09/26/2011, Seoul, Korea
So now it's Seoul, Korea that houses my rambling self for a short time, with an 18th-floor view of the city and the river. Busy place, with repetitive high-rise housing in great clumps like concrete forests with giant numbers on the side. Communication antennas everywhere, cluttering the tops of buildings, sharing rooftops with satellite TV dishes and air conditioning units. The air is white, milky -- a filter that softens the view to a faded watercolor of cream, tan, blue and pale green.
What I've noticed more than ever since my return to civilization roughly 9 months ago when we landed in Brisbane, Australia (aside from the dizzying choice of breakfast cereals) is the abundant use of "smart" phones. People roam the streets of Brisbane, Sydney, Auckland, Hong Kong, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seoul with their heads down, immersed in the small handheld devices that absorb almost their full attention. No strolling the avenue, head up, enjoying the smells of the budding spring or cool fall, smiling at passers-by. Nope, we're all islands, loners in the crowd, oblivious to what's around us, avoiding bumping into each other by some highly developed internal radar. I'm not really saddened by this, just sort of amazed by it. I, too fall prey to the lure of instant information, grabbing my iPhone at any given moment to find the definition of a word, confirmation on a story, details to flesh out something I'm sharing with the person next to me. So it goes.
We continue to merge back into our previous lives with our newfound perspective. Lately our focus has been on reinventing home as we know it. The painting is done, the cork floor for the kitchen is on order, and the mattress has landed in the upstairs bedroom. We've moved most of our things from storage and continue the process of pawing through the boxes and attempting to eliminate the overage. That simplicity I mentioned earlier is surprisingly complicated to achieve! We continue to collect even as we rid. Craigslist is my new best friend: I sell something and buy something else; even exchange.
The little sailboat we were expecting has made other plans, so our latest acquisition, as we downsize and upsize concurrently, is an inflatable Achilles dinghy and a Honda outboard motor, so our dock isn't completely devoid of boats, and so we can remain the salty dogs we've become, to some degree.
It's a bit anti-climatic moving back home -- in a way, it's sort of like closing the door on our adventure, so we have to remind ourselves that we really did do that, we really were gone for two years, we actually sailed across the South Pacific! It's like falling into a comfortable bed after a long day, but we don't want to fall asleep for too long, or get too comfortable. It's okay, I'll shake things up soon enough - it's in my nature. What will it be? Stand by, I'll think of something!
Is it wrong to keep up my Sailblogs account and continue blurbing indiscriminately about non-nautical things when we don't even own a sailboat anymore? Or does it count that we're currently moving back into our marina home, where they keep lots of boats and have lots of sailors? I have to assume yes, because it's too much trouble to get a new blog address and start all over, so here I remain. Granted, this isn't the same as a 22-day Pacific crossing or swimming with whales in Tonga, but I'll keep it up anyhow.
I've just arrived in San Francisco, with a short layover here and then on to Hong Kong tomorrow. I'm sitting in a rather noisy hotel bar, with trendy cement floors and granite tables, populated by well-dressed city folk chatting amiably, most of them in black work clothes. At the end of the bar a large HD flat screen airs a baseball game, muted of course, since nobody would be able to hear it anyhow. I went out for a walk but the brisk September chill of this bay city sent me back in, not to mention I forgot my wallet. So I've settled on a hotel cheese plate and some good international people watching.
Getting back to that bit about how we're moving back into our home: we've begun what looks to be a month-long process of slowly excavating our things from storage and separating the treasures from the trash. It seems our definition of those two things has changed somewhat since our trip, and I hope to keep it that way, striving for a more simple existence with fewer things to clutter up the interior residential landscape, not to mention the already-messy interior of my head. Our goal to avoid any house projects has failed miserably, though, and we're headlong into painting, garage-floor coating, kitchen floor replacing and other domestic sprucing events before our furniture moves back in and makes said projects more difficult later. So we're still in limbo, although we're quite good at it by now. We have temporary digs at Carol and John's mobile home nearby until we unearth our mattress from the store room. But once our stuff is all back in, then - really -- we're going to relax a bit. Maybe in time for the holidays we can just hang out at home and enjoy our life.
In boat-related news, we do have a little sailboat coming our way, a dinghy with a sail that Allan's dad has graciously given us and which has yet to be relocated from Long Beach, CA where it resides upside-down on a rack beneath a beautiful green canvas cover. We're both looking forward to some easy, simple sails around the marina, with our feet hanging over one rail and our heads over the other. We're on the lookout for another kayak, since we're down to one after selling the other two in Australia. And we're both interested in finding a few used paddling surfboards, the kind you stand and paddle around on -- seems like a nice way to get a little upper-body workout and enjoy the marina view at the same time.
Everyone wants to know how it is being back at work. It's good. It's really good under the circumstances, those being the state of the world economy, and especially the US economy, where the jobless rate nears (or tops? I've lost track) 9%. It's really good to see a little income into the checking account instead of a constant drain. It's good to have a focus, and most of all it's good to have such fun jobs that waited patiently for our return. What a blessing, and as we talk to more and more people we realize how lucky we are.
Being back home is odd in so many ways: while we were gone it seems our friends and family didn't age a minute. Some, like my mother, grew even younger. They all look the same (or better) than when we left, and that's a weird feeling, like we didn't really leave at all. More and more, as we move farther into our return to civilization, it feels like we dreamed the whole thing.
And the plants! In many cases, thanks, I suppose, to good pruners and gardeners, the trees and plants look almost the very same as when we left, with the exception, of course, of the flax bushes in our front yard. They've turned into giant pointy flax geysers, reaching for the sky and stretching across the far edges of the sidewalk. They spew upward in the tiny front yard, dwarfing the plants around them. On the very first hour of our return the other day, I watched as several dear neighbors left the sidewalk and stepped into the street in an awkward arc around our dominating bushes, so I grabbed the clippers and "pineappled" the offenders, cutting off all the lower leaves in a pattern that makes them look like giant yard pineapples.
Now, some of you may remember my short missive on the flax plant while we were in New Zealand. It's boring, but I'll repeat it anyhow. The Maori discovered that the flax can be used for so many things it became indispensible to their existence. They were stunned to learn that the invading Europeans hadn't even heard of it: how could they possibly survive without it? The humble flax provides food and medicine, can be woven into clothes, mats, houses, boats, and rafts. It can be twisted into incredibly strong rope, and I'm sure there are other uses I've already forgotten. So here I am, back from the wild adventure, much more MacGyver-like than ever before, with a honed survivor-mentality and a thrifty, use-everything approach to life that my mother has always inherently understood.
And here are these flax bushes, taking over my yard, eating the neighborhood, looking, well, it's true - looking rather ugly in their otherwise rather governed realm. They're wild and unrestrained. But they're so doggone useful! I can't pull them out! What if I need to build a boat? Weave a cocktail dress or braid some dock lines?
Yes, it's good being back at work, back with our families, back in our home. It's good to have such an abundant selection of breakfast cereals, and to be able to choose from over 5,000 kinds of milk and milk-substitutes. But we miss sailing, and mostly, we miss cruising. The good thing is, we have a plan. We're going to do it again. Not anytime soon, but as time seems to fly, it will be soon enough. And then, my continued membership in Sailblogs will be justified. In the meantime, the airline updates, the flax updates, the kitchen floor and the domestic updates will continue.
07/30/2011, Hong Kong
All day yesterday, as we were readying the jet for departure in Chicago, dealing with a maintenance delay, discussing a potential diversion for a fuel stop in Japan if the tropical storm in Hong Kong threatened extensive delays, surrounded by the general chaos of being back at work, and feeling completely out of sorts in my awkward uniform, I had the theme song to "Welcome Back, Kotter" by John Sebastian in my head: "Welcome back, your dreams were your ticket out."
I'd commuted in to Chicago to fly this 6-day trip to Hong Kong and Singapore the day before, and had a relaxing night in the Hyatt Regency O'Hare before showing up for duty at United's largest pilot base, our home city. I love Chicago O'Hare's Airport -- I love the tunnel that runs between Concourses B and C, with the tinkling bells playing "Rhapsody in Blue" and the changing colored lights overhead, I love the recording that says something about the moving walkway coming to an end, but how, with multiple recordings at once, sounds more like "keep walking, keep walking." It was great to be back for the first time in almost a decade, but it's all a bit intimidating. I couldn't remember the door codes, or where things were, nor was I familiar with the local mores of the pilot group here. Like, where to get the paperwork, at which table to sit for international flight planning, whether I should grab one of those little 3-letter city code placards and put it on the table for the rest of the crew to see when they showed up. I figured it all out, and soon enough the other 3 crewmembers arrived and after greetings and introductions, we were in the business of flight planning. We talked about the new flight plan format, briefed the weather situation in HKG, had a long conversation with the dispatcher, and headed for the gate. We discussed the possibility of a fuel divert with the head flight attendant, who reminded us of the tight schedule for crew legality if we took much of a delay. Then we discovered the faulty radar unit, which we needed in order to avoid the extensive weather across the continent as well as in Hong Kong. The maintenance delay, combined with the possible fuel divert, was beginning to threaten the successful completion of our flight. "Welcome baack ..."
Now, no matter what you might think, there isn't a pilot alive that wants to delay or cancel a flight. We have a genetic predisposition to complete our mission, and our goal is to remove barriers and get the job done safely. It really is. So the threat of a crew going illegal and having to stay overnight for crew rest, plus the obvious inconvenience to passengers, is contrary to our very existence. But we also know that safety reigns, and sometimes, it is what it is. So we were ready for anything.
In the end, our maintenance people in Chicago were quick to find a replacement radar unit, the weather in Hong Kong was good enough that we didn't need to get more fuel in Japan, and, after a 14-hour flight across Canada, Alaska, Russia, Japan and China, we were only 30 minutes late. My first landing in the 747 in 2 years was nice and smooth, the sun was shining, and through it all, John Sebastian's mellow voice kept me company.
Now, as I sit in the glass-walled lobby of the Novotel Hotel in Wan Chai, smack-dab in the bathroom-remodeling neighborhood of Hong Kong, it's raining. Outside, people rush past in colorful mobs, half of them hiding under umbrellas, the other half appearing to not notice the warm rain. The lobby is full of mostly Chinese guests, busily buried in their laptops and smart phones, with a few cute kids squeaking around, being chased by serious, alert parents. I splurged this morning on a $10 reflexology session in the upstairs salon of a 24-hour massage place, next door to The Old China Hand, a bar that a lot of airline folk frequent on their long layovers.
I was reminded of a night a few years ago in the Old China Hand. I was sitting with a few co-workers when suddenly the music was turned off and a group of men began to sing a cappella on the other side of the room, in deep, rich voices. For 45 minutes they mesmerized everyone in the bar, singing hymns, marching songs, political yarns and Irish folk songs. At last, they finished, and of course, I had to ask them what it was all about. Turned out to be a group of English banking professionals or something, who perform together on a regular basis. Often, they said, they'd fall into an impromptu rehearsal in the Old China Hand. I've never been back to hear them again, and wonder if they're still around.
It's good to be back at work, and flying the 747 again. As Allan has noted, this time around, we get a chance to learn the airplane a little better, and to bring a fresh attitude to work. A do-over, of sorts. I'm seeing it all through fresh, or refreshed, eyes. For example, sleeping in the crew rest bunk: it used to be really tough to sleep in turbulence, but now, after being literally thrown across the boat in heavy seas, the airplane bunk seems downright peaceful. And meals: someone else prepares them! And brings us drinks! Of course, since 9-11 our lives have changed, and we're virtual captives in the cockpit, not allowed out without gate and guard, but still - it's a bit of a luxury to not have to cope with a thrashing galley and flying food, as I did for 3 meals a day on Fly Aweigh.
I do hate the uniform. This is where my unbridled whining reaches its peak. Who in the world invented the dress shirt and tie? What cruel, tortuous, evil person decided to strangle a perfectly nice neck with a rough cotton collar, encircled and constricted with a tie? Who invented buttons? And pants, and socks, and dress shoes? Oh, for my flip-flops and shorts!
The paycheck will be nice, though. Welcome Back!
07/19/2011, Denver and Lousiville
Where are we? What's happening? Are we back at work? In training? Trying to adapt to the fast-paced airline world and all the inherent changes that time and the economy have brought? Or have we given up on the real world and slunk back to the sea on a small flimsy raft with a hand-held radio and a few dozen heads of cabbage? This blurb will attempt to answer these, and other unasked questions.
I'm in Denver, Colorado, finishing up the last week of my recurrent training on the B-747, and should be home Saturday. Allan arrived in Louisville, Kentucky yesterday and will be in his recurrent training on the B-757/767 until mid-August. We have yet to see any paychecks but are confident that soon enough, actual cash dollars will be deposited into our account and our re-employment will be a reality.
My training has been great fun. I have some wonderful friends here in Denver, Mike and Sallie, who have a delightful home (Sallie is a talented designer) and have opened their guest room to me as backup to the hotel. I rented a microscopic car for a very good price, so mobility is easy. My plan was to stay at the hotel during the week and enjoy some "home-away-from-home" time at Mike and Sallie's on the weekends, but they've made things so tempting here at what Mike calls "The Mouse House" and what I call (since it's gargantuan rebuild) "The Mouse That Roared House" that I've opted to out-stay my welcome. Tomorrow is my day off, and I'm heading north to visit some former Albuquerque friends who moved to Denver a few years back to join the airline world.
Denver is experiencing an unusual monsoon season this summer, with torrential rains falling almost every afternoon, making things quite exciting for someone used to the stable weather patterns of So Cal. Everything is lush and green -- it's like buckets of Miracle Gro are falling from the sky.
Getting back in the swing of things hasn't been as hard as I thought, although I may be speaking too soon: the big test comes this week, as I finish the last 2 days of simulator training and then have my check ride on Saturday. After that, a trip or two with a Captain who is qualified to do "line checks," and I'm released to the wilds of the sky.
My schedule in August includes a few trips to Sydney, Australia. I'm excited to see our friends Behan and Jamie on s/v Totem, who, with their 3 fabulous kids, are snugged into Camarray Marina in North Sydney for a year or two, building up the cruising kitty so they can continue on their world adventure. We get regular emails from our friends on Paikea Mist and Serenity, who are both in Fiji, as well as Steve and Trish on Curious, who are at the top of Australia getting ready to launch on the Indonesia Rally with a bunch of other boats. It's exciting to keep up with our friends as they continue cruising, although we of course feel hefty pangs of envy. Nonetheless, we'll never forget the 10,000 miles of South Pacific that was our home for 18 months, and having done it, it's easier to feel we're right there with our friends in those azure anchorages, diving with colorful fish and sea turtles, sipping cold drinks at sunset as the boat gently rocks at anchor .... argh, this is harder than I thought ... wanna go back ... no - get a grip - focus, focus ... must ... pay ... off ... loan ...
06/25/2011, Somewhere in Southern California
Vagabonds, nomads. That's us, still out here in the nebulous realm of somewhere, nowhere, everywhere. Moving from bed to bed as we house sit at the Deese's, at dad's, at Carol and John's; and as we visit family here and there and go on little local overnight sailing trips. Our lives remain unsettled and unstable and mostly as happy as ever. The ultimate irony of the last two years is this: at the end of it all, homeless and boat-less, we're cat-sitting our own cat. The other day I sort of freaked out when I learned he'd slipped out the door without his collar on. "Carol and John NEVER let him out without his collar!" I wail. Then I realize, "Hey! He's MY cat!" I don't know, I think I'm losing my identity ...
But we're having fun anyhow. We've been continuing to fly a little bit, Allan is working on his "tail wheel endorsement" so he's trained and safe in those funny-looking airplanes that sit tail-low and often sound more like old tractors or sewing machines than airplanes. I've had some fun, too, logging an hour the other day in the same plane Allan's flying, an Aeronca Champ owned by Frank Donnelly, aka Dr. D. It felt great to be back in my favorite kind of airplane, and I was surprised at how much I remembered. My flying's not pretty, yet, but it's safe. I'll get the finesse back soon enough. We're also putting a little time in Chuck and Mary's C-172, my old friend 8TN.
This week we had some fun in s/v Our Escape, Allan's dad's Catalina 36, with a lovely sail out to the isthmus at Santa Catalina Island for an overnight in the harbor. Perfect day out, and since it was Wednesday we got our pick of moorings, right up close in the shelter of the island and near the dock. A nice dinner ashore, a fun night at the mooring while the sea lions gorged on the massive school of fish (sardines?) that were flooding the harbor, a curious sleep in the v-berth (why is there velco in the sleeping bag?), breakfast ashore and a brisk walk under cloudy skies to the other side of the isthmus, and then it was time to go.
A mile or so east of the island on our way back to San Pedro, motoring along just fat, dumb and happy, we suddenly had a loss of engine power which caught us offguard, putting little exclamation points over our surprised heads. Some investigation into the matter led us to suspect a fuel problem, and sure enough, a clogged fuel filter was the culprit. Ah! Fun challenges at sea! As we bobbed in the flat ocean, drifting on the weak current, going nowhere in the absence of even a breath of air, we put our three heads together. I stayed at the helm and optimistically pointed us toward San Pedro, occasionally tossing relevant and ever-so-helpful suggestions down to Allan and Grant, who dug into things down below, improvising with kitchen devices and mismatched tools to get the job done. But things didn't quite work out as planned, and soon enough it was clear we would not have an engine to rely on for the rest of the day. But no worries - it's a sailboat. Sailboats have those big white things that stick up in the air and make them go. So normally we wouldn't have been concerned, but we did have that annoying lack of air that I already mentioned, which promised a very long trip across the channel.
We bobbed around some more, thoughtfully eating potato chips and cheese puffs, and finally came up with the idea of pushing the Catalina 36 toward home with the little "rubber ducky", as our friend in Australia calls it, propelled by Allan's grandad's ancient 2.2 Mercury outboard motor. Slowly, we made it across the 20 mile expanse, aided about half the time by a breeze that was forecast to become a decent wind but never did, and the rest of the time by that little Mercury. It was impressive - slow, but steady. We took turns in the rubber ducky, pushing the big boat from the center of the stern, with Dad at the helm of the Catalina and the third person keeping an eye out for ships in the shipping lane and the subsequent wake that might cause the little dinghy some trouble. We were lucky it was a flat sea, and things went well. We even caught a puff or two air inside the breakwater and were able to sail west to Cabrillo Marina and onto the fuel dock, where the magnificently capable Vessel Assist guy came to our aid and backed us into our slip. We had the boat washed up and were on our way to dinner by 9:45pm, after what was, for Allan and I, a very satisfying day, evoking that sense of adventure that we loved so much in our cruising. We'll be back at it soon enough; in the meantime, these little adventures fuel the fire and keep us happy.
As far as work is concerned, I have just a few more days of retirement, and am officially on the payroll again next Wednesday, with requalification training to follow. Allan is scheduled for requal at UPS in mid-July for 20 days. Then, in September, if I haven't already mentioned this part, we return to our home in Oxnard and see what we remember of our old lives.
Oh, and the velco? That's what the missing sheet liners attach to. Mystery solved.
05/11/2011, Claremont, California
Friends and family,
I haven't written since we've returned to the Land of Too Many Choices, and thought I'd give an update on how we're adapting to our land-lubbing life.
We're house sitting for friends in Claremont, California, readying said house for sale with the help and guidance of said friends, the Deeses. Yard work, - lots of it - cleaning, overseeing and working with painters, tree-trimmers, wood-pile removers, carpet stretchers, art collectors, and fence people. It's been a powerful push to get things up to a certain level of presentability for the sagging real estate market, but we're very near, and for me it's been great fun. Digging in the dirt after the aquatic life has been very, yes, earthy.
We've also been taking advantage of much this area of Southern California has to offer. Being my hometown, I have a natural affinity for all things Claremont. The smell of spring -- wild sage and eucalyptus, blooming citrus, and even the mineral smell of warm dirt are the familiar scents which make me feel at home. The downtown area of Claremont's Village, often used as a backdrop for Hollywood films, is as delightful as ever. Speckled with college students from around the world, a healthy senior community and a myriad of intelligent, interesting professionals from conservative attorneys to the ubiquitous liberal artists, with a few liberal attorneys and some conservative artists tossed in for balance, this town is never boring. Allan's dad is around the corner and my sister is down the street. Max the Cat is a just a mile away and the house I grew up in is right next door. And I'm pretty sure the gray cat who saunters through the yard on occasion is a descendent of the wild cat we used to call "Untouchable," who lurked and sauntered 35 years ago.
We've re-established a presence at Cable Airport in nearby Upland, reputed to be the largest family-owned airport in the world, where I've been a fixture since I was 17. I got my first airport job in the flight school there as a desk chickie, (aka counter cutie) and in subsequent years flight instructed, and had three planes, one at a time, in a hangar on the north side of the field. Our dear friends Chuck and Mary hold down the fort at the most sociable hangar on the planet. Known as "The Tumbling Gyro," it's outfitted it with a full bar, kitchen, bathroom, workshop, an elevator to Mary's second-floor office, and - oh yeah - it actually does have an airplane. The Tumbled Gyro serves as the "Cheers" of Cable Airport, the place to go for a cold soda or a drink after a day of whatever anyone's day might be filled with. Chuck and Mary have been a stabilizing force in my life for many years, and their generosity knows few bounds. Recently they even offered their airplane for our use to get current in single engine planes, which Allan did last week and I am looking forward to doing tomorrow morning.
As I write we are in the company of Allan's brother Mark and his wife Pam, (pictured above with us at Fullerton Airport) who flew their 4-seat Mooney from Texas for a 12-day holiday that encompassed Mother's Day and the Planes of Fame Airshow at Chino Airport this weekend. We've been bopping about the southland in cars and planes, staying and hanging with family, moving about like nomads.
Oh, and that's the other thing: stability. Did I use that word in a sentence earlier on? Because if I did, it was misleading. There's really no domestic stability in our lives, although I'm not complaining. If there's one thing that came out of the last 2 years - fraught with and underscored by instability -- it's that taking it all one day at a time really is the best, and easiest way to live. After we shake off the mild confusion every morning, and have more-or-less successfully answered the questions "where are we?" and more importantly, "what's for breakfast?" we just go with the flow. Since our return we've slept in no fewer than 6 beds, packing and unpacking, in a perpetual state of putting even smaller versions of our stuff into duffel bags to cart to the next place for a few days. We've taken to always bringing our own sheets and pillows for some semblance of familiarity, which, for me, is quite calming. We'll continue this bed-hopping for a few more months. Right now we're staying with Mark and Pam at Allan's dad's house while Deeses are in town for a week. Then we'll move back until we do a little more travelling, hoping for a trip to Texas, some time in California's Bay Area and a few days in New Mexico, with more visits to the mom's in Oxnard and Santa Maria. We return to our jobs sometime in July, when we'll sleep in hotels for recurrent training in Colorado and Kentucky. It won't be until September when we move back into our home in Oxnard that some level of domestic stability will return to our lives, but as long as the day starts with a hot cup of coffee -- preferably with a nice dollop of half-and-half - and as long as we can share it together, we're fine.
Since we've been back we've attended a wedding, a funeral, an 80th birthday party, the symphony and the theatre. We've spent good time with our families and realize more than ever before how important they are. We've loosely reconnected with the church I attended 10 years ago and which has conveniently moved down the street. We've flown in 8TN, Chuck and Mary's Cessna 172 and sailed on s/v Our Escape, Allan's dad's Catalina 36. We've become accustomed once again to the grocery aisles and their dizzying and almost embarrassing abundance. We've stuffed things into our storeroom and yanked other things out. We have roofs over our head, beds under our backs, and coffee in the pot. It's as good as ever.