Thursday, May 31, 2012

No Really Tuna. I Love Flying!

Old AF Sarge in the SNJ-6
Apparently I have given one of my faithful readers the impression that while I love aviation, I apparently hate flying.

This is understandable, given the amount of grousing, whining and complaining I have done vis-à-vis my experiences with commercial air travel over my last few posts. So I figured I better correct this situation. Forthwith and immédiatement. (There I go with the French again. Toutes mes excuses, c'est dans mon sang.)

My first memory of slipping the surly bonds of earth was when I was just a wee lad. Every year in my home town, nestled in the Green Mountains, there was an air show. Now this early memory also involves my first experience with one of the military's aerial demonstration teams.

Now perhaps you all know, I am retired Air Force. However, my first experience with aerial demonstration teams did not involve the Air Force Thunderbirds. It was the Blue Angels and at the time they were flying the Grumman F-11 Tiger. So the Blues have always been my favorites. I guess you never forget your first.

Now at this air show, my older kid brother and I discovered that they were giving airplane rides. Of course my brother and I explained our desire to ride in an aircraft to my parents. We used logic, reason and no small amount of begging. Much to my Mom's horror, my Dad actually consented to this idea. No doubt my Mother had visions of her two oldest sons being scattered over the landscape amidst burning pieces of wreckage. My Dad, being a guy, thought it was a cool idea. For once Dad had his way and Mom had to consent. No doubt to stop my brother's and my pitiable whining.

We got in line, Dad paid the fee to have his two oldest progeny hauled aloft in a small propeller driven aircraft and before you know it, brother and I were belted in and waving to our parents as we taxied to the active runway. (Okay, it's a small town with a small airport. So there was only one runway. Saying "active runway" just sounds cool. To me, at any rate.)

Of course, my Mom and Dad were waving to us as we taxied. The look on Dad's face was "man I wish I was going with them". The look on my Mom's face was more akin to the look mothers get when they send their children off to war. I'm sure Mom realized that the odds of us not returning were very small. But again, we were young and you know how mothers are.

At any rate, soon we were airborne. I have to admit that I recall being slightly terrified as we lifted off and the ground got smaller and smaller. Soon though, the sheer freedom of flight gripped me. The sound of the engine and the fact that we were actually flying soon made me forget any residual terror I had at the fact that for the first time in my life, I was not physically attached to the ground.

We flew over the town, spotted our street and our house (which to this day I always try to do when I'm aloft) and all too soon returned to the airport. And the ground. As we deplaned, my brother and I were both ecstatic and tried to convince our parents to let us go again. Naturally, my Dad's sense of fiscal responsibility  nixed that idea. Also the look on my Mom's face sort of gave me the impression that if my Dad was so bold as to send us up again, she would terminate his existence. Immediately.

Much chastened, my brother and I moped about the airport, very disinterested in the carnival rides, games, cotton candy and other attractions available at our little airshow. Until the point when my parents herded us to a position in the crowd to view the next spectacle. "Hhhmm, what be this?" I thought. At that age I had no idea what the Blue Angels were. I learned very soon what they were.

The announcer began his spiel and our heads turned with everyone else's to see what the big deal was.

In the distance we could see aircraft. Not just any aircraft, but JET aircraft. Very rare in our little town back in the sixties. Also, to our youthful amazement, these JET aircraft were flying in formation and they were rapidly approaching.

Imagine, if you will, my youthful glee as the Blue Angel's diamond formation came roaring over the field. The sound of those engines will stay with me until the day I die.

Of course, younger brother and I were enthralled. I doubt we slept much that night, recalling our big adventure that day.

For the next view years, at every airshow, my brother and I convinced our parents to again pay for an airplane ride. Eventually our youngest brother also joined us. No doubt this proved to be an expensive proposition for Mom and Dad. Inflation lived even back then.

Eventually we outgrew going to airshows. But at one of those I eventually was introduced to the Air Force Thunderbirds. At the time they were flying the F-100, the Hun. An awesome looking aircraft. Almost made me forget my love of the blue jets. But again, you never forget your first.

Eventually, in the fullness of time, I grew up (sort of - the WSO says I have the mentality of a 12-year old, the Missus thinks the WSO is overestimating), graduated from high school and went on to college (for a year) and then joined the "work force".

However, in the meantime, my best friend from high school had attained his private pilot's license. As neither one of us was what you could call "wealthy", he asked me one day if I'd like to go flying. Provided I paid half of the cost for the aircraft. Counting my pennies and deciding that I could go without beer for at least one weekend, I agreed.

Again, the sheer joy of flying gripped me and held me in thrall. Turns out I gave up beer for quite a few weekends over the next year. Every chance we got, my buddy and I went flying. Many memories of those days still stick with me. Here are but a few.

Flying down the Connecticut River valley early one morning, with fog completely covering the river and its environs. (We were, of course, well above said fog.)

Playing tag with a cloud over Mount Ascutney.

My first experience of negative-Gs. A very small amount to be truthful. My buddy would put the aircraft into a slight dive to gain airspeed, pull up and then push the stick over at the top of the arc. For a brief moment, things in the aircraft floated.

The time I was looking out the right side of the aircraft as we were returning to the airport, observing what I don't remember, and hearing my buddy say, "Crap, another shitty approach." As I turned to the front, sure enough, we were quite a bit to the right of the runway. Rather than execute a missed approach, my buddy managed to side slip the aircraft into a better position and we actually managed to get the bird back on the ground. In one piece, with the aircraft still usable.

The time we brought another buddy with us (who also had to chip in, as this time we rented a four-seater, in order to take said buddy along). I still remember his screech of panic as we came through a mountain pass. Seems that a gust of wind decided to push us towards the mountain to our right. We had air space to spare. But our buddy in the back felt the wind push us, looked to his right and saw the trees on the mountainside getting much bigger than they were before. I can't remember what he screeched, but we never let him live THAT down.

Flying over the winter woods in a very ancient Piper Cub. Seat belts of the friction variety (nothing latching there) and door latches about as flimsy as you can imagine. As my buddy put us into a sharp bank to the right (for to see something of interest in yonder woods, I think it was a small herd of white tailed deer) I realized that I was looking nearly straight down. Then I realized there was nothing between me and Mother Earth but a very frayed friction seat belt and that ten-cent ancient aluminum door latch. Oh, that and about a thousand feet of nothing but air. At the time I thought it was pretty cool, though I did have both hands firmly braced against the structure surrounding that flimsy door. (I was young and, as the young always think, immortal. I would probably wet myself now-a-days.)

Shortly thereafter my buddy enlisted in the Air Force. About five months later I followed.

For the next twenty-four years my flying experiences only involved flights on commercial aircraft and flights on Air Force transport aircraft (C-130s and C141s, very much akin to flying while sitting in someone's basement, with very loud noises emanating from all parts of that basement).

Many of those flights involved many long hours over the Pacific Ocean. From 30,000+ feet, there ain't all that much to see.

Did have one "Twilight Zone" moment involving flying. One Christmas the Missus and I (with a very young Naviguesser in tow) made the trip from Korea to New England for a month long Christmas visit. The return flight was most taxing. We flew to New York, had an eight hour delay, then flew to Anchorage, where we had a three hour delay. Then we were on our way from Alaska to Kimpo, in Korea. Well, turns out that Kimpo was fogged in and it was snowing like you wouldn't believe. So we had to divert to Pusan. And there we got to wait for about four hours.

Eventually we did fly into Kimpo and the Missus purchased bus tickets for the ride home to Kunsan. Because of the foul weather, our bus was roughly four hours late in arriving. When it did arrive, it took about another four hours to wend our way through the Land of the Morning Calm, at night, in heavy snow. We eventually arrived at our humble abode. Roughly some forty hours after departing New England.

Now the "Twilight Zone" moment involving this flight occurred a year later. KAL Flight 007 was shot down by the Soviets at that time. Wondering why that flight number sounded familiar, I rummaged through my desk, looking for our boarding passes from the year before. (Yes, I still had them. Something I inherited from my Scottish grandmother. I'm loathe to throw anything away.)

Sure enough, our boarding passes were for KAL Flight 007. Odd the things you think of at times like those. But it kinda scared the living you-know-what out of me. Which on top of the Free World's lame response to the incident made the whole thing rather surreal.

Now some years after I hung up the old Battle Dress Uniform and re-joined the civilian world another buddy of mine presented me with an interesting proposition. Seems this buddy (former Air Force guy as well) actually has a "bucket list". One of the items on his list was to do aerobatics in a military aircraft.

Turns out that there is an outfit in this Great Nation of ours which provides such a service. For a substantial fee of course. (The outfit is called History Flight, there is a link to their website over at the bottom of my "Things I Like to Read" list. They also do some wonderful work with MIAs.)

Of course, I was champing at the bit to do this aerobatics thing. But the cost was, to me, prohibitive. As I recall it was $400 bucks for a 30-minute flight. So I told my buddy that it was a "no can do" situation.

Now the Missus related my disappointment to one of our marvelous kids, which one it was I do not recall. Later, I believe it was that same day, said children huddled up (via phone) and decided that they would all chip in and send the old man up in the air, to do aerobatics in a military aircraft.

The Missus thought they were all nuts, but they insisted. (Have I mentioned how superbly excellent my kids are?) So I called my buddy and told him that I was in.

We drove to Fitchburg, in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, for to meet our worthy steeds for a half-hour of flying. On the ramp were parked two Texans. One in Air Force colors, t'other in Navy colors. My buddy offered me my choice of steeds. He was a bit surprised when I chose the Navy version (the SNJ-6, in Navy parlance. the T-6 to the USAF). I related my love of the Blue Angels. not to mention three kids, all in the uniform of our country's naval service. Yes, I'm retired Air Force, but I'm also a Navy Dad.

In the photo above, you can see my buddy's silver-painted USAF T-6 in formation abaft my beam, to port. (I love it when I talk salty, the Nuke does not and tells me so in no uncertain terms.)

Let me tell you, it was one of the best 30-minutes of my life. It was money well-spent to my way of thinking. It scared the bejesus out of the Missus and my buddy's Missus. Especially when we mentioned the part where we were wearing parachutes. And that the guy who strapped us in (plane captain in Navy parlance, crew chief in Air Force lingo) briefed us that if the pilot told us to jump, that we should hit the device on our chests which would detach us from the aircraft, open the canopy and depart the aircraft in a head-first posture over the trailing edge of the right wing. Oh, and pull this D-ring thingy once you're clear of the aircraft. I also related that my pilot asked me if I understood the emergency bail-out procedure. I said I did. He said good, because if he said "Jump" and I asked any questions, I would be talking to myself. I thought that was kinda cool. The Missus? Not so much.

To the WSO's eternal embarrassment (but secret understanding), when she asked me how the flight was, my answer was "the most fun you can have with your clothes on". Oh and yes it was.

Immelmanns, barrel-rolls, aileron rolls, split-Ss, loops and so on and so forth. Oh my word, it was unreal and so much fun. I can hardly wait to do it again.

So yes, Tuna, I actually do love to fly. But flying commercial isn't that much different than riding a bus. The view is way better of course and those "most dangerous moments" while flying, the take-offs and landings?

Absolutely my favorite part.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Mothership Has Returned!

For those of you who may not know it. Lex's blog (Neptunus Lex) is back up. Thanks to his youngest (Kat) who deserves our thanks.

We can now revisit the words and thoughts of the Master.

You can get there from here by clicking on the link at the top right of this here blog (just below the picture).

I, for one, am overjoyed. Still sad that the man is gone, but his words (and deeds) should (and will) live forever.

H/T to Galrahn, from whom I stole the picture (from Information Dissemination). My apologies, but the picture is just too good and just fits perfectly here. I beg thy forgiveness. It's for a good cause, says I.

Monday, May 28, 2012


Every year in church, on the Sunday before Memorial Day, I make things personal for our little congregation. They're a great bunch of folks, many of whom are also veterans. While we always remember our fallen heroes in church at this time of year, a couple of years back I wanted to bring things more into focus.

I can't say that this is an original idea and I'm pretty sure I read about someone else doing this, somewhere. But I thought the idea had merit. Another factor in my decision to do this was an encounter I'd had with a Gold Star family up in the home state of Vermont.

The Missus and I had gone up to visit my Mom. Normally when we do this, we make a point of taking my Mom out to a nice restaurant. Now this time my Mom had suggested a place which some of our mutual friends were going to be at, so we thought, why not? Turned out it was the clubhouse of a golf course. Also turned out that the food was superb. (As was the company!)

To get to the point of this part of the story, after dinner I'd wandered out to the parking lot to have a smoke (one of my vices, not healthy, I know, but bear with me). As I'm walking around, trying my best to avoid inflicting my second-hand smoke on anyone, I saw a car with a distinctive license plate. I'd never seen one like this before, it was a Vermont plate which looked like this:

At first the significance of the plate didn't sink it.

After a moment, it sank in. Oh boy, did it ever.

I just stood there, literally at a loss for words. I could feel the tears welling up, especially when I noticed that there was a sticker in the back window, giving the soldier's name, rank and dates of service.

The cigarette was discarded and I slowly drew my old bones to attention and rendered a salute. As I dropped the salute, I heard a lady's voice, asking me if I was a veteran. Still in the grip of strong emotions, I turned to her and told her I was retired Air Force. I then asked if she was a member of this soldier's family. Turns out she was his sister.

I could think of nothing more to say than to tell her how much I appreciated her brother's sacrifice. I couldn't begin to feel her family's pain or grief. But I wanted her to know that I felt I owed my freedom to men (and women) who, like her brother, wore the uniform and paid the ultimate price.

We shook hands and parted company. I returned to our little dinner party in a much more somber mood than when I had left. My Mom asked me what was the matter, so I told her. She understood completely. A good friend of her's, they sing in her church choir together, had lost her son in Iraq. A Marine.

All of this stuck in my mind for quite some time. When the next Memorial Day Sunday came around, that's when I offered my personal tribute to the many who have gone before. It's a little thing, I know. But as I told the congregation, it's one thing to remember the dead in a general sense. But I felt that if we could each remember just one name of those who shed their blood for us, it might make this day more meaningful. I know it has for me. Every year for the past few, I have mentioned four names:

          Robert Bain, Royal Army, killed in action on the Western Front, WWI (my great-great uncle)

          Donald McFaul , United States Navy, killed in action, Panama

          Kurt Dechen, United States Marine Corps, killed in action, Fallujah, Iraq (son of my Mom's friend)

          Michael Murphy, United States Navy, killed in action, Afghanistan

This year, I will be adding a fifth name to my personal list:

          Carroll "Lex" LeFon, United States Navy, died at the controls of his fighter, NAS Fallon, Nevada

I encourage you all, if you haven't already, to make your own personal list of those who gave their today, so that we might have our tomorrows. On Memorial Day, say their names, let someone know that we, the American people, do not forget our dead. We honor them and we remember.

They went with songs to the battle, they were young.
Straight of limb, true of eyes, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Party's Over

Since 2001, when our son (the Naviguesser, the oldest of our kids) was commissioned in the US Navy, our family has had one or more kids stationed in the Norfolk area. Our oldest daughter (the Nuke) followed four years later.

The youngest's (the WSO) first assignment was Pensacola. Much to my regret, we didn't make it down there to visit until her winging ceremony. Shortly after that, she was assigned to NAS Oceana, in Virginia Beach.

Now there was a small break in that streak when the Naviguesser was assigned to Bath, Maine as part of the Pre-Commissioning Unit of DDG-94, the Nitze. But for the most part, our family has had someone in the Norfolk area. For 11 years. That's quite a while in my book.

So for eleven years the Missus and I have traveled to Virginia to visit, usually at least twice a year. Don't know if you've ever been there, but I love that area. Sure the traffic can be insane, sure there are a lot of tourists in the summer months. But for quite a while, Virginia has been like a second home for us. And I always enjoyed my visits there.

For one thing, you've got the Naval Air Station. More F/A-18s overhead than you can shake a stick at. Want amphibs? Just drive down the road to Little Creek. Want warships? Head on over to Norfolk. Driving along that pier-side road always gave me goose bumps. Carriers, destroyers, cruisers, attack boats. Man, they've got it all.

Now that's about to end.

Having spent 24 years wearing the uniform, I know all about the "Needs of the Service". And all good things must come to an end.

Lately, it seems the family is getting more and more scattered. The Naviguesser left the Navy about six years ago to pursue a career in computers. It was a good move for him as he is absolutely brilliant in that area. However, his career took him to California. So he's all the way across the country.

Then a couple of years ago the Nuke got her shot at shore duty. Meant she had to leave Norfolk for Memphis, Tennessee. Not a bad place, but (and from my standpoint) there is NO OCEAN there. It's also much further away than Norfolk. Could drive to get there, but it's a long haul.

Now, the WSO and Big Time look to be moving to Lemoore. In California. Across the entire country. Lemoore, in the middle of nowhere. Again, NO OCEAN! (Though they DO have a passel of F/A-18s out there, that is something. I'll admit.)

So the kids move on in their careers. And me, living vicariously through my kids, has to just suck it up. The Needs of the Service come first. Big Time gets a shot at being an instructor, so that's awesome too.

But dammit. Now I gotta fly a minimum of six freakin' hours to see my grandkids! Woe is me, woe is me.

But I'll get over it. I'll put on my big boy pants and suck it up. Still I am so gonna miss Virginia Beach.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Travel Tips from the Old AF Sarge

The Old AF Sarge in Vatican City
Tip 1. When travel is suggested. Run and hide. Go to your mental "happy place" and hope no one notices that physically and spiritually, you have "left the building".

As you may gather, I ain't much for traveling. Though I do enjoy the destination, I no longer enjoy the passage to said destination as much as I used to. But in all seriousness, there are some tips I'd like to convey to you regarding travel.

But first, a tangent, an aside if you will. "Your Honor, may I approach the bench?" As it were.

When our oldest daughter (the Nuke) let me know, sometime in the Fall of 2011, that she and my other offspring were considering surprising the Missus with a trip to Italy, I felt a certain amount of trepidation. Me, travel. Why? Well, obviously the Missus has always wanted to visit Italy. So the Nuke informed me that this was going to happen. I did not have a vote. So I'd better get with the program, say "Yes, Ma'am" and drive on.

When the Nuke is annoyed with me, which is rather often, she is fond of reminding me that she, by an act of Congress and the Grace of God, is a Lieutenant in the United States Navy. Whereas I, her father, am simply an old retired Air Force Master Sergeant. Therefore she, outranks me. Typically I will humor her and go along. I think she does realize that it's all an act. After all, I spent 24 years outwitting my superiors in rank. Everyone knows that we enlisted are a wily bunch. Ever ready to let the officers think that they are in charge, when in reality, if we sergeants decide that something is not gonna happen, odds are, it ain't gonna happen. Unless the Skipper/Old Man/C.O. decides that "BY GOD YOU WILL DO THIS RIGHT NOW!"

Now in our happy little family group, it is has always been accepted that the Missus IS the Skipper. She is The One in Charge. So when the Nuke threatened me with telling the Missus (aka the Skipper) that I was being, shall we say, less than cooperative, I decided to toe the line and "get with the program".

The first thing discussed was whether we would like to be on our own, or be part of a guided tour. As I knew diddly squat about Italy (other than where it is, that they have great food and that they speak Italian) I figured that a guided tour would be the best bet.

I do not regret that choice. We met a really nice bunch of people and we learned far more about Italy than we would have on our own. So that's my first real tip, unless you're very familiar with where you're going, go with a guided tour. Select a reputable tour company. If it's a good company, the tour guides will literally take care of everything. Transportation around the countryside is provided, they show you around and (at least in our case) took very seriously their mission to show us a good time. They also know some of the best places to eat. (Very important in Italy. Did I mention how much I loved the food?)

I think my second tip would be to have some of the local currency on hand upon arrival. We blew this one. When we arrived at the airport in Rome, I considered changing some dollars into (shudder) Euros. (I shudder because I'm kind of old school. I miss the Deutschmark, the Lira and the franc. Euros look and feel like Monopoly money.) The representative of our tour company suggested that the hotel might have a better exchange rate than the airport. Better for the hotel for sure, not better for us!

Our actual tour guide, when told this story, said he'd let his bosses know that the greeters at the airport were handing out bad info. While the rate at the airport was not great, it was way better than what we could get at the hotel.

So have some local currency in hand. Another suggestion from one of our group was to have a debit card of the Visa/Master Card variety. These work nicely in ATMs. Make sure it has lots of cash available. Italy is expensive! A story our tour guide related to us explained why so many things in Italy were so expensive.

Apparently prior to the conversion from the old currencies to the Euro, each country had to agree how much of their old "coin of the realm" would convert to one Euro. Italian politicians, being even less scrupulous than our own politicians, found a way to screw their constituents and, no doubt, make a little money on the side. While I don't remember the exact numbers it was something along the lines that 1000 lira should have made one Euro. What happened is that 2000 lira wound up converting to one Euro. So something which previously had cost a certain amount, now cost double, using Euros. I'm sure it's more complex than that, but our tour guide indicated that there was a certain amount of "funny business" involved with the conversion.  And no one was happy, except of course the politicians and the Eurocrats.

So really, those are my big tips: do a guided tour and bring some local dough with you.

Another thing about guided tours. Generally there is a "stock", kind of "bare bones" tour. This is fairly inexpensive on the surface. But you're also stuck on your own most of the day. For our tour there was only one "standard" activity a day. Everything else was optional. The optional stuff ran 30 to 40 Euro, each. While this seems kind of expensive (and it is), it beats the alternative. Some friends of ours opted out of most of the optional stuff. When those of us on one of the optional dinners had a great time at about 80 Euro per couple, this other couple went to what they thought was a "nice" restaurant. They were not impressed with the food, and it cost them 150 Euro for their dinner!

So sign up for those optional parts of the tour. Well worth it if you're unfamiliar with the place you're visiting Especially if one does not speak the local lingo. It's funny how when you want to complain about something, the person you want to complain to has suddenly lost all knowledge of English.

Pick Pockets, Gypsies and Street Vendors
While we did not run into any pickpockets, they are there. Especially in crowded tourist venues. Take precautions as they are clever bastards.

Gypsies we saw everywhere. They tend to be older women who, shall we say, "dress down" for to scam the tourists. You can recognize them by their shawls, their ragged clothing, their paper cups presented for you to fill with money and their very expensive running shoes. Yup, I kid you not. Every one I saw was wearing just the right kind of footwear to run from the police. Again, a hat tip to our tour guide for pointing that out. He specifically told us to "check out their shoes", beggars apparently CAN be choosers when it comes to footwear.

Street vendors are ubiquitous. None of them (to my discerning eye) appeared to be Italian. All were from regions that are not known for having, shall we say, booming economies. What these vendors are doing is illegal. What they are selling is generally either counterfeit or pretty useless crap. If you buy it, beware. If counterfeit items are detected going through US customs, they are confiscated and destroyed. You get nothing in return if this happens. So again, buyer beware.

Anyway, those are my travel tips, such as they are. Oh, one last thing get something for the plane which will help prevent catching someone else's cold/flu/whatever. Vitamin C. In massive quantities so I'm told. Commercial aircraft are flying Petri dishes. If someone on board has something icky, they will share it. I know. I'm still suffering with the "cold from hell".

Bon voyage!

How could I forget to mention the most important aspect of being with a guided tour? Guided tours go to the FRONT OF THE LINE. No standing with the masses, waiting one's turn. Nope, guided tours scoot right up to the entrance and go straight in. Bear that in mind when planning your trips. Just thought I'd pass that along.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

How 'Bout Some Cheese to Go With That Whine?

I am going to take a break today from my series on the trip to Italy. Why, you ask? (Or even if you didn't.) The reason is that today I am out of sorts. I am indisposed. I am annoyed. I am, in sum, PISSED OFF. Pardon my French, I seldom resort to improper language on this here blog, today I make an exception. So buckle your seat belts, for 'twill be a bumpy ride I fear.

There is a great scene from the movie "The Thing" (the John Carpenter one, not the one from the '50s and not the new one). It is fairly early in the film, the alien-inhabited sled dog has been placed in the kennel with the other (normal) sled dogs and is starting to "get his mojo on". Now one of the inhabitants of the science station is there with the keeper of the dogs (Clark) and upon observing the happenings inside the kennel (and here I'm paraphrasing) says, "What the hell is that?"

Clark: "I dunno what the hell's in there, but it's weird and pissed off, whatever it is."

That last line, would describe me perfectly today for those unfortunate enough to pass by my cell, er, cubicle. Weird and pissed off. Whatever I am.

Though the trip to Italy was wondrous, the return trip was, shall we say, unpleasant. The key part of the trip (at least as regards today's post) was hearing someone a few rows up from where the Missus and I were seated, coughing and hacking. The Missus said, "Sounds like somebody has a pretty bad cold." Then I said, "Wonderful, just wonderful. There's my future, right there." Looking at me somewhat quizzically at first, I saw the light dawn in her lovely eyes. "Oh, I'm sure you won't catch whatever he's got. He's seated so far away."

If only. If only. For you see, your average rhinovirus knows that I'm an easy target. Once released into the atmosphere, those nasty little bastards will detect me, localize me, classify me, then swoop in to set up shop in my nasal passages. The guy with the cold could've been one of the flight crew, locked away in the cockpit, and I could've been all the way aft in the baggage compartment and the little bastards still would've found me. But this, this was too easy. The rhinovirus transport was only about six rows away. My sinuses had no chance. I was a sitting duck. An exhausted, strapped-in, sitting duck.

So time passed. We returned to our humble abode not far from the banks of Narraganesett Bay and retired to sleep the sleep of the exhausted. That was Sunday.

Monday morning arrived, far too early. Our two feline friends were not only happy to see us home but had also decided that 6 hours of sleep was far too much. Why stay abed on this lovely spring morning when you can get up and enjoy the start of a new day? Oh, and while you're at it FEED US!

Oddly enough, I wasn't that perturbed by their insistence that I awake and face the new day (oh, and feed them, musn't forget that). So up I got, fed the cats I did, coffee was brewed, outside I went. Indeed it was a lovely spring day. The birds were singing, the sun was shining, the breeze was blowing, the flowers were blooming, yada, yada, yada. Finishing my coffee I noticed that the lawn needed cutting. Really needed cutting. I could have sworn that I saw a herd of gazelle near the back property line and a small pride of lions near the pond. Waiting to pounce. The grass was really long.

Hhhhmm, me thinks it might be a good idea to actually cut the grass. Like starting right now. Would also make points with the wife as I'm sure one of her first comments on this bright spring day would be "You should've cut the grass last week. Before we went to Italy." And she would be right. Except that it had rained both Friday and Saturday prior to our departure on Sunday. (I suppose I could have got up at 0500 that day and cut the grass before we went to the airport. But no, I did not.) And knowing the Missus as I do, and her knowing me as she does, I better hop to it. At least pretend that I care what the lawn looks like. (Personally, if it looks green from a plane flying over at 500 feet, I'm good with that. The Missus has somewhat higher standards. Sigh...)

Alright, Monday passes. The grass is cut, the lawn once again "looks nice". But now it's Tuesday and I must awaken at 0400 to make the long haul north to my place of gainful employment. Surprisingly enough, Tuesday goes quite well. The drive up is uneventful and speedy and the day does not drag on, but goes by rather briskly. Fair enough. One day down, only two to go. Should be a fine week, I think.

Wednesday dawns. I arise to perform my morning ablutions. Somewhere in there, as I'm stepping out of the shower I think, I realize that I feel like "ten miles of bad road". Headachy and feel just kind of "rode hard and put away wet". Yup, I feel like absolute crap. Oh and to top things off, I broke my glasses. Had to revert to the backup pair. Which have non-progressive lenses. Ugh.

Wednesday drags on like some horrid, poorly written opera in twelve acts, written by a maniac whose sole goal was to torment the audience. (Hhhmm, kinda sounds like Wagner doesn't it?) And of course, to use my computer, I have to either take my old glasses off and press my nose to the screen of my monitor, or lean back so far from the screen I can barely make out the characters on my keyboard. Oh my Lord, says I, can this get any worse?

Certainly it can.

Thursday dawns, far too early. I don't feel the same as I did the day before. Today I feel worse, much worse. The headache is still there, only now my sinuses have frozen up like the GIUK gap in late November. Nothing is moving in there, all passages are sealed. Lovely, just lovely. I love breathing through my mouth all day. Oh well. I can tough this out. For today I make the long voyage south. South from the banks of the Merrimack River to the shores of Narragansett Bay. Home awaits at the end of the day. I can take it, as the reward is sweet.

Take it I did and homeward bound I was at the end of another Wagnerian day at work. Put myself to bed early I did and slept fairly well, all things considered.

But of course, I was sick all weekend. The entire weekend. Fortunately thinks I, I have Monday off. I should feel better by then and be able to cut the grass. (Of course, there's that damn lawn again. A recurring theme in the spring, summer and fall. Explains why I do so love winter. Grass does not grow then. At least not up here in Merry Olde New England. And if it does, NO ONE CARES!)

So while still miserable, I did appreciate the fact that Saturday and Sunday were both beautiful days. Sunny, warm, but not too warm. And by Sunday night, I was feeling much better than I had before. Had gone from a 10 on the crap-o-meter all the way up to a 5. Things are lookin' better.

Monday dawns. I am again awake with the birds. And it is cloudy. And humid. And icky. And drizzling. My morale plummets. Much as the Imperial Guard's morale must have plummeted as they crested the ridge at Waterloo. Just in time to hear the Duke shout out, "Now Maitland, now's your time!" And take a blizzard of musket balls right in the kisser shortly thereafter. Just-too-bloody-wonderful, says I. Perhaps it will clear up later.

Not a chance.

So the lawn was not cut. Again. And as the last of the rhinovirus leaves my system, they seem determined to take most of my lungs with them. Sunday night was a cacophony of coughing and hacking. Sleep was intermittent and fitful. And of course, I had to get up at 0400 to again begin the weekly migration north. North to just shy of the border of New Hampshire and Massachusetts. North once more to "earn my pay".

No rest for the weary I guess.

And so hi-ho hi-ho, it's off to work I go. Believe me, singing I was not. Grumbling I was.

Now normally work does not annoy me, much. Monday was an exception. Monday I was the Light Brigade. My co-workers and team lead were the "cannon to the right of them, cannon to the left". Onward rode poor me. Oh yeah, I (pardon the expression) "got the shit shot out of me". It was, to say the least, a rough day.

Ever have to fix up an engineering document that has been sitting, gathering dust for almost two years? And have to have it fixed up in two weeks. Why do I always get the tasks that time forgot? The jobs which weren't that critical for months on end but suddenly, absolutely, have to be done RIGHT-FREAKING-NOW. Oh yeah, because I have a track record. I'm the go-to-guy. The guy who can do the obscure, difficult things without much guidance needed. I'm that guy. You know, the guy who gets everything dumped on his plate because he gets it done. My military career was much the same. Every shitty little task that no one else wanted came my way. Because "the Old Sarge always comes through. He can be relied on." Yeah, right. Next time give the job to Shmuckatelli. Or toss his ass out. Why are we paying that slug? (Oh yeah, he makes the Skipper's coffee just the way he likes it.)

All that aside. Monday was a bad day. An evil day. A day soon-to-be-forgotten. I hope.

When I get in these moods, one of my co-workers (also former military) likes to say, "Hey, cheer up. At least you're not deployed to some Third World Shit-Hole with some local assholes shooting at you or trying to blow you up!"

True, very true. And for that I am thankful. Thankful to not be there and thankful to those that are there. Keeping the Third World Assholes away from our home turf.

On the other hand. Some days it would really be nice to return fire. Metaphorically speaking of course. I do not ever see myself "going postal" in the workplace. Far too messy and to be honest, I like the people I work with. But once, just once, I'd like to answer an e-mail with, "Sorry can't do that. I don't give a shit today. Why don't you try doing it yourself? After all, you always act like you're so goddamned brilliant. Why not prove it? One way or the other. Have fun with that."

Will that ever happen? Probably not. Unless I win the lottery. As a good friend of mine once said, one bright and shiny Monday at work, "I'm one lottery ticket away from taking a dump on someone's desk."

Sort of my motto for these start of the week days where things are, shall we say, sub-optimal.

Hope your day was better than mine. I truly do. Right now my "Give-A-Shit" low level light is flashing. I just hope I can make it through the week before it comes on steady. (Maybe I'll just try resetting the circuit breaker. Worked on the F-4. Why not here?)

Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Platoon

At the Forum
Even though the title seems to indicate otherwise, this is the third in a series of posts regarding our trip to Italy. Last time I talked about the actual trip to Italy. We left off with a small subset of our tour group on board the bus at the airport, awaiting transport to the Hotel Cicerone in Rome.

I think there were four couples on board that bus, apparently the entire group would be landing in Rome in small parties throughout the day. Eventually the entire group would be assembled that evening. At that point in time I did wonder just how big our group was. But I didn't spend a lot of time wondering about it. Because the Missus and I were exhausted. Our only wish was to get to the hotel, wash up and perhaps catch an hour or so of rack time prior to the evening's planned festivities.

So to the hotel we went, met our guide Carmine, were checked in and bundled efficiently off to our respective rooms. The room was comfortable. As a matter of fact, at this point in time, a couple of air mattresses under a lean-to would've seemed comfortable. Wash up we did, sleep we did and semi-refreshed we arose to begin our exploration of Italy.

Our bus, now rather full, took us to this quiet little Italian restaurant where our group had an entire room to ourselves. It was to be, I heard in rather a panic, a "briefing" on the trip, to be followed by a meal. My panic was due to my association of the word "briefing" with the military's use of PowerPoint as a briefing tool. My company also uses PowerPoint as a briefing tool. There is a reason my Naval children refer to this as "death by PowerPoint". PowerPoint presentations are generally poorly put together and boring in the extreme. At least in my experience.

But my panic was unnecessary. Carmine simply told us what we'd be doing all week, told us about the optional aspects of the tour and told us that we would all briefly introduce ourselves. Now for many people, this "please tell us about yourself" is a cause for panic. Especially in a room with 44 people, most of whom are complete strangers at this point in time. I do not have this problem. I am a natural "ham" and enjoy the opportunity to get up and blabber about myself. Which I did, until the Missus gently yanked me back into my seat and softly told me to "stifle myself". I do tend to run on.

Introductions having been made and with food now being served I had the opportunity to ponder the situation. Now I tend to look at everything in military terms and the size of our group immediately led me to the idea that we were the size of a platoon. Now according to Wikipedia: "platoon is a military unit typically composed of two - four sections or squads and containing 26 to 50 soldiers." Now obviously we were not composed of two to four sections or squads, we were most definitely not soldiers, but we did fit the 26 to 50 criteria. So in my mind, we were platoon-sized. Carmine was our platoon leader. Unfortunately we had no platoon sergeant, no squad leaders or really any sort of cohesive organization. That would, however, develop over the next couple of days. (The leading photo is part of the platoon, in the Roman Forum, with our platoon sergeant local tour guide.)

Seated with us were a couple from Long Island. I'll call them Steve and Theresa. Primarily because those are their real names. He was my age, she was somewhat younger. They were a most enjoyable couple to hang out with. We got along great from the moment we started chatting with them and shared many a great time with over the course of the week. So part of our platoon had already coalesced into a smaller sub-group, or section if you will.

The next couple to join our section we met the next day. They were a fun-loving couple from outside Atlanta, Karen and Dwayne. For the rest of the week, our little section of six was virtually inseparable. We all shared a love of humorous repartee, good fine and fine wine. Particularly the humor and the wine. It's been a week since I've seen them and already miss them terribly. They were that much fun to be around.

Now the rest of the platoon were also combining and morphing into sub-groups. Some of them came to the trip already grouped, though it took a few days for me to notice that. Jet lag, exhaustion and the consumption of quantities of fine wine tend to slow my cognitive abilities. There was a rather large family group on the tour who, if I recall correctly, numbered around ten. There were in-laws and cousins and sisters and such. I never did get them all straight in my mind. Just that there were a lot of them and they were all enjoying themselves.

We also had a group of four Canadian ladies from British Columbia who were traveling without their husbands. They, in particular, were having a supreme good time. And they were a riot to be around. I've always had a soft spot for Canadians, particularly as my great-grandfather was born and raised in Canada, Quebec to be specific. But I also served with members of the Canadian Forces while assigned to NATO, and found them to be excellent folk.

We also had three Australians with our group. A husband/wife plus the husband's Dad. I've always found the Aussies to be an outgoing people, though this trio tended to stick together and generally avoid us noisy North Americans. Apparently they are also a people of no small amount of common sense. Then again all of my previous experiences with Aussies were with men of military age. Never had met a middle-aged and up family grouping, perhaps that was the difference.

The rest of the group tended to be couples of one sort or another, mostly husbands and wives though there was a mother/daughter couple. All of them tended to move easily from one group to another depending on seating arrangements on the bus, in the restaurants etc. There was only one couple in the group which everyone else seemed to avoid, if not outright shun.

They were a rather large pair. Not tallish mind you but broad in the beam. I had really not noticed them until the day at dinner when Theresa announced that she was furious. Of course, we all wondered why. 'Twas then she announced that the male of the broad-in-the-beam couple had destroyed her camera. Eyebrow up, I queried her as to the circumstances. Theresa, in her fury, described how she had asked the guy to take a picture of her and Steve in front of some Roman landmark. He agreed and as he went to take the camera, promptly dropped it. Then had the unmitigated gall to blame her, claiming that the camera strap was still attached to her wrist, causing him to fumble said camera.

Whoa, says I. "Who was it?" Theresa nodded in a particular direction, pointing out that the culprit was wearing an aquamarine colored t-shirt. My gaze settled on the male of the two leviathans, and being who I am, asked "Who, you mean Aquaman?" For a brief moment all I received was puzzled stares, then the t-shirt color, along with their knowledge of my goofball sense of rumor made the pieces fit. So from that day forth, the male leviathan was known to our little group as "Aquaman". The female leviathan never really had a nickname, we may have referred to her once in passing as "Mrs Aquaman". But we avoided them like the plague. Primarily because at one meal, Theresa vowed to disembowel them if she had to sit at the same table with them. Fortunately for all concerned, that never came to pass.

So we're in Italy, the stage has been set, the players have been introduced. All that remains is to describe the various facets of the trip itself. Which I shall do, in good time, in good time. After all, I intend to milk this vacation for a good 6 to 7 posts. But I will leave you with a photo of the "Bridge of Sighs" (Ponte dei Sospiriin Venice.

Ciao. Stay thirsty my friends...

Saturday, May 19, 2012

The Travails of Travel

As you may know, CINCHOUSE and I traveled to Italy for a week. And a wonderful week it was. However, getting there and back, not so wonderful.

Now I have to confess, I don't travel very well. Kind of like a cheap wine. Though I do love to fly, sitting over the Atlantic in a packed metal tube filled to the max with my fellow humans, at night, with nothing to see, does try the Old Sarge's patience. What little he has.

Things started rather well, that Sunday, May the sixth. The Missus and I departed the humble abode approximately ten minutes AHEAD of schedule. Yes, I've emphasized "ahead" because seldom, when travelling  with the family, have we ever departed ahead of schedule. The norm is 15 to 20 minutes after my planned departure time.

Of course, the Missus knows that my planned departure time is based on my experiences in the Air Force. The old "the flight departs at 0530 from the MAC terminal, all personnel must check in at the terminal no later than 0330". Yes, the standard "hurry up and wait" mindset of the military. It has served me well in the past. My motto is that it's better to sit around at the gate and have plenty of time to catch the flight then to be driving on the airport access road and seeing one's flight taking off. Yes, I've had that happen. Not to me, but to people whom I was transporting to the airport who decided that 30 minutes prior to boarding was ample time to leave for the airport. Sad that no one had informed the other people on the highway that we would be making a rapid transit to the airport. Traffic tends to slow things down at times.

All that being said, there we were, ahead of schedule, heading for the airport on a bright, sunny Sunday morning. Two miles from home, the Missus asks me if I brought my black jacket. No, I responded. I have two jackets, why would I need a third? Of course, the Missus tells me we need to go back and bring that third (black) jacket in case I spilled something on the two I had. Although I am generally not a sloppy person, the Missus seems to think that I am a hopeless slob and should be covered with a large plastic tarp at all times. Lest I ruin my clothes.

Back to the house we go, to collect the black jacket. As I dash into the house, the Missus yells out "Oh and bring your other shoes!" What "other" shoes I ask. She looks at me as if my IQ has suddenly plummeted to around 50 and says, "your walking shoes, you know the ones the Nuke got for you". Rather than argue the point, I grabbed those as well. Oh goody, I'm taking two things with me to Italy which will probably stay in the suitcase the whole time. (I did wear the black jacket, once. And not because I'd spilled anything on the other two. I did it just because I could. And the Missus told me to wear it. Sigh.)

Eventually we board our aircraft. To fly to Atlanta. Atlanta in the state of Georgia. Why Atlanta? That's not on the way to Italy. Well, in some things I can be painfully idiotic. Like my extreme distaste for driving anywhere within 20 miles of the city of Boston. So we would fly out of Providence instead. Yes, why add an hour of driving to the trip when you can add three hours of flying to the trip? I really must get over this loathing of Boston traffic.

As we board the aircraft, I am scanning the row numbers, looking for our seats. We keep going and going and going. Ah, here they are. The very last row. And on this particular aircraft, they are seats with no windows. Yes, our seats had no window. Would've been ridiculous to put windows there I suppose, as the engines were mounted there. Wonderful, no window to look out of. And we are right next to the lavatory. Always a plus.

We eventually got to Atlanta and boarded our connecting flight to Rome. Yes, Rome in Italy. This was a thoroughly modern aircraft I suppose. Everyone had their own personal little TV monitor on the seat in front of them. With a selection of programming no less. Okay, this shouldn't be too bad.

Alright we're airborne. After about three hours I look out the window and see the coastline of Rhode Island going by. Yes, the coastline of the state we had left about 7 hours ago. Hhhmm, really need to rethink this whole "I refuse to drive in Boston" thing. Certainly would've shortened the trip.

So now we're out over the Atlantic with a long journey ahead of us. I'm checking the movie selection, it's not bad. It's not really the latest and greatest, but it's not bad. Also there are at least three movies listed that I have not seen yet. Okay, long flight, but I should be able to stay relatively entertained.

At this point in time, as I'm selecting my movie, I notice that the seats in front of us are occupied by a pair of rather tall people. A married couple I presume. A rather large married couple. Rather tall, somewhat fidgety people. The type who feel the need to shift about in their seats constantly. Usually I get stuck next to these type of people, as they're in front of me, I foresee no problem.

So the movie begins to roll. And that's when it happens. The female giant (sitting directly to my front) now reclines her seat back. Reclines it rather abruptly and with a certain amount of vigor. Catching me quite by surprise. Also, my little TV screen which was perfectly placed, is now pointed at my midsection. As my eyes sit in my skull, and not my abdomen, there is now the need for some, shall we say "realignment".

I discover, to my chagrin, that my little TV screen will only deploy up to a certain, rather shallow, angle. An angle which makes it most uncomfortable to view while sitting up straight. After some contorting and realignment of my bodily parts I can now see the movie again. At this point, the giantess shifts again. I swear the flight crew must have been constantly adjusting the aircraft trim to account for these two rather large individuals shifting around.

Finally the giants had found a comfortable position. I reset the little TV screen, scrunch down and go back to the in-flight cinematic experience. For about seven hours plus. I kind of lost all track of time somewhere south of Ireland. I was straddling multiple time zones and my brain really stopped trying to figure out what time it was somewhere south of Iceland.

'Twas then I noticed that it was no longer night. Warily I opened the little window blind and peeked. Yes, the sun was up and it appeared to be a lovely day. Somewhere over southern France I gathered. Geography was always one of my strong suits.

So now I abandoned the in-flight cinematic experience to indulge my love of being in the air and trying to see things far below the aircraft. And what to my wondering eyes appear but the isle of Corsica. "Hey, honey, look we're flying over Corsica!" I nudge the wife, wanting to share my excitement at flying over the birthplace of Napoléon Bonaparte. The look she gave me was probably similar to the look I would've gotten had I nudged her and announced "Hey, honey. I just wet my pants!" Yup, she was very tired and in no mood for a geography lesson.

But I could scarce restrain myself, because there, in the sea to the east of Corsica, was the isle of Elba. The site of the Emperor's first exile. As I turned to the Missus to announce that little tidbit, I realized that I had annoyed her twice already on this trip. Twice in the first day. Going for the trifecta at this time was probably not very smart. Though I can be rather dense, I'm not that dense. So little Elba had to slide beneath the port wing with no notice. My love of history is not shared by my better half. She appreciates history but does not love it as I do. Farewell Elba!

Eventually we land in Rome. At Leonardo da Vinci-Fiumicino Airport. It was exciting at first. Then I realized (as all travelers eventually do) that all airports look pretty much alike. But we had arrived and were ready to start our "Taste of Italy". Ready being a relative term. The only taste of Italy we were really looking forward to at this point was the comfort of the beds in the hotel. We were exhausted.

But we did find the representative of our travel company rather quickly and both of our checked bags had safely followed us to Rome. Then things really started to get fun.

Our travel rep led us out to the bus which would be taking us to our hotel. It would turn out to be the bus that would take us all over Italy, driven by our own Giuseppe. The man who would show us the best of Italian traffic customs. The first being that people waiting for a certain city bus, don't like having a tourist bus parked in that particular spot. Seems to upset their sense of order I suppose. But Giuseppe and one of the locals had a very long and colorful chat about this. I don't speak very much Italian, but the gist of the conversation (as I understood it) was that the local chap felt that Giuseppe should be thrown out of Italy for parking in the wrong place and confusing the locals. Giuseppe, for his part, seemed to be carrying on a running commentary about the local chap's ancestry and complete lack of social graces.

The Italians are a passionate folk.

This story will continue. I have so much material from my week in Italy, that I could probably write a book about it. And maybe someday, I will.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Veni, Vidi, Victus Sum

Vetus Aeris vis Sergeant in Amphitheatrum Flavium
"Sono tornato in Italia!" Which Google Translator confidently informs me means "I have returned from Italy. And a marvelous trip it was!

C'est moi, at left, striking what I felt was a rather Roman pose. Sans toga. No, not naked you naughty person, but dressed not as an ancient Roman but as a modern tourist. This shot was taken by CINCHOUSE just outside the Colliseum, or more accurately the Amphitheatrum Flavium. At least that's what our local tour guide indicated was the correct name.

And as she was extraordinarily cute and extremely intelligent, I took her at her word. After all she's Italian, is very educated and, did I mention, very cute? More on our Italian guides later, with pictures. Now don't skip ahead, that would be cheating!

The Missus and I had a lovely 2 days in Rome (Roma, for you intelligentsia), 2 days in Florence (Firenze) and 2 days in Venice (Venezia). All in all it was exhausting but well worth the trip. As I like to say about Italy, "Come for the vino, stay for the gelato." Both of which were consumed in Italy, in somewhat larger quantities than is perhaps healthy. But when in Rome...

Getting Ready for the Games
Now about that title "Veni, vidi, victus sum". You educated types will no doubt correct the grammar. For those of us who sorely lack a (ahem) "classical education", this translates to, "I came, I saw, I was conquered". Apparently J.E.B. Stuart (yes, he of Civil War fame (or, War Between the States for my Southern readers) also used this line once upon a time, so I can't (and won't) take credit for it. Besides, I'm not that clever.

Yes, Italy has embraced me and entertained me and left me wanting more. At least more chianti (and more gelato, for sure). Oh, forgot to mention the food. Yes, the food was, shall we say, INCREDIBLE!!! (OMG for you texters and Tweeters.)

Now about our tour guides. The lead on this "Taste of Italy" was a gentleman named Carmine. And to be most accurate, that's pronounced "CAR-ME-NAY", emphasis on the first syllable. A rather knowledgeable and personable chap hailing from Rome itself. Let me introduce him at this time.

Carmine was our constant companion throughout the trip and kept us out of trouble. I have to say, whatever his employer pays him, it isn't enough. I mean the man seemed inexhaustible. If you needed something at any time, he was there. I know I did not get much sleep on this trip, he got even less. I asked him what his next gig was after our group left. He indicated that he had another tour in about a week. His plans for his off time? Sleep. Get up and then sleep some more. Sounds like a plan to me!

Now Carmine was our main tour guide. In each city we also had a local guide. For Rome we had Alessia. Did I mention that she was cute?

Here she is.
Our Local Roman Guide
I'd like to say that all Italian women look like her. That would be untrue. But I have to say, there is a rather high percentage of extremely attractive ladies in Italy. I know that there are many attractive ladies in most countries. But English, spoken by an attractive Italian lady, is rather breathtaking. Maybe it was the vino. Did I mention how great the wine is in Italy? I have always liked chianti, now I really like chianti.

So I'm back from Italy. I will share humorous vignettes from our trip in the weeks to come. But let me leave you with just two more photos. The first is of Caesar's Palace. No, not the one in Las Vegas, the one in Rome. Though this is probably what the one in Vegas looks like after a few Naval Aviators and NFOs have paid it a visit.

And finally, the Tuscan countryside. Taken at San Gimignano, after a rather long walk up a rather large hill.


Saturday, May 5, 2012

Viaggio in Italia

Posting here will be non-existent from the 6th of May to the 14th. The Missus and I are going on a little jaunt to Italy.

Rome, Florence, Venice. Just the high points you might say.

I do need the vacation. CINCHOUSE definitely needs the vacation.

So talk quietly amongst yourselves. And I'll leave you with some photos of my children's various assignments whilst upon Active Duty.

The Naviguesser (USS Briscoe, USS Nitze)

The Nuke (USS McFaul, USS Dwight D. Eisenhower)
And of course, the WSO (VFA-32, USS Harry S Truman)
And the WSO's ride (gotta leave ya with some plane pr0n don't I?)


Friday, May 4, 2012

Uncle Smitty's Hamsters

Had a call from the WSO today. Seems that her mother's phone was busy. Kinda tells you where I fall in the hierarchy around here. Yup, I'm the back-up plan.

At any rate, the WSO went to get her hair done today and called to tell me about her hairdresser's rabbits. (Why she was calling to tell me about her hair appointment was absolutely beyond me. Perhaps because Momma was busy, and she wanted to tell this story to someone, anyone. And I am, after all, the back-up plan. Also, note that I said rabbits, plural, not rabbit, singular. Implying that the hairdresser has more than one rabbit. We all know, that if there are two rabbits, one of each sex, then there is no such thing as "two rabbits". At least not for long.)

Apparently the hairdresser wanted to know if the WSO would like a pet rabbit. As one of her rabbits was pregnant. My first reaction was, we're not rabbit people. People in our family have cats, they have dogs. They don't have pet rabbits.

Not that I have anything against rabbits. But it's not like I'm rabidly pro-rabbit either. They live in the woods, I live in a house. I believe in a firm separation between domicile and nature. I yield to them the woods (or fields or whatever venue rabbits choose to frequent). I feel a house is no fit place for a rabbit. Can they even be house trained? My knowledge of rabbitdom is obviously sadly deficient.

Right about now, you're probably wondering what all this rabbit talk has to do with the title of this post. Those who've been here before probably realize by now that I like to wander off topic at times, that I enjoy going off on tangents. That, eventually, I will, get to the point. So I guess now would be a good time to get back to the point.

The point is, the WSO's story of the hairdresser's rabbits reminded me of a family trip down to Fort Walton Beach, Florida. The Missus used to have a sister living there, her husband was, like me, a member of the Air Force. They were stationed at Hurlburt Field, we were stationed at Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska. The sister-in-law wanted us to come visit.

Now I don't know if you've ever been to Nebraska. Lots of corn, lots of cows. To be sure, the people who live there are some of the nicest folks on the planet. But still, lots of corn, lots of cows. So an opportunity to visit the sun-drenched beaches of Florida was not something I was willing to pass up.

So we loaded up the family automotive transport, (why say "car", when you can say "automotive transport"?), loaded the three kids into the back seat of said vehicular conveyance (again, sounds way cooler than "car") and headed south.

One thing we learned early on, was that travelling with young children, can be trying. Very trying. "Are we there yet?" "I'm hungry." "I have to go to the bathroom." These are all typical "conversations" we used to have on long journeys. And with family all over the country, we traveled. A lot. Air Force duties permitting. (I know, I know. Some of you USN, USA, USMC types are probably sniggering and saying, "What? The Air Force has duties?" Har-de-har-ha. Again, I point to the pressing need to watch over and defend my service's many golf courses. They are not going to defend themselves. By the way, do Marines snigger? Ever?)

Some 1,279 miles later. We arrived at Sister-in-Law #3's house. Now those of you with access to Google Maps may have already done some checking. It's only 1,109 miles from Bellevue, NE to Ft Walton Beach, FL. Did I mention that CINCHOUSE had another sister at the time living in Alexandria, Louisiana? Her husband was also in the Air Force, stationed at England AFB. So of course we had to stop by their place. It's not that far out of the way. Is it? No, dear, it's not. So that's how we get 1,279 miles, not 1,109.

So, where was I? Oh yes, we arrived at SIL#3's house. After a long and tiring journey across this great land of ours, the first day's activities would be to eat and then chill in front of the television. Preferably with a beverage which is carbonated and involves hops. That is precisely what we did.

Now SIL#3's husband's name is Smith. We have always called him "Smitty". Sometimes I almost forget what his first name actually is. But as we called him Smitty, our kids, naturally, referred to him as "Uncle Smitty". And still do. To this very day. So there we are, snug and comfy at Chez Smitty's, watching the tube and enjoying a refreshing beverage. Which is carbonated and involves hops. Did I mention that?

After a while I noticed that there was a small cage in Uncle Smitty's and SIL#3's living room. Not far from the TV. And there were rustling noises coming from the aforementioned cage. Looking closer, I noted that Smitty and SIL#3 had acquired a pair of hamsters. (At least they may have been hamsters. They could have been guinea pigs for all I can recall. And "hamster" is easier to type than "guinea pig". Call it "poetic license" if you will.)

Smitty explained to me that their two kids had wanted a pet. They felt that their place was a bit small to support a larger mammalian life form, so they settled on hamsters. Two, each.

As I enjoyed my beverage, the rustling from the "hamster paddock" continued. And seemed to be getting more, shall I say, frenetic.

"So Smitty. Are these two hamsters the same sex?"

"Uh yes, they are. Why?"

"Well, let's just say, that if they're the same sex, they seem to be doing something which could get them tossed out of the Air Force. If they were human." Back then this was true, now? Not so much. Another story for another time. But to quote Seinfeld, "Not that there's anything wrong with that."

So Uncle Smitty arises from his divan and examines the "hamster paddock". Sure enough, the hamsters were, shall we say, "gettin' jiggy wit it". Uncle Smitty, most perturbed, rattles the cage, and in his best Staff Sergeant voice, directs the hamsters to "knock it off!"

Which they did. For about one minute. Then, I guess the hamsters would say, "if this cage is a'rockin', don't come a'knockin'." And oh boy, it was a'rockin'.

Again, Uncle Smitty approached the cage and again, in no uncertain terms, ordered the hamsters to cease and desist all hamster reproductive activity. Forthwith!

I don't remember if the hamsters ever did cease and desist. At that point, tired and with no doubt too many carbonated beverages involving hops on board, and laughing so hard my sides ached. I went to bed. In order to get up the next day and visit the sun-drenched beaches of Florida.

I do believe I found out later that one of the hamsters was male, t'other was female. One went back to the pet store, to be replaced by another hamster. Hopefully of the same sex. A sad love story I guess. For the hamsters. For me, it will ever be, the story of "Uncle Smitty's Hamsters".

The End.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Thursday Night

USS Preble
(What can I say? I love Destroyers!)
It's another Thursday night. A night I personally consider one of the best nights of the week.

Why, you ask? (Even if you didn't, I'm going to tell you. If you did ask, thank you.)

I believe I may have mentioned that I work in one state and live in another. Not voluntarily I might add. It's the economy I reckon. (Or so I have been told by one "expert" or another.) My "home" location, where I worked for ten years had a little trouble with: a) winning new contracts and b) keeping the contracts they had. I'm sure there's some gee-whiz MBA explanation for it. All I know is that if the customer doesn't like the price, and they can get it elsewhere cheaper, then the customer will go elsewhere. Which they did.

So I had the "opportunity" to get loaned out to another location. Said location is 100 road miles from where I live. "Don't worry," they said, "it's only for a year. Things should pick up here in a year. Then we'll bring you back."

That was 2 years and 4 months ago, but who's counting? Things have not picked up at the home office. (Hogday, note the use of lower case letters. It's not the Home Office. Though that might be kind of cool. To work at. I'm not implying that the Home Office is cool. Though I'm not saying it isn't either.)

At any rate, I leave Chez Sarge at oh-dark-thirty Monday morning. Dodge the kamikaze pilots on the interstate, then after an hour and a half (or so) I arrive at my cubicle. And work for ten hours. Then I go to my hotel, watch endless re-runs of "Law and Order" and "The Big Bang Theory", sleep, get up and do another ten hours. Tuesday. Wednesday. Thursday.

Thursday afternoon I get in my vehicle, dodge the kamikaze pilots on the interstate, then after about two hours (more traffic in the afternoon, longer commute if you're doing the math) I arrive back at Chez Sarge. Exhausted.

But, and you may have figured this out by now, every weekend is a 3-day weekend.

And Thursday night is the beginning of said weekend. I sit in my abode and ponder the fact that the weekend stretches out before me, approximately 80 hours of "not being at work".

Then spring comes. And the grass needs cutting. Various and sundry heavy-lifting chores await me. No doubt something needs painting. (Something always needs painting. I was in the military. I know these things. But fortunately, there is next to nothing requiring saluting at Chez Sarge. Oh yeah, for you USN, USA and USMC types out there, technically the USAF is part of the US military. But yes, one of the less-strenuous parts. But someone has to protect all those golf courses. They're not going to protect themselves, are they?)

So spring, summer and fall tend to shorten the weekend. But nothing touches Thursday nights. I get to lounge about the house and let myself go.

So Thursday nights are sweet. I savor them like a fine wine. Sometimes, I guzzle them down like a cheap bottle of Ripple. (Is there such a thing as an expensive bottle of Ripple?)

At any rate, Thursday nights are good.