I’ve noticed a very subtle shift in my blog traffic. After careful consideration and much intensive research involving theories and algorithms and moon phases, I have discovered that my readership diminishes when I don’t write.
OK, I’m chastened. Yes, it’s been a long time. Yes, I’ve let you down. Yes, I deserve those names I’ve been called (except that for one, the really nasty one. That went a little far.) I’ve been really busy lately will all kinds of stuff. None of it more important than my blog, of course. But things have just conspired to get in the way. I’ve been writing them in my head… does that count?
I blame D, who keeps making snide comments about how I ought to finish one of my unfinished best-sellers, which might allow us both to quit our jobs and move to an island next to Kenny Chesney’s place in the Caribbean, instead of writing this blog to entertain all four of you who read it.
I could have blogged the other night when the big storm hit, with its tornadoes and waves of hail and 60-mph winds and sirens. There were 6 square inches of space left in the closet under the stairs, where D and Chase had the good sense to hide. I’m sure they’d have given it to me and my laptop, and might even have shoved the vacuum out to provide safe haven to the left side of my body, as well.
But as D tells it, she was calmly sitting in the closet, wearing her motorcycle helmet and whispering quietly to the freaked-out dog, when she heard an odd sound, completely out of place in the midst of nature’s Armageddon.
It was the front door. Opening.
I have always been fascinated by wild weather (among other wild things). So after seeing them safely ensconced in the closet, I ducked back out, grabbed my camera and headed out the door.
I take pictures of stuff. It’s just what I do.
What I don’t always do is think things through. As in, sometimes my thought processes go something like this:
1. Dang, listen to those sharp banging noises! It sounds like someone’s firing ball bearings at the house with an anti-aircraft gun.
2. Wait! That’s hail. Hail! Hailballs! Lots of hailballs! That Texas hail we’ve been hearing about for a year now.
3. Hmmm, I’ve seen hailballs before. How bad can this be? I should go snap a photo for my blog. That’d be cool.
4. (opens door) Jeez, that’s a lot of … (OW! OW!) hailballs! And they’re (OW! OW! OWOWOW!) pretty big! (PING) Oh, no, did that one hit my camera? (BONK) Holy crapola, that hurt! (THUNK, THUNK, THUNKTHUNKTHUNKTHUNK)
What I hadn’t realized was that the hailballs weren’t falling gently from the sky. They were being driven horizontally by the 60-mph winds, like the snow in Green Bay used to do. Hailballs, however, are much harder than snowflakes, by a factor of 3568.3422, times 12.
Imagine driving 60mph down the highway, then sticking your head out of the sunroof just when a dumb guy on a road crew dumps a truckload of landscape rock off of an overpass.
A couple of days later, while walking Chase, we noticed evidence of their speed — real evidence, not just my whining about the bruises. All of our wooden fences are polka-dotted now, with hundreds of little white spots where the hailballs smashed into them. Bizarro.
When I managed to drag my seriously wounded body back into the house, D and I had a reasoned and logical — if brief — conversation that went like this:
D: “I CAN’T BELIEVE YOU MADE US HIDE IN THE CLOSET, AND THEN YOU WENT OUTSIDE???”
Me: “Um, just for a sec.”
D: “DO YOU HEAR THE TORNADO SIRENS?!”
D: “THAT IS GOLFBALL-SIZED HAIL!”
But I have to say, it was worth it, even if we now need a new camera. Lookit this pic!
For me, it means buying strange Groupons and LivingSocial deals. Last Sunday, I used one I was quite excited about. I got to fly a Gulfstream 150 jet! Well, it was a simulator. But it was the real deal, approved by the FAA and used to train real pilots, not one like at Dave & Buster’s. With a real cockpit, and all of the same switches and stuff. And these simulators are in big boxy rooms sitting atop four hydraulic legs, so it really moves the way a plane would. The heads-up display we saw through the cockpit window was really the DFW airport, too.
I drove out to DFW Airport, to a place called Fly-A-Sim, in the Flight Safety building. Pilots of all types practice here on these simulators, which are placed next to each other in a huge hangar-like building.
We had an hourlong briefing before the session, during which our instructor told us which switches do what, and what the pilot does, and what the copilot does.
I, of course, had already read about the cockpit and the basics, because that’s what I do. So when we got to the simulator time, I graciously allowed the other guy to pilot first, while I copiloted. This made me look sweet and generous, but it also let me push a lot of buttons to do the cool copilot duties, like rev the engines, raise/lower the landing gear, set the flaps and start the reverse throttle, that thing after you land where the engines start thrusting backwards to slow the plane.
I think I might’ve freaked him out a bit by repeating the instructor’s commands. What the hell, it felt more official to me. I’m not sure he really got quite as into it as I did.
I confess, one tiny little “Copy that” may have slipped out. And I believe there might’ve been one completely accidental use of the word “niner,” instead of “nine.” (That’s airplane lingo… “nine” and “five” sound too much alike on the radio, so you say “niner.” I love trivia.)
It was also fun to watch him trying to land the plane. (I don’t think he’d read the same flight manual I found online.) I say “trying” because he crashed us three times. The final one might’ve been the last straw for any future friendship between us co-pilots. It’s not my fault, though. I think anyone who saw themselves tilting, tilting, tilting, slowly, toward certain death during a landing approach would scream, “The WING! The WING! OUR RIGHT WING IS GOING TO HIT THE GROUND! STRAIGHTEN UP! STRAIGHTEN UP! AIIIGHH!!!”
Much as I predicted, our right wing slammed into the ground, catapulting us into a somersault, followed by a loud explosion and the cockpit shaking like aspen leaves in a springtime storm. I knew this would happen when our wingtip hit, you see, because I’d read Chapter 11.
As the exposions quieted, the entire cockpit window turned red. No more airport. No more sky. Just red. I’m not sure if that’s simulating blood all over the windshield, or whether the jet people just think the afterlife is red.
Either way, all of our passengers were goners, I’m pretty sure.
Then it was my turn to pilot, while he got to play with the switches. I’m happy to say that I took off very nicely (Chapter 3), with little wing-waggling. And my first landing was almost perfect (Chapter 12), except that we ended up a little off the runway to the right. (OK, yes, in the grass.) But we didn’t crash, and the sim didn’t seem to think there were any injuries.
My other three landings were things of beauty. Sights to behold. Smooth as a baby’s bottom. Any other cliche you can think of. Other than that little too-hard bounce on the second one, that is.
It really was cool. Plus, I got a free hat. I’d recommend it highly to anyone who thinks piloting would be a blast, or who, like me, daydreams that one day I’m going to be on a 737 when both pilots suddenly become incapacitated and no one else on the plane has any flight experience. I’ll step calmly to the cockpit, slide into my five-point harness, execute a gradual turn toward a nearby airport, set the flaps and lock the landing gear. Then I’ll land that puppy on a dime, and give you nine cents’ change.
I’d better keep my eye open for another Groupon from Fly-A-Sim.