Friday, December 05, 2008

Meet the Boozers

I found this in the news recently:

SCHERERVILLE, Ind. – Indiana state police said that after a mother was arrested for drunken driving, the three relatives who came to pick up her 1-year-old son also had all been drinking. A state trooper stopped a minivan for speeding early Saturday on U.S. 30 in Schererville in northwestern Indiana. He arrested the 24-year-old woman on a drunken driving charges.

The boy's father arrived later to pick him up, but officers determined he was intoxicated and also arrested him on a drunken driving charge.

Police said the boy's grandparents then arrived. Both of them also had been drinking, state police said, but the grandmother who was driving was not over the legal limit, so officers escorted them home with the child.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Sourdough Stuffing Recipe

One of the problems with diabetics is that it's not just sugar that puts a damper on what we can eat. Fat and carbohydrates are problems, too, and they can be just as bad as sugar. With carbohydrates, flour, especially bleached, is not very friendly to us. Fortunately, we have a friend in sourdough. For some reason, sourdough bread is a lot safer to eat in moderation. Because of this, I found a recipe. I must be honest, I have not tried it, but it looks pretty good.

Sourdough Stuffing

Ingredients:

3/4 cup butter or margarine
3 medium onions fine diced
3 cloves garlic minced
2 bell peppers fine diced
3 tablespoons fresh sage minced
1 teaspoon each dried marjoram and thyme
2/3 cup fresh chopped parsley
1 loaf (1 lb size) day old sourdough bread cubed
1 1/2 cup broth (vegetable or chicken)
salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

Melt butter in pan and saute onions, peppers and garlic until tender. Stir in herbs. Remove from heat. Place bread cubes in a large bowl and stir in vegetable mixture. Pour on broth and mix well to moisten . Place in buttered pan and bake 400F covered for 25 minutes and then uncovered for another 20 minutes.

This recipe from CDKitchen for Sourdough Stuffing serves/makes 10

Ready in: 30-60 minutes
recipe difficulty 3/5 Difficulty: 3 (1=easiest :: hardest=5)

Monday, November 24, 2008

Vagenta

Your monitor and television are made up of RGB, or red, green and blue combinations, and they are responsible for all of the colors you see on your screen. They are referred to as primary additive colors because they are light projected. In other words, there is no light or white present until those colors are turned on, like a flashlight. To prove this, turn off your TV or computer screen and tell me what you see.

400px-additivecolorsvg

CMYK - cyan, magenta, yellow and key (black) are the colors used in printing. Combined, they are referred to as 4 color process. They are known as primary subtractive colors because they are added to the (generally) white paper they are printed on. In other words, you are subtracting white by printing over it. Cyan, magenta and yellow are capable of printing all colors but true black. The black you get looks very washed out, so black is added. It is also used because it minimizes CMY ink usage, cutting printing production costs.

cmyk_sample

Next is a sample breakdown of a 4 color photo of the Grand Tetons in CMYK separations utilized for printing. The final photo shows how it would print.

cmyk_separation_e28093_maximum_black

cmyk_grand_tetons

Now that you understand primary additive and subtractive colors, you can tinker around with RGB or CMYK combinations to make your own. The sky's the limit.

As I got more involved in color printing and moved away from the mostly stark world of newspapers and black & white, I played around a bit. Years earlier, I had come up with velvis and reincornation as funny words sometimes referred to as portmanteaus, so it was inevitable that I would create something visual since I was in the graphic design profession. In light of this, I came up with a new color and called it vagenta. I'll let you figure it out.

vagenta-swatch

Monday, November 10, 2008

Obama Breeze

obamabreeze

obamabreeze_text

Obama Breeze is a play on the Darden restaurant chain, Bahama Breeze. I’d been tossing the idea around in my head for a month or so, and then , darn if he didn’t go ahead and win the election. I figured, sure, why not give it a try.

Then I thought, with a couple of choice words like that, there should be a drink to go along with it. The following recipe is one I came up with when I bartended at the Union Hotel in Flemington, NJ, in the late 70s. I called it a Full Moon back then, but I think it will work well with its new name, probably for the next 8 years…

OBAMA BREEZE

All equal parts:

Bacardi Rum
Smirnoff Silver
Jack Daniels
Triple Sec
Coca Cola
OJ or sour mix

Splash of Grenadine (optional)

Pour over crushed ice and shake well. Garnish with orange slice and maraschino cherry. Substitutes will not produce the same drink. Also, consuming more than two or three of these may get you arrested. Obama will not come to bail you out.

©2008 David B. Knechel All Rights Reserved


There is also a drink called the Bahama Breeze and the recipe can be found here.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Why the Republicans - and McCain - lost

Please allow me to preface this article with something. If you don't believe Barack Obama has ushered our nation into the 21st century with a big BAM! - then stop here. When the entire world sits up and pays attention to an American election, the likes of which they've never seen, it means the world still looks to us for guidance and a sense of direction. After George W. Bush rebuked allies and enemies alike, it's refreshing to know we may, once again, stand tall with our global neighbors.

A lot of Republicans are scratching their heads these days, trying to understand what went wrong. They ceded both houses to Democrats 2 years ago, but this time around, they handed our next president a larger, more comfortable margin of friendly faces and willing supporters. As far as the presidency, it was apparent from the start that Barack Obama was going to win and Republicans had a long, treacherous road ahead of them to try to take it away, no matter who they nominated. After all, he had Oprah, one of the most powerful women in entertainment and popular culture, behind him all the way. Early on, he recruited millions of volunteer supporters to go out among the people to secure votes. He raised more money than any presidential candidate before him, and he knew how to work the media and the Internet. Let's not forget, the man can speak, and he did it much better than John McCain.

Post-election, there's going to be some finger pointing, but instead, the Grand Old Party needs to focus on rebuilding itself into the party it once was. It has lost those values. What happened to states rights and less government interference? The federal government grew exponentially, along with the deficit, during the 8 years of the Bush administration and the president, in particular, disappointed an awful lot of Americans. We cannot forget the war in Iraq and his handling of it since he invaded the country. Because of his tunnel vision and stubbornness, this administration has neglected to pay much needed attention to who our real enemies are: al Qaeda and its splinter groups. To his credit, we have not been attacked since September 11, 2001.

When it became evident that McCain would become the Republican nominee, infighting began in earnest. He was always branded as too liberal by the majority of party faithful. The GOP looked like a top gyrating out of control in spite of McCain selling his soul to gain the confidence of the far right of his own party. It didn't work. What Barack Obama had going for him, the Republicans did not. It remained an awkward alliance. The top stopped spinning when McCain chose Sarah Palin as his running mate. Way too folksy and not presidential timbre, it turned Obama's lack of experience into an asset while splintering the Republicans even further. The entire McCain campaign was a textbook lesson in disorderly conduct and I cringed at every turn. It was too painful and I sensed the long and arduous concession speech had begun to take form when he accepted his party's nomination at the Republican convention. Had John McCain been left alone to be John McCain, he would have fared better, but he still would have lost even if the economy hadn't bottomed out. That, my friends, spelled failure, yet it started many years ago and had plenty of time to fester.

The biggest problem the Republicans had looming this time around, the one that guaranteed doom, was BUSH, BUSH, BUSH, as the late Tim Russert might have said; and they will have to wait until January 20, 2009 to shed that onus. Not to take away from Obama's qualities; I just don't think he would have made it to the top post had it not been for America's terrible disdain for George W. Bush and his entire administration. When Dick Cheney stated he didn't care what the American public thought, that this administration was going to do it their way, what he was clearly saying to the country was screw you. I think the pivotal point in the presidential race came when Cheney made that statement. That, and years of failed policies and a malaise brought on by Bush. We became very frustrated and wanted to see change. I supported him in the beginning, but I took to task his "you're either with us or against us" ultimatum and I was insulted that by questioning him on any subject would infer that I was unpatriotic or, God forbid, a dreaded liberal, as if that were some sort of pariah. For years, the Republican led Senate and House toed the Bush line and today they suffer a great humility. The American people did an about face on November 4 and that included a fair amount of typically conservative voters - Bush supporters from the past 2 presidential elections.

We are not a nation consisting of the mentally blind. We do not need to be led like lost sheep as the Bush administration so fervently believed. That we could not render our own thoughts and decisions was a fatal flaw the Republican party never considered. We needed to be spied on to keep ourselves safe from not just foreign terrorists, but our own selves and that did not sit well. We needed to torture terrorists and deny them all human rights. And at every twist and turn, Bush & Co. circumvented the court system. They wrote their own rules and history will prove that. What will the party do now? I don't know. It's got to bring itself into the 21st century and admit that global warming, for one, is real and that there's an astute possibility that we humans are contributing to it. Heck, even if a majority of party members don't believe it, at least recognize that a vast majority of people worldwide do. Bend a little. Accept the fact that PETA and Greenpeace are real and not radical threats to our nation. Stop meddling into the personal affairs of individuals by legislating moral values left over from days gone by. What people do in the privacy of their own bedrooms, for example, is no ones business as long as it's between consenting adults. Stop pandering to big business and the upper class while neglecting the middle and lower classes. The only thing that's trickled down is the party itself. It's trickled itself down into the basement. Republicans have got to leave the Reagan years behind and catch up with the population of today, and as unbelieving as it may sound, our president-elect was a fresh faced, just turned 19 year old voter when Jimmy Carter lost to the Great Communicator. That's proof we live in a new world, folks.

For Obama, it was never a matter of race. Before the election, I had high hopes that the nation had transcended race as a factor. November 4, 2008 proved that to be true. The Republicans never really brought the color of his skin into play, but instead chose to go after points they wrongly assumed the stupid public knew nothing about or could not conceive and they needed to be forcefully educated about. That made people angry for questioning their intelligence. Why they kept hammering on the theme of Obama's Muslim faith, something he is not and never was, was too much to bear. Fringe elements of the conservative right continued to question Obama's citizenship and to produce a birth certificate. To the naysayers who kept pounding home the notion that Barack Obama was not born in the United States, I say this: Do you really believe the government is that stupid? If the FBI, CIA, departments of Homeland Security, Immigration and Naturalization, Defense and every other agency that investigated his past could not find any truth to those asinine accusations, why did you continue to whine and gripe about it, right up to the end? If you think your own government is incapable of running its own investigations, then you deserve what you get. He's a socialist. He's a Marxist. He's a terrorist. The list could go on and on and it turned the nation off, especially young voters, the demographic he targeted first; the ones who insured his election. I like to think our population is made up of moderates and I think we get sick when all we ever hear is that the sky is falling. This race turned out to be the Democrats against the Chicken Littles. I'm a registered Republican and I watched the Republican party implode throughout the race before exploding in the end.

In the final days of the presidential race, the McCain people and Republican party continued to play the same old song, that Barack Obama was not qualified and didn't have enough experience to command. It was old and stale and it reflected the state of the party. In particular, the commercial showing an empty desk in the oval office with the voice-over that said he had never run anything was completely out of kilter. What they failed to realize, but the American public did not, was that he ran the best campaign in the history of this great nation and that was what played in the minds of voters. He stared down the Clintons without blinking an eye while taking out the Republican party. If that's not showing leadership, then what is?

Let's hope the new, nonpartisan-promising, president-elect and the rest of the Democrats learn something from the fall of the Republican empire, lest the same fate wrest power from their hands. If history proves itself, they will falter, but we are living in different times, aren't we? Changed times we can believe in?

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Let's go to Somalia and get stoned

I don't normally like to write about news events, but this story just struck me as one of the most heinous of crimes against humanity.

Poor Aisha Ibrahim Duhulow went to local authorities to report that she had been raped by three men. In response, punishment came swiftly from the Islamic militia in charge in Kismayo, a southern port city in Somalia. They stoned the 13 year old girl to death for committing adultery.

"This child suffered a horrendous death at the behest of the armed opposition groups who currently control Kismayo," David Copeman of Amnesty International in Somalia stated Friday.

Dozens of men stoned her to death in a stadium packed with 1,000 spectators, Amnesty International and Somalian media reported. Somalia is one of the world's most violent and poorest of countries. The nation of about 8 million people has no functioning or central government since warlords overthrew its dictator in 1991 and then began to fight with each other.

I'm surprised she lived that long. 25% of the country's population die before age 5, and just about every institution is in shambles. You gotta love those terrorists. For that matter, how many Islamic countries treat women as equals to men, let alone just having basic rights all humans should be allowed?

Would you believe me if I told you that this Islamic militia, al-Shebab, has ties to al Qaeda?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

A Scary Story

A close friend e-mailed this to me. I think it's rather funny and cute.

x

They were together in the house.

x

Just the two of them.

x

It was a cold, dark, stormy night.

x

The storm had come quickly

x

And

x

Each time the thunder boomed,

x

He watched her jump.

x

She looked across the room and admired his strong appearance...

x

And wished that he would take her in his arms,

x

To comfort her and protect her from the storm.

x

Suddenly, with a pop, the power went out...

x

She screamed...

x

He raced to the sofa where she was cowering.

x

He didn't hesitate to pull her into his arms.

x

He knew this was a forbidden union and expected her to pull back.

x

He was surprised when she didn't resist

x

But instead clung to him.

x

The storm raged on...

x

They knew it was wrong...

x

Their families would never understand...

x

So consumed were they in their fear

x

That they heard no opening of doors...

x

just the faint click of a camera......

x

x

x

x

x

x

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Absolute proof that Barack Obama was not born in Hawaii

I knew I'd seen that face before.

Moai statue of Baracku at Rano Raraku on the Polynesian island, Rapa Nui, better known as Easter Island.

This should make the naysayers happy.

©2008 David B. Knechel

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Could Prevacid cause platelets to drop?

In February of 2005, I was diagnosed with GERD, which is Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease. I think it’s just a fancier term for acid reflux. My doctor put me on Prilosec OTC, but after a few months, I started taking Prevacid and continued to do so until now. He was a good doctor and ran periodic blood work on me. The testing became more routine - meaning every 3 months - after I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, about 2 years ago. One of the things he noticed was that my red blood cell count, hemoglobin, hematocrit and in particular, my platelet count, had all dropped below normal levels. My white cell count dropped too, but never below normal. I became anemic and was diagnosed with thrombocytopenia. All of my counts continued to drop and no one knew why. To give you an idea of platelets, the normal range falls between 150,000-450,000 / 10ˆ3/uL. Mine had dropped to 113,000. My doctor couldn’t pinpoint the problem and when he moved, I wasn’t sure what would happen. Fortunately, I found a new one, his replacement, and I not only like her very much, I appreciate the fact that she has been very diligent and concerned about my well being; because up until now, there had been no viable explanation for my blood problem. Believe me, I’ve been poked and prodded, including a CT scan of my brain, to no avail. No one could find any blood leakage. Why was I so anemic? Why were all my blood counts dropping? Bear in mind, I have no health insurance and all costs come out of pocket. The thoughts of more testing and the expenses involved were beginning to take their toll. It was all so perplexing. I was probably staring at a bone marrow biopsy, too, and that frightened me. My mind went to work. Why was my bone marrow not producing enough platelets? Think, Dave, think. I knew it wasn’t leukemia, but could I come up with a solution?

I’ve always been rather good at investigating things and I Googled just about everything I could to figure out the cause of this problem, but too many variables popped up. Besides, I’m not medically trained, by any means, other than playing doctor when I was a kid. Well, I’ll leave it at that. After I felt I had explored all avenues, I sat down to rethink my strategy. I asked the doctors if any of this could be related to diabetes. No, they responded. All along, I had requested copies of all blood work, so I had files dating from February, 2005, through the middle of August, 2008. I scrutinized all side effects of every prescription I was taking, including possible conflicts, but nothing stood out. Suddenly, a light bulb lit up in my head. I typed prevacid+low platelet count in Google for one simple reason: it was the only medication I had been taking all this time.

BINGO! It wasn’t the mother lode, but the answer may have been staring right at me. Here are some of the possible side effects, although rare, of taking Prevacid:

Was this it? Did I find something my doctors, including specialists, weren’t aware of? After lab work in August, I had a follow up visit with my doctor. I told her of my discovery. She had a PDA or Palm Pilot of some kind, looked it up and said, yes, you are right; there might be a correlation between taking Prevacid and low platelets. She instructed me to stop taking it and to return a month later for blood work. Why not? It’s worth a shot. After a month, guess what? My counts all came up! For instance, the platelet number shot up to 163,000 and that falls within the normal range. Am I suddenly cured? Was Prevacid the culprit all along? My doctor feels rather confident it is, but I was left with another problem. During that month, the GERD came back with a vengeance. She had advised me to take Zantac while off the Prevacid and while I took 300mg/day, the maximum amount; it did absolutely nothing for me. Subsequently, she prescribed Protonix. We’ll have to wait and see, since it is very similar and in the same class of drugs as Prevacid, if this affects my blood the same way. If it does, I don’t know what will be done about the GERD because chronic low blood/platelet counts and anemia are more of a serious health risk, but she has ordered a battery of tests to determine if I have underlying issues causing GERD, details of which I will not get into. Trust me; you do not want to know.

Please rest assured, the reason for taking my own path to find an answer was not to usurp the power or knowledge of a doctor, nor was it from a lack of faith. Quite the contrary. Why not join the fight? Besides, I don’t think a physician could possibly know everything about every malady, nor do I think they should spend every waking hour studying all medications and possible side effects. That’s too much to ask for. Doctors see hundreds of patients a week. To explore every complex issue with every patient is absurd. Of course, that is why they go to medical school, but we are all humans here and if I can research something, by golly, I will. Who cares where the answer comes from? Besides, it might have been solved down the line by a hematologist or some other specialist.

I am through taking Prevacid, no doubt about that. My doctor will continue to monitor my blood. We can’t be absolutely positive this is the answer to my problem, but it does seem to point in that direction. Certainly, I’m not advocating self diagnosis by any means and anything and everything you find must be discussed with your primary care physician. Clearly, the Internet has opened so many doors, but we must understand that there are plenty of crackpots out there and we must be able to ascertain the differences between truth and fiction, but I think being able to do online research today is an incredible asset. Who would have thought it possible 10 years ago? Happy birthday, Google. Thanks for your help. It’s not every day a patient gets to impress their doctor. Thanks for saving me a ton of money, too.

Friday, September 19, 2008

A pretty interesting history lesson

The US standard railroad gauge (distance between the rails) is 4 feet, 8.5 inches. That's an exceedingly odd number.

Why was that gauge used? Because that's the way they built them in England, and English expatriates built the US railroads.

Why did the English build them like that? Because the first rail lines were built by the same people who built the pre-railroad tramways, and that's the gauge they used.

Why did 'they' use that gauge then? Because the people who built the tramways used the same jigs and tools that they used for building wagons, which used that wheel spacing.

Why did the wagons have that particular odd wheel spacing? Well, if they tried to use any other spacing, the wagon wheels would break on some of the old, long distance roads in England, because that's the spacing of the wheel ruts.

So who built those old rutted roads? Imperial Rome built the first long distance roads in Europe (and England) for their legions. The roads have been used ever since.

And the ruts in the roads? Roman war chariots formed the initial ruts, which everyone else had to match for fear of destroying their wagon wheels. Since the chariots were made for Imperial Rome, they were all alike in the matter of wheel spacing. Therefore the United States standard railroad gauge of 4 feet, 8.5 inches is derived from the original specifications for an Imperial Roman war chariot. Bureaucracies live forever.

So the next time you are handed a Specification/Procedure/Process and wonder 'What horse's ass came up with it?' you may be exactly right. Imperial Roman army chariots were made just wide enough to accommodate the rear ends of two war horses. (Two horses' asses) Now, the twist to the story:

When you see a Space Shuttle sitting on its launch pad, there are two big booster rockets attached to the sides of the main fuel tank. These are solid rocket boosters, or SRB's. The SRB's are made by Thiokol at their factory in Utah. The engineers who designed the SRB's would have preferred to make them a bit fatter, but the SRB's had to be shipped by train from the factory to the launch site. The railroad line from the factory happens to run through a tunnel in the mountains, and the SRB's had to fit through that tunnel. The tunnel is slightly wider than the railroad track, and the railroad track, as you now know, is about as wide as two horses' behinds.

So, a major Space Shuttle design feature of what is arguably the world's most advanced transportation system was determined over two thousand years ago by the width of a horse's ass. And you thought being a horse's ass wasn't important? Ancient horse's asses control almost everything.. and CURRENT Horses Asses are controlling everything else.

- Courtesy of Mike Townsend and Seeing Eye Dog Brent

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Barack 'n' Roll


©2008 David B. Knechel

Just to prove I'm not a staunch, ultra-conservative, right-wing Republican like it might seem from my previous presidential bumper sticker, here's a completely different and opposite approach. Another idea I had was GO FOR BARACK! Now guess which side of the political fence I sit on.

I thought of this one months and months ago, during the heated primary race. Years ago, I designed political ads, sometimes for people I wouldn't necessarily vote for.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

OBAMA bin BIDEN

Design ©2008 David B. Knechel
Design ©2008 David B. Knechel

Obama bin Biden

Hot off the press and with all due respect to the candidates, I just couldn't resist, given the not so subtle innuendo.

Actually, the idea popped into my head after Obama was, obviously, going to be the Democratic party nominee. Wouldn't it be great if he picks Biden to be his running mate, I thought then. Little did I know, and little did I think about it again, until this morning, when the idea suddenly reappeared. I created and saved it in Adobe Illustrator and exported it as a JPEG.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Tales from the Otter Side

Every year I used to take a trip to New Jersey from Florida to visit friends. The last time I trekked up there was in September of 2002, just before the first anniversary of the worst thing that ever happened to America, at least during my lifetime. I had mentioned to my best friend, Stewart Bacheler, that if we had the chance, it would be nice to go into the city. Sure, he responded. He and his wife, An, lived in Toms River then, but they moved to southwest Florida a few years ago. They were the friends I always stayed with. Well, Frank, too. I've almost known him as long as Stew and that's been forty-some years now. I've written about some of my comical experiences with the illustrious and almost famous Frank Foran here.

After making some of the usual rounds spending time with friends and visiting old haunts, Stewart, An and I decided to go to New York City for the day.

"Will we be able to go near the World Trade Center?" I asked him.

"Sure. I've been by it many times." I had no idea it was business as usual down there near Ground Zero, well, as best as could be expected, anyway. But then again, this was New York, the most vibrant city in the world. America has always had a can-do spirit and New York City did it's best to put that spirit and drive into high gear. Not only did we drive right by that hollow, sacred ground, we were able to park nearby and walk right up to the chain link fence and peer into it. Construction crews were rebuilding the subway to link back up to the south side, down to the Battery. A lot of people were milling about. No one seemed happy. We all stole glances down into that giant void, thinking about what once stood there. Some guy was reeling out names of the slain. Tall and noble buildings that once flowed with activity lay dead. A giant American flag draped across one of them that was shrouded in black to hide the destruction. We spent a good deal of time down there. It was two days before the anniversary and satellite dishes were set up across the street, on the west side, to broadcast the solemn ceremony that was to take place. I have always been a very spiritual person, yet I felt nothing from the souls lost there. Nothing.

After paying our respects inside the sanctuary at Trinity Church and walking down Wall Street, we had seen enough. I will never forget that place. I had been inside the WTC years earlier. Once, on the roof. What a sight to behold. The second time, it was too windy and the roof was off limits, so we could only go as high as the building would allow. When I peered out at the other tower, I could faintly see the sway between that one and the twin I was standing in. What power they exuded. The whole city does and it's always been an inspiration to me. There's no place like New York.

We drove up to mid-town Manhattan and decided to window shop on Park Avenue and some of the surrounding streets. We needed to do something more upbeat after seeing what was left of the World Trade Center. We visited FAO Schwarz, where Stewart had worked earlier in his career. The year was 1988 and I remember calling my girlfriend. She and I had just seen the movie, Big, and weeks later, there I was. I had to call her. Did I get to stand on the floor piano? Yes, but it wasn't the same one used in the movie. Oh, Joy, she was so excited. I think the store still had a floor piano on my last visit, but I'm sure it was an updated model. After a while, shopping got a little old, so we settled on a visit to the Central Park Zoo. Why not? If I had ever been there before, I didn't remember it.

Central Park and the zoo are far contrasts to the hustle and bustle of the rest of the city. You look up at the trees and magnificent buildings stand behind them as a reminder of where you are. Yet, man and the wild live together in a balance of harmony with nature. Here you stand, side by side with penguins and polar bears. Exotic birds. Seals and walruses and their trainers entertain crowds of children and their parents. Out in the park, people of all ages frolic in the open fields. Others sit on park benches as joggers and inline skaters race by.

We meandered over to the otter pool. One of the otters was swimming back and forth. He'd swim on his belly and push himself off the far side bank. Then he'd swim upside down to the other bank with his belly up in the air. Round and round, over and over. There were kids and moms standing to the right of us. This was where the friendly little otter swam, putting on a show in front of these children who were, quite obviously, thoroughly delighted. What a ham he was, too, and what a good time he was having.

Otter at the Central Park Zoo
Otter at the Central Park Zoo

"I'll bet I can get that otter to swim to us," I declared. I don't even know why I said that.

"Oh yeah? I don't think so," said Stew. Now, that was a challenge.

"Yes. I think I can."

"OK. Do it... We're waiting..."

I had to think fast. All of a sudden, I blurted it out. "UNGAWA!" and just like that, that little animal changed directions and swam straight at me, to the amazement of Stewart, An, the children and their mothers. "UNGAWA, UNGAWA," I said. He kept swimming back and forth to me.

"I don't know, Dave." An and Stew shook their puzzled heads. The mothers and children just looked at me. They would remember me as that guy who took the otter away. I stole their happiness in a New York second. OK, time to move on. We wandered around a while longer. About 15 or 20 minutes later, we heard the crowd of children screaming, "UNGAWA, UNGAWA... UNGAWA, UNGAWA, UNGAWA!" as they walked down a nearby path.

"Oh, great, Dave. Look what you started," Stew lamented, as if to throw a guilt trip on me.

"Yeah, I can hear them all the way home to New Jersey or Connecticut. Those parents are not going to be happy with me. UNGAWA!" We laughed.

We stopped by the gift shop and I bought a Central Park Zoo coffee mug for my mother. When we left, we went to Tao for dinner and to relax. After all, we had done quite a bit of walking that day. Tao is a very popular pan Asian restaurant. One of the appetizers was Kobi beef, sliced very thin, for $12 an ounce. We each decided to try it. When it arrived - there were about 4 or 5 slices for each of us - Stewart and An began dipping the meat in the accompanying sauces.

"Hey, Dave, how come you're not dipping your meat?"

"Hey, Stew, for $12 an ounce, I want to taste the meat, not some sauce." They stopped dipping. I will say, it was delicious, but had the kitchen run out of Kobi and given us Black Angus instead, I wouldn't have known the difference. Tao was a very nice experience. The food, service and ambiance were worth the price. I highly recommend it, although I guarantee the menu prices have gone up since we ate there.

Now, it was time to go home. It was a long day and darkness had fallen hours earlier. As we approached the Lincoln Tunnel, I fumbled around for my coffee mug.

"Oh no, Stewart! I left the mug at the restaurant. No way is it going to still be there."

"Hey, I'll turn around. No problem. Better now, while we're still in the city."

A good half hour had elapsed since we left, only to return. I ran inside, darted up the stairs and went to the first server I saw. "Excuse me, I left my Central Park Zoo coffee mug on our table." No way was I going to get it back.

"Oh, that's you? Yes, we saved it, hoping you would return." I couldn't believe it. "Your server and everyone around you said what nice people you were. Come with me." There it was, still in its bag. I thanked them profusely.

I don't get it. Some folks don't like New York. They say people there aren't all that friendly. Huh? For the most part, almost everyone has been nice to me, but I guess I was always used to seeing the other side of the city; the fun, positive side. Even from the otters.

Monday, August 04, 2008

2008 Olympic Games - Gymnastics Competition and Television Schedule

This was sent via e-mail. It is the tentative TV coverage schedule as I know it today, August 4, 2008.

<http://www.nbcolympics.com/gymnastics/index.html>

Time Zone Note: Beijing is 12 hours ahead of Eastern Time. A competition
beginning before noon in Beijing will begin the previous date's evening
in the United States.

NBCOlympics.com Online Video: Online video of the competition will be
available on NBCOlympics.com
<http://www.nbcolympics.com/gymnastics/index.html> following the NBC
television broadcast of that event on the west coast

Universal HD will provide re-aired Olympic events broadcast on both
MSNBC and CNBC

Competition
Date/Time
(Beijing)

Competition
Date/Time
(Eastern)

Competition

TV Broadcast*
(Eastern)

8/9 - 12pm

8/9 - 12am

Men's Qualification - Subdivision 1
<http://www.usa-gymnastics.org/Portals/0/Images/events/olympics/draw_men.pdf>

8/9 - 8pm-12am - NBC
8/10 - 4am-2pm - Tele

8/10 - 1:30pm

8/10 - 1:30am

Women's Qualification - Subdivision 2
<http://www.usa-gymnastics.org/Portals/0/Images/events/olympics/draw_women.pdf>

8/10 - 7pm-12am - NBC
8/11 - 2am-6am - Tele

8/12 - 10am

8/11 - 10pm

Men's Team Finals

8/11 - 10pm - NBC
8/12 - 2am-6am - Tele

8/13 - 10:15am

8/12 - 10:15pm

Women's Team Finals

8/12 - 10:15pm - NBC
8/13 - 7:30am-12pm - Tele

8/14 - 11am

8/13 - 11pm

Men's All-Around Finals

8/13 - 11pm - NBC
8/14 - 2am-6am - Tele

8/15 - 11:15am

8/14 - 11:15pm

Women's All-Around Finals

8/14 - 11:15pm - NBC
8/15 - 2am-6am - Tele

8/16 - 11am

8/15 - 11pm

Trampoline - Men's & Women's Qual.

8/16 - 12:35am-2am - NBC
8/17 - 4am-2pm - Tele

8/17 - 6pm

8/17 - 6am

Event Finals (Men - FX,PH; Women - FX,VT)

8/17 - 7pm-12am - NBC
8/18 - 2am-6am - Tele

8/18 - 6pm

8/18 - 6am

Event Finals (Men - SR,VT; Women - UB)

8/18 - 8pm-12am - NBC
8/19 - 2am-8am - Tele

8/18 - 6pm

8/18 - 6am

Trampoline - Women's Final

8/18 - 8pm-12am - NBC

8/19 - 6pm

8/19 - 6am

Event Finals (Men - PB,HB; Women - BB)

8/19 - 8pm-12am - NBC
8/20 - 8am-10am - Tele

8/19 - 6pm

8/19 - 6am

Trampoline - Men's Final

8/20 - 12:35am-2am - NBC

8/20 - TBA

8/20 - TBA

Gymnastics Gala

8/20 - 8pm-12am - NBC
8/21 - 6pm-8pm - Oxygen

Be sure to catch "Gymnastics - A Daily Look" on the Oxygen network
weekdays at 6-8 p.m. ET from Monday, Aug. 11 until Wednesday, Aug. 20

TV Broadcast Notes:
Tele = Telemundo
Check local listings

Sunday, July 13, 2008

My Hole In One

"Dave, I am five years older than you. I will always be a better pool player because I've got five more years of experience playing the game." Well, he did have his own cue stick.

"Dave, I am five years older than you. I will always be a better poker player because I've got five more years of experience playing the game." Well, we did usually play in his basement, with his cards.

For years, that's what I heard from my friend, Frank. No matter what I strove to do in the realm of sports, he would, almost always, beat me as far as he was concerned. Of course, I could never quite grasp his logic, but I did, and do, understand the power of confidence and the pitfalls of a self inflated ego when playing one on one sports. Granted, percentage wise, he did beat me, but I've never based results on experience only. Experience doesn't deal an ace into your hand. One thing sticks out in my mind though. When he won, he took great pleasure rubbing salt into the wound, but I recall times when I was filled with tons of confidence and mopped the floor up with him, too. I remember a night of pool playing and strategy won for me. Did I ever rub it in? Of course not. I always told him, "Frank, you might be five years older than me and in some things, better, but you're not taking my intellect into account. If you figure my brain power into the equation, you'll find that, in the end, I am way smarter than you." I don't think he ever agreed with me, but he never argued, either. "You see, Frank, western thinking often tends to dichotomize phenomenon into either/or categories, whereas, a both/and perspective might prove more fruitful in analysis."

One summer, I headed up from Florida to my best friend, Stewart's house in New Jersey. I usually arrived for our annual "Big Chill" party in Beach Haven a day or two early. I liked it that way because I had some time to revisit old haunts and run into old friends in Flemington, where I was from, before we made our trek "down the shore" for the week, a phrase only a Joisey native would recognize and completely comprehend.

Usually, our beach parties lasted one long weekend before many of our friends had to drive home to resume their usual work routine. That generally left Stewart, his wife and kids, and me to fend for ourselves. Sometimes, Stewart and I would gather a few male friends together and we'd drive up to New York City for a night of fun. We'll leave it at that. One particular year, Stewart planned a mid-week golf outing for me, his former business partner and a mutual friend. Well, it sounded like a fun day, but if you did a reality check, I was never close to being a real golfer, by any means, and neither were the other guys, really.

I think I discussed the upcoming golf game with Frank that weekend because I can still hear him tell me that I'd never be as good a golfer as him, in spite of the fact that I can't recall ever seeing him play, let alone talk about the game until he knew I was going to play. And because of Frank's sniveling, narcissistic and condescending insolence, I became highly motivated to prove him wrong. I decided to do something few people do. I was going to hit a hole-in-one.

I didn't know exactly when the time was going to be right for me to hit the hole-in-one, but I was confident I would. We borrowed a video camera to capture our game and the precise moment I would make golfing history, if not to most of my friends, then at least, to Frank. That was all that mattered.

The day started off innocuous enough. It was a sunny summer morning, quite typical of July in New Jersey. We all met at the golf course for our 9:00 AM tee time. I think we got there around 8:00 or so, to have coffee and donuts. Plus, I needed to rent clubs because I am left handed. We milled around talking to fellow golfers, biding our time for when I would become a living legend, and began shooting video footage of our pre-game antics, warming up for the big event. Ironically, the video camera we used belonged to Frank. Talk about rubbing dirt in someone's face. More like a divot, actually.

Stewart knew from past experience playing at Lakewood Country Club that the front nine was open and flat and the back nine was tight and hilly, so we played the back that day. The signature 15th hole is a par 3 that requires a shot over a small river to the green. I had no idea how our game was going to go, but after playing a few holes I was ahead of everyone else. This was completely strange since I would readily own up to the fact that my golf prowess was nowhere close to how I thought the other guys would play. I guessed wrong, obviously. I wouldn't say I was tearing up the course, but I did see some grass fly. I even managed to hit a few balls into the woods. "Thunk," I heard a few times as the ball bounced off a trunk. But hey, I was the leader. On paper. Rule #1 on scoring - bring your own pencil. With an eraser.

Sometimes, we worked the camera. Other times we just played and had fun revving around in our gas powered carts. I don't know why Stewart chose to turn the camera on for that fateful 15th hole, just as I was ready to whack the ball over the river and onto the green. I took a couple of practice swings and then, BAM, just like that, it was done. The whole thing was captured on video, including a closeup of the ball rolling into the cup.

"Was that a hole-in-one?" one of the guys yelled to the foursome playing ahead of us.

"Yes! It was a hole-in-one. Great shot, Dave!" Wow, I was ecstatic. I dropped my club and jumped up and down. I couldn't believe I did it, let alone the fact that the video camera was rolling. What a stroke of luck.

"Wait 'til Frank hears about this," I said. Stewart and the other guys took turns congratulating me and shaking my hand. Then, we all laughed.

"Good thing I had the camera on, Dave," Stewart said. "He would never believe this." Oh, the magic of television.

We finished our 9 holes and went back to the pro shop to turn in our scores, my clubs, and to let them know about my hole-in-one. All of the guys walking around congratulated me. I have no idea how they knew, but I guess news can sometimes travel as fast as a New York second in parts of New Jersey. Wow! The resident golf pro gave me an application to fill out that he would sign off on and send to the PGA for a hole-in-one certificate. This whole thing was so surreal.

"Let's head on over to the clubhouse for a drink." Stewart said. That brought me back to earth.

"You know I can't afford to buy everyone a drink, Stew." I responded. The custom is to buy everyone a drink at the 19th hole after you hit a hole-in-one. I could never understand that. It should be the other way around. The guys told me not to worry, that they'd chip in. They must have, too, because a couple of beers later, the camera panned the long bar with everyone holding up their drinks to toast me.

"Congratulations, Dave, on your hole-in-one!!!" they all yelled. Soon after, the bartender brought me a shot of tequila and told me it was on the house. Down the hatch that Cuervo went. The crowd roared with enthusiasm and with that, our golf outing came to a glorious end.

Each year, I edited all of the footage we shot during our entire "Big Chill" week. I tried to turn it into something that flowed and something that made us all laugh. Frank always had a final dinner party the night before I flew home. After eating, we would gather around his television set to watch how I wove everything together. When Frank saw our golf adventure, he couldn't believe it. No way was I going to outplay him at anything. "NO WAY!" he screamed. "No way you hit a hole in one. I can't even do that!" Of course, he had to ask the other guys if it was true.

"Yup." He had to believe it. "We saw it with our own eyes."

"Frank? I one-upped you. I don't think you'll ever top me on that one."

"Alright. OK. You got me, Dave, but you know I don't play golf much."

"Neither do I, Frank, neither do I. "

Maybe Frank is better at some things, but I will always know how to outsmart him. Especially when the proof is captured on video.

©2008 David B. Knechel

Monday, June 23, 2008

Lord of the Olympic Rings

©2008 David B. Knechel

When my best friend, Stewart Bacheler and his wife, Janice, tried to have children many years ago, something didn't work. They really wanted to start a family and ultimately, they ended up adopting two toddlers from Korea. First came Jessie and then they thought that maybe she should have a brother. Poof! Along came Josh. I remember when I first met Jessie. She was a 1-1/2 year old bundle of joy. Every year, I traveled back to New Jersey for our legendary - in our minds, anyway - "Big Chill" party at the Bacheler's beach house on Pelham Avenue in Beach Haven. I had the same downstairs bedroom each time I visited there for the week. It was called Heidi's Room for Stewart's niece. Stewart's mother was quite the Pennsylvania Dutch interior decorator, so Heidi's name was ornately painted on the sliding bedroom door.

I'd sometimes drive up alone or with an old friend, Steve Kangas, but most of the time I flew. All of our old friends would meet at that house on Friday and party well into the night. We were still pretty young then. Stewart and I were always the first ones up in the morning and we'd travel down the street to Marvel's Market for fresh doughnuts. We watched them fry, that's how fresh they were. In the meantime, coffee would be brewing and that would sometimes rouse the others. Stewart and I sat out on the shaded front porch to catch up on what we had been doing. We didn't get to see each other like when I still lived up there. Plus, we had first dibs on the still warm doughnuts and fresh coffee.

This one particular morning was a little different. About 7 AM, I was awakened by a banging on my bedroom door and very young cries of "Unca Day! Unca Day!" which was Jessie's special way of telling me, "Uncle Dave, it's time to get up!" I heard Stewart stumble out to try to quiet her, but I was already awake and the thought of finally getting to see her was a lot more important than sleeping another minute. For months, he had told me how excited she was to meet Uncle Dave. Believe me, I was too. I put some pants and a shirt on and slid the door open. When I looked down, this sweet little girl was staring up at me with bright brown eyes. She couldn't have been two feet tall and I melted on the spot. Quickly, I scooped her up in my arms and we hugged each other tightly. It was something I will never forget.

That was in July of 1981 and how quickly she and her brother grew up. Jessie went to Penn State, Josh went to live in Hawaii, where he goes to the state university there, Stewart and Janice eventually divorced and he moved to Florida with his wife, An, a few years ago. Good thing I haven't changed much since those early days. I was bald then and I still am. Unfortunately, that beach house was sold and razed when his folks got a bit too old to maintain it. Oh, the stories we could all tell of that place.

Jessie is quite successful now. She ended up staying in the land of the Nittany Lions after graduating and is now the marketing and public relations manager at WHVL, a TV station in State College. She and her boyfriend, Kevin Tan, who grew up in Fremont, California, own a house they share with two dogs, but alas, her boyfriend spends a lot of time away from home. That's because he is a gymnast. Oh, not your garden variety 'bouncing around on a mat' kind of guy. No, not exactly. From what I understand, he is ranked number one in the country on still rings and a top contender on parallel bars. That is why, on June 22, he was named to the U.S. Olympic team after competing Friday and Saturday on rings, parallel bars, high bars and pommel horse. Kai Wen - or Kevin - as we will get to know him by his more English sounding name, will travel to China for the 2008 Summer Olympics. His father, Peter Tan, was born in Taiwan after his parents fled the mainland in 1949. There, he met Kevin's mother.

KEVIN TAN - Credit: Al Bello / Getty Images

Kevin, who has a degree in financing, was a six-time all-American at Penn State, and is the assistant gymnastics coach there. He earned a scholarship in gymnastics and won back-to-back NCAA titles on the rings and that helped PSU win the 2004 NCAA championship. He was going to end his career then and there, but the thought of representing the United States and competing in Beijing overwhelmed him. Fortunately, I had the chance to watch him perform on the rings Saturday afternoon on NBC and he looked great.

In a recent interview by Frank Fitzpatrick, a staff writer for the Philadelphia Inquirer, Tan said, "If I make the team, my father is planning on returning to China." His mother passed away in 2000. "I know it will be a thrill for him to go back to the land where he was born." Thanks to Kevin, his father will have that chance, but traveling to his ancestral home will not come cheaply. The cost is estimated to be between $5,000 and $10,000 per person. That's a lot of money to send a small - but very important - support group of Jessie, his father, brother and sister-in-law to Beijing to cheer him on.

Not only is Kevin a proud American, I'm proud of him and all the rest who will represent us. I'm proud for Jessie, too, and proud for the good old United States of America. Hooray for the red, white and blue. I hope he wins the gold.

Go, Kevin, Go

USA USA USA

Monday, June 16, 2008

My Brother, the Major

My brother and I e-mail each other several times a week, sometimes more than once a day. I gain more of an insight into what our troops are doing in Iraq and how they cope. Along with this image, he told me there are T-barriers everywhere on base to protect against incoming.

"I work in the trailers right behind me. Off to the right, you can see some pure white structures. Those are latrines and showers. It's pure paradise!"

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Not our day to die

©2008 Dave Knechel

PART I

In the early 90s, I was an ad artist for the Florida-based Belk Lindsey department store chain. In those days, I had my fair share of bars to choose from. One was Harper's Tavern, in Winter Park. Unfortunately, it burned down in 1996. Golly, how time flies. That was one of my favorite haunts and the owner, George Vogelbacher, also owned the adjacent French restaurant, Le Cordon Bleu. The tavern part was just a regular neighborhood hangout and the restaurant was high end French cuisine. I've seen Paul Newman dine there. George and his wife are from Switzerland and he has about the thickest, most guttural German accent I've ever heard. Hands down, George made the best French onion soup I've ever eaten. He used to buy my marinade in gallon containers and once told me it was a perfect recipe.

In the front corner of the tavern was a booth where some of Central Florida's most powerful men sat. The drinking kind, anyway. George eventually put a private phone with a dedicated line there for one patron in particular, John Schofield. John was probably one of the richest men in the area. Back then, he was a big guy and had a very commanding presence. He owned a brokerage firm and one of his claims to fame was some sort of deal that kept you from paying taxes on IRAs or CDs or something. I never really got into that financial stuff, so I never understood anything about it. I used to deliver my marinade early in the morning, hours before the bar or restaurant were open. On some of those mornings, John would be sitting at the bar drinking, eating breakfast and reading the Wall Street Journal. Much too early for me to drink, I always thought. One morning, I asked George why he did that for John, before the bartender or any of the staff came in.

"Dave," he said, "if you spent $3,000 a month here, I'd make you breakfast, too." I didn't have the nerve to ask him if that included the phone bill.

Saturdays were special days at Harper's. George's kitchen staff prepared a pretty decent buffet. I used to meet some of my friends there. We'd eat, have a couple of drinks, watch college football and meander over to Wayne Trout's house for more drinks and more football. Sometimes, we'd caravan up to - what we called - Fern Park Ballet, a region north of Winter Park where young ladies danced in little or no attire. Those were the days. Of course, I'm a lot older and wiser today, and besides, most of those places are closed down. What's left charge $20.00 a dance now AND the girls wear clothes. Or so I've been told. I'm no longer interested.

Our haunts in those early years were Harper's, Bailey's, Dubsdread and PR's. Except for Dubsdread, they were in the same neighborhood, and consequently, we'd run into a lot of the same people. Long before I got to know John, I knew his brother, Jeff. As a matter of fact, Jeff pretty much introduced me to John. Jeff was really a nice guy; polite, intelligent and a very good conversationalist. If you got to know Jeff, you had a lifelong friend.

Sometimes, my drinking buddies, like Wayne, Dave Stiglich, Larry Simo, Kerry Patrick and Tom & Linda Corkhill, would mosey on over to Harper's for more fun and drinks after happy hour was over at Bailey's, just as the perfume crowd, the beautiful people of Winter Park, started to show up. God, how we hated those diva's and their plastic boy toys. Heading over to Harper's usually meant I would eat, too. French onion soup and an excellent open-faced steak sandwich. It was a real steak on French bread and served with fries. Jessie bartended and she made very good drinks. Invariably, we'd run into Jeff, drink and cigarette in hand. John and his crowd would be gathered at his booth and it was a special day if you got to sit there and schmooze with the big boys.

One evening, Jeff asked me if I'd be interested in doing some work for his brother's company. Sure, I responded, what is it? He handed me a business card with a logo and asked if I could turn it into a large sign for an upcoming trade show. They needed it for their booth.

"What kind of a sign do you want?" I asked him.

"Well," Jeff responded, "we want a three dimensional cut-out of the logo that can be hung on the center wall of the booth. It needs to be about 6 feet wide. Can you do that?"

"Sure!" He took me over to his brother and we talked a little business. I always like to talk to people to get a feel of what they're looking for. After talking to John and Jeff, I knew exactly what to do. "Let me work up a price. Ill let you know early next week."

Working in the advertising department for Belk, I got to know the visual people. Visual departments take care of all the stuff you see on display in stores; signs, mannequins, glass cases, and just about everything you look at. The visual department uses a hot wire to cut out Styrofoam letters and designs from stencils. They can be of any thickness and are usually covered in faux finishes, like marble. Almost all cut-out store signs are made this way. I asked one of the guys if he'd be interested in making a little money on the side. Of course. He said he'd take $100 for doing the job, including the Styrofoam. I contacted Jeff and gave him a price of $500 and it was a done deal. Of course, I designed and cut out the template to pin to the plastic and did all the finishing work, like softening the edges.

One evening, I ran into John at Harper's. "Dave, if you do this job on time and under budget, I'll fly you up to the convention in New Orleans on my private jet."

"Of course I will," I told him. "You already have the price and I guarantee it will be ready long before the convention." I knew it had to be shipped up before the event opened.

I delivered the sign to Jeff at their office in Winter Park. "Are you going to Harper's later?" Sure, I said. "Good, I'll let you know what John thinks." When I saw him that evening, he told me John was very impressed. He said, not only did I do a much better job than their ad agency, but they would have charged over $2,000 for the job. "We fired them." Darn, I could have charged a lot more, but I've never been a gouger. As we approached the date to fly up there, Jeff told me not to worry about breakfast, that John would bring it. It was going to be a same day flight, up in the morning, back later that day. Don't be late.

I arrived at Orlando Executive Airport very early in the morning. John wasn't there yet, but Jeff had traveled to New Orleans a few days earlier. John only needed to fly up on the last day for meetings and to hang around the booth a little. While waiting, I got to know the pilot and co-pilot, brothers who flew John wherever and whenever he wanted to go. They were veteran pilots from the Vietnam War. One had been shot down 13 times when he flew helicopters. Finally, John showed up (but not late) with breakfast. I didn't know what to expect, coming from the wealthiest guy I had ever met, but it was nothing more than sausage biscuits and grits from Krystal. That morning, I learned money can never take the country out of a country boy.

When we lifted off the runway, it was an incredible ride. We were off the ground and cruising at 41,000 feet before I knew it. I asked the co-pilot if I could come up to the cockpit and take a look outside.

"Sure," and I did. You know what I saw? Nothing. Air. We were well above everything. I walked back and sat down. It was a pleasant flight. John didn't say much the whole trip up. Interestingly, we left at 7:30 and arrived at 7:30. As we taxied and came to a stop on the tarmac, a limousine was there to pick us up. Nice, I thought, but as I stepped off the jet, I was immediately hit with a solid, thick blast of heat and humidity. My shirt was drenched in sweat before I even sat down in the vehicle. Whew! Never had I felt that much stifling weather in my life. No way could I live there.

When we got to the hotel, John promptly disappeared with powerful, pampering people awaiting him. "Go up to see Jeff," he told me, and he was gone.

PART II

I took the elevator up to Jeff's room and he greeted me at the door. "I'll be ready in a few minutes. Sit down and relax." As he was getting ready, he shouted from his room. "You want to eat? Get a Bloody Mary? Have you ever been here? No? You want to see Bourbon Street?" He emerged moments later. "C'mon, lets go."

I was almost afraid to step out the door because of the intense heat, but I did. No way was I going to fly up to New Orleans only to stay inside a building somewhere. We went to a restaurant and ate. Of course, we had to savor the flavors of The Big Easy. That included drinks, one for me, more for Jeff. I've never been into drinking early in the day, but heck, I was in the Jazz capital of the world! Voodoo! I wish I could remember the name of the restaurant, but it was near the hotel and Bourbon Street and the front was all glass. "Keep your money, Dave. The company will pay," he said, as we finished and got up to leave.

The walk down Bourbon Street was very interesting. Bars and honky tonk joints were everywhere. More restaurants. I saw sensational sights. Wrought iron railings on second floor balconies. Ivy on brick walls. Alleys that just oozed romance and history. Not all was pleasant though. I saw hollow store-front windows where, when the sun goes down, women - and men that look like women - ply their seedy goods. The streets and buildings reeked of the filth from the night before; booze, sweat, puke, garbage, sex and cheap perfume. Shop employees were hosing down their entryways and washing the streets. The combination of aromas still wafts in my mind to this very day.

We worked our way through the French Quarter to St. Louis Cathedral. From there, we walked to the New Orleans Convention Center and, finally, air conditioning. By then, I needed a good shower, but the coolness dried me off and I was never a smelly sweater. The trade show was huge. John was already there when we approached the booth.

"How was your tour?" he asked.

"Great," I responded.

"Jeff told me he was going to show you around. The sign looks great. I've had a lot of nice compliments. I told everyone who asked that my artist is here today. You never know, Dave." Nope, you never know. After a while, I asked Jeff if there were any shops nearby to buy some souvenirs. I ended up walking down to the Riverfront Marketplace and saw the Mississippi River for the very first time.

When I returned, I met a very nice gentleman and we struck up a conversation. We walked around and around that trade show for what seemed like hours, talking about everything besides finances. After all, my lack of knowledge would have made me out to be quite inept had I tried to feign even a remote amount of authority on the subject. He was a nice man. I remember talking about his grandchildren and my field of art and design, but little else now. Every time we walked past John's booth, Jeff would give me an approving nod. Eventually, it was time to close up shop and return home, so I said goodbye and offered a firm handshake to my new found friend. Of course, he gave me his card. Some institution of some kind in New York. When I got back to the booth, Jeff asked me, "Dave! Do you know who you were talking to? I mean, do you have any idea who that man was?"

"No, but he was a really nice guy."

"He is, like, the gold guru of the world. He's almost as big as Greenspan. How did you manage to keep him going for so long? We're lucky to have a few minutes with a guy like him." Quite obviously, he was very impressed and so was John, because during the trip back, as he and Jeff spoke of business, finances and the people they rubbed elbows with, they included me. Imagine that, the people I was impressed with thought I was impressive. Oh, how I must have some knowledge or power to keep the company of such a powerful man. Not really.

"He probably got sick of talking business and I was like a breath of fresh air," I told them. "We had a very nice talk."

On the way home, the pilots switched roles. The pilot on the flight up was now the co-pilot. The twin engine jet, which sat about 10 or 12 people, came equipped with a bar. The co-pilot acted as a flight attendant and made the first few drinks for us.

"Hey, we're missing happy hour!" I blurted out.

"Hell," John replied, "you're having it right now on this jet." He was right, until the co-pilot came back from the cockpit and mumbled something in John's ear. "Take care of it."

We went on about our happy hour business until the co-pilot came back a second time. By then, we were half schnockered and didn't much care about what was going on up front.

"John," the co-pilot announced, "we have a serious problem. We've lost hydraulics. We can't maneuver the flaps. We can manually lower the wheels. That means we have a one shot chance of landing safely. When I tell you, you are going to have to brace yourselves for a crash landing." Oh, how exciting. He gave us the drill. I recall, a few months earlier, there was a commercial flight in California that went down, killing all on board, because the plane lost hydraulics. Great, I thought, no hydraulics. What a way to end the day.

One more for the road, we must have thought in unison as we scrambled to pour ourselves one final drink. "Let's make these extra strong if they're going to be our last," one of us blurted out.

Clink. We toasted to our health.

"OK," the co-pilot said firmly, "get rid of your drinks and brace yourselves." I'm not Catholic, but I watched John and Jeff do that sign of the cross thing across their chests as I tucked my head between my legs, arms folded tightly. There was a lot of soul searching and praying going on as we made our final descent. My ears were popping.

Suddenly, BOOM! We hit the ground hard and fast. The jet screamed to slow us down. When it came to a stop, we were all safe. Had I not known, I would have just thought it was a hard landing. John and Jeff both said they thought we were going to die. Clearly, they were shaken and stirred.

"It's not my day to die. It's not my day to die," I told them. "I knew we would be safe. I wasn't afraid. It's not my day."

I think we all kissed the ground when we got off that jet. Trust me, it was a sobering experience. Sobering enough that when John suggested we all meet at Harper's for more drinks, including the pilots, we agreed. Many of our friends were still there, oblivious to what we had just gone through, but our "jet set" sat together. We were bonded forever by that experience. All drinks were on John. Food, too, but none of us wanted to eat. The pilot who was shot down 13 times in Vietnam told me this was much scarier than any crash he had lived through. We only had that one shot. Later, Jeff told me if we had missed the airport, we would have crashed into houses on the other side of the highway, about a mile away. We owed our lives to those incredible guys in the cockpit.

PART III

Throughout the years, I've thought about that experience. Jeff and I always talked about it when we ran into each other. It became one of the repertoire of stories I'd tell friends and anyone else who wanted to hear. So did Jeff. In 2005, John passed away. I went to his funeral and it was the biggest one I've ever attended. Half of Winter Park was shut down. As I was leaving, I saw one of the pilots, but I was too far away to say something. The crowd was too large and vast to find him again. I wanted to say hello and ask him why he wasn't with his brother. They were always together and certainly for John's funeral. One day I saw his brother's picture in the newspaper. I'm sure he was too sick to attend back then. Now, he is gone.

There were five people on board that fateful flight home. Am I the only one left? Jeff and I will never have a chance to laugh about it again. He passed away on the 24th of May. What a great guy he was. I'd drink a toast to my old buddy, Jeff Schofield, but I won't. I don't want to because I really don't drink much anymore. Besides, it's the alcohol that finally got him. Sadly, the jet would have been less painful and a whole lot quicker, but it wasn't our day to die.

ADDENDUM: To read more on Jeff, an old friend has some very nice things to say, along with others who knew him that left comments on his blog. Please see: CRACKED WINDOW by Michael Bales.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

No Shi’ite! Greetings from Sunni Iraq!

My brother, Tim, is a major in the U.S. Air Force. He is now on his second tour of Iraq. We all waited, with extreme anticipation, to hear from him, that he made it safe and sound. He did, and that is a big time relief.

His trip in to his AOR (Area Of Responsibility - you just gotta love those military acronyms!) was what he described as “hellish.” The first legs on commercial jets were fine. It was only after he got on the C-130 transport plane that he got a bad case of dysentery. They were all crammed in like sardines in 100 degree heat with hot fuel exhaust coming in. They were all in full body armor, including helmets. By the way, there is no “private” bathroom, just a little curtain to draw. Coming in for the landing, the workhorse 130, as he called it, shot out flares to confuse heat-seeking missiles. When the plane landed, a generator malfunctioned and they were stuck on the tarmac. “As I glanced around at the [other] airmen on board, there was no doubt in my mind the courage that we all had,” he wrote, “but now, things are as normal as it can get and that’s okay.”

The next e-mail was called, Fog, but it’s not. “You should see it here. I awoke to what I thought was dense fog.” It was dust. “All around you has this strange orange hue. The dust sticks to your hair. My nostrils are thick with it.”

As he had stated during his first tour, the food is pretty incredible. He lunched on a whole boneless trout one day. There are 4 huge chow halls, each about half the size of a Wal-Mart. (Maybe, I should change the name to War-Mart.) All sorts of desserts abound (Dessert Storm?), cakes, pies and Baskin-Robbins sundae bars.

There are e-mails describing some of the not so pleasant things he is experiencing. In spite of being on a secure base, there is danger. I’m not going to explain most of the rather sad aspects of war where he is, but his job there is in communications. Actually, his official title is, Senior Communications Systems Project Manager/Engineer. He’s not out in the thick of it. In all likelihood, the odds of a hit are pretty slim. “It can happen but I’m not worried about it. We’re so busy that we don’t have time. We’re taught how to hit the ground when the alarm sounds so as to lower our hit probability.”

He sent me pictures. These might give you an idea on what life is like there.


Ol Bunkers

Aircraft Shelters

Army Helo Ramp

C-17 Ramp

C-130 Landing

Chinook

F-16 Landing Roll

As was in the past, I asked for clearance from him to write and show images. Obviously, he approved. Here is a picture of him, taken during a massive dust storm. I have a good close-up shot, but I’m not sure I want to publish it here.

Tim in Dust Storm

As I said, he eats well. An e-mail from him talked more about some of his meals. “I just got back from the chow hall where I dined on a think slice of prime rib and half of a Cornish hen. I even had some horseradish sauce with the roast. I finished it off with some praline ice cream with some caramel sauce.

For lunch (check this out!) I musta had 50 bucks worth of split crab legs. I didn’t even have to split them! Course, I had to dip them in butter. So, I guess the food is pretty darned good. The other nite I had chocolate marble cheescake. One nite last week I had New York style cheesecake which was phenominal. They have Indian nite, Italian night, Mongolian BBQ nite, steak nite, and prime rib night. The BBQ ribs are smoked and fall off the bone. Of course, they don’t come close to mine but when mortars are shot at you they’re not bad.

With all that, I managed to lose an inch off my waist in just two weeks. I only indulge every once in a while. I even had two Becks beer with my prime rib tonight. It’s an excellent near-beer…much more flavorful than the American stuff. You can drink all you want of that stuff. Today it was 105 and that beer sure did tast swell.

Anyway, I’m off to do some more work…14 hours a day but I’m not complaining.”

Here is the latest image he sent me. He calls it, “his ride.”

Tim\'s Ride

The temps have been 110 lately. This morning we’re getting a break…79 degrees! I went for my morning run and got a lot of sleep last nite, which I needed. I feel pretty good this am.

They have these incredible French toast stick that are deep fried and sprinkled with sugar. They have a slight cinnamon taste. We refer them as ‘crack sticks’ because they are so good. I hope they run out of them soon.

Welp, that’s all for now folks.”