Sunday

NEWLY MINTED CAPTAIN

 



         My captain’s upgrade bid opportunity with Northwest Airlink came up in November 1995. That, however, was to be the captain of Jetstream 3100, referred to in our pilot group with little affection as the “Junkstream.” Those aircraft in our fleet were beat to hell and the trips all sucked. No thanks, says me! My chance to bid captain on the Saab 340 that I’d been flying since I started at the company came up the following spring. Yet, my prime bid for vacation came out at the same time. Unwittingly, the idiots at crew scheduling had approved my sweetheart choice of two weeks back-to-back beginning on July 5th! If you were a pilot at a regional airline in those days, that alone could trigger an orgasm. When I showed it to the guys in the crashpad they all laughed, and then immediately began a group scheme to preserve and protect my bid.

 

First off, I needed to NOT bid for captain. Second I needed to not interact with scheduling for any reason- just lay low and be a good boy. Additionally, no one outside of our CID crashpad could know about this award. Finally, I had to sit tight and watch a whole bunch of pilots that I was senior to go to captain ahead of me. The result was that within four months I was the number 2 first officer in the whole company and number 1 in MSP.

 

A funny trend then took place. Tim Hughes, who was the senior captain at CID and the leader in this conspiracy, had been bidding with me nearly all year. He was also an IOE (Initial Operating Experience) check airman in the Saab. So, sometimes he had to go and fly with newbee captains. When he did that, the company usually stuck me with some newly minted captain out of the southern system. It was sometimes fun but on one occasion I needed to drop the hammer on one of these egos.

 

Tim and I flew up to MSP on our first leg of the day then he had to split to do his IOE dance. Our next scheduled leg was to Duluth, also known as “Scrub Dog.” It was early May, and the weather had been unseasonably warm. But my look at the weather that morning showed a quick moving cold front sweeping down out of Canada. There was a lot of moisture in the air, and that spelled nasty for Scrub Dog. I hadn’t met the new guy yet as he was not one of our northern pilots. He was born and minted in MEM and the southern system. Worse yet was the fact that the newly earned fourth stripe had really inflated this person’s ego.

 

I’d remained in the cockpit finishing my paperwork when captain newly-minted stomped aboard. He flopped into his seat, looked at me, scowled and said,

 

         “Here’s my rules for first officers…”

 

Gee… no hand shake… no hello? Gosh.

 

As he was uttering the old worn out “Flaps up, gear up, shut up,” line I unbuckled, nabbed my flight bag and got out of my seat. I’m not God’s gift to aviation, and I had always been a really good guy to trip with. Sense of humor and clear focus on the job and procedures- but at age 39, I was a good deal more mature than nearly all of the other FOs and some of the captains at the company. Plus, this was my second airline… I wasn’t gonna take that sort of crap from anyone.

 

         “See ya’…” I said calmly.

 

         “Where, ya’ goin’?” he said with a note of surprise.

 

         “I’m fatigued,” I replied, “thirty seconds and I’m tired of your shit already.”

        

         “Wait, wait…” he chirped, “ya’ don’t have to be like…”

 

         Now it was time to lay out some facts for this new captain from the tropical southlands.

 

         “You probably haven’t looked at the weather up in Duluth, and there’s no way I’m flyin’ into that shit this morning with the likes of you.”

 

         “Hey, hey, “ he waved his printed paperwork, “I just got off my flight in from Memphis and I have it right here. Look… maybe we got off on the wrong foot.”

 

         “Yeah, and it’s in your mouth. Now you’ve got mine in yer’ ass.” I decided that maybe this guy was worth keeping if I could deflate his head enough to allow for room in the cockpit. “Look at your sonority number and look at mine. I’m nearly a full year ahead of you. That means that I’ve been flying around in this shit up here for a long time. They had you all set up to go into the worst of it today with me, but you gotta pull that “my rules for FOs” bullshit on me. So now I’m gonna leave and they’ll replace me with someone new who is sitting on reserve. Get it?”

 

         That took the wind out of those sails and we started to communicate. He offered to take the leg up to Scrub Dog and I said I’d take the leg back to Minni. We made it in and out in unsettled weather then on the climb out the shit hit us. I was flying and we started to get thunder ice. I knew which way the stuff was moving and our normal route to the southwest was just not gonna cut it. Then we hit a large area of turbulence just as we contacted MSP approach there was a “woosh” as we ran through a brief area of severe ice that turned to moderate. I called for the boots to “continuous” and he asked about “bridging.” I told him that was myth and give me “continuous” which he did, then the radar went pure red. Of course it wasn’t heavy rain, it was the raydome iced over- which happened on the Saab sometimes. Now it was a matter of just knowing the pattern of the storm’s movement. I called ATC and told them about the icing and asked for a turn to about a 135 heading. He cleared me for that, plus “as needed” and asked to let him know when we were in the clear. It only took about the longest five minutes or so in that new captain’s career before we popped out of the shit. I had to ask him to tell approach and they had some Northwest flights follow our lead. Captain ego was pretty much puckered in his seat.

 

         We came into Minni from the east and landed just fine. I asked how he liked flying in the northern system?

        

         “I ain’t never seen notnin’ like that before?” he shook his head.

 

         “Don’t worry,” I told him politely, “it can get worse.”

 

         We flew together for three more trips before I hit my go-home day. He instantly mellowed out and was a darned good pilot and well on his way to being a good captain. However, he did tell me that he was bidding back into the southern system right away.

 

         Oh… “and what about the vacation bid?” you may ask. Well, that’s another story.



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Winning Bets



The following is an excerpt from the book I'm currently writing the working title of which is "NON-STANDARD APPROACH; I was only at Embry-Riddle for three terms- one for Carter and two for Reagan" 
Everything in this post is Copyright 2020 Wes Oleszewski and may not be reproduced without express written permission.

WINNING BETS
I never bet unless I’m 175% sure I’ll win. As a corporate pilot I had a customer who flew to Vegas about once a month and had us stay there for a day or two. I never lost a dime on gambling- because I never bet. On one trip my boss brought his wife along and she was really bugged by the fact that I wouldn’t gamble. I explained that the odds are highly slanted toward the house and I was getting paid to be there- not the other way around. As we left dinner one evening I walked right past a row of slot machines ignoring them all. Finally she stopped me and gave me a quarter out of her purse.

           “Here!” she said directly, “Just put this in one of those machines and pull the handle.”

Hey, it was my boss’ wife… so I inserted the coin dutifully and pulled the handle. Then I walked away to my room while the wheels were still spinning!

           “You can’t just walk away like that!” she shouted down the hall, “What if it wins?”
           “It won’t.” I replied over my shoulder.

And it didn’t.

I applied that same attitude all through my Embry-Riddle saga. When we entered the school as freshmen, the student bookstore had lots of swag with which to relieve us of even more of our money. Most of it was fairly high quality and we snapped it up. One such item was the weather-proof zip up book satchel. It was made of neoprene with a heavy duty zipper and was said to be totally waterproof. In the Florida climate, that was a good thing for your books- which were certainly not cheap.

My 1977 neoprene book bag.
Not in bad shape after all these years.

I bought one- we all bought them. They had the ERAU logo on them and they were easy to carry.
One day while we were getting off the bus at the RSI and walking back to our room I was goading my roommate Mike that these bags were completely waterproof and I could actually toss mine into the pool and my books would come out dry. That turned into a bet… five bucks, a hand shake and I tossed my book bag, with my books in it, directly into the pool!

It sank like a rock.

Kicking off my shoes and ditching my wallet I dove in after it. It was at the bottom of the deep end and I went down and easily recovered the bag. Surfacing I shook off a bit and with a small crowd watching, I unzipped the bag. Every book was bone dry, and Mike paid off. I didn't bother to tell him that I saw one of the other guys do the same thing earlier in the week, so I had the edge.

Mike should have known better because he had lost a bet for $10 several days earlier when I boasted that if he gave me anything… anything, I could make a contraption out of it that would fly. That evening after dinner he handed me the cash register receipt and a tooth pick and told me to make it fly. Later in Room 182 I sailed the contraption over to his bunk and he tossed me the cash. It was simple matter of taking the receipt and folding it in half crosswise then making to small rips in the fold and threading the tooth pick through them. I extended the wood to give the contraption a slightly forward CG and it flew quite well… just like the ones I used to make when I was in high school.

That’s what we were at ERAU to figure out. Fly something and get paid for it.

Those two little tales lead into this one- which I think really quantifies ERAU.

While waiting for a “Nav. II” class to begin I waved a 3x5 note card at Earl, a pal of mine who was seated behind me, and I boasted that I could take it alone and make an airplane that would fly to the front of the classroom. He bet me a seafood dinner that I couldn’t do it. Considering that I was on a starvation budget, one would think that such was a bet I’d never take. But I love seafood and I had an ace up my sleeve.

I decided to make one just for this
blog post.Yes, it flew...
I still got it, eh.
Since the beginning of the school year I’d been fascinated with the concept of flat plate lift. One afternoon I had spent nearly an hour in the Avion office being informed on the subject by one of the upperclassmen who was an engineering student. In my spare time I sat in my dorm room and built small airplanes with flat wings out of 3x5 cards. I had it down to a science where I could make a good flyer out of just one card. The airplanes had a one-piece wing that ran through a slit in the “V” shaped fuselage that was long enough so you could adjust the wing laterally for CG. The wings had small winglets and the vertical stabilizer was a section of the fuselage that was folded upward so the “V” pointed forward. That caused the relative wind to force the nose up and induce an angle of attack. At the front I folded the fuselage over itself a few times to add nose weight. The horizontal stabilizer was simply a rectangular flat piece that slid into a slot in the aft fuselage. They flew quite well, but when you gulled the wing… they flew great! My only problem now was that in class I didn’t have my trusty Xacto knife. 


I’d have to tare carefully…there was seafood at risk.

Our instructor in that Nav. II class was Mr. Mike Dougherty, which was great. I’d had him for my very first class at ERAU, “Foundations of Aeronautics.” He was a former Air Force KC-135 driver and was as cool as they come with plenty of aviation war stories and sick jokes. Today, that quality would come through for me.

I sat there during the lecture, passively constructing my little flat wing glider. I made my wing slots with a pencil point and then balanced for CG on the pencil as well. When it was done I held it down low and showed it off the Earl. He leaned over the desk and whispered,
           “Okay… now fly it.”

Hey, I said I love seafood.

I cocked back my elbow and gave her a toss.

The damned thing not only flew, but it took off!

Mr. Dougherty had been lecturing toward the other side of the room and I’m not sure what caught his attention; the glider in flight, or the rippling chorus of snickers and “whoa”s. The little plane flew right up and plopped down gently near his feet. He stopped his lecture and picked it up.

           “Who made this?” he asked casually as he examined the little airplane.

A half dozen fingers, led by Earl, pointed to me as I meekly raised my hand. Mr. Dougherty eyed the airplane intensely and then he wound up and gave it the skilled toss of someone who'd been launching paper planes since he was a little kid!

Again the little airplane took flight and stalling slightly a few times nearly made it to the classroom door. Everyone snickered and Mr. Dougherty just shook his head.

           “Come up after class and get yer “A” for the day,” he said pointing at me. Then he turned to the rest of the class and said firmly, “Don’t none of y’all get any ideas either.”

This little event, I’ve always thought, says a lot about what ERAU is all about.



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Saturday

Dinner with a Legend

Former DOT Secretary and Congressman from California Norm Mineta (Right)
who is a legend, and Me, the guy who has never done anything worthwhile (Left). 
Friday the 13th is usually considered a day of bad luck, things going wrong and general ill winds. However, on Friday the 13th, of December 2019 the day would become an unforgettable good one for me.

The day before I got a text from my buddy, fellow ERAU alumnis and author Bob Brantner. He had spoken to me a few weeks earlier asking if I wanted to attend the annual Wright Memorial dinner with him and his dad, former DOT Secretary Norman Y. Mineta- who very much prefers to simply be called "Norm." It would be a "black-tie" event and the tickets were $250... each. Of course I could hand out a few business cards and deduct the ticket cost, but that term "black-tie" was like scratching a blackboard to me (for those of you who do not recall what a blackboard is, the reference used here indicates a very annoying noise that causes a shiver to run up your spine. - Advice from a boomer to the generation know-it-all, yet experienced nothing). My normal formal wardrobe involves jeans, sneakers and a CCM Hockey T-shirt. I suggest to Bob that I'd probably pass on the offer. On Thursday morning, however, he hit me with a text saying that his dad had bought six tickets to the event and two people had dropped out, so now I had a free seat and if need be, just a suit and tie would be fine. I said I'd have to contact Teresa and see what she had scheduled for Friday.

Texting my wife I outlined the situation. Now, she has been working as an FAA contractor at several different companies since 1990... she replied, "NORM! You GOTTA GO!!!" I responded that I did not have tux. She fired back, "It's Norm Mineta. RENT ONE!" Then a moment later she sent another message saying that I did to have a tux- "Look in your armour."  I went to the armour and began sliding back the "good shirts," ties and dozen hockey jerseys all of which were waiting for countless years steeped in the atmosphere of cedar wood. There against the back wall was a single hanger with a plastic bag-draped item that had not been disturbed since New Years Eve 1999... it was my long forgotten tux that was older than both of our children.

Of course the first question was... does it still fit? Pulling it out, the pants, jacket and shirt amazingly still fit. In fact the pants were slightly large. Examining the jacket closely I found one small moth hole on the sleeve so tiny that no one would notice. Next I dug out the shoes... the damned things fit too! My only issue was that the shirt collar was too small to button. The tie would hide that. I was in business and I quickly texted Bob and told him to count me in.

Friday morning I decided to get a start by putting some badly needed polish on the shoes. Opening the can I found what had once been the polish was now dried up and cracked, looking very much like a lunar sample that had just been re-opened after a half century. Additionally I found that I did not have a plain white T-shirt! Every shirt that I had was garnished with some sort of block writing or insane image. It was sure bet that people looking at the front of my tux shirt would be able to read "WKRP in Cincinnati" in red letters right through it! It struck me that I was a long way from my days as a corporate pilot where the shoes were shined and the ties were ironed. Thus it was a dash to Walmart. Now... just try to find a package with one, size L mens crew neck T-shirt, in that place. All that was on the shelf was the packages of 8 or 6 and most were size 3XL... which I guess was the hottest seller at Walmart along with the wife-beater shirt because they had plenty of them. Finally, after strolling around a bit and digging up to my elbows I found a pack of two! The shoe polish was easy, but as I picked up the can I heard one of the other shoppers mumble, "What the hell do ya' use that for?" Apparently our wardrobe normality was similar.
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That afternoon with freshly polished shoes I donned my tux which felt happy to finally be out of the armour. Yet I considered that I'd be way more comfortable in my hockey gear, but had hope that I may somehow blend in with the black-tie crowd. Teresa was, as always, working from home on Friday as I stepped out of our room and into the living room to show her how I looked and with the hope that she'd catch any glaring errors. Of course since she was working from home, I was pretty much invisible. I cleared my throat to get her attention. She looked over, smiled slightly and twinkled her fingers to indicate either "good bye," or "get lost" I'm never sure which.

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Driving to meet the rest of the party I stopped at a red light and the guy next to me looked over as if to say, "humph... a waiter." Then navigating to Norm's house, my amazing Google navigation gave me a last moment wrong turn and I found myself in the driveway of a dilapidated country house with two disabled rusting pickup trucks and a mountain of trash in the year. The rusting screen door had a hand-scrolled sign hanging on it that read "BEWAR OF DOG."

I knew that Norm was a down to earth sort of guy, but that could not be his house. A quick call to Bob got me turned back in the right direction and soon I joined the Mineta team. In the gang, which was led by Norm Mineta, were  Bob, who was directing activities, plus Patrick McCarthy, Kaylee Downen-Pizzonia, and Don Knight.


The Mineta gang (L to R) Norm Mineta, Patrick McCarthy,
Kaylee Downen-Pizzonia, Bob Brantner, Don Knight, Me.

The great Mark Usciak
and some other guy...
ummm... me.
 After the normal struggle with DC traffic we arrived at the hotel and the event. I was sure that I would not see anyone there that I knew outside of our group. As I was going up the escalator to the reception, I looked down and coming up was my long time space pal and photographer Mark Usciak! I greeted him at the top and he was surprised to see me too. "Where are we," he asked rhetorically, "Tuscon? KSC? Houston?" From there the night evolved from slightly awkward to fantastic. I quickly found that people in aviation and space all see Norm as a superstar. Everyone wanted to shake his hand, greet him and have their picture taken with him. As I recall nearly every speaker that night mentioned his name and the spotlight shined down on our table as the crowd applauded. When selecting seats, Bod sat next to his dad and told me to sit on the other side of Norm. I felt highly honored. As we ate dinner, Norm engaged me in friendly conversation- everyone can take a lesson in charm from him, including me.


Of course plenty of pictures were taken. The only problem was that they had the ball room bathed in burning blue light- so we all looked purple. My later solution was to transform my photos into gray scale.





Mike Collins got this year's Wright trophy award and he spoke to the crowd. In typical Mike Collins fashion his plain-spoken, humor-laced speech had us all in the palm of his hand. I met General Collins for the first time last summer at Spacefest. I got the chance to tell him that his book, "Carrying the Fire" was what inspired me to become a writer, and later the author of more than two dozen books and counting. In the summer of 1977 as I was preparing to head off to Embry-Riddle and become a professional pilot, I read his book cover-to-cover. I said to myself, "Gee... the guy who wrote this is an astronaut and a pilot. If he can write, I can too." For some reason that solidified my deep belief that you don't have to do just one thing in life.


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Unlike my friends Bob and Mark, who often attend black-tie events, for me, the Polack kid from the wrong side of the Saginaw River, such is extremely rare. I have to thank Bob and especially Norm for this chance for me to mingle among aviation's elite. As I repacked my tux this evening I told my wife I would need a new shirt for it. She just smiled and said, "Whenever you get invited to another tux event, we'll get you a new shirt," we were both certain it'll not be anytime soon.

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Wednesday

Dedicated to a very special guy




James Brink Sr. was a very important person in the first two decades of my life. He passed away at age 92 on November 9, 2019. Thus, hang on folks- this is gonna be a long read.

Shortly after we moved into our home at 3324 Lexington Drive in Saginaw’s Sheridan park I was strolling down the sidewalk near our house and met a kid on a tricycle. It was the summer of 1964 and that little boy was named Jimmy Brink. He was about to start kindergarten and I was going into the second grade at Nelle Haley elementary school. We talked a bit, he turned around and rode home, went into his house and said to his dad, “There’s a new kid on the block, his name is Wes, he’s a Pollack… is it okay if I play with him?”

His dad, Jim Brink, laughed and said it was alright to go and play with the Pollack kid. Forever known to me as “Mr. Brink” that man would become a very important person in my growing up years. You see Jimmy and I soon became pretty much inseparable. People in our neighborhood knew that if they wanted to find Wes, they just looked for Jimmy and vice versa. Right up until I went away to college Jimmy and I were the best of friends- at one point we even dated sisters. Since Jimmy only had older sisters, I sort of became his brother and wherever the Brinks took Jimmy, I often was taken along. His dad became something of a second dad to me, because when Jimmy got into shit, so did I. Of course we never did any really “bad” stuff, just the basic boy’s stuff and Mr. Brink had to deal with us. Being a Saginaw police officer he knew well that there were far worse things than the little crap that we got into.

Once Jimmy, who was as fascinated with wildlife, fish and wild game as I was with things that fly, caught a large frog and had it in a paper cup. His mom wouldn’t let him bring it into the house, so he left it on the front porch and I kidnapped it- leaving a ransom note made of words cut out of Newsweek magazine. When Mr. Brink came home for lunch, Jimmy showed him the note and accused me as the culprit. Mr. Brink, in his police officer’s uniform came knocking at my door. My mom, not yet knowing who he was answered the door and was astonished when the cop asked for her seven-year-old son. He hand cuffed me, (the cuffs kept falling off of my scrawny wrists) and marched me over to their house where he cuffed me to the lamp post in the front yard and shot me with a squirt gun until I told him where the frog was.

He taught me many other life-lessons, some far more serious. His first was respect for his service revolver- NEVER touch it unless he handed it to me. Jimmy and I both learned how to fire both that and some of the other guns that his dad owned. When his ammunition got old he’d take us down by the Cass River and we’d shoot plastic bottles and stuff. Thus, his guns were not sexy, or forbidden, or glamorous they were simply his work tools. Eventually we got our own guns and we treated them with the same degree of common sense. From the time I was 16 I had a loaded .22 semi-auto rifle in my closet, just like Jimmy’s. He and I would take those up to their cottage at Windover Lake and shoot them out in the woods. We never considered ever firing or even aiming any of our guns at another person. That’s not what you did with guns- thus we were taught.

Some of the more important lessons that I would learn from Mr. Brink were the unwritten rules of law enforcement. Rule number one: People are stupid. Rule number two: Remember you’re a people too- thus you may do something stupid. A later rule was that there are some people who get up in the morning, look in the mirror and say, “Today I’m goin’ to jail.” So, when you put them there, you’re just making their fondest wish come true. In later years while I was working my way through college by busting shoplifters, I remembered that rule… all 372 times that I put someone in jail.

He showed Jimmy and I that it was way more fun to be on the right side of the law than on the wrong side. A good example of that took place on a summer day in the early 70s. One afternoon Jimmy called me said that his dad wanted me to come over and to bring my baseball mitt with me. Okay. Whenever Mr. Brink asked for something odd like that we just did it. I showed up at their house and in the living room was Detective Sergeant Brink and another detective. The other guy asked Jimmy and I if we knew what a marijuana leaf looked like? We said “yeah” because the Saginaw PD had come to our school and showed us in a demonstration. He told us that such was great and they had a problem that we could solve. There was a guy in Sheridan Park who was growing pot in his back yard like it was tomatoes. The neighbors were calling in complaints, but none were willing to sign a complaint- they didn’t wanna get involved. So, it just so happened that Jimmy and I were walking up the street, innocently tossing a baseball in a friendly game of catch until we got to the guy’s house and then… whoops, I tossed that darned ball right over the fence! Oh darn. Jimmy went over the fence effortlessly (keep in mind that we guys who grew up in Sheridan Park jumped every fence routinely, so this stockade fence was no problem). About 30 seconds later he came back over in a hustle. “Let’s get otta here!” he murmured. He hadn’t gotten a leaf… he had uprooted a whole plant! Holding it in his folded ball mitt, it was too long to fit completely into the glove. So, he kept shoving one end back in and the other end would come back out as we walked back toward his house. Just as we turned the corner, one of the neighbors, who was a deputy sheriff, cruised by on his way home. First we puckered and then we snickered at the fact that here we were carrying a whole pot plant in Jimmy’s ball glove and law enforcement drove right past us. Now being good citizens who just stumbled upon a huge pot grove, we decided to, of course, take it back and turn it over to his dad… who just happened to be a police officer… at home… with a narcotics officer. What a coincidence. Mr. Brink and the narcotics detective snickered too- not only at the fact that the sheriff had passed us, but mostly at the fact that Jimmy got a whole plant. What he didn’t get was his baseball. He just nabbed the plant and went back over the fence. Later that day the house was raided and that evening Mr. Brink came home from work and tossed Jimmy the baseball. It was recovered during the raid.

In another event Mr. Brink showed a fine example of cool. We were on Windover Lake water skiing and always the mischief-maker Mr. Brink spotted two pretty blonds who had just come out to sun on a nearby dock. Jimmy and I were just trading turns and as Jimmy got into the water his dad suggested that it might be fun to zoom in close and “Give ‘em a splash.” Off we went- Jimmy dropped one ski, zoomed in close and splashed the girls. They squealed and  Jimmy made several more passes. Then it was my turn. I was still trying to do the one ski thing so I made a single pass with a lesser splash then dropped a ski and thus proceeded to spread myself across the surface of the lake in a spectacular crash. The boat recovered my ski and putted by so Jimmy could have the girls ask their folks’ permission to ride in the boat. A few minutes later the two blonds were in the boat and I was up on the skis again. I wrecked two or three more times trying to do the one-ski thing and provided sick comic relief. Finally the boat came along side and Jimmy said I was done for the day… my nose was bleeding. Apparently the last crash was harder than the rest. Climbing back aboard I met the oldest of the two sisters, Debbie. We were together from then until I went to college two years later. As Mr. Brink pulled the boat back to our dock an enraged neighbor came stomping down the hill. He was shouting out how reckless we were running the boat. When the angry idiot stopped to take a breath Mr. Brink just calmly said, “If you don’t like it, why don’t you call the sheriff.” Unable to contain himself the enraged oaf held up his chin and shouted, “I’m with the sheriff’s department!” With the utmost cool of moves Mr. Bring simply said, “You’re with the sheriff’s department? Let’s see your badge.” Not expecting that retort the dude stammered, “I… I… left it at home.” Mr. Brink then reached into his bathing suit pocket and pulled out his badge. Displaying it he said, “Well, I’m with the police department and in the state of Michigan all law enforcement officers are required to carry their badges on their person at all times. So, either you’re in violation of that policy or you’re impersonating a police officer, which is a crime. So I’d say you need to go back home and find your badge.” The enraged neighbor deflated and trudged back up the hill never to be seen again for the rest of the summer. Mr. Brink turned to us kids and said, “I think we’d better take it easy from now on.” That sort of cool-headed thinking in the face of an enraged person is a quality I have since always tried to hold in my own life. It works.

When I was in the 9th grade at Webber Jr. High school, Mr. Brink helped keep me from taking a very embarrassing ass kicking. I’d gotten a new girlfriend as the school year began. The only problem was that this sweet little auburn-haired 8th grader came with a string attached. It was a snot-nosed little 7th grade pipsqueak boy who had decided that somehow I’d stolen his girl. She’d made it clear that such was not the case, but still the little runt blamed me. Now, knowing full well that I’d shove a street hockey stick up his butt, he was not about to take me on himself. Instead he set his Neanderthal 8th grade half-sister upon me. She was a monster who could easily have pounded me into a pulp. Plus, I was raised that you never hit a female… even if she is a Neanderthal. My only choice was to let myself get beaten into a heap in the hallway at Webber. How embarrassing. After an increasing series of threats of my impending doom I sat down and talked to Mr. Brink… what am I gonna do? He was a detective in the juvenile division then and asked what the Neanderthal’s name was? When I told him he just nodded and smirked. “You know her?” I asked. “Oh yes,” He said. As it happened, the following day my family was leaving for a two week vacation in Florida. Mr. Brink told me to just go and enjoy myself and not to worry. I did as he advised and when I got back to school, the Neanderthal was gone! The rumor around school was that she’d been busted for drugs. Mr. Brink later told me that she’d been arrested on possession with intent to distribute, he also told me that I would not have to worry about her anymore.

On a very serious note, Mr. Brink saved all of us on the block from a notorious child molester. On the day that Bob Hughes moved in across the street from my house Mr. Brink called the five of us who hung out together in for a meeting. He told us in VERY serious terms that Bob Hughes was a child molester and a convicted felon and to never be coaxed into his house or find yourself alone with him. We were ordered to stay away from him and if Hughes made any advanced toward one of us we were to immediately go to Mr. Brink and report it. His level of seriousness scared the crap out of us and we indeed stayed away. Three years later I testified at the murder trial of Hughes’ wife and daughter wherein his homosexual lover was convicted on both counts. Since I was the last prosecution witness to be called, my mom sat in the courtroom through much of the trial while I waited outside. It came out in the hearing that Hughes had systematically molested a number of young boys in our neighborhood, then gave them model ship kits to buy their silence. A number of mothers were shocked to recall that their sons had come home with those models. Some of the few who were spared were the five of us in my gang of friends whom Mr. Brink had warned. By the way, don’t take my word for what a low life Hughes was- it’s all in the court records. He’s dead now- and burning in hell.

Mr. Brink was one of the very few people who had traits that I wanted to add to my own as I grew up. He never lost his temper at me and he never ridiculed me in spite of all of the shit that Jimmy and I got into as kids. One of the last times that I saw him was when he was doing arena security for the Saginaw PD at the Civic Center during a Gears game. I had a brand new camera and found him standing at the stop of a stairway watching the game. I focused on him and then said loudly, “Mr. Brink!” He turned around and I snapped his picture that is attached with this tale. I spoke to him on the phone back in March of 2009 after an old friend of Jimmy and I had passed away. I had to get Jimmy’s phone number so I could inform him. Mr. Brink and I had a long chat and caught up on many years.

This world is a lesser place with the passing of Mr. Brink. He was one of the very few truly good guys.

Sunday

KLYDE AND TYPOS



THAT TYPO WAS QUITE QUIET

I’ve often been asked how the Klyde Morris cartoon strip is made? What are the mechanics? And how does an occasional, obvious typo get through?

To start answering that I have to first highlight the software that I’ve used since Klyde first hit the Internet back in 1998. Originally, I had a Cannon scanner that came with a real cheap-O drawing software the name of which I’ve completely forgotten. The scanner was a piece of crap, but that little software package worked quite well. It was very simple to use and allowed me to take the hand-drawn cartoon that I had scanned and neaten up lines, add shades and erase stuff. Great. However, have ya’ ever tried to draw with a mouse? No can do… with any quality that is.

It was my wife who suggested getting a Wacom pad and pen which would allow me to draw right in the computer. 


Since I was already suffering from pronator syndrome from years spent flying, okay, fighting the Saab 340 in the weather of the north central states, ditching the mouse worked for me. I, currently on my 4th Wacom pad.
Yes... that pen rest is sitting on a hockey puck. Those pen holders
are always too light weight, so I glued mine to a puck. Works great.

In February of 2000, my web master and the guy who built klydemorris.com, James Ahrens, found a utility that allowed him to take my own handwriting and associate with my keyboard. I sent him a file of every single key on my keyboard written in my own hand, both upper and lower case, and now I could write the cartoon totally in the computer! Of course I do still draw scenes and characters and scan them, but for dialogue the pen and ink were gone.

Two years later disaster struck as I had a computer crash that wiped out my desktop unit. Of course when I had the new computer built I found that Windows 2000, which was what we all were forced to use because Microsoft was no longer supporting Windows 98, would not run my drawing software!

CRAP!!

I tried assorted popular “drawing” software programs and they all had one huge flaw… they wanted to do TOO MUCH. They were designed for people who cannot draw and they have scads of additional “tools” trying to meet the needs of all of their cannot draw users. All I needed was a simple tool that would let me draw a line, erase a line, add some color, or shading and move some items around, yet nothing really got me there without a jungle of other aids that I didn’t need or want.

Finally I was actually doing chat with an operator at a company called Ulead and I expressed my frustration. She said that her daughter, who was an illustrator, had the same complaints and she got her an old copy of one of their utilities called Photo Impact 6, which Ulead no longer sold. She suggested I try eBay. Bingo! Problem solved. To this day I use that old 32 bit utility and Windows 7 actually runs it with just a few hiccups that I’ve learned to live with.



Now, as to how the typos get through…

Any professional author or writer will tell you that you should never proof read your own stuff. Why? Because you already know what it should say and your brain can read right over what it does say. Additionally, Photo Impact 6 does NOT have a spell checker. Thus, putting the words into Klyde is very similar to old fashioned type-setting. That was way back in the olden days when news papers had every letter in every word in every story and headline set individually, by hand! In the Klyde Morris cartoon I have to type in every letter of every word and I have no magic spell check or auto correct to aid me.

That process alone dose… I mean… does… lead to countless typos. I despise typos, they make my nerves hurt, my head ache and most of all they make me look bad. 


Additionally, I was always the kid in school who spelled everything the way it sounded. Agin and agin the teechers preeched at me thit mie splling was atrochious. I’d hand in an essay which would be handed back with so many red pencil marks on it you could not even see what I had written. They did all they could do to change me- they flunked me, they put my mom through parent / teacher  conferences that were akin to Vietcong POW interrogations and my report cards were sent home with comments such as “is capable of doing better work” and “doesn’t focus in class” or “refuses to read aloud” and “was drawing instead of doing his work” or “thought it was funny to walk behind Debbie Kline and unsnap her training bra.” So now when I make a typo it gives me flash-back to the third grade… both times, 1965-66 and 1966-67.


Of course good editors normally catch those little, self-made pools of puss from HELL that are my few typos. Some, however, are so cleverly disguised that none of my two editors manage to catch what I created and then read right past myself. A good example is this cartoon, which ran for a full week and was viewed a quarter of a million times before one alert reader finally caught it…


Did you see it?

That typo was quite quiet.


Get my Aviation Spy novel HERE!




Tuesday

CATCH MY INTERVIEW ON TALON TALKS


I was granted the honor of being the very first guest on Embry-Riddle's new podcast series TALON TALKS and it was a great time. Click in the picture to listen!

Environmentally Appropriate



My wife, who is perhaps the most intelligent person I've ever met, has had a bad cold and cough. I took her to the doctor and he prescribed some medication that included cough syrup. This morning before she headed off to work she told me that she was gonna stop taking the cough medicine because it tasted awful and really wasn't helping. Then she took a dose and left. Two hours later I get the following text from her...

"Can you please call the doctor and ask for the environmentally appropriate way to dispose of codeine?"

Really?

I mean there's 2 ounces left in the bottle!

Realizing that there is NO WAY on Earth that I can call a physician and actually have such nonsense spew from my mouth... I sent my beloved wife the following e-mail...

Environmentally safe method of disposing of 2 ounces of codeine-guaifen 10-10-0 mg/5 ml cough syrup:

While wearing non-latex protective gloves, safety glasses and 3M 6200 or similar class respirator spread out 55X64cm sheet of non-acid brown paper in a well ventilated outdoor area exposed to full sunlight at midday under no wind conditions. Carefully pour the 2 ounces of cough syrup onto the paper in a spiral circular motion extending from a center point outward until the entire contents are expended from the bottle. Build a 3 meter square metal screen enclosure and cover the paper so as to prevent any animals, bees or children from reaching through. Cover the paper with that screen using the greatest of care to not contact any of the liquid with any part of the screen. Place no less than six, 1 meter tall, international orange cones around the enclosure and top with a solar-powered amber colored strobe light. 

Allow to dry. 

Once fully dried, re-don the non-latex protective gloves, safety glasses and  3M 6200 or similar class respirator. Ensure that no animals, insects or bacteria are within 80 meters and using steel tongs remove the paper from the shelter and fold it as small as possible. Place the paper into a Trader Joe’s grocery double bag and ride your bicycle to the Atacama Desert. Once there, dig a hole 20cm in diameter and 1 meter deep. Using a bamboo pole, shove the bag to the bottom of the hole and cover completely. Then interpretive dance around the hole chanting, “OhwhatuhkluckIam” repeatedly for 16 hours or as long as your water holds out.

You may now feel safe and environmentally appropriate. Because the very fact that you have sincerely asked this question clearly demonstrates that you’ve already taken too much of this shit.



If you think this was fun, check out any of Wes' BOOKS!

FLYERS AND FOAMERS


Always have a good jumpseat story to tell.
Railroad engineer's kids, my sister and I Easter Sunday 1962... at the roundhouse in Saginaw, of course. Showing off our Sunday best for Dad... who was working that day.

I come from a railroad family- that’s why I talk loud. When you grow up in a railroad family, if you wanna be heard you gotta be loud. From the time I was born my dad was an engineer on the C&O railroad. For an engineers' kid, climbing up on an engine is simply no big deal... like going to dad's office. Been doin' it since I could walk. When I was little, often on the fourth of July, after the fireworks, I’d “got to work” with dad. He worked a half shift that night and I’d ride in the “fireman’s seat” aboard the engine as dad switched railroad cars in and around the Saginaw yard or the auto plants in Flint. On “payday” I’d get a C&O check for a half day’s work. It wasn’t cashable, but I never knew the difference. Dad would take it into the drug store and come out with some cash for me… seven whole dollars! I was a rich nine-year-old! It was a lesson in how you get money. You go to work and you get paid.
Photo from the Buck Wyndham collection (airline pilot and foamer)


For someone in aviation, going to the airport is also nothing special- it’s just a part of going to work. Same thing as going to the railroad yard for a kid who grew up in a railroad family- it’s no big deal. Goin’ to pick up dad or to fetch his paycheck while he catches some sleep. Yet, there are other similarities you may not consider. One day as I was jumpseating home to BWI and as we  taxied out for takeoff at MSP I noticed a crowd of people gathered outside the boundary fence at the end of the runway.

“Lots of foamers out there today,” I quipped.

“Foamers?” the captain squinted, “what’s that?”

“Those folks there at the end of the runway with the cameras,” I replied

After we blasted off and got into cruise the captain asked me to explain “foamers.” I told him that my dad was a railroad engineer and that was the term they used to describe the train-buffs who stand by the tracks and photograph and film the trains as they go by. The crews said that those guys foamed at the mouth when they saw a train coming.

“Hey!” he smiled, “I’m a foamer!”

Suddenly the cockpit conversation turned to trains as both pilots confessed to being friggin’ foamers. I told them that I had a story that they’d like.  Now…for people reading this who are not those of us who have spent endless hours in a cockpit at cruise, you should know that interesting cockpit conversation is of GREAT value- because the hardest thing to do in the cockpit is stay awake. Thus, I let go with my story and had a fully captive audience.

This story brought to by Wes' best-selling spaceflight book APOLLO PART ONE



When I graduated from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in 1988 having finished all of my commercial and multi engine instrument pilot's ratings, I headed back to Michigan to stay at mom and dad’s house while I worked as a survey pilot for the DNR. Before I ever got that job and nearly as soon as I got into the house my dad casually says "Yer' goin' to work with me tomorrow."

Okay... been doin' that since I was a kid too- so, what the heck. I figured he wanted to show me, his newly minted commercial pilot son, off to the crew in the shanty. The next day mom made us both a couple of lunches and we headed off to the yard at Midland’s Dow Chemical plant. Dad had been working the Dow job for the past few years. He was WAY high on the seniority list of CSX (which was the company formed when the C&O was swallowed up) and could pretty much pick whatever job he wanted and hold it. He picked the Dow day job because it was just a few minutes’ drive from our house and he could pass the Dow security clearance for handling HAZMAT in the plant. Once he had that Dow badge he really could not be bumped.  We got to the yard and dad introduced me to the guys on his crew then he tells me I'm gonna run the engine from Dow to Farwell, Michigan!

"If you can fly an airplane commercially, you can run an engine," he reasoned.

So... I did!

Dad only had to show me the basics. I already knew where the throttle and the brake handle was located, how to see if the flashers were working by looking at the hole in the side and how to run the “notches.” I knew about the deadman’s peddle and so on. He did need to instruct me on the alert system that would go off if the engineer had not taken some sort of action after so many minutes. First an amber light would flash, and compared to aircraft “caution lights” in the cockpit, this was a big light. If you didn’t respond by making some action- tooting the whistle, adding some brake, cycling the deadman’s peddle or a half dozen other things that could be moved, the light would glow steady and then after so many seconds it would apply the brakes, stop the engine and begin blowing the whistle. He also coached me on how far from a crossing I needed to begin my whistle blow; timing is everything. Lastly both he and his conductor told me very clearly that if anything happened, we hit a car, a person or the train went “on the ground” I was to leave the engine and walk far away… like I was never there. Oh yeah, this was an unauthorized trip for me.

I got the "N" scale engine for Dad one Christmas... it turned out he had 8210 in his logbook! That's his UTU button that I keep pinned on it today.


Dad worked the engine inside the Dow plant as we only had a few cars to shove. Then we pulled  a few and switched to the line headed for Farwell. Now it was my turn to drive. I guess any of you foamers out there reading this would have been fully puckered and near orgasm, but frankly, I was right at home. It was like the first time I flew a Falcon 10, I’d been around it so much that it was a comfortable place. Besides… it’s a train… it can only go where the tracks go. On we went to Farwell and as we approached one section of track my dad told me to smile. Pointing down he showed me four foamers standing there taking our picture. I smiled and waved. Approaching our destination, which was actually a siding just northwest of the town of Clare, I got us stopped, with some coaching, where we needed to be and dad along with his crew of one switchman and a conductor parked the cars we had and picked up one to go back. Then I ran the train into Midland and, again with some coaching, got her stopped where we needed to stop. Once more the real railroad men took over and soon our day was done. I asked dad why they called it the Farwell job when it only went to Clare? He said it originally went all the way to Farwell, so they just call it that.

Today that line that I ran back in 1988, all the way from Midland to Clare, is a paved bike path! Yet nearly every time I told this story from the jumpseat I found at least one of the pilots to be fascinated by it. Dad told me that I could tell everyone that before I ever exercised my commercial pilot's certificate, I ran a locomotive. You'd never guess how many airline pilots are totally envious of that.
"Irish" 1981


My dad passed away in December of 2004 and although most people in the Saginaw, Michigan area remember him as the Zamboni driver for the local professional hockey team, the ice was his art, but running a locomotive was his career. When he worked the “road job” from Midland to Port Huron the line ran just 800 feet behind our house and you could always tell it was him by the whistle blow. His was two long, one short and one extra long. If you were listening on the radio you could tell it was him because all of the other engineers were called by their job number “2346” or “5418” or such… but they called my dad “Irish.”

For more of Wes' story telling check out his aviation spy thriller INVISIBLE EVIL