Sunday, June 11, 2017

Progress Marches On. . .

"Our grandparents did not have ultrasounds, so they wondered about the sex of a child before it was born.  We are more sophisticated now.  We wonder about it after."

          - Anthony Esolen, professor at (for now) Providence College

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Misadventures in Flying. . .

The headlines in recent days and weeks have been filled with stories of airline misadventures - people getting dragged off planes by the police, fistfights between passengers, rude treatment from flight staff, and on and on.  I really can't relate to much of what we're seeing lately - Jenn and I have flown exactly twice since 9/11, and while air travel wasn't exactly pleasant back in the day, it has gotten noticeably less pleasant since then.  Anyway, the recent stories remind me of one egregious tale of airborne awfulness. . .

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It was June of 1998, and my youngest brother was getting married in Missoula, Montana.  Jenn and I duly made our plans to fly out and be with my family in celebration of the joyous nuptials.  7M was 2 months old at the time, and in those days, you could still take an infant-in-arms on a plane, well, in-arms, without a child-seat (or, more relevantly to the cash-flow, another ticket).

In the week or so before our flight, a couple of our friends, who flew a lot more than we did, came to us, asking which airline we were flying on.  It turned out that the pilots' union for the airline which, indeed, we were flying on, was approaching the end of their contract, and had set a strike deadline for the weekend we were travelling.  Naive as we were, we didn't overly concern ourselves over it, and continued with our travel plans as if nothing was up.

Flying to Missoula from OurTown was a bit of an ordeal, all by itself, involving two planes, and four separate take-offs and landings.  From OurTown, we flew to another Michigan airport, about a 20-minute flight (and east of OurTown, so we began our journey traveling backwards.).  From there we flew to Minneapolis, where we changed planes and flew to Great Falls, Montana.  At this point, we were starting to relax, since it was only another 30 minutes or so in the air to Missoula.  We landed in Great Falls, and stayed on the plane, taking on a few more passengers, then taking off to our final destination.

Now, Missoula sits in a little bowl in the mountains, and whereas it had been bright and sunny all the way from OurTown to Great Falls and beyond, it was cloudy and rainy at Missoula (such are the climatological vagaries of mountainous terrain).  Even so, we broke through the bottom of the clouds, and the whole valley laid out below us.  We could even see the lights of the airport.  So we began to pack and stow our stuff in preparation to land.  The plane began its descent, and about halfway down, the pilot suddenly pulled up, aborting his landing, and went back into a holding pattern, informing us that conditions weren't favorable, but he would line up and try again.  We started down once more, but this time, he pulled up even sooner, telling us over the intercom that flight rules required 1000 feet visibility to land, but visibility was only 995 feet, so he was taking us back to Great Falls.  Which he did.

We arrived back at Great Falls (it was still bright and sunny), and taxied to the terminal building.  But not to a jetway.  Or any other means of leaving the plane.  The pilot engaged in some, uh, negotiations with his bosses about getting back in the air, and getting us all to Missoula.  While we sat in our seats on the plane.  For an hour.  With the plane powered down.  Including the air conditioning.  Finally, the pilot came back on the intercom, and told us that he was going to try to take us back to Missoula, even though conditions there hadn't improved, and he personally didn't think it was wise.

So we took off again, and in 30 minutes we were back at the bowl in the mountains where Missoula sits.  Again, the pilot made an attempt to land, but pulled up halfway down.  From the holding pattern, he told us that he'd make one more run, and this time, he descended virtually to ground level.  Except that, when we got to the airport, we were about 20 feet off the ground - AND THE RUNWAY WAS 20 YARDS TO OUR LEFT!!  He flew along in that configuration for virtually the entire length of the runway, before pulling back up, announcing that it just wasn't safe to land in Missoula that day, and took us back to Great Falls.  Again.

When we arrived back at Great Falls this time, we got off the plane, and the airline hastily arranged a fleet of buses to convey us all to Missoula.

The bus ride was pleasant enough, as bus rides go, but it was three hours, instead of the 30 minute flight we'd signed on for (and which - bonus points! - we'd already done twice, and twice more in reverse).  It twisted and wound through some beautiful montains.  At one point, the driver came on the intercom to tell us that just over the ridge to our left was the Unabomber cabin, so you know, more bonus points.

We eventually arrived in Missoula, just in time for dessert at the rehearsal dinner, and about five times more bedraggled than we started out.  The wedding the next day was lovely (some years later, Jenn and I rented the movie A River Runs Through It; the church in the movie is the same one in which my brother and his wife were married), and the day after the wedding, my brother took us for a hike in the mountains, which was pure bonus points.

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The airline and the union settled their differences over the weekend, and we returned home without incident.

But there remains a special place in Purgatory for the pilot who used the lives of a plane-load of passengers as a bargaining chip that day.  Oh, he made a nice show of following the rules (that last 5 feet of visibility made all the difference, I'm sure), and he gave us a nice stunt-flying performance (flying 20 feet off the ground, exactly parallel to the runway; if he could do that, he could land the plane on the runway; asshole), which we were privileged to view from inside the plane, no less.  And he used up six hours of our lives in the process.  All to flip the bird at his bosses.  What a guy!  But hey, we got to drive past the Unabomber cabin, and we did eventually get to Missoula, so there's that. . .


Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Talkin' Baseball. . .

Baseball season has begun, and that's always an occasion of joy in my own psyche.  I grew up loving baseball, and had some middling success at it, mostly before I was 15.  Once the other guys hit puberty, and started throwing real curveballs, and fastballs too fast for me to get around on, I sighed, learned how to drink beer, and moved over to the softball diamond.

Since I've been a father to sons, I've taken a lot of joy from watching my sons play (I've enjoyed watching my daughters play, too, but none of them played baseball; or even softball. . .).  All of my boys have been ballplayers, and among them, they've had at least as much success as I did in my day; and, what I'm happier about, they've come to love the game almost as much as I do.  My three oldest boys all learned how to play catcher, because I told them that coaches love a kid who'll volunteer to catch (and I wasn't even a catcher; but I did coach for a couple years).  I took 'em to see the local minor league team a few times every summer, and I'd point out to 'em how the catcher would subtly 'drag' a pitch into the strike zone, and sometimes get his pitcher a strike call that wasn't quite, uh, true.  And the first time I saw one of my sons do that in a Little League game (it wasn't exactly even minor-league subtle, but it worked on the teenage ump who was calling the game that day), I burst out laughing, which is to say, busting my buttons with pride. . .

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But that's not really the story I set out to tell you today.  It's really just setting the stage for me to tell you about my friend Todd. . .

I first met Todd probably about 10 years or so ago, when his son and mine were on a Little League baseball team together.  For most of that time, our relationship has been defined by our mutual fatherhood of athletically-inclined boys.  7M and Todd's son Joel were on baseball, basketball and football teams together, roughly from age 9 all the way through high school, and were often among the better players on the field for their respective teams.  I blogged five years or so ago about a memorable weekend of baseball, during which their team won six games in two days, in 95-degree heat, winning the championship with a suicide squeeze play in the bottom of the final inning of the final game.  Todd was the coach of that team (and I had some complimentary words regarding his, um, endowment afterward).  When Joel and 7M were on the high school football team, Todd and I ended up sitting together for most of the games, all the way to the state finals their junior year (they lost), and another run to the state semifinals their senior year.  And along the way, Todd and I built a really nice friendship.  We had both grown up as jocks of one degree or another (his degree was a lot higher than mine, at least in terms of actual athletic success), and we enjoyed talking through the games with each other.  When our sons graduated, our two families joined together for their open house.

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Todd is a bear of a man, thick and muscular, and strong as an ox.  You can easily imagine him as a football player, and he was.  But his first love was baseball, and as a young man, he had more-than-modest success.  When he was in high school, he was probably the second-best high-school ballplayer in Our Town.  The best was a young man named John Smoltz.  Todd played for the Catholic high school, and he and Smoltz were actually teammates during their freshman year.  After that, though, young Mr. Smoltz moved to Waverly High across town, and he and Todd would play against each other a few times every season.  As you might imagine, Smoltz cut quite a swath through the baseball world of Our Town, as all future major-leaguers do.  But Todd held his own, and even hit a home run (or two?) off young Smoltz.  In those days, John Smoltz was the kind of high-school pitcher that young ballplayers would congratulate themselves for even fouling a pitch back off him, to say nothing of actually putting the ball in play.  Much less getting an actual hit; much less hitting a home run.

I don't know what happened with Todd's baseball career after high school, if he ever played college ball, or what.  I don't think he ever got a pro contract.  For at least the past 20 years or so, Todd's life has been the typical, ordinary grind of work and raising kids.  And putting in his time on aluminum bleachers, sitting next to me, watching our kids play. . .

John Smoltz, on the other hand, did get a pro contract, and went on to a distinguished 21-year major-league career, virtually all with the Atlanta Braves.  He was eight times an All-Star, pitched in five World Series (winning one), and won a Cy Young Award as the National League's best pitcher in 1996.  Pretty rarefied air for a guy who grew up playing on the sandlots of Our Town.  Heck, along with Magic Johnson, he's one of the most distinguished athletes to ever come from here. . .

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Since our sons graduated from high school last spring, I've seen less of Todd, but we still enjoy the occasions when we bump into each other.  Two summers ago, John Smoltz was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY.  A short time after that, I bumped into Todd, and he started reminiscing about when he and John Smoltz had been the two best ballplayers in Our Town, back in the day.  So I stopped him, and said, "You know what this means, don't you?"

He looked at me.  "What?"

"You hit a home run off a Hall of Famer."

He grinned, as big a grin as I've seen him grin (and he's got a pretty big smile, just normally).  "I did, didn't I?  How many guys can say that?"

Indeed, my friend. . . Not very many, indeed. . .

Friday, February 3, 2017

Howcum Izzit. . .

. . . That so much of what I see flying under the banner of 'Love Trumps Hate' looks more like 'My Hate is Cooler than Your Hate'?

Just, you know, askin'. . .

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And, under the heading of 'People Coming Unhinged', you have people (more than one, including a former official in the Obama administration) publicly advocating the military overthrow of the President of the United States.

I mean, wouldn't it be easier just to move to Chile, or Uganda?