Friday, April 30, 2010

178 Seconds to Live

178 Seconds to Live was the title of an article I read in the Army's Aviation Safety magazine while in flight school. I'm not sure if the link is the identical article I read way back then, but the gist is the same.

Inadvertent Instrument Meteorological Conditions (IIMC) is considered an emergency and can be life threatening for even instrument rated pilots depending on their currency and competency.

In the early to mid nineties I was working for a small Helicopter Emergency Medical Services (HEMS) Air Ambulance company. Our Air Ambulance was a Bell 206L1 helicopter. It was a VFR only operation, but the pilots were required to be Part 135 qualified and instrument rated. We were not allowed to file and fly IFR on purpose. The aircraft was equipped with minimal flight instruments so that a pilot could safely recover from IIMC if he/she had the skills and competency to go along with his/her instrument rating.

I was on duty in North West Arkansas when I got a call for a night transfer from a hospital in the North Western corner of the state to a hospital in Little Rock. The weather was good enough to make a NVFR flight. It is a little easier to encounter IIMC in the dark than in the day due to the vision constraints the darkness gives us humans. My weather was good though. I had no concerns about IIMC on that night.

The aircraft was manned by an all male crew on this flight consisting of a pilot, a flight nurse, and a flight paramedic. During the flight to Little Rock over the Ozark Mountains one of the medical crew said, "Let see if we can get Robert to tell us one of his off color jokes".

I had not told an off color joke in many, many years since undergoing a born again experience before getting out of the Army in 1979. So, the medical crew was waiting...

I decided to tell them about the cowboy hitchhiking across the desert.

The cowboy hitchhiking across the desert
A cowboy was stuck out in the middle of the desert walking when an indian came along on his little indian pony. The indian decided to give the cowboy a ride, so the cowboy hopped up on the horse behind the indian. Once the cowboy was mounted on the horse, the indian kicked the pony into a little run.

The cowboy said, "Indian! You're gonna kill this horse riding it out here like this and we'll both be walking".

The indian responded, "Um! Faster you go, the cooler you get!" And, the indian kicked the horse into a little faster run.

The cowboy said agian, "Indian I'm telling you you're going to kill this horse riding it like this out here!!!"

The indian said again, "Um the faster you go, the cooler you get!" And once again the indian kicked the little pony into a faster run.

It wasn't long in the hot desert sun that the little pony stumbled and tossed the cowboy and indian rolling across the desert.

The horse lay there and soon died of heat exhaustion. While the cowboy jumped up ranting and raving at the indian saying, "You stupid indian, I told you you were going to kill this horse riding it out here like this! Now we're both stuck walking out here."

The indian said, "Um, him must of froze to death."

The medical crew laughed and didn't bother asking me to tell any more off color jokes. The rest of the flight to Little Rock was uneventful. At the hospital I checked my weather for the return trip home while the medical crew delivered the patient to the receiving station. I saw no weather concerns for the flight home and expected a smooth flight.

Little Rock is situated in the center of the state on the south side of Arkansas river. When we departed we followed the Arkansas River Valley northwest toward Clarksville. It was a dark night with no moon illumination. As I neared the Clarksville area I needed to gain altitude to cross the mountains north of the river for the remainder of our trip to the northwest corner of the state. During my climb I punched into a cloud unseen in the darkness. I had inadvertently entered IMC.

My training immediately kicked in and I began following the IIMC procedures:climb, confess, comply. First and foremost you want to always fly the aircraft, but to do that in IMC you have to transition to the instruments and establish a crosscheck. This can be difficult and sometimes fatal depending on your instrument flying skills. My instrument crosscheck came in easy. I confirmed I was in a climb. I adjusted my aircraft's heading slightly to the south and away from the mountains. Once I was comfortable with my crosscheck I identified my anti-collision light switch and turned it off. When the anti-collision light is allowed to remain on in the clouds at night it can induce flicker vertigo; a well known fact the referenced wikipedia article does not include.

My climb and crosscheck was established, I had eliminated a potential source of flicker vertigo, so I was ready to confess which involves reporting to ATC your emergency condition of being IIMC. Before I talked to ATC I wanted to determine what I was dealing with because my encounter with IIMC was totally unexpected based on my weather report before departing the receiving hospital. My secondary VHF radio was set to the Jonesboro Flight Service Station(FSS). I switched my radio selector to number 2 and keyed my mike, "Jonesboro Radio this is Aircraft such and such in the vicinity of Clarksville en-route from Little Rock to Springdale requesting a weather update along my route of flight."

As soon as I started talking on the radio my radar altimeter started chirping at me. This put a serious torque on my brain. The radar altimeter is set to alert you when you get within a certain proximity to the ground. At night our policy was to set it for 500 feet. I was thinking with some mental anguish, "What is going on! I know I'm farther away from the ground than that!" But when you are inadvertent IMC you never really know for sure. When I stopped keying my mike the chirping stopped. Jonesboro Radio responded to my request with updated weather info along my route of flight, but my brain was in such a distracted state over the radar altimeter chirping at me that I did not comprehend what they told me.

I rekeyed my mike, "Jonesboro Radio repeat please". The stupid radar altimeter chirped again but not as much as the first time with the longer transmission. This time my brain digested what FSS told me. I had just encountered a weather anomaly and should have clear flying for the rest of the trip home. About that time I busted out of the top of the cloud and it was clear the rest of the way home. No more emergency, so I didn't get to the confess part and there was nothing to comply with.

While we were still in the cloud shortly after extinguishing the anti-collision light one of the medical crew members commented, "Look at ole Robert, ain't he cool". If they only knew. While flying offshore I learned that it is usually best when flying with the uninformed to simply smile as if everything is roses even if it's not. After being safely back in VFR conditions I thought about the off color joke I was asked to tell. I wondered how things might have gone if I had given in and told a real off color joke like they wanted me too.

After returning to base I filled out an incident report and sent it to the company's chief pilot. When I was relieved by the oncoming duty pilot I told him of my experience. He said, "Oh that secondary VHF makes that radar altimeter sometimes sound."

"Well" I thought to myself, "thank you very much for letting me know about it." The extra torque on my brain caused by the radar altimeter chirping at me during a critical situation almost cost me my life." FAR 135.65(b) requires the pilot in command to record flight irregularities that come to his attention during flight. I guess the relief pilot who knew about the condition thought it wasn't a serious enough discrepancy to ground the aircraft over when it chirped at him in clear blue and 22 conditions. My personal belief is that the military system for recording discrepancies is far superior than the civilian system for documenting discrepancies, but that's another story for possibly another time. Under the conditions I was faced with that night I didn't even make the connection that it was the VHF radio activating my radar altimeter until the other pilot told me it did that. I guess I should have been using my secondary VHF more during other flights...

Well, there you have my Tall Tale for today. Sorry I missed a couple of days. So many stories, so little time...


Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Memories of Basic Training

The drill sergeants were primed and ready for the bus arrival. They didn't waste any time hollering at us and herding us off the bus. They were loud and demeaning, but I don't recall the use of any expletives as often displayed in movies by any of them.

Rarely does Gollywood ever accurately portray their helicopter crashes either.

After getting us off the bus, they determined who you were and what you had enlisted for. The two of us heading for flight school were told we were too stupid to make it. Well we were all ready in the system, so we'd just have to stay and see.

One of the first things they did after getting us off the bus was to herd us through the barbershop. In 1973 there was a lot of long hair, but it was soon shorn off. To the man everyone exiting the barbershop was running their hand through their shaved head feeling the difference.

Then we were herded through supply where everyone was issued standard Army fare of underwear, uniforms, boots, and duffel bag. I still have my original duffel bag.

Contrary to the advertisement shown in the previous post I have no recollection of ever going to Leesville, and I didn't arrive by any train. We did have many hikes, mass games, and lots of rifle practice. We marched everywhere.

Every morning when we formed up in ranks before departing to our designated location for the day, 1st Sergeant Hill the lead Drill Sergeant would read off an announcements, then he would say in a loud nasal tone, "Profiles, profiles, profiles! Sick, lame, and lazy! Ugly, stupid, and crazy! Profiles on the truck!"
Profiles didn't have to march, they got to ride.

One amazing thing with all that marching, the drill sergeants always seemed fresh and rested even though they marched along beside us. Anyhow at least one was always with us. They would outpace us and make it to the head of the pack, then slowly make their way back to the rear where the truck followed. They barked commands and corrections as they made their way from front to back. Once in the rear and out of site they'd hop in the truck and a fresh one would get out to have a turn at us. Right Bill?

There was a memorable big black Drill Sergeant named Archie Young that was a STRACT soldier. Whenever we were not marching, we were required to double time everywhere we went. Sergeant Young could often be heard saying loudly, "If there is no smoke coming off the heels of your feet, you are moving entirely too slow!"

In the chow line a Drill Sergeant would move up and down the line looking at our combat boots. If any pair of boots were not up to speed the basic trainee would be rudely asked if he was shining them with a Hersey bar.

KP (Kitchen Police) is a time honored chore that every basic trainee should get to experience at least once. Squad leaders were excused. My turn for KP was coming up, but Sergeant Hill called me into his office. For some reason they thought my squad leader was not measuring up. Sergeant Hill made me the squad leader, so I never got to experience KP.

A co-worker's Tall Tale

Years later I worked with a male flight nurse whose dad had been a mess sergeant while in the service. This nurse told me a story from his basic training experiences. He said they had a 25 mile forced march scheduled on Saturday. He said while going through the chow line on Friday the mess sergeant was standing proudly over his fare for the meal behind the counter watching troops go through. Rich said as it was time for him to get a his plate loaded he looked scornfully and the food and loud enough for the mess sergeant to hear Rich said, "I grew up in Missouri. I had to wade through a lot of this slop while feeding the hogs, but I never had to eat it!"

The mess sergeant's countenance changed from pride to scorn as he forcefully pointed at Rich and said, "You! KP tomorrow!"

Rich replied, "Yes Sergeant!" with a mild look of horror on his face.

The next day while everyone else were out on their 25 mile forced march, Rich showed up for KP.

The mess sergeant ordered him to go into the back and run water for a large sink to do dishes. Rich went back there and turned only the hot water on. He waited until the temperature was high before placing the plug in the bottom of the sink, adding soap, and letting it fill to the top.

After a little bit the mess sergeant showed up and meanly asked, "Troop, is that water hot enough?"

Rich said, "Yes sergeant!"

The mess sergeant rolled up one of his sleeves and said, "Well we're gonna see." He then shoved his arm full length into the bottom of the sink. His face registered the pain and horror, but he kept his composure. After removing his arm he looked at Rich and told him, "It's hot enough."

It seems it was a common thing for green troops doing KP for the first time to run a lukewarm sink.

The mess sergeant left for awhile. He came back a little later and started chatting with Rich. He was more friendly and Rich revealed to him that his dad was a mess sergeant and had taught him a thing or two like how to get out of forced marches.

I remember several of the men I went to basic with. One kid was in the national guard with a young wife and baby. He wasn't in the best of health, but he had a lot of heart. He would march until he fell out into the ditch with convulsions. I remember one night Drill Sergeant Snowden came into the barracks and approached this kids bunk. The sergeant checked his pulse and quickly began administering CPR with mouth to mouth resuscitation. After thumping the kids chest a few times and applying several rescue breaths, the kid coughed and sputtered then started breathing on his own. I don't know how Sergeant Snowden knew. I can only assume one of the other troops noticed the kid was having trouble and quickly reported it to the drill sergeant.

The kid ended up getting medically eliminated. It was a shame. For his wife and child he would of ran until he dropped dead trying to make it through. He had a lot of heart. I hope things ended up working out okay for him.

Another trainee about my size and build was habitually lazy in contrast to this other kid. He would slough off at every chance he could on marches and otherwise. During one march the Drill Sergeant commanded me that if he didn't keep up one more time, I would be pushing Louisiana off the map. I got behind the boy and kept applying a steady shove forward. He shared words with me that I had better stop. I told him I wasn't going to push Louisiana off the map for anyone. Shortly after the Drill Sergeant came back by and told me that was enough.

Rifle Drill

We learned how to field strip and clean our M16s, and we had daily target practice. The targets were metal popup targets with a human shape set up at varying distances from 25 feet out to 1,000 feet. If and when you hit the target, it plopped back down. It was pretty satisfying to see the 1,000 foot target plop down a couple of seconds after pulling the trigger.

We were taught to shoot from the prone, kneeling, and standing position. The prone position offered the most stability and accuracy. One day we had a special qualifying shoot. The Drill Sergeant instructed us to take all of our shots from the prone position to improve our qualification scores.

I had a small problem. My 25 foot target was hidden behind a berm when it popped up. I missed it the first time. Every time after that when it popped up I rapidly hopped up to the kneeling position and made a successful shot. The Drill Sergeant saw me hop up to my knew and make the shot. He came over and dressed me down for not following instructions. While continuing to make my shots I informed him that the 25 foot shot was impossible to make from the prone position due to the berm. The 25 foot target popped up again, I hopped up to a knew and shot it down while the Drill Sergeant watched. He recognized the truth of my statement and left me alone.


During preparations for bivouac the Drill Sergeant called me into a storage room to select a sleeping bag. The sleeping bags were stacked to the ceiling. Most of them were filthy. I looked through them till I found one that seemed reasonably clean. I got the crabs from the reasonably clean sleeping bag. Oh joy...


The small item hanging with my dog tags is called a P-38. It is my original Army issue can opener that conveniently helped soldiers open their c-ration cans from before MREs (Meals Ready to Eat) came along. They can be handy for anyone with a need to open a can away from the convenience of an easier to use can opener. They are easy to carry on a key chain also, so that you have it when you need it.

The c-rations back in those days all included a small 4 pack of cigarettes. The times have changed since then. Whenever we would stop our marching for a break the Drill Sergeant would announce, "Smoke em if you got em".
C-rations may not have been the tastiest meal, but I don't think I ever disliked them.


I didn't find basic training all that difficult. Upon arrival I could drop and knock out 100 push-ups with relative ease. My legs definitely got in better shape with all the marching we did, but I think my upper body lost some tone. It was an interesting experience. Flight school would prove to be a little more demanding.

ciao till next time

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Trip to Basic Training

Wow! My beautiful baby girl just went to her senior prom and is about to graduate from high school in the year of 2010...

37 years ago I had graduated in 1973 and was on my way to Basic Training at Fort Polk Louisiana.

After being sworn in on July 9th 1973 in New Orleans Louisiana I was placed on a bus with a fellow soldier headed to Basic Training with me, and then upon successful completion of basic training we would both be heading to Army Flight School together.

The bus made a stop in Lake Charles Louisiana that was to be approximately an hour long. Across the street from the bus station was a bar with a pool table. We were told the time the bus would be departing. My fellow flight school candidate and I decided to step across the street to play a game of pool and have a beer. We enjoyed ourselves as we kept a close eye on our watches. We didn't want to miss the bus.

With a couple of minutes to spare we finished our pool game and beers and stepped out of the bar to get back on the bus. But, when we exited the bar there was no bus! It had left early... Here we were just beginning our military careers and it was already about to end early because the bus driver had departed early. What's a man to do?

Were we going to miss our chance to attend summer camp? What kind of trouble were we going to be in before even getting started?
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I told my buddy, "Let's go back inside the bar and see what we can do."

Back inside I noticed a couple of men sipping a drink at the bar and decided to accost them and reveal our plight. They were willing to try to catch the bus for us. Alright! Salvation!

We all exited the bar together heading to their vehicle. They walked straight toward the worst piece of mechanical junk I had ever seen. My heart sank. I stayed quiet. The two men walked right passed that piece of junk and crossed the street to a car that definitely had the potential to catch the bus.

dog tags

Whew! Close call! That experience is probably one of the main reasons I always try to give myself enough time to arrive at least fifteen minutes early whenever I have an important engagement.

The car was a hot rod and ran fast. It probably took us about ten to twenty minutes to catch up with the bus. My buddy and I were two grateful young men.

It seemed we were going to get our dog tags after all.

It sure felt good to be back on that bus.

Well, that's enough tall tale for today... ciao

Monday, April 26, 2010


“For though we walk in the flesh,
we do not war according to the flesh,
for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh,
but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses.
We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God,
and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ,
and we are ready to punish all disobedience,
whenever your obedience is complete.”

2Corinthians 10:3-6

That is a scripture I desire to learn and know on a deeper level.

The Jews were expecting a Warrior King, skilled in the typical manner of warfare as the human condition knows it, to appear as their Messiah. Jesus didn’t quite fit the bill of their expectations. It didn’t matter that He was way more versed on the true nature of the real enemy and skilled in warfare beyond their wildest imaginations, they missed recognizing Him for what He truly was and is. They crucified Him as a means of His ultimate defeat yet it turned into His amazing victory with His resurrection three days later.

“For we know in part,…
but when the perfect comes,
the partial will be done away.
When I was a child,
I used to speak as a child,
think as a child,
reason as a child;
when I became a man,
I did away with childish things.
For now we see in a mirror dimly,
but then face to face;
now I know in part,
but then I shall know fully just as I also have been fully known.”

1Corinthians 13:9-12

Only human hubris can make me think that I know all there is to know and that I have all things figured out. Life is complex and as we age shows us how little we really know, but I look forward to the day of being able to know fully just as I am fully known.

Reading my first Western Novel not only influenced me to explore drinking it also influenced my attitude regarding fighting. I’ve had my share of trading physical blows. It seems that when I had no business fighting I didn’t fare too well. There was a good lesson for me in those experiences.

“Do not contend with a man without cause, if he has done you no harm.” Proverbs 3:30

There is also one maybe two occasions where physically I fared well, but I am ashamed for the fight I allowed myself to become involved in. Nuff said.

My favorite means of fighting these days is on the chessboard where no physical damage can be done.
I play as dbr on if there are any players out there that like a good battle and care to send me a challenge.
Chess is a good game for spouses to know too. If your spouse needs a good beating just reach for the chessboard. It will keep the domestic violence police out of your home.
Besides, regardless of the physical outcome of a fight with a woman, I believe a man loses anytime he strikes a woman.
I teach my girls, 1 strike and they’re out!
My wife could be a pretty good chess player if she played more. She can and has beat me. If she played you she wouldn’t want to beat you anymore than the man in the moon, but when she sits across the chessboard from me she wants to see my blood flow.
Why is that ladies? (no serious replies necessary).

I woke up Saturday morning with this fighting theme on my mind for my next tall tale post, but writing was delayed due to my niece treating my wife and I to “The Blind Side”.

This movie is definitely worth watching if you have not seen it. It is a pretty good battle of a different sort that makes my juvenile physical fights pale in comparison. Oh well, I guess I’ll share some of them anyhow.

I was the new kid on the school yard when I started 1st grade, and my first recess arrived. I got stiff armed for my lunch money by a couple of older kids. I really don’t remember what all happened. I don’t recall if they got my money or not, but I do know they never bothered trying to stiff arm me again. This was a time period before I read my first western novel, but I watched plenty of the Saturday fare for television in that day, Roy Rogers, Tarzan, Popeye, etc. The things that media can expose us to. Actually I liked the stuff that I watched in those days when I was a kid. It’s the stuff that came along later that caused me to not have a TV hooked up in my house during all my adult days, and through the raising of my children . We do watch movies though. I feel I have more control over the selection and can discuss anything viewed when necessary. Go figure…

I remember observing several school yard fights during elementary school. Most of them only amounted to name calling and shoving matches. I told myself that if I ever had a school yard fight I wouldn’t do that junk. Well, my day came. Some contention arose with a kid who was physically pretty evenly matched with me. He was a big Mohammad Ali fan. The contention reached a point where we decided we would meet at the back of the school yard during recess and settle it. At the fight scene location he started dancing around like Ali while I just hunkered down like George Foreman. I tagged him a couple of times. He stopped his dancing and put his hands up in the classic “timeout signal” while verbally announcing, “Time out!”

I stopped momentarily and replied, “Timeout? There ain’t no timeouts in a real fight!” and I tagged him again. This continued for a little bit until his nose developed a good bleed and he said, “I quit!”

That was fine with me. I let him. Shortly after a teacher monitoring the school yard during recess called me over. She said, “David, did you do that to poor little Terry?” He wasn’t little. He was every bit my size.

I said, “Yes ma’am.”

She said, “Well you ought to be ashamed of yourself, now go on.”

Sometime after that fight I tried to pick a fight with a big ole boy named Floyd Gillis. He was kind of like Big Mike on the Blind Side. He was a gentle giant. I was foolish and he was kind. I was like a persistent little juvenile gnat of which he soon tired. He placed me in a headlock and gave me a pretty solid thump on top of my head using only enough force to bring me to my senses. He could have hurt me a lot worse, but he only used the force that was necessary to do the job. It was a good lesson for me, and I appreciated it.

Fighting can be dangerous. When you get beyond the elementary school level you never know what the outcome might be. I know a fellow pilot whose son ended up in prison for manslaughter because the outcome of a fight he was involved in turned deadly. It is much better to walk away when you can. All the martial arts, especially the good ones, teach that so I’m told. Still, there is no reason to allow a bully to have his way if you can help it. Physical fighting is not necessarily the only means you have to deal with one. There are other methods. Choose wisely.

“Therefore … I box in such a way, as not beating the air;” 1 Corinthians 9:26

If whatever you do is simply going to be just beating the air, don’t waste your time. If conflict will not cause the desired outcome, it’s probably best to avoid it. If you are outgunned and out manned, the better part of valor can be discretion. Better to live another day so that you may be able to fight again some other time. But, when push comes to shove and you are all out of options, hope your motives are pure and your cause is good and go for it! Maybe the gods will smile upon you and you will prevail, but… you better be able to face an outcome not to your liking, cause you just don’t know until it is all fait accompli and the denouement is set in stone what that outcome will be.

I had a memorable fight in the eleventh grade. I didn’t ask for it, but it came to me just the same. I had an agricultural shop class. One day a substitute teacher took us out of the classroom to look at and discuss trees. There was a pickup truck near where we had congregated outside. The tailgate was down. A couple of my friends were sitting on it. There was an open spot I decided to sit on. When I sat down, one of the black students of similar size and build stuck his hand where I was going to sit. I didn’t see it, but I did sit on it. I don’t know if he was innocent and I sat on his hand accidentally or if he saw me about to sit down and stuck it there on purpose so that he would have cause for provocation.

Regardless, he was plenty provoked. He was calling me out ready to resolve his provocation. I didn’t really want to fight, but in the eleventh grade with the crew I ran with during those days I needed to save face, so I stood with fists raised to get it on since I had been challenged. He gave me a good tag to the nose striking the first blow. Then we tangled up. The fight didn’t progress far before it was broken up. The biggest black student in the school who was also the star football player pulled me away while the white coach substitute teacher pulled the black student apart from me.

Everybody claimed I was beat; even my friends. In my mind the issue was unresolved, cause not enough fight had taken place to honestly tell who really won. But, I was branded the loser.

The principle suspended us both for three days. My daddy tanned my hide good when I got home, so I suffered double. (I can’t really recall the exact punishment my dad meted out, but it wasn’t pleasant) My girlfriend who was a senior was not happy with me since I missed three days of school. I was on the losing end of the deal all the way around.

Years later a boisterous large female flight nurse I worked with tagged me as passive aggressive. It was a new term for me, but after researching it there may be some truth to her perspective. But, that is just another Tall Tale for some other day.

Like Proverbs 3:30 mentioned above, I really prefer to have no contention. I like what Rodney King said, “Can’t we all just get along?” I wish we could, but sometimes others decide to exercise their will over you in an unacceptable manner. It is kind of hard to just get along then, especially when you are attempting to live in a peaceful manner without justice being abused.

The seniors got out of school two weeks before everybody else. Before that day came my dad had justly evicted me from his home. Sorry, I won’t share that story and like I said previously there is plenty I would change if I could do it all over again. Next to Jesus, my Dad is my hero and someone I have the greatest respect for. So, the first day the seniors were gone, I had nothing to lose. It was a good time for some previous unresolved resolution. I picked this up coming fight on purpose; right or wrong.

All day in shop class I didn’t pay any attention to the teacher or focus on any projects except Mr. Leroy, the student I had my previous fight with that everyone said I lost. I spent my class time simply observing him. He knew I was looking at him. I wasn't trying to hide it. Finally shop class was close to over. Leroy went into the male restroom with about five other black students to wash his hands. I followed them in. I was the only white boy in there. Once the door was shut, Leroy started mouthing off without me having to say anything, “As soon as school is over, I’m going to kick your blankity, blank white blank across the street.”

I said, “I’m here right now. Let’s do it.”

He said, “I can’t afford to get suspended again. But, I’m going to get you boy.”

I just shrugged my shoulders in a manner to say, “Okay”.

After everyone's hands were all washed we returned to the classroom to wait for the bell.

I spent my time keeping my eye on Mr. Leroy and he knew it.

When the bell finally rang I kept my seat until Leroy got up. When he rose I rose. I met him and walked out of the classroom side by side with Mr. Leroy. As we crossed through the threshold of the classroom door, Mr. Leroy started spouting some expletives under his breath. I just reached over and grabbed a wad of hair on top of his head and started curling my two fists to each other hitting him in the face. This fight too was quickly broken up with no serious physical injury to either of us. We were sent to the principal’s office once more.

In the principal’s office I was silent while Mr. Leroy constantly and continually mouthed off how I hit him first and he had to defend himself. I just sat there and listened as did the principal until Mr. Leroy finally settled down some. Then the principal looked at me and said, “Do you have anything to say?”

I said, “Yes sir. He hit me first the first time.” That was all I said.

The principal suspended us both for another three days. Leroy and I never had anymore contention. I really don’t know how his life turned out. I hope he has fared well.

Night vision techniques…

I was a military nighthawk instructor pilot. Years later after being out of the military I was sharing with a friend that grew up in my neighboring parish about nighthawk techniques to maintain good night vision. He said, “I’ve known about that for a long time. We used to have fights set up out in the woods at night. My side would always make sure we got there first. When the opposing side arrived, we would have a couple of guys meet the opposing side with a bright flashlight. They would say, ‘we just want to make sure this is going to be a friendly fight and check you for weapons.”

As they checked for weapons they would make sure that they shined their flashlight beam into the opposing fighter’s eyes ruining his night vision while their fighter was in the dark with his night vision intact. After a quick weapons check they would say while shining their light toward their fighter without getting the beam in his eyes, “There he is, get after it.”

My friend’s fighter had a significant advantage with his night vision intact while the opposing fighter was now at a considerable disadvantage, and usually ignorant about his predicament. Bad guys will stack the deck in their favor too when they have enough sense to do so. In serious fighting fair goes out the window, so if you are going to get yourself in a fight, be careful.

My friend that grew up in Livingston Parish also told me the story about going to Memphis to pickup a friend at the airport. He decided to stop into a KFC to get some chicken before arriving at the airport terminal.Kentucky Fried Chicken After getting his chicken, he headed to an empty table in the back of the KFC to enjoy his meal. Shortly after sitting down, two rough looking black men walked in and looked around. My friend was the only white guy in the place. After spotting him the two black men walked directly to him and said in an intimidating and mean tone, “We’re fix’n to order us some chicken, and when we get it we’re coming back here to eat it and we don’t want to see you.”

My friend looked up at them as they spoke, and when they finished he craned his head around in an exaggerated fashion to look at the front counter. Then he looked at the two men that had accosted him and said, “Well you better hope that that customer line up there grows real long real fast, cause I’m going to stay here and enjoy my chicken until I’m done.”

When the two men saw my friend wasn’t going to scare they became more friendly.

I told my friend after he told me the story, “I’m glad that was you and not me.”

I have another friend that I’ll probably share more stories about that was my favorite high school running buddy. He was a fighting bad dude. I’ve never fought him and I’m glad I haven’t. Anyhow he had a fight with a boy named Kelly where Kelly lost. Kelly related the fight to another friend Kelcy, with the reason why he though Smitty won. Smitty was good at stacking the deck in his favor. Kelcy said, “If that’s how that fight went down, I think I could whip him.” That was the wrong thing for a high school kid to say in a school where testosterone was running rampant. In order to allow others to maintain face you had to be careful about stating who you thought you could whip in a fight.

A new fight was on due to the foolishness of a high school kid's mouth. This was scheduled to be one of those backwoods after dark fights. We weren’t as smart as our Livingston Parish neighbors, but Smitty didn’t need the night vision edge. I rode with Kelcy to the location the fight was to take place to make sure he showed up. Smitty had arrived first. When Kelcy and I got to the spot, there were not too many other spectators. As we got out of Kelcy’s truck and approached Smitty the cars started pulling in full of spectators to watch the fight.

Smitty said, “Man! Look at all these cars. We can’t fight now, the cops are going to be here soon.”

You could see Kelcy physically relax as if to say, “Yeah, we can’t fight now”. His relief was apparent, then Smitty struck his first blow. The fight was vicious. Smitty was like a pile driver. Kelcy ended up on his knees. Smitty delivered the final blow kicking him in the head. It sounded like a 2x4 cracking in half. Kelcy took a tremendous beating. I’m grateful and surprised that he physically survived as well as he did. He was tough, even though he lost. Thank God Smitty didn’t have to face any manslaughter charges as a result of that fight’s outcome. Juveniles can fight for foolish reasons. I don’t recommend it.

Years later while I attended LSU and after I had had my born again experience Smitty would sometimes stay on my apartment couch. One night he went bar hopping on his own. I was usually his designated driver in those days. More tall tales for another time… Anyhow, Smitty hooked up with a girl he just met and was riding in the backseat of a car with his new girl while a stranger with his own girl riding upfront was giving Smitty a ride back to my apartment. Once they got in the Projects (my apartment complex was 80% black and 20% white) the man driving pulled out a gun and held it up for Smitty to see as if to say, “I’m in control here”. Smitty snatched the gun out of the man’s hand and exited the car. Then he tossed the gun over a six foot high chainlink fence with two Doberman pincers behind it. Smitty then came into my apartment obviously outraged and worked up, “Come on “RowBear” we got a fight!”

It wasn’t my fight. “Like one who takes a dog by the ears Is he who passes by and meddles with strife not belonging to him.” Proverbs 26:17 Friends should back friends up, but not if it involves foolishness… ” Keeping away from strife is an honor for a man, But any fool will quarrel.” Proverbs 20:3 I told Smitty that I didn’t want any part of it. He started to focus his anger on me. I just went into my bedroom and closed the door. Fortunately he didn’t persue. I know I had more to fear from Smitty, even though he was and is my friend, than I had from the de-armed stranger outside my apartment. Smitty had also bailed me out of a stupid situation that I put myself in and probably would have prevented me from going to flight school if Smitty had not intervened previously. I owed him, but there is a time to grow up and give up childish ways. There's another tall tale for another day. I still consider Smitty my best friend although I wish we still had more contact than we do these days. Hope all is well in your life my friend!

Watching “The Blind Side” made me think of Albert. I find “The Blind Side” an amazing and uplifting story. I also believe the woman Sandra Bullock played knows how to hear God. There was a lot of potential for calamity in that story, but God knew and knows Michael (Big Mike) and knew that woman could hear His voice as she ought. That is one of my greatest wishes in life; to be able to hear as I ought.

I had a fig tree experience while attending LSU. There are two fig tree stories about bearing fruit in the Bible: Matthew 21: 19 and Luke 13:6 fortunately I had the Luke 13 story experience. Anyhow during that time I attended David Diamond’s charismatic church in Baton Rouge which was about 50% black and 50% white. One evening when I returned to my apartment after attending David Diamond’s service I felt to tuck my Bible under my arm and head out into the project’s parking lot. I was led to a group of blacks that seemed to be antagonizing Albert, an older debilitated black man.

I felt the Lord tell me I needed to talk to this old man. "Take him to your apartment where y’all can talk", I felt that still quiet voice leading me.

I told Albert, “You need to follow me.”

He did like a good little child. I led him back to my apartment.

He was amazed that a white boy let him into his apartment. He sat in a chair and looked around with curiosity. Then he said, “You mean I can have something to drink?” He talked with a slow stutter.

I said, “Yea, if you need something to drink I have some ice tea or lemonade. What do you want?”

He chose lemonade. While sipping his lemonade he said, “You mean I can have something to eat?”

I said, “Yea, if you’re hungry I guess I can fix something up.”

I ended up fixing him some bacon, eggs, and grits.

As he was finishing his plate he said, “You mean I can stay here?”

I said to God in my mind, “Good God, you told me to talk to this man. Not give him a place to live!”

I heard God’s gentle quiet voice say, “If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, be warmed and be filled," and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that?” James2:15,16

I felt like He was testing my heart and seeing how far I would go for Him.

I then told Albert, “If you really need a place to stay, I guess you can stay on my couch.”

Albert stayed with me for two weeks. There are some more stories during that time, but one I’ll share now is when Smitty showed up to spend the night.

Albert realized Smitty was going to stay the night. Previously he respected the space of my bedroom and never went back there, but this time he immediately went into my bedroom where I was.

He asked, “Da, Dav, David, that white boy gonna stay here tonight.”

I looked at Albert and said, “Yeah.”

He thought about that a moment and then continued, “W…well, he’s not gonna sleep on my couch! Is he?”

Man, I didn’t want to get in the middle of that. Smitty was like the king dog. He required the best that was reasonably available. He had to have the best chair… etc. He did respect my bedroom. I didn’t have to give that up for him, cause that could have been something necessary to fight over in order to save face. Anyhow, I looked at Albert and said, “If you don’t want him to have your couch, just tell him.”

He thought about that a bit. Then he said, “Okay, I will”.

He then left my bedroom to go and accost Smitty.

He began, “Hey white boy, y…you gonna stay here tonight?”

Smitty looked at Albert with extreme skepticism. Albert’s story was that when he was eighteen he was a fighting bad buck; always getting into fights. They took him and locked him up into Jackson the Louisiana mental hospital for ten years and broke him down with drugs. Albert hadn’t been released for too long when I found him. He looked older than he was.

Smitty looked at Albert and said, “Yeah.”

Albert said, “W…well, you’re not gonna sleep on MY couch, are you?”

Smitty looked at the couch, then he looked at Albert and said, “No.”

Smitty slept on the floor. I was amazed. Later Smitty told me, “RowBear! You’re crazy. That man will kill you in your sleep.”

I just smiled. The Lord had already told me all I needed to know about Albert. In all honesty I had more to fear from Smitty.

All stories are unique. I like good outcomes. If you haven’t seen “The Blind Side”, be sure to add it to your list for must see movies. That was one gutsy woman. I let Albert live with me when I was single and only had my life to lose. Since I’ve been married with a responsibility to my wife and children I’ve curbed my hitchhiking and have had pretty stiff rules about letting any males, even my children’s cousins, outside my immediate family stay under my roof.

I guess the Lord showed the woman in the movie all she really needed to know about Michael and it seems she heard right. She was a pretty good fighter too; lots of spunk and savvy.

Well, that’s my tall tale for today…ciao

Friday, April 23, 2010


Growing up in South Louisiana gives a person plenty of opportunity to be exposed to snakes. Most people have an inordinate fear of snakes. I was no different in the beginning. In my preschool days I remember seeing a big one coiled up underneath our family automobile. I don't remember clearly, but I'm pretty sure I expressed some fear over the snakes that were around.
common garter snake
Some time after showing this fear my dad caught a small garter snake and approached me with it in a gentle and educational way. He showed me how to hold it and told me how to respect them and understand the difference between poisonous and nonpoisonous snakes. It was a good introduction. Black Rat Snake
He knocked the fear of snakes right off of me and I always enjoyed having a pet snake through the years after that even if it was just long enough to carry home and release in the garden where it can do some good. Like this common black rat snake I caught while mountain biking and took home.
Copperhead Snake
I don't mind catching a nonpoisonous snake whenever the opportunity presents itself. However, I have a healthy respect for the poisonous ones and give them their space unless they happen to be close to where kids might play, then I may help them on to the great beyond like this copperhead found in my neighbors yard. Notice that his head has been cut off and he is biting himself. A poisonous snake with his head severed can still bite for a long while after it has been cut off. Curious kids digging up a buried head have suffered snake bite after the fact, so if you dispose of one do so where kids won't get to it.

Simply killing a poisonous snake for the sake of killing it can garner you a stiff fine depending on where the killing takes place and who finds out about it. I heard a story about a man killing a rattle snake in the national forest and boasting about it while showing the dead snake off; fish & game showed up and wrote him a ticket for $300 dollars. Rattlesnakes do make good eating and in some places there is a rattlesnake round up every year.

I'm quick to catch a nonpoisonous snake, but I have a friend in South Louisiana that is known to jump out of a boat into the water to catch water moccasins. I went over to his house one day and he had two live ones in a burlap sack. I don't recommend doing this unless you really know what you are doing. Most snakes want to get away from you worse than you want to get away from them, but there are some exceptions. I've heard of female water moccasins with young chasing people.

There are only 4 species of poisonous snakes in the United States: Copperheads, Water Moccasins, Rattlesnakes, and the Coral snake. The coral snake's venom is a neurotoxin, and is the most deadly of the North American Snakes. Because of its size it also has the most difficulty delivering its venom. There is a Scarlet King snake that looks very similar to and is easily mistaken for a coral snake. King snakes are very beneficial. There is an easy rhyme to help a person remember the difference: "Red and yellow kill a fellow, while red and black is a friend of Jack".
Scarlet Kingsnake Coral Snake
Coral snakes are pretty reclusive. I've only seen one in my lifetime so far. It was during basic training at Fort Polk Louisiana. The Drill Sergeant had us pickup an old rotten log to move. The log fell apart when we lifted it and revealed a coral snake living in its rotten interior. The snake quickly fled to safer cover.

Well, above is enough background info on snakes so now to my Tall Tale...

I worked on a 1250 acre soybean and cattle farm while I was in high school. My boss put in a twelve acre crawfish pond. Since I was not afraid of snakes, he gave me the job of running the traps.

The traps lay just beneath the surface of the water and were located by a small float attached to each one. I pulled a small boat behind me to hold the crawfish I caught as I waded the pond to check the traps. Two species of snakes were common in the pond: the banded water snake and gray water snakes.
water snakes
Both snakes would go into the crawfish traps to dine. The banded water snake is colored similar to a copperhead with opposite marking. A copperhead has hourglass shaped markings while the banded water snake's markings are thick in the middle and tapered on the sides. The banded water snakes were small. Anytime I approached a trap with banded water snakes, they quickly escaped through the wire and swam off.

It was a different story for the gray water snakes. They were larger and would always be trapped. If a trap was too deep beneath the surface of the water, I would pull it up and the gray water snakes would be drowned, dead, and soggy. I'd just dump them into the water for the crawfish to feed on. If the trap was shallow enough, these gray water snakes would have their head stuck through the wire sucking air. I would open the funnel end of the trap and grab them by the tail. Then I would apply steady pressure to pull their head free back through the wire. Once the head pulled free, I would pull them all the way out of the trap and start spinning them around.

I would check them when I first started the spinning. They would always have their mouth wide open and neck turned toward me in an attempt to get to me and bite. I would continue the spinning and occasionally check the color of their mouth. In the beginning of the spin their mouth was always white. It would gradually take on a red color as centrifugal force caused blood to go to their head. When their mouth took on a nice cherry red color, I would drop them into the bottom of my boat. They were so dizzy with all the blood that went to their head that they were quite easy to catch without getting bit. I would then put them into a special hardware cloth snake cage I had just for them.

Many people swore these gray water snakes were water moccasins, but they weren't. They have a thicker middle section like the poisonous water moccasin and tended to flatten out their head when agitated into a triangle shape common to pit vipers, but they were not poisonous. These were mean snakes though.

Many snakes when you catch them eventually warm up to you and you can let them safely crawl around and explore without being bitten. Be careful though if you ever take one from the shade into the bright sunlight or have something else stimulate them like the presence of food.

The gray water snake... It didn't matter how long you held them. They won't warm up to you. If you release their head they will bite you. Their agitation remains constant while in your captivity.

I had a couple of gray water snakes in my snake cage when I made my journey home one day. I decided to stop at the Rainbow Truck Stop bar to get a beer for the rest of my trip home. I decided to carry my snake cage into the bar with its two occupants. I walked into the darkened space and approached the bar setting my snake cage on top as I ordered a beer. An old women was sitting on a stool next to me smoking a cigarette and sipping a drink. It took a little while, but she finally noticed what was in the cage I set on top of the bar.

She said, "Boy! You're crazy! Those are moccasins! If they bite you, they'll kill you."

I looked at her and grinned as I said, "I don't care. For twenty bucks I'll stick my arm in the cage and let them bite me."

She said, "No! You'll take my money and get out of here before you die."

I said, "Look, I'll let them bite me and then I'll go run around the building three times and then come back for my money."

She still wouldn't agree to the deal, so I got my beer and left with my snakes.

Years later after getting out of the Army I went to work for PHI (Petroleum Helicopter Inc.) Kris Kristofferson who wrote and sang the song "Why Me" in the previous post also worked for PHI before becoming famous. He was also a Cobra Gunship Pilot in Vietnam. PHI didn't much care for any pilots showing up with guitars after their Kris Kristofferson experience. I heard Kris would get PO'd at them and just fly to the beach and play his guitar until he was ready to go back to work.
PHI end of the work day
Anyhow, at this one job I had with PHI there was a large Black pumper named Perkins. The pumper position was a relatively senior job for an oil man, and Perkins always had a couple of roust-a-bouts in tow whenever he approached my helicopter for me to take him on his rounds. Whenever I saw Perkins approaching I would quickly turn my ADF radio to a black jam station out of New Orleans called: WYLD. The ADF was a navigational radio, but it could pickup AM radio stations and we usually just tuned it to our favorite station to listen to music while flying. Perkins would always sit upfront since he was the boss, and I would hand him the spare headset so we could talk and he could enjoy WYLD, which he did.

One day on my week off, so the story goes, it was Perkins birthday. Those oil men cornered that big black buck up in a little room on that oil rig and gave Perkins a paddling for every year of his life. Perkins was primed to return the favor when I returned to work.

My birthday fell during that hitch when I returned to work following Perkins spanking experience. I didn't tell anyone it was my birthday, but somehow they figured it out; probably through the dispatcher who was privy to more information than most. Perkins was ready to spank someone else, and it seemed I was the chosen candidate.

He cornered me up in a little room on that rig with 4 big white guys to help him out. There was nowhere to go and Perkins closed in close to me. I looked that big buck square in the eyes and asked, "Perkins, you like snakes!"

He said, "Ugh uh!" and wisely chose to leave me alone.

I often wondered how things would have gone down though if Perkins would have delivered my birthday spankings.

On my week off I would have returned to my high school crawfish pond and set a few traps. When I managed to capture me a couple of those biting mean gray water snakes, I would have took them back to work with me for my next hitch.

I'd put them in a burlap sack damp with water to keep them comfortable and leave them between my seat and door. When Perkins hopped in and got all comfortable jamming out to WYLD, I'd ask him, "Perkins remember when you gave me my birthday spankings?"

He'd say, "Yeah man, that was funny."

I'd say, "Well, I brought you a gift" as I'd take that burlap sack with my two friends in it and dumped them out on Perkins lap.

I figure one of two things would happen next. 1). Perkins would bailout three hundred feet above the water when those biting mean snakes landed in his lap, or 2). Perkins would have flat tore that helicopter up possibly causing a crash and ending both of our days. Regardless, justice would have been served.

I'm glad for Perkins sake, and mine that we didn't need to find out.

Well, that's my tall tale for today...

I hope y'all enjoyed it...ciao

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Road to Hell

Beyond the Law DVD
There is some brief rough language on the front end and the back end of this youtube video. The Road to Hell ~ Beyond the Law Embedding was disabled on request, but it still sets the theme for today's post if you choose to take a look and listen.

This movie is based on a true story of an undercover cop that infiltrated a biker gang. It is rated "R" and has some pretty rough content, strong language, violence, drug use, one sexuality scene, and some overall pretty coarse and ugly content. Other than that it shows the degree of depravity humans can sometimes all too easily gravitate to.

“Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel. He will eat curds and honey at the time He knows enough to refuse evil and choose good. For before the boy will know enough to refuse evil and choose good, the land whose two kings you dread will be forsaken." Isaiah 7:14-16

Just the other day the thought occurred to me that every bad thing I have ever done is because I was influenced by someone or something. That does not excuse me, but it does provide a reason for the error of my past ways. And, unfortunately I did not know enough to refuse evil and choose good. Fortunately I would not always remain in that condition.

Life has taught me that it is one thing to be able to discern good from evil and it is quite another thing to have the strength and wisdom to choose the good and refuse the evil. Depending on how you live your life the difference between the two can also become cloudy. Only a serious personal relationship with the one referred to above in Isaiah 7:14-16 and His consistent and diligent discipline when necessary after I became born again has helped me to change my ways.

I've heard many people say that if they had to do it all over again they wouldn't change a thing. There is plenty I would change. I would gladly go back to an 18 year old body or younger, if I could retain what I have learned along the way so I could do things differently and not return to the pit my savior helped me to climb out of.

Becoming a Recreational Drunk

I started drinking at a young age. I was born into a good family with good and responsible parents, but the time I was born into this world left many cracks for a kid to slip through. My dad has always had a booze cabinet, which I never paid any attention to until I read my first western novel.

"Woe to those who are heroes in drinking wine, And valiant men in mixing strong drink" Isaiah 5:22

The heroes in this western novel were also valiant men at handling their whiskey. That made this young kid look at his daddy's booze cabinet in a whole new way. "Hmmmm" I thought, "I'm going to have to figure that stuff out." It was a locked cabinet, but I figured out how to get into it and started experimenting with drinking at the tender age of 13. I helped myself at will. If I thought I reduced any levels in any of the bottles too a noticeably lower level I just added a little water to bring it back up.

I learned that it wasn't hard to purchase booze out on the street either. You could easily get an older person to buy you a bottle and some places would even sell it to you. By the time I was 15 I always had a fake ID. The legal drinking age was only 18 back then.

There was a black bar a few miles down the road from my house called the Dew Drop Inn. A couple of times I rode my bicycle there and purchased one or two quarts of beer to take home. The second time I went there it was pretty packed. I approached the bar and purchased two quarts of beer. Before I made it out the door a black man invited me over to his table. There was one white man at the table and in the bar. Everyone else was black. I sat down. The black man that called me over took one of my quarts and opened it saying, "Share this stuff". He passed my bottle around the table. Then the music started up and people were getting up to dance. The big black man that invited me over said, "Have fun. Get up and dance. Do what you want." This little white boy got up with his other quart and danced his way out the door, hopped on his bicycle and rode home and never went back to the Dew Drop Inn.

Another time a few years later and a little older, but still not 18 yet I was in a bar on the white side of town drinking and playing pool. A stranger from out of town came in about closing time and shot some pool,then the bar closed.

The stranger said he still wanted to play some pool.

I said, "Everything is closing. Time to go home."

He persisted about wanting to still play more pool.

I said, "Well I know a place we can go if you're serious."

He said, "Okay."

So I hopped in the stranger's car and navigated as he drove. I guided him to the back side of the quarters where there was a black bar called "the James Brown" that stayed open all night.

As we approached the bar showed up on the right side of the road and I said, "Here it is." and I waved my hand toward it.

He said, "Here?"

I said, "Yeah".

He turned without looking and pulled into a big ditch right in front of the club. Here we were, two little white boys stuck in a ditch in front of a black club in the middle of the quarter."

I said, "Oh man, what did you do that for? Ah, don't worry about it. I'll go get us some help to get us out of this ditch and then we can buy them a bottle of wine to thank them and then play your pool."

I got out of the car and approached about five blacks congregated out front. One in the group had an attitude, so I just ignored him while I told the other ones what was going on."

They were in no hurry, but they finally got around to helping us out of the ditch. The stranger was still sitting behind the wheel. These black men looked like they might have worked in the pulpwood industry. They were built pretty stout. They did not push that car out of the ditch. They laid their hands on it, lifted it up, and set it back on the road.

I pointed out the driveway and the parking lot to the stranger and told him, "Go park your car. I'll be thanking these guys. When you catch up with us, we'll buy them a bottle of wine to thank them and then you can play all the pool you want."

He made it to the driveway and pulled into the parking lot. I was visiting with the men who had helped us get out of the ditch. After a little while I started thinking that the stranger was sure taking a long time to catch up with us. I then looked around and saw his car back out on the road. The same time I saw his car he put the pedal to the metal and peeled out heading deeper into the quarter leaving this poor little white boy stranded.

I told those black men that had helped us, "That honkey must be scared. Come on an I'll buy y'all a bottle of wine for helping us."

We went into the club. I purchased a bottle of wine. After getting the bottle they pointed out the pool table. I said, "I didn't really want to play. It was the other guy that wanted to play." I visited until one left to head down town. I caught a ride with him and we went to an all night restaurant my mom managed at the time where I bought him some supper or breakfast to thank him for the ride.

Oh my, inappropriate drinking can sure get you into some predicaments...

In many ways it is just a miracle I managed to make it through those years intact. I've had some close calls. The Lord showed me mercy for some reason...
It would be several years later and even a few years after having a born again experience before He cured me completely from any desire to ever be drunk again.

And, I was a get drunk drinker. That was the only reason I drank. Many times to a blackout drunk condition where friends would have to tell me about the excitement of the previous evening. I managed my drinking to not allow it to interfere with other responsibilities such as school and jobs, except for once. But, that's a story for another time.

"Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God." 1 Corinthians 6:9-11

Well, that's the tall tale for today...ciao!

ps. Fortunately a Road to Hell can turn into a journey to redemption.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Road to Flight School

Flying was something I never thought I'd ever do. It was for rich people. I never even considered it until I stumbled into it.

I was approaching high school graduation. My dad would have paid for me to go to college, but I could see the writing on the wall. I was tired of school and had no driving interests for any particular major. With my attitude back in those days, I figured I would be wasting time and money. I did want to do something worthwhile though.
scuba diver
I knew how to scuba dive. I thought learning to be a commercial diver could be an enjoyable and worthwhile occupation. The movie "Men of Honor" detailing the true story about the first black Navy diver would not be released until many years after my decision making process, but I thought the Navy would be a could place to discuss the possibilities of meeting my goal. I also thought it was a good idea to let the Navy pay me to learn what I wanted to do, so I contacted a Navy recruiter.
Commercial Diver
The Navy recruiter paid me a visit at my dad's house. We sat in the living room as I told him what I was interested in doing. I have a pragmatic streak and wanted to focus on commercial diving knowing it could be something I could continue to do after leaving the military.
Navy Seals
The Navy recruiter told me that they had more combat divers than commercial divers. He said that if I was really interested in being a commercial diver I should talk to the Army because they use more commercial divers than the Navy does. Before he left he told me a story about being on a helicopter that picked up a team of Navy Seals. The Navy Seals had captured a large lizard and took it on the helicopter alive with them. After boarding they ate the lizard alive for lunch in his presence. As a high school kid full of testosterone I thought that was a cool story, but I still wanted to be practical so I contacted an Army recruiter.

The Vietnam War was going hot and heavy in those days. The majority of people I talked to tried to dissuade me from joining the military. I met a man that had been an Army diver. He told me that he had cleaned more toilet bowls than having chances to dive. I met another man that told me that if I was serious about joining the military I should at least try to go in as an officer because officers had an easier go of things. That piece of advice caused me to ask my Army recruiter what it took to become an officer.

The Army recruiter told me that normally it took a college degree, but they just happened to have this high school to flight school warrant officer program. If I tested out okay I would get a written guarantee that the Army would send me to flight school. That did not mean that they would guarantee that I'd pass, but I would have the opportunity. And, if I did complete flight school they would make me a warrant officer upon graduation. That sounded like a good deal to me. So we started the paperwork.
Army Aviation on Duty
I really lucked out with the Army recruiter I had. Sgt Copeland. He was a straight shooter, and a man of honor. Many kids wanting to fly would approach Army recruiters and ask about Army Flight School only to be told that if they enlisted for crew chief training they would then have a better chance of being selected for flight school after completing crew chief school. That was really a bunch of bull. The paperwork for crew chief school was easier on a recruiter than the paperwork for Army Flight School. A lazy recruiter could fill his quota easier. Fortunately Sgt Copeland's integrity was intact and if flying was meant to be my destiny, Sgt Copeland was a major player in sending me on my way.

I passed my medical examination which amounted to a first class physical. I passed my FAST (Flight Aptitude Selection Test) with only two points of gravy. aircraft attitude indicator A long serious of questions involved looking at an attitude indicator and determining from the attitude indicator what the aircraft was doing. This picture shows an aircraft banking right in a slight descent. Halfway through the series of questions I realized I was looking at the attitude indicator wrong. It was a timed test and I didn't have time to go back and correct my answers, so I simply answered the remaining questions in what I now thought was the correct manner. Two points of gravy is still passing, so I cleared that hurdle.

I then had a review board that I had to sit before consisting of Army aviators who ask you a series of questions. After the review board was complete, one of the officers told me that when I first opened my mount they thought they were dealing with someone with an IQ of about 2. I have a strong southern accent. The officer also told me that it didn't take long for them to realize that their first impression wasn't the case. They all gave me high marks.

I cleared my other hurdles, background investigation etc., and received my written guarantee that I would be sent to Army Flight School before I ever had to sign an enlistment obligation. Once having the written guarantee in hand I signed an obligation for if I remember correctly was 6 years.

I was on my way...
Above the Best
I had to complete basic training at Fort Polk, Louisiana before going to Army Flight School, but if things continued well I would get my opportunity to try to become an Army Aviator...

My personal destiny for better or worse was set in motion.

Hope you enjoyed this tall tale...ciao

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Workplace Trials and Tribulations

Well I really don't know how much time I have allotted to me. I hit the beginning and the end, so where do I go now? I have a similar story currently in the works for one that occurred in the middle. You don't know what the denouement of a story will be until it becomes a fait accompli, so I have to leave the current story alone until it runs its course. But, I'll share the story in the middle that is fait accompli with a denoumement.

"Doing wickedness is like sport to a fool,
And so is wisdom to a man of understanding."
Proverbs 10:23

I shared the first Christian album I ever bought on my last post. Here is my favorite song off of that album: "the Narrow Way" by Kelly Willard

Now to the current story...

Workplace Trials and Tribulations

I moved to North Central Arkansas in the Fall of 1988 in an old 1969 GMC School Bus converted to a mobile home with plans of starting a business making and selling hammocks. During that process I found hammocks already made cheaper than my material costs.
So, I figured I needed a better game plan.
I noticed the ICS(International Correspondence Schools) advertisement in Reader's Digest and began looking through their choices for a possible solution. The Survey and Mapping Course bumped me with interest. It could be a job where I got to wonder the great outdoors and get exercise while working at the same time.

Before I sent my down payment in I wanted to make sure I was reasonably assured of being able to get a job, so I stopped in at the most visible Civil Engineering and Surveying Company in the closest large town to where I was living to chat.

I visited with the big boss's right hand man. He told me they didn't need anyone at the moment, but they were expecting to get the Corp of Engineers contract that spring and would need lots of people then.

It sounded promising, so I sent my money off and started the ICS Survey and Mapping Course.

I enjoyed the course work and was progressing well when springtime finally arrived and I gave a call to the company I had visited to check on the job status.

The big boss man answered the phone. I told him who I was and that I had talked to his right hand man during the previous winter. The big boss told me that he had just hired someone with more experience.

I told him I had been taking the ICS Survey and Mapping Course and was doing well and that his right hand man told me there would be work.

He said, "It's always good to improve your education, but like I said I just hired someone with more experience".

I told him thank you for his time, and hung up.

I would have never called the man again except the next land surveyor I spoke to in a different town with about the same driving distance told me that if I was taking the ICS course and I really wanted to learn I should try to get on with the company I had spoken to first.

My landlord was using me as his handyman's assistant for Monday through Thursday and he gave me Fridays off to work on getting my hammock business up to speed. So, I called the Big Boss that had rejected me back and said, "I don't have anything to do on Fridays and I'm really interested in learning Land Surveying and Mapping, so can I show up on Fridays just to observe your work?"

He said, "Come on in and let me talk to you".

Alright! I thought.

What I didn't know was that his junior man just quit to go get a job on a fishing boat in Alaska.

The Big Boss Man gave me the grand tour of his office and all that they do. He never asked me any questions about what I was learning. Then he ran this line by me, "Instead of just coming in to observe our work, let me put you on the payroll as a trainee. That way if we need you in the field we can use you. Plus you can make a little money instead of just watching."

The deal sounded okay to me, so I agreed. A trainee back then started at $3.68 an hour. After I agreed he told me, "By the way, the junior man on the totem pole cuts the grass. Why should I have to hire someone to cut the grass?"

So I ended up cutting that old codger's grass for less money than I would have made in junior high.

I progressed fairly rapidly and went from trainee to "Rod Man" and junior draftsman. Those two positions paid $6.40 an hour.

Then the Corp of Engineers contract finally came through. The Corp had a new requirement for this year where all output had to be produced by computer and the finished product had to be plotted with Intergraph.

The company purchased a Surveying and Mapping software package and borrowed a demo copy of Intergraph from the Corp to produce the final plot. The demo copy only ran for 15 minutes before requiring the user to login again, but once a routine was started it ran until complete. So, you could have a plot that would take a couple of hours to produce on a pen plotter and the demo copy did the job.

The Big Boss Man talked about having to hire someone outside the company to run the new Land Surveying Software they had purchased. I asked him if I could take the manual home in the evenings and study it on my own time. He said, "Okay".

I then asked if I could come in on the weekends on my own time and practice using the software on their company computer. He said, "Okay".

I worked myself into a new position, "Computer Operator". The Corp of Engineers specified the pay which was $11.20 an hour. So I had done fairly well moving from $3.68 and hour to $11.20 an hour in a short amount of time. It also got me out of cutting the grass. But, there was a fly in the ointment...

There was Corp work to do and then there was regular company work to do. Your hourly wage depended on the job you were preforming. My new position, "Computer Operator" was listed as $5.80 an hour. Less money than I made as a rodman and as a junior draftsman. In the past when I had worked hard I had been taken care of by my bosses. They would have said, "That's not right, you need this here.", but not the Big Boss. He smiled all the way to the bank for the longest time. I didn't worry about it too much since I had plenty of Corp work to do.

One Tuesday morning the Big Boss showed up at his usual 9am time. He got a cup of coffee and then commenced to stand behind me looking over my shoulder at what I was working on. One of our jobs was the design and drafting of a handicap access park for fishing at the local Fish Hatchery. Unknown to me the Big Boss had a sit-down luncheon meeting the next day where he needed finished blueprints. The job was nowhere near finished.
He asked, "Dave, why aren't you working on the Fish Hatchery park?"

I said, "Ed told me to work on this." Ed was his right hand man and I pointed to the job I had up on the computer.

The Big Boss went into Ed's office. In short order Ed came out and pulled up a chair at the desk next to me with another computer. We both started working on the Fish Hatchery Access Park drawings.

Ed and I ate pizza for supper at the keyboards and worked through the night. Just before lunch on Wednesday we printed out the final set of blueprints and handed them to the Big Boss to take to his sit-down luncheon meeting.

I hung around until about 3pm that afternoon and then took off early. I had just completed 32 straight hours of work having come to work on Tuesday morning and going home Wednesday afternoon. I got a good night's sleep and made it to work at the normal time on Thursday morning.

The Big Boss showed up at his normal 9am time with a big smile on his face. He said, "Dave and Ed I'm real happy with you two. You both did a real good job for me." He continued, "In fact to reward you two, I want to give you Friday off."

Then he looked at Ed and said, "Ed, I know you're really busy. If you rather come in and work on Friday, that will be alright. But if you rather take Friday off, you can can do so."

Then he looked me directly in the eyes and said, "Dave, I just assume you take Friday off. That way I won't have to pay you any overtime."

I sat there looking up at the Big Boss thinking, "Did a real good job for him... Wants to reward us... Doesn't want to pay me any overtime..." I said, "Okay".

I took my Friday off. I also took home a stack of payroll time sheets. Along with the payroll time sheets I took home a copy of the company policy manual. Time sheets were turned in the last thing on Friday or the first thing on Monday morning.

I spent my Friday going through the company policy manual with a fine tooth comb. The first thing I found was that the previous Monday was Martin Luther King's birthday holiday. I had thought it was a company holiday, but nobody said anything, so I showed up for work on Monday. Everybody else did too. But there it was in black and white that it was a company holiday, so I took a payroll time sheet and said, "Okay Big Boss Man, don't want to pay me overtime. Here is 8 hours for the 8 hours I worked on Monday and here is 8 more hours for the holiday. I put the extra 8 hours down as overtime.

Next I got to thinking about my pay. I had been getting $5.80 for jobs like the fish hatchery for a mighty long time. If I was doing the drafting by hand instead of by computer I would be getting $6.40, so I reasoned I should at least put all my time down as $6.40 an hour. If the Big Boss Man didn't like that, I could tell him that I'd just draft everything by hand from now on.

The company policy manual said that if you wanted a raise you had to verbally approach your immediate supervisor and request it first. When the Big Boss Man put me on the computer it was no longer clear who my immediate supervisor was. For all I knew it could have been him. Also, if anyone ever put anything on their payroll time sheet that he didn't like, he just changed it. So, I reasoned that there was no need to verbally ask anyone. I should just put down what I wanted. If he didn't like it, we could discuss it then.

I also didn't like the $6.40 an hour. I had been getting paid $5.80 for a mighty long time and nobody said anything. I looked at the senior draftsman rate which was $9.20 and decided that might be a little stiff. The intermediate draftsman rate at $7.60 looked appealing, so I put all my hours down at $7.60 an hour.

I told my wife what I was doing when she got home and she had a major cow...

She said, "You're going to lose your job!"

I said, "Baby, if I lose this job because of this, I need to lose this job."

Monday morning I showed up at work bright and early. I was the first one there. I also had a small problem. I was the only one with the previous Monday marked as a holiday on their payroll time sheet. The next person through the door was my old supervisor, the Instrument Man. He is of Italian descent and anytime he got a thorn in his side, you heard about it with his pretty fiery personality.

As soon as he came through the door I said, "Hey, last Monday was a holiday." We had all worked it.

He said, "I don't think so."

I said, "Yea, Martin Luther King."

He said, "Ah, we don't get paid for that."

I said, "We don't? Well it is in the company policy manual that we do."

He said, "It is?"

Then he went and dug out a company policy manual and looked up the holiday policies for himself. Then he went into the Big Boss Man's office and retrieved his payroll time sheet that he had turned in last thing on Friday and made sure he put his extra 8 hours down for the holiday.

I didn't have to tell another person. Everyone through the door after that he said, "Last Monday was a holiday. Martin Luther King. It's in the company policy manual that we get paid for it. Make sure you get it on your time sheet."

Small problem fixed, but the firework show was set up.

The Big Boss Man drug in at his typical 9am. He got himself a cup of coffee and said hi to everyone. Then he went into his office to look over time sheets as was his habit for Monday mornings. He wasn't in there 5 minutes before he came out pinging off the walls...

"Ugh, ugh, this ain't right! Y'all can't do this to me! But, but, it is in the company policy manual, so I'll let you do it this time." said the Big Boss Man.

Then he looked at me and said, "Dave, since that was a holiday I don't have to pay you overtime for those hours". I looked at him and said, "Okay", conceding that point.

When his secretary arrived he had her cut an addendum to the company policy manual that said, "If you are not on a government job the day before and the day after Martin Luther King's birthday, then you cannot claim it as a holiday." I told myself that I would just have to see if I was there for the next one.

So all the excitement from the holiday pay settled down. I still expected fireworks for the raise I had given myself.

The Big Boss Man returned to his office and everyone else returned to their jobs. After a short while the Big Boss Man shouted, "Ed! You wanna come in here." Ed was his right hand man. I figured the Big Boss Man wouldn't do anything without consulting with Ed first. Ed may also have been considered my immediate supervisor by the Big Boss Man since I got most of my instructions from him after being hogtied to the computer and never getting to see the sunshine again turning as white as a white boy can get.

Ed wasn't in the Big Boss Man's office long when the Big Boss Man shouted, "Dave, you wanna come in here!" I said, "Okay" as I shut down my current job and rose from my desk.

I stood in the Big Boss Man's office doorway and looked him straight in the eye like the day he told me he didn't wanna pay me any overtime and said, "Yes sir!"

Ed was sitting in a chair just inside the door looking up at me with a silly little grin on his face. The Big Boss Man then asked me... a technical question pertaining to the computer. I gave him my answer. Then he and Ed mulled over my answer a bit. Then the Big Boss Man looked at Ed and said, "Okay Ed you can go."

I took Ed's seat and waited. The Big Boss Man sat in his chair looking across his desk at me with sad puppy dog eyes as if to say, "How could you do this to me?"

He could care less that I had a wife and kids at home I was trying to feed. I was ready and fully loaded. Bring it on Boss Man! Lets talk about it!

He never said a thing. I made the $7.60 an hour until the next time he made me mad. Then I put the senior draftsman rate down. He never said a thing about that either. He had talked about having to pay high dollar to whomever he had to hire outside the company to run the new software, so I reckon he got a bargain with me.
Helicopter Wooded LZ
I decided the next time he made me mad I'd really make him squeak. But then reading my morning paper over breakfast one day I noticed Air Evac had an ad for flight nurses. I told my wife to give them a call and see if they needed any pilots. Air Evac called me at the office before lunch asking when I could come in to talk to them.

So I ended my surveying career before the next Martin Luther King holiday and took up flying again.

The Big Boss Man called me in once after leaving trying to hire me back. I told him what I needed to make to return. He said, "Umh, for that kind of money I can hire such and such." I said, "Well, maybe that's what you need to do."

I still consider the Big Boss Man a friend. He is a good chess player too. I had been more or less conflict adverse prior to this experience, but I guess he just pushed me far enough. I also think the Lord really loves the Big Boss Man because of the Martin Luther King holiday gift timing that just happened to workout perfectly. This one is a little hard to explain if you don't get it, but...

"All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness." Hebrews 12:11

"For whom the LORD loves He reproves, Even as a father corrects the son in whom he delights." Proverbs 3:12

Hope you enjoyed the tale...ciao