Sunday, February 7, 2016

Planes, Trains, and a Really Nice Automobile.

That's me on the left.  The guy on the right?  That's the weather.                                 Source

The other day a co-worker commented that I looked tired.  Hell-  I’m bald, 47, rarely sleep until my alarm, and really need to lose a few several pounds.  Tired is just pretty much just how my face looks.

In my defense, I had a rough trip to the Gulf Coast this week, and being tired is guaranteed when I’m supposed to leave on Sunday afternoon, but don’t arrive until Tuesday at 10 AM.  I was heading for Miramar Beach Florida to brief at a conference, flying into Ft. Walton Beach (VPS).  I had the 1:09 PM United Flight from San Diego (SAN) to Houston (IAH), but we had trouble finding keys.  My wife long ago misplaced her key to my car, (I still hold out hope that it’s not lost forever) and the teenangster, now licensed to drive, took my set to drive my wife’s car.  Once the valet key was found, we rushed to the airport and I arrived about 45 minutes before launch.  Normally that’s fine since I was traveling on business, and I’m always given TSA Pre-Check.  Since I was one of the presenters though, and it’s a somewhat formal conference, I had a large roller suit bag that needed to be checked.  However, I learned that the cut-off for bags was 45 minutes prior and I was 43 minutes from push.  At that point my options were very limited- either leave the bag with someone, or miss my flight.  I figured I could pull my suit out and shove it in my backpack as my only choice, so I called my wife back to come get the bag.  However, her phone has 3 modes- off, silent, or dead.  I didn't dare call my daughter as we've threatened her with all sorts of angst-causing repercussions if she ever uses her cell while driving.  She has never driven to the airport anyway so that option was moot.

Next call was to the house to ask the minnow to have mom call me.  I called that co-worker who was already at the gate and she recommended just take it through security and have them gate-check it.  Sounded like a great idea to me, so I hustled down to the short TSA-Pre-Check line only to be embarrassed when I found out that I was NOT in that category.  The regular line was 20 or 30 deep by now and there was no way I’d make it.  I resigned myself to missing the flight and my Monday morning brief slot as there was no later flight.  In hindsight I should have asked about flying into Panama City Beach (ECP) as that’s less than an hour away, but I was stressed and didn't think of it.

I made my way back to the ticket agent who took pity on me and booked me on the same flight the next day- the earlier flight being full.  I asked about standby and he said to show up at 5 AM for the 6:50 flight.  I set 2 alarms, but still woke up before I needed, subconsciously worried that I’d miss that window.  Made it on time and was put on standby for both legs.  At the gate I was at the top of the standby list, but the flight had checked in full.  I'm no quitter though and stayed in the boarding area.  I chatted up a newly hired pilot sitting next to me at the gate, heading to Houston for training.  He had just retired from the Navy a month or two earlier and was a former F-18 Squadron Skipper.  His check-out was with his boss who was relieved later that day when some uh,  inappropriate material was found on his work computer.  You might have read about it in Navy Crimes Times, but anyhoo.  We played the “Do you know” game for a bit and found out that in addition to knowing plenty of the same folks, that we were both fans of “Ask Skipper.”  He knew of Sarge’s blog, but hadn’t read it.  Thanks to some common ground and Goon being an all-around good guy, he graciously gave up his seat and took the jump seat.  That put me on my way.

In Houston, the next leg at 12:25 was full as well, but I’d been lucky so far.  There were 3 or 4 of us waiting, including a dead-heading pilot trying to get home.  As it turned out, none of us got on.  There was one open seat, but the CR-J was at the limits of weight and balance with the cargo and luggage.

Next flight?  7:27 PM.  Ugh.  Fortunately, I had a confirmed seat on that one.  Off to the USO I went.

USO at George Bush Intercontinental Airport

After conversing with the great Americans working there, rehearsing my now-rescheduled presentation, and a brief and very unsatisfying nap, it was about time to head to my gate.  Once I arrived there however, I noticed that next to the flight number the departure time had been replaced with the word CANCELED.  Fog had rolled in and closed the runway at VPS.

Chances are, I’d miss my new morning brief slot now as well.  Considering whether to just abort the trip and catch the 9 PM back to San Diego, I got in line at the United Airlines service desk to see what my options were.  An agent asked if anyone wanted to fly to Panama City and my hope was restored.  That was only open to people with carry-on luggage though, and I had checked my bag.  I hoped it had made it on the earlier flight and asked about it.  After his quick check, he found it in Ft. Walton so I was clear for that flight at 9:15 PM.

I was exhausted by now and fell asleep shortly after takeoff.  The flight attendant woke me as we began our descent only to tell me that we were landing back in Houston, barely 30 minutes after we launched.  Since ECP and VPS are only about an hour’s drive apart, the fog was all along the Gulf Coast.  Before I landed, United had rebooked me to ECP at 7 AM.  

Did I mention I was tired?  Fortunately there was a Marriott Hotel in the Airport so I stayed there for what was now going to be a short night.  I had my shaving stuff, but no change of clothes other than a polo-shirt crammed into my backpack.  Since I might be briefing immediately upon arrival at the conference if (had I made the noon flight), I was wearing a blazer with a shirt and tie.  After a long day of travel, the shirt was wrinkled and none too fresh.  So I added another hour to what was already an 18 hour day to wash my shirt, socks and fruit of the looms in the hotel laundry, going commando for the time being, if you really must know.  While I waited, I updated my co-worker on my schedule and called SATO (Govt Travel Office) to rebook my rental car.


No further problem in Houston the next morning and we landed about 8:20.  No bag at ECP of course so I headed straight for the rental counter.  Yes, I had a confirmation, but they HAD NO CARS!  I asked the 4 or 5 other agencies and due to the weather problems, cars either hadn't been returned or had been scarfed up by other redirected passengers.  At the end of the row, Avis had one that had just come in- unwashed and lacking a full tank, but that was fine with me.  A higher class of car, they wouldn't give it to me at the compact rate I was authorized, but I didn't really have a choice and the travel Nazis back at the office would have to suck it up when I filed my claim upon RTB.

My route from ECP to VPS and my conference.  Notice the "Broken Wings" tab?  If you haven't read it, please do.

I didn't know exactly when my brief was so I wasn't sure if I had time to recover my bag and backtrack to the conference site at the Sandestin Beach Resort.  It turns out I did, as my slot was just after lunch when they were almost sure I'd be there.  Lunch options included sit down service in a café and a grab-and-go buffet.  Both were as quick as could be expected, but feeding 200 people takes a while.  Briefs were scheduled every 15 minutes and the speakers are mostly super-smart scientists, engineers, and physicists.  Yeah, yeah, I know what you're thinking- "What the hell is Tuna doing there?!" I was just there as a palate cleanser I suppose- just to brief our future goals for Mine Warfare.  Anyway, the speakers are somewhat kept on schedule through the use of a green light- 1-12 minutes, yellow light 12-15 minutes, and a red one at the end of their time which flashes red at 30 seconds over.  A friend who works for the Office of Naval Research which hosts the event said that they all have Aspergers and might keep talking for days if they weren't given the hook.  That might be a bit of an over exaggeration, but as the father of an aspie, there's a lot of truth to it.  They're smart as hell, but socially inept to some extent, at least when it comes to public speaking.  The morning session ran 10 minutes long so the attendees were slow in getting back to the room.  The afternoon session started promptly at 12:30 though so I briefed to less than 50 of them.  A lot of trouble to pass on some important info to so few folks, but at least some of them got it.

The one bright spot was that upgraded rental car…

Yeah, it’s really unfortunate that I had to rent a convertible, but I tried to make the most of it.  What kind of ragtop was it you might ask?

2015 Mustang.
I think that's some fate intervening there.  Last year at the same conference, I flew into VPS on the last flight before it closed.  The rental agency only had one remaining car so I got a free upgrade and had this one for the week:

No, not the best picture, but the fastback looked great and was fast as heck.  I've always loved Mustangs, but have never owned one.  The closest I ever came was the '67 convertible that my mom bought new.  It was Lime Gold (yes, that's really a color), had the center console like in the picture below, and I loved it.

Maybe I've mentioned it here before, but I never had a chance to drive it as my folks sold it the day before I got my learner's permit.  They must have predicted that'd I'd wreck two cars by age 18, which I did.  After renting the car last year and telling my wife just how much fun I had, she blew my mind by saying I should get one for my next car.  How awesome of a wife is that? Telling me I should do something completely impractical!  The teenangster goes off to college next year and thanks to some scholarships and the G.I. Bill, it won't be much of a stretch.  After we figure out just how much stretching is required, I'm thinking it'll be time to turn in my 10 year old Toyota Tacoma.  We don't do any Boy Scout camping now anyway so now that vehicle, at 16 mpg, is really the impractical one.  Now on the other hand, I have had a history with skin cancer, so just don't tell my Dermatologist.

So what did I learn from all this?  A bunch of lessons I already forgot from my time in Naval Aviation.  First off, don't be late.  There's a reason we brief 2 hours before launch, and we're on the flight deck an hour prior.  If something goes wrong, you've got time to troubleshoot. 

Second, alway have a divert.  I've flown into all three airports on the Gulf Coast and know how close they all are.  In addition, if going through flight school in Pensacola taught me anything, it's that weather in the area can come up in moments, and knowing where else you can land is vital to flight safety.  It would have helped if I had just asked to be re-routed originally to ECP anyway, as fog was forecast at VPS.

Third is to never get complacent.  They say that a senior aviator, the ones around 2000 hours (senior O-4s/O-5s) are the most prone to mishaps.  Sure, the nugget is dangerous since he's clueless, but the older guys get complacent and over-confident.  I guess that's where I was last Sunday- thinking that I'd be cleared for Pre-Check and would have enough time.  

Enough for today.  I better not get too complacent though, I've still got a fight with the bean-counting travel Nazis ahead of me. 


  1. My Mustang was a Nightmist Blue '67 Fastback, with a 289 HiPo. It was faster than fast in a straight line, but had the turning ability of a rhinoceros.

    1. These new ones, 2015 on, have an independent rear suspension so the rhino tendencies are a thing of the past. That hard left turn from that road with the bridge (293) to the road on the coast (98) was quite sporting and a load of fun because of it- feeling just as tight as the BMW 330ci my wife drove a few years back.

  2. Good lessons all.

    I have one word for you as regards the rag top: sunblock. Figure about SPF 10,000. It's what I use. Sure you look like one of those New Guinea mud men but it's worth it. (I think...)

    1. I actually was wearing sunscreen and had my hat on until snapping that pic, but then I wouldn't have been able to use that line about my dermatologist! I took some literary license, but us bloggers do that sometimes- at least once a month when I get around to actually writing.

    2. Ah yes, literary license is our friend.

  3. Only ragtop I ever owned was a Fiat 850 Spyder. Fun to drive, and if I could have paid myself mechanic's wages during the time I spent fixing it I would have made a lot of money.

    Sun and windscreen! And I could have made money as a rainmaker, 'cause usually putting the top down meant rain shortly afterwards.

    Life has a way of smacking you in the face when you start to ignore the complacent rule.

  4. Re the video, "Now muster the trouser decon team with the LSO party in the net!"

    Holy smokes, what a horror story. I thought we were all supposed to have personal helicopters with supersonic dash capability by now. Oh to be unchained from the modern air transport paradigm.

  5. My ragtop was a Mazda RX-7. My Boss at CincPac, an Army LTC got a short notice job offer to be the airport manager at Kwajalein. Pay was about double his O-5 pay and tax free. He went from thinking about staying in or retiring in about 1.6 nanoseconds. He asked me if I'd take a Power of Attorney to sell his cars for him. I told him sure, and just for fun, asked how much he wanted for his 2 year old bright red RX-7. He said "Loan Balance." I said "Sold". Picked it up that afternoon. Was driving back from Schofield Barracks on H2 and happened to glance at the speedometer. I could have rotated in most of the aircraft I'd flown at that speed. Note to self, this car will go fast, fast! A great little car.

    Sounds like it would've been faster to drive from Houston to Pensacola, although Fog could make the Atchafalaya swamp and the Mobile area a bit sporting.

    1. We got a BMW 330ci Convertible about 6 years ago for the loan balance as well- a good buddy and his wife had a late-in-life baby and there was no way 2 older kids and a baby car seat would fit. That kid is our Godson by the way.

  6. "You're sooooo lucky to get to travel for work."

    Yeah, I love hearing back at the office. Last trip got the last seat on the last flight out of Taipie as that Typhoon in August made landfall. Dodged that bullet. .heh.

  7. There's a Mustang convertible in the garage right now that is going for a drive this afternoon because it is 75 degrees and there isn't a cloud in the sky.

  8. Wow! Coupla things went through my mind - well, 3. I'm thinking how mishaps occur and it is usually a chain of events. Which you acknowledged.
    2nd on that convertible - I have the same issue - when the dermatologist digs a chunk out of your back that turned out to be melanoma, you start to get different priorities. Haven't swam in the daytime since that time.

    But I have a 20 year old convertible - an SL - and in the summer I just slap that SPF 30 lotion all over my head and arms.
    I'll tell ya, with the top down on a summer evening you feel like you are the king of the road.

    Oh - the third thing? As arduous as that trip was it was helped along by some good people at key moments.

    They are still out there.

    1. So true. United was great with everything they could do, but sometimes the weather refuses to cooperate.

  9. Never been much of a Ford guy myself, but I rented a Mustang convertible last time I went down to Key West. It was a sweet ride.


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