At 16 I Had No Muscles But I Drove a Muscle Car

barracuda
barracuda

I recently read Auto Biography by Earl Swift in which he retraces all the owners of a '57 Chevy and it's had me thinking about my first car.

It was a 1969 Plymouth Barracuda. I unwrapped it in the Fall of 1990. Twenty one years after it rolled off the assembly line. It was a cool car. I, on the other hand, was not cool car guy. Nor was I even a cool guy. In the movies a guy gets a cool car and then suddenly he has people following him around buying him pizza. That’s Hollywood. In real life I didn’t smoke or have a varsity jacket. No tattoos. I didn’t listen to cool music or have a cool haircut. I was tall and awkward. After my 16th birthday I was a tall and awkward kid driving a 1969 Barracuda with a slant six engine.

The car was a surprise. My father and I went car shopping in the months leading up to my birthday but unbeknownst to me, that was a ruse. My muscle car was parked in the neighbor’s garage the whole time. Interestingly enough, during the car shopping game I picked out several equally cool cars that neither fit my personality or my body type. There was an awesome topless Jeep whose seat belt wouldn’t have been able to restrain my lanky frame had I taken it off road like the trying-to-prove-something 16 year in me would have done. There was an equally preposterous MG that I had my eyes on even though at over six feet tall, my head touched the roof while seated and once inside the only way for me to exit would have been to recline into the passenger seat to get my legs out of from under the steering wheel.

So instead of those silly toys my father surprised me with 3000 pounds of banana yellow steel Detroit classic. If cell phones would have existed I would have had Heart’s “Barracuda” as the ringtone.

My car wasn’t necessarily a muscle car but just as I looked in the mirror hoping to see a muscle or two somewhere on my frame I called my new ride a muscle car. I bought a car cover fabric to protect it from the elements although it was over twenty years old and had proved it could survive just fine in the Florida sun. I installed a cassette player in the glove compartment to not damage the look of the dashboard and rocked out to very uncool music.

I think the plan was for the car to be a team building exercise for my father and I. It was a high ropes course for the two of us. Actually, it was more like going to a high ropes course with no ropes, helmets, gear or upper body strength. None of which we had.

But, we had a guide! Our guide had tools and knowledge and experience. And a sales pitch! A coworker of my father’s was a muscle car guy and explained to us how much fun it would be and how much we would learn about cars, the world, each other!

And then soon after I unwrapped the classic he moved out of state and we were looking up at the high ropes course without gear.

One of the first projects we undertook was replacing the master cylinder.

Yes, I know what you are thinking. “But the 1969 Barracuda had manual brakes. Are you sure it was the master cylinder you replaced?”

Before the Fall of 1990 I wouldn’t have known that either. The power brakes were an after market add-on a previous owner had installed.

With our guide out of state he sent us step by step instructions via fax.

Fax!

This was 1990 remember?

The nearest fax machine was at my father's office.

Follow up illustrations were a drive away.

“And where is this nut that we loosen to bleed the lines?” We would ask on the long distance phone call.

“I’ll send a drawing.” He would answer.

To the office! A fax awaits!

By the end of the project the faxed instructions were as stained with red brake fluid as our hands and bodies were.

But our team grew stronger.

I owned the car for a few years and then upgraded before I went off to college as I needed a more reliable car to make the journey out of state with.

I replaced the muscle car with a more practical VW Jetta that needed less maintaining and fit my uncool lifestyle a little better.

Future Daddy Blogger Support Group

Group white chairs
Group white chairs

The meetings are held in the basement of a church near an all-night donut shop. Although both are helpful, the location is more about the donuts than the man upstairs. The chairs are arranged in a circle. The donuts are placed on an end table in the middle. They are a focal point. The embers of a fire that never goes out. There are always more donuts.

“It’s time to start the group.” The host says. “Thank you all so much for coming today. I see a few new faces and many familiar ones. Who wants to begin today? Tyler? How about you start?”

Tyler was seated in the circle directly across from the host. Although he was a regular to the support group he was hard to remember. He had an unassuming disposition and talked in a hushed voice. The others leaned in when he spoke because he was barely heard over the buzz of the box fans. It’s not uncommon for the grown up kids of dad bloggers to shun the spotlight. Growing up online was enough. Tyler was the norm.

“Hi, I’m Tyler. You all may know me as “Little T” from the SometimesHePoopsInHisPants.com blog.”

“Hi Tyler.com” The group said in unison. Adding a dot com to their name was a joke that caught on. A way to mock their dads who’ve chronicled their lives online since birth.

“I’ve made some progress since last week when I told you I was ready to talk him about his blog and how it has always been the third wheel in my relationships. He acted surprised that employers ask about the site and that first dates do their research before we meet. Secretly, I think he was adding up the page views in his head. He suggested that I add his link to my resume to help with search engine optimisation. He even asked if he could make me a match.com profile and put it on his blog. But, he listened and was receptive but... I caught him recording me. I haven’t seen it pop up on any of his feeds yet. With our conversation recorded at least I know he may listen to it later. The last time I had a serious talk with him he spliced my words into a Beastie Boys song that went viral. “Whatcha Whatcha... Whatcha Want!” with me replying “No More Blog.”

“I like your optimism.” Said the host. “We’ve all learned that they will not change and unless you are ready to hack and delete their pages we’ve got to find a way to live in their world.”

“Thanks. I tried to vary my pitch and volume to give him little to work with. He’s always been pretty good at sound editing though.”

“I’d like to go next.” Said Rachel as she sat down with a fresh donut. “I’m Rachel from SheWillAlwaysBeMyLittleGirl.com”

“Hi Rachel.com.”

“My dad wrote me a letter this week responding to an email I sent him. All I told him was that I wished I didn’t have pictures of me online from every awkward age growing up. To him they may be cute and at the time maybe they were but now I can’t hide from them. I told him that when I look in the mirror all I see is every flaw from childhood. He seemed genuinely sympathetic and wrote me a poem.”

“That is really great, Rachel. Would you like to read it to us.”

What moon songs do you sing your baby?

What sunshine do you bring?

Who belongs? Who decides who's crazy?

Who rights wrongs where others cling?

I'll sing for you if you want me to

I'll give to you

And it's a chance I'll have to take.”

Tyler squirmed in his seat and spoke up. “Oh man, Rachel. Holy shit! Your dad’s passing a Smashing Pumpkins song off as his poem to you. Damn! That’s low! I’ve had damn near every 90’s alternative song used as the backdrop in my childhood home movies. I hate that shit.”

“I knew it was too good to be true. I bet he spent more time choosing the font. He’s always going on and on about fonts. I think he only speaks to me in headlines sometimes.”

“Sorry about that Rachel. That really sucks. To you all. I’m new to the group. My name is Mark from ItsGonnaLeaveAMark.com”

“Hi Mark.com.”

“I thought I was alone all these years in my feelings. I thought I was being too selfish and judgemental and then I realized that it was he who was being selfish and narcissistic. There isn’t a movie from my youth out there for me to enjoy because all I see is my face cropped into the movie posters. I think my dad must have taken every movie made during my childhood and spliced me into it somewhere. What gave him the right to take that from me?”

“Your anger is justified Mark.com and your feelings are valid.” The host said. “May I suggest you watch something that he didn’t use?”

“I have! All I can enjoy is Japanese Animation and I hate Japanese Animation! I don’t know what’s going on and I always think I’m gonna have a seizure.”

“Most of us have tuned out from the digital world.” Said Rachel. “We get together and play parcheesi. You should join us after group. We don’t take pictures and listen to vinyl so there is no digital record. God, my dad would love to stream my listening habits online."

"My dad blogger would love to write a post about that." Added Mark.com.

Automated Chicken Coop 2.0 - Off the Grid

coop
Years back when Mrs. Stork said she wanted chickens I agreed as long as I was able to build the coop. Actually, I said no for years and finally caved when I started lurking in the dark corners of the internet and learned about automated chicken coops. Actually, I've always spent time in the dark corners of the internet... I just didn't know there were chicken people there. Now that we are being honest, I should have caved long ago. My wife was right about how much fun being a chicken farmer is. Storks make good chicken farmers. Who knew?  

Okay. Automated chicken coop? During the day the hens are free to run around their enclosed space but at night they hang out in their coop... Their safe house where they are protected from elements and predators like foxes, rodents and shirtless neighbors.

Predators
For the record, our friend was checking in on the hens while we were away in the above picture. Except, we were no longer away and a few days of confusion ensued as we queried the neighbors as to the identity of the shirtless man in high waisted pants.

Back to the chickens. What's amazing is they go up into their coop naturally. The first day we put them outside they went upstairs on their own at sunset. I figured you at least would need to train them a little with a water gun and some candy corn? Nope. Sun goes down and they're ready for bed. Last call. Lights out. Goodnight John-Boy. Goodnight Jim-Bob.

And to keep the bad guys out... it's nice to have a door that shuts behind them. Those dark corners of the internet are a mess with ideas on how to solve this simple feat. Sun goes down = door closes. Sun goes up = door opens. How hard is that? One farmer has an entire Rube Goldberg setup with a timer on his garden hose that opens a valve in the morning to fill a hanging bucket of water that pulls down the door as it fills. A second timer at night does the same to another bucket that then closes the door.

I was looking for something a little less wet. Plenty of people talk about a drapery motor that people use in the house to automatically open and close miniblinds. It's a simple pulley that is on a timer that can be placed in the coop to operate on the same principle as the bucket method.

The motor has become so popular in chicken coops since I bought ours a few years ago the company now sells a modified version of it specifically for coops. Rather than a pulley, this one is more like a fishing reel that with winds or unwinds a cable attached to the door.

So, we've had this up and running beautifully and have only had a few hiccups during the occasional power surge to the house AC power supply. The door motor reverses direction whenever power is sent to the device. Ideally, at sunrise and sunset per the timer but after a power failure to the house, when power is restored, the motor would trigger and the door would close at noon if that is when the power returned.

Worse yet, the door would now open at sunset plus the time difference the power was out. Say, sunset plus 30 mins. And then close at sunrise plus 30 mins!

Chickens don't like being locked up all day and are ready to fly the coop.

To avoid this issue and ensure happy chickens and healthy eggs, I searched around those dark corners again for a battery/solar power option.

Automated Chicken Coop 2.0
12v DC motor attached to a 12v DC timer attached to a 12v DC battery attached to a 12V DC solar panel. The timer has a digital battery level display plus an override to manually run the door off cycle. For the time being, a visual indicator shows coop door position from the house or webcam but Automated Chicken Coop 3.0 will have a magnetic reed switch on the door which will send a signal to a raspberry pi computer that will push the door position to a website.

The chickens on the other hand are much more analog. They send out an old school tweet of sorts when they lay an egg. Maybe it's more of a cluck.

We Tried to Sell Our College

averett for sale

It's been twenty years since I was a college student and I returned this past weekend as an alumni to preach the airline life. These guys on campus now are kids! Many born after I started college. Not only could I be their father... I could be the father to their older siblings.

But, while on campus, naturally I was hit with a flood of memories.

A great one revolved around my graduation in 1996.

Let me start be saying this, I almost didn't walk that year. My last semester I only had two classes to take and they both were scheduled for the same time. I asked one Professor if I could audit the class and just come in for the tests. "Sure." He said.

I asked the same of the other professor.

"Of course."

Needless to say, I didn't do very well in either class.

Jump to graduation. With just a few weeks to go in my college career a friend and fraternity brother asked if I wanted to be the Senior Class President. He was the Student Government President and told me the previous position holder was just kicked out of school leaving a vacancy.

"Nope." I said. "But thanks."

"You get to make a speech at graduation." He offered.

"Sold! Where do I sign?"

"You also have to present a gift from your class during the speech."

"What's the gift?" I asked.

"You have two weeks." He said. "The previous President never secured one."

So with a few weeks to go I called the owner of a trophy factory in Tampa that I used to work at and asked if he could make me a plaque that read, "Donated by the class of 1996."

It would be on it's way in a few days.

Back to the two classes I was auditing.

If my memory serves me well I wasn't going to pass one of them and my graduation would be postponed.

I explained to the professor that I was to speak at graduation and the programs had already been printed. "They are going to have reprint all those programs at great expense?"

He gave me a passing grade. He was an economics professor.

A few days before graduation an art student friend of mine and partner in crime said he uncovered a 100 foot roll of fabric in the art studio and thought we should do something with it. Along with two other partners in crime (whose names will all remain private) we decided the best thing to do would be to make a huge "For Sale" sign and hang it from the iconic Main Hall the day of our graduation.

Naturally.

And now the planning began.

How to reveal it?

Wires and cables... timed explosives.

One of the foursome, who I will call Beaver, figured the best way was the simplest.

"We walk up the steps and unroll it." Beaver said.

"And won't they see us?" The man known here as Milo offered.

"We will walk up in our graduation gowns." Beaver said. "And then on the way down we will take them off telling anyone who asks that a few guys in cap and gowns did it."

Naturally.

And that is exactly what we did.

me at graduation

And about the gift?

I presented the plaque that read, "Donated by the class of 1996" to the college President and suggested they put it in front of a building or tree or park bench... or whatever really.

While at the mic I asked the President since I came all this way could I say a few more things?

"Of course Mr. Stork."

Who really knows what I said. I was reading a lot of Vonnegut at the time so I may have said something about enjoying every sandwich. But I do remember reading a few lines from Dr. Seuss and then wishing the faculty good luck during the sale.

To Goa With Love

photo-1.JPG
photo-1.JPG

With the luxury of non revenue travel also comes the joy of spontaneous adventure. Our trip to India would begin with either a flight from Newark into Delhi or Mumbai. We had tentatively prepared an itinerary around Delhi being our entry point but when that flight was full and we were able to score the last two seats on the outbound Mumbai flight we had to rearrange things a bit.

The first of which was to find some place to stay upon arriving at nine pm after a 14 hour flight. A quick room was booked by Susan on her iPhone in her middle seat two rows behind me before the order was given to turn off all electronic devices. Since we were the last to board.... and had bags to stow... this had to be done in minimal time. Although we got an auto reply confirmation that the room was booked we did not get confirmation that transportation would be waiting for us upon arrival. I was hoping for a man with a Stork sign. See these guys every day but never had the luxury myself. Since all we had was an address and no international data plan we would be reliant on the prepaid taxi driver to get us to bed.

We chose the hotel based on a google maps search for its proximity to the airport and the number of positive reviews it had on hotels.com. All was set. Except our driver didn't know where it was as evidenced by his frequent stops to ask other drivers and his exaggerated hand gesturing to his roster with the hotel name on it. Apparently it wasn't where the dispatcher at the airport said it was and was more than the quoted "prepaid" fee. We were lost on the streets of Mumbai surrounded by traffic, congestion and stifling heat.

Bumper to bumper traffic in India is exciting enough without a lost and angry taxi driver who appears to be close to kicking you out for under payment.

From the backseat, we called AT&T and ordered some international data and secured not only our location on Google maps but that of our destination and were able to direct our driver to the red pin on the map. "A few more blocks," I'd say with no guarantee he understood me. What on the map was just a few miles took over an hour to reach.

Our first two nights in India were on Mumbai's Juhu Beach at the Sun and Surf hotel, which apparently is often frequented by Bollywoods elite (or so Wikipedia says). I naturally assumed any handsome couple by the pool was said "elite"... just as they naturally assumed I was a rich American tech startup guru. Although not the most conveniently located for exploring by foot it was easy to hire a driver to take us around and he waited for us at each stop to show us our next destination.

IMG_20120628_055109.jpg
IMG_20120628_055109.jpg

After two days on the beach we decided to research our next stop. Since Goa was an easy an affordable flight from Mumbai with lots of hotel options... we booked tickets on Jet Konect for the next day. Goa has plenty of resort options during the peak season with beach and water sport activities but we assumed those places would have limited offerings during monsoon season (now). To ensure we would be entertained we found an inn in the heart of Goa's capital city, Punajim. The inn is five generations owned and blocks from the market district. An open outdoor second level dining patio which according to the in room guide book allows guests to "sit on old style chairs and marble top tables over a beer or local feni or sipping a juice, one can observe local town people go about their mundane chores. A little imagination - down memory lane to better times, to an old fashioned world of chivalry and you can envision youthful Romeo's serenading comely damsels from below the balconies or perhaps almost hear the wistful lament of Portuguese Fado emerge from the shadows of twilight. A comfortable bed, good food and drink, an informal warmth and friendly and caring staff soon make the Panajim Inn a romantic home away from home."

The inn is amazing. Since it is off season we had our choice of any room for the same 'basic deluxe' price. Roughly $40 usd a night. We are on the second floor with a balcony overlooking a courtyard with a day school behind it. Having no clock, we are awoken each morning by the school kids running down the alley to class.

On the first day I asked a man down the street if I was going to rain today. He said it's going to rain for the next four months.

As of today, we have been here for two days with plans to leave for Mumbai tomorrow. Although the forecast has called for "rain with spells of heavy rain" we've had no trouble getting out taking a tour of a spice plantation, visiting 16th century churches and shopping the street vendors of Goa. We are off to talk to a friend we've made across the street and then hire a taxi to take us to see some temples. After we hope to have dinner at a local Goan establishment our new friend told us about. Although it's not as good as his moms food, he said.

My Feet Were Fish Food

image
image

I sat with my bare feet dangling into a tank training a few hundred recently imported Chinese flesh eating fish to not only welcome my feet but to think the crust buildup from walking the streets of Mumbai is down right delicious. The "Dr. Fish Foot Treatment" at The Bambooo House (three o's) is temporarily off the menu after their tank sprang a leak killing all the pedicure providing fish. The new recruits aren't currently up to the task yet and are being trained (and starved) by employee volunteers until they are no longer skittish around wiggling toes and are eager for human consumption. "You can try them out if you please. Complimentary, of course." Said the owner mistaking my inquiries for interest in the procedure. "Rather, they can try me out?" I reply. "Yes, yes. You can help train them. They may just run away. But maybe they won't." "It's the maybe they won't I worry about?" "No charge, of course. Sir, no charge" "No, I mean if they don't run away, but are untrained, will they bite too hard? Will I pull my foot out and they not know to let go? "They have very little teeth, sir. Nothing to worry about." I've never had a pedicured or a foot massage before and have no frame of reference on this one so I cannot say with authority that fish do a better job removing dead skin from a man's hairy foot that their loofah wielding human counterpart. But, I can say this. They are much less judgemental. I was much less hesitant to stick my foot in the face of a fish than a fellow human.

Six Pound Challenge - Failed!

6 pound challenge - failed

In high school... I could eat! I was a growing boy. I was always hungry and never gained weight. I was invincible. Or so I thought. There was (maybe still is) a restaurant in Tampa that offered a six pound challenge. Ninetysix ounces of beef for the willing. Eat it all and the table eats for free. I rolled in there with my family like I owned the place. I was so young and confident... I even took my girlfriend. The whole family gathered around to watch... they ordered what they wanted because surely we'd all be eating for free.

The place really knew who to do it up. The chef came out with a cow bell and a bullhorn to announce that "this young man thinks he can take the challenge! This, friends and family, is not for the faint of heart! If you have a heart condition, are pregnant or may think you may be... you should not watch."

Dads brought their kids over to look and held them high to watch the spectacle. They looked at me and then their kid thinking, "one day Son, you may make me this proud."

The challenge was six pounds of beef in an hour. I'm no expert on steak but I do know this. That steak sucked. It was so huge I couldn't cut all the way though it. I had to chop triangular wedges out of it like I was an axeman besting a redwood trunk. Several times I had to send it back because I'd hit a raw spot. And for every raw spot there was patch of meat as tough as leather.

By the time the clocked stopped I think I finished a little over four pounds. I may have been able to continue but my jaw was sore. So tired of chewing. Mouth fatigue.

And I left with my picture hanging in the four pound section of the "wall of shame." Right there along with all the other over confident "I can eat anything" losers.

But the funny part is this.

When I went off to college, leaving high school behind starting anew and reinvented, I was a six pound champion. Somewhere along the lines I told the story of how I ate six pounds of meat and from there the legend grew. I again was invincible.

A few years later when I took a college friend home the topic came up of where to go for dinner. My brother (pictured above with the look of awe at the shear size of the challenge before me) suggested we go to the steakhouse.

"Nah, I don't feel like going there," I said. Knowing I'd be caught in a lie.

"Hey, isn't that the place with your picture?" My friend asked.

"Yeah, I think so. How about seafood?" I offered.

Soon, we were on our way to the steakhouse where we would find my crushed ego.

Preemptively, I confessed. "Listen, about that challenge. I'm not the man I've portrayed myself to be. I never actually finished the ninety six ounces. I failed the challenge. I failed you."

And then the tears of betrayal began. The cries about shattered confidences. Between the sobs I could make out "How could you!"

When we got there I learned the steakhouse had burned down and been rebuilt since then erasing all the awards and photos.

But, I was able to sleep easy with a clear conscience... after a nice salad with a side of confession.

A tale of two snowmen

A tale of two snowmen

Our neighborhood in Baltimore is situated between several colleges and universities and therefor we have many student renters living on our block. It gives me the chance to often think back and realize what a horrible tenet I must have been - back in the day. When we ran out of oil for the furnace we would burn garbage in the fireplace and all sleep in the living room.During the snow storm last week several snowmen sprung up after the weather cleared. The boys to our right are athletes (I had to spell check athlete) while the boys to our left have a drum kit that they practice on early in the morning. When looking at the snowmen, I'm certain you can guess whom belongs to whom.

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Baby makes days hazy

2010-08-25-12.01.1511.jpg

Since Judah's been with us... we've been a little spacey. People had said this would happen... but I doubted them. I run a pretty organized ship, both inside and out of the cockpit. Few things are left to chance and procedures are followed to ensure the desired outcome.

This morning, I forgot the second to last step in making a cup of coffee - Place cup under spout. I didn't forget the last step - Press "brew".

Make a High Contrast Mobile from Instructables.com

I'm not sure if Judah is going to grow up to be a pilot or a giraffe trainer... he spends a lot of time looking up at the ceiling. The area above his crib is pretty plain so I thought I'd make a mobile for him to look at while he drifts off to sleep listening to music from his Ipod (Docked, or course. They don't make earbuds his size.)

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My short career as Chris Winston - Overnight Disk Jockey

After college, or maybe it was during, I had a job for about a year or so as an overnight DJ at an adult contemporary AM radio station in a small town in Southern Virginia. Actually, it wasn't just an AM station. It was, and still is, AM stereo which has been struggling to gain a foothold ever since that pesky FM came along. The signal actually sounds pretty good if you have an AM stereo receiver and you avoid driving under any overpasses... or during the rain. Or at night.I spun easy listening adult contemporary hits from 10 pm to 6 am and had a very small but loyal following of mental ward inmates and insomniacs. You'd be surprised to know there are many people who call in at 3 am to request songs or comment on current events. Not only are there regulars... there are fans! I had a guy call in most every night to predict the air quality index for the next day. At first I thought he was a 70's era prank caller who'd ring just to breathe heavy into my ear hoping that did the trick but during our relationship I learned he suffered from an assortment of breathing related issues and probably lived in an iron lung. Often, he would call to request the "Air that I Breathe" by The Hollies on what he hoped would be a good Air Quality Index day. He'd cough it into the phone, "It's gonna be a good day, Winston. Could you play my song?" I assumed the on-air persona of Chris Winston because I thought Chris Stork sounded too much like Chris-Dork. It was college - things like that bother you at that age. Actually, you never get over being called Chris Dork as a kid. Also, remember... this was the South. I wanted a name that fit in. Chris Winston I hoped would remind people of Winston-cup Racing or Winston cigarettes. I figured people would trust me. Like Tom Brokaw. Personally, I liked Winston as in John Winston Lennon but no one ever called to say, "Play some Lennon, Winston. Wink Wink." Another regular was the "Bob Dylan guy". Nope, he didn't call to request Bob Dylan as you'd think. He hated Dylan and called to tell me so every time I played something off of "Highway 61 Revisited". Often, on long quiet nights at the Stereo AM station when nothing fun was coming over the raw news feeds and old Bette Midler tracks weren't cheering me up - I'd play a Dylan tune and stare at the phone like a grade school kid would after meeting the girl of his dreams at the roller skating rink. (Ps... this never happened to me. Not just the girl of my dreams part - the girl part. I couple skated with my aunt when I got tired of busting my ass trying to play Pole Position with roller-skates on. Stupid skating rink! If you ever find a hole in the space-time continuum and end up owning a skating rink in the 80's... never put in games with gas pedals. The rented shoes have wheels on the for Christs' sake!) But, the Bob Dylan guy. I'd play a tune and he would call to tell me how he wrote that song and sent it to Bob "when he was still going by Robert Allen Zimmerman! That traitor!" Apparently my fan was a poet and sent most of his stuff in letters to Dylan and once "Zimmerman arranged to meet me to talk about my papers." He told me this often. Actually, he told me this every time he called. I forget the song he'd quote but he pulled it apart during every call to explain to me the clues about how Dylan was talking directly to him. "See, he's telling me when and where to meet him. I went... he never showed. I think he thought if we met I'd demand he give me money for my songs! I'd tell him I gave him those songs! Not now though. When we meet, he's gonna pay me for that!" So, on long, lonely nights... I'd play a Dylan tune to send the call out to my fan. I'd aim that bat signal at the asylum the surely existed within our coverage map. Although this was the mid 90's, most of the tracks we played were digital so we would line up the songs in a cue using a touch screen. You could drop in a Public Service Announcement or a Promo for a Church bake sale into the mix or even record your voice as a track plugging the upcoming songs. I'd play a game where I'd do the math backwards between when I wanted my recorded voice to play and the current time so I'd get the time spot on during my interlude. "It's 3:37 and 25 seconds in the morning and up next is a classic from Bette Midler." I'd say even though it was recorded hours before. I'd line up a number of songs and few recordings of myself and take a break to walk around the station or use the restroom. The audio board we used in the booth had faders for all the various inputs including several raw news feeds for breaking news or the news we'd play at the top of the hour. Once, I had lined up a half hour of long songs and a few PSA's and went out to sit in the early morning air. During 7 minute and 37 second Moody Blues' "Night in White Satin" I starting to hear faint voices under the the orchestral center of the song. The voices were about tornado's and destruction and people losing their homes. I listened in and tried to clear the early morning fog from my mind and thought, "I've never heard this part of the song before. I've heard this songs dozens of times and never heard this before!" When I heard the ABC news audio slug and the countdown for the 30 second version of the sound bite I realized I had left one of the faders up and it was bleeding out over the air and under the Moody Blues. Luckily, it was 3:37 in the morning and those listening probably enjoyed the confusion... or were confused already. This was just one of many errors I made during my career as an overnight DJ. I once played Elvis' "Pretty Paper" in June not realized it was a Christmas tune. I ended it with, "Let me be the first to wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas." I retired from that job have never gained the fame I hope would come with the job. I never had a fan run into me on the street and beg for my autograph on a part of her body. The closest I came was once I had a lady on the other end of the drive-thru machine at a biscuit restaurant (named BiscuitVille, of course) say I sounded familiar. When I pulled up I asked if her she recognized my voice yet? She said "no" and even though I told her my stage name it still didn't ring a bell. Maybe Chris Dork would have been more memorable?

My dream of having a band of minstrels.

minstrel_svirac2-150x1501.jpg

On days when the air is still and fog forms over a river, it looks like the Great Wall of China is snaking its way across the Earth. Since many state lines overlay rivers, each state is safely protected from their neighbor. Unless you're driving a VW... it can safely pass through. When I was driving to DCA the other morning, I knew it may be an interesting day as each bridge I drove over suddenly had zero visibility. Reagan National Airport is on the Potomac River (damn that L'Enfant) and was invisible from the employee parking lot. Of course, I didn't call ahead to see if my flight was delayed. We should have the same text alert feature provided to passengers. "Captain, your flight is delayed. The inbound plane making up your flight is holding and soon will divert to an airport with dozens of other planes all in line for fuel too. And then they will all try and depart at the same time, which as you know - ain't gonna happen. Go back to bed. We will send you an alert when we need you."

I never got that SMS. I, along with many others, waited for the fog to lift. I ate the breakfast I brought. Later, I ate my lunch. I entertained old ladies with my silly stories and scared a man when he told me why it wasn't dangerous to take off in the fog.

"If the shit hits the fan," I told him. "And we need to return to the field, there's nowhere to go."

Actually, the fog was only over the airport and there would be plenty of available take-off alternates. He had already gotten under my skin though and his wife, who was in earshot, was a nervous flier.

Oh, the band of minstrels?

We finally departed and got to our destination hours late. The passengers for our next flight were anxiously Greaseawaiting our arrival. They applauded as we walked up to the boarding area. (We weren't taking the same plane that we brought in so they were at a different gate.) They were a lively bunch... they were the cast of the Broadway show Grease and were traveling back to New York after a performance on the road. Several of the band members had their instruments out and were playing for the other stranded passengers.

We were there and the passengers and bags were there - all we needed was an airplane. Danny Zuko told me it had just left. He said the gate agents told them it was needed for another flight but their spirits were lifted when they saw us. Then they sang,

You're the one that I want (you are the one I want), ooh ooh ooh, honey The one that I want (you are the one I want), ooh ooh ooh, honey The one that I want (you are the one I want).

I told them "I'll get us an airplane! We are going to New York!"

Again, they applauded.

One of the stage hands said, "I like a can-do Captain!" He slapped me on the back and added, "Make it happen, Captain!"

There was a pretty good chance we weren't going to New York. The fog had slowed things down and planes were stuck everywhere. My fears were confirmed when I called dispatch and heard commotion in the background. It sounded like a triage unit setup outside a natural disaster. "You're where! But your plane is... uhho. You're not gonna like this." He put me on hold and I smiled to Sandy Olsson.

minstrel_svirac2Dispatch came on the line and said, "I gotta plane for you. It's on the ground. It's at the gate."

I told the passengers over the PA, "Off to gate 48!"

And they followed me like I was the Pied Piper. A man played a stringed instrument behind me. I realized all this time the only thing missing from my life was a traveling band of minstrels to follow me where ever I go.

Since storms cancelled our evening with The Flaming Lips - I had to go to Youtube.

Well, The Flaming Lips show in Philadelphia turned into “A bit of a bath - a big bath” (to quote the Woodstock documentary - although theirs was in reference to the bath the promoters would take upon getting the bill for the festival.) Although we had a nice evening and some great Indian cuisine downtown with some friends at Karma, our evening of Lips was cut off after about 6 songs when storms rolled in from the West and forced us all into the air conditioned “too unbearably hot outside” tent. Or in our case, the air conditioned and cold “too rainy for outside” tent. Actually, first Susan and I cut through the rain into an unused beer tent that had since closed up shop. We were dry for about 60 seconds until we were forced to vacate our dry dwellings by a water saleslady, “You’re not allowed in there!” In the larger tent we waited for the storm to pass while I watched the Weather Channel app on my Google Phone draw red cells around “our current location”. We were warned about the possibility of storms before the set started and were assured by the band they'd play as long as the weather cooperated and the promoters said it was safe. First came the rain and they played on - then the lightning. After an hour in the tent, and amidst the worst of the thunder and lightning, the staff announced we should leave, "the show is over." Although I was optimistic up until this point, I figured the venue had a curfew and this couldn't go on for ever. We left during the Philly accented and encouraging, “you’s all should leave now” but I knew the tone would turn less pleasant as I already heard a few staff grumble about how they were supposed have gone home 5 minutes ago. Into the rain we went. We regrouped with friends at Dave and Busters next door and played video games in wet clothes to wait until the weather gave us the time to walk to the hotel. Sitting in wet clothes at video games took me back to Adventure Island in Tampa and playing Pole Position in a wet bathing suit. Much like then, I’d have hated to be the kid in the seat after me. Ah well, all in all the bit of the set we saw was fun. Lots of confetti and balloons and great music. Next time, we will have to see them inside in August.

Amazon needs to make the Kindle more social

It's hard to talk about what you are reading when it's on a Kindle. It's always, "How do you like the Kindle?"

Never, "Oh, Nora Roberts! One of my favorites. Have you read any of her other books?"

This also has benefits. I'm not embarrassed when I'm reading the book after the movie came out and there is a picture of Will Smith on the cover or something with a naked lady on the it like Lady Chatterley's Lover

What the Kindle needs is a way for me to share digitally with other Kindle owners what I'm reading and what I think about it. They need to make it more social. I've used Shelfari for a few years to display my bookshelf digitally and to discover new authors through other readers with similar interests. Recently, Amazon bought the website so I'm hoping they are planning on tackling this issue. I'd like for the books I buy through the Kindle to show up on my Shelfari shelf along with my progress as I read them. If I post a comment or bookmark a page on the Kindle, I'd like for it to transfer digitally to my page. Then I should be able to subscribe to my 'friends' shelf and have it synced with my mine. If I'm reading a book a friend has, it will tell me and alert me if one of them has commented on or bookmarked the page I'm on.

Currently, I can subscribe to RSS feeds and have them emailed to my @Kindle email address daily on my device. I should be able to subscribe to a Shelfari feed and have it compared to my feed and have those results synced with my device at the appropriate time.

The thing missing from my digital reading experience is the conversation that surrounds a book when you're reading it in public. "Oh, I just love Nora Roberts!"

Holds and diverts and storms, oh my.

Bos - Mke - Ind This was our third leg for the day. We began in Omaha around 2Pm and flew Omaha to Milwaukee and then off to Boston. Boston to Milwaukee had us holding over Grand Rapids for 30 mins before we made the call to run to Indianapolis for more gas. You're holding over Michigan with fuel burning away and planes above and below you all doing the same - thinking about plan B. Chicago has been in and out of holding patterns for most of the day and airports are full of diversions already. This means a long wait for fuel and the potential for the Passenger Bill of Rights to be an issue. We've got a full flight and several infants on board that can be heard through the bullet proof cockpit door. To make things even more fun, our APU is inoperative which means we have no air conditioning on the ground and I am certain that if a dozen planes are waiting for fuel already, no one is going to be in too much of a hurry to get a ground air cart for us.

So looking around at where to land while the engines are chug chug chugging at our fuel. Dispatch and I decide Indianapolis is a good option and we have enough fuel to make it - if we leave "Right Now". And then Milwaukee calls to say the airport should re-open soon. But, if we wait and commit to it - no plan B if it closes again. It has opened and closed twice since we've been within earshot of them so the odds are pretty good that if it does open soon, it will close again before we get there. And then there is the "Right Now" line.

Indianapolis it is. Fly fast and burn more gas or fly slow and save some in case we need it for something else? There is weather in Indiana as well. Fly slow. "Folks, I know I told you it will be 40 mins until we land but it's going to be an hour."

Luckily for us, no one has landed in Indianapolis yet and we're first in line for fuel - but our crews have gone home for the night and Airtran is there to help. "How do you turn the light on in your baggage bin? Where does the aircart connect to the airplane? How many people does this palne seat?"

And I'm arranging for fuel and paperwork to release us to Milwaukee and the crying baby and the people that have connections and there is a cancelled flight next door so can we put more people on your plane and wow - it really is getting hot back there. What happened to the aircart?

Lets spin an engine to cool things off. Oh, we can't spin an engine. They are bringing more bags over now because of the cancelled flight and the cargo door is near the engine so it can't be spun until we load the bags.

"How do you turn that cargo door light on again?" They ask.

I tell the passengers the story, again. I ask them if they want to join me in the jetway, it is much cooler and it shouldn't be too much longer. A man is off to see his daughter give birth. She is in the hospital waiting for him. I tell him my last name is Stork and draw up the obvious connections. He laughs. So do others. Buys me some time.

The puzzle is coming together now. We've got the fuel and the paperwork and the extra bags and people now. Lets go to Milwaukee. The weather is still there and there is no good way to go around it... Time to pick our way through some storms.

Ind - Mke

The amazing thing about thunderstorms at night is that the moisture in the air carries the light from the lightning for miles after a strike. Even though we're not in any thunderstorms, with each strike the cockpit lights up so bright you're blinded for a moment. "I've asked our flight attendants to remain seated for their safety."

Air traffic controllers are talking to us but we've got this cell we're trying to fly around and we'll have to get back to you. And dispatch sends a message, "Ha! I did such a great job filling you around the weather and you decided to go right up the middle of it!"

No choice... the line has some breaks in it. And it does... aside from a great light show and few sizable bumps, we make it to Milwaukee to drop off a few, pick up a few and head to Minneapolis for the night.

What makes or breaks a night like this is the crew your assigned to. As the Captain, I have to be able to trust my team will do their jobs and allow me to delegate where need be. The great crews are the ones who know what needs to be done without hesitation and do so with a positive attitude. My crew easily handled all of our issues and even though we were tired and hungry - did so without hesitation and with a smile. This kept our passengers happy but more importantly - me happy!

Reading about the death of newspapers - in the New York Times - on my Kindle

Since owning a Kindle, I have paid for more printed news content in a year than I have in the whole of my literate life. Oh, I've been a reader of news for a long time, I just read what I find... and spending as much time in airports as I do, I find a lot. I stole a Wall Street Journal from a sleeping guy once. I got a shoe shine in ATL on a long sit just so I could read a Financial Times. And I can't tell you how many times I've lifted the complimentary copy of papers outside the premium members door in hotels.But, since owning a Kindle... I pay a monthly price for The Baltimore Sun (5.99) a few NYTimes and Wall Street Journals a week (.75 each) and a handful of magazines. While certainly not enough to cover the operating expenses of these papers, it is significantly less cost to them. Could the industry as a whole gather their forces to market this medium? Could the power players subsidize the cost of Kindles to its premium print subscribers along with a contract on digital subscriptions? I enjoy consuming my news digitally and look forward to more Kindle versions before the print Papers go out of business all together. And no inky fingers!

I never got many Gold Medals - But I used to make them.

medalI once quit a job without giving two weeks notice. I quit after my lunch break. The boss wasn’t surprised at all. I think she even wondered why it took so long like it was a bet amongst the bosses. Each day that went by with me still on the line was another nickel in the jar.I worked at a trophy factory in Tampa and made the medals people wear around their neck after winning track meets and what not. For some reason we made lots of medals for the PBA - "The Police Benevolent Association" and I thought that if I ever got pulled over I could use this as a conversation starter. I was on an assembly line and would be given scalding hot medals from out of the mold and was to sand down the edges on a steel-brush sander until they were smooth and round. Like when Christmas cookies come out with bits that cooked under the Santa mold. My job was to remove those bits with spinning bristles of steel. These were very hot cookies and shards of lead would fly off everywhere. Along the line there were several of us with varied levels of sanders in front of us. The first would sand off the rough edges with each in the line making the edges smoother until the last in line had a very fine sander that polished the final product. Although each on the line spoke a different language... I was the only one who could communicate with any of them. On Tuesdays, it was my day to control the radio - I got news from the outside this way. We were in a hot windowless room. Often while sanding the medals I would secretly sharpen a screwdriver into a fine point to make a shiv for the day I broke free. I would tuck it under my lab coat when one of the bosses walked by. We had to wear lab coats to keep the shards of medal off our clothes. Once, I had my coat open and got it caught in the sander when I took a big old "look how many medallions I’ve completed" stretch. The sander instantly pulled me up to the machine and was sanding my already hairless chest until the Korean guy next to me turned off the power to my machine. He gave me a pat on the back as if to say, "This is why we keep our coats buttoned you little jackass who plays stupid music on Tuesday." The next day, the “No accidents in 300 days" sign changed to "No accidents in 1 day". So, I quit one day when I couldn’t take it anymore. I didn’t even have to use my weapon.

Lost and Found - Mixtape in the gutter from "Yo Boy Billy"

Yo Boy Billy

Press Play

I found this CD in the gutter up the street the other day while out walking the dog. Apparently, Emily has moved on. The disk may have fallen out of her car but I think she frisbee'd it out the window and it bounced off a tree. From what I can gather... she's with someone else now. These things happen. But, to give Billy some credit. He does have a nice ear for expressing himself through overused popular music. I can't compliment him on his handwriting though. Or his heart-drawings for that matter.

But, what can you do? You can get pissed and let her know it about 4 tracks in! Start off nice and sweet and then! Yeah! Take that. "Don't touch my girl." I'm not sure who sings this song - (I am old) - but it really fires me up! If i were a pissed off 16 year old - this would speak to me. But then I'd balance it with a classic.

"Hey Dad, what was that song they used for Michelle Obama? The blind guy?"

And then The BloodHound Gang? Really... gonna win her back with this?

But then we go way back to the 90's. I think I may have used a few of these songs for the same purpose. Regardless of generation, all broken heart mixtapes have a Cure track. When I mixed in The Cure, I think I had to pull if off a tape. Damn. Do they still make blank tapes? I forget who that tape was for. I wonder if she still has it? It probably ended up in a gutter somewhere. Some guy remixed I bet.

Ah well, Yo Boy Billy. I wish you the best. It may be time for some "Journey."

I got some lip from a ROBOT

I called to check on room availabilities at a few hotels in Towson for my parents when they come to visit next month. Google, of course, gave me a few pushpins just a few miles up the road so I started calling. What's amazing is that with each call to the front desks, they sent me off to some call center somewhere to field my questions on room rates and availabilities. I'm a mile away asking a question to a lady who could be my neighbor and soon I'm off to another part of the world talking to someone who pronounces Baltimore wrong.

With one call, I get sent to Lilly who speaks remarkably crisp and quite lovely. She asks the standard questions and when given my turn to respond, my questions are standard as well. "I'm wondering if you have any rooms for the weekend of Oct. 4th?"

"That weekend. Let me checking. I am checking. Yes, we have a standard suite available with one king bed and an attached living room for a rate of $116 a night and cancellation up until the day of for no charge. You can book now if you have a major credit card or online at our website."

I ask a follow up. "I may have more guests, can you tell me if you have another room for that weekend?"

"You can cancel up until the day of arrival for no charge either over the phone at this number or on our website." She answers.

"No. I'm not asking that. I have another...."

"I can't answer that," She steps in. "You can cancel for no extra charge by calling this number or online at our website."

"No, I need to know." I start to ask until she jumps in with the cancellation routine. Now I'm thinking. Although very human, she sounds very mechanical.

While she's talking, I interrupt her with some Ferris Bueller, "I'm afraid that in my weakened condition, I could take a nasty spill down the stairs and subject myself to further school absences."

She cut me off mid-stride with, "I cannot help you with that. Good-bye."

God knows I'm a fan of the geeky or side of things and I wouldn't mind having a robot of my own to answer questions directed my way but at some point we the customers need to be right again.