Saturday, September 19, 2009

Late Night Ramblings

Late at night after work and in the mood to type...things are going pretty well here, overall. I actually have a quasi-date next week with a gal who gave me her phone number last week when I went out one night. It's been a long time since I got a phone number, unasked for. She is a professional trainer and our first date is meeting at her gym to do a workout so I'm probably going to get my ass kicked. But it might be a good time in spite of that.

Having houseguests the last couple of weeks was very fun, but not very relaxing. My godfather Rex flew down a couple weeks ago, and then my sister flew down this past week (both of them using pass benefits.) I was worried about my sister making it back home but she ended up getting a seat on the flight she wanted. Once I found out she had gotten out of town safely, and after having kept my apartment very clean for almost two weeks straight, I treated myself to a massage at my health club late that same afternoon. I don't do that very often, but in this case I felt like I definitely deserved it.

Mom is doing pretty well, and enjoyed having visitors (my houseguests) over the last couple of weeks. We got a fair bit done on her behalf, especially while my sister was visiting, and we got her in to see a dentist at the same place I use. My dental clinic is good but not fancy and the clinic where we took Mom (same business, but a different branch than the one I go to) turned out to be in a rather sketchy area of town. I started joking about it being called "Ghetto Dental" to someone, but they didn't get the joke, which considering my sense of humor is not surprising. The office itself is fine, and the dental care there is fine...the area the office is in was not the greatest part of town, though.

In other Mom news, we discovered that her Bose radio/CD player is missing this week during my sister's visit (it was here last week when Rex visited.) We talked to the director of her facility about the issue (and this is not the first time we've had an issue, since I'm sure long term readers will remember my mother's rings going missing) and he did seem rather disturbed to find out about it. He said that if he doesn't find the stereo, he will ensure we will get a credit off of my mother's monthly bill equal to the charge of replacing it. I hope the person who took it gets caught. Actually, I would prefer to give the person who took it a 6'3", 250+ pound, personal "surprise" although I know that wouldn't be the safest legal course of action.

Closing out this rambling post, here is my original profile photo from Facebook. Several people seemed to find it rather creepy so I switched to a friendlier, cartoon-format Simpsonized self-portrait as featured on Suldog's blog. The Simpsonized portrait is the first computer-generated cartoon caricature I've seen that I thought came out actually resembling me in person.

Hope everyone is doing well and I promise a more coherent post next week at some point.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Remembering 9/11

Switching to more of an aviation theme for this post, I thought I'd write about what I was doing on 9/11, which I don't think I've ever mentioned here before in any kind of detail. When 9/11 occurred, I was living in the Las Vegas area, working for a startup called National Airlines. The original National Airlines, based in Miami, had been bought out by PanAm in the 1970's...this version just bought the naming rights. It was a pretty good airline, but for a variety of factors it ended up going out of business in late 2002. However, the details about that are a story for another day.

I was not at work when the terrorist attacks and hijackings occurred. Curiously enough, National had suffered a hijacking attempt the previous year, and I was on duty for that one. I'll provide more details about that at some time in the future, but it was pretty nerve-wracking. In that case, though, the plane never pushed back from the gate, although the hijacker did make it into the cockpit with a gun. As the article I linked to indicates, it ended up being resolved peacefully.

On 9/10/2001, I had worked one of our weird shifts that started at 4 PM and ended at 2 AM on the 11th. I didn't mind the 10-hour shifts, though, since we had pretty generous days off there...4 days on, 4 days off. Anyhow, I went to bed around 3 AM or so, which was my usual habit when I was working that shift, and slept until 9 or 10. When I woke up, I had a message from my mother on my answering machine wanting to check in with me and make sure I was OK, but that she figured I was at work. That was pretty odd, I thought, so I went into my computer room/office (actually it was just a small bedroom but that's what I used it for) and first learned of the attacks that way, I believe on CNN.com.

The first article I saw didn't list flight numbers, but it did say that Boeing 757's were involved. Since that was all we flew at National, I went ahead and called in to make sure none of our planes were involved, and I was relieved to find out they weren't. One of my co-workers told me that everyone was safely on the ground, although all the planes enroute had had to land at airports we didn't normally serve.

I remember I had an appointment that day to do refinancing paperwork on my house. I'd just bought it in March of that year but interest rates had dropped about a point since then, so I went ahead and did the refinancing. As it turns out, I probably should have held off on it, but I ultimately did make out OK when I sold the house in 2004 (even though I had to rent it out for about a year after National went under and I moved to Wisconsin.) It was kind of a surreal experience signing forms at the title company while the news was on.

I went ahead and went into work that afternoon as I was scheduled to do. The way things normally worked, I would park at the corporate offices near the airport, and take a shuttle bus that National operated to the airport, where the dispatch office was located. However, since all flights had been canceled, the shuttle bus wasn't running. I talked to my boss's boss for a little while and he said everything was going as well as could be expected, considering. Our "emergency room" had been set up with representatives from all the airlines' divisions deciding what to do next. A flight attendant I knew who happened to be at the headquarters for some reason offered to give me a ride to the airport, which I accepted.

The airport itself was very surreal...it was almost completely deserted, although the trains that ran between terminals were still running. Planes were parked everywhere, including many airlines that didn't normally fly to Las Vegas. I wish I'd taken some pictures, but this was in the days before cellphone cameras existed, and I hadn't brought my regular camera with me. I took the train to our terminal with one of my co-workers. We were the only ones on the train, or in the security line...which I think did have one post still open, just to tell people the airport was closed. We got through security since we were going to work and had airport badges.

While it was deserted upstairs, our offices downstairs were quite busy. We had a TINY workspace with two desks for dispatchers, one for an operations manager, and one for a customer service coordinator. I was the only dispatcher on duty that night, and since all our planes were on the ground, I didn't really have anything to do other than to take phone calls from various people about how things were going. Our stranded pilots and flight attendants were fortunate enough to have all gotten hotel rooms, so nobody had to sleep on airplanes (although I heard at many other airlines, the crews were not so lucky.) The FAA representative for National was in the office the whole day and for several days afterward. He was a pretty nice guy, though, and mainly just sat back and watched us do our jobs.

Eventually, of course, our planes parked in odd locations all flew back to Las Vegas, and we resumed normal operations (or as normal as things ever get in the airline industry.) We were already in the midst of a Chapter 11 reorganization when 9/11 happened, and as you may have guessed, it's one we never emerged from (although things did look hopeful for a while.) I remember that on the first anniversary of 9/11, in 2002, we offered a promotion to offer flights for $1 not including fees...only the leg on 9/11/02 was covered, though, and the return ticket was full price. It got us some good publicity. I don't know if we would have made it an annual thing had the airline survived although I kind of doubt it.

National still has an annual reunion in Las Vegas in November, on the day we went out of business. I haven't been for a couple years and I'm not sure if my schedule will allow for me to attend this year or not, but I'm sure I'll make it back eventually. While National obviously did have its problems, it was a really fun place to work.

I have imitated a couple of aviation blogs that I read, and published below the names of all the airline employees killed in the terrorist attacks that day. Please keep them in your thoughts today, along with all the other victims of that terrible violence.

American 11 (Boston to Los Angeles)
Crashed into World Trade Center
John Ogonowski, Dracut, Mass., Captain; Thomas McGuinness, Portsmouth, N.H., First Officer; Barbara Arestegui, flight attendant; Jeffrey Collman, flight attendant; Sara Low, flight attendant; Karen Martin, flight attendant; Kathleen Nicosia, flight attendant; Betty Ong, flight attendant; Jean Roger, flight attendant; Dianne Snyder, flight attendant; Madeline Sweeney, flight attendant

United 175 (Boston to Los Angeles)
Crashed into World Trade Center
Victor J. Saracini, Lower Makefield Township, Pa., Captain; Michael Horrocks, First Officer; Amy Jarret, flight attendant; Al Marchand, flight attendant; Amy King, flight attendant; Kathryn Laborie, flight attendant; Michael Tarrou, flight attendant; Alicia Titus, flight attendant

American 77 (Washington/Dulles to Los Angeles)
Crashed into the Pentagon
Charles Burlingame, Captain; David Charlebois, First Officer; Michele Heidenberger, flight attendant; Jennifer Lewis, flight attendant; Kenneth Lewis, flight attendant; and Renee May, flight attendant

United 93 (Newark to San Francisco)
Crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania
Jason Dahl, Colorado, Captain; Leroy Homer, Marlton, N.J., First Officer; Sandy Bradshaw, flight attendant; CeeCee Lyles, flight attendant; Lorraine Bay, flight attendant; Wanda Green, flight attendant; Deborah Welsh, flight attendant

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Mardis Gras Adventures

Right before I got out of the military at the end of February 1993, I took a trip to Mardis Gras with some other people I knew in an informal runner's club (which involved running, and also lots of drinking after the run.) Although my current physique bears no indication of this fact, I was into running for a couple of years, and even completed a marathon while I was stationed in Okinawa in late 1991. However, running has nothing to do with the rest of this story so let's get back to it.

The person I chose to take a ride with (let's call him Mr. X just so I have a name) was, to put it mildly, really strange. I didn't realize this much at the start of trip but he did seem to be acting kind of odd even on the drive over there. We were sharing a room in New Orleans with a lot of other people, including some runners from the local area that other people knew. One of them was black, and Mr. X didn't trust him at all when he showed up, thinking he was there to rob us. (We finally convinced Mr. X that his wallet was safe.) Anyway, stuff like that went on all weekend with this guy. I wasn't wild about driving back to Florida with him, but I figured I'd survived the trip over, so what was the worst that could happen driving home? I was about to find out.

There ended up being three of us driving back in Mr. X's pickup...with him driving, one passenger up front, and one in the back of the pickup, which had a camper shell and an air mattress in it. (There were still no mandatory seat belt laws back then.) At the time of our drive home, gambling was still illegal in New Orleans, but it was legal in Mississippi. Mr. X wanted to check out a couple of the casinos to see what the slot payout was. I've never really been into slots but he gave me and the other guy driving back with us (let's call him Joe) each $20 to play the slots with. I forget how I did...I think I ended up making a little money back and cashed it out. Mr. X opted to leave the casino with a big bucket of quarters because he was convinced casino security would follow us if they saw he'd won too much money by cashing it out for bills there.

We went to McDonald's next, and while we were having our food, he started accusing me of being more careful with my money than his money. I forget how the argument got started exactly. I'm not one to lose my temper quickly, but I was rather fed up after a weekend of dealing with this guy, so I pulled $20 out of my wallet and threw it at him. He put it in his wallet and we went back to his truck soon afterward.

For the next portion of the trip, we'd decided that I would ride in the back of the truck on the air mattress and Joe would ride up front. Before we left town, though, Mr. X somehow had become convinced that Joe was a gangster and decided to run call the cops from a pay phone at a local 7-11 (since cell phones were still uncommon back then) so that the cops could come and arrest Joe (for what, I don't know.)

Joe and I had no idea what was going on until the cops showed up at 7-11. Mr. X yelled that he wanted them to check Joe out and they were asking, Why? I couldn't hear the whole conversation since I was still in the back of the pickup lying on the air mattress. At some point Mr. X became convinced that the cops were in on the gangster conspiracy (perhaps when they didn't handcuff Joe right away) and tried to drive off (with me still in the back of the pickup.) The cops blocked the pickup since they now wanted to find out what the hell was up with this guy who'd called them for no apparent reason. I could feel the pickup turning sharply and then stopping, and when I looked up again, I saw a cop with his gun trained at the passenger compartment of the pickup...which I was right behind, so any gunfire could likely have hit me as well.

Well, I remember thinking, I always kind of wondered what it would feel like to have a gun pointed at me. While the other cops deflated the air in the pickup's tires, the cop who had stopped the pickup by pointing a gun at Mr. X finally realized someone was in the back of the pickup when I started yelling, "Let me out of here! This guy's crazy!" He had a key that opened the camper shell, and as soon as he did, I got out of there as fast as humanly possible. He then tried to see if he could get into the pickup through its back window, climbing in where I'd just been, but Mr. X sprayed pepper spray at him (which I didn't even know he was carrying.) As you can imagine, the officer wasn't too happy about that. He climbed back out of the truck and walked around to the passenger side, pointing at Mr. X and yelling, "Well, buddy, you've definitely pissed me off now!"

The next thirty minutes or so consisted of me and Joe watching the cops finally get Mr. X out of the pickup (I think they used a slim jim to open up one of the doors) and drag him off kicking and screaming. He really did seem to think the cops were going to kill him. They towed off the pickup truck after Joe and I got our stuff out of it. I remember quarters spilling all over the place as it was towed away. One of the cops gave us a ride to the local bus station. This all happened in Gulfport, Mississippi, and suffice it to say I will never forget that town. We caught a bus back to Pensacola and called some friends to come pick us up there and drive us back to Ft. Walton, which is where the journey to Mardis Gras had started.

I had taken the housekeys for Mr. X so that I could get my truck out of his garage. I'd parked it inside there for extra safety since I was gone for three or four days and didn't want to leave it parked outside. I forget what I did with the housekeys...I think I gave them to someone else in my club that worked with Mr. X since I really didn't want to see the guy again.

As a footnote to all of this, Mr. X hired a private detective to investigate what happened, still convinced that Joe was a gangster and that the cops were in on it. He'd evidently gotten some bruises from where the cops dragged him away and claimed he was the next Rodney King (even though he was white.) I wasn't wild about meeting this detective guy but he was actually quite rational. He said that Mr. X had hired him before and was often delusional about these kinds of events. I told him I thought the police officers in Gulfport had acted with incredible restraint.

I was leaving the area permanently in a few days since I was getting out of the military, so I don't know what ultimately became of Mr. X and his legal battle with the Gulfport P.D...but I really didn't care much, either. I hope the court mandated the guy get some therapy, anyhow, as he certainly could have used it.