should be, but not quite comfortable.

Even after a month and a half in our new house, while my daughter and I were out running errands, I said, “We’re going to go home and have dinner.” She said, “Not home daddy, the new house.” She’s right, it’s still not quite home...but it’s getting there. I’m sure by the time she learns how to ride a bike, breaks her arm on the tire swing, and graduates from high school, it’ll feel like home.

And if we move after that, we’re going to need professional help. Like I said, death house.

Friday, April 12, 2013

On Driving

I spent an easy hour at the DMV yesterday renewing my drivers license. The DMV is an interesting place. For a 16-year-old, it’s exciting and nerve-wracking. The unknown that comes with a driving test followed by the freedom of being able to transport yourself anywhere your 1984 Mercury Marquis with the droopy ceiling can bring you. Once you’ve passed your initial exam however, it’s basically the world’s most depressing place. People begin to take driving for granted, even by the time you renew your license on your 21st birthday, it’s...like...so not a big deal.

But it is a big deal.

I’m amazed at how little training goes into the skill of driving a car safely. I had six hours of actual behind the wheel instruction when I was 15 (not including hours of my mom yelling at me). So, six hours of training half my life ago. That doesn’t seem like enough when you’re barreling down the freeway at 80 miles per hour inches from other people doing the exact same thing. It’s amazing to me that there aren’t more crashes every year. It’s probably one of the most dangerous things people do continually. And they do it with little regard for safety; texting while they’re stopped at a light, putting on their seat belt only because they saw a cop, even loud music in a dynamic driving environment is distracting.

It makes me wonder why there isn’t continuing education when it comes time to renew your license. Make people take a class teaching proper use of eyes, steering wheel management, proper body position, and anticipatory driving. Then, take them onto a track with an instructor who will teach them how to control their car in a skid, high speed evasive steering, off road recovery, weight transfer, and emergency braking. Don’t make it a test, instead call it training so people come away a better driver.

A friend of mine has his nine-year-old driving go-karts. Of course, it’s fun father/daughter bonding time, but it’s also teaching her the hand-eye-foot coordination required to safely operate a vehicle later in life. At the go-kart track she’s free to skid around corners, avoid crashes, and go as fast as she wants. He told me one of his proudest moments was when she got into a skid and her little head was still pointed down the track where she wanted to go...and where she ultimately ended up. I think that’s a great start to becoming a safe driver.

I don’t think advanced driver training will ever be available for the majority of the population which is too bad, especially after I saw a 19-year-old girl hold up her hands to see which one made an L during her eye test. Yikes.



Monday, February 18, 2013

Girl Scouts and Band Camp

Based on how tight my belt has been lately, I can only come to one conclusion. It's the Girl Scouts fault. Those cute little girls are all sweet with their perfect little sales pitch that they've no doubt been testing on their parents for years. And if you succumbed to their charming ways like I did,  your pantry is probably stocked with enough cookies to make the Keebler Elves cringe. I've survived enough sub-arctic winters in Minnesota to have already established a layer of fat that keeps me warm. I don't need any help. But nonetheless, every year I find myself doling out my hard earned money to support my favorite Girl Scout. 

A few years ago, my source in the Scouts (read: a 9-year-old) informed me that her council had changed the way they sell cookies. Instead of filling out the order form and waiting patiently for cookies, it now works more like a drug deal. You give them cash. They give you the goods. I wish it had been that way when I was selling candy bars door-to-door for band. 

When I was in 7th grade, the school band was low on funds...I think. Either that or the band teacher needed a new set of golf clubs. Regardless, it was up to the band members to scour the town in search of people hungry enough to buy a candy bar, but not so hungry that they wanted to eat it right away. 

The way it worked was this; I'd show a client pictures of the candy bars they could choose from. They would pick out what they wanted. I would note it on an order form. They'd give me the money. I'd give them a promise to return in a couple weeks with their one dollar candy bar. I don't know why anyone would buy candy in such a manner, but nonetheless I sold $70-80 worth of caramel goodness. All I had to do was deliver the candy and I could move on with my life. It would have been pretty easy...if I hadn't lost the order form. 

I lost the order form. 

How many houses had I gone to? 100? How many people did I sell candy to? 40? I was racking my brain trying to remember, not only who had purchased a candy bar, but how many and what kind. 

So, with a box of candy bars in hand, I set off on my original route and hoped that as I walked past various houses, I would suddenly remember what kind of candy they wanted. It was a little embarrassing explaining my situation to someone who may or may not have purchased a candy bar from me, but after a couple hours, I had rid myself of most of the candy bars. 

On the way home, I stopped at a park and helped myself to one of the spare candy bars nobody else had claimed. I thought about what lessons I learned and came up with the following list;

1. Don't loose important things. 
2. Don't ever become a door-to-door salesman, you suck at it. 
3. When you grow up, don't trust 7th graders. 

So here I am, a grown up who doesn't go door-to-door selling crap. And I still have trust issues with 7th graders. But Girl Scouts? Well, as long as they keep my freezer stocked with thin mints, they're alright in my book. 

Sunday, November 04, 2012

At Least He Bought Dinner

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything. I could give multiple excuses; (1) I’m polishing my novel and getting ready to send query letters to agents, (2) I have a kid who is nearly two years old, good grief, (3) I go to Europe more often than I go to the grocery store and it’s tiring. But alas, I know you have all been anxiously awaiting a blog post from me, so here it goes.

I don’t write very often about what I do on layovers. They’re usually awesome and I am always up for doing whatever touristy activity is associated with the city I’m in. My last layover was Edinburgh and it rocked my socks off. I go to Edinburgh a lot, so much in fact that at one point the barista at the Starbucks near the hotel said he sees me more often than he sees his own family who live an hour down the road. I’ve seen the castle, I’ve hiked Arthur’s Seat, I’ve gone to St. Andrews and hit golf balls, I’ve been on multiple ghost tours, I’ve gone to the Whiskey Experience, I’ve seen the Military Tattoo and the Fringe Festival, I’ve been on a literary pub tour and had a snack in the coffee shop where that lady wrote Harry Potter...or was it Lord of the Rings, I can never keep the two straight. To say the least, I’ve done the touristy stuff. So now, my typical Edinburgh layover consists of a workout, dinner, and live music at one of the many pubs (conveniently) located stumbling distance from our hotel.

This last layover wasn’t much different, although I skipped my workout, we started with a walk around town and eventually met up with the entire crew for dinner. One of the flight attendants on our crew has a boyfriend who lives over there. He came to dinner (wearing a kilt and everything). Before we had a chance to pay for our meals, he took care of the entire bill, which I estimate to be about £100 (or 150 USD). Very generous to say the least.

After dinner we went to a pub where I had the opportunity to learn more about this guy. While we were walking, I asked where he lives. He said it was near Aberdeen, Scotland and then casually mentioned that comedian Billy Connolly is his neighbor. Impressive, as I can’t imagine Billy lives in a shack. He also mentioned that he has jammed with Billy and actor/comedian/banjo player Steve Martin. Although I don’t get star struck over too many people, that’s kind of cool.

The girls were chatting at a table while he, the captain and myself were sipping scotch in a different part of the bar when he told us about a flying car that he built. He has nine prototypes at his house that are fully functional. It goes 0-100 mph in 4.0 seconds and is shaped like an egg. Apparently during dinner, he got a call telling him that it’s been sold to a company bigger than Airbus or Boeing so he wanted to celebrate which is why he bought us dinner. He said he got the idea from his days as a Formula 2 hovercraft champion. Very cool.

A few minutes later, we were chatting about adventures and I mentioned that I used to skydive. He said, “You should try doing a HALO jump.” HALO stands for high-altitude-low-opening and is generally only something military people (like Navy SEALs) do. I asked how he had the opportunity to do that, he said he used to be a super-soldier in the SAS (which is the British version of the Navy SEALs). When I asked if he’d read the book “No Easy Day” about the Osama Bin Laden raid, he said he had and that I should read a book called “Bravo Two Zero.” Apparently he was on the team that the book is about and that what’s not mentioned in the book is that he carried a guy 500 miles through the desert on his back with all their gear. He’s a hero.

As the conversation about adventures continued, he told us how he jumped a snowmobile off a 110 foot cliff a couple weeks ago. This, of course, just two weeks after he had a brain tumor removed. The fact that this guy is still alive is a miracle. As one of our flight attendants said, he’s Chuck Norris.

As I started to tell this story to a friend yesterday, I started laughing at how gullible I must be. Let’s start with the story about him in the SAS. How long would it take to walk 500 miles? Forty-five days if you’re in good shape? Now throw a guy (and his gear) on your back and how long is it going to take? Maybe twice as long? So, the SAS has two guys wandering through the desert for three months and they don’t come find them? Without even getting into the whole food and water questions, wouldn’t they run into a town or a road or at least a car they could take over?

The flying car is feasible, especially with his background as a Formula 2 hovercraft champion. But where does a guy who’s in the special forces have the resources or the time to design and build a flying car? And he just happened to sell it while we were at dinner with him? How convenient.

Finally, I’m no physics expert, but if you jump a snowmobile off a 110 foot cliff...don’t you die at the end? People have committed suicide off of lesser heights and wouldn’t the added weight increase the speed at which you hit the ground?

I think the flight attendant who said he was Chuck Norris was right, he’s a very good actor. As a matter of fact, I Googled his name when I got home. The only thing I could find was that he’s been an extra in some films.

At least he bought dinner.