Sunday, June 28, 2009

Musings From A Week Off

I'm back to work after having some much needed time away. Who knew when I left that Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett, Michael Jackson, and even Billy Mays would no longer be with us when I returned? I found Billy's commercials to be the most annoying thing on TV but I didn't want him to die; just go away. He was the main reason for a mute button on my remote.

We hosted dinner for Rachel's boyfriend and his parents Friday evening. Rachel and Josh have been dating since the early part of last school year and I think we parents thought it would be a good idea to spend some time together and get to know one another.

I'd just put the steaks on when Meg and Wayne pulled up. Wayne hung out with me by the grill and we shared a bit of info about each other; the usual stuff; where we grew up; where we're working and such. It didn't take long for us to each telegraph to the other where we stood politically; maybe it was the Obama yard sign leaning against the wall inside my garage. I made no apologies about my support for Obama but I did frame the reasons for my decision to vote for the man by giving Wayne a brief synopsis about the goings-on within the FAA and how political it is.

Speaking of the FAA; we controllers probably sound a lot like the little kid in the back seat of a car while on vacation: "Are we there yet?" We've been patiently waiting for word on the results of contract talks with FAA management and arbitration that has been playing out the last few weeks. There's so much riding on the outcome for those of us who have gone without the benefit of raises the past three years and especially for the new B scale Controller who was promised one thing but given something much less.

Part of my last day of vacation yesterday was spent finishing up an attic ladder installation in our garage. I managed to do it all solo but there was one point in the install the previous day when I was wishing I had some more muscle. Maybe it was the 125 degree heat from my position in the loft where I was trying to anchor it which took its toll on my critical thinking skills nearly causing me to drop the entire load with me following closely behind which gave me reason to wait until the next day when it wouldn't be so hot out to finish the job.

Tammy climbed the ladder and poked her head up in the loft when I finished as she'd never seen the storage space up there. I told her not to look too closely as it's where I keep my stash of Playboys. She gave me a smirk, then replied: "And where you smoke your cigarettes too?"

I've decided to insulate and sheet-rock the garage in the next couple months and hire Keith to build us a bunch of cabinets to go along with a work area which I'm just beginning to think up plans for. Like I've said before here, I don't have a workbench; I have the tailgate of my pickup and I'm ready for something more.

Tammy is encouraging me to 'go for it' so I think I will. It won't be the 'garage mahal' like my neighbor across the street has but it'll be much better than what we have.

I had an exceptionally nice ride yesterday. I didn't get away until just before 3:00 pm but with the sun setting a little after 9:00 it left me plenty of time. I love this time of year mostly for the amount of daylight there is.

Had I planned the ride better I'd have left a couple hours earlier to take advantage of some southeast winds ahead of a cold front. As it was, the front was just coming through as I clipped in and I had to fight for every mile on the way out; well, almost every mile. I was able to tuck in behind a farm tractor pulling some equipment and cheat the wind for 4 miles at 25 mph which was a far cry from the 14.2 mph pace I was struggling to hold against gusty 15-25 mph winds.

Finally, a ride with very little knee pain. I was tempted to squeeze 100 miles out of the day but I didn't push it. I brought it home after 91 and felt very good about my effort.

Tammy and I made it out to the dog park this morning. With a temp in the lower 70s the pups loved it; a nice reprieve from the heat and humidity of the past week. Charlie met his match too in the likes of a 12-week old Dachshund pup named Reggie. Reggie loves to bite on ears and ankles and just about anywhere he can sink his sharp puppy teeth into. Sort of the same way Charlie is with Allie. It was funny to watch as Charlie stood there not quite knowing what to do as he's usually on the giving end.

That's Reggie in the photo to the right...the brown little guy all over Charlie. Notice the look on Charlie's face.

I love this...

Monday, June 22, 2009

A Rite of Passage

Okay, I'll break from my Navy musings for a bit to ramble about some current life stuff.

I'm in the middle of a vacation from the salt mine but I've got no plans whatsoever to go anywhere and more importantly, no place to be. I've got a to-do list of stuff I'm chipping away at though and I'm feeling a bit nagged by it but it's my own doing. Replacing several dozen feet of landscape edging and sheet-rocking the garage are both going to take more effort than I have motivation for. I often find myself imagining life once I'm retired and no longer under the gun to hurry and get things done before going back to work. That'll be nice.

I've been getting out on my bike but not nearly as much as in years past. I've been filling in the gaps with my Rollerblades, our elliptical trainer, and occasionally our rower (trying not to aggravate my tendinitis) and enjoying the diversity of my workouts. My typical in-line skating workout is 15-17 miles. I'd go longer but until I've toughened up a few tender spots on my ankles I'm limited. My goal is to work up to a distance of 30 miles. Once I get conditioned I figure I can knock out that distance in 2.5 hours. In-line skating brings a whole other set of muscles into play that cycling doesn't although I think both workouts compliment each other.

I headed out this morning with the temp in the upper 70s. I was feeling good through the first hour and for a few miles toyed with the idea of a century ride to Le Sueur and back. Somewhere west of Jordan I conceded that the heat would win out and I'd turn for home when I got to Belle Plaine. It was 93 degrees when I finished. This was the first hot weather riding I've done all year and I was glad to have packed it in when I did after 66.5 miles.

I suppose having our yard/trees T-P'd is a rite of passage since we have a teenage daughter still at home. I woke up to some beautiful streamers coming off the trees in our front yard one morning this past week. My only real concern was that we get it cleaned up before the rain moved in and made more of a mess out of it. I left that job for Rachel although I helped her with some of the more out of reach stuff.

She said it was an amateur job as they only used 10 rolls. "To do it right they'd need to use at least 50" she said. "And how do you know that" I asked. She said she did it once in 9th grade but felt guilty afterward and hasn't done it since but she knows a good job when she sees it. I said, "it can get expensive to do it right" and she replied: "not if everyone brings a few rolls".

I can honestly say that I never TP'd anyone's house although I did a yard trick once but it was totally justified. I was 16 and as luck would have it I was looking out my bedroom window before climbing into bed late one night. I saw a car come up Johnson Ave from the south, turn off its lights and pull up onto the boulevard. He paused and then spun out his tires on our lawn, turning back onto the road just before our driveway. I recognized the yellow Duster as a car driven by a guy I worked with, Pete, at Penny's Grocery. I was stunned having just witnessed what happened.

My dad was quite upset about it the next morning as it tore up the lawn quite a lot but I didn't tell him that I saw it happen. I figured I'd take care of the payback part in my own way. I remember he cut some 2 x 4 sections into 2-3 foot lengths, painted them black and drove nails through them then set them out on the boulevard (pointy ends up) for a few nights thinking the yard trick guy would be back. He's pretty fortunate some neighbor kid didn't step on one of them running through the yard at night.

I waited a few nights then took our Ford Country Squire, 390 station wagon and drove to Pete's house. It was sometime after midnight when I backed it up onto his front lawn right in front of a large picture window. I stepped on the brake then gave it gas and got the tires spinning nicely before releasing the brake and squealing onto the pavement laughing all the way.

I never said a word to Pete about what I saw him do and he never questioned me. I'm not sure if he ever figured out what happened and that's just as well. I'm sure I must've told my dad about the other half of the story years later but I don't remember. He'd have no doubt given me an 'atta boy' before smiling and tipping his glass of Budweiser.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Prepare to Get Underway

This is a continuation of a series of writings about my time in the Navy. The first in this series of posts can be found here or go here for the most recent.

The LST (Tank Landing Ship) was an amphibious assault ship used for attacking and securing a beachfront. Unlike most other ships it didn't have a deep keel to help it smoothly cut through the water. It had a much flatter bottom which allowed it to beach itself and more easily offload vehicles and troops. Out on the open ocean, we'd often take a beating in our flat bottom girl that other sleeker ships wouldn't.

The most recognizable feature of the ship were the bow horns which protruded skyward and provided support for the bow ramp. When we were unable to get close enough to shore for the bow ramp to make contact, we'd assemble a series of causeways (or floating road) sections strapped to the ship's side which could be lowered and put in place to connect the bow ramp with the beach.

There was a huge well-deck in the belly of the ship where tanks and assorted vehicles were tied down and stored while underway. Vehicles could enter the well-deck through the front of the ship via the bow ramp or through the rear of the ship through the stern gate. There wasn't much wasted space of the ship's 522' 3". We had a crew of something a little less than 300 men and would often carry a similar number of marines on board.

We left Subic Bay in early August 1976 for Hong Kong and I'd soon find myself in some of the roughest water in the South China Sea that I would ever experience anywhere the rest of my enlistment. I remembered being at the Enlisted Men's club while going through A-School and listening to a guy who'd been out to sea before and his experience with seasickness. He'd said that the announcement alone over the loudspeaker, "Prepare to get underway" was enough to cause him to feel queasy. So far, so good for me.

Underway we'd work 'port and starboard' watches, meaning you'd work 8 hours on then have 8 hours off. We did that for a 6-week stretch once with no days off and it got tiring. I remember not so much paying attention to what time it was but rather, monitoring our ship's position on a chart in Combat/CIC (the radar room also known as Combat Information Center) and the progress we were making across the ocean. One day seemed just like all the others but that chart was proof that they weren't.

Others on the ship who didn't perform an underway function worked their regular days and weeks with weekends off including holidays. At least I think that's the way it was. I wouldn't know for sure because I was too busy doing my own thing. A holiday out at sea or a day off—what was that? I could only wish. If you didn't sleep during your 8 hours off, you'd end up being awake for at least 24 hours.

My job out at sea was to monitor the radar in search of other 'contacts' which we'd track and if they were close enough, recommend course and speed changes to the bridge to avoid the traffic. You could sometimes go for days without seeing another contact. Other days would be much busier.

It was my first time out to sea and I had to have a look at what was going on outside the bulkheads of CIC. CIC was located just aft of the bridge with a hatch/door separating us. I opened the hatch and stepped out onto the bridge with my camera in hand. The Officer of the Deck looked toward me and said "Port bridge wing". "Excuse me, sir," I said. He repeated himself, "Port bridge wing". I didn't understand. He said, "You're sick, right? The winds favor throwing up off the port side." I told him that "No, I'm not sick; I was just curious to see what it looked like out here." I was a wide-eyed curious kid and I felt fine. If I could make it through this I figured I could handle anything.

The seats we sat in at our two SPA 25 Radar Repeater scopes had seatbelts we'd strap ourselves in with. The belts were seldom used but on this day they were very much needed.

The ship would rise up between swells and come crashing back down sending a shudder throughout the entire ship only to repeat the process again and again. Sometimes the bow would rise up out of the water listing one direction only to come up the next time listing the other way causing you to continuously (and unconsciously) adjust the pitch of your body as you leaned into the ship's angle. In lesser seas, you could get by without hanging on to anything. Not on this day.

I took the photo to the right in those few minutes spent on the bridge for the first time. It's a bit out of focus but I was happy to be able to get anything at all.

I was enjoying the ride for sure and the knowledge that seasickness wouldn't be an issue for me, or so I thought. Soon enough I would be enjoying the liberty boats in Hong Kong harbor connecting us to the mainland from our ship anchored in port.

To be continued...

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Request Permission to Come Aboard

This is a continuation of a series of writings about my time in the Navy. The first in this series of posts can be found here or go here for the most recent.

My ship was still out to sea when I arrived at the base in Subic Bay so I was checked into some temporary quarters until she arrived a couple days later.

Walking up the ship's brow and going aboard for the first time was certainly a bit intimidating. Much of what I'd been taught up to now would come in useful at some point but I knew little about actual shipboard life. I didn't even know if I'd be prone to seasickness; how could I? Remember to salute the Officer of the Deck and request permission to come aboard I reminded myself. That much I knew for sure. It would've been easier if I was part of a larger group going through the same check-in process but I wasn't. I was with one other guy, David Vernor, who I barely knew and once we got on board we'd see little of each other.

The crew seemed very friendly and whatever fears I carried with me up the brow, I soon lost as one shipmate after another made me feel welcome. The maze of passageways and ladders did their best to confuse me at first but it didn't take long before I had mapped out the parts of the ship where I'd spend my time.

This would be my home for the next three and a half years. Of all the guys I met that first day, I'm sure none was happier to meet me than John Winton. Prior to my arrival, John had been the junior Operations Specialist onboard and he'd now have somebody junior to himself to insulate him from the many working-party details which had fallen on his shoulders the past several months. It's sort of hazing in slow motion. You just deal with it and know that before too long there will be another new face making his way into the department who will take your place.

Our ship would remain in port for the next couple of weeks. Most of us from OI Division spent our nights at the Sampaguita Club on base where we enjoyed .35 cent drinks or San Miguel beer as we sat around a table trading stories. I'm guessing I probably didn't have a lot to add to those conversations and did a good deal of listening. I don't remember for sure but that would've been my style.

Olongapo was the city outside the base and to get there you had to cross the bridge over "shit river" where kids would dive in the muddy water for whatever coin you would toss over the side. The putrid sewage smell of the river gave way to barbecue aromas just beyond the bridge but what was being barbequed was anybody's guess. It was tasty stuff but often referred to as "monkey meat". Gosh, I hope not.

Olongapo was a bustling city with bar after bar of cheap drinks and a seemingly endless supply of women looking for a serviceman to cozy up to. But you didn't necessarily have to leave the base to find a strange woman to get close to. The Navy would pay for the Enlisted Men's Club (Sampaguita Club) to hire women to come in and sit with you at your table to keep you company. It was all a bit surreal but that was Subic Bay. You'd very seldom have trouble while working Shore Patrol in the port because most of the sailors were quite content with their whiskey and women.

I can't write about the bars of Olongapo without mentioning the rock bands that cranked out the music within. While the vocals would at times come across with a Philippine accent, the instruments did not. The musicians probably did a better job of performing the music than the actual bands did. They were that good.

We'd leave Subic Bay for Hong Kong when our stay was done and I'd know soon enough if I had the stomach for our flat bottom girl, the USS Fresno.

To be continued...

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Continued -- Musings of a Seaman Apprentice

This is a continuation of a series of posts I wrote a few months ago.

I left Boot Camp for two weeks of leave/vacation back home before returning to Great Lakes Naval Training Center and Radar A-School north of Chicago in Waukegan, IL in the spring of 1976; I was 18. We'd receive our instruction in buildings 310 and 311. The training would last a few months and teach us the basics of tracking surface traffic, vector analysis (maneuvering board) to be able to recommend heading and speed changes to the bridge to avoid shipping, plotting air contacts, and radar navigation. We'd all been screened for the course and I believe we all successfully completed the training.

The phosphorous-like display of the radar scope with its ever-present rotating sweep has changed a good deal over the years in comparison to the digital displays we use today. Little did I know then how much a part of my life monitoring a radar scope would become.

Gone were the days of living in a barracks with some 60 other guys. I'd now share a room with two others directly across the street from the Enlisted Men's club. I'm not sure if the Navy has changed the way they think in terms of making alcohol so accessible to young adults but it bordered on ridiculous having a bar right outside my window. I and most others spent way too much time there. I imagine it beat the alternative of going off base into the city where hustlers looked to take advantage of naive kids like myself.

I seldom went off base and when I did it was usually with one of the guys from my class. A favorite thing we'd do was to hitchhike 50-60 miles north to Milwaukee for the day/night. Getting there was usually an adventure and easily half the fun.

I was pretty stupid back then. I remember standing on a gravel shoulder on the side of a highway with my friend thumbing for a ride. A car approached us and veered onto the shoulder, sliding uncontrollably at us to a stop. We both ran to get out of the way in a flush of adrenalin and panic that took over. He rolled down his window and asked us where we were headed. It was obvious that he was drunk but it didn't seem to matter; it was a ride and we both got in. I'd hitchhike a lot over the next few years but would finally quit after climbing into a few too many cars driven by people who made me uncomfortable. I hopped out at more than one intersection without notice while waiting for the light to change, offering a quick "thank you" as I exited the car before giving up the practice of hitchhiking altogether.

There was a bar in Milwaukee called Oliver's that we'd frequent. I don't know what was so special about it but it's where we'd go. The night would usually end with a bus trip from the USO back to the base.

There really isn't much to say about my time at A-School. I'd finish there in late June and spend a couple more weeks at home before heading off to the Philippines to catch my ship which was deployed to the Western Pacific. My real Navy adventure was about to begin.

I caught a flight out of Minneapolis for San Francisco where I was put on a military transport from Travis Air Force Base to Andersen Air Force Base in Guam. If I'm not mistaken, I believe it was a Boeing 707 they crammed us into. I remember sitting on the plane next to an Air Force Captain who was making small-talk with me, asking me where I was headed and such. An officer was actually chatting with me. It seemed a bit odd after having gone through Boot Camp where I was intimidated by people of even lesser rank than him. I was in uniform and couldn't he see that I was a lowly Seamen Apprentice? I believe he was flying to Guam to ferry an aircraft back to the states with another guy he was traveling with. As we approached Guam he told me a bit of trivia about how there's an eighty-foot difference in the runway elevation from one end of the field to the other. Odd that all these years later I still remember that. Actually, there's an 87-foot difference to be exact.

From Guam, we'd load the plane with even more people as we next made our way to the Philippines and my destination. I don't think I've ever been on a more crowded aircraft. If I had any tendencies toward claustrophobia it would've been apparent then. We'd use nearly every bit of the 11,000+ foot runway to get airborne. My dad flew a lot in his job as a financial manager with Control Data and I remembered him telling me years earlier how it never seemed to fail that from the time the pilot pushed the throttles forward it would take around 30 seconds for the airplane to become airborne. Not on this flight; we were much closer to 45 seconds.

It had been a long trip by the time we touched down at Clark Air Force Base. I didn't know anybody on the flight but many were just like me in that they too were hooking up with their new commands. We stepped off the plane into warm, muggy, tropical air and were then assembled in a room and given instructions on how we'd be processed through the system. It was late in the evening.

We'd no sooner arrived at our barracks when a local laundry service came by, inquiring if any of us were interested in having our day-old uniforms washed and pressed. Most of us jumped at the opportunity but later wondered if we'd made a mistake. When it got close to the time we were supposed to leave the next morning, they still hadn't returned with our clothes. We wondered if maybe we'd given our stuff over to some disreputable people. Not to worry; they would eventually return with little time to spare and we'd all breath a sigh of relief.

We boarded a bus for the trip to Subic Bay Naval Station where we'd catch our ships. I sat behind a Navy officer who was going to be assigned to the base and his wife. I can still hear her wondering out loud if the shacks of homes along the side of the road were those of prostitutes. No doubt she'd learn a lot during her husband's tour of duty there.

To be continued...

Saturday, June 6, 2009

A Monkey Off My Back

Charlie's kennel time has been greatly reduced the past couple weeks as he earns his freedom more and more by messing in the house less and less. He's still not quite there but he's real close.

Neither Toby nor Allie have ever exhibited dominance over one another but I do sense that Toby is feeling challenged by Charlie. In the past, if Toby ever growled at Charlie, Charlie would back down but lately, he's been holding his ground and standing up to Toby. Tammy had to come between them last week as neither one was backing off. Last night they went at it again with Toby coming out on top; literally. He held Charlie down for a few moments when their tiff was over to make certain they both knew who was top dog.

Charlie doesn't appear to be taking any of this very seriously though as he shakes it off and continues pestering them both.

I took three days away from work this past week and used them to get a monkey off my back. My original thought was that I'd only need two days at the most for this project but it was deceptively more work than I planned on. I recently blogged about wanting to replace the edging around a couple trees along the side of our house. I can happily say that the job is now done.

My biggest mistake in the entire project was in not finding somebody who would dump four and a half yards of dirt in the street on the side of our house. I usually use Jackson Landscape for this sort of thing as they're just a couple miles away but they said they'd have to dump the dirt in our driveway because the city wouldn't allow them to dump it in the street. I wasn't too keen on having it left in my driveway as it's a bit of a haul by wheelbarrow to where I was doing the work in our yard. So, nine trips in my truck later and I had all the dirt I'd need.

The main reasons for redoing the edging is that there are several roots along the surface that have grown out beyond the edging making it difficult to mow around. My plan was to make something big enough to encompass the troublesome roots. Still, I had to deal with them. Rather than chop them out and risk killing off parts of the trees, I tried to leave them alone whenever I could and cut out sections of the edging so it could fit over the roots. It was tedious but my solution seemed to work well.

I've got a tool in my garage on loan from my mom that works great for removing sod. I have no idea how old it is but it's old enough that I've never seen one for sale anywhere and I've looked. It's better than any shovel at getting under sod and slicing through it. I don't have designs on any of my mother's possessions when she passes on (assuming she goes before me) but I would like to call dibs on this little guy. What time I lost hauling dirt between Jackson's and home I nearly made up for with the sod cutter.

I'm not a slow worker but between trips to the Gerten's Greenhouse and Jackson's it took me until the start of day three before I was ready for the landscape rock. This time I went with Friedges and they said they'd be happy to dump it in the street provided I come in and sign a waiver first, letting them off the hook. No problem.

I set things up with Friedges the night before the delivery and asked them if they could put me on their schedule as early as possible the next morning. The guy behind the counter said he'd do his best.

I'm standing in line at McDonald's in Lakeville the next morning (Friday) across highway 50 from Friedges. The tall skinny kid filling orders behind the counter is telling some off-color joke about Muslims to a coworker and basically doing a lousy job of keeping up. Nobody laughed. I've got a large decaf coffee with two cream and two sugars on order and I can see that all their decaf containers are empty with none brewing. About that time I get a call from the driver who's delivering my rock: he's on his way. I look out the window and I can see a dump truck departing Friedges and I'm sure it's my guy. I tell the kid behind the counter to skip my coffee because he still hasn't figured out that there's none brewing and I leave with the rest of my order and run out to my car to catch up with the driver. I told him I'd be there and I didn't want to keep him waiting.

I asked for four yards of rock but I'm pretty sure I could've gotten by with less. No worries. I figure if there's extra, I can easily mix it with the other landscape rock we've got. Still, it's going to be a lot of rock to have to move one shovel at a time.

As I'm standing looking at the pile I notice that it's got a much lighter color than the 3/4" red limestone we've got around our other landscaping. Mark, my neighbor thinks that maybe it's just dust and once it washes off the real color will show through. Maybe. I check the receipt again to make sure I ordered the right stuff and I'm relieved to see that I did. I hosed a section down and sure enough, it's red but I do think it's a lighter shade than what we've got. I'm wanting too much to get the project done to care enough to worry about it.

I spent the rest of the day steadily chipping away at the pile and finish the project in the late afternoon with a full yard more of rock than I needed. I was disappointed in myself for not doing a better job of estimating my needs because I just wanted to be done. I got busy and began distributing the leftover rock to our other two islands in the backyard. I can't recall my back ever being so tired and sore when I finished. I'm glad I was able to quit when I did.

I put together some before and after photos. The first tree I worked on: before and after. Tree number two: before and after. A view of them both: before and after. It may not look like much but my back would beg to differ. I was hoping to grab a nice photo of the project in the sunshine this morning but rain moved in overnight and that was fine with me. We need it after posting the third driest May on record. I was also glad it held off for one more day or I'd have been out there in the rain and I don't think I'd have been singing.

Time to ride as soon as the rain clears.