Sunday, January 30, 2011

Meanwhile, Over At The Griddle.......

One of the benefits of getting older is that cooking provides more than just sustenance.

For example, whenever I make a pot of gravy (the Italian spaghetti sauce kind, not the brown mashed potato sort) I can almost see and hear my maternal grandmother. Even though she was of Irish descent, she was outstanding at cooking Italian food. Not surprisingly, I make my gravy using her recipe.

Meatloaf, pot roast, and fried chicken all remind me of Mom. Meatloaf in our house was actually meatloaves. Mom made them two at a time as we got older. One for dinner, the other for cold sandwiches the next day. Her pot roast was legendary in our family. There wasn't a one of us who didn't love it. It was served with a savory sage and peppery brown gravy with mushrooms and lots of onions. Most times for me, it went right over the mashed potatoes. I'm pretty sure that in her lifetime Mom fried at least one farm's worth of chickens. She did it the old fashioned way in a well seasoned flour and fried crispy. In Summer she allowed it to cool completely prior to dinner. That allowed both Mom and the small galley kitchen we ate in, time to cool off. Fresh Jersey corn, sliced Jersey tomatoes, and cucumber salad were most often the side dishes.

This morning, as usual, I woke up early. The kitchen was still a bit of a mess from yesterday. Christine's family had to reschedule a holiday get together due to inclement weather over the holidays. I volunteered to make a pan of lasagna and cook down a turkey breast for hot turkey and gravy sandwiches.

Factor in Christine making a bunch of "Buckeye" candies and you can imagine just how rough the kitchen looked when we were finished.

It didn't take too long for me to get it under control. With one large pot left to clean soaking in hot water, I decided to make some breakfast. I went to the refrigerator and pulled out a block of scrapple.

Scrapple is a long time family favorite in my family. Everybody liked scrapple, and everybody liked the way Dad cooked it. He'd slice it medium thick, about 1/4 inch thick. With the cast iron pan over medium heat, he'd throw just in a small dollop of bacon grease, swirl it, and lay the scrapple into the pan.

Anybody who knows anything about scrapple knows it doesn't need any extra grease. However, this is the way Dad's mom made it, therefore the way he made it.

Scrapple is full of sage and black pepper. As soon as it hit the skillet and bacon grease, the kitchen filled with a wonderful aroma of spice and smoke. Cooking weekend breakfasts was Dad at his best. It was a "chore" he really enjoyed and I could tell. The intensity of his work week seemed to melt away. It was something I wouldn't understand until I got much older.

I broke out my cast iron griddle. I prefer using the griddle over the pan because the low sides make getting a spatula under the scrapple a lot easier. Just like Dad I set the stove temperature to medium and let the pan warm slightly. In a slight deviation from family tradition, I opted not to use the bacon fat.

This morning's blood pressure: 130/79. No reason to screw with that any more than just having scrapple.

For those of you who have never seen scrapple, it looks something like this before frying:

It's a thing of beauty.

What are those big, buttery chunks you see floating in there?

Who knows?

It's scrapple after all.

Could be a chunk of liver fat, some cooled rendered fat from the boiling process, or even a mystery chunk.

In the name of science, and morning hunger, I took it to the skillet.

Twelve minutes, and two turns later I had my answer.

It was a chunk of cornmeal that hadn't been blended completely into the batch.

Not aesthetically pleasing to some, but not a deal breaker to a hungry guy.

In five short days it will be thirty years since Dad passed away.

The last time I had scrapple that Dad cooked would be thirty years ago earlier this month, just before I left to go back to college.

Yet, as I get older, I find I can have scrapple with him anytime.

All I need is the cast iron, the bacon fat, and the scrapple.

Love ya and miss ya Pop.

Until the next time, all y'all take care of yourselves.

Air Traffic Mike, ret.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Chain Of Life (Part 4)

"There are no "throw away" lives."

---Air Traffic Mike

The house felt empty.

It was like all the life had been sucked out of it in one fell swoop. The mornings were the hardest. The morning routine had been broken.

I'm an early riser. Always have been, unless bedridden ill. Because I got up early, I took on the responsibility of putting Rhondo on his tether and letting him out into the backyard.

"Gooooooood morning Mr. Rhondo, you're usual table today?", I'd mockingly ask him as I fumbled with his tether and collar. Rhondo, like most dogs, couldn't wait to get outside first thing in the morning. Little dog, little bladder. The math as pretty simple. Besides, he was always on "patrol" for the numerous squirrels and the occasional possum that wandered in and out of the yard.

The possum was something that REALLY bothered him. Twice he cornered it by the garage. The first time, Christine was out with him. It was well past sunset. She couldn't see what it was he had cornered. All she knew is that she'd never seen him so agitated before. I heard the noise from inside the house. It startled me.

The second time it happened, I was here with him. This God awful ruckus was taking place by the garage once again. Rhondo was under a pile of leaves and he was fighting with something in there. A smart man would have just pulled him out by the tether. Not me. I reached in and scooped him away. Rhondo promptly thanked me by biting my hand. It was dark, he couldn't see what was what in the confusion. I reached in again to scoop him out of there. He got my hand pretty good again, but he was clear of the pile. I carried him back inside. He was shaking almost uncontrollably. I was bleeding pretty good. I put him out in his kennel. I was supposed to play in a poker league that night. A little soap, a little water, some antibacterial cream and some bandaids later, I was fine. Sore, but fine.

I texted Christine and told her what had happened. Rhondo was really shaken up badly. I figured it would be best to let him settle down. I left him in his kennel with the door open and went to play cards.

Sometime after I left, before Christine got home, Rhondo evacuated his bowels by the back door. He hadn't done that in a very long time. Christine found him by the pile, shaking, near the basement door. It took him hours to finally settle down.

The next morning, I raked out the leaves destroying any means of a possum nesting there again. There was an area that was dugout under there. Rhondo ran right to it when I let him out on his tether. Apparently, he was ready for another battle. He sniffed all around, looked at the dug out area, and peed on it.

He was satisfied that "his" yard was back under his control.

That was months before.

Now the pervasive silence was all we had.

No morning greetings.

No afternoons chasing the sunlight from sofa top to easy chair top.

No big greetings for "Mom" when she came home.

No walks.


Life goes on, though. Christine had hired a guy to come out and replace a couple windows on the west side of the house. He called and said he'd be out this Tuesday past.

Ron showed up, as promised bright and early. I woke Christine up to let her know Ron had arrived with the windows. She looked up at me and said, "Good. By the way, the dryer repair guy called last week. He'll be out sometime today to put in the new part he ordered.

That made my plans pretty easy for the day. I'd be staying home, overseeing repairs. Good work if you can get it, in my opinion.

Ron worked through the day. The windows gave him little trouble, but there was a lot of other work. At one point he ran out of caulk. That was around noon. He took off for the hardware store. I was wondering when the dryer repair guy was going to show up. I had a few errands I wanted to do and hanging around the house was starting to bore me.

The afternoon wore on. Ron returned to finish the windows. By 5:00 pm, Ron was cleaning up the debris. Christine arrived home from work around 5:15 pm. She spoke briefly to Ron and came in. "Has the repairman been here yet?", was the first thing out of her mouth. "No.", I replied, "Not even a phone call.". We figured he'd had a long day.

Chris had a meeting that night. She changed, grabbed her meeting stuff, and headed out.

Then, the repair guy pulled up out front. I was glad to see him. I was envisioning another day of having to hang around the house, the thought of which was putting me into a bad mood.

He went downstairs, cut off the power to the dryer, and set to work. With one of the mounting screws dropping into the dryer's cavity, the job took about 35 minutes. He came back up into the kitchen and presented his bill. The price was very reasonable, but most importantly, the dryer was finally fixed back to original specs.

We got to talking about some small stuff as I was paying the bill. He said, "Wow it's quiet this time.". I asked, "What do you mean?". He said, "The last time I was here, the dog was barking at me when I came up."

I told him what had happened to Rhondo.

At some point, talking about the life Rhondo had led, his lineage as a "Dorkie" (Yorkshire Terrier/Dachshund mix), his being born with bad kidneys, and his demise, I mentioned, "He was rescued by Christine's youngest daughter. She told her Mom he was a Dachshund.".

I finished saying, "He looked as much like a Dachshund as I look like a fitness model.".

That's when Billy the repairman told me his story.

To Be Continued

Friday, January 28, 2011

The Chain Of Life (Part 3)

"When God calls your number, he knows where to find you."

---- Air Traffic Mike, February 1, 2003, on the loss of the Space Shuttle Columbia

It was obvious he was failing. Both Christine and I noticed his daily routine change in ever so slight ways. He seemed uncomfortable most of the time, finding it hard to lay still. He usually despised the cold, but lately he had been spending more time on the screen porch, laying directly on the cold concrete. He'd stay there until Chris came home. Her coming home meant he was going to go on his walk. Taking a walk was Rhondo's greatest joy of the day for a long time. Towards the end he took longer and longer, stopping to sniff everything.

Sometimes, in hind sight, I wonder if he knew his end was nearing during those last days.

By Thursday, we were terribly alarmed by his condition. He was failing rapidly. Chris had given him a bath on Wednesday. Thursday morning, he reeked. The odor from the toxins left in his blood by his failing kidneys was passing through the pores of his skin. His already dry skin was really dry. He scratched almost constantly. Even his usually chipper manner was off.

Chris called the vet's office. Dr. Mike was on vacation, but Dr. Ware had an opening Friday at 12:15. We both have a great deal of confidence in both doctor's. We were just happy to be able to get Rhondo in to see one of them.

Dr. Ware examined Rhondo. He took some blood to see where his kidney function was. He was pretty sure that the numbers would be much higher just based on how rancid Rhondo's breath had become.

Later in the day we got the results.

Chris and I sat down and discussed the options Dr. Ware had given us. We opted to keep an eye on him and see what the next day bought.

It wouldn't get that far.

Chris returned to work for the afternoon.

I sat and kept an eye on Rhondo.

Around 2:30 pm he began to shake. Again. Shaking had become part of his daily routine. Given the events of the last couple days, I kept a very close watch on him. He would normally spend the afternoon on top of the easy chair, taking in the afternoon sun. This day he only laid there for a few minutes at a time, moving to the floor, then the front door to go out on the porch. This continued repeatedly throughout the afternoon.

Chris came home around 5:00 pm. Normally Rhondo would be on the porch waiting for her, or at least stand by the front door when 5:00 pm approached. I swear the little guy could almost tell time. This day, he just laid in the middle of the floor with ears down and tail flat.

It wasn't a good sign.

Chris and I talked over our options once again. She called the vet. They were willing to wait for us after hours if we had to bring Rhondo in for either an IV flush, or if we had to put him down.

I can't tell you how impressed I was by that. I still am.

Chris called her daughters. The oldest came down right away. Chris called back and told the vet's office we'd not keep them waiting. If necessary we would take Rhondo to a 24 hour veterinary facility nearby.

I texted my best friend Doc. He's a longtime dog owner. I'd kept him abreast of Rhondo's condition over the last couple weeks. I told him we would be taking Rhondo to the 24 hour vet's to get a second opinion, but in Christine and my opinions it didn't look good. Doc texted back he'd take us up there, allowing us to concentrate on Rhondo.

After some preliminary information, the veterinarian's assistant did a preliminary examination of Rhondo. She took Rhondo's medical records, including the blood work from earlier in the day. The veterinarian came in shortly after that. He gave Rhondo a thorough exam and reviewed his medical records. The options were to leave Rhondo there for a three day IV flush, take him home and let nature take it's course, or put him down. The IV flush might give Rhondo an extra week up to a few months, or possibly no time at all. It was obvious Rhondo was suffering and that the suffering would only get worse.

We talked it over, asking the doctor some questions regarding the IV and his chances. We mentioned that Rhondo was a rescued dog at some point.

The doctor gave his opinions and then said some very prophetic words:

"You might want to consider taking your resources and saving another needy dog."

I think both Chris and I had an epiphany at the same time.

There was nothing we could do that would make Rhondo better. Rhondo had been born with bad kidneys, they were failing, and there was nothing we could do change his course.

All we could do, out of love and respect for Rhondo, was to put him out of his misery.

Christine and I said our "goodbyes" to him, placed our hands around his body and face, and held him as the veterinarian administered the medicines.

It was quiet, peaceful, and one of the saddest moments of our lives.

It was a quiet ride home. None of us really felt like talking.

At some point in the ride home, Chris said, "I knew what the right thing to do was when the doctor said you might want to consider saving another dog."

I told her I felt the same way.

To Be Continued

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Chain Of Life (Part 2)

They were an unlikely trio. However, the older I get it seems few things in life really occur by accident or coincidence.

The oldest was the "Queen". Even in her advanced years you could see she had a certain regal air about her. The old gal's body was slowly, but surely letting her down. Movements that were once graceful and made with ease now taxed her. In her youth she could, and would, run for miles and play for hours.

When I met her those days were long gone. A walk down the driveway and back was as far as she could go, and that was on a good day. Mostly, she preferred to stay in bed or sit in the kitchen. The kitchen was a happy place for her. It had two things going for it. One, because of the layout of the house, it was a busy place where she could watch the other occupants come and go. It was a good place for her to hold court, and hold court she did. Nobody would just walk past her. It would be unconscionable. Her position in the trio and the extended group demanded respect and acknowledgement. The other thing going for it was it was near food. She loved to eat and it showed. I love to cook. We became fast friends. I spent many days with her. Me cooking, her watching the show. Beyond her physical ailments, her mind stayed as sharp as a tack. It's the one part of her that had not let her down.

The second of the group was, and is, the life of the party. Sociable beyond all belief. Intelligent to a fault. Her joyful behavior belies a painful youth. She, like so many, was a victim of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. She was just a newborn when the storm hit. The shelters were all she knew as "home". They were loud, frantic places. How could they not be? It was a time when confusion was the rule of the day. Some came in and it was the last place they would ever be. Not her though. At the urging of her youngest daughter, Christine's family here reached out to help.

It took a little while after she got up here, but soon she fell in with the old lady. They were, after all, a lot alike. Both shared a common lineage. Say what you will, but in my observations over time it's easier to socialize if there is some common ground in the beginning. When I met her, her place in the trio was secure.

That brings me to the third of the group. He was an oddball from day one. His youth made the second of the group's life look like a fairy tale. By the time he arrived here, he was on his fourth home. His body language told us all we needed to know about his life. He was abused. At first neither Christine nor I really understood him. He had odd ways of doing things. He had multiple personalities that changed quickly. Yet, in time, he became a very important and loved member of the family.

We're not sure what his other names were.

We all knew him as "Rhondo".

By the time I'd left for Memphis in August, I'd come to know the "pack" pretty well.

"Rhondo The Wonder Idiot"(top), Lilly "The Queen"(middle), Butter "Katrina Survivor"(bottom).

As far as "packs" go, this was as good as it gets. It was balanced. Old and young, male and female, smart and Rhondo. Not saying Rhondo was a, Rhondo was a dummy. The three of them got along famously. No barking or fighting with one another. I've documented them repeatedly here on the blog. They became a source of joy to me, one which I was happy to share along the way.

Unfortunately, this pack would be short lived.

Lilly, who quickly became my favorite, (shown here as a possible replacement for the Heisman Trophy ball):

"It's a bird.......It's a plane.......IT'S FOOTBALL DAWG!!!!!!!!

passed away a few weeks before I came back up in October.

I knew it might happen, but still I was devastated. "The Two Foot Long Food Critic" died peacefully of natural causes.

A few weeks before, Christine's youngest daughter moved up to Philly taking Butter with her.

Great trios can only go on for so long. Look at the Three Stooges after Curly.

The pack was reduced to just Rhondo. In retrospect, it might have been the best thing to happen to him. He lost his group, but gained Christine's and my undivided attention. After my return I was able to be around him all day. I gained a lot of insights into that curious little dog.

Unfortunately, that was to be short lived. Rhondo's body was a stinky, ticking time bomb. He had been born with bad kidneys. After he had a seizure, I took him to the veterinarian. Dr. Mike's exact words after seeing the blood work on Rhondo:

"If I'd seen these numbers without seeing the dog, I'd swear he was three feet under."

Rhondo did okay for about a month after that, but soon he began to go downhill. He had intermittent trouble keeping food down. His weight dropped. The constant odor became more pervasive. On the last day he couldn't stay still, comfort eluded him.

We did the most gut wrenching thing a pet owner can do. Thank God Doc was there to help us.

A few weeks before us putting Rhondo down, when he was still feeling a bit okay, we finally got a fellow to come out to the house to repair the dryer.

Hanging wet clothes in the basement and trips to the laundromat had lost all their charm. Now I have nothing against laundromats or the people that pass through using their services. Back in the day, when I was a young lad, my parents didn't have a dryer. We didn't have room for it AND the full sized freezer next to the washing machine. Mom and Dad liked having the freezer. It allowed them the ability to stock up on sale items for the ever growing appetites of five ever growing boys.

Mom would do like most mom's did back then. She hung the wash out on clotheslines in the backyard. To give Mom a break, one of us boys would be assigned taking the laundry down and bringing it back in when it was dry. Come Winter, Mom would take the washed laundry down to the laundromat (along with one or two of us to help carry it), dry and fold it.

Of course in college, the laundromat was sort of a social club. Hot chicks had to wash their stuff just like everybody else. I'd always take a small cooler of beer to share with anybody else doing their laundry. Nothing makes laundry more fun than cold beer and a backgammon board.

Once I got out on my own though, I found the joy of having a washer/dryer right there in the apartment. No more loading up the car and driving. No more waiting for a machine to open up. No more of the "bus station experience" that one goes through when you're in a laundromat where you don't know anyone.

Unless, of course, it's Winter and your dryer's shit is busted up.

Anyway, the repair guy diagnosed the dryer's problem very quickly.

Apparently, dryer's REALLY need a working one of these in order to spin the life out of your clothes and send one of your best socks to "Sockia".

"Sockia" is the land of missing socks.

He came up, showed me the broken part, and went to his truck to see if he had a replacement part on board.

Unfortunately, he didn't have the part, but he did have a part that would temporarily fix the problem until the exact part came in.

I have a very high regard for those folks who have received their advanced degree in MacGyver Reverse Engineering. Doc Lloyd and I both hold that degree. That alone would rate a book.

Anyway, with the dryer repaired for the time being, we parted ways. For a few weeks, anyway.

To be continued

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Chain Of Life

For openers, we finally got the dryer fixed.

Hang on to that thought.

"Does anyone know where the love of God goes, when the waves turn the minutes to hours?"

------ Gordon Lightfoot, "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald"

In my humble opinion, "Desperation" has never been described in any more horrifying eloquence than that. Yet, there are similar desperate situations all over. Some take place where nobody can see them. Some are played out in the most public of venues. Some take place at sea or in the air. Other desperate situations take place right in front of our eyes here on dry land.

Take this poor soul for example.

The cold of the harsh Winter had been tearing at his feet for a while, but this night was going to be worse. Unbeknownst to him, temperatures were forecast to plunge overnight with the probability of snow. Those conditions would be tough for a healthy soul to survive under the best of circumstances. This night, weather that can, and does kill, was moving into the region.

Everything was stacked up against him at that moment. He had no shelter, no food, no physical reserves from which to draw on. Once upon a time he did. He had a warm home with a loving family. He was well kept. There was nourishing food. A comfortable place to sleep. There was love. There was safety and comfort. Not any more. His circumstances had placed him on the street. From his perspective it was likely to remain unchanged for some time. Maybe for the rest of his life.

What had he done to deserve this fate? Why was he here? Those questions would go unanswered. Besides, there wasn't much time to dwell on them. It was near dusk. The day had already been cold and it was getting worse. The biting cold was tearing through to his bones. It didn't have much trouble doing so. How could it? His once healthy body had been reduced to that of a skeleton. Pain and fear in the moment had replaced the safety and comfort of having a home. He could solve none of those problems at the moment. He needed food, and needed it right away.

Hundreds of motorists had passed him by along the side of the busy highway. It seemed as if he were invisible in plain sight. It's all too common a tale. People turn a blind eye to the misery of others all the time. It's a defense mechanism, but that doesn't mean it's right. At some point, he had to be wondering "Can't anobody see me?". Dusk faded into the dark of night. The passing cars and trucks scared him. Their noise was exacerbated by the torture of his freezing body. I'm sure his mind was racing. Whose wouldn't be? Given his physical condition, his heart could give out at any moment.

He came to a sudden stop. What's that up ahead? A bag. A white fast food bag. Like almost every other living being out in the world, he'd eaten from one of them more than once. Maybe someone had left a few scraps of food in it! He raced up to the bag. In a way only the truly starving can, he tore through it and it's contents.

His joy turned quickly to despair. Nothing. Nothing but wrappers. One had a meager amount of ketchup left from where the diner had dipped his french fries. Seeing as how that was the only food available, he slowly, and disappointedly, licked it.

Life is funny sometimes. There are moments when the good Lord gives us the gift of "clarity". I call it a gift because that's what it's always been to me when it's come my way. Most of the time it has been a call to action. Such was the case of a man driving home from his job as an appliance repairman. A couple of weeks before he had seen the poor soul by the side of the highway. Billy noticed him because he seemed so out of place. However, he was on his way home at that moment. Traffic was busy. Pretty soon he lost sight of the little fellow. He continued on home, but he did not forget what he had seen that night.

What the Lord reveals, no man, woman, or child can ever forget. Especially to those with a conscience.

Cut to that soon to be frigid night a few weeks later. Billy had put in another long day. He was tired, but like most of us, happy just to be heading home. Suddenly, something familiar caught his eye. There, on the side of the road, that same little fellow. The ensuing weeks had not been kind. Billy noticed how much more markedly thin he'd become. His gait was unsteady. He must be starving, for he ran wildly to get into a fast food bag. He was eating ketchup off a hamburger wrapper.

Billy's heart sank. Then something came over him. He made a decision and took action.

He couldn't in good conscience allow this situation deteriorate any further. This poor soul couldn't survive another night out in the cold. It didn't matter how this little fellow came to be here by the side of the highway, starving and stumbling. Billy was going to change that beginning right now.

He jammed on his brakes, pulling over quickly to the side of the road.

The little fellow didn't see the van at first, but he sure as Hell heard it. He probably thought that this was the end, with him ending up under the tires of a wayward vehicle. He looked up from the well licked burger wrapper. The van had stooped. A man was running right at him. "This guy is coming after me!", he thought as he cowered back. Not knowing who the guy was or what he wanted, he turned towards the woods and started running as fast as his short, bony, wobbly legs could carry him.

Billy, too was running. He was running as fast as he could. It was clear that the little fellow's life depended on it. He had to catch him. It was the only viable option in his mind. The patches of snow weren't helping him. One slip in the snow and he'd have no chance of catching him. It was unsteady footing, yet he trudged on. Billy kept his eyes square on the little fellow as they both ran ran.

The little fellow never looked back. He couldn't. This was a case of "fight or flight" and he'd chosen "flight". The safety of the woods was close by, but sadly, not close enough. The weeks of living on the street, the cold nights, the lack of food and clean water were too much for him. His tired, underfed legs gave out. Everything went dark as he crashed to the ground. Surely death was near.

Billy saw the little fellow fall. He kept running, but his heart was sinking. Had he been too late? "Is he still alive?", he wondered as he came up on his frail little body.

He placed his hands on the little guy's ribs. He was mercifully still breathing. Billy was horrified at his condition. He could see just about every bone in the poor soul's body. His condition was deplorable. There was no time to waste, he had to get him some help. Billy scooped him up and carried him back to the warmth of the van.

There was a shelter nearby. They had limited medical resources, but it would have to do. This little lost soul needed warmth, water, and food, and needed it immediately. It wasn't more than a few moments and they had arrived. Billy scooped the little fellow off his front seat and carried him to the front desk. The volunteer sized up the situation and gasped.

"This one", she thought, "might not make it.".

Only time would tell.

To be continued

Monday, January 24, 2011

People In Glass Houses Shouldn't Live Near Airports

This morning I ran across this article.

It's an article about some residents in Tinicum Township, PA who are upset about noise from, and the growth of, Philadelphia International Airport. For those who are unfamiliar, "Tinicum" is an old Native American word meaning "Please speak up, we live near the airport.".

I get a chuckle out of people who actually buy houses near airports.

Now believe me, I am fully aware of the economics in force when someone does so. Most of the time, they do so because it's all they can afford.

Sometimes, as in the case of a former coworker, it is "a lot of house for the money". He, a longtime FAA employee, and his wife bought a 4,000 square foot house with some acreage for a dirt cheap price. It was located just southeast of Memphis International Airport, a bit over the state line in northern Mississippi. Despite it's proximity to the airport, the noise didn't seem too bad. They actually commented to the realtor about that as they watched jets of all sorts pass by northbound for landing at Memphis International Airport.

Unfortunately, as they'd soon find out, FedEx preferred to depart south on the overnight outbound push. The reason being is that it requires a very short taxi to the closest runway. Short taxi equals fuel and time savings. Fuel and time savings equals big money.

The first night had to be gut wrenching as seventy plus old Boeing 727's took off and turned over them from 3:00 am until 5:00 am. Even after the advent of "hush kits" the old Boeing 727's were low and slow by the time they crossed near the property. Plus, the "noise footprint" of those old jet engines was very wide. If the winds were just right, even without flying directly over the property, the noise was deafening.

On our part as air traffic controllers, in conjunction with the airport and residents, an informal noise abatement program was in effect. The controllers would not turn a turbojet departure until they were either just over one mile south of the departure end of Runway 18 Left or until the jet was climbing out of 2,000 feet MSL.

However, safety always trumps convenience. If there were any storms south of the airport requiring a turn to stay out of them, we'd turn the jets.

Once an irate citizen called up and reamed out the supervisor over the noise during a south outbound push where there were storms south of the field. The winds were out of the due south around 20 knots. Taking off to the north was not an option. The tower was turning the jets due east and due west to avoid the thunderstorms. After cussing out the supervisor thoroughly, the exasperated fellow yelled, "You just don't understand how loud it is!!!!"

The supervisor, tired of being cussed out, politely replied, "You don't know how much louder it gets when one crashes.".

End of conversation.

When I first started off at New Orleans International Airport, I learned that unscrupulous real estate agents sometimes would sucker folks in. There were three runways at MSY then. One, the north/south runway (Runway 1/19) was closed for over a long period of time for resurfacing, then reconstruction when the resurfacing spectacularly failed. It was during that time that a builder put in a very nice neighborhood around a very nice golf course. People bought homes in droves. So close to the airport, yet sooooooo quiet.

Then, one fine day, the north/south runway reopened. Jets started flying near/over the neighborhood. The phone began ringing off the hook at the tower.

An older controller there named Frank said it best when some guy called to bitch. He asked if the caller had lived in Kenner (the airport actually is located in Kenner, LA just west of New Orleans) for very long. The guy replied, "All my life. Why?".

Frank summed up the fellow's situation in one word.


Most of the major airports have been in their present location for a long time. New Orleans International Airport dates back to the 1940's. Most of the neighborhoods around it aren't nearly that old. Memphis International Airport was originally built on 200 acres of farmland well outside the city proper in 1939. Philadelphia International Airport began commercial operations beginning in 1940.

Sure, just like most of the city airports here in the United States, they've grown over the years. However they haven't grown overnight and just recently. Turbojets have been operating continuously since the late 1950's.

Oh, and this just in, they were much, MUCH louder back then. Convair 880's and 990's, BAC One Elevens, first generation Boeing 707's and Douglas DC-8's all were adept at turning Jet-A fuel into smoke and noise.

Yet, some people with great foresight saw fit to build neighborhoods nearby to these airports. Then, folks with even more foresight saw fit to buy those homes and whine about the noise.

Memphis International Airport is now surrounded on the east and west sides with a lot of vacant lots and trees. Almost of the houses have been purchased and torn down. South of the airport an old golf course is now overgrown. The airport bought it and closed it down. Slowly, warehouses have replaced neighborhoods. It isn't perfect, but it's a better use of the land.

There's been talk over the years about building a new New Orleans airport west of it's current location. However, due to swamplands, it would have to be built a lot further out than most travellers would prefer. The last time I was there was post Hurricane Katrina. I thought that would have been the perfect time to buy and raise some homes around the current location.

I'll look into that later.

Meanwhile, the people in Tinicum Township have long known about Philadelphia International Airport. Part of the airport is actually in Tinicum, including the air traffic control tower. For the record, Tinicum dates back to the pre-Revolutionary War days. The houses in question do not. The fact that some are dismayed by the airport expanding falls on deaf ears here at Air Traffic Mike's. These are the same sort of folks that buy a house near water and then are shocked when they get flooded out.

In the article one homeowner muses, "Where are we going to get the same standard of living," she said, "and not just standard of living, but the same standard of community?".

How about Hell.

Or in Illinois, next to Chicago's Midway Airport.


Until the next time, all y'all take care of yourselves.

Air Traffic Mike, ret.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Governors Gone Wild...(Not The Swimsuit Edition)

Looks like our favorite former prosecutor is a bit of a trend setter.

Portly New Jersey Governor Chris Chistie is well known for his outbursts, temper tantrums, and generally boorish "in your face" style.

Let's face it, he may as well be known for those.

He'll never be known for his Olympian physique.

Not unless Sumo wrestling becomes an Olympic event.

The Flubbernor, shown here engaging in his favorite physical workout, "The Point and Shout", has made more than one inflammatory statement in his brief tenure as the Governor of New Jersey.

Sort of like the soon to be irrelevant Sarah Palin.

The big difference being she's one third of Christie's mass both physically and mentally.

Could you imagine the poor jurors having to listen to Sarah Palin giving closing arguments in a complicated court case?

They'd have to take all the weapons, including the bailiff's. They'd also have to have counselors at the ready for the unsuspecting victims, namely everybody else in the room.

PTSD can stem from many sources.

Getting back to the point at hand, she too has made more than her share of inflammatory remarks.

The old Republican Party was called "The Grand Old Party", the GOP if you will.

The new Republican Party seems more like an episode of "Jersey Shore".

Can the five second delay rule be on the horizon anytime soon?

It's said, "Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.".

If that's the case, then Governor Christie received a couple of really nice compliments over the last week.

Republican Governor of Maine Paul LePage on turning down an invitation to a Martin Luther King Day event sponsored by the NAACP:

"They can kiss my butt.".


A simple, "No thank you. The terms are not acceptable." would have sufficed. You do have children in your state. How about doing the things the State of Maine elected you to do and leave the "trash talk" back on the campaign road.

Not to be outdone, newly sworn in Republican Governor Robert Bently of Alabama chimed in on Monday saying:

"Now I will have to say that, if we don't have the same daddy, we're not brothers and sisters," he told parishioners at a Baptist church in Montgomery Monday shortly after being sworn in. "So anybody here today who has not accepted Jesus Christ as their savior, I'm telling you, you're not my brother and you're not my sister, and I want to be your brother."

Nice move.

First speech as Governor and your communications director has to issue a "What the Governor really meant was....." statement.

Dear Mr. Bently, I get the Southern white Christianity thing. However, with tensions between Christians and Muslims running high of late, do you really want to play that card?

The poor bodyguards. They've got to be thinking, "It's going to be a long four years."

Sadly, it's only a matter of time before someone drops a "Shut the f*** up." during a political discourse.

It will be an all time low.

Thanks, Governor Christie. You are indeed a trend setter.

You're leading the way to the bottom.

Look up the term "Statesman" on your way down.

Until the next time, all y'all take care of yourselves.

Air Traffic Mike, ret.

Friday, January 14, 2011

The Chair

It's pretty average as far as chairs go.

Even the slipcover doesn't help.

See, I told you it is average.

It has been sitting in this same spot, day in, day out.

It has no idea of time.

I've walked past it a thousand times, never really paying it any nevermind.

Like most household items it is just part of the scenery.

In all honesty I can say I've never really looked at it in any in depth manner.

Over the last couple of days I've been painting one of the bedrooms here. Painting old plaster walls can be a challenge. No corner is ever sharp, no seam is ever straight.

Designers call it "character".

I call it "crooked".

Still, by taking my time and carefully cutting in the paint aorund all the trim, it looks really good in there.

This morning Christine had a bedroom set delivered and set up. The transformation in there is amazing. The paint really sets off the finish on the various pieces of furniture.

That will only last so long.

The newness will wear off.

It'll be just like the chair.

I spent four days working on that room.

It went by in a blur.

Projects are like that.

Time seems to fly when I get involved in a project.

An hour seems like a minute.

The day doesn't feel 24 hours long.

I was awake for, but missed both sunrise and sunset yesterday and the day before.

I can honsetly say I hardly gave the chair a second thought.

Now, with the project done, I'm sitting here at the kitchen table that I often overlook.

I'm staring at the chair.

The sun is shining brightly though the window I barely even notice.

It's empty.

Very empty.

Like I said earlier, hours can seem like minutes.

A day can seem shorter than 24 hours.

Sometimes though, a week can seem like forever.

Especially when a friend is lost.

Last Friday afternoon.

His last nap in the sun.

It just doesn't seem fair.

Until the next time, all y'all take care of yourselves.

Air Traffic Mike, ret.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Goodnight Rhondo

It's with a heavy heart and a great deal of sorrow that I tell you folks we had to put Rhondo down at 9:30 pm Friday evening.

Goodnight boy.

"Mom" and I will always love you.


Friday, January 7, 2011

He Barely Got A Chance


We knew he'd been dealt a bad hand of life's cards, we just both hoped he'd be able to stay longer.

In this previous blog, I reported on Rhondo's serious medical condition.

In a nutshell, Rhondo had been sick. He suffered a seizure one day leading me to take him to the veterinarian. The vet ran some tests. He discovered that Rhondo's kidneys were not working properly. Given the fact that Rhondo didn't always act like he was sick, the vet said it was likely he was born with damaged kidneys. Rhondo always (at least for as long as he was owned by Christine and her daughters) had an odd odor permeating though his skin. He also had really strong dog breath. Both were caused by the toxins his kidneys couldn't remove.

We left with instructions to keep him on a low protein diet. The low protein diet would ease the workload on his kidneys. It wouldn't cure him, but it would possibly make him a little more comfortable.

Rhondo did well from October until the beginning of December. We went out of town the first weekend. Christine's daughters were kind enough to watch him for us. We called to check on things and were informed that Rhondo had thrown up a couple times. We weren't sure if it was because his kidneys were acting up or if it was because he was upset because we'd left him.

Rhondo has always been a sensitive soul.

Over the last couple days Rhondo started throwing up again. He spent most of the day inside his little dog pen, shunning both Christine and I. He also stopped drinking water. It was all Christine could do to get him to drink a few ounces of water this morning.

We both agreed he would have to see the veterinarian as soon as possible. Fortunately, they vet's office had an opening around noon today.

Chris went to work.

Rhondo went back into his pen and went back to sleep.

This is far different than his daily routine.

I went out, shovelled my oldest brother's driveway (three doors down the street) and cleared some snow off an elderly neighbor's drive as well.

When I came home, Rhondo came out of his pen and sat next to the chair I was in.

He knew something was up.

Dogs always do.

Pretty soon Christine came home. We loaded Rhondo into the AirTrafficMobile and hit the road.

Rhondo loves riding in the car.

He doesn't like being at the veterinarian's office.

The doctor called us back. We explained what had been going on with Rhondo. He examined Rhondo. He then opened Rhondo's mouth and smelled his breath.

The look on the doctor's face confirmed our worst fears.

To be safe, he took a blood sample to check Rhondo's kidney functions. The results wouldn't be ready until about an hour later. We loaded Rhondo back into the AirTrafficMobile and bought him home.

Rhondo was still upset from the trip to the vet and from not feeling well. Fortunately, two of Rhondo's favorite things came together just after we got him inside. The sun was shining through the living room window and the heat was on, blowing warm air up the back of the sofa.

Rhondo took advantage of that immediately.

Christine went back to work shortly after that.

I sat here, watched our boy, and unsuccessfully fought back tears.

He and I have spent a lot of time together over the many months of my being here.

I've spent hours watching him, learning his quirks and coming to appreciate his personality.

It's been difficult watching his quality of life start to slip away.

He's so young.

Too young to act as old as he is.

His time is rapidly coming to an end. We know it, and deep down, I think he knows it too.

The hardest part of having a pet isn't the day to day routine of feeding, walking, or cleaning up after.

It isn't the occasional accident on the carpet.

It isn't the unexpected middle of the night wake ups when they think they hear something.

The hardest part is when you have to check your selfish desires, reach down deep for all the love you have and have ever had for your pet, and end their suffering.

It's a horrible responsibility.

Soon, likely within days, Christine and I will have to take that step.

I pray Rhondo has the ability to understand on some level.

Until the next time, all y'all take care of yourselves.

Air Traffic Mike, ret.