Thursday Bag o’ Stories

Screen Shot 2019-12-05 at 10.23.03 AMFriends are sharing kitchen stories with me, and no wonder, since that’s all I seem to blog about lately. Anyway, our friend Robin shared one about replacing florescent light panels in her kitchen ceiling. She got up on a stepladder to measure the openings, but the dimensions didn’t seem right … they appeared to be standard sized fixtures, but the tape measure said otherwise. She finally took one of the old panels to the hardware store and it turned out they were standard. Later, she checked her tape measure against another one and discovered it was mis-marked. Who ever heard of such a thing? If you can’t trust a tape measure, what can you trust?

My story’s about learning where things are in our remodeled kitchen. Everything has its own drawer or cupboard, so there’s not much counter clutter. That’s great, but I’m still at the stage where I have to open two or three drawers before I find what I’m looking for. Donna’s way ahead of me on this, since she’s the one who planned it all out.

The back door, the one we use most since it’s nearest the garage and our cars, is at one end of the kitchen counter. There used to be a key holder screwed to the side of the cabinet closest to the door, but there’s no cabinet there now and the keys are somewhere else. I don’t know where they are, but I can learn the new location, and don’t mind retraining myself. The household tape measure, though? That’s a different story.

We always kept a tape measure at the end of the kitchen counter by the back door, next to the oversized coffee cup filled with pens and the pad of note paper for grocery lists. We realized right away the last two things are indispensable, and counter clutter be damned, they’re still there, right where they’re needed. But Donna put the tape measure away somewhere, and I’m lost without it. You don’t realize how much you depend on a tape measure until you can’t find it, and I’m afraid I’m going to have to insist she put it back.

Good god, though, a mis-marked tape measure? That’s plain evil.

Donna and I celebrated another anniversary Monday, December 2nd … our 54th. We didn’t exchange gifts, what with the new kitchen and all, but we did go out to our favorite Italian place for seafood. Donna had cioppino and I had scallops and shrimp.

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Donna says the kitchen will cover Christmas as well, but I think not. I can hardly buy myself a motorcycle lift without getting her something!

I have to take my new iPhone to the Apple store to have the glass replaced. It’s never been dropped but it cracked anyway, just sitting my my pocket apparently. When I bought the phone, three months ago, I also bought a new 27″ iMac … and damn if the glass on it isn’t cracked as well! Polly had her window open to let her cats go in and out, and a bunch of flies got in the house. They decided to move into the home office, where Polly killed them with a can of bug spray. In an escalating chain of events, she then pulled my computer desk away from the window to clean the bug spray off it, and smacked the side of the iMac with a can of window spray, cracking it. The crack is small and shows no sign of spreading, but you know I can’t stand it when things aren’t right … expensive new things especially. I’ll ask what it’ll cost to replace the iMac screen when I take the phone in, and I bet I won’t like the answer.

Speaking of stories. My 23-year American Motorcyclist Association membership pin came in the mail. I’ve been riding off and on since late 1964 … a little longer than Donna and I have known each other … but didn’t join AMA until I retired from the Air Force, and regret not having done it sooner, since they lobby on behalf of motorcyclists and motorcycling (without them, do-gooders would probably have succeeded in outlawing motorcycles by now). I mentioned all this on Facebook, and an old friend from our college days in Sacramento responded with a story about the time I loaned him a motorcycle.

I remember the motorcycle, a Honda 90. I had a newer bike, a Honda 350 (which I also remember well), and since my friend was without transportation I had loaned him my old Honda 90. I don’t remember doing that, but I’ll happily accept a gold star for being a friend in need. Apparently he rode my old bike for months, and one day it quit running, stranding him by the side of the road. He called a girlfriend and she picked him up in her convertible. They loaded the Honda into the back seat and of course got pulled over by Sacramento’s finest. Turns out she was on a delivery run. The cops said my motorcycle had been reported stolen, but that was a pretext for searching her car, where they found the three bags of marijuana she was taking to her customers. My friend, not wanting to get her in trouble, claimed the dope was his, so they arrested him instead. The charges were later thrown out since the cops had lied about the motorcycle in order to conduct an illegal search.

I ask you, how could I not remember any of this? What a great story!

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Air-Minded: Counting My Squadrons

I completed four operational flying assignments as a pilot in the United States Air Force. My career, with its balance of operational and staff assignments, was more or less typical for USAF pilots of my generation. What was different … and I’m sure it was nothing more than happenstance … is that the flying squadrons my family and I called home were not only low-numbered ones, but came in ascending numerical order: from the 8th Flying Training Squadron to the 32nd Tactical Fighter Squadron, then on to the 43rd TFS and finally the 44th TFS.* How many USAF veterans can say that?

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8th FTS

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32nd TFS

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43rd TFS

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44th TFS

These are my flying squadron patches, arranged in order, the very ones I wore when assigned to those units (Donna made sure I didn’t throw or give them away). You can probably guess a few things about each squadron by looking at its patch.

  • The 8th FTS no doubt had a unit nickname in WWII, when it flew reconnaissance missions in the Pacific, but not when I was part of it … it was just the 8th FTS. What would you even call that thing on the patch? A really fast bird?
  • The 32nd TFS, originally based in Panama and the Caribbean during WWII, in its Cold War incarnation was part of United States Air Forces Europe, based in the Netherlands. Incidentally, the 32nd was the only USAFE unit authorized to incorporate host-nation royal colors on its emblem (those of the House of Orange), which also sported a Walt Disney-designed wolfhound. Members of the unit called themselves Wolfhounds; the wolfhound on the patch was the Slobbering Dog.
  • The history of the 43rd TFS goes back to its 43rd Aero Squadron roots in WWI, and it’s had a hornet on its patch since the mid-1920s.
  • The 44th TFS has bounced around the Pacific theater since WWII, and members call themselves Vampires, sometimes Bats.

My first flying assignment after earning my wings was as a T-37 instructor pilot in the 8th FTS, part of Air Training Command’s 71st Flying Training Wing at Vance AFB, Oklahoma. I was an 8th FTS IP for three years, from March 1975 to March 1978, training student pilots to fly and master the Tweet before sending them off to T-38s and the advanced phase of pilot training. Coincidentally, I myself learned to fly in the Tweet in the same squadron when I went through pilot training.

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8th FTS T-37 (one of my students flying solo on my wing)

As my tour with the 8th FTS wrapped up, I got a bit of good news: the USAF had selected me to fly the newest and hottest fighter in the inventory, the F-15 Eagle. The process of turning by-the-numbers training command instructor pilots into steely-eyed aerial assassins was an intense nine-month process, almost as long as pilot training itself. After fighter lead-in training in T-38s at Holloman AFB, New Mexico, I went through the F-15 schoolhouse at Luke AFB, Arizona, then on to NATO top-off training at Langley AFB, Virginia. I reported to my first operational fighter squadron in December 1978: the 32nd Tactical Fighter Squadron at Soesterberg AB in the Netherlands. I was a 32nd TFS Wolfhound, holder of one of the USAF’s most coveted fighter billets, for slightly more than three years, from the end of 1978 to March of 1982.

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32nd TFS Wolfhounds F-15 aerobraking at Soesterberg

In early 1982 word got out that Alaskan Air Command was going to convert its two F-4 Phantom II squadrons: one to A-10 Warthogs and the other to F-15 Eagles. An experienced F-15 flight lead and instructor pilot by this time, I was selected to be part of the F-15 conversion cadre for the 43rd TFS at Elmendorf AFB in Anchorage, Alaska, and was the second Eagle driver to report there. Larry Crumrine and I didn’t have any Eagles to fly for about two months, but we stayed busy designing the conversion program, a totally in-house effort with no help from the USAF (then-Alaska Senator Ted Stevens had pushed through the allocation of F-15s and A-10s to Alaska against USAF wishes … we were often referred to as “Ted Steven’s Air Force”). Crumer and I pulled it off somehow, and I spent the next three-plus years flying Eagles in Alaska for the 43rd TFS Hornets, March 1982 to June 1985.

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Leading a flight of 43rd TFS Hornets past Denali

After taking a long break for Armed Forces Staff College and back-to-back non-flying joint staff tours with US Readiness Command and US Special Operations Command at MacDill AFB, Florida, the Air Force figured I’d paid my dues and put me back in the cockpit. I returned to Luke AFB for a two-week refresher course in the F-15, then reported to the 44th Tactical Fighter Squadron at Kadena AB on the island of Okinawa, Japan. A new lieutenant colonel, I was quickly assigned to wing duties (chief of training, and later chief of plans), but kept my hat in the ring by flying two to three times a week with the 44th TFS Vampires and pulling air defense alert duties with the Bats at Osan AB in South Korea. Our tour in Japan lasted from July 1989 to January 1992.

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44th FS Vampires taxiing in at Kadena

From Kadena I went on to be chief of flight safety for Pacific Air Forces, based at Hickam Field in Hawaii. When I wasn’t at my desk in Honolulu I was jumping around the Pacific, flying in back seats and jump seats as an observer/inspector in different PACAF aircraft, from my own F-15s in Okinawa to F-16s in northern Japan and Korea, to KC-135 tankers and C-130 airlifters, rescue helos, and (since Alaska had by then been absorbed by PACAF) F-15s from my former Elmendorf squadron plus F-16s at Eielson AFB. That tour lasted from January 1992 to July 1995, and from there I went to my final assignment, a non-flying tour in charge of operations on the vast Nellis AFB range complex in Nevada, from July 1995 to July 1997, when I mustered out and we moved to Tucson to begin civilian life.

Today, the 8th FTS continues to train student pilots at Vance AFB, but these days they do it in the T-6 Texan II, the T-37s having retired in the early 1990s. The 32nd was deactivated in the mid-1990s, and the former Dutch air base at Soesterberg is now home to a glider club and the Netherlands Royal Air Force Museum. The 43rd moved to Tyndall AFB, Florida, where it trains USAF pilots to fly the F-22 Raptor. The 44th is still at Kadena, still flying the F-15 Eagle.
 
 
the_count*Don’t think I haven’t noticed that when I count my squadrons up … 8, 32, 43, 44 … the column ends with the Vampires. The beauty of that is not lost on me (nor is the fact that one of those squadrons is a prime number).
 
I dedicate this post to the numerical genius who inspired it, the one & only Count!
 
 

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Thanksgiving 2019

It’s been a couple of years since the Southwest Woodfords assembled in one place. But family gatherings are what Thanksgiving’s for—at least that’s what it’s come to mean for many American families, ours included. Not only are we together, we even proved we can hold still long enough for a group photo.

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The Woodfords: Polly, Gregory, Beth, Quentin, Donna, Maxie, Taylor, Paul, and Mister B

I’d be remiss if I didn’t say thanks to our dear friend Mary Anne, who joined us for dinner and took our photo. Taylor’s boyfriend Jordan was here too, and our friend Darrell dropped by to say hello. In every way, it was a wonderful day. We got full use of our remodeled kitchen, even to having both ovens running at once. My contribution was a smoked brisket; Donna and Beth cooked the traditional turkey, stuffing, gravy, and green bean casserole; Polly was in charge of mashed potatoes; Mary Anne brought corn pudding and a caprese salad. Later that night (much later, with light groaning in faux protest), we managed to eat wafer thin slices of Beth’s awesome cheesecake and Costco pumpkin pie (which can’t be beat, and I’ll fight you if you disagree). Here’s part of the spread, which we served buffet style because there wasn’t room on the table for it all.

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I think that’s Maxie, surprisingly with her back turned to the food

Our son, daughter in law, and grandson drove down from Las Vegas Tuesday evening, and so far we’ve had all of Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday (today) together. They’ll drive home tomorrow. Our granddaughter Taylor and her boyfriend drove in from Phoenix yesterday afternoon, had dinner with us, then drove back since they both had to work this morning. Polly didn’t have to work an overtime shift at Amazon last night, another blessing we’re thankful for.

Wanting to do something together today, we planned a day trip to Tombstone and Bisbee. Heavy rain woke us early this morning, or maybe it was our cell phones, beeping with severe weather warnings and a tornado alert for northwest Tucson. Twenty minutes later, the wind—and the even heavier rain that came with it—arrived in our northeast neighborhood, and it’s coming down still, hours later. Plan B was to see Ford vrs. Ferrari, but the theaters are sold out, everyone else in town having gone to Plan B as well. Thus we started down the slippery slope to the mall, the most dispiriting possible option for a post-Thanksgiving Friday. They offered me the option of bailing out and I eagerly accepted. Which is why I’m in my comfy Mister Rogers cardigan at home, uploading photos and writing a blog post, while the rest of the family kicks, elbows, and head-butts their way through Black Friday throngs.

I had a foot-pumped hydraulic motorcycle scissor lift in the garage, neglected and unused. You can jack it up while standing, but you have to get down on your knees to open the bleed valve and let it down, and I really have trouble doing that since my second knee replacement. But it’s the perfect lift for Gregory’s garage and his fancy BMW, so he’s taking it home to Las Vegas with him. I was going to get an expensive table lift for my bike, but now I’m thinking of just getting a better scissors lift, one that works with the air compressor and has a foot pedal for raising and lowering. It looks like the kitchen came in on budget, so there’s a little money left over … enough, I hope, for a new ceiling fan in the family room, a new flat-screen TV for same, and my motorcycle lift.

So yeah, life is good. I certainly don’t deserve it, but I’m thankful, and I hope all my friends and readers are happy and healthy as well. I know one friend is in hospital, and I’m worried, and if he’s reading this he’ll know I’m thinking of him. But I think I’ll send him a note and tell him so directly.

Meanwhile, a few additional photos from our family Thanksgiving week:

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The men at Hooters w/Iliana & Maria

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Donna und Beth im küche

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Polly & Gregory

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Now that’s a brisket!

I suppose I should explain the first photo for new readers: on many a weekend in the mid-1980s, my son and I would ride our motorcycles over the causeway from Tampa to Clearwater to eat and drink at what was then the one & only Hooters. We still have a fondness for the place, even though it’s no longer quite the thing. Since Quentin was a little boy we’ve been taking him to different Hooters locations whenever we get together. I’ve documented every visit in a Flickr album titled The Boyz @ Hooters. You should click on it, if for no other reason than to watch Quentin grow to his imposing present 6-foot 5-inch height. My god.

You know what? I just realized I’m not done. I have to share the post I put up on Facebook this morning. I’m sure you all can relate:

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I Want to Drive My Cybertruck

Our friend Millie is here to inspect the remodeled kitchen. Her voice carries, and I can hear her oohs and aahs from the other end of the house. Minus one ordered-at-the-last-minute overhead cabinet, a couple of glass-fronted doors, and backsplash tiling, our kitchen is operational again. The dishwasher, disposal, sink, cooktop, ovens, exhaust fan, and countertops are in and we’re cooking our own meals again. Curiously, while the square footage of the new kitchen is identical to that of the old, there’s more room: Donna, Polly, and I prepared separate parts of our first dinner together and all three of us had plenty of room to work … before, only one person at a time could do any serious cooking or prep; two was a crowd and three … forget it.

Here’s the before & after (the after taken before everything was done). I agree, the layout’s essentially the same, but I’m not deluding myself about there being more room: all three of us noticed the difference. Maybe it’s the placement of the cooktop … the way it was before there wasn’t much workspace on either side. There’s also more distance between the refrigerator and the island now, and that helps. The higher ceiling over the island has no practical effect, but there’s a psychological one.

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My frustration now is that the countertops are covered with stuff to be put away in the new cabinets and cupboards, and I can’t take a photo of the nearly-completed kitchen (well, I could, but I wouldn’t want to share it). Later today, perhaps, I’ll be able to get a shot of the entire thing. Here are a few details for now:

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Dishwasher, sink, and faucet installed

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The new cooktop

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Matching granite for the wet bar

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Ceiling-mounted exhaust fan

I did manage to get a nice photo of the adjoining family room the night we put it back together: the new paint on the ceiling and walls matches that of the kitchen. One of my sisters commented on Facebook that it looks warm and inviting. So come visit already, sis!

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When this is all over, I’ll have a trailer load of stuff to truck to the dump. Good thing we have a truck and trailer, right? Speaking of trucks, ever since Elon Musk unveiled his Cybertruck, the chorus of Queen’s “I Want to Ride My Bicycle” has been playing on a loop in my brain:

Cybertruck, Cybertruck, Cybertruck
I want to drive my Cybertruck, Cybertruck, Cybertruck
I want to drive my Cybertruck
I want to drive my truck
I want to drive my Cybertruck
I want to drive it where I like

Years ago I tacked carpet to a plank to make a ramp for Schatzi, our first dachshund, to use when getting on and off the couch. She loved it. Our auxiliary dachshund Maxie uses it still, but Mister B is determined not to and fights with us when we try to force him. He’s eleven now, and I don’t know how much longer he’ll be able to jump on and off the couch, so we’re working on it. My latest teaching technique is to put the harness on him and lead him up and down the ramp on a short leash. Donna tried to do it by simply grabbing his collar and I thought he was going to bite her: he really really hates that ramp (or maybe he just hates being told what to do).

We’re enjoying both Jack Ryan (Amazon Prime) and The Crown (Netflix), but I’m especially happy to see Donna as engaged as I am with His Dark Materials (HBO). I wish I could get her into The Man in the High Castle (Amazon) and Watchmen (HBO), but hey, I can’t get into some of her shows either, so we’re even. Now where’s this Jack Reacher TV series they’ve been talking about? I know we’ll both watch that! BTW, I wish more people would include which channels and streaming services run the TV shows they recommend. We’re at our limit on the number of streaming services and premium channels we can afford to subscribe to; it sucks to hear about great shows from friends, go looking for them on Netflix or Amazon, and only then find out we have to pay for Britbox or Disney to watch them. Disappoint us right up front, please.

I’m a few chapters into Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments; the brilliant and chilling follow-on to her most famous work, The Handmaid’s Tale. I don’t know if Trump will resign (even if he’s impeached, he certainly won’t be convicted, so throwing in the towel à la Nixon is the best we can hope for), but if he does we’ll have Pence, and if Pence has his way we’ll have Gilead. Atwood is a timely read, to say the least.

There’s an annual 100-mile bike race here called El Tour de Tucson, and elite riders from all over compete in it (Lance Armstrong used to be a regular before we knew he was a cheater as well). It’s always on the Saturday before Thanksgiving, which was yesterday. There are three starting points: riders can choose to ride the complete course, two-thirds of it, or a third. I’ve ridden the short course three times; Donna rode with me the third time. But that was a few years ago; since then I’ve been content to walk to the Houghton Road end of our subdivision to watch the leaders on the full course whiz by. In the past that always happened around 9 AM, some two hours into the race.

So at 8:50 AM yesterday I headed out with Mister B, and as we turned the corner onto the main road through the subdivision the lead peloton was going by, off in the distance. I don’t know what changed, but something must have. We got close enough to take a video just in time for the second pack:


Mister B was more curious about our MAGA-hatted neighbor than he was about the bicyclists, but I kept a firm grip on his leash anyway lest he dart out to join the fun.

Local color, that race, and honestly at my age more fun to watch than to take part it.

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Tell Me Another One

sink-grids-qi003218-64_1000No, this isn’t a kitchen remodeling update … not exactly. We’re in a dry spell between sub-contractor jobs, which resume Thursday with the installation of countertops, then continue Friday with the installation of the new cooktop, dishwasher, and sink, topped off with the ceremonial connection of the plumbing, at which point we’ll have a fully-functioning kitchen again. It won’t be a fully-finished kitchen, though, until the 9th of December.

Donna originally wanted one section of wall cut down to the level of her new countertops, but it turned out that section had something to do with holding up the roof, so that part of the project had to be scrapped. Since we’re stuck with a floor-to-ceiling wall, she ordered an overhead cabinet to go above the cupboards below, but it had to be built and won’t be delivered until the 6th. Sal the tile guy can’t put in the backsplash tiles until that cabinet is in, so he plans to do his thing on the 9th. That’ll be everything. I think.

But back to the lovely clean dishes in the image. For 21 years I’ve been talking up the merits of an old-school drainboard and dish rack. To deaf ears. Donna’s a modern girl and won’t hear a word against automatic dishwashers, no matter how crappy a job they do. And brother, the one we had put the crap in crappy. I’ve gotten used to inspecting cups, glasses, plates, and silverware before I use them, because half the time the dishwasher didn’t get them clean. For the past few weeks we haven’t had a dishwasher, let alone a sink—let alone water in the kitchen—so we’ve been schlepping dirty dishes back to the laundry room at the other end of the house, washing them by hand in the utility sink, then putting them on top of the washing machine to dry. And they’ve been spotlessly clean.

I plucked my favorite coffee cup off the shelf this morning and it positively sparkled. I could see inside all the way to the bottom, where my reflection looked back at me. I remarked on its pristine condition to Donna, but it was a waste of breath. A new (and one hopes better or at least adequate) dishwasher will be installed Friday, and that’ll be the end of hand-washing, at least as far as Donna’s concerned. The salesman told Donna not only will we not have to rinse dishes before putting them in the new unit, we shouldn’t, because the dishwasher’s designed to work best with dirty dishes. Uh-huh. Tell me another one, appliance salesman.

Well, enough bitching.

Are any of you into Watchmen and His Dark Materials on HBO? I’m inclined to look down my nose at comic book-based movies and TV shows, and I always say fantasy literature isn’t my thing, but I’m totally in for these two shows. I may never pick up the actual Watchmen comic books (or graphic novels, if that hurts your fee-fees), but I love the show and everything about it: the actors, the sets, the special effects, the incorporation of American history that isn’t taught in schools, and maybe best of all the music. The other series, His Dark Materials, is based on three “young adult” novels by Philip Pullman: “The Golden Compass,” “The Subtle Knife,” and “The Amber Spyglass,” which are among the best and most spell-binding books I’ve ever read. The HBO series so far more than does justice to the books. Just wanted to get that in there in case you have HBO and are looking for something good to watch.


As a volunteer docent, I tell visitors about a number of McDonnell-Douglas and Boeing aircraft at Pima Air and Space Museum. The one that always gives me pause, though, is our former US Navy Blue Angels McDonnell-Douglas F/A-18 Hornet, because the museum wants us to call it a Boeing F/A-18, what with Mac D having become part of Boeing in the late 1990s and Boeing’s continuing manufacture of new Super Hornets. I always stumble over the phrase “Boeing F/A-18 Hornet.” It’ll always be a McDonnell-Douglas jet to me.

Anyway, here’s an interesting article in the current issue of The Atlantic, purporting to explain how the aircraft manufacturer lost its way. It posits two important reasons for Boeing’s current problems: one, the company’s late-1990s “reverse takeover” of McDonnell-Douglas, wherein McDonnell-Douglas leadership moved into Boeing headquarters and imported its own bottom-line culture; two, the relocation of Boeing’s headquarters to Chicago a year or two later, which separated executives from the engineers in Seattle who previously ran the show. The article purports to tell how a respected pillar of the aerospace business, a company run by engineer-executives who put the emphasis on building the best aircraft possible, morphed into a corporate giant whose primary purpose is to make money for its shareholders.

I have a beef with the McDonnell-Douglas part of The Atlantic’s argument. McDonnell had a well-earned reputation as a designer and manufacturer of spacecraft and military aircraft; Douglas an equally solid reputation in the airliner business. I flew the McDonnell-Douglas F-15 Eagle during my Air Force career, and never once felt it was anything less than the best fast-mover in the skies, beautifully designed and engineered, the Cadillac—nay, the Mercedes-Benz—of fighters. Every base I was posted to had a McDonnell-Douglas rep on hand, and when we needed support from St. Louis we got it, if not on the spot then overnight, even in the most remote locations. I’m not alone in feeling this way. Never have I ever* heard a fighter pilot, whether Air Force, Navy, or Marine, bad-mouth one of Mister Mac’s jets.

The part about separating Boeing’s headquarters from the manufacturing plant—and the engineers—in Seattle? Which was primarily done, by the way, in a foot-stomping fit of conservative pique over Seattle’s left-leaning culture? I’ll buy that; it makes sense. But don’t you be putting down McDonnell-Douglas, not around me anyway.

*Other than in those ubiquitous Facebook cut & paste meme posts, who ever has said “never have I ever”? But you know what? It felt right to use it in that one sentence: “Never have I ever heard a fighter pilot, whether Air Force, Navy, or Marine, bad-mouth one of Mister Mac’s jets.”

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Cupboards and Books and Toadies, Oh My!

Can you stand another kitchen remodeling update?

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Here’s the latest: the cupboard and drawer pull handles are installed, the fridge and ovens have been installed and connected, and the new microwave is in its special cubby. We laid plywood down to make working surfaces until the granite countertops are installed next week, along with the new cooktop, pulls for the small cabinets like the ones above the fridge, top trim for the cupboards on the left, the new sink, and the splash tiling. I didn’t photograph it, but the replacement floor tiles are in as well.

So to a degree we can now cook, but we still have to carry dirty dishes and utensils back to the deep sink in the laundry room to clean up. Our old countertop microwave will go with Polly when she saves up enough money to move into a place of her own (part of our concurrent daughter remodeling project).

I’ve missed the last two or three monthly book club meetings, and I’m determined to go today even though I gave up on the assigned reading, Night Film by Marisha Pessi. The category for November was horror, but I didn’t find the novel even slightly scary, and there were more appealing selections in my to-read queue. Not to worry, I won’t bad-mouth it at the meeting if others liked it.

But hey, today we’re doing a book exchange, and that’s really why I’m going. We’re each supposed to bring two favorites: the ones I’ve picked are The Plot Against America by Philip Roth and King of the Badgers by Philip Hensher. Two Philips, and I’m tempted to bring a third, Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass, but suspect everyone’s already read it.

I know from Facebook that many of my friends are also members of local and neighborhood book clubs, and it gives me hope. We are smarter and more intellectually curious than you might assume from the crap we normally post on social media. Now if we can just get off our asses and vote, eh?


I’ve been meaning to share some thoughts about the corrosive effects of bad leadership. Trump’s had nearly three years to replace cabinet secretaries and agency heads with yes men and toadies who share his petty vindictiveness and lack of values. The rot’s so deep now I wonder if we’ll ever fully recover.

Just the other day I read an article about a smear campaign conducted against a career State Department employee by top-level Trump appointees who openly bragged about demoting her after falsely branding her of being a disloyal Obama appointee (she was hired under the George W. Bush administration) and an Iranian national (she was born and raised in America). This was my reaction, which I posted on Facebook and Twitter:

This is the sort of behavior you’d expect from a couple of low-level Beavis & Butthead wage-scalers in the mail room. Not senior leadership. But #Trump has brought the playing field down to his level.

But this guy, last night, said it better, and far more forcefully:

That’s MSNBC contributor and Obama-era official Chuck Rosenberg (former acting head of the DEA), criticizing Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for not defending former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch from his boss’ repeated public smears.

If you’re not one for clicking on videos (maybe you’re at work, or maybe you just hate them, as I do), here are some of the things Mr. Rosenberg had to say about Pompeo’s lack of support for one of his own ambassadors:

Like any leader, I think he has three obligations: First to the public, the American people, second to the mission of his agency, and third, and just as important, to the men and women who serve in that agency. His silence is deafening. It is an act of abject cowardice.

I’m astonished that somebody who went to West Point and was an army officer does not have the spine to stand up for the people in his organization who are being denigrated by this president. That silence, as I said, is deafening, and it is disgusting.

What I see from him is a complete lack of leadership. I doubt he’s watching this show, and I doubt he’s listening to me, but if he was, I would tell him he’s a coward.

I haven’t paid much attention to Pompeo, who in my view was just another yes man, just another Trump toady. Until Chuck Rosenberg said it on TV last night, I hadn’t realized Pompeo was a West Point graduate and former Army officer. That really shows me how pervasive the rot is, because standing up for your own people is so deeply ingrained in the military’s idea of leadership, along with quaint notions like praising in public but criticizing in private, not to mention common everyday decency.

When I was a career officer, I knew of a few cases where shitbirds like Pompeo managed to pull the wool over their superiors’ eyes and get promoted into senior leadership positions, but I could count them on the fingers of one hand. I wonder now how many Pompeos are wearing stars today. I probably don’t want to know the answer.

The fish rots from the head. It’s right in front of us, and we just don’t want to smell it of think about it, but we can’t ignore it much longer.

Look, everyone, join a book club, get smart, and vote.

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Air-Minded: On a Boom and a Prayer

There I was, inverted, at 40,000 feet and Mach 2.2 … here’s a war story I first posted in August, 2007. I’m bumping it up to the top of the blog because it’s a good one and I suspect few readers get into the archives, what with the press of busy lives and current events. Please enjoy. Every word of what you’re about to read is true. —Paul

rejoinHere’s a war story for a Sunday afternoon.

It’s about an aerial SNAFU* I was involved in one day while leading a four-ship of F-15s in Alaska. An F-16 squadron from the Lower 48 was visiting Elmendorf Air Force Base, flying dissimilar air combat training with our squadron. It was a beautiful but cold winter day when we launched: light rains in the Anchorage area, good ceiling and visibility, forecast to get even better, no alternate landing field required.

Just about the time my wingmen and I were hitting bingo (enough fuel remaining to return to base and land safely), the temperature at Elmendorf suddenly dropped to 20 below. Since the ground was already frozen, the water on the runways instantly turned into ice and the braking action went to zero. One F-16 pilot couldn’t stop on landing, so he lowered his hook and took the cable on the east/west runway. Two minutes later a second F-16 took the cable on the north/south runway. There were sixteen jets still airborne, eight F-15s and eight F-16s, all of us now at or near bingo.

Fighters don’t carry a lot of fuel, and what they carry they burn at a great rate. Although we had enough to return to Elmendorf, take our turns in the pattern, and land, we didn’t have enough to wait for the cable crews to get the F-16s clear of the runways and reset the cables, a procedure that can take twenty to thirty minutes. That’s how tight we were on gas.

For some reason (I seem to recall it was mainly political) we were not allowed to land at Anchorage International Airport, even though the runways there were equipped with cables. Since two KC-135 tankers were airborne in the local area, the Elmendorf supervisor of flying radioed the flight leads of the F-15 and F-16 four-ships, directing us to rendezvous with the tankers, offload a couple of thousand pounds each, and fly to the nearest “legal” alternate, King Salmon Air Force Station, some 350 nautical miles to the west.

Refueling and flying on to an alternate would have been a cakewalk if there were only four of us, but sixteen? I was leading the first four-ship to reach the tankers, which were flying in a lead/trail formation about five miles apart. We rejoined on the trailing tanker and I cleared my number four, who was lowest on fuel, to the boom. By then we could hear the second Eagle four-ship checking in and starting a rejoin on the lead tanker.

As four approached the boom, the F-16s checked in on our frequency, and they didn’t sound like they had a whole lot of gas to play with. This racheted up the pressure and number four got nervous and started ham-handing his stick . . . it took him an agonizingly long time to settle down and connect with the boom. By then one of the Viper four-ships was lined up one mile behind us and the flight lead was asking me if I could drop my guys back and let them refuel first. A similar conversation was going on between the Eagle and Viper flight leads on the lead tanker.

Fortunately we were above the weather and in visual contact with each other, sixteen fighters and two tankers, and we were headed west toward King Salmon as we refueled. I asked number four to come off the boom after taking on just a few hundred pounds. I’d already checked two and three’s fuel, and knew we had just enough to wait while the Vipers refueled . . . as long as they got on and off the boom smartly.  Fortunately for us the Viper pilots were crusty old Air National Guard types with tens of thousands of hours between them, each one an airline pilot in his other life.

The F-16s refueled in a heartbeat and we were back on the boom, then on to King Salmon. The two flights on the lead tanker refueled and followed us to King, where we all landed. The tankers, bless their hearts, had enough fuel to orbit Elmendorf for hours (even after refueling sixteen fighters) so they were able to wait out the cable crews and eventually land there.

The rest of us gassed up at King, and an hour or two later took off again for Elmendorf. By the time we landed and debriefed the officers’ club was closed. Too bad . . . we all could have used a drink.

It occurred to me, as I was getting ready to climb in bed at home, that the moment the two F-16s closed the runways at Elmendorf we should have headed for Anchorage International, politics or no. We were in a tight situation. Even though the supervisor of flying directed us to refuel and fly to King Salmon, I was stupid to accept his decision. One screwup and we’d have lost one or two jets to fuel starvation . . . no, let me rephrase that: as a flight lead and the senior pilot airborne that day, I would have lost one or two jets. It would have been my fault, not the SOF’s. And all this time Anchorage International, with two long cable-equipped runways, was five miles south of Elmendorf AFB . . . right where it always was (and most likely still is).

I didn’t get much sleep that night.

* SNAFU: situation normal, all fucked up.

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Tuesday Bag o’ Off-White

Everything’s coming up off-white: the new paint in the kitchen and family room, the recessed lighting, and the new cabinets and cupboards they started installing yesterday while I was working at the museum. This is what I came home to:

46198A30-E9BC-4E06-97BD-9802898B30CB

Looking good, I think. I’ve only seen small samples Donna brought home to show me, so I can’t yet visualize the finished kitchen with countertops and splashbacks, nor handles and pulls, all of which Donna has selected and which will be installed next week, but I can’t wait to see it all together. Donna’s had 20+ years to plan her new kitchen, and she put a lot of work into it. I think her detailed planning is the main reason the work is on schedule. But knock on wood, just in case.

By the way, it’s starting to look as if the contractor won’t have to chip out and replace the existing floor tiles … but we have leftover tiles from the original reflooring job years ago, if it turns out he needs them.

I spent some time with my friend and motorcycle maintenance guru Ed Sunday morning, replacing footpegs on my bike and fixing a broken latch in the tour pack. I love using his motorcycle table lift. It gets harder and harder to get down on the garage floor to change the oil or pump air in the tires; with a lift I can bring the work up to waist level. I’ve been planning to get one for my own garage but am having second thoughts. Do I really need something so extravagant? There’s a smaller type of jack that’ll do the same job at a fraction of the cost, and maybe I’ll get one of those instead.

It’s windy this morning and the radio says it’ll stay that way all day. When Mister B and I went for our morning walk, we headed up the cul-de-sac with the wind at our back, pushing hard. Mister B kept stopping to stare back the way we came, and it dawned on me, halfway up the street, that he was looking for whatever was pushing against him from behind. He was looking for the wind.

I was going to write a Veterans Day post but settled for a couple of short entries on Facebook and Instagram, along with some photos of combat veteran aircraft from the air museum. Writing about my own service seems, I don’t know, self-serving? Like I’m asking for a pat on the back? For doing something I loved doing?

My family tree is full of men (and no doubt some women) who served, from the Revolutionary War right up to 1997, the year I retired. My father mapped out the family tree and I remember him telling me about ancestors serving in various wars and campaigns. What I can’t remember is whether he ever told me which side of the Revolutionary War early American Woodfords fought on. There were Woodfords on both sides of the Civil War: my branch of the family, the Iowa Woodfords, was Union; the Kentucky branch, the ones with the expensive bourbon, were Rebs.

In living memory, both my grandfathers fought in the Great War: Estes Caldwell on my mother’s side in the Navy (where Caldwells continue to serve); Fay Woodford on my father’s side in the Army. Since Fay had been a Burlington man before he enlisted, the American Expeditionary Force kept him in France for a year or two after the Armistice to help get the railway system operating again. My father was a sailor during WWII and was aboard the USS Bolster during the Battle of Okinawa. He got out after the war, went to college on the GI Bill, and then became a career Air Force officer. I grew up as a military brat, and after a short career as a professional student and hippie followed in his footsteps. I’m the last Woodford in the chain, at least for now, but who knows what path future Woodfords might follow?

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