Friday, September 30, 2005

Boat stuff continued: working conditions

For Tess – yes, there was a ‘pecking order’ on the ship among the aviation group. The main division was between the ship’s company, those assigned to the carrier as permanent duty, and the aviation group, that came on board just for a cruise. Each group thought they were more important – of course, the ship would not move without the permanent ship’s company there to keep things going, and of course there was no reason for a carrier if the planes were not there to fly.

Ship’s company involved jobs such as keeping the engines running, driving the boat, cooking the food, running the laundry, painting and maintaining all equipment on the boat, running the catapults and landing gear, and so on. The aviation group just worked the airplanes and kept them flying. Aviation got to go up on the roof and see the sun, the other guys were down below in the dark keeping things running. We called the engine guys ‘snipes’, don’t know why, but they were visible in the mess hall as the pale guys covered in grease. I don’t know what they called us – but I remember the term ‘airdales’. We were about evenly divided; about 2,500 guys in ship’s company and about 1,500 in the squadrons that came on board for cruises.

Now I was enlisted, so I am talking about the majority of the workers here. The officers were also divided, major between the brown shoes and the black shoes. Also between work - the guys driving the ship were higher up than the guys in charge of the laundry, and so on. Among the pilots the fighter pilots usually had a higher opinion of themselves than the attack aircraft crew, going on down to the guys that flew cargo planes. But all of the pilots were nice to the helicopter crews. Whenever we had flight ops there was a helicopter flying. It was there to pick up guys that fell over the side and to save any pilots that might go into the water, due to a catapult malfunction, landing error, or for any other reason. It was a tradition for a pliot rescued by the copter to give the copter crew a bottle of good booze. Makes you realize how often it happens if every pilot keeps a little stock of bottles 'just in case'.

Among the air crew there was another set of responsibilities. The guys in charge of the deck were at the top – I don’t remember all the colors, sorry, but these were the ship’s company guys that directed activity, showed planes where to go, ran the catapults, handled the landing wires and such (I think they had yellow). Next came the red shirts – the weapons handlers. They moved and loaded the bombs, rockets and bullets and were up there because it was so easy to be injured or blown up. Next were the green shirts (my color), we fixed the aircraft systems and kept the planes running. Then came the fuel crew, the engine mechanics, and down at the bottom were the brown shirts, the ‘plane guards’. Each plane had one person, the plane guard, assigned. He basically lived with the plane, kept it polished, helped the pilot get on and strapped in, and mainly just acted as if it was his plane (well, it was). But because they were not technical an any one area they were not looked upon as being highly educated because most of the time they washed the planes and kept them polished.

The reason for the colors is obvious when you are there. A flight deck during flight ops is a very busy, noisy, dangerous place. As I described, jet engines are capable of pushing those planes very fast. So they suck in a lot of air up front and push it all out the back. Everyone wears head protection – too easy to bang your head on low wings and bombs and stuff – goggles and ear protection. Either ear plugs or big ear covers or both. Almost everyone that worked in aviation comes away with tinnitus (ringing ears) because of all the high pitched loud sounds, even with protection. If a plane director is told of a problem with a plane he wants to be able to see who is around that can take care of it. If a plane needs fuel he can grab a member of the fuel crew, if the pilot has radio problems he grabs a green shirt, if a bomb looks funny he grabs a red shirt, and so on.

For the danger part, there are several aspects. First comes from the items being dealt with. Big planes being filled with aviation fuel. The fuel crew drag big hoses around the flight deck, plugging them in to planes up in the wind. And then there are the munitions being loaded on the planes. We all had to wear steel toe safety shoes, but even with those, it was all too easy to have a five hundred pound bomb drop while being loaded, and many toes were crushed. We never had any fuel fires or accidental weapons firing or explosions on our Med cruise.

Yes, accidental weapons firing. After a plane is loaded it is always checked again, and perhaps things are repaired or changed. There are safety pins and stuff, but if a weapons tech is testing the arming system and pulls the trigger on the flight stick it is possible to fire the guns. There were safety pins (big metal pins about a foot long) with large red streamers plugged into every bomb and rocket. These supposedly prevented the rocket from firing, or the bomb from being dropped accidentally. The red streamers made them easy to see, and they were pulled when moving to the cat before takeoff. But if something was broken then things did not work as expected. We did have bombs drop off racks during testing, even with safety pins installed.

Next is the fact that these planes are moving. When landing they are coming in at 150-200 miles per hour, hitting the deck to have the tailhook grab a wire. At times the planes might be a little off, and when hooked they veer off to the side. And the wires are known to break – these are cables about three inches in diameter that stretch across the deck. They are attached to big brakes on both sides, and do stream out for a ways to slow the plane (it’s not a sudden stop, but still takes just a second or two). If a cable breaks then you have a very big heavy wire whipping across the deck at knee height, and the plane is probably moving too slowly to fly and too fast to stop. So you probably have a plane that rolls off the angel deck into the water and the whipping cable smashing into whoever is out there and whatever planes might be parked on the side. After the plane stops one of the crew takes a crowbar and unhooks the cable and the plane taxis up to the front. At times if things are busy then some planes might also be taking off from the front catapults as planes are landing on the back. But usually they first launched a wave of planes to clear the deck then landed the ones coming back.

But usually the planes had to be made ready to go off again, rather quickly. After all, they don’t do their jobs when parked. So there are planes coming in, moving around the deck, while the crews are refueling, loading bombs, fixing problems and just checking things out. It’s pretty hectic and busy. Throw in night ops, working in the dark with the ship bouncing around and a fast wind across the deck. During night ops all lights are turned off, so the pilots are not blinded when landing. So the deck workers are moving around with just little flashlights. Too easy to get run over or bump into things. With all the noise and earplugs when concentrating on your job you might not hear a plane coming at you, or going by. Several of the planes, such as the A-7, have nice big round air intakes down at waist level. People have been sucked into the engines - only one on my Med cruise, painted the island and some other planes red. Most likely the jet blast behind turning planes would blow you over. I’ve slid down the deck a few times. People are blown over the side – about weekly in the Med, more often on WestPacs (more going on).

I worked several places. Mostly maintenance, checking out equipment when the planes come back. Testing the equipment, and going through the pilot problem reports, which discuss what was not working correctly. I also worked the cat crew – standing up by the catapults when planes took off. After attachment to the catapult the pilot would do a final equipment check, then turn his engine up to full before being fired off. If there were problems the cat manager would wave us over to see if we could quickly fix something, tighten up a connection or do something fast so the plane could go. If not it was taken off the cat and moved over to the side to be looked at. And we would help the munitions guys load bombs and rockets. The little carts would jack the bombs up to weapons pylons, but they still had to be shifted to make them lock on. Rockets had to be slid by hand onto launching racks. Manual labor there.

For part of the time I was assigned to the ship intermediate maintenance group. Guys in the squadron would just diagnose and replace boxes on the planes. There were about a dozen boxes involved in the radar and weapons control systems on the A-7. We had some diagnostic machines we could plug in, and would have to figure out what box was bad when there were problems. This was part of our six month training; what parts made up the systems on our plane, and how to figure out which box went bad if a specific problem happened. We needed to have planes available, and so tried to quickly fix problems so a plane could fly again. Usually we would work on planes down in the hanger bay. Planes rode big elevators up and down from the hanger bay to the flight deck. If a plane was about to take off and the pilot detected a problem we would try to fix it up there. If we could not, and it was a critical problem, the plane would be ‘scrubbed’, or cancelled from the flight, and brought down to be repaired, replaced with a different plane for the flight.

Broken boxes were sent to the intermediate maintenance group. We worked in a shop below decks with large diagnostic machines, and opened the boxes and tried to repair them. I was trained in the Bullpup missile controller. This was a two box radio controller that guided the missile based on a pilot’s joystick movement. I would get bad boxes and try to figure out what inside them was bad. I could replace parts down to the component level. Because of vibration problems most parts in these controllers were encased in little blocks of soft plastic. These were blocks about 1x1x2 inches in size, filled with transistors and other electronic parts. I would figure out what little block was bad and replace it, test the box, and put it back in stock. Other guys in the group worked on different boxes for each airplane.

When I first started in AIMD (Aircraft Intermediate Maintenance Department) I was the new guy, and at the bottom of the totem pole. (is that a ‘politically correct’ phrase any more?) As such I was given the job of keeping the coffee pot full. There’s another Navy tradition – the drinking of vast amounts of coffee. There is always a big coffee pot in every working area on a ship. If you watch movies, especially the old WW 2 movies, about navy ships you will always see a coffee cup in hand. It was my job to keep our AIMD crew in coffee during my shift.

Back then I didn’t drink coffee. Didn’t like the stuff. So I was very disturbed at having to keep making the coffee. And getting the complaints when it didn’t taste right. Making coffee wasn’t a simple task – you had to carry this large pot (65 cup size or?) up three flights of stairs to the nearest water outlet. Up on the bow where our shop was the nearest water was up in the head next to our sleeping space. And stairs on military ships are more like ladders than stairs. In fact that is what they are called, ladders. If you’ve seen movies you will notice that the vertical rise is much more than the horizontal distance. There are steps, but you basically have to pull yourself up with your hands and cannot just walk up the stairs. Very hard when carrying a big, hot pot that still has some old coffee in the bottom. Even harder going down with a hot pot now full of water, requiring two hands to hold, not being able to see the steps, the ship moving around, and going down almost vertically anyway.

With fifteen guys in our work area it would usually take about two hours to go through a pot of coffee. I would then have to make the trek up to the head and fill it up. Back down, put in the grounds, and plug it in. All this in addition to having to do my repair work. OK, work usually involved just sitting around ‘shooting the sh*t’, but at times there were boxes to fix.

One day I was at the tap filling up the pot and looked over to see another water faucet. Digression: ships at sea may have a lot of water around them, but it is salt water, not good to drink. Ships have distillation equipment, used to take salt water and make fresh water. But this equipment is limited in how much fresh water it could make. We were therefore very restricted in fresh water use. We had to take very short showers. Clothes were only infrequently washed. And salt water was used wherever possible. This meant that the toilets used salt water instead of fresh water. Well, you’re not drinking it, and it’s all being flushed out anyway, isn’t it?

So up in the head that other faucet gave out salt water. Looking at it, I thought to myself ‘Joe, if you make really bad coffee maybe they will ask somebody else to do it’. And since I didn’t drink the stuff I didn’t care how bad it tasted. So that day I put a little salt water into the pot. Nobody said anything. So the next time I put in a little more. And then a little more.

After a few weeks I was up to about a half pot of fresh water and a half pot of salt water. At that point they didn’t realize why the coffee tasted so bad, they just decided to have someone else make it. When I say ‘they’ I mean the second class in charge of our shop, who drank the most coffee. And the new guy, of course, used fresh water. So his coffee immediately tasted better than mine. Problem solved! I was never asked to make coffee again.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Our front yard and why we moved here

Ok, still trying to alternate word entries with photo entries. I went around the yard this weekend and took some pictures. I also have some of inside, so you can compare Ana’s bathroom with mine, but don’t have those up yet.

We moved from San Diego to Vegas about two and a half years ago. For Tess- I’ll find the photos, but – we lived in our house in SD for seventeen years. It was built in 1929, which makes it pretty old for the west coast. I know, don’t even look at Europe. When our exchange student (still calling him that after twenty years) was out once we talked about seeing Paul Revere’s house in Boston, which was a hundred years old when he lived in it. Ulf laughed, as the dorm he was living in while in college was over four hundred years old. Can’t top that around here.

But 1929 was Ok for San Diego. When built it was at the end of the trolley line from downtown, in a development called Kensington. It’s on the cliffs just south of the football stadium. We couldn’t see the stadium from our house, but could see the fireworks between the trees. And the big planes when they did fly-overs for the Superbowl and big games. The house was on a half acre – pretty big lot for being so close to downtown. Lots in that area were usually small, not quite as bad as the new ones here in Vegas, but not that big.

San Diego is built on land that used to be sea bottom, and raised up very long ago. The soil is relatively soft, and washed away so what is left is a series of large flat mesas cut into different areas by canyons. Because of this it is not easy to get around the area, just because you can see a house doesn’t mean you go straight there, you have to work around the bridges and roads around the canyons. They aren’t deep – but too much to drive over. Our lot was big because it was on a canyon – one to the side and a bigger one in back. Most of our lot was flat, but in the back it dropped off down about fifty feet to the canyon bottom there. The one on the side was not as deep, but still 35 feet or so. Most lots in the area were fifty feet wide, as was ours. But because of the canyons our lot was four hundred feet deep. Nice size.

The slope into the canyon along side was about forty five degrees – a good slope. Every time it rained a little more of our yard would wash down, and in case of a big rain I was concerned that we would lose a big chunk. Looking back along the yard you could see three or four areas where big sections had washed down in the past. One area near the house had been reinforced, with telephone poles vertically and railroad ties horizontally. This was probably done in the fifty’s when there were some big rains. But since this was over forty years old the wood was rotting and starting to give away. I started replacing this with a series of concrete walls.

Because the canyons are declared ‘open space’ they are protected by the city from construction. Not as neat as a park, but still to keep some of the native country around. I could not get a permit to put up a big wall, but could do short retaining walls without permits. I had to start the walls down near the bottom and work up. The walls were about three feet (one meter) high and three feet apart. I ended up building ten walls, so it looked like a series of giant steps going up the canyon side. Ten steps; thirty feet high total and about thirty five feet deep.

The walls were about sixty feet long (20 meteres). The first one poured concrete, the rest of concrete block filled with more concrete. Then gravel filled in behind each one to make the flat step part, and the next wall set back three feet on this flat step. It took from 20 to 50 tons of gravel for each step, depending on irregularities in the slope. So building these things was a major effort, getting the blocks and steel rebar and concrete down the slope, building forms, mixing concrete, setting blocks, and then getting the pile of gravel from the front yard to the back and down the hillside. Because it was a narrow yard there was not enough room to drive stuff to the back, it all was dumped in the driveway up front then a wheelbarrow at a time moved the hundred feet or so to the back, and down the slope.

At first I moved along, but after a while nobody would come over to help any more and it ended up just B and I doing the work. So we averaged a wall a year. Yes, the ten year plan. But at the end we had the top wall level with the flat area of the yard, and it made our flat area about eight feet wider. Just in time to sell the house.

While there we added on a second story. The house was one story high, three bedrooms and two baths, about 1800 square feet. Fair size, but all the rooms were rather small and cut up, a popular style back in the 20’s. And to have two bathrooms was rather unusual. The story we heard was that this area was the first development in the country where you purchased a lot, and were provided with sidewalks and paved streets, with water, sewer, gas and power right up to the lot. You then arranged for a contractor to build a house. But to keep it a little nicer there were restrictions on how much you had to spend. Because of the requirements most homes had full hardwood floors and two fully tiled baths. We joked about the ‘mad tiler of Kensington’ – every bathroom we saw had different colors and styles of tile. One of ours was black and white, with little hex tiles on the floor. The other was pinks and turquoise, funny to say but it was rather nicely done.

We had a contractor put up a second floor, and extend one of the bedrooms downstairs. Upstairs was just a master suite – one big bedroom and a bath and walk in closet, with decks front and rear. It didn’t cover the whole house, just the back part. We had nice views, and lots of windows. The contractor did the heavy work; framing, stucco, footings, roof and so on. We did all the interior; hanging drywall, plumbing, electrical, heating hookup, and such. Lots of work, but we ended up spending less than half of what a full contract would have taken, and made it into what we wanted. We had a good architect do the design, so it matched the rest of the house and the neighborhood.

After the house we redid the back yard. Created a nice courtyard, with tropical plants and a fountain. I was president of the computer society, and other clubs in SD. Entertained a lot. One of the guys in the PC group (thanks, Cy) did barbeque – he had a huge grill. Every summer we had about a hundred people over, and Cy spent the day working on a hundred pounds of ribs (really really good stuff). So we made the yard from the skinny parallel stripes it was into a nice big courtyard and large grassy area. At one point we even had 250 rose bushes scattered around. B was busy with those.

But then the government stepped in. The freeway Interstate 15 runs from Canada down to Mexico. It was planned to go down the canyon behind our house, but from the original plans it was supposed to be cut down, and so be about sixty feet below us. Well, due to a number of lawsuits that delayed construction for several years (the three miles in Kensington was the only I-15 section from Canada to Mexico that wasn’t completed, three miles out of over 1500, not bad for the lawsuits). As part of the settlement the highway department agreed to cover some areas of the freeway and create some large parks, particularly near a school about two miles away. Because of this (so we were told) there was a lot more dirt to move. And rather than haul it away it was used to fill part of the canyon. So rather than have a road 60 feet below us it now was 20 feet below us and filled the canyon width. So it was not hidden, but visible from our upstairs windows. Ended up being eight lanes (all US freeways are getting big, especially in California) and sloped up from Mission Valley where the stadium was to a higher level.

So right behind our house was a big road on a hill. Ended up being filled with trucks, that make a LOT of noise straining up the hill, and lots of cars. During rush hours it was four lanes bumper to bumper for several hours. Right behind our house. It ended up being so noisy that we couldn’t open our windows, there was always a heavy layer of dust thrown up, and our nice courtyard was no longer pleasant to sit in because of the dirt and noise. We expected something, but not this much.

So we decided to move. For those of you not aware of house prices, San Diego is one of the top areas of the country for desirability. Home prices really are high. We were able to sell ours for a lot – after all we put in a lot of work while there, and the increase in prices also bumped things up. But because of the freeway it was difficult to find somebody that would ignore the noise. It took almost six months to find a buyer, and then because of the freeway we sold for less than other homes not on the road. Which meant that in order to buy a similar house not on the freeway we would probably have to stick in an additional $200,000 or so. Hard to justify spending so much money.

We liked San Diego, but it is rather cold there. So we looked around for someplace else to move to. We wanted to stay out West, so looked in northern California, Portland, Phoenix, and other big cities. B wanted a big city, with a large airport so we could travel (as if we had the money to) and other things you find in big cities. But San Francisco was even more expensive than SD. LA likewise, and just too big. Portland was nice, but too much rain, and because of California people selling out high and moving up house prices were about the same as SD, with really small lots. We still wanted a big lot, we liked gardening and being outside.

We were coming to Vegas to visit our daughter, and figured we might as well look here. During the six months it took to sell we came up quite a few times, and kept a real estate agent busy. It’s only a five hour drive from SD to LV, an easy weekend thing to do. Yes, Americans live in our cars, so five hours sitting is not considered excessive for a weekend trip. Over 50,000 cars come here from LA every weekend, and it’s about the same drive time. After looking all over the valley we picked an area we liked, and concentrated there. The houses in our section were built in the 70’s, and the minimum lot size by zoning is a half acre. So we had an older house (well, thirty years is OLD by Las Vegas standards) and a big lot. Most people coming here want a brand new house, so we were able to get a bigger one, with a bigger yard, for less money than buying a new house. And the new houses are cheaply built with a yard that’s less than fifteen feet deep behind the house and six fee between houses. That’s not a yard.

We looked at over fifty houses, and when ours finally sold made an offer on one of the first ones we saw – still on the market here for six months. After all the work we did on our house in SD we could see the potential, and the seller came down in price to something more reasonable. We didn’t want a pool, but with lots this big over the years almost everybody put in one. The lots were sold bare, so all of the houses were custom built, and all different. There were a few similar floor plans, but we wanted a one story (stairs not too good on our older knees). Most lots had the pool right dead center, out behind the family room. This house has the pool over on the side, so it is not consuming the yard. And we’ve been working on things ever since we moved in.

One of the most visible things has been our yard modification. When we moved in the entire yard was grass. We moved in April, and our May water bill to keep the stuff green was $400. And this was not even up to the summer heat level yet. In order to conserve water the LV water district was paying people to take out grass, so we signed up for the program and removed about 12,000 square feet of lawn. Part of the requirements of the rebate program was to put in low water trees and shrubs that would cover at least 50% of the removed grass area with shade. The water department had charts of what plants are low water and approved, and how much shade each would give when full grown. (see the water department links to the right, they still have the offer and charts up). We over planted, and put in 23 trees and several dozen bushes. We couldn’t leave bare earth, the water district suggested rock as a ground cover. B picked a color called Mojave Gold – there are about thirty distinct colors of rocks, from pinks to browns and golds to white rocks. Drive around and you can see all the variety that people picked. Ours is more like the natural desert in the area. Most people picked one inch rocks to use, we wanted something more natural and went for a mix of ‘fines’ (like sand and dirt) and quarter inch gravel. It took about 150 tons (300,000 pounds) of the stuff in order to give us a two inch layer over all the area we converted.

We did it all ourselves – some help from the neighbors. Pulled out most of the bushes that were high water dependent. We left in the two big olive trees out front, and most of the palm trees, a big one right in front and four around the pool. Left a half circle of grass out front and a big strip out back that was still more grass than we had in SD. And after two years the trees and bushes are getting big, and different ones bloom at different times of the year. The lantana is in flower almost all the time. The sage has purple flowers several times a year, whenever the rains come. Small amount last week, and they are blooming again.

So here is our yard.

Several shots of the front. You can see how nice it looks. Instead of fields of green grass we now have the brown underlayment, and lots of bushes in various shades of green. the red and yellow blooms at the front corner are Mexican Bird of Paradise. The tree over them is a Desert Museum Palo Verde, which is just a big ball of yellow in the spring. The big one behind is one of the olives.

All of them bloom – from the purple sage to several shades of yellow, and a few reds.
The other trees are mostly Chilean Mesquites, which also bloom yellow in the spring.

This one is taken from under the olive pictured above. I like it a lot. Looking forward to when the trees get high, and I can walk in the shade underneath. This is just the one side of our front from a few angles.

So that’s our front yard in the fall. No fall colors, most plants are desert plants that stay green all year. With the big dominating olive trees on both sides setting it all off. All this, and even with the trees and bushes our water bill is under $150 in the hot summer months. Lot better than grass.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Across the ocean (more boats)

We pulled out of Jacksonville and met up with our group. An aircraft carrier is considered a ‘high value asset’ in military terminology, so does not usually venture out alone. Heaven forbid if the ‘enemy’ would catch us. So all carriers go out with a group.

There is always a small boat right behind us – used to be a small destroyer but now they use special boats – called a plane guard. The purpose of the plane guard is to stop and pick up anybody that falls over the side. They always have guys on watch looking at the water to see if anyone has fallen off of the carrier. A carrier is big. When they are landing airplanes it is going very fast. There are usually dozens of planes lined up to land, some might be out of fuel or damaged. Carriers cannot stop and turn around to pick up anybody that falls off, or any planes that miss and hit the water. They’ve got to keep going and land all of the planes. Trying to turn around something that is 1,000 feet long takes several miles anyway, and lots of time. With those big blowers moving around – figure that an F-4 Phantom weighs several tons and has engines that can push it to over 1,000 mph – there is a lot of forceful wind coming out the back of a jet plane. Usually one person a week, or more, are blown off the flight deck and over the side. With everything going on usually nobody notices this has happened. Yes, there are nets around the edges, but people still get blown over them. There are people posted on the sides and back of the carrier to look for people, but the plane guard is also there.

Getting blown over and falling 90 feet would usually knock you out. Never happened to me, but we got training in how to jump and land and inflate our life vests, or use our pants as life preservers if we had to. Being on a boat meant that you could sink at any time, especially on a warship. Not too much chance of that in the Med, but it happens to smaller ships once in a while. Out of the four or five that went over the side each month they usually couldn’t find one. I think we lost ten people while on our Med cruise. Imagine being a mom and getting that knock on the door; ‘your son was lost at sea’. And with all that water around, I’m sure that some people might have been accidentally ‘helped’ over the side.

There is always a submarine that goes along. Don’t know why on this one, never knew submarine guys. There is usually a tanker and supply ship. There are at times several other boats as well.

The people that worked on airplanes are called ‘brown shoe sailors’. For some reason aviation officers as part of their uniform wear brown dress shoes. Regular Navy officers wear black shoes. So the guys assigned as ship’s company, those whose job it is to take care of the boat, are ‘black shoe sailors’ and the aviation group, who only come on to keep the planes flying, and are really just guests on the ship, are ‘brown shoe sailors’. You can tell I’m a brown shoe because I call them boats. A ‘real’ sailor would only call them ships. Boats are small things that go on ships, such as lifeboats. Doesn’t make sense, as at over 1,000 feet almost any other Navy vessel will sit on the flight deck, so if that is the rule then only carriers are ships and the rest are boats.

So our group takes off, and it takes us ten days to cross the Atlantic from Florida to Spain. I don’t know why they picked ten days. (boy, sure don’t know why a lot, eh?) With straight sailing we could do it in five days. But I guess we have to confuse the ‘enemy’ and take some unexpected path, so that if spies see us leave port they can’t radio ahead and intercept us. First stop was Rota, Spain. Well, the ships stopped. We did not get to go ashore.

We then waited for a carrier to leave the Med. At that time the Navy kept two carriers floating in the Mediterranean. Don’t know what they do now. We had to wait for the ship we were replacing to clear the straights, and then we went in. I don’t remember the name of the other carrier that was also there while we were.

We had a regular schedule. Two weeks floating around followed by two weeks tied up at a port. The other carrier followed the opposite schedule, so one was in port while the other was floating. We received a printout at the start that showed where we would be. Kept to it mostly, until something happened in Lebanon that threw us off. We had to go off the coast and demonstrate our firepower, showing those Lebanese that we were there to support Israel. We floated off the coast for a month, with planes periodically dropping demonstration bombs and killing fish off the coast, to show our power. Ooooh – guess we intimidated them. After that our schedule was off. We didn’t know what port we would be at next, but the ‘hey Joes’ did.

When we were in port the ship was too big to tie up to a dock. We always anchored out a mile or so. There were a dozen or so small boats in the hanger bay that would be put in the water and taxi us from the carrier to the dock. There was room for about fifty people on one of these boats, with the officers having nicer boats than the enlisted. We were on ‘port’ and ‘starboard’ liberty schedules. This meant that we got every other day off. This left half the crew on board, to do maintenance and be available in emergencies (more on this to come later). Usually the first launch left around 9am and we had to be back at the dock by midnight. Boats shuttled all day, so you could come and go as desired.

When in port the ship would let local vendors on board. They would set up on tables in the front dining area and sell souvenirs and such. I bought some paintings myself from them. These guys were called ‘hey Joes’, out of their habit of calling out to a potential customer ‘hey Joe, come look at this’. They were also set up at the dock in port, to hit you up on your way off or back. B and I went on a Caribbean cruise a few years back and found that custom there also. After a few ports I noticed that the vendors were always the same. These guys made a living doing this, going from servicing one carrier for two weeks over to the next one at a different port, following the fleet. I was told that the prostitutes on shore did this too, but I didn’t know from experience with them. Since the hey Joes needed to know where to go they were always up to date on our schedule. We had a printout listing the next few ports of call, and I remember talking to a friend about one port. A hey Joe standing nearby said no, my schedule was wrong, we wouldn’t be there the, we would be in a different port. I figured that if the ship gave us the schedule it should be right, but it turned out the hey Joe was correct. We went to the port he said we would be at. Since they knew I figured that any ‘enemy’ (OK, Russian at that time) spies would know as well, they would just have to ask the hey Joes.

At sea we just moved around burning fuel. We usually always had planes aloft. One of the squadrons had those big planes that carried a dozen operators and had a big radar dome mounted on top. They would circle overhead and keep track of all ships and planes in the area. There would sometimes be other planes flying as well. And we would always have two fighters with pilots sitting in them on the front catapults, to launch if anything threatening showed up. We were on a 90 minute schedule; every 90 minutes we would turn into the wind, get up to speed, and launch some planes and recover the ones that were up and being replaced.

At times I worked on the deck, doing whatever maintenance was required on the weapons systems. Everybody up on the flight deck wore colored shirts, so that we could easily be identified. As maintenance I wore a green shirt. Weapons loaders wore red, plane captains were brown, and so on. In addition to the long sleeved colored pullover we also wore inflatable life vests, in case we went over the side.

to be continued (aven more)

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Sorry ?

Sorry for sounding like such a snob about the fancy food and stuff. I realize that $40 for a meal is a lot, with everything in the news. But we live in a town where the cheapest show is $65 for ninety minutes, the average new home price is $305,000, and I am doing OK, thank you. The cheapest Strip hotel room is $129, the cheapest at the Bellagio is $249, and the city sits at 98% occupancy rates every weekend. North Las Vegas is the fastest growing city in the country. Somebody likes it here.

I am still laughing at that TV commercial for whatever, where this guy walks around his place, talking about having this, having that, riding a lawn mower around the yard, and asking 'How do I do it? - I'm in debt up to my eyeballs - will someone please help me?'

Maybe I can win the lottery - some 78 year old man just won a progressive for the second time - $28,000,000 this time. Leads to another old joke:

Little Jewish man prays every night 'please Lord, I have worked hard all my life, let me win the lottery so that I can have a little pleasure'. Prays every night. Prays every night. Then one night a loud voice comes from above 'Jacob . '. The man, cowering now, says 'yes, Lord?'. - 'Jacob, help me out a little, at least buy a ticket.'

Yes, we walk around the casinos, but I don't put any money down.

Back to Vegas

Wow, posting quite often this week. Guess it shows that things are slow here at work. The new project is taking over and the program I have been working on is being replaced. Time for me to learn something new. I’ve been going through the C# programming book, learning the latest Microsoft offering. As with cars, they have to change programming languages once in a while to get people to buy new stuff. It doesn’t seem like much of an improvement, but we’ll see.

I originally thought this would be a photo blog, but in reading other blogs I’ve started to put more words in than pictures. One of the reasons is my job – when I started here we had just been in Vegas for a few months, and was taking a lot of photos and wanted to share them. Now that I’m locked inside a windowless office for a major portion of my week I am taking fewer pictures and putting down more words. This bothers me, so I am trying to shoot more. Hopefully I can get more shots of Vegas in. I like it here, and just want to share that.

I started working here at the bank in January. If you’ve been reading this you know how I felt about my last job. After being here a while I talked John into moving from the old place over to here. The bank has an employee referral program, which rewards you if you refer somebody and they get hired. John has now been here for six months, and HR has come up with my referral reward check. It’s not much, being aligned more towards bringing in phone people, which is a high turnover job. But it is something, and I used the money to treat myself to an evening at a fancy restaurant.

Now Vegas is a place for entertainment. One of the things I love to do is to go to a nice restaurant, but can’t afford to go as often as I would like to. The big casinos recently have started competing not only for the fanciest gambling digs but also the best food. What goes along with that, unfortunately, are the highest prices. The MGM Grand has started putting in some really nice places, with French chef Joel Robuchon, Emeril Lagasse, and Wolfgang Puck. And with the famous chef Alan Ducase about to open his first place in Vegas we are getting some pretty good French stuff. Ducas has a three star place in Paris, and his place here is opening this week.

Aside – OMG – I just went to Google to look up Alan Ducase and found that one of my blog posts is the second site listed. OK, that’s because I spelled it wrong, should be Alan Ducasse. Wow, teach me to learn how to spell correctly.

The Bellagio (now part of the MGM Grand family) has the reputation for having the most expensive places in town. Not only the rooms, but the food as well. Our daughter took us to Circo there once, and I have really been wanting to eat at Picasso. But it has a fixed price menu starting at $90. Plus wine (have to have wine with a meal like that) and tip. Haven’t come up with the bucks for that yet.

I can’t list all of the other fine places here in town, with Mandalay Bay having some great places. For our last anniversary I splurged and we went to Fleur de Lys there. It was tremendous. The Wynn is also meeting the competition, as are the rest of the big casinos.

Being locals we try to avoid the strip as much as possible, leave it for the tourists. We don’t always stay away – that is after all our big claim to fame. And it’s too much fun over there. But since we live here we can aim for off periods, when it is not too crowded. The month between Thanksgiving and Christmas is a really slow tourist time, and when we usually try to hit the shows. That is when several of them, trying to keep the crowd, offer two for one deals for locals, or special dine and view discounts. We also try to go out on Tuesday nights, as that seems to be the slowest time (depending on conventions). And we also try to patronize the off Strip places.

There are a lot of places that are not located on the Strip. For steaks we like to go down to the Twin Creeks Steak House at the Silverton Casino down on Blue Diamond. This is several miles south of the airport, well away from downtown and the big Strip casinos. The Silverton is trying to attract people, they recently opened a huge Bass Pro Shop, and you can spend hours just walking around looking at the stuff, and live fish. There is also a really big salt water tank at the end of the casino, full of fish and periodic mermaids. The steaks are about the best in town, and half the cost of the strip places. With food, drinks (not wine) and dessert we can get away for less than fifty dollars for the two of us. Used to be able to just walk in, but now they are getting busier and we need reservations. But when we decide to go we just phone in and make reservations for about an hour after we call, which give us time to get dressed and drive down there. Even at that, still not too often.

But my favorite place in town is Rosemary's Restaurant. This is located in a strip mall on Sahara Boulevard about five miles west of the Strip. They used to have a branch over at the Rio, but that closed last year. The food is great. They’ve got a fixed price menu at $40 for dinner and $20 for lunch. But it’s too far from work for me to do lunch there, much as I would like to. So with John’s referral check I decided to hit Rosemary’s. It was well worth it.

Not a very impressive first image. Located in a strip mall, right next to a SteinMart store, behind the Marie Calendar’s out on the corner.

Inside it’s pretty nice. Low lighting, but enough so you can read the menu. They open at 5:30, and we usually try to eat early, so got there at 6. As you can see, it was a week night and had not filled up yet. But when we left every table was full. There is the main room, and I guess they are doing well and the rented the place next door, cut a hole in the wall and expanded the number of tables they have.

Really great service. After being escorted to our seats the Matre de (is that right?) snapped the white napkin from the place setting and placed it in my wife’s lap. But then he took my napkin and walked away! I thought this was rather not right, and grabbed a napkin off of one of the other place settings (table was set for four). He came back a few seconds later with a black napkin, saying that he didn’t want to get any lint from the white napkin on my dark pants. How detailed is that – a restaurant having black napkins to avoid lint?

My wife had the daily specials – good salad, bacon wrapped halibut and fancy dessert. I felt it was early enough and opted for the five course tasting menu – smaller portions but more stuff. Had the waiter pick a glass of wine for each of us – if we split a bottle I couldn’t drive home. I wanted to take pictures of the food, but

was not fast enough. With that stuff in front of me I just couldn’t stop and pick up the camera. The dessert ended up being their ‘Dessert Storm’ – smaller portions of five of their desserts.

I was stuffed, but of course had to clean my plate (well, plates). It was really really really good. So if you come to Vegas, please don’t stuff all of your money into the machines, leave time and bucks to try a fine dining establishment.

For Clare:
1. Living in a town with so many wonderful places.
2. Looking from my front yard down the hill at night to see the Disneyland of lights called the Strip.
3. The marvelous food at Rosemary's.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Sorry again Clare

I'll get this thing down right some day. (oh, and Clare Sudbery, where are you?)

1. Being able to remember things from long ago.
2. Being able to close your eyes and be there again.
3. Closing your eyes and being anywhere you want to be with anyone you want to be with.
OK - one more
4. Opening your eyes and really being with somebody you want to be with.

Back to the boat story

So there I was, learning how to fix airplanes out in the middle of nowhere, California. Sorry Lemoore, but it is nowhere. Might be bigger now, but back then it was not much.

I was an Aviation Fire Control Technician Attack Aircraft (designation AQA), learning about the radar and computer systems on the A-7 aircraft. After six months in school and training with VA-122, the training group there, I was transferred to VA-113, the squadron I would stay with for a while. We had thirteen planes and about a dozen AQ technicians. Ended up going on two cruises, on the Saratoga for a Med cruise (Mediterranean) and on the Ranger for a WestPac cruise (western Pacific). I’ll talk about the Med cruise, but not the other one, that one was not much fun. Lost too many friends there.

After a number of months putting together the group we got into bombing practice. The A-7 was an attack aircraft, not a fighter. It could carry about ten tons of bombs hanging from the wings. It also had a fancy 20mm cannon in the nose. We worked with the weapons crew, who had the responsibility of loading the bombs, putting bullets in the gun, and maintaining the bomb racks and pylons.

Flying from Lemoore we just used 25 pound blue practice bombs. These were about a foot long, and had a hollow tube down the middle where what looked like a long shotgun shell was loaded. When dropped this went off creating a big cloud of smoke, so that observers could see where it hit. Our pilots flew from Lemoore to Fallon, Nevada where the west coast Navy practice bombing range was located.

This was before GPS systems, but we could program the computers in the plane with assorted maps, and the pilots could set reference points. Along with the altitude radar, the pilots could then fly ‘ground hugging’ mode from Lemoore through the mountains over to Fallon and drop the bombs exactly where they selected. This was about an hour flight each way.

We did have some incidents of bombs dropping unexpectedly. Well, any computer and electronic system is subject to bugs once in a while, or maybe the pilots accidentally pressed some buttons while bored (probably the real reason, of course they would deny it). I remember one of the bombs going through the roof of a house, and once right into a car. The practice bomb did not explode, but imagine a twenty five pound chunk of metal hitting your roof. And the smoke shell would go off, filling the car or house with a cloud of smoke. Glad they didn’t use real bombs for these things.

We also had pilots that would take the plane off of automatic mode and try to do fancy flying. Reports of planes going under high bridges, and scaring cars on the freeway while flying low. But at least once one of the pilots was flying low and did not notice the slowly rising hill ahead of him, resulting in what is called ‘unexpected ground contact’, also known as a crash. We also had some crashes on base as pilots were landing. That’s why it’s hard to get insurance for pilots, especially with military guys, they take chances for a living.

After a while the whole squadron (about 250 people) packed up and went to Fallon for two weeks. This way it was only a five minute flight to the range, and we could use real bombs. The usual load was 500 pound bombs, six on each of the six pylons, for a total of 9 tons (if I can multiply and divide correctly). We also practiced with 250, 1,000 and 2,000 pound bombs, assorted rockets and the guns. The weapons techs were responsible for loading the bombs, but the AQs would help when things got busy. Bombs were loaded on little carts fitted with special holders and hydraulic jacks, one bomb per carts. The carts would be rolled under the plane and then jacked up. There were two eye loops on top of each bomb that matched corresponding hooks on the pylons. Usually the bomb was able to latch onto the hooks when cranked up, but sometimes we had to jiggle things to get them to latch. And we also had to practice loading by hand in case there weren’t any carts available. Long pipes would screw into the front and back of each bomb, and a group of guys would get on each pipe and lift. Not too bad for the 250 pounders, little harder on 500 and really bad for the 1,000 pound bombs. We never tried it with the 2,000 pound ones. The A-7 had high wings, so we were lifting these things up to about six feet high to the racks.

Wow, still haven’t gotten to the boat yet.

We went to Fallon twice, to be sure that we could do things fast and the pilots could drop those things on target. Then we were off to Jacksonville, Florida to get on the Saratoga. My first time seeing a boat that big. An aircraft carrier is 1,000 feet long, holds about a hundred planes and 4,000 guys. That was back when it was only guys, most ships have mixed sex crews now. Standing on the pier looking up, the flight deck was about 90 feet above our heads. It looked more like a huge building rather than a boat.

We loaded onto the ship. According to Navy tradition every room on the ship was mapped. You could find any spot based on a little numeric system of three numbers, such as 03-090-06. The 03 indicated what deck. The 00 level is the main deck on a ship. Since an aircraft carrier was originally based on building a wooden deck on top of a regular Navy ship. This evolved into the big blocks that carriers now look like. So the main deck is the hanger deck, where planes are parked inside for repair and holding. As you go up levels a zero is put in front of the number, so 03 is three floors up from the hanger. The flight deck is the 04 level. If you go up into the tower on top you can get up to the 012 level. If you go down there are a dozen floors below, so the engines are down about level 8. I don’t know about that, never went down there.

The second number indicates the ‘frame’ counting back from the front. A frame originally was the wooden beams used to form the ship. I think the carriers went from frame 1 back to frame 400 or so, can’t remember back that far. Smaller ships obviously did not have as many levels (floors) or frames as a carrier. The last number indicates how far out from a center line, odd numbers to the left even numbers to the right. So 03-090-06 would be up three floors from the flight deck, about a third of the way back, and probably about half way between the middle and the outside of the ship on the right side. (right when looking at the front, usually called ‘Starboard’ for some unknown historical reason, with ‘Port’ being the left side).

We took a few weeks to get settled in, then pulled out for a two week training exercise. Our planes flew into the Navy field and were hoisted on board, but the bigger ones flew out to join us after we were out on the water. An aircraft carrier can go as fast as 40 knots (little over 50 mph), and usually points into the wind and goes full speed when planes land and take off. Pretty impressive that something that big can go that fast. The nuclear powered ones can go faster, but the US does not publish the figures on ship speed (to keep the ‘enemy’ in the dark). The pilots practiced their carrier takeoffs and landings. I saw some movies, and it looks pretty scary – when landing the planes are doing about 150 mph approaching a boat doing 50 mph heading away from them. The boat looks like a little dot when first lining up, and not much bigger as you approach. I can see how hard it is to line up and land, with the waves causing the ship to roll and bounce up and down.

There were several different squadrons on board, most from the Virginia area. Usually west coast squadrons went on WestPac boats while east coast squadrons went on Atlantic and Med cruises. Several different types of planes. Us and another A-7 attack, two squadrons with A-6 attack planes, two squadrons of F-4 fighters, some larger cargo and refueling planes, and helicopters. The A-7 only carried the pilot, the A-6 planes had lots more radar, and a crew of 2 while our planes were single seaters. Some A-6 planes had a crew of 4 and lots of radars, computers, and electronics. These acted as controllers in usually looked at what was going on. The F-4s could carry bombs, but were usually used for shooting down other planes with guns and missiles. They had two seats, and I tried but never could get a back seat ride in one.

The squadron people all had bunks up high. I was on the 03 level, the one floor between the roof of the hanger deck and the flight deck. Enlisted were in big rooms, probably a hundred or so of us, with bunks layered three high. We worked two shifts, 12 hours on 12 hours off. The day crew in one room and the night crew in another. Officers were bunked two to a room, in fancier spaces than we were. The ship’s crew were down below water level. The eating spaces were located on the 1 level, just under the hanger deck. There were no windows or portholes, the only way to see outside was from the flight deck, some small decks that were off the hanger deck, or from the hanger deck when the big doors were open. There were some periods of bad weather when all the doors were closed, and we were kept off of the flight deck, and thus might not see the sky for quite a while. I can’t imagine what it would be like to be on a submarine, under water for weeks or months at a time. I like the sun too much for that.

We ended up off the coast of Virginia, and then President Nixon came on board. There were about forty ships in our group, and after our planes all took off he sat on the flight deck and watched a ‘firepower’ demonstration. Where the ships around us shot their guns, and our planes dropped bombs and missiles and killed fish. I was on deck – lots of us dressed in our dress whites looking nice. Now we would be the background for a presidential photo op, but back then just as background. A 2,000 pound bomb makes a pretty big bang, even from the mile away where we were.

I was responsible for the Bullpup controllers on our planes. A Bullpup was a radio controlled missile used back then, with a 250 pound warhead. They shot a few of them off for the demo, flying them in spirals to show the radio control. Of course, one of the four shot for some reason stopped talking to the radio controller, so the pilot could not guide it. The other three all flew down and blew up nicely, but the one out of control just kept on flying high and straight. I had visions of it going on for a few miles (don’t remember the range) and blowing up one of the ships around us. Fortunately for us it wasn’t one of the ones on a plane from our squadron. I was impressed at all the money being spent just on a show for one person. But then he had a hand in deciding how much money the military got, what new planes and ships would be built, and what we would do. So you have to make a good impression for the boss.

After the two week sea trial we were back in Jacksonville for a few weeks, final leave, and loading of everything before leaving for the Med for nine months. The day before we left we were told to be on board by 4 for final head count. I woke up about 2 in the morning by some noise, and went up on the flight deck to see what was going on. There were lights and lots of long trailer trucks on the pier. They were loading on the 100 or so nuclear bombs that we would take along, and hopefully not use. Australia used to ban US Navy ships that were carrying nuclear weapons from their harbors, but the Navy never admitted that there were such weapons on any of their ships. The carriers all had them, and the larger ships that carried missiles also did. I am sure that they still do.

Enough background for now, next chapter will be on the cruise.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Up to 2003

Oh dog, I just clicked on the 'casualty count' link and we are up to 2003! Two thousand and three American military personnel killed in Iraq so far. This morning's paper talked about some British military stuff, but no British casualties. No mention of our hitting 2,000. But opinion polls do say we should spend the money on katrina rebuilding instead of Iraq. But old W will do both, and keep getting people killed. GET OUT YOU GIT! @#$$%%^&^&*

Sorry - looks like I can't read - just looked at the counters again and it's 1907 US war dead, 96 British, 101 'other' for a total of 2104. It lists 2005 Iraqi police and guardsmen deaths. No civilian count.

But what the hey - 2104 is still pretty bad, no matter who they are.

Fall in Vegas

OK, enough posts with no pictures. Eli pictures don’t count because those are for me.

I am a programmer working in the credit card division of a bank. The building we work at has a large open room where the telephone people sit in low cubicles (see other posts for photos) while the technical group gets a smaller room with higher cubicle walls. As in most companies, the height of your cubicle wall and size of your cubicle is an indicator of your status and position.

This is the view from my cubicle. I look over at Martha, who works in marketing. She sits at her computer all day doing analysis and creating charts and drafts and doing things I consider boring. But then I am sure that what I do is boring to her.

Guess I should describe Martha. She's young and thin and pretty and has lots of straight hair (as you can see). She smiles a lot and sits cross-legged on her office chair. I don't think my knees bend like that anymore. And I have no idea what she does over there across aisle. She probably has no idea what I do over here. I used to be young and thin, back when I was Martha's age (boy, sound like an old man here) I was probably that thin, but without all the nice round girly bits. But that's sixty pounds ago and quite a few years. Back in college I almost had hair as long as hers. Short and grey now.

We have several fruit trees scattered around our yard. We do not put the effort into them that would produce great fruit, so are mostly for shade and decoration. And in the spring most are filled with delightful flowers. Our peach tree is a hugh pink mound in the Springtime. We also have an apple and almond and pomegranate, with some other bare root fruits on order.

We don’t know what type of peach tree it is, but it is obvious that we should be removing about 3/4 of the peaches when they start out in order to get edible peaches at the end. The tree is just too big to do that, so we pull off the peaches we can reach, or else the lower branches hang so low that we hit our heads walking underneath. Well, the peaches should be ripe about now, but they are very small and don’t taste too good, not even good enough for jam. And they are starting to fall out of the tree. B goes out and rakes up the peaches a few times a week. They are loaded into black plastic bags, and sit for a few days awaiting trash pickup. We put the apples into our compost bin, but the peach pits do not decompose and my wife would rather not sort them out. Putting out the bags last night was interesting, the peaches had started to ferment, and the bags smelled like cheap fruit wine. Guess I should figure out how to make peach wine. She has to wear a hard hat while raking or else she gets bomped on the head by falling fruit.

Here’s a shot of the peach tree the day after she raked. You can see how many drop in just a day.

Prostitution is legal in 25 of the 26 counties in Nevada. The one where it is illegal is Clark County, where Las Vegas is located. The nearest brothel is in Pahrump, a small town about fifty miles away, right over the county line. All the cab and limo drivers know how to get there. So rather than have a place to go in Vegas the poor horny male tourists have to shell out for a long limo ride. Or they can phone one of the ‘in room’ escort services. There are 102 pages in our yellow pages phone book with listings for ‘entertainers’, such as ‘Asian beauties direct to you’ and ‘full service buxom blondes & petite buxom brunettes’ and ‘barely legal secretaries in short skirts’. The only larger section in the phone book is for attorneys, which cover 186 pages. Go figure.

Another visual alternative are the topless and bottomless clubs. Don’t know how many of them we have, but there are billboards all over with photos of half naked women. Vegas used to be known for big topless showgirls, but when it went ‘family’ back in the 80’s most of the topless shows disappeared. The Tropicana still has one old fashioned show, full of women dressed in feathers. Now most of the other large casinos have put in at least one topless show. Several of them have shows for women, with the ‘Thunder from Down Under’ and ‘The Men of Russia’ and of course Chippendales. As in California, topless clubs can get liquor licenses, but full nudity only comes with fruit juice and soda. Guess the prudes were able to take over the alcohol licensing board and throw in restrictions like that. But the Indian reservations usually are exempt from many local zoning laws.

This leads up to a final true ‘Vegas’ shot. Now that it has cooled off – it only got up to 92f yesterday – I have started my lunch time walks. I put on the iPod and just circle two blocks around the office. They are big blocks, and usually take 45 minutes to walk. On the back of our block is a really big auto repair facility. There are always wrecked cars in the lot awaiting repair. There frequently are limos and mini busses from assorted businesses out there, and my favorite is this one from one of the ‘strip’ clubs.

For some reason the phrase ‘totally nude with liquor’ is very amusing to me. I’ve never been to the place, but from the shot on the bus it looks more like a bunch of soccer moms than the usual over-enhanced group on the billboards.

Sorry, Clare, I keep forgetting.
1. Fermenting peaches - the smell is intoxicating in itself.
2. The dusty smell just before it rains.
3. Rain - we get so little and it's pitty-patting outside right now.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Just a reminder

Thanks to Fangirl

September 19th is National "Talk Like a Pirate" Day. If you're low on the lingo, you can go to the Pants Based Random Pirate Phrase Generator, but today it's just the announcement of the holiday.

And thanks to Lisa for things to do.

Another boat story

I posted a boat story before, at least I think I did, have to look back and see what I talked about back then. First some background info.

I was in the Navy back in ’68-72. Since I get seasick really easily, and don’t really like to be out on the water, I joined the aviation wing. Why did I join the Navy? Well, I dropped out of college, and back in 1968 if you did not have a good reason for a referral you were drafted and sent to that muddy place called Viet Nam. (Makes me feel really old explaining this stuff, but who remembers the draft?). Since I knew I did not like walking through the mud getting shot at I looked for other alternatives. The Navy and the Air Force seemed the best bets – better chance of not being where the bullets were coming at you.

I had a cousin in the Air Force. He loaded bombs on B-52s. He was stationed at one of the air bases in Texas. Nice place, two guys to a room, civilians to do your laundry and clean up. More like a job than the military. But he loaded bombs. And the planes that he loaded, for some unknown reason, flew far across the Pacific and eventually, after some mid air refuelings, dropped them on that green jungle with all the mud. So the planes were dropping bombs in a combat zone, and my cousin in Texas was getting a combat pay bonus for loading bombs on planes that flew over there. I didn’t know all the details at the time, or I might have gone Air Force.

But my father was in the Navy during his big one, WW2. Lots of picture books around the house. So I figured the Navy always had a clean bed, always had a hot meal, and if I could get on a big enough boat I wouldn’t be shot at during my war. My eyes were bad, but I liked photography – was majoring in Photo Illustration in college. The Navy branch that had photographers was the aviation group. The recruiter could not promise a specific job, but I was able to sign up for aviation, which only had twelve or so ratings. Figured that was better than joining generally and perhaps getting anything.

If you joined the military back then you ended up taking a lot of tests during boot camp, and at the end the magic computers in Washington (or wherever they were) would match your scores with openings and assign you a rate. You then went to school for specific training, and had your job assigned. If you joined the army or marines there was about a 95% chance of becoming a ‘grunt’, and being trained in rifles and such, and sent over to get shot at. The Navy had over a hundred ratings – a ‘rating’ is a specific job type, such as ship engine mechanic, cook, medic, computer tech, and so on. The aviation group only had twelve rates; various airplane maintenance work, such as jet engine mechanic, radio tech, parachute folder, and photographer. I figured a one in twelve shot at photographer was better than a one in a hundred, so I went aviation.

Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending how you look at it, I did very well in my math tests. So I was assigned to the aviation electronics group, not photography. After boot camp in Great Lakes (from freezing Rochester to freezing Illinois) I was sent to aviation A school in Memphis, Tennessee. Ah, springtime in Memphis. The first two weeks all new arrivals got to work in the mess hall. I washed pots from 5am to 7pm. It was tornado season, so every morning at 1 am we were awoken and moved to the storm shelter area to sit for an hour until the threat passed. Then back for a few hours sleep and up before dark to wash the morning meal pots.

Then four months of electronics class. There were about thirty Navy and three Marines in my class. I did well, was at the top of the class and thus could pick my further training. Got a lot of grief from the Marines - being top of the class for a Navy guy was not as big a thing as for a Marine. For a Marine it evidently meant a lot to have the first in class mark in your record. At that time there were two main choices, radio or radar. Now both are rolled into the same rating, but were separate back then. I picked radar and fire control systems. Another three months of classes in that area. It was a close finish, but again I was top in the class, and supposedly was able to pick what assignment I wanted. I asked for fighters on the west coast, figuring on getting a Phantom (F-4) squadron and thus moving to a Pacific cruise on a carrier and being able to get a back seat ride once in a while. No way did I want transports in Memphis, or worse the Chicago area. I did get the west coast; California, but an attack (bomber) squadron. A-7 aircraft at NAS Lemoore, California.

Nobody in Memphis could tell me where Lemoore was. You got two weeks leave after training, and fortunately the AAA was able to give me a driving map to California and I found that Lemoore was right in the center of the big valley. For transportation the Navy got me on an Air Force plane from New Jersey out to the San Francisco area, then a commercial flight down to Fresno. I left New Jersey on Thanksgiving weekend, during a small snowstorm. The storm was bad in the Midwest, and our plane had to stop at some air base to wait for the winds to stop. I got to spend the night on the Air Force, and found that while the Navy had big open barracks for dozens of guys, the Air Force had more like college dorm rooms, with two guys to a room and a bathroom shared between two rooms. With civilians cooking and cleaning. Nice. There were two Air Force captains on our flight, and rather than continue on the next day they each had a smaller plane, each got a Cesna Citation to take them on to wherever they were going. Must be even better to be an officer.

On to San Francisco, and a bus ticket over to SFO. A flight down to Fresno, a phone call to the base, and somebody drove out to pick me up. It was about thirty miles from Fresno out to the base in Lemoore. The driver stopped along the way and snitched oranges from a grove along side the road. Right away I realized there was more to the US than snow and freezing winters, and figured I was done with the northeast.

At Lemoore I started with three more months of school, learning about the radar and weapons systems on the A-7 Corsair II. It was a big base, out in the middle of nowhere. We always said we were right in the middle. Halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles, halfway between the ocean and the mountains. But nothing right there. That’s how I describe Kansas, right in the middle – halfway between the Atlantic and the Pacific, halfway between Mexico and Canada, but not much there. Sorry, Kansas, maybe there is, but I haven’t spent much time there, and Dorothy and Toto seemed to want to leave.

But on to the boat story.

Wow, after all the background I don’t even remember what direction I was going. OK, two pages in Word is enough for now. Better post this before the boss comes around and asks what I am working on. So the boat story will come later.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Friday - visitor prep

Friday! I’m ready for the weekend! Some times the days go slow, but this week seemed to disappear. It does not feel like we accomplished anything. Lots of stuff at work, and at home we’ve been spending most of the time cleaning up. Our exchange student (why do I keep calling him that? It’s been over twenty years ago) Ulf is coming from Sweden at the beginning of November, along with wife Carina and three boys. Our one ‘guest’ bedroom is typical size, but a little crowded for five. So my wife has a ‘must be done by’ date for fixes around the house. The bedroom is the first – peel the wallpaper and paint walls, scrape the cottage cheese off the ceiling, pull the carpet up and put down Pergo to match the front room.

For those of you unfamiliar with the term, ‘cottage cheese ceilings’ refers to a style of finishing. During new construction, after the builder puts up drywall and it gets taped (seams covered with paper tape and plaster) a finisher uses an air spray machine to spray a mixture of plaster and bigger particles onto the ceiling. This produces a rough texture, that to some looks like small lump cottage cheese. It is very good at covering up irregularities that would take a longer time to fix, and is fast and cheap to put on. It was very popular in the 70’s and 80’s, but has fallen out of favor recently. Because of the rough texture it holds dust and dirt and just cannot be cleaned. It is also very difficult to paint. Most people just leave it alone, and you end up with black streaks near the heater/air conditioning vents. We choose to scrape it off, fix the problems, and paint. It does take some effort to take it off.

But for now, last night we finally emptied all of the drawers in the dresser and cabinet. I’ve got to go through the papers and figure out want notifications to make. Bobbie has taken on the task of informing friends and I do the business stuff. We’ve got bags of clothes – B will call Deseret today; in California they were the only ones that would come to the house and pick things up.

B also wants the breakfast area fixed up – we had discussed a different table and building in a bench along the wall. With three little kids she figures a bench seat would be more secure. Ulf says that he just wants to hang out and rest – with working 70-80 hour weeks he needs some time off. But he has to fly to Texas to speak at a medical conference for a few days in the middle of the visit, so he will not totally get away. And I don’t see that flying from Sweden to the US with three kids under the age of four is much of a vacation. Have to ask Tess about that – she went from Hong Kong to Canada with triplets. I’m just glad I wasn’t sitting in the row ahead of them. Tying kids to a seat for hours is not enjoyable to them in any way, no matter what the age.

We are looking forward to having a house full of kids. Alex is 3 1/2, the twins will be 1 1/2. B talked to Carina yesterday and one of them is walking, the other climbing and probably will be bouncing around in two months. We’ll find out if Alex has learned enough English. I’ve been sending DVDs over, Thomas, the Muppet show, Spongebob and other of my favorites. Ulf figured out how to make his European DVD player work with American disks. Most of the adult shows over there are in their original English, but the kid’s shows and cartoons are in Swedish. It’s always fun to watch the triplets across the street wandering around the front yard (they have a fence – don’t worry) and even more fun to watch mom take them in when they start to cry, and I get to just leave. It will be a little different when they are in our house.

Carina says they will use the pool. Water temp is still over 93f, even though it’s cooled off. So it will probably be down around 80 by Thanksgiving, which is still very warm to them. Not many pools over there. The folk’s summerhouse is on the North Sea, which to me does not get very warm.

OK, enough of the visitors. Went out to dinner with the kids the other night, here’s an update (3 1/2 months).

I added some more links, since I read them whenever I get on line I might as well have them listed. Thanks guys. Wow, looks like mostly women listed – is that because I like to read those, or because more women have blogs?

And for Clare:

1. Come on, look at the picture.
2. Cool crisp mornings and warm afternoons.
3. Breakfast coffee with the newspaper (as long as it’s the cartoons and not the front page).

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Fall again

Fall – nice time of year. Got up this morning at it was 58f outside. Supposed to be up to 90f this afternoon, so we will have a 30f swing from low to high temps. That is typical here in the desert – even in the summer when it hits 110f it usually drops down to the 80’s at night. San Diego had a lot smaller swing, due to the big mass of the ocean keeping things calm, usually high of 72, low of 68 (or something similar). I remember summers in New Jersey, it would be a hot, sticky 82f all day (yea, now I live in Vegas where 82 is cool) and at night it would cool off to a comfortable 83. Lay in bed all night just sweating, looking for any breeze through the window but nothing comes. Nobody in Jersey had air conditioning – big radiators, but no air. And then we had no fans, or just one in the parent’s room.

It’s easy to see the change in the morning – we’ve got a skylight in the bathroom – it’s an inside bath, with no outside wall so no outside window to look out of – but the skylight lets us see the sky. Used to get up with the alarm and walk into a bright bathroom, but today it was full dark in there. Flip on the lights and go blind from the quick flash. Took my time with breakfast and at least the sun was up before I drove off to work. But I drive down Twain headed almost due east, so the sun sits just under the sun visor straight ahead. And if I’m just a little late getting out of the house I end up behind three school bus pickups. No center divider on Twain, and for safety the Nevada laws require full stops from cars in both directions if a school bus is stopped, so there are four lanes at a full stop (if everyone stops as they are supposed to). Then there is usually some idiot that has to zip down the center turn lane because they can’t wait just missing the kids running across the street.

We’ve got a big peach tree in the back yard. It is gorgeous in the spring, full of pink flowers. But right now the peaches are ripe. The tree is too big for us to get up and thin out the peaches; with the rains last winter there are hundreds of peaches. Because there are so many the tree cannot put enough into them and the peaches thus are not very big or very good to eat. If we would take off about ¾ of the crop we would end up with some good stuff, but I don’t have a ladder high enough. So the peaches are now dropping – I was sitting out back last evening, enjoying the sunset and reading a book, listening to the ‘thump – thump’ of the peaches falling. A slow, noisy rain. Almost every morning there is a three inch deep layer of peaches under the tree, with a 20 foot spread. Lots of peaches. We pick them up and fill black plastic bags. Sitting in the sun, with the temps around 90, the fermentation starts. I took the bags out for the trash and wondered if we should just keep them a while and extract some brandy or something, it smelled pretty potent.

We just finished redoing our little bathroom. When we moved into this house two years ago it was a step into the past. The house was built in 1977 and at that time wallpaper was really popular. Most of the house still had the original wallpaper – lots of flower prints all over. The small bath had little flowers, starting to peel. We took down the paper, which was a challenge because it was put up on bare wallboard that had not been painted. The original owner was a builder, and he built the house just for himself. So he (or his wife probably) knew what they wanted papered, and so did not have those areas painted. Wallpaper was put up directly on the cardboard layer of the plasterboard. Which means that some of the cardboard facing comes off when the wallpaper is pulled off, resulting in a lot of work to patch up and re-smooth the wall. My wife scrapped off all of the ceiling textures around the house – another popular thing, still done sometimes. It’s a great treatment for the builder, so they don’t have to be too careful in putting up the ceiling, a little thicker spray of the texturing just hides all kinds of mistakes. Still have the two smaller bedrooms to do. And we’ve got wallpaper in our bathroom and one bedroom, so more to do. But the small bathroom is now two shades of green, and we hit Ikea when in San Diego a few weeks ago bringing back five of their tall CD racks. They fill up one wall, giving a nice white pattern against the dark green wall. And B made a frame for the mirror out of the small glass tiles we used on the fireplace. I’ll try for some photos – guess I should wait to post about it until I have them, but I already typed this so I’ll leave it. Thinking about the bathroom because Ana just redid her bath in stripes, and it looks pretty good. I like that sink.

Our friends from Sweden are due out the beginning of November. We have one ‘guest’ bedroom, and want to redo my mother’s room before they come. Ulf and Karina have three boys; twins that are about 18 months, and Alex who is now 3 1/2. The rooms are small, so if we can get the other one fixed up they can put the boys in one room and have a little space in the other. I’m slowly going through things in there, my mom saved everything and forgot she had stuff. Papers and cash are mixed in with bags of books and old birthday cards and old shopping coupons. Yesterday I dug out a whole bag full of bingo daubers – those really big markers you make spots on the bingo cards with. She loved bingo (and Lawrence Welk) so there where daubers from casinos and the church all over the place. Must have found four dozen or so. She had stuff piled all over, so we just didn’t go in there. It still has wallpaper, so that has to come down, and the cottage cheese ceiling, which needs to be scraped. And the old carpet will come up, we’ll probably do the Pergo wood floor the same as the front room.

And we still want to change the big front room window into French doors and fix up the front patio. And redo the kitchen. And our bathroom. So even though we’ve redone a lot of the house there are still lots of other things to do. The yard conversion was a big task – pulling out the sidewalks and edging and old trees and bushes, moving in over 120 tons of topping, then planting twenty trees and lots of bushes and other stuff. It was over 14,000 square feet of lawn pulled up. But it really is looking good. Instead of fields of grass there is the tan of the Mojave Gold rock with all the plants, most of which bloom at different times of the year. Really pretty (OK, photos to come). But at least we've got a house - thoughts to those in the Katrina area that are without.

Monday, September 12, 2005

There I go again (sorry)

Yup, there I go again. At one time I promised myself that I wouldn’t complain about what other people were doing, I would concentrate on my life because that is the only thing I can control. Well, at least I think I can control things; at least I can control how I react to what happens even if I’m not the one in charge. (thanks Jo).

Overall I should say I’ve had it pretty good. Always had food, owned my own home for quite a while now (well, the bank and I), no long periods of no work, no major negative activities. I look at the rest of the world and am glad I live in the US, even if I do bitch about the politics and people running things. I can drive for thousands of miles, always find gas, and always find food and a place to sleep. That’s as long as I have money, which always seems to be available as there is usually somebody willing to pay me to work.

What’s that old expression, something about walking a mile in somebody’s shoes? Glad that I haven’t walked in a lot of other shoes. I’ll not go into what shoes, you all know where you would rather not be.

I have learned to keep my mouth shut during conversations. I have noticed that people usually want to talk about themselves rather than listen. When talking to somebody it is easy to tell if they are a talker – when I try to bring up something I did or how I feel if they just kind of ignore it and keep going in the direction they were headed then perhaps what I have to say is not really very important. So I just shut up. Or usually start asking more questions to prompt the other guy to keep talking. I find that I learn a lot more by asking questions that by talking about myself. But that is what this blog is for – you guys are stuck listening to me, I can ramble on and on and on and on and all you can do is either stop reading. Can’t reach out and slap me up side the head and say ‘Shut Up!’. Well, that is what the comment button is for, so that you can respond and tell me I’m full of it. Sometimes I listen, but I always stop talking and read what you have to say. (so keep saying it).

So, back to the direction I want to go. I’ll try not to complain about things I don’t know anything about. And I will not believe everything I read on the web. After looking at a bunch of Photoshoped images, and seeing my wife pull people out of pictures we take, I know that images can easily be manipulated. After seeing the editing that can be done on movies (seeing the blue screen movies Commander and recently Sin City) I know it is possible to make even movies different. See Lord of the Rings (with Buffy). But that does take a lot of work. Most web posted movies that I question are staged – there was one done on the strip where a raving guy started bashing a passing car, with the driver screaming and trying to get away. I have a friend on the police department, who said that they looked at the video, and tracked down who it was, and the car bashed was driven by the guy’s girlfriend. And unfortunately it is too easy for somebody to ‘create’ a story, and have dozens of people refer to it as if it was true. Well, some are, but some aren’t.

On to my mother – having services at her church in a few hours. She attended church regularly, and also hit the Wednesday morning bingo and Tuesday craft classes. I gave up on church a long time ago – back when I was in the Navy and started questioning things, no faith anymore here. Most of our relatives are back east. She was the oldest of any of her generation – my wife say’s it’s because we pulled her away from the cold country old style food and started feeding her California food: salads, fresh fruit, less meat. So the church thing is mostly for all the friends she made at the church activities. No funeral, we discussed things and she signed an organ donor card. But because of her age there were no individual organs healthy enough to use.

I’ve been spending time going through her room, sorting out things, looking for pictures and important papers and throwing out most of her collections. She just saved everything; guess it goes back to the depression when it was hard to find anything. Not much fun there. Several big bags of clothes went to the Salvation Army. Her new walker went to somebody at the church. Still building up glasses for the Lions. Lots of photos of people I don’t know. Since she was the oldest, there is nobody else that can identify these people. I can recognize her parents, and my uncles from long ago, but who the heck are the rest of these people? Probably cousins and such, but with nothing written on the back I have no idea. Note: be sure to use a nice soft pencil and write names and dates on the back of all of your photos. Your grandkids will wonder. With digital that’s hard, no back of the photo to write on. Funeral home hasn’t filled out the paperwork, so the county can’t issue death certificates, so I can’t start filling out all the social security and government and bank and insurance forms, as they all want a copy.

OK, as I said before, I’ll try to end with three things – can’t always come up with beautiful things (sorry Clare) but at least things I am thankful for.
1. My house, which is mine and wasn’t blown away and didn’t float away.
2. All the toys I have inside.
3. My wife that puts up with me.

Friday, September 09, 2005

more rambling

Wow, a week with no posts. Sorry, just got filled up with things. Didn’t realize how challenging it would be to start clearing out somebody’s room. Or distributing the items too nice to be thrown away (walker to a friend from the church, books to the nice book lady, knitting stuff to the craft group, etc.). Or find out all of those mother’s day cards from all the years were kept in the dresser drawer.

Quite week at work. I am debating what to say about New Orleans, but find that there are so many words from so many people that I probably couldn’t add anything. If I did it would be about how easy it is to let somebody down. Care about yourself and not the other guy. From all directions = ‘I just want to be reelected’ (guess who, but it can only happen once thank D), ‘Where is my aid? I can’t take care of myself!’ (OK, some can’t, but many should), . . .

Best opinion was on Brighton's site (need to add her to my list). I read one article about people in Mississippi; helping each other, cutting down trees, one guy opening his house for medical support (on PBS radio), doing something on their own instead of sitting. Then look at the TV of the dome, seeing all the trash, hearing ‘where is the help?’. Come on, do something yourself. Put the trash in one place, use one area as a bathroom instead of anywhere, instead of sitting around do something useful. Have people become so dependent that they cannot start helping on their own? I know you cannot create water and food, but you can do something instead of just sitting around complaining. Clean up the area. Get sheets from the hotel across the street (OK, that’s looting, bad idea) and wrap up the dead instead of leaving them sitting in wheel chairs in a doorway. My rant.

Makes me wonder what I’ve done for the world recently. Yes, I donate blood regularly – was up to thirteen gallons in SD, up to about two here. I give money when asked. I volunteer time for some groups. Food drives? I’ll fill up a few bags at the supermarket and bring them in. Is it enough? Who knows. Do I do it to make me feel good? How can I tell if it’s for me or them, it would feel the same.

Reading some blogs, makes me wish I could write as well as others. I can’t open Daniel’s (to the right) without laughing. Most of you have interesting things to say, thanks for doing it.

Boy, some rambling here. Better stop now

Friday, September 02, 2005

Labor day friday before

Question to our Swedish friend from one of the kids:
Don't you have Fourth of July in Sweden?
Of course, but we don't need fireworks to celebrate it.

We've got Labor Day Monday making this the start of a three day weeked. I am ready for it.

Three things I am thankful for:
1. It's September! August is over. Thank Dog. (see post a few below, under the pumpkin - no comments on that one?)
2. Three days not being here!! OK, I like this job, but I also like not being at this job more. (don't tell my boss, but he isn't coming in over the weekend either)
3. The sweet scent of carnations. Bought my wife a bunch of flowers on the way home yesterday (I try to every Thursday, or at least every other). She put them on the table behind the TV couch, so I can sit there with the dogs watching CSI reruns (new episodes on Sept 22!!) and enjoy the scent. OK, the dogs don't watch the reruns, that's me. They just lie there.

Thanks guys

Thank you for all of your kind comments. I appreciate all of you.

I see all of the things happening on TV around the country and around the world, and get angry, but it is the small things close to home that seem to cause the most emotions.