The Great Catch-Up Begins

So. We’re back from our trip to Missouri, Illinois, and Ohio. We landed in Tucson late Friday night. I would have started updating this blog sooner, but first there was Saturday’s car show at the Gregory School, an annual event I try never to miss; a nine-to-five shift at my friend Ed’s garage Sunday, wrenching on my motorcycle; then my regular Monday of volunteer work at the air museum. In between outside events, I’ve been at the computer, uploading photos to Flickr (hundreds of them, literally).

The motorcycle isn’t done and I’ll have to spend more time at Ed’s during the week, but I’ll start blogging again with some photo posts and get back to regular posting as soon as I can. Here are a couple of teasers from our trip:


My ridiculously photogenic sisters Cece and Charlie, organizers of the Woodford family reunion in Cape Girardeau, Missouri


The surviving XB-70 Valkyrie, on display in the USAF Museum at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio


Donna with her sister Georgianna at our B&B in Oberlin, Ohio

This one’s from Saturday:


Love those shiny hubcaps: Tucson Classics Car Show at the Gregory School

And this one’s from Sunday:


Heavy maintenance in Ed’s workshop, soon to get even heavier

I posted OTR (on the road) updates to Facebook while we were away, but otherwise didn’t spend much time there. Now that we’re back I’m inclined to spend even less time on social media … except, of course, for letting friends know when new blog posts are up.

When I last posted here, the contractor was partway through painting our house. We hoped he’d be done before we left, but it started pouring down rain. It kept raining after we left, and he wasn’t able to finish until a day or two before our return. What with getting in late Friday, we weren’t able to inspect his work until Saturday morning. I’m happy to report he did a fantastic job. It’s hard to photograph our entire house because there’s a big palo verde tree in the way, but here are two photos to show you the colors we settled on:

IMG_6614 IMG_6613

Our mail-in ballots came while we were away. I’m going to fill mine out and send it in this week. I sincerely hope you’re motivated and planning to vote as well. If ever there was a time to do it, it’s now.

More soon!


Tuesday Lunch Bag o’ Judicial Temperament

UntitledThis is my lunch bag, which I’ve decided to nickname Brett.

Brett tells me he’s been the victim of a calculated and orchestrated political hit fueled with apparent pent-up anger about President Trump and the 2016 election, fear that has been unfairly stoked about his sandwich molestation record, revenge on behalf of the Clintons, and millions of dollars in money from outside left-wing opposition groups.

Judging by the expression on Brett’s face, I’d say he’s pretty worked up about it, and I wonder if he’s emotionally suited to the job of keeping my lunch cold.

You probably remember me bitching about how uncomfortable it was to drive one of Pima Air & Space Museum‘s two new electric trams. Well, I take back everything I said.

IMG_6335As I suspected, the accelerator and brake pedals on the large tram were adjustable after all (they told me at first they weren’t). Now that maintenance has repositioned the pedals closer to the floor and relocated the driver’s seat a few inches aft, the large tram is as nice to drive as the small one, and all is well with the world.

That’s not all: the museum sprang for two wireless mics. They’re pretty slick: you plug a dongle-type receiver into the tram’s microphone jack, then clip a small battery pack and mic to your shirt. Before, we had to hold a wired mic in one hand while steering with the other. Now we can narrate tours with both hands on the wheel, or even talk to passengers while walking up and down outside the tram at the start of the tour, our words amplified through the tram speakers.

Of course the battery packs contain (wait for it) batteries, which happened to be almost dead when we tried the new mics out for the first time yesterday, and thank goodness we’d brought along the old wired mics as a precaution. Oh, well … next time we’ll do it right.

My Goldwing is still at Ed’s garage, still in a disassembled state. Ed and Matthew have the new steering head bearing ready to install, but we’re waiting for the throttle cables I ordered. Ed says the new cables will be easy to install with the forks and triple clamp off, so there’s no hurry to put the bike back together before then. With luck the cables will come today or tomorrow and I’ll take them right over to Ed’s. If they don’t come before Thursday, when Donna and I leave for Missouri, Polly will have to deliver them.

Ed says my steering head bearing, which has about 105,000 miles on it, is well worn, so it’s good we’re replacing it. The bearing is more complex than I’d thought: here’s my triple clamp and steering head, with the old bearing disassembled and laid out for inspection on Ed’s workbench:


We’re hoping our contractor, Michael, will finish painting the house today or tomorrow so we can pay him before we leave and not have to leave that task to Polly, who’s working full-time now and might not be here when Mike finishes up.

The bulk of the job has been prep work: replacing damaged siding and corner pieces, caulking and sealing cracks and applying primer, but now that’s done and Mike is spraying on the actual paint. Here’s a photo I took yesterday after getting home from the museum. You can see Mike in the shadow under the patio, painting the underside of the patio cover, and Mr. B out in the yard keeping an eye on him. The house itself will be a light tan, with white door and window trim, and dark blue for the doors.


I probably won’t have time to share photos of the finished job on Paul’s Thing before our trip, but I’ll post updates on Facebook until I can get back to the blog, probably in a couple of weeks.

See you then.


Motorcycle Maintenance, Part Umpty-Squat

My friend Ed’s training a young protégé in the art and discipline of motorcycle maintenance. What are they practicing on? My Goldwing. Here are Ed and Matthew draining and cleaning my left fork before installing new seals and filling it back up with fluid:


Not my garage (but I wish it was)

I mentioned in a previous post that the seals on the left fork blew. Ed thinks the anti-dive valve mounted on that fork is causing the problem. Since this is the third time we’ve replaced the same seals, he’s probably right. In addition to new seals, I bought a new anti-dive valve, and Ed and Matthew plan to swap out the old one with it. After some other work, that is.


At least we don’t have to go down to the engine itself

Other work as in replacing front disk brake pads, steering head bearings, and throttle cables. To get to the last two, most of the plastic has to come off the top and front of the bike, plus the handlebars, which you can see resting atop my ride’s guts in the above photo.

It’s a big job and I can’t be there for all of it. We’re having our house painted and I need to be home to watch over that. But Ed says Matthew needs the practice, and so does he, because after my bike they’re doing similar work on another friend’s Goldwing. Still, I plan to spend as much time as I can, over the next two or three days, at Ed’s garage, helping where I can.

I ordered new throttle cables but they’re not here yet and may not come until after Thursday, when Donna and I leave for a Woodford family reunion in Missouri. If that happens our daughter Polly, who’ll be holding down the house while we’re gone, will take the cables to Ed’s so he and Matthew can finish the work. Busy busy busy.

My next scheduled motorcycle outing is Sunday, October 28th, when I’m leading the Knuckledraggers Baja Arizona chapter from Tucson to Arivaca and back, a ride I’m very much looking forward to.

Speaking of riding, Donna and I were out with our Trail Trash friends yesterday for a 13-mile-plus bicycle ride on the Rillito portion of the Loop, the paved biking & hiking trail that now encircles Tucson. No way we’re ready to ride the whole 131 miles yet, but 13 miles is more than twice the distance we rode the week before, and it’s an even bigger deal for me with the new knee and all. Here we are at a Loop rest area on the northwest side of town:


Trail Trash: Donna, me, Darrell, Mary Anne

We’re close enough to our departure date it’s time to start checking weather forecasts for Cape Girardeau: high 50s/low 60s, partly cloudy. Jacket weather, a real treat for us southern Arizonans, though to tell the truth I could almost be wearing a jacket today in Tucson, and will probably bring one with me to the air museum tomorrow. Just as a precaution, you know.

I hope your weather is autumnal, your motorcycle well-maintained, and the paint on your house looking sharp. More soon!


You Can’t Read That!

You Can’t Read That! is a periodic post featuring banned book reviews and news.


Photo: Charles Denson

YCRT! Banned Book News

Local pastors petitioned to have LGBTQ-themed books removed from a Banned Books Week display at the public library in Rumford, Maine. The library, backed by patrons and the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, stood its ground.

Per the American Library Association, five of the top ten banned books in 2017 had LGBTQ content, a fact borne out in this short ALA video:

It’s another year, so it must be time for the annual obligatory op-ed declaring Banned Books Week a hoax. Yawn.

Retailer Target is removing words like “Nazi” and “queer” from descriptions of books for sale at its website, “ … to ensure a positive shopping experience.”

Censorship by omission: In West Virginia, the Morgan County public library announced it would not carry the new Bob Woodward book, “Fear: Trump in the White House.” “We have other Trump books,” the library’s director said, before the library board, alerted to her announcment by media reports, stepped in to reverse the decision.

The director of guidance at Burlington High School, Vermont, was being investigated for unprofessional conduct. Student journalists filed a public records request and published an article about the investigation on the school newspaper’s website. The next day the principal ordered them to take the article down, in apparent violation of the state’s “New Voices” law protecting student journalists’ First Amendment rights. Good news: the students prevailed.

Authors speak out on being banned.

Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States” has gone mainstream? Tell that to Heartland America, Slate Magazine!

Under the new European Union’s Copyright Directive, not only can’t users upload copyrighted material to social media, copyrighted material already on those platforms must be taken down. Once platforms like Google and Facebook install filters to block and remove copyrighted material, EU law may affect social media users world-wide.

The link in the following tweet, posted 9/28/18, is already dead, which leads me to believe Pennsylvania prison policy on books is still in flux. Dated 10/4/18, this appears to be current policy, bad enough but not as bad it initially appeared:

Screen Shot 2018-10-05 at 12.53.12 PM

There is no censorship more odious than censorship based on stake taint.

If you think censorship based on stake taint is bad, wait’ll you read about censorship and book banning in Kuwait, where mermaids have to wear the hijab.

YCRT! Banned Book Review

poisonwood bibleThe Poisonwood Bible
by Barbara Kingsolver

Synopsis (from Goodreads): “‘The Poisonwood Bible’ is a story told by the wife and four daughters of Nathan Price, a fierce, evangelical Baptist who takes his family and mission to the Belgian Congo in 1959. They carry with them everything they believe they will need from home, but soon find that all of it — from garden seeds to Scripture — is calamitously transformed on African soil. What follows is a suspenseful epic of one family’s tragic undoing and remarkable reconstruction over the course of three decades in postcolonial Africa.”

“If I were to write a nonfiction book about the brief blossoming and destruction of the independence of the Congo, and what the C.I.A. had to do with it, then probably all 85 people who are interested in the subject would read it. Instead I can write a novel that’s ostensibly about family and culture and an exotic locale. And it’s entertaining, I hope.”
— Barbara Kingsolver

This was a book club selection, not one I would have picked up on my own. I had heard of Barbara Kingsolver but had never read any of her stuff. I’ll go right to my reaction: after a short opening chapter in the voice of Orleanna, the mother, each of the Price family’s four daughters began to describe their experiences in the Congo, and I was utterly hooked.

The Price women came alive and I loved them all, even Rachel the Termite, the shallow one. Each has her own distinctive voice and style and way of looking at her family and the world. I didn’t miss hearing from the father at all … one sees quite enough of him through his wife and daughters’ eyes, enough to last a lifetime. I grew up Southern Baptist, thank you, and know the type well. Oh, and by the way, I am the same age as the twins, Leah and Adah, and well remember heavy news coverage of America’s interest in the newly-independent Congo in the early 1960s, including our government’s opposition to the presidency of Patrice Lumumba and the coup that resulted in the Congo’s decades-long nightmare under Mobutu.

It struck me … as I read about Nathan Price’s dogmatic single-mindedness and the physical and psychological punishment he inflicted on his wife and daughters; about the contrast between his empty, irrelevant religion and that of the Congolese villagers; about the Eisenhower/CIA-engineered assassination of Lumumba and the installation of the corrupt dictator Mobutu; even more so about Leah’s later life with Anatole, her black Congolese revolutionary husband … that “The Poisonwood Bible” had surely been the target of book banning attempts in the USA, if not in parts of Africa as well.

A little research uncovered two documented instances: the novel was banned in Port Washington NY schools in 2001; in 2010 it was challenged by New Hampshire parents who objected to its inclusion on a school reading list, citing sexually explicit scenes.

“The Poisonwood Bible” does not appear on the American Library Association’s Top 100 Banned Book list, and the only references to it being banned and challenged I can find online are the secondary ones linked above. Still, given that the ALA itself says most school book bans and challenges go unreported in the media, and are thus invisible to the ALA, I have to believe “The Poisonwood Bible” has been the target of other, unreported, attempts to keep schoolchildren and others from reading it.

When possible, I research and link to contemporaneous local news coverage of book bans and challenges. Why? Because local news reports usually include interviews with those who sought to ban the books in the first place, and that’s where you find out what their real beef was. Unfortunately, I can’t track down contemporaneous coverage for the two incidences listed above.

Sexually explicit scenes? I doubt it. I just finished reading the book cover to cover, and I’m damned if I remember any. No, I’m willing to bet the real objections were to the novel’s less-than-flattering depictions of Christianity and good-hearted American benevolence (specifically the Eisenhower administration’s complicity in overthrowing Lumumba). Most of all, however, I think the parents who got the book banned in New York, and who challenged it in New Hampshire, were uncomfortable with the idea of Leah and Anatole’s mixed-race marriage. Can I prove it? No. Am I right? You know I am.



Here’s the group photo from Sunday’s Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride in Tucson:


I’m the gent in the front row wearing a black shirt with red stripes and a hat, blocking out the riders behind me. As befits distinguished gentlemen, riders wore ties, vests, vintage riding outfits, even tuxes with tails. I modeled Donna’s embroidery work, which you can see here on my shirt:


I was going to wear a full-face helmet, but since it was kind of hot I went with a shorty. For the first part of the ride, I used the visor to block UV rays to the top of my face, with SPF 85 sunblock smeared on my nose, cheeks, and chin. The sunblock worked its way into my eyes, so at the halfway point (where the group photo was taken) I decided to cover up. I used a bandana from a 2013 Hash House Harrier meet in Java. Hey, you have a few skin cancers removed from your face, and maybe a skin graft or two, and you’ll understand why I go outdoors disguised as the Invisible Man.

If you’re motorcycle-curious, you can see the rest of my Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride photos in a Flickr album titled DGR 2018 (click the link to see them).

Here’s a short YouTube video that’s not in the Flickr album. The oldest bike at the DGR was a 1930s DKW with a small 2-stroke engine. You don’t see many 2-stroke motorbikes today, but I remember them well, especially the oily smoke they leave in their wake. Realizing the DKW and its rider were right in front of me as we started engines, I pretended to stall out so as to get four or five bikes back. A prudent decision.

But for naught, as it turned out. Arriving home a few hours later, I noticed oil spattered on my left shoe and pants leg. I couldn’t blame the DKW: it came from my own ride. At some point along the route the seals on my Goldwing’s left fork blew: fork oil dripped down to the axle, then blew back onto the left side of the engine … and me. My friend Ed, riding buddy and motorcycle maintenance guru, has my motorcycle now. Parts are on order, and when they come in we’ll tackle another fork rebuild.

Meanwhile, we’re having our house repainted. Donna and I, with Mr. B along for company and adventure, picked up the paint and other materials at Home Depot this morning. It’s threatening to rain so the contractor’s on hold, but we’ve done our part and now it’s up to him. We hope he’ll have it all done before October 11th, when we leave for a reunion with my family in Missouri.

Another item on today’s list: writing a letter of recommendation for our grandson Quentin’s advancement to Eagle Scout. I never made it past Cub Scouts. Our son Gregory was a Cub Scout and a Boy Scout. Now Quentin is preparing to go all the way. You know, if Judge Kavanaugh had been an Eagle Scout, he’d have sailed right through his Supreme Court confirmation hearings. Just sayin’. We’re mighty proud of our grandson.

We’re looking forward to our trip. We’re flying to St. Louis and renting a car, then driving to Cape Girardeau, Missouri, for a three-day family reunion. Afterward we’ll drive to Dayton, Ohio, and a visit to the Air Force Museum at Wright-Patterson Field, then on to Elyria, Ohio to see Donna’s Uncle Dewey. We’ll drive back to St. Louis via Columbia, Illinois, where we’ll spend some time with my nieces Michele and Cindy before flying home.

It’s October and finally cooling down in southern Arizona. About damn time, too.

More soon!


Paul’s Book Reviews: Playing Catch-Up

My book review posts don’t normally have a theme. They are what they are: reviews of the latest books I’ve read, fiction, nonfiction, thrillers, whatever. This time, though, I include three books I’ve had on the to-read shelf for years … more than a decade in one case … that I finally got around to finishing. Damn, at this rate I might someday post a review of “Infinite Jest.”
— Paul

palin diariesDiaries 1969-1979: The Python Years (Palin Diaries #1)
by Michael Palin

I found Michael Palin’s “Diaries 1969-1979: the Python Years” on the sale shelf at B&N. This was more than a decade ago, probably 2004. I didn’t want to start in on such a long volume right then so put it aside. A couple of months ago I moved it to the bathroom and started reading it in installments: a few pages one day, a page or two the next, and so on.

Like most American men my age, I loved Monty Python. Unlike the fans Palin writes about, the ones who’d ask for his autograph only to do a double-take when he didn’t sign their napkins as Terry Jones or Eric Idle, I knew exactly who Michael Palin was. I was a dedicated fan of his on “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” and admired his work in “Jabberwocky,” “Time Bandits,” “Brazil,” “Life of Brian” and other movies, not to mention his later travel documentaries.

It’s instructive to read Michael Palin’s Wikipedia entry. In the diaries, the everyday life Palin describes moves along at a sedate pace, but I realize now that’s because he doesn’t detail all the writing projects he was involved in. The man’s achievements and works are many, and I admire him for not bragging about it.

The diaries are a fun read. Palin is as he appears on TV: a warm, friendly, intelligent gent. I felt right at home with him. I loved reading the snippets, here and there, about his Python work and the other members of the troupe; and of course all the rest, including his many encounters with notable people. His observations are honest and sharp, but never mean.

I’ve not been much on diaries, but this one has turned me, and I may start reading more. I rather wish now I’d kept one. This is a great read, and perhaps the best way to read it is the way I did, in small installments over time … as it was written. In fact, I may have hit on the way to finally finish “Infinite Jest” … move it into the throne room!

midnight lineThe Midnight Line (Jack Reacher #22)
by Lee Child

The next Jack Reacher novel isn’t due out until November this year, so I’ve reached the end of the trail for now (if you don’t count the short stories).

Opioid addiction plays a major role in “The Midnight Line,” which is appropriate for someone who will soon be looking for another Jack Reacher fix. Reacher fills some kind of hero/knight-errant hole in our souls, and we hope Lee Child’s health is sound and that more adventures await.

This was not, to me, the best Reacher novel, but it was far from the worst (that one was “A Wanted Man,” #17 in the series). It picks up where #20 (“Make Me”) left off, and leaves Jack in South Dakota, another case solved, a victim rescued, and … inexplicably … a great female cop character locked in a villain’s control room, one hopes to be discovered before she succumbs to hunger and thirst. I have a feeling we may see her again.

And hey, enough bitching about Tom Cruise. He’s got the role. He pulls the character off, if not in stature, at least in attitude.

Lee Child, I’m starting to get withdrawal symptoms. Please hurry!

no middle nameNo Middle Name: The Complete Collected Jack Reacher Short Stories (Jack Reacher #21.5)
by Lee Child

That after reading all 22 Jack Reacher novels in order I bought and read this collection of Jack Reacher short stories is confirmation of my addiction.

Now I’m at a loss, Reacherless until the next novel is published, scheduled for sometime in November 2018. Must. Be. Patient.

Three of the longer short stories collected in “No Middle Name” were appendixes to Jack Reacher novels and I had already read them. There were a couple of longish short stories here I hadn’t seen before, including a good one about an episode in Reacher’s childhood on Okinawa, but most of the other shorts were just that: a page or two long, basically drafts or ideas Lee Child might expand on in the future. Those almost felt like filler, and this short collection badly needed more filler than it had.

All in all, a disappointment, but it fed the addiction, which fellow Reacher creatures will understand. If you have not come across any of the Jack Reacher short stories before, this collection is probably worth the read. If, like me, you’ve already seen two or three, there’s not much else here.

manhoodManhood for Amateurs
by Michael Chabon

I bought a copy of “Manhood for Amateurs” from the remainder rack at B&N on the strength of my enthusiasm for Michael Chabon’s “The Yiddish Policemen’s Union” and “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay.” Later, at home, I realized it was a collection of autobiographical essays, not a novel, and put it aside. For years, it turned out.

What is it to be a son, a father, and a man? Good questions, and, like Chabon, my answer is “Hell if I know.” But it’s a question most of us can talk about and around at length, and while I would ramble, Chabon has the writerly discipline to keep his essays centered on single topics, and most importantly, short … they are very uniform in length, four to five pages each.

Unless you’re new to the game of manhood and fatherhood, there are few great insights here, just honesty: Chabon details his own mistakes and failings. Sometimes he comes across as melancholy, but generally he’s upbeat about things. The essays are not just about raising children … far from it, in fact. My favorite ones were about writing, and those were full of fascinating detail.

I suspect many of these essays were previously published as magazine pieces (I could be wrong and apologize if I am). I generally enjoyed reading about Chabon’s personal journey, not that different from my own; I loved the bits about writing; I’m determined now to read his other novels. Because when it comes right down to it, Chabon’s autobiographical essays are very good, but his fiction is brilliant.

by Charles Bukowski

A friend gave me this book, telling me only that it was hilarious. I put it on the to-read shelf, where it sat for ages. The name of the author, Charles Bukowski, didn’t register until I finally got around to opening the book a couple of weeks ago, and then it rang a bell … didn’t he have a cult reputation and following back in my college days?

Well, whatever, this would be my first exposure to Bukowski’s writing. And I have to say I enjoyed the experience, this in spite of the theme of excessive, all-day drinking underlying the characters’ actions and motivations, normally a turnoff for me. Somehow Hank Chinaski and his girlfriend Helen manage the daily hangovers while learning the ins and outs of writing a screenplay for Hollywood.

As a sendup of the movie industry, the novel succeeds, and even in 2018, holds up against what we know of Hollywood today. I didn’t realize until the end that the novel is autobiographical. In real life, Charles Bukowski wrote the screenplay for a movie titled “Barfly” (which I have never seen); the movie Hank Chinaski writes in this novel is one & the same, as are many of the frustrations … endless production delays, cancellations and renewals, show-stopping movie star demands and tantrums, the constant lying and insincerity of industry power players … he must have experienced in real life.

I cringed at the names Bukowski makes up for actual industry figures (Berner Werzog, to give you an idea), because even in disguise it’s still star-struck name-dropping, and as mentioned I really didn’t like the casual, consequence-free treatment of functional alcoholism … but those were my only objections.

As my friend said, “Hollywood” is in fact a hilarious read. Kind of lightweight, but if you’re a Bukowski fan, it’s no doubt an essential part of the canon.

king tidesThe King Tides (Lancaster & Daniels #1)
by James Swain

The story starts with Jon Lancaster, private investigator, showing up not looking his best for an appointment with a new client: sweaty and smelly, dressed in dirty and torn clothing, preceded by a prominent potbelly. Hey, I thought, this ain’t your standard hero … but apart from the BO and potbelly he quickly morphs into just another infallible private eye cum bodyguard, smarter than any cop or criminal, which turned out to be a letdown.

Way off point: even though the title is explained in the narrative, I kept reading it as “The King of Tides.”

All in all, a pretty standard thriller. There was enough of a plot to keep me turning pages, but I wasn’t enthralled with any of the characters … in fact I disliked most of them, including Jon Lancaster … and I just don’t have much to say about it.

tangled landsThe Tangled Lands
by Paolo Bacigalupi and Tobias S. Buckell

Did not finish; no rating.

I can’t believe I didn’t finish a book by Paolo Bacigalupi, even if he was only a co-author, even if the story was fantasy and not science fiction, even if it was a children’s book, even if I had read parts of it before in a short story titled “The Alchemist.”

But there you are. I gave up on it. I had it as an ebook on loan from the library. The expiration date came and since others were waiting I couldn’t renew, and it hit me I just wasn’t that interested in finishing it.

I’m not a fan of fantasy, no matter how much I love the author otherwise. I’m not a fan of recycled short stories I’ve read before, padded out to book length. When it comes to Paolo Bacigalupi’s adult and young adult science fiction, on the other hand, I’m one of his most dedicated readers. Please let me know when he writes the next one … I’ll be first in line.


Tuesday Bag ‘o Ancient Chinese Curses

tb,1200x1200,small.2u1Today someone tried to add a spam comment to a blog post I wrote ten years ago. I reviewed the post after trashing the comment: the text is still there but the photos are gone.

In my beginning blogger days I uploaded photos to the host server, but they took up a lot of room and kept pushing me over the disk usage limit. Eventually I took them off the server and started over, this time using Flickr as a photo host. That, of course, left holes in older posts where photos used to be.

Does anyone ever look up old posts on this or any other blog? I doubt it, but some of my old blog posts are important enough to me that when I have time I’ll dig up the original photos, upload them to Flickr, and put them back where they belong.

The post that attracted comment spam today is not in that category, so I’m leaving it alone. Gotta admit, though, it ain’t easy … I’m a perfectionist (enough of one, Donna will tell you, to put me on the autism spectrum), and I wasted half an hour in the photo archives before getting a grip.

Recovery from knee surgery continues apace. This Saturday we got the Trail Trash together again for a neighborhood ride to Agua Caliente Park and back. The girls got lost (almost as if they hadn’t ridden the same route dozens of times over the past few years) and turned back early. Darrell and I were almost to the park when I got Donna’s message, so we turned back too. Still, it was a decent ride, at least for two of us, into a strong wind outbound and a nice push from behind on the way back home. Next week we’re meeting at Udall Park for an even longer ride down the Pantano Wash bikeway.


The Old Spanish Trail Trash, riding again: Donna, Darrell, me, Mary Anne

In a previous post I lamented the driver-unfriendly cockpit of one of Pima Air & Space Museum‘s two new electric trams. After talking with Amy, our volunteer coordinator, I’m feeling optimistic the museum is working to fix the problems. That optimism carried me through two tram tours yesterday, and though the larger of the two trams is still torture to operate, it seems a little less so and I wasn’t dragging my leg like a Walking Dead extra afterward, as I did the previous Monday.

Here are two short videos I shot yesterday, showing Amy checking out my co-volunteer Dick on the new trams. They’re driving the small tram in the first video; in the second I’m sitting behind them in the large tram, and you can see some of the museum’s aircraft as we drive past.

All in all, I love our new electric trams, especially the absence of noise and exhaust fumes. Once the museum makes changes to the driver’s position in the large tram they’ll both be a pleasure to operate. Now that we’ve capped the number of tram riders, museum visitors will have a little more shoulder and hip room, and it’ll be a pleasant experience for everyone.

Here’s a photo of the museum’s newly-acquired Cathay Pacific Boeing 777 on the restoration pad. This thing is huge: 47 feet longer than the museum’s B-36 Peacemaker, 23 feet longer than our Boeing 787 Dreamliner. Honestly, I wonder how they’re going to shoehorn it in among the other outdoor exhibits once it’s ready to go on display.


You haven’t heard much from me lately on Kavanaugh, or Trump, or really anything political. Like you, I’m crushed under the tonnage of scandal and noisy distraction passing for news these days. I think Kavanaugh’s nomination is toast in light of revelations about his past, but even without the drinking and sex stuff, shouldn’t the fact he was suddenly able to pay off some $200,000 in gambling debts on a federal judge’s salary have been enough to disqualify him in the first place? Not to mention the gambling?

Of course I may be wrong. The GOP is so tribal now they may just confirm Kavanaugh out of spite. Spite seems to be behind almost everything they do these days, and I’m sorry to see it becoming a motivator for progressives and Democrats as well. Yes, we owe them one for Merrick Garland, and I’m as eager to kick ’em in the balls as anyone else, but can we not find a more worthy champion than that Michael Avenatti guy? He’s such an obvious bad actor it staggers me not everyone can see it (or that they can see it, and are willing to hold their noses while he does his self-aggrandizing thing).

At book club the other night, a woman I respect shared her conspiracy theory with me: Trump will hang on for two years and one day, then resign. Under the Twenty-Second Amendment, this’ll give Pence a full ten years to implement the religious right’s agenda, plenty of time to transform the United States of America into the Republic of Gilead. Now I’m not one for conspiracy theories, but this one sends chills up and down my spine. It also helps explain why the GOP is so hell-bent on suppressing Democratic Party voters, and makes me think they’ll welcome more Russian electronic voting machine manipulation in future elections.

Friends, we have to turn out and vote. We simply have to. And it probably wouldn’t hurt to check that you’re still registered to vote in your state, especially if it’s a red one.

Interesting times, indeed.


Air-Minded: Big Jets, Little Trams, Tall Tales

Pima Air & Space Museum’s fleet of Boeing jetliners continues to grow. Thanks to Cathay Pacific and Boeing, PASM now has a 777. The aircraft, line number WA001 (the first 777 built), flew non-stop from Cathay Pacific’s home airport in Hong Kong to Davis-Monthan AFB in Tucson, Arizona, landing around 11 AM Tuesday morning. After defueling, PASM restoration volunteers towed it across Valencia Road onto museum grounds. It’s currently in the restoration yard, and I expect it to be put on display soon.

Per Boeing, this was the first 777 built, completed on 12 June 1994. The company used it as a test aircraft until selling it to Cathay Pacific in 2000. CP retired it in May 2018. During its time with CP, the 777 completed 20,519 flights and recorded 49,687 flight hours.

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Cathay Pacific Boeing 777 (photo: Jet Photos)


Arriving at PASM (photo: John Bezosky Jr.)

Currently on display at PASM are the second prototype 787 Dreamliner and a former China Southern 737-300. Still awaiting restoration: Boeing 727 #5, the first one the company sold (to United Airlines in October 1963); also the first 727 to carry passengers on a commercial flight (March 1964).

I might be jumping the gun here, but if the rumor we’re soon to get a C-5 Galaxy from the Boneyard is true, I hope the museum is negotiating with Pima County for additional acreage!

Some new developments at the museum itself, not aircraft but important nevertheless:

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These are the museum’s new electric trams. I’m a tram tour docent at PASM and have been looking forward to the arrival of these units. Well, they’re here now and in use (I happen to have been the first tram docent checked out on them, just last week). The larger of the two trams has seats for 48; the smaller one 16 plus a wheelchair platform and ramp.

But wait … those were last week’s numbers. When I went in this Monday, the museum staff had decided to cap ticket sales for the large tram to 34 passengers, 12 for the smaller one. Although the number of actual seats is larger, they’re narrow and close together, putting visitors shoulder to shoulder and hip to hip. I suspect some of the first museum guests to ride the new trams complained about cramped quarters and unwanted physical contact with strangers.

It’s going to be an adjustment. The old gasoline trams could carry 52 and 48 visitors respectively, and during peak season we’d often have to run both trams at once to accommodate all the guests who wanted to take tours. This, of course, is a problem for the museum, not me personally.

My personal problem, and one I suspect will affect many other tram docents, is that the larger of the two electric trams is torture to drive. The small one’s awesome. The driving position and controls are set up right, and it’s as comfortable to operate as my car … but with its limited seating, it won’t see daily use. Based on the number of visitors who sign up for tram tours every day, it’s the big one that’ll be in constant demand, and it’s not driver-friendly, not at all. The driver’s seat is right up against the steering wheel, and neither it nor the steering column are adjustable. There’s only a tiny bit of leg and foot room for the driver, and worse yet, the accelerator and brake pedals are four to five inches above the floor, forcing the driver to lift his or her entire foot up in the air to work them.

It’s not just comfort, it’s control. Think about how you work the pedals in your own car: you rest your heel on the floor and pivot your foot to work the accelerator and brakes. You’re in control; you can make small, precise muscle movements with no strain on your leg. But in this tram, with nothing to rest your heel on, you have to lift your leg and hold your foot in the air to work the pedals. Precise control is next to impossible. And comfort? How many of you, in a sitting position, can hold your right foot off the floor for more than a few seconds at a time?

I quickly learned I couldn’t, never mind for an entire hour-long tram tour (of which I usually do two, sometimes three, per volunteer shift). After my first test run last week, I had an idea: I borrowed a thick book from the docent library to use as a footrest. The book brought my foot up a couple of inches, allowing me to plant my heel and pivot my foot to work the pedals. This Monday I took my own footrest to work, one I made at home with wood and duct tape, similar in size and shape to last week’s book (it’s okay, it was a crappy Tom Clancy novel).

The footrest helps, but it’s not enough. With my recent surgery, bending my knee at the sharp angle required to drive the new tram (an angle made more acute by the elevated footrest), I was limping after one tour and practically dragging my right leg after two. I don’t imagine the museum will want to fabricate brackets to move the driver’s seat back a couple of inches, but that is what’s really needed. Meanwhile, what was a fun job has become a physically painful one.

This is terribly disturbing to me … I love what I do at the museum, but expect if I complain they’ll tell me to take a hike, as they have to so many other dedicated volunteers.

Sorry, didn’t mean to unload, but hey, what are personal blogs for, right?

On a happier note, here’s our new volunteer center, open for business:

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The best part is that everything volunteers need is in one place now. The keys to the trams, the walkie-talkies, the mics, the computer we use to log in and out … we no longer have to traipse across the museum grounds every morning to sign in at one place and get the equipment we need at another, then retrace our steps at the end of the day to sign out and turn stuff in. Not only is it a nice lounge, we have our own restroom (non-public, I mean, not full of screaming schoolkids). Someday soon we’ll have curtains or window blinds too!

Well, that’s enough brave new world for now. I want to share a tale with you. This Monday I told the story of a dramatic air-sea rescue to the guests on my tram. In 1994, when I was PACAF chief of flight safety at Hickam Field, Hawaii, an American F-16 pilot stationed at Misawa Air Base in Japan collided with an air refueling tanker over the Pacific, 200 to 300 miles east of Tokyo. He ejected and when I was called in, was still floating in a one-man life raft, with other F-16s circling overhead. My first thought was that he might not get rescued for some time (or, god forbid, even at all) … he was too far out for rescue choppers, and the odds of being picked up by a passing ship were pretty small. Everyone in PACAF, from the four-star on down, was worried sick.

Turned out the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force operated amphibious fixed wing rescue aircraft (and still do to this day). The Japanese crew of a Shin Meiwa US-1A, flying right to the limit of its range, was able to get to the crash site, make a very sporty water landing in heavy waves, and rescue our pilot. We got word around noon in Hawaii, and everyone’s mood changed instantly.

After I retired I worked as a defense contractor, conducting flight safety training for USAF fighter crews at bases around the US and overseas. Sometime in 2002 or thereabouts I was at Nellis AFB in Las Vegas, Nevada, standing in front of a room full of target arms, otherwise known as Fighter Weapons School instructors. I decided to start things off with the story of the F-16 pilot’s rescue. As I got into it I heard some chuckles. Right there in the first row was a lanky guy in a flight suit wearing a name tag that said “Splash,” and I said, “Oh my god, you’re the dude, right?” He was indeed, and after class he filled me in on his ordeal, including a detail that has stuck with me ever since: his own assessment of the situation, once he pulled himself, soaking wet and shivering, into the raft in the middle of that huge, empty ocean … he thought he might just be a goner.

So anyway, I shared this story with the people on my tram, and afterward one of them walks up to me and introduces himself. He was the air attache at the American Embassy in Tokyo when that happened, and he told me a part of the story I didn’t know, the part about the heroic crew of that JMSDF flying boat.

As I knew, they had pressed the limits to get to our guy. What I didn’t know was that they actually violated flying regulations to do it. The JMSDF brass threw the book at the crew, grounding them and putting the wheels in motion for a court-martial, and it was only pressure from high up in the American government that talked them out of it. The crew eventually received medals for the rescue, but the ceremony was low-key and conducted in secret.

It was fascinating to hear another side of the story, and it brought home to me, once again, what a small world it is. You never know who you’re going to meet at the museum, and believe me, I’ve internalized the most important lesson about sharing there-I-was war stories … never embellish the facts, because someone in your audience might have been there too.