Category Archives: Thoughts

A Drive-By

Wympee Now, let me start by admitting that this was a total drive-by shooting. Really. No time to stop the car and get out and compose something that looks like an actual photograph. But when we passed this crumbling, tile-facade hamburger joint … because what else could it be with a name like Wympee … I knew I had to have this image. It is so iconic of a fading era in America.

One of the things I love about traveling is seeing places that don’t look like where you live. Wympee happens to be in Dayton, OH, where I’m attending the Cirrus Owners and Pilot’s Association meeting … not because I own a Cirrus, more’s the pity, but because I’m here working for Aero-TV and the Aero-News network … which does. But having grown up in the Midwest, about 90-100 miles southwest of where I am now, it does seem at the same time foreign, and familiar.

Where I live now in Florida, there is very little of the old architecture like you see behind the Wympee, though the restaurant its self probably would be right at home in some little beach town. But I’m certain there was a time when Wympee was THE spot to be in this neighborhood. If the walls and booths and counter could talk, the stories they could tell would, I’m sure, be mundane and fascinating at the same time. How many first dates, how many high-school breakups, how many families looking for an economic meal for the kids. I remember when the first “fast food” place opened up in Bedford, IN, when I was a kid. The Satellite Burger, not because there was any connection to the space program where we were in south central Indiana, but because it was the height of the space race, and you could draw a crowd with anything tagged with “Satellite.” There was a large, almost Disney-like moving thing out in the parking lot which I’m sure was supposed to look like a satellite or a solar system or an atom or something. Which leads me to believe it was a franchise of some kind, though I never saw another one.

Wympee 2

The Satellite Burger is long gone. It looks as if Wympee made it a lot longer, and for all I know, it’s not that old. But now, Wympee stands near the Dayton convention center, vacant, weeds growing up through the cracks in the sidewalk and driveway, a “for lease” sign in the window.

The entrepreneur might look at it and see a cool space for some funky restaurant that, with the right menu, might attract a crowd and a visit from “Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives.” And as we went off to another dinner at a national chain restaurant where the food always has a barely satisfactory same-ness but is never anything to write home about, I thought about how much fun it would be to pull up to the counter at Wympee and see how the burgers might be. Maybe atrocious, or maybe the best burger you ever had that your dad didn’t grill at the lake. But every day, there are fewer and fewer Wympees and more and more ubiqui-foods. And honestly, I think we’re a bit poorer for the loss.

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Nothing Wrong With This Picture

Sure, there were chores. I could have been out repairing the deck, which had a stringer give way the other night, meaning some disassembly will be required, but instead got the boat out of the barn and spent some time on the St. Johns river, never a bad place to be, really.

Osprey 0522My sister Katherine is in town, and wanted so shoot some birds in the most benign way with her ‘way better than mine’ Nikon, and so with Mom on board as well, we went north on the Intercoastal Waterway for a bit. North is somewhat less developed than south, so I thought there would be more opportunities to find some birds up that way. It didn’t disappoint. Osprey are notorious for building their nests in what ever sign they can find, and this one was in the “Slow Speed” sign just to the north of Sister’s Creek Marina. When you look at him big on Flickr, you can see the tail of a fish … our friend’s dinner no doubt, ripening in the afternoon Florida sun. I honestly didn’t see the fish tail in the nest until I was going through the photos later in the afternoon. It looks a little incongruous there, to be sure, but once you realize that it’s for our friend the Osprey to eat, it makes perfect sense.

Too Many Boats

Further up the ICW is the branch that goes over to Kingsley Plantation, a popular anchorage and swimming spot. I expected to hear my MP3 player start into “The Ride of the Valkyries” as this bunch of assorted watercraft started to come into the narrow channel at a high rate of speed. There’s a lot of the “go fast because you can” mentality going on on the waterway, which can make for some challenging navigation. The good new is, they were pleasure boats and not Huey gunships and nobody was shooting at us. And it wasn’t as bad as the day we were taking a sailboat down the Susquehanna River from Havre de Grace to the Chesapeake Bay. I recall looking astern that chilly Mothers’ Day morning about 0600 and seeing a couple hundred bass boats bearing down on us at a high rate of speed. They were determined to get to their favorite fishing spot fast, and most of the people in the boats were wearing cammo gear. I guess it was so the fish wouldn’t be able to see them.

Seagull Pickup

One of the things I find so fascinating about photography is the ability to freeze an instant in time that you wouldn’t normally be able to see. This shot is an example of such an instant, as one of our ubiquitous rats with wings attempted to pluck something out of the water without actually settling down into it. What I think is particularly interesting in this shot is that you can see (if you click on the photo and look at it larger) the way the gulls wings twist to create maximum camber and therefore develop maximum lift to get it flying again after it nabs what ever that is in the water. The larger shot is a bit grainy from the amount I had to crop, but the variableness of the wing is definitely evident as the bird appears to stand on the water to get what ever morsel that is. I think it was Mr. Spock who said, and Mr. Spock said it best when he said … “fascinating, Captain.”

Party Quirks In WaterOf course, none of this is possible without a platform, and this one is mine. I realized recently how few pictures I have of my boat in the water, and I don’t think I have any of her under way. So here is the vessel “Party Quirks” tied to the newly-refurbished docks at Morningstar Marina, formerly Jacksonville Marina in Mayport. I can’t say enough about the effort the marina’s new owners have put into the place to make it a much nicer boating experience than before. The previous folks were nice and all, but the docks were falling apart and they had let their dredge permit lapse, so the launching basin was almost completely silted in. Even my little boat with an 18” draft couldn’t get in or out at low tide. But the basin has now been dredged, the docks are new, as are the fuel pumps, and they sell 89 octane ethanol-free fuel which won’t clog your fuel system with a lot of varnish. I’m glad I was able to stay through the past couple of lean years.

It was a grand day to be on the water. I’m looking forward to a lot more of those this year than there were last year. That wouldn’t be difficult, frankly. Maybe I’ll even venture out next weekend … on a holiday. I’ve renewed my fishing license, and it might be a good day to see what’s biting out at The Jetties …

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Sad Report

I learned to fly a long time ago, starting when I was about 17. I’m been familiar with the NTSB for many years. They investigate every airplane accident, and many incidents. But I never realized before today that they did the same thing for at least some boating accidents. Until today, when I came across an NTSB report on the boating accident last year on the Intercoastal waterway in Palm Valley.

It was a probable cause report.

“The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of the collision of the recreational boat with the push boat Little Man II was the inattention of the boat operators, most likely the result of alcohol impairment on the part of the regular operator and in-experience on the part of the designated operator.”

NTSB Palm Valley Boat

There were 14 people on this little 22 foot boat (NTSB Photo Left). I started boating long before I started flying. I’ve owned a 22 foot boat before, and it was crowded with 4 people on board, let alone 14. Granted, it was a little cabin-class day sailor, but still. My current boat is 20 feet, an open center console fisherman. 6 people on board is about the maximum for comfort. Any more than that, and the boat feels overloaded, sluggish, more than I want to deal with. This boat had a rated capacity of 1750 pounds, and the 14 people on board were estimated to weigh 2233 pounds. And there couldn’t have been 14 PFD’s on board.

So to start out with 12, go out drinking, invite two MORE people on board, and start back up a narrow waterway was just a recipe for disaster. And a disaster happened.

The report reads:

“Because the regular boat operator showed signs of alcohol impairment, several group members objected to his operating the boat. The operator agreed to allow one of the two invited passengers to take his place. After being designated as the operator, the 44-year-old invited woman passenger sat in the operator’s chair on the starboard side of the boat, just aft of the walk-through console. Across the walk-through console from her was another chair, in-tended for a passenger. According to survivors, the regular operator stood next to the designated operator and helped her get the boat under way from the dock. The boat was configured as a “bowrider,” meaning that it had a V-shaped open seating area in the bow, forward of the console, in addition to bench seating near the stern. Thus, passengers seated in front of the console could have obstructed the designated operator’s forward view, giving the standing, regular operator a better view of the waterway ahead.

“Sometime before 1830, as the boat proceeded north in the ICW, two witnesses saw it run aground on a shoal just west of the channel, near day beacon 36 (about 11 miles south of the accident site). Although the witness did not see who was at the helm when the vessel grounded, he observed one of the male occupants in the water pushing on the hull, another male occupant at the helm position, and the remaining occupants shifting position in an apparent attempt to redis-tribute their weight and facilitate the refloating effort. Within a few minutes, the vessel refloated and resumed its voyage northward. Sometime after this incident, according to survivors, the designated operator resumed her position at the helm while the regular operator stood between the operator’s chair and the passenger chair.

Push Boat Little Man II “About 1915, while the boat was traveling north at 25 to 35 mph outside the east side of the ICW’s designated channel (unmarked in the area of the accident), it struck the starboard side of the Little Man II, (NTSB Photo Right) which was moored to a deck-spud barge3 being used in constructing a private dock. According to measurements made after the accident, the outboard end of the push boat was approximately 23 feet from the east boundary of the unmarked channel. In the seconds before the collision, several witnesses who lived along the waterway south of the accident site noticed a boat carrying a large number of people pass at high speed. Some residents reported hearing a loud noise that led them to investigate further and call 911 to report an accident.”

In aviation, the focus is on safety. Every time FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt speaks, the speech is about safety and professionalism. Now I’ll grant you that when there is a problem with an airplane, it’s potentially a big problem. Boating on this level looks easy because it is, if you apply a little bit of common sense. Driving a boat isn’t rocket science. And this tragedy, which claimed 5 lives, was entirely preventable.

It’s May. The boating season is getting into full swing. So whether intentional or not, this NTSB report serves as a timely reminder that alcohol on a boat is every bit as dangerous as alcohol in a car, and the penalties are similar. I know someone who was stopped for BWI. He lost his driver’s license for six months, and paid a hefty fine. It’s serious business.

For those of you who are celebrating the hoped-for end of the recession with a new, or new-to-you, boat, do us all a favor and take the Coast Guard basic seamanship course. They’re free, and they’ll give you a break on your boat insurance. Really. Take a couple of weekends and learn the basic rules of the road and boat handling skills before you head out on the water. You’ll be glad you did, and you’ll have far less chance winding up as the subject of an NTSB Probable Cause report.

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My How Times Change

I get a lot of news releases. Most of them deal with aviation, but sometimes, they stray into the realm of travel. Actually pretty regularly. Today, there was this …

Cougars Connections will go from online to real time over the Fourth of July weekend during a Bahamian cruise, sponsored by CougarsandCo.com, a social networking site geared to bringing together younger men and the older women they seek to date. The three-day, four-night cruise is the first of many travel excursions planned to encourage CourgarsandCo.com current and future members to take the plunge and meet face to face.

The photo is courtesy of the news release.

Now, I’m a happily married guy, and WAY too old to be attractive to a cougar, so I don’t really have a dog in this fight. But what if the tables were turned? See, an attractive older woman who goes after a younger guy is called a cougar. A guy in his 50’s who goes after a woman 20 or 30 years younger is called … well … a dirty old man.

Not that there’s anything wrong with a cougar cruise. But if a website where older men tried to hook up with younger women on a sun-drenched three-day jaunt to the Bahamas … well people would probably just say it was creepy.

But it is a sign of the times. Everyone knows what the cougar cruise is about, and it’s not about “Love”. Probably something that every unmarried person hopes would happen on a cruise, but this is pretty much right out there.

So, if you were an eligible cougar, or ‘cub’, as the younger men are apparently called, would you go on a cougar cruise? Something tells me most of the women probably look more like the “cougars” on SNL than Kim Cattrall. It’s like most of the people who would actually go to a nude beach are not the people you’d really want to see naked. And the few hotties who do make the cruise will be swarmed, not to mention the competition for the better-looking cubs on the cruise. Most of the guys will likely be as lonely as they would be at the cougar bars they frequent …

Meanwhile, I’d like to be able to afford a cruise at all. I’d wave at the cruise ship on my way to Abaco to dive with Brendal.

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Where Did She Go?

The writing muse is still evading me … or avoiding me. Probably more like the latter. It seems I can sit and look at a blank page on Window’s Livewriter for hours without an inspiration, but I’m going to try to get something going here anyway.

I’ve been reading a lot about the volcano in Iceland that has caused so much havoc in Europe for air travel. Volcanic ash just is not good for airplane engine parts, to be sure, but the other thing that crossed my mind is how much CO2 has Eyjafjallajökull spewed into the atmosphere with nary a carbon credit in sight. A lively debate is underway, with no less publication than Newsweek claiming that the reduction of CO2 from airplanes not flying in Europe all week more than offset what came out of the volcano. I’m not so sure I’m convinced on that score, but I’m certainly not surprised it was published.

"There was more reduction in CO2 from airplanes not flying all week than in the amount that came from the volcano," says Alan Robock, an environmental scientist and volcanologist at Rutgers University.

Of course, one scientist does not a scientific conclusion make. It seems like a bit of a trite statement to me. I do know it’s had me humming “I don’t know where I’m a-gonna go when the volcano blow” all week.

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I’m wrestling some with planned obsolescence. My Nikon has schmutz on the digital sensor, and it’s gotten ‘welded’ on, in the vernacular. Somehow, the dust got an electrical charge and it’s stuck to the digital sensor, and the gentle breeze generated by the bulb-style cleaners isn’t budging the stuff. So what to do? Cleaning the sensor is something that Nikon recommends only be done by a professional, and that’s going to be an expensive proposition. By the time I’d pay shipping for the camera body and the cleaning, not to mention being without it for who-knows-how long, and there’s not exactly a “loner camera” program at the local camera store.

So the other option is just to go ahead and upgrade to the D3000, which is the follow-on product to the D-40 I own. And honestly, it’s not that much more money. It just seems like there should be another option, though, and I certainly can’t afford to buy a new camera every time there’s schmutz on the sensor. To make matters even more absurd, I’ve got a pretty sizable investment in the Nikon AF-S lenses that auto-focus with the D-40 and the D-3000, but not anything else. And even with Lasik surgery and diopter correction on the viewfinder, I just can’t seem to get the manual focus to focus any more. At least, not with any consistency. I’ll save the debate for whether digital and autofocus technology has made us lazy photographers for another day, but for getting a shot quickly, there’s nothing like it., But it does mean I can’t go all the way to a D-5000, which shoots HD Video and time lapse. The D-3000 is still pretty basic. Hopefully, at some point, Nikon will offer an upgraded camera body that will have some of those features and still allow the AF-S glass to autofocus.

I’m thinking probably my best bet is to bite the bullet and do both … upgrade to the D-3000 AND have the D-40 professionally cleaned. At least then next time I’ll have something to shoot while the other is out for cleaning.

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Meanwhile, the weather has been as good as it gets for Florida. I do love the springtime here. Low to mid 80’s, warm sunshine … OK, the pollen is problematic, but if you can keep from sneezing, it’s not too bad. In a few weeks it’ll be beastly hot, and I won’t be complaining because I complain about what passes for cold in the wintertime.

I did get the season’s first mowing out of the way last weekend … and we mow twice as often and twice as long as most places in the country. Started in April, and I’ll mow until November. Twice a week at the worst of it. But it’s part of the price we pay for living where it’s SUPPOSED to be warm about 90 percent of the year. This winter was an aberration I hope isn’t repeated for a long time.

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So really, just grasping at straws trying to find my writing groove again. It’s been an overwhelming 18 months … and if you’ll buy me a scotch and a cigar and are the least bit interested, I’ll tell you about it. But it’d take more than a beer, and it’s far from over. For those of you who have stayed with me here, thanks. I’m still hoping that at some point I’ll find my voice again, and when I do, you’ll be the first to know.

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So … Where The Heck Have YOU Been?

Good question. Not here writing for you, unfortunately, but cranking out a lot of bits to the Interwebs none the less.

AEA Aero-TV

Last week, I was at the Aircraft Electronic Association trade show for my client Aero-TV. I was part of a team that put together two live webcasts from the convention floor. As the final interview of the shows, I had the opportunity to chat with AEA president Paula Derks about the Association and its role in the aviation community. Of course, when I say I was part of the team, what I really mean is there were a bunch of talented people there making me look good, and I filled my usual role of sitting in front of the camera and talking. It’s what I do.

What was very interesting about the entire experience, though, was that at the end of the day, it was no different than being on broadcast television. The cameras took the same pictures, they needed the same lights, though we used a much softer light than I’m used to in the studio.  It was shot in HD, the switcher interface on the computer screen looked like a TV switcher … there were camera operators and a producer … all just like old times.

Of course, the AEA show was where they introduce all the cool toys, and if there’s one thing aviation is famous for, it’s cool toys.

Archer IIIOk, so that takes care of a few days last week. But a few days before going down to Orlando for the show, I got to ride along as a second set of eyes during an air-to-air photo shoot for one of Piper’s 50th anniversary PA-28 Archer III’s.  As much as I love flying, and for all the times I’ve been in a little airplane, being this close to another little airplane, even with two very experienced pilots at the controls, gets the adrenaline going just a bit.  On this day, I mostly watched for other traffic, both on the TCAS (Traffic Collision Avoidance System) and out the window. While technology has made things a lot easier, there’s nothing like a good pair of eyes looking out the window to make sure you’re in “see and avoid” mode.

Piper Sport 2

Tuesday, I was in Lakeland for a fly-in, and covered the delivery of the first Piper Sport to a customer … actually three customers who got the keys to their new airplane. It made me jealous. This is a really sweet little airplane in the Light Sport category that would be a lot of fun just to go knock around in, or take on a cross-country up to, say, Miami of Ohio where my daughter is in school. A head turner on the ramp, too. If it has a drawback, its that there are only two seats in the airplane, and there are times when I’d want to take more than one person with me … sort of like my old MR2 that I had when Jenni was born. This would certainly take the place of that. Now if I only had an extra $139,000 burning a hole in my pocket.  Where’s that lottery when you need it?

Redneck Flying Boat

This one, I have to take on faith that it flies. But if there was ever an appropriate place to see it, it’s near the Florida swamps. Yes, that’s a V-hull aluminum boat that’s been turned into a bi-plane. The pilots’ seat, and it’s the only seat aboard, is a white plastic Home Depot lawn chair bolted to the hull. There’s a bilge pump, which you’d expect. A sign on the airplane read “Sunshine Clipper Amphibian Biplane,” and below was the legend “A one-of-a-kind, amateur-built-novelty hull amphibian.” In that they are entirely correct. As much as I love to photograph old and unusual boats, I just had to have pics of this old (looking at least) unusual FLYING boat. It made my day.

Otherwise, I’ve been editing tons of stuff for Aero-News.net, writing my column for “The Jacksonville Observer”, hosting The Jacksonville Observer Radio Show on Wednesday afternoons, which is my only connection to traditional media at the moment, and trying to find some time for The Improv Effect and Republican Party politics.

So what had to give? “Life’s a Beach”, unfortunately. But I’ll still be here when I can, and work to make time for y’all as the summer progresses.

Speaking of the radio show, our guest this coming Wednesday is just-announced candidate for Mayor of Jacksonville Rick Mullaney. Join us Wednesday afternoon at 5:00 on ABC 1320, WBOB.

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It Never Gets Old

Self Portrait For the first time since November, Party Quirks came out of the barn and was lowered gently into the waters of the St. Johns River. After a winter that has been unusually cold and drear, finally a weekend day that gave the an opportunity to go play on the river again. The good news is, it never gets old. The bad news is … well, there’s not any bad news, and that’s the truth.

I was concerned after a long rest that the engine might be reluctant to turn over, but the Yamaha is very reliable. It did require a little cranking, which I rather expected, but once I got it running, well, as they say now in the Bud Light commercials … “Here we go.”

Cruise Ship

I ran upriver to the Dames Point bridge, and then a little beyond. The new cranes for the coming post-Panamax ships look like something out of Star Wars standing on the banks of the river, and you can see (if you click on the photo to see it larger on Flickr) in the distance the floating hotel that is the Carnival cruise ship Fascination. I continued upriver to where the Trout River empties into the St. Johns, about a half hour at my boat’s cruising speed. In places the river was just glassy, but in others, where the currents and tides run at cross purposes, the water became choppy and confused. Very much a normal day on the river.

Derelict SailboatI didn’t know what I’d gone in search of, but when I got to the Trout River, I found it. I can’t resist a derelict boat, and this one begged to be photographed. Riding at a moo ring like someone might come back to claim her any time. And for all I know, someone will. But with only half a mast and no discernible shelter she’ll be a project boat at the very best, but is most likely destined to end her days against the shore in the mud, eventually to be pulled disintegrating out of the water.

From the Trout River, I cruised back to the east to the mouth of the river and out into the Atlantic ocean. Mother, Mother ocean, I have heard  you call … and I heard her call today. As I neared the mouth of the river, I began to ride the ocean swells that make my boat climb uphill, if you can imagine that. But the swell wasn’t more than a foot today, a nice ride to the ocean. I just popped offshore long enough to say I’d been to sea today, and grab a quick photo to send off to Facebook. There were dozens Guanoof pelicans, gulls, and cormorants on the rocks of the jetties that protect the mouth of the river from the rolling surf, making the passage of ships and boats like mine possible. But as you can see, there hasn’t been a good storm recently to wash the guano off the rocks. Birds, particularly sea birds, are messy.

No, it never gets old. The river is constantly changing, always something new to see, and yet there are things that are constant. The dolphin were working the water from the Dames Point Bridge to the mouth of the river, the fishermen were anchored along the entrance of the Intercoastal waterway, under the bridges, pretty much anywhere there’s structure under water for fish to congregate. Even in these personally very difficult times, or maybe especially, the river and the ocean are grounding for me. I was very thankful today for the opportunity to reconnect.

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