Monday, December 20, 2010

A Few Good Pilots

Found this to be pretty funny.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Pilot Secrets and my responses to them

I recently saw this on Yahoo and found it interesting.  I thought that I would reprint it here and add my responses to them.  My responses are in bold.  
Reader's Digest asked 17 pilots from across the country to give us straight answers about maddening safety rules, inexplicable delays, the air and attitudes up there—and what really happens behind the cockpit door. What they told us will change the way you fly.

What You Don't Want to Know:

“We miss the peanuts too.” -US Airways pilot, South Carolina
My response: I don't. We actually still have them.

“I’m constantly under pressure to carry less fuel than I’m comfortable with. Airlines are always looking at the bottom line, and you burn fuel carrying fuel. Sometimes if you carry just enough fuel and you hit thunderstorms or delays, then suddenly you’re running out of gas and you have to go to an alternate airport.” -Captain at a major airline
My response: This has never has happened to me.  I always have plenty of fuel and have never been denied a request for more.
“Sometimes the airline won’t give us lunch breaks or even time to eat. We have to delay flights just so we can get food.” -First officer on a regional carrier
My response: True, but not often.  Usually if there have been weather delays, then we can find ourselves in a bind.  I have sometimes asked people to let me cut in a line at a food vendor by announcing that I have a flight in a few minutes.  They have always been accomodating and then I will eat my food at cruise altitude in the cockpit.
“We tell passengers what they need to know. We don’t tell them things that are going to scare the pants off them. So you’ll never hear me say, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, we just had an engine failure,’ even if that’s true.” -Jim Tilmon, retired American Airlines pilot, Phoenix
My response:  I have never had a failed engine, but I always do try to "sanitize" and ensure that I speak "civilian" to them.  I always ensure that I put passengers at ease about what's going on even as I keep them informed.  If it is a mechanical issue, I try to explain it to them in a way that will make sense and yet stay in simple terms.
“The Department of Transportation has put such an emphasis on on-time performance that we pretty much aren’t allowed to delay a flight anymore, even if there are 20 people on a connecting flight that’s coming in just a little late.” -Commercial pilot, Charlotte, North Carolina
My response:  I actually have delayed a flight under directions from our company because a large group of people were connecting on my flight from a late arriving international flight.
“The truth is, we’re exhausted. Our work rules allow us to be on duty 16 hours without a break. That’s many more hours than a truck driver. And unlike a truck driver, who can pull over at the next rest stop, we can’t pull over at the next cloud.” -Captain at a major airline
My response:  True.  We work our butts off.  When we get to our overnight destination, don't get in our way as we leave the airport to get to our hotel for some much needed rest.  We will run you over!
What We Want You to Know

“Some FAA rules don’t make sense to us either. Like the fact that when we’re at 39,000 feet going 400 miles an hour, in a plane that could hit turbulence at any minute, [flight attendants] can walk around and serve hot coffee and Chateaubriand. But when we’re on the ground on a flat piece of asphalt going five to ten miles an hour, they’ve got to be buckled in like they’re at NASCAR.” -Jack Stephan, US Airways captain based in Annapolis, Maryland, who has been flying since 1984
My response:  I don't know, if we have to brake suddenly while taxiing, anyone standing up will likely be hurt.  At altitude, we can predict turbulence about 90% of the time.

“The two worst airports for us: Reagan National in Washington, D.C., and John Wayne in Orange County, California. You’re flying by the seat of your pants trying to get in and out of those airports. John Wayne is especially bad because the rich folks who live near the airport don’t like jet noise, so they have this noise abatement procedure where you basically have to turn the plane into a ballistic missile as soon as you’re airborne.” -Pilot, South Carolina
My response:  DCA, (Reagan National) is a pain in the butt to fly into.  You put your license on the line every time you fly into there because of the restrictions.  I never have flown into John Wayne, but he's right about noise abatement procedures.  Note:  If you don't like airplane noise, don't buy a house near the airport..
“At some airports with really short runways, you’re not going to have a smooth landing no matter how good we are: John Wayne Airport; Jackson Hole, Wyoming; Chicago Midway; and Reagan National.” -Joe D’Eon, a pilot at a major airline who produces a podcast at
My response:  Totally correct.  Greasing it on is not as important as ensuring you don't over run the runway.  Key West is like that and the site of some of my worst landings.
“I may be in uniform, but that doesn’t mean I’m the best person to ask for directions in the airport. We’re in so many airports that we usually have no idea.” -Pilot for a regional carrier, Charlotte, North Carolina
My response:  I can't tell you how often this happens to me.  I may be as lost as you are if it is somewhere I don't fly into very often.
“This happens all the time: We’ll be in Pittsburgh going to Philly, and there will be a weather delay. The weather in Pittsburgh is beautiful. Then I’ll hear passengers saying, ‘You know, I just called my friend in Philly, and it’s beautiful there too,’ like there’s some kind of conspiracy or something. But in the airspace between Pittsburgh and Philly there’s a huge thunderstorm.” -Jack Stephan
My response:  True, we don't make things up just to make your lives miserable.  
“You may go to an airline website and buy a ticket, pull up to its desk at the curb, and get onto an airplane that has a similar name painted on it, but half the time, you’re really on a regional airline. The regionals aren’t held to the same safety standards as the majors: Their pilots aren’t required to have as much training and experience, and the public doesn’t know that.” -Captain at a major airline
My response:  Well, MR Captain at a major airline, I actually fly for one of those regionals.  Our Captains, have an average of 15 years experience.  We have many with over twenty-five years.  I have been flying almost thirty years.  Our training standards are the same as yours and are given to us by the FAA, same as you.  Please let me know when you get on my airplane for a free ride home sometime.  You "major" airline pilots are never reluctant to board one of our flights for a free ride home.  
“Most of the time, how you land is a good indicator of a pilot’s skill. So if you want to say something nice to a pilot as you’re getting off the plane, say ‘Nice landing.’ We do appreciate that.”-Joe D’Eon
Response:  True.  My landings are almost always good (except in Key West) :-).
“No, it’s not your imagination: Airlines really have adjusted their flight arrival times so they can have a better record of on-time arrivals. So they might say a flight takes two hours when it really takes an hour and 45 minutes.” -AirTran Airways captain, Atlanta
Response: True.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Windy Wichita, the R-Kansas River and the Old Mill Tasty Shop

One of the many whimsical sculptures found
along the sidewalks of downtown Wichita.
     True to Dorothy's Kansas Tornado scene in Wizard of Oz, Wichita always seems to be blustery whenever I fly into Mid-Continent Airport. They take full advantage of the Wizard of Oz relationship to Kansas by selling T-shirts and other memorabilia in the airport shops related to Dorothy and Toto's adventure.  We stay at the beautiful Hyatt Regency Wichita within walking distance of Old Down Town.  The Hyatt is on the banks of the river that runs through Wichita, but don't call it the "Arkansaw," here, it is the R-Kansas river though it is spelled the same as the state of the same name. The river is lined with parks and wide walkways for biking, running or strolling.

     Wichita is the home of many aviation industries. Cessna, Lear, Beech aircraft are headquartered here. Being a pilot here is rather ho-hum to the locals who are probably tired of us, but aviation certainly has and still does fuel the economy.

     Walking through the downtown area, especially along Douglas street you will encounter numerous bronze statues of life-sized figures. Adults, children and animals in various poses are randomly placed upon the sidewalks. Some of them even have water features, such as the man in a business suit with his shoes off about to wade into bubbling water coming from the sidewalk. His bronze briefcase and shoes are apart from him as separate sculptures on the sidewalk. It makes for an enjoyable stroll and really adds to the ambiance of downtown Wichita.

 As my copilot and I wandered around we encountered "The Old Mill Tasty Shop" at 604 East Douglas Ave. It piqued my interest. I knew nothing about it (though afterwards, I did an internet search and realized what a gem we had found) but it looked extraordinarily interesting from the street. It was after one pm and needing a lunch, we walked through a time portal and discovered an old fashioned soda shop complete with soda fountains, marble counter and classic round stools. We were welcomed by friendly servers and chose to sit on the stools at the counter. I watched as Dustin, our waiter made a cherry limeade for another customer, squeezing two limes into a glass, adding cherry syrup and soda and stirring it all up with a spoon. If you order a Cola, they mix it themselves: syrup and soda in a real glass. I had a chocolate peanut butter shake while my copilot got a chocolate malt. The shakes and malts are made in the stainless steel mixing cups served alongside your shake or malt so you can pour the rest in as you unavoidably slurp the last sumptuous bit at the bottom of a tall parfait glass.       You could stop there and be totally satisfied, but the sandwiches and soups are delicious. I had a simple ham and cheese with potato salad and my copilot had a Reuben on marble rye.   In our conversation with Dustin, he realized we had never been there before. Before we knew it we were being brought small samples of the other amazingly good stuff:  chicken salad, beef stew, tomato bisque soup, seafood crab salad and a "green" chili made with tomatillos that was spectacular.  We were so impressed with the flavor of each sample that they gave us. Everything have an "just made" fresh flavor and it is obvious that the Tasty Shop chefs put a lot of pride into everything they make.  The special of the day was lasagna, which I deemed too heavy for my lunch, but I did see others enjoying it.  On top of all the great food and service, the prices are extremely reasonable. I learned later that often the wait times are long during the lunch hour. We were lucky to show up when we did and promptly sit down. I would rank The Old Mill Tasty Shop as a "must see" (and eat) location when in Wichita.  I am certainly spreading the word about it to my fellow crew members.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

How to Keep Your Flight Attendant From Using the Emergency Exit on Your Flight

When I started this blog, I didn't really intend it to be a place to vent about dumb things that I witness airline travelers doing. I really love my job and yet, as you can imagine, there are times when it frustrates me. I am always professional, but there are times when instead of my usual, pleasant PA introducing myself and welcoming passengers on board, I just want to say: " Get in, sit down, strap in and shut up!" But I don't.
So, in light of the recent incident involving the now famous Flight Attendant for Jet Blue, Steve Slater, I am posting these simple "Airline Rules for Knuckle Heads," or "How to Keep Your Flight Attendant from Using the Emergency Exit Slide to escape passenger stupidity."

Rule #1: Don't call them a "stewardess" or "steward." They are "Flight Attendants (FA's)" and are there because the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) mandates it. They are there to ensure that you can safely exit the aircraft in the event of an emergency and that you obey FAA mandated regulations. They don't just "make up" rules. Your massive purse or carry on cannot be on the floor in front of you. This is so people can actually walk out of the seat and into the aisle instead of tripping if they have to get out quickly. It would be cheaper to put self service soft drink machines on each flight and let you serve yourself if FA's weren't required.

Rule #2: Flying is not a right. It is a privilege that you pay for. Airlines are in the business to make money, not cater to your every whim. If you are not happy with the service, choose another airline or mode of transportation. Write a letter to the company president. Do not take it out on the flight crew. Chances are they are just as sick and tired as you are, possibly having flown three to five legs that day. If you are running late, they are too. We are just as anxious as you are to get to our destination, which might be where we can rest in a hotel room or actually go home after being away for four days. We hate delays probably more than you do. After all, you are traveling at over 500 mph in the sky while sitting down in relative comfort! Stop whining or go greyhound!

Rule #3: Listen to what the FA or the pilot says on the PA! Yes, we all know how to buckle our seat belts, but there are other things that are said that are actually relevant and pertain to you. There may be a useful nugget of information that will actually help you. Pull the ear buds out, postpone your cell call, and donate five minutes of your precious time to listening. You just might learn something, like: how long the flight will be, what gate we will arrive at, where your carry on bag will be when you deplane if you are on a smaller plane that requires a plane side check. What beverage options you have when the FA comes around to ask you what you want, so he or she doesn't have to repeat the list of options to every passenger because they weren't listening.

Rule #4: Don't be a pig! Please try to collect your trash and dispose of it. FA's are not "trash ladies" as one child innocently called a FA once. If you have small children, pick up after their mess. I once saw a young boy with a huge trash pile on the floor in front of him. His mother sat across the aisle and did nothing. This kid drank four or five soft drinks during a one hour flight and monopolized the only lavatory on the plane, inconveniencing everyone else. Planes fly constantly and don't often sit during the day. Often the "turns" are less than 30 minutes and do not allow time for real cleaning. DO NOT CHANGE YOUR CHILD'S DIAPER ON A SEAT. Don't even think about handing a crappy diaper to the FA. In fact, try to take care of all of your business before you board the plane. I personally avoid using airplane lavs if I can. I know that is not possible on longer flights, but it is amusing to see people board then head straight for the lav.

Rule #5: Cell phones and smart phones: No one wants to hear you screaming into your phone. Text quietly, then put it in "airplane" mode or shut it off. Does it really affect navigational devices? Consider that all cell phones have GPS capability. Our airplanes use GPS (as well as other things for navigation). Fifty to one hundred cell phones left on, all seeking a GPS signal CAN ACTUALLY AFFECT THE NAVIGATION. Besides, who cares? It is an FAA regulation that we are forced to enforce. What makes you so special that you have to be an exception to that regulation?

Rule #6: Be extraordinarily polite to your crew, regardless of the situation. You get more flies with honey than vinegar. I don't care how many bizillion miles you have or what your frequent flyer status is. None of us responds well to rudeness. One time we were told to delay a flight because of a large group of people coming from an international flight that was running late. If they missed our flight, the last one that evening, they would have had to spend the night at the airport. We left about thirty minutes late. About half way through the flight, my single FA calls me and is in tears because a passenger who had been on board while we waited for these people to arrive was not happy about it and started taking it out on her. Now, I have to worry about her, this unruly passenger AND fly the airplane. I radioed ahead and had the police greet him. I wanted him thrown in jail. "Interfering with the duties of a flight crew" has a broad interpretation. In any case, you as a passenger are going to lose. Don't mess with my crew! You are affecting the safe operation of that aircraft.

Rule #7: DON'T EVER JOKE ABOUT DRUNK PILOTS OR FA'S! We take our job very seriously. If you board the aircraft and say something like "I hope the pilot isn't drunk" that is just like joking about a bomb being on board. I have actually had passengers say things like that as they were boarding and I'm standing there greeting them. My response to them is a serious deadpan face and the statement, "Sir, ma'am, we don't even joke about that." My other response could be this: I leave the plane, the flight is cancelled or delayed while I go get a urinalysis to clear my reputation and protect my job. Think about it. If a passenger hears you say that, they may not know that you are joking. Now a sliver of doubt is in their mind and they may actually believe that the pilot is drunk. They may relay this to other passengers and before you know it....well you get the picture. If something were to happen, then this may even be brought up in the media when passengers are interviewed. There have been well reported incidents of "drunk pilots." These are infinitesimally rare, but they make good press. We are all extraordinarily strict about this. Despite the frustrations of the job, we love what we do. I would never jeopardize it by breaking that rule.

Rule #8: Weather is beyond our control. Air Traffic Control (ATC)delays are beyond our control. Mechanical delays are beyond our control. I don't fly non-airworthy airplanes. I do not have a death wish. I don't fly through thunderstorms. I will not take off without permission from ATC. As I said, I love my job. We follow rules. We fly safely. Once, I had a mechanical delay in upstate NY. We were able to get the issue resolved and were finally cleared to go. A woman passenger told the flight attendant she wanted to speak to the pilot. She came to me and wanted me to assure her that the plane was "safe to fly." I believe I masked the incredulous look on my face pretty well and politely told her that I had a wife and children that I wanted to see when I got home and that I would not fly the airplane if it was not safe to do so.

Rule #9: Do not try to board your flight if you are drunk. You will be denied boarding. The FAA prohibits us from boarding drunk passengers. If you are drunk and get past the gate agent and onto the plane and you are a "quiet" drunk who falls asleep right away and makes no commotion, then you might get away with it. If you are an "obnoxious" drunk and bring a lot of attention to yourself, then I will personally see to it that you are removed from the flight. The FA's have enough to do with out having to worry about obnoxious drunks. Besides, in the event of any emergency, you will be a liability. Also, do not get drunk on an airplane. If you become unruly, the police will greet you upon arriving at your destination.

Rule #10: Wear appropriate clothing. If you are a hairy, overweight man, do not wear a wife beater undershirt. No one wants to see that. Tank tops in general are not a good idea because temperatures are often difficult to precisely control inside an airplane. Blankets are becoming rare. Flip flops are not a good idea. Consider that if you have to evacuate the aircraft in flip flops there is a good chance that you will be doing so barefoot because it is likely that you will lose them in the process. Business casual is always the most practical dress. You can stay warm, or get cool. Your footwear is solid and will keep you safe in an egress. You don't offend any one.

Finally: Share the air! You are in a pressurized tube. Though air circulates through the cabin, we are in a confined space. I have actually made a PA advising a passenger in the back to please put away her (or his) fingernail polish as I could smell it all the way up in the cockpit. Be considerate. Bathe. Use deodorant.
Hold your flatulence until you can go to the lav. Avoid getting really obnoxious smelling foods.

OK. I hope these nuggets of wisdom will help. Meanwhile, enjoy your flight and don't be THAT PASSENGER that we all talk about after work.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Rock and Roll and a Lakeside Stroll, CLE

Cleveland has always gotten knocked around, forever having to live down the years of "Dennis the Menace" (Dennis Kucinich) as mayor and the Cuyahoga River being so polluted that it actually caught fire. There is even a funny Youtube video that was made about the city, (Hastily Made Cleveland Tourism Video) and Randy Newman wrote a song about the river fire (Burn On).
Today, on a warm, sunny August day I had an opportunity to walk around the downtown area. It has been a busy summer for us and I have been flying way too much. When I get home tomorrow, I will have been working six days in a row. So I welcomed the nineteen hour layover in CLE. We stay down town about a fifteen minute walk from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I discovered a vibrant, clean and attractive city. Lots of modern buildings intermingled with well preserved older ones. There were flower beds and clean sidewalks, and I only encountered one panhandler.
The breeze coming off of Lake Erie and the mid eighties temperature was a welcome respite from the scorching 102 degrees of Memphis, where our flight originated. I went to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which was buzzing with people. It was great and I would encourage anyone to go (especially those my age). I walked by Voinovich Park on the shore of the lake and relaxed in the cool breeze. The city scape view from there is beautiful and impressive. You could spend a whole day in that area alone, visiting the Great Lakes Science Center and The William G. Mather Museum, a retired 1925 Great Lakes Freighter permanently docked and open to visitors during the warm months, which is key to coming to any city located on any of the Great Lakes. The last time I was in Cleveland was January. I didn't step outside of the hotel at that time.
So enjoy the self effacing humor of Cleveland dwellers, but know that it is really a nice place to visit, at least in the summer.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

San Antonio....River Walk, some Guac (amole) and a Prickly Pear Margarita

San Antonio is always a great layover city. We stay in a hotel close to the Mercado and everything else is within walking distance or a short "trolley bus" ride. On some trips we would arrive very late, around 2 am then head to "Mi Tierra," the 24 hour Mexican Restaurant located in the Mercado. Their menu is extensive and the place is always crowded. I would get the Carnitas or the Cabrito (which is barbecued goat).
Of course the River Walk is a must for the great bars and restaurants located there or nearby. My favorite place is Boudro's. I always order the guacamole which is prepared from scratch at your table. It is entertaining to see it prepared not to mention delicious. I highly recommend the Prickly Pear Margarita, made with the juice of the fruit of the prickly pear cactus. It is very unique and quite tasty. You can spend a lot of time wandering around the River Walk, shopping, eating or sightseeing. There are tour boats with guides and that can be fun. Many people don't realize that the River Walk was actually a flood control project for the San Antonio river, which at one time took the lives of fifty people when it overflowed its banks. Originally, it was going to be a basic flood control project, with a covered drain tunnel, but because of the vision of an architect, Robert Hugman, it became the attraction it is today. It turned a dangerous, crime-ridden area (off limits to military personnel) into a vibrant city center.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Wings of Gold

In Naval Aviation, aviators wear wings of gold. This distinguishes us from other armed service pilots whose wings are silver (though we call them wings of tin). They are a badge of honor and testimony to the completion of very rigorous training and hard work. Earning my Navy Wings was the most difficult thing that I ever did.
I have had many proud moments in my life, witnessing accomplishments of my children. They are both intelligent and successful young people. I was honored to put my uniform back on as a retired Naval Officer and commission my son as an officer in the United States Navy. Two weeks ago, I was even more proud to participate in his winging ceremony. He is now a Naval Aviator and on his way to San Diego to begin his career and adventure as a U S Navy Pilot.
It is a truly remarkable accomplishment. I know first hand what he went through since I went through the same training and later was a flight instructor administering the same training. It is challenging and stress-filled. My son not just completed the training, but he excelled in it.
I never pushed him to become a pilot or for that matter, join the Navy or any branch of service. This was a decision he made on his own. That is what really makes me so proud. Please remember him and all of our men and women in uniform as they serve and sacrifice for you.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010


In all my years of flying, I had never done an overnight in Memphis (MEM). I finally had the opportunity and got in early enough to enjoy my time there and even sleep in a bit.
We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express downtown, which is quite nice and across the street from the Peabody Hotel, home of the famous ducks. My crew and I went to watch the famous "Duck Parade" at five o'clock. The Peabody itself is one of Memphis' most popular attractions. The Peabody Ducks march to and from the Grand Lobby daily at 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. in a time-honored tradition dating back to 1933. While in the lobby, they wile away their time swimming around in the magnificent fountain. It sounds silly, and it is, but it is really fun to watch. Crowds gather early in the lobby for the best vantage point. The really funny part is that they are led down a red carpet into an open and waiting elevator. Unknowing guests try to squeeze by the crowds lined up on the carpet to get into the open elevator so they can ascend to their rooms. Imagine their surprise as they are shooed away and realize that the elevator is "reserved" for the ducks!
After the "show" (which only lasts as long as it takes the ducks to waddle to the elevator) we meandered around the lobby then went to the hotel roof which has a great view of the Mississippi River and the rest of the downtown area. It also is where the "duckingham palace" is located, where the ducks spend the rest of the time. We then returned to our hotel so we could take advantage of the free food and free drinks happy hour (my favorite kind of food and drink). As the hotel guests gathered in the bar, I noticed that many of them were British. There was a Japanese couple and a German couple. In my conversation with the bar tender, I learned that MEM is a popular tour stop for Brits followed by Germans.
Beale street is an obligatory stop in MEM, as is Graceland, and Sun Studios, which we did not do. But Beale street was only a few blocks away so we proceeded to BB King's for dinner and music. The music was great. The service was good. I ordered dry BBQ pork ribs, which is certainly de rigueur in a town known for its BBQ, Blues and Rock and Roll. They were definitely tender, literally falling off the bones, but I found them surprisingly bland. I was expecting some zest from the spice rub, but it wasn't there. I was offered the option of "wet" but I really wanted to taste the ribs, not the sauce. Perhaps it was an off day, but I was disappointed. Still, I would recommend BB Kings. It was a fun place to go and the music was great.
The rest of Beale street is chock-a-block with BBQ places and touristy shops. You can order a beer and take it "to go" in a plastic cup walking around the rest of the street. As I walked around, not just on Beale street, I noticed many interesting appearing restaurants and pubs.
MEM was a fun overnight and I am glad that I finally got to experience it.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

My Second Dad

My father died twenty four years ago. He was fifty nine, much too young. My son was born about two weeks before he died. Dad never got to meet him. He never got to see him and my daughter, the older of my two children, grow up to become the successful young man and woman that they are today. He would have been very proud of them.

Being short a Dad, I adopted my father-in-law, Bob. It was nice to have a father figure. I think Bob knew that I needed it. I became comfortable calling him “Dad,” and he accepted my calling him that. It was nice to be able to use that term after losing my dad.

When I first met Bob, I was very intimidated by him. It was a perfect relationship for him to have with a guy about to marry his eldest child and daughter. I knew I had my work cut out for me if I were to ever gain his respect.

Twenty eight years later, there is no doubt in my mind that we respected each other. He gave me a hard time for being a University of Georgia Bulldog fan, which is my alma mater, since he was always a Georgia Tech fan. He would rib me about many things and I knew that as long as he was doing that, I was in his good graces. That and the big hugs and kisses he would give me as he got older were comforting indications of his love and respect for me.

I lost Bob, Dad last week. I was thirty two when my father, Pedro died. I knew Bob for over twenty-eight years. If you subtract very early formative years that many of us cannot recall, I actually knew him as long as I did my real dad. He didn’t “raise” me, but I learned much from him as a young man raising my own family and his grandchildren. He really didn’t say much, but he communicated an awful lot. He wasn’t perfect, but he had admirable qualities. He was very intelligent and would often surprise me and his children by interjecting something into a conversation revealing extraordinary knowledge. He didn’t do that as a way of showing off. Bob would never do that. If he said something, it was usually very relevant or funny. My wife believes that he would have made a great physician. As my daughter was going through medical school on her way to becoming a physician’s assistant, the two of them would become involved in depth discussing different aspects of the human body.

He was an excellent craftsman. After retiring, he would create furniture with such attention to detail that he would drive for miles simply to get the perfect wood materials and accessories. He and his wife had a beach house and his beach vacations often consisted of much of the time repairing, rebuilding, replacing and occasionally fishing.

The youngest of fourteen children (that’s right, fourteen), Bob grew up on a potato farm in Long Island. His parents were immigrants from Poland. As a nine year old, he would drive the truck (standard shift) during the harvests. There would be blocks added to the pedals so that he could reach them and see out over the dashboard. He once told a story of his foot slipping off of the clutch, making the truck lurch forward emptying his siblings riding on the back and the harvested potatoes onto the field. It was on that farm and in those fields that he developed the strength he carried, both physically and mentally. As the youngest of so many children, he probably grew up observing and taking things in, never really having much of a chance to say a lot anyway. So he was the “strong, silent type.” Though when he did speak, his voice boomed from his barrel chest.

He was a center for Miami University’s (Ohio) football team. Typical of centers, he didn’t bring a lot of attention to himself, he just got things done. He was the honor graduate at Ft Benning’s Officer Candidate School. He never told anyone that. His son discovered that fact while going through some of his old papers.

He probably knew he was sick before he died. We realized that we needed to hospitalize him only after his wife told us that he couldn’t walk anymore. He was admitted on a Tuesday. A little over a week later, he was gone. We shall all miss him. His grandchildren will miss his humor; his children will miss his strength and affection. I shall miss my second Dad.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Meat and Malbec

Buenos Aires has a very European appearance. It was interesting seeing the architecture and now that I have been to Madrid I can plainly see the similarities. There was a busy pace to the city, but restaurants were always full and the subways crowded. The subway system was hot and a bit more cramped than the system in Madrid. Still, it was somewhat easy to use and get around the city. BA is certainly cheaper than Spain and Europe. We took advantage of that and enjoyed the bountiful Malbec wines and the delicious beef. Most people know of the "gaucho," the Argentinian version of the American cowboy. As much as the USA is a beef eating country, Argentina is even more so. Couple a nice piece of beef with a delicious Malbec wine and you have the essence of Argentina. The Malbec grape was originally grown for use as something to blend other wines with, similar to Merlots. Just as Merlots have grown in popularity as a wine on their own, so have Malbecs. My wife and I enjoyed lots of it.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Buenos Aires

This is a late entry because we went on this trip last year. I have since started my blog, inspired by my trip to Madrid. When my wife and I decided to start taking advantage of her Spring Break by traveling to places we have always thought about, Buenos Aires was high on my list. I have never traveled farther south than Panama, having flown to the canal zone Air Force Base as a Navy pilot when I was assigned to Roosevelt Roads Naval Station Puerto Rico. Buenos Aires always held a mystique for me and it was a perfect spring break trip. No competition with spring break travelers, about the same time zone and an evening departure from ATL with an early am arrival.
After web searching for a place to stay and consulting with a fellow pilot who grew up in Buenos Aires (BA), we decided upon a B&B for the first part of the week and an apartment for the last part. It worked out great and we loved both places as they were in terrific locations, both in the Recoletta area of BA. The B&B, Tesorito Bed & Breakfast (Ecuador 1250 PB°D
Buenos Aires, Argentina (54 11) 5778 1039, is owned and operated by Fernanda and Ahmed, a lovely couple, whom we quickly befriended. The breakfasts were frech and filling, their warmth made you really feel welcome and they will give you good advice on where to go and how to get there. It is in an older building, but the rooms are large, spacious and tastefully decorated. I highly recommend it.

La Casa Benigna

Casa Benigna: arroz en patellaCasa Benigna: tortilla de calabacín y salmón marinado al eneldo


This evening I made reservations for dinner at La Casa Benigna. I had read of this place in a blog when I was researching paella recipes. I am new to paella cooking and wanted to learn as much as I could before actually trying to make one. I wanted to go to a good paella place in Madrid to sample authentic paella. The owner and chef, Norberto has actually devised his own pan, very different from the pans used for traditional paellas. His pans have a copper hew and are shallower than the traditional paellera. It is about as wide, but much shallower. It is very elegant looking and serves up delicious rice with some nice “soccarat,” or crusty “stuck on” rice at the bottom of the pan. The wide pan is brought out and placed upon a lazy susan in the center of the table. The waiter scrapes it up and serves you though eating right out of the pan with the provided wooden spoon is also allowed. Before the paella though, we were indulged in a delicious salad, a mushroom dish served with an egg gracing the top that would be blended into a soulful blend that bathed the palate in a wonderful texture and flavor. We were also served a “tortilla” or Spanish omelets with vegetables and thinly sliced grilled salmon. This was topped with an incredible sauce of pureed tomatoes and heavenly spices. This was all before the paella came out!

Our dessert was a trio of orange accented chocolate, fresh strawberry sorbet and a tenderly baked apple. We were totally surprised when the server drizzled balsamic vinegar onto the strawberry sorbet. It actually enhanced the flavor. We were even served an “après dessert,” in two tiny cups and saucers, even smaller than a demitasse cup. I thought that they may have come from a child’s play tea set, but were ceramic, filled with creamy, fudgy chocolate accompanied by two wafers and two small spoons. It didn’t take us long to figure out what we had to do to enjoy this wonderful surprise. I have not even mentioned the bread or Norberto’s own extra virgin olive oils to dip it in. His two brands are poured into small wine glasses and swirled so you can absorb the aroma and the distinctive “nose” of each one, much as you would a fine wine. One evoked a distinct tomato scent; it was the Sicilian olive oil. The other, a Spanish olive oil, had the aroma of herbs and flowers. The owner is a craftsman in all he does with his food, the interior, the ambiance. It was a very artistic presentation and delicious to partake both visually as well as gastronomically. You can search for La Casa Benigna, Madrid on google and find many references to it with reviews and more photos.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

El Cocinillas


Friday night, our last night of our week long stay in Madrid, was the night we decided to "do the town," if you will. I'm certain that our idea of this is vastly different from what the majority of the Madrilenos in this area consider to be a night on the town. We definitely wanted to try out the restaurant I had discovered the evening before, so we set out to San Joaquin street. We came upon El Cocinillas. It was very busy and I thought we might not be able to get a table. I went in and spoke to the host, who I later discovered was the owner, Julian Lara. I also learned that he had only opened the restaurant a month ago. I asked about a table for two. He apologized and pointed to the chock-a-block tables full of people enjoying their evening meal. He was very busy. This was around 1045 pm. I was disappointed, but thanked him. I think he saw my disappointment and said, "come back in a half hour."
We felt confident now that we would be able to try out El Cocinillas now, so we walked to a nearby plaza, ordered some drinks and a tapa, sitting outside taking in the scene presented to us this Friday night in the packed plaza: roller skaters, roller bladers, venders, cyclists, partiers, children, parents, teens, young and old all out and about at 11 pm!
Thirty minutes later we were at the small bar at El Cocinillas waiting for a table for two to finish clearing enjoying a delicious Rioja wine. We were soon seated and spoke to Julian about what we should order. He recommended the mero, a fish. Though I speak Spanish, I am unfamiliar with many fish names and sometimes they vary from one Spanish speaking country to another. So I asked him what mero was. Julian speaks English well, but did not know what the English word for mero was. He asked the large party at a table next to us if they knew what the English word for mero was (I later found out that that table included his sister, who did a high school exchange in Louisville, KY and speaks perfect English. Though she did not know how to translate mero). Thus began a buzz of activity as Iphones and Blackberries were broken out, googling "mero."
"Grouper!" Mero is grouper! We love grouper. One of the people at the other table then asked my wife what grouper was. She promptly responded, "mero!" We all had a good laugh, the ice was broken and we quickly settled in as part of the El Cocinillas familia. I ordered the lamb, or cordero. After a fresh and tasty green salad, we were served. The grouper was served in a large bowl with an elliptical edge. The fillets of grouper were skewered with a slice of pumpkin and served on a bed of cous cous. It was as artistic a presentation as I have seen and absolutely delicious. My tender, boneless lamb slices came resting atop a pressed potato cake containing some of the delicious red pimientos so famous in Spain and topped with a sauce that was indescribably piquant. I asked Julian about it. He said it was a secret, but then describing it and basically telling me how it was made. Needless to say, I won't give away his secret, but it was amazing. We lingered over our dinner, taking the time to savor each bite. My wife and I swapped plates briefly, something we always do. After coffee and more conversation with our new friends surrounding our table, we ambled out of El Cocinillas at nearly one am.
It was a perfect last evening in Madrid for us. We agreed that this was, indeed a wonderful discovery for us. I would strongly encourage anyone visiting Madrid to go to El Cocinillas.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Happening Upon Things


After returning from our day trip to Toledo, we rested in the apartment after a long day of walking up and down the hills and cobblestone roads of that ancient town. I started to get hungry and decided to go out in the Chueca neighborhood and search for a "take out" place that is not McDonald's (there are a many of these around Madrid, and the world for that matter. In my travels, I usually avoid them as I do in the USA).
The Cafe y Te restaurant downstairs was closed as it was after ten pm (2200 in European and military time). So I would go searching and wandering, leaving my wife to her book. This is something that I love to do in a new place. Exploring new places and discovering new things. As I stepped outside into the cool crisp evening, there was a festive mood and lots of people, mostly younger moving about and chattering, laughing, shopping and generally enjoying the evening. I headed up Fuencarral street towards the Tribunal Metro station, looking at the various cafes and bars that were open to see if there was anything I could grab to take back to the apartment. Eschewing the colmado, or type of convenience store, usually owned by Chinese Spaniards, I proceeded towards "our" bakery we had discovered earlier in the week on the off chance that it would still be open. It wasn't, but as I walked up the side street, Calle San Joaquin, I couldn't help but notice a small restaurant that was tastefully decorated and abuzz with activity. I stopped to read the menu and took notice of some of the plates the diners by the window were enjoying. I quickly decided that tomorrow night, our last night here, we would try this lovely place out.
I ended up going to an Italian take out place that was packed with the evenings revelers getting their munchies. I chose an "Italiano" sandwich and a big, fat, cannoli. There was a sign on the cooler window proclaiming that the cannoli was made famous in "The Godfather" ("leave the gun, take the cannolies"). My wife later would accuse me of trying to hide it when I got back to the apartment so I could enjoy it all myself....but there is no truth to this. The sandwich AND the cannoli were delicious and did the trick. The place is owned by a Sicilian who obviously does very well from what I could see at least that evening.
So the next day, Friday after a leisurely morning, coffee and pastry, we took a tour of the northern, more modern part of Madrid. This also included some of the more exclusive neighborhoods and foreign embassies, including the USA's. Traffic was thick and the going slow, but we enjoyed our tour atop our open air tour bus. We ended up near the Paza Del Sol, which was packed. We shopped in the Corte Inglese, the largest department store in Madrid, with locations all over the city. We purchased some small gifts and walked up the pedestrian walkway towards the Gran Via station amid a cacophony of music emanating from groups of street musicians, a string quartet here and a jazzy eclectic and raucous group of eleven. This band was cookin'! Five saxophones (one tenor), two stand up basses, three accordions and one guitar. They drew a crowd, including us and you couldn't help but toe tap and smile as they let loose with big band, jazz and contemporary sounds. We were happy to donate a few Euros to there hat!
We continued up to Gran Via and were soon back at the apartment, resting up for our ten pm departure to start our "night on the town" on our last day in Madrid.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Impressions of Madrid

It seems as if I have been trying my whole life to get to Spain. I dreamed of coming here as a child and as an officer in the Navy, I was always trying to get orders to Spain. It never happened until now. My wife and I decided to spend her Spring break from school, where she works as a middle school counselor, in Madrid. I schedule my vacations to coincide with that week. As an airline employee, specifically a pilot, I get to take advantage of “space available travel” whenever I can. Spring break is typically a tough time to do it, unless you choose to go where most spring breakers are not going. Last year for spring break, we went to Buenos Aires and loved it, easily taking advantage of “space available” and spending a wonderful week in that lovely South American city. I will write about that in a later post.

This year, we decided that Madrid should be our spring break destination, since seats were available and the “breakers” were not going to Europe. There were seats available and returning looked very good. Finally, I would get to see Spain, or at least the Madrid area. Both of our children had already traveled to and spent time in Spain, once in high school, on an exchange that was coordinated by the Spanish department. They lived with a family in Toledo, the family of the young man we had hosted earlier that year. Then, in their college years, both of them went on separate occasions to live in Valencia for extended periods of time. I had often wished that I could have joined them, I was a bit jealous, but work and finances were preventing the travel at that time.

Easter Sunday

Now it was our turn. We landed on Easter morning, a bright, crisp spring day. After being herded from our Boeing 767 through narrow corridors like cattle being lead to corrals (or slaughter) up and down stairs, through a series of switchbacks until we were finally emptied into a larger area (baggage claim) then finally outside. Our ride to the apartment we had rented for the week was uneventful driving down mostly empty streets. Madrid had not awakened yet and we saw no one on the streets. It was the last day of “Semana Santa", or Holy week, which is a week of holidays for the Spaniards. The city was clean, swept and appeared to be ready to get back to the business of being Madrid after a week of many closed shops and stores.

We arrived at our apartment, located on Calle Fuencarral in a district that has been re-vitalized in recent years, mostly by the gay community of Madrid. We learned that this area was popular with gays only after we decided upon renting it. We surmised that the area would be safe, clean and stylish if we applied all of the stereo types. The apartment is on the top floor of a building that overlooks a small square and has a large balcony that really appealed to us after viewing it on the internet. We thought it would be a great place to enjoy a morning cup of coffee as we watched the city awaken beneath us. I am sitting outside on it now enjoying a coffee as I write. The sounds emanating from below tell the story of Madrilenos beginning their day much later in the than most of us in the States. The city is busy, but not hectic. People move about, but not in a rush. They stroll, rather than walk. They casually notice rather than observe. They always seem to find time for a sit in the park or at a sidewalk café table to enjoy a coffee and a pastry.

We overlook the city from our balcony and in the background there is a large Spanish flag flying from atop a building in the distance. There are no “skyscrapers” as in many large cities, at least not in this section. The heights of the buildings are fairly uniform with nothing really obtrusive. Much of the architecture is influenced by the French style, mainly because of the Bourbon ancestry of the most recent royals, who were French. The history of Spain is an amalgam of invaders and what we Americans would call carpetbaggers, or leaders from outside of the country. This does not mean that they did not love their newly adopted country, just that they brought a profound influence upon it. You can still hear the Arabic influence in the Castilian language of the Moors who occupied much of Spain for almost 500 years. Many Spanish words are of Arabic origin.

I actually speak Spanish pretty well, having grown up around it in my home. Both of my parents were Puerto Rican. Trying to understand a Spaniard with my Puerto Rican background and American upbringing can be challenging. I am able to express myself and make myself understood, but understanding a Spaniard takes a trained ear, something my ear is not trained to do very well yet.

Madrid is a beautiful city. It is impressive to see and exciting to be in. I feel very comfortable in it and getting around is extraordinarily easy. The Metro is safe, simple and extensive. Last night we were running late for our dinner reservations and had planned to take the metro, but opted for a taxi instead so as not to miss our reservations at a renowned paella restaurant. The taxi ride was easy and safe, the taxi itself clean and the driver courteous, taking us to La Casa de Benigna (see separate post) for our late (as is customary) dinner at 9:30 pm. After our dinner, we definitely needed a postprandial stroll as we were both very stuffed. Dinner was amazing (more on that later). We found the nearby metro stop, got on for one Euro each and after one transfer; we were soon at our stop on Gran Via, very close to our apartment. It was less than 20 minutes on clean, quiet subway cars.

I have lived in southern Italy. I was assigned in the Naples area in the early nineties by the U.S. Navy. Naples was at that time (I've not been back since) very chaotic. Everyone was in a hurry to get somewhere and upon arriving at their destination, do absolutely nothing. There was no real sense of order or regulation. Even so, I felt very comfortable with the locals and when I would meet them, they would say that I was not “Americano,” that I was different from the typical American. Then I would tell them of my Puerto Rican heritage and that seemed to explain everything to them. We had lots of fun together, my Neapolitan friends and I, going to restaurants, driving around in the chaos and having them over to my bungalow for dinner and drinks. Getting around southern Italy was often an adventure unto itself. Nothing seemed to run on time or very efficiently. It wasn’t as clean and neat as is much of what I have seen of Madrid. The metro is timely and orderly. There is a sense of order.


Today we went to the nearby Mercado, or market we learned of from Ramiro who manages our apartment rental. It is a collection of different kiosks or small stores that sold everything from fresh meats, fruits and vegetables, cured meats and cheeses, bread, wines and liquors and other sundries. Each merchant we approached was so friendly and eager to help us. The cured meats and cheese merchant eagerly gave us samples of the cheeses we were interested in. We bought several items with the vision of sitting on the balcony of our apartment and enjoying a simple dinner at “home” of cured meats, cheeses, fruits, bread and wine. We found a spice kiosk and purchased some Bomba Calasparra rice, which I use to make paellas and some saffron. Buying these items here is certainly much cheaper than ordering them over the internet or at our local grocery store. We bought some capers to serve with the smoked salmon we got and an herbed salt. The spice merchant, Jesus, gave us a gift of orange marmalade (I believe because we spent quite a bit with him), he was very friendly as were all of the merchants we encountered. My wife saw a scarf she really liked and we purchased that from the merchant who turned out to be an Argentine who has lived in Spain for thirty years. He too gave us a gift after our purchase, allowing her to select two handkerchiefs. The market was a really fun experience. I highly recommend it to anyone visiting as it really exposes you to the culture and the people are so friendly and helpful. It is also a great way to get a nice, simple dinner that you can enjoy on the road or where ever you are staying. It is a delicious introduction to the Spanish palate.

We sat out on the balcony this evening and enjoyed our “Mercado” purchased simple dinner. We opened our bottle of Rioja, Muriel 2006 and I prepared our platter of juicy Spanish pears, grapes, creamy cheeses, breads, smoked salmon with capers (purchased from Jesus at the spice kiosk), avocado, tomato and sliced chorizo. The layout looked splendid as we dined al fresco on our balcony reveling in our wonderful time thus far in this magnificent city.


This morning instead of lolling about and enjoying a lazy morning in the typical Spanish fashion, we set out a bit earlier on the metro to the Atocha train station, where trains depart Madrid to the south. We were taking a side trip to Toledo, where our children had done an exchange during high school. Toledo is the capital of La Mancha, south of Madrid and was the northernmost stronghold of the Moors during their occupation of the Iberian Peninsula. In fact, Madrid came into existence as a fortress protecting the approach to Toledo. It was originally called by its arabic name, "Mayrit" which was later corrupted to Madrid. It is surrounded on three sides by the Tajo river and a fortified wall on the landside approach. It is rich in history and is a city that has the three major religions of the world, Islam, Christianity and Judaism represented in its architecture and culture. The three religious peoples coexisted peaceful for centuries in Toledo.

Taking the AVE trains (high speed) from the Atocha train station, we arrived at the Toledo station in a mere twenty minutes. It was another beautiful day and we could see the city as we approached it, its many spires of the cathedrals standing out on the heights. My wife and I are suckers for the double decker tour buses that we seem to find at our travel destinations. We took one in Buenos Aires last year and found one for Madrid on this trip which we took on the our first full day here. The top deck is open and allows for great viewing and photography. There is also an audio that you can listen via ear buds in your own language that describes the sights along the way. In Madrid, it is a good way to get a feel for the area and you can get on and off as you wish with an all day ticket. We saw one of these waiting outside of the train station in Toledo and for only 5 Euros each, we quickly jumped aboard and got the lay of the land. After basically circling the city, the tour bus dropped us off at the central plaza, Zocodover. We then purchased a city map and devised our own walking tour through its narrow medieval streets and along the river. This is the best way to really see Toledo. It was magnificent and impressive. We really got a work out walking up and down hilly, narrow roads, but it was well worth it. Toledo can be a tourist trap, but it is an amazing place. Known for its steel, shops abound with displays of knives, swords and armor. I have a ceremonial sword I used as a naval officer that was made in Toledo. Most military ceremonial swords of most of today’ armies and navies come from Toledo.

We wound up the day at cafe, sitting outside with a grand view of the Plaza Zocodover, where I ordered an individual seafood Paella and my wife a pizza margherita. We enjoyed the people watching on the plaza Zocodover and eventually boarded the bus back to the station for our return trip to Madrid. It was less than twenty minutes and we were quickly on our metro enroute to the Gran Via station near our apartment. I highly reccomend this side trip. As we walked back to the apartment that evening, the city was so alive and vibrant. It was Thursday night and the Madrilenos were out and about.