Monday, December 19, 2005

Saturday, December 10, 2005

I earn my wheels

Work is progressing on the "Fieldingville Railroad" - I found that with about 3/4 of my eBay track, I could make at least two ovals in the space available. I might still be able to make a siding and a small oval of trolley track yet.

But my mobility has been slipping; pain in my leg, hips and lower back has made it very painful to get about, or even up and down. This morning we filled the prescription for a wheelchair - I was worried it would be one of those giant, heavy chrome things, but it turned out to be rather elegant. Black and charcoal grey, and very narrow in action, fitted exactly to my size. But the morning was beautiful, rarely sunny and clear for December, and Gail suggested a short road trip; she read in one of my books about the Piper Museum in Lock Haven, PA - located at the old Piper factory where fabric-covered planes like the famous Cub and our own Tri-Pacer were built.

It was a great day for a drive, and we drove it - attended by beautiful winter skies like this. Gail took a small batch of photos - check out the very outgoing "museum cat"! (I have an album of photos of the Piper Aircraft Museum from June, when CAP buddy Alan and I flew down for "Sentimental Journey 2005", an annual fly-in at the old grass strip at Lock Haven.)
Beautiful sunsets on the way home provided a few more great landscapes, but we had to be content with the rearview mirror for the rich red and orange sunset - we were headed east! But at least I got to try out the wheelchair, and start building up my shoulder muscles... phew.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Yet Another Disease

In this case a relapse of a condition I had as a child - I've come down with a case of Electric Trains. It is often overlooked as a harmless hobby, but the fact is that acquiring and operating model electric trains can become a mania, one that takes over lives and breaks families apart.

I exaggerate, of course. And I never actually got into it on a railfan level, or invested great sums of money in equipment. But when I was in grade school my mother let me indulge in a small N gauge layout (2-1/2' x 5') and a nice little collection of locomotives and rolling stock. (N gauge refers to the size, in this case one of the smallest; appropriate for apartment dwellers, as you can fit a longer track in a smaller space. HO is the most popular, twice the size of N; and O gauge are the large and very detailed trains, and the most expensive.)

Test track
Uploaded by AviatorDave.
When I went off to college, I sold my layout and about half of my trains with it. The ones that I really liked, like the hard-to-find trains and cars from our local area, I boxed and have kept stored for the last 20 years. Last week I took them out of storage, at first just to show Gail, but then I got fascinated all over again. I took a long piece of extra track from my workbench and taped it to my computer desk, and set about refurbishing my locomotives. The tiny gears and electric motors hadn't moved or been oiled for two decades, so it could have destroyed them to just put them back in service. I spent the next few days happily disassembling the locomotives, cleaning and lubricating the tiny mechanisms (one steam switcher engine is about 2 inches long!)

I got them all working again, including one that my long-departed uncle gave me, that never worked. Gail heard me across the room, zipping the little engines from one end of my desk to the other as I tested them. Well, that can only be fun for so long... I should really put up a simple oval of track and run them for a while. You know, just to keep them in good working order. I don't have any more track, but I bet I could find some cheap - on eBay! Yes, I went into the model train area on eBay, and yes, I found and purchased over 100 pieces of used track for a song. But I also found a zillion other electric train items, and I have browsed there endlessly since. (It's staggering to see how much people spend on this hobby; one perfectly-detailed O gauge train and coach set went for over $3,500!)

I also bid on and won a steam engine (for the much more modest sum of $37.98), a Pennsylvania Railroad K-4 "Pacific" that was built in larger numbers than any other train like it, back in the days when the PRR was the largest railroad in the world. I always wanted one to go with my set of Pennsy passenger coaches, even though I have a nice little GG-1 that works well with that train. The K-4 that I bought is an older model, well-used but serviceable, and even if the motor is bad I can replace it with a 5-pole motor that will run more smoothly at low speeds.

So now I have another project to keep me busy - I will scrounge up a piece of plywood, set it up next to the spare bed and nail down some of my eBay track in an oval or two. When I can't get around much, I can run my trains and hear the wheels click, and watch the drivers churning away on the old steam engines. Especially the pride of my old fleet, a Lackawanna Railroad "Hudson" heavy steam engine and a matching set of Lackawanna coaches, in handsome grey and maroon livery. Good clean fun.

Status Report

I guess I haven't posted a thorough update for a while, since I'm getting a lot of other inquiries; it's no bother, nice to know that I have such concerned friends and family. Everyone seems afraid to disturb me, but I appreciate hearing from you; if I'm too sick to answer a phone call or email, I will get back to you when I can.

I have been on the new chemotherapy program since last Tuesday, and have been tolerating it fairly well. It involves a switch back to the platinum-based drug that I started with back in August, but at that time I was taking another drug at the same time. The combination or dosage made me very ill, right before the wedding unfortunately. This time around I seem to be retaining my appetite and health in general, even though the schedule calls for a massive dose every two weeks. My next chemo treatment will be Thursday the 15th.

I've written about the troubles with my blood counts; the three that seem to concern the doctors the most are hemoglobin, white blood cells and platelets. We spent two weeks juggling drugs and shots to try to stimulate my bone marrow, which is crucial in the production of new blood. The radiation treatments were suspended for this time, which is the Catch-22: if we treat aggressively with radiation, it will interfere with my bone marrow. But so does the cancer; it has retreated into my bones, where the chemotherapy takes the longest to penetrate.

While off the radiation, the cancer that we were treating - in my right hip - has grown worse, and I have developed at least two new tumors above and below my right knee. Since this past Sunday, the increase in pain has made me almost lame; Gail has had to lift me out of bed several times, and support me while I stagger just to get to the bathroom. For the last two days I've only been able to keep going with my cane by taking a much larger dosage of my primary pain medication, oxycodone, and other drugs. Tuesday night I overmedicated and had some scary secondary symptoms.

The best news this week is that we finally got all three blood counts into the acceptable ranges, and the radiation treatments will resume tomorrow. We had one plan in place for my lower back/pelvic area, and a new one is being designed for my leg. These targeted treatments have proven effective in the past; we cured my left hip, left shoulder and neck this way. I have hopes that the new treatments will be as effective on my right leg, and let me be mobile again. In other good news, my weight is back up to 180 lbs, from a nadir of 171 (and a pre-cancer weight of 230). They did notice that my calcium levels are up, which I guess might be from all the Boosts and Ensures that I've been drinking, not to mention lots of milk and pudding. High calcium is not necessarily good news; it can mean that the calcium is not getting absorbed by the bones, and getting stored in the bloodstream. This can lead to other troubles like kidney stones and bone spurs.

That's the nuts and bolts of it. In general, I'm in good spirits, mainly due to my amazing wife; she looks after me physically, emotionally and nutritionally. And of course to all of my friends and family, who have all been a great support and comfort. Unable to walk or stand much, I've been keeping myself distracted with books and the internet, and with working with my hands; the model kits that I mentioned in an earlier post, and another new project that I will relate in the next.

Thank you all, and especially Gail, for your patience and love. Status Report: Hangin' in there.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Movie Review: "City of God" (Cidade de Deus)

Gail picked this Brazilian film for our Netflix queue, based on its success at the Toronto film festival and other accolades; and I'm sure she was intrigued by the narrator/protagonist, who is a photographer of sorts. The title refers to a government-created area of low-income housing in Rio de Janeiro; a favela, or slum at the time of the story (1960s - late 1970s). The wealthy citizens and luxury hotels of Rio cannot brook living alongside the urban poor, so they are herded into a sprawling shanty community with little or no amenities, social services or police protection. Inevitably the ghetto becomes a place of desperation, massive drug trafficking and violent crime - even small children go armed with handguns, and lives are lost seemingly every hour of the day.

In this frightening place lives Busca-Pé (nicknamed "Rocket") a young boy who has no wish to be a thug or criminal, nor to toil away at menial work that will never lift him from poverty. He finds that he has a natural eye for photography and begins to document the world around him; but the violence is so pervasive that it allows virtually no hope of being anything but criminal or victim.

The film wasn't exactly what we anticipated; it is overwhelmingly brutal, difficult to watch at times, although artfully shot and edited. The pace is relentless and the bullets fly; no one is spared, no place is safe, which may be the central theme. Finer emotions and motivations are hardly present, including Rocket's pursuit of photography - various gangs of thugs struggle for power, guns and drugs. In a fascinating hour-long DVD extra, the truth of the favelas is revealed through interviews and news clips; the movie, though based on a novel, is an accurate picture of this cruel place.

I couldn't watch it again, but it does offer an honest portrayal of human predation and violence; the depths of cruelty that hopelessness and poverty can breed. (And on an odd note, the characters in the movie have some truly great nicknames: Li'l Zé, Shaggy, Carrot, Knockout Ned, Clipper...)

Saturday, December 03, 2005

The Saga of 02P, Part IV

Halfway home
Uploaded by AviatorDave.
I left this story with Karen and I landed at the Parkersburg, WV airport. We parked 02P among the sleek white airplanes on the private ramp, her exhaust pipes pinging as they cooled. The sun was setting, the weather was just easing out of hot and muggy into a damp evening cool, and we were at a good-sized and modern little airport - one that was completely deserted. The snack counter was closed, the big waiting areas and gate were devoid of people; we began to wonder if there was a soul around besides us. We did come across a line guy in the FBO, chatting with a woman who turned out to be the only other person on the premises - apparently, they fold Parkersburg up and put it away early!

We asked about cheap hotels nearby, and began to skim the phone book and call around. Karen, having lived the airport-hopping life for so long (as both flight attendant and co-pilot) has a mania for finding THE cheapest hotel, and took to the task with relish. I found one for $44.00, but she dug up another that was only $38.00! We were still far enough south for Southern Hospitality, and the line guy offered to drive us out to the hotel, even though it was almost 20 minutes away - 20 long minutes, weaving up into quiet West Virginia foothills.

The motel was a shambles, well-worn and sunbaked, with cracked pavement and broken glass everywhere; the kind of place where everything was bolted down. As we walked to the office, some of the room doors hung open, and the sounds of small celebrations and domestic arguments drifted around. We checked in and picked up some cold sodas, and back at Karen's room we giggled over the sheer awfulness of the place. (And Karen advised me to peel back the slipcover from my bed as she did, and shared some other sanitary advice fitting for No-Tell Motels.) In my room, I stretched out and tried to shake off the day's adventures and worries. I was concerned about the condition of the plane, for one thing; the overheating problem, and the high oil consumption could indicate expensive problems. And I hoped that the weather would improve; the next day's forecast was iffy, with low ceilings and a chance of rain. I didn't want to have Karen miss any of her flights - she and Sal both work for the airlines, and with two toddlers their weekly schedule is carefully planned.

The next morning we called a cab to take us back to the airport, but it looked like we were going to have to wait for the weather anyway. Fog and haze, and not a breath of wind; nothing to do but wait to see if it burned off in the sun. Finally after 10:30 or so we decided that we had the mandatory 1,000 feet (maybe 950) and boarded the plane. We climbed up until we bumped our heads on the ceiling, and skimmed along that way for a while, just managing to keep good visibility - where there weren't clouds, there was thick summer haze, and navigation would have been a challenge if we hadn't had the little GPS unit. Things went well until we got into Pennsylvania again, and the clouds started to get lower and more uneven. I began looking for an alternate, and we decided to land for a while at Allegheny County airport near Pittsburgh; I'd been there many times, they have a big C.A.P. squadron and a nice old terminal.

As we neared the airport, we were in communication with the tower, and we were truly "scud-running" - weaving around the clouds, trying to stay visual, since we weren't filed or equipped for blind flight. A Bad Idea. We actually had to make use of a river valley to make the airport area, figuring that if I kept over the river I wouldn't clip a mountaintop. Then we got a traffic report from Allegheny County, it seemed that another aircraft was using the same dodge I was...

"Tri-Pacer 02P, traffic at your 1:00 and two miles, blimp."

"Ahhh, roger, Tri-Pacer looking..."

And sure enough, there drifted into view the ample hindquarters of the Goodyear Blimp, dead ahead! I passed around the big ellipsoid (at least I can outrun some things in the air!) and beat them to the airport; the crew of the blimp was seeking refuge from the weather too. We taxied to the ramp, and the controller paid me the first compliment I was to get on the merry paint scheme of my plane; the first of many since then. We parked near the flight school, and had an audience of grounded students. They were marveling at the odd collection of refugees brought to earth by the fading weather: first a crazy little blue-and-yellow Tri-Pacer, then the mooring crew racing out to meet the Goodyear blimp, then a local TV helicopter. While we waited out the weather for 90 minutes or so, I chatted with a little boy and his grandmother who had come out to watch airplanes, and I couldn't resist taking him out onto the ramp and letting him climb into 02P; the first of many tours since then.

We staked out the weather station at the flight school and waited for acceptable conditions, and eventually decided we could try the next leg; I would bend our course to the north and try to make use of Pennsylvania's corduroy geography, flying parallel up the glacial valleys to get us back to the northeast. Central Pennsylvania was referred to as the "Hell Stretch" by the airmail pilots of the 1920s, just for this reason; lowering clouds and mountains can combine to make a deadly maze. But as we crossed the state, conditions were improving, and the plane was running better too; oil temp and use went back to normal, and we were able to climb a bit for better fuel consumption. Our northernly course took us over Lock Haven, the ancestral home of the Tri-Pacer and thousands of other little ragwing Pipers; so I flew directly over the old Piper factory, today only a rural airport and the neat little Piper Museum.

Finally we were back in our home radar service, and I contacted the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton controller. We had made the last two legs into one, thanks to the reduced fuel burn, and we headed across Scranton and up to Cherry Ridge. Karen was able to contact Sal on the way in, and he and their little twin boys were there to meet us - "We want to see the circus plane!" The day was sunny by now, and we took some pictures, and let out a huge sigh of relief. I wasn't done flying for the day, though; I had to collect my car from the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton airport. So I arranged for my mother and my squadron CO Les to meet me down there; Les would drive my car back for me, and Mom got her first ride in the plane, back to Cherry Ridge.

It had been a long, hot, challenging journey across 850 miles... but here finally was my plane, in my hangar. Whew!

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Name, Rank and Medical Report

It's been a busy day, lots to talk about. It began at the oncology office, where we discussed the dilemma of my health. Yesterday's bloodwork showed that my hemoglobin and platelet counts are still very low; so much so that the radiologist feels that it's too dangerous to keep me on chemo and radiation together. The X-ray from last week showed that the cancer has spread into the two long bones in my right leg, interfering with the bone marrow and causing me considerable pain.

The trouble is that we have to get my blood counts up, or I will get sicker. The radiation will lower the blood counts even further, and the chemotherapy carries its own side effects that may put me in bed too. But untreated, the cancer can (and has) spread. So we agreed that it would be better to go down fighting than to hope that the blood counts will come up on their own. So I started this afternoon on a stronger dose of another chemotherapy drug, the one I was first given after my diagnosis; it brought me a lot of nausea and other nasty side effects, but Dr. A feels that it is our best hope.

The thing is, I feel fairly well. The worst of it for the past five days has been that the bone pain has been growing somewhat, forcing me to take supplemental pain medication during the day; but with careful dosage, and taking food along with the pills, I have avoided the worst of the stomach damage.

I had a long chemotherapy session, then got typed and matched for another transfusion tomorrow; I am to get two more units of whole blood and two of platelets. All week I am also getting various injections to try and help my remaining bone marrow work overtime to manufacture some blood. Think - er - bloody thoughts everyone!

Then I just made it home in time to meet one of my squadron pilots, who drove me out to headquarters for our Civil Air Patrol meeting. My deputy commander had asked me to come out if I could manage, as they had a "special" presentation to make, and that the Wing Commander might be there. I assumed that it was my long, long deferred promotion to Captain; since rank is of little consequence in the CAP, I never really bothered to put through the paperwork, even though I could have done so years ago. I had a good five-year run as First Lieutenant, and always kidded that I never wanted to be a Major - too likely to end up on a committee, instead of in a cockpit!

Dress Blues
Uploaded by AviatorDave.
It turns out that the surprise was indeed that - the Wing Commander couldn't make it, but the Group Commander called me forward and read off a list of my accolades over the last eight years; what's left of my blood managed to turn my ears a bit red for the occasion, and I blushed. He also recognized 207 as the premiere squadron in Group 4, the biggest and most well-trained unit in eastern Pennsylvania. Then he announced to the formation present that I was being given a merit promotion to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. That's passing over Captain AND Major! As I said, rank in the CAP is largely ceremonial; since we are all unpaid volunteers, it's not like my salary is going up! But I was bowled over, and flattered, and I hardly knew what to say. I managed to stammer out a few words and thanked my squadron for their tremendous support and hard work.

It has been my pride and honor to serve my squadron since 1997, for the last nine months as Squadron Commander. I've spent hundreds of hours in training, flying, and working with a great group of officers and teenage cadets; plus I've gotten USAF travel opportunities, furthered my own flying career and been honored with a national award for education. I hope that I will soon recover my health, and become active again with the organization - and make some real trouble with these silver clusters! Thanks again to those who have made my volunteering so rewarding.

Hobby Time

My hands seemed to be steadier tonight, so I pulled out the model Tri-Pacer that I started a few months ago. I also unearthed another model that I found in the basement, a model racing plane that I had nearly finished from years ago - I must have set it aside sometime around 1992, when my former brother-in-law got me started with the bigger radio-controlled flying models. This poor kit only needed the last few scallops painted on its jaunty 1930s paint scheme, and a few odd parts glued on. I've dusted it off and hand-painted the last details, and with a coat of gloss enamel and a few flying wires it will be ready for the shelf.

It's a replica of the 1931 Gee Bee Model Z, a classic from the glory days of air racing. The Gee Bees (named for the New England company that built them, the Granville Brothers) were notorious for their approach to speed-seeking: maximum engine, minimum airplane. The stubby Model Z was only 15 feet long, but was bolted to a 535 h.p. "Wasp Junior" radial engine, loaned to the brothers by the Pratt & Whitney company for "testing". The combination was a handful to fly, but it was certainly fast; ex-barnstormer Lowell Bayles flew it to an easy win in the 1931 Thompson Trophy at 236 m.p.h.

But ambition seized the Granvilles and Pratt & Whitney, and the engine was changed out for an even bigger 750 h.p. Wasp Senior - in this form, Bayles could hardly see around the cowl! But an attempt was set up to try for the world speed record, 278 m.p.h., held by the French. The first set of straight-line runs averaged 281 m.p.h., good enough for the U.S. record, but not enough to better the world mark by a wide enough margin. The next time out, Bayles entered the timing run at over 300 m.p.h... but then cameras captured a gruesome sight as a wing panel snapped off, and the tiny Gee Bee rolled into the ground. Bayles and the plane were destroyed in an instant.

The Granvilles built other racers; their 1932 Model R won both the Thompson Trophy (with Jimmy Doolittle flying) and the transcontinental Bendix Trophy. But the whole family of planes were just like the Z, fast and capricious - and some less-experienced pilots were killed trying to pilot the "flying barrels" in other events. I've always been fascinated by them; the colorful scalloped paint schemes were a Granville Brothers trademark, and have come to be iconic of the whole pylon racing era. Many of these little planes were built in small hangars and garages during the Depression, with limited resources and engineering; but they contributed a lot to the advancement of aviation technology.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Maple-brine Turkey

When's dinner?
Originally uploaded by AviatorDave.
I seem to have piqued some curiosity about my Thanksgiving turkey recipe. "Brining" is simply marinating in salt water, which penetrates the meat well. This brine uses maple syrup and brown sugar; but it doesn't make the turkey salty, or overpower the flavor. It adds a subtle sweet flavor to the outer skin, and I find that it keeps the meat very moist; no dry turkey!


1-1/2 gallons (24 cups) water
1-1/2 cups maple syrup
1 cup salt
3/4 cup brown sugar

Mix all this up in a big stockpot at room temperature, plop in your turkey, and stick it in the 'fridge for 12-24 hours before cooking. (Discard the brine afterwards.) I use 325 degrees for three hours, for my usual 9-10 pound turkey; follow the directions for other sizes. I use a baking bag, and open it up for the last hour to crisp the skin. So far I've gotten a nice juicy bird every time.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Weird Planes

Since I have a lot of time on my hands, in waiting rooms and otherwise, I've been reading a lot. I've worked through almost everything in my vast aviation and science-fiction library that I care to re-read, and so I ordered some new books for myself. I have always loved bookstores; when I was a kid, I would head straight for the bookstore, stay there for hours and grumble if I had to do any other shopping. But now it's all online - Barnes & Noble, Amazon and others all have smooth-working websites that let you browse inside the book covers a little. And there are plenty of smaller stores online too, with specialized subject matter, like Hannan's Runway - for modelers and other airplane enthusiasts.

I have two new books from Hannan's, monographs on a few obscure planes from the 1950s. It was the era when the Cold War got into full swing, and the superpowers let the military aviation budgets run wild, with some startling results. It seems as though just about any cockamamie idea was worth a few zillion dollars and a few prototypes; of course, in those days without computer simulation, that was the only way to find out whether theory could be put into practice. Aviation history of this era is dotted with faded pictures of these orphans, hilarious in hindsight to everyone but the poor test pilots - where they survived...

For example, jet bombers of that era had much longer range than jet fighters. But bombers are vulnerable without fighter escort. Proposal: Stick a tiny, ugly jet fighter inside the bomber. When the bomber is attacked, release it on a trapeze and let it go off to battle the Commies. Then the jet fighter returns to the bomber IN MIDAIR, latches on again, FOLDS UP and is pulled in. Insane, right? But they did it - this is the XF-85 "Goblin", built to test the "parasite fighter" concept. Its bizarre shape allowed it to fit into the bomb bay of a B-29, but left it severely limited in terms of performance and stability.

One of my new books details the Convair Sea Dart, a supersonic jet fighter... seaplane. The U.S. Navy opined that runways and air bases were expensive to build and maintain, and even Air Force pilots could land on them. So the "floating base" concept was put forward whereby bombers, cargo planes and even the fighters could land and take off on water, bobbing happily away in any harbor or lake. The Sea Dart - a twin-jet, delta-winged fighter was designed to take off and land ON WATERSKIS - insane, right? But five were built and three actually flown - and they remain, to this day, the only supersonic seaplanes ever built. (The test planes were underpowered, but one of them exceeded the speed of sound in a slight dive.)

As you might guess, they were useless as fighter planes, and practically destroyed themselves on takeoff and landing. I have actually seen two of the surviving examples, this one on display at Willow Grove Naval Air Station near Philadelphia, the other at a museum in San Diego. (Oddly, I saw them on two consecutive days, when I flew out with the Air Force!)

Amazing, that so much money and effort was put into projects like these, with so little return on the investment. Especially in those cases, like the Sea Dart, where test pilots were killed in the flight-test program. But then, the mixture of comedy and tragedy in these machines seems appropriate for the whole Cold War, doesn't it?


After getting a few extra days off from radiation, I still tested with very low blood counts on Monday. I had my radiation treatments, but with the counts still low on Tuesday my oncologist decided to postpone my chemotherapy. The problem is that the radiation and chemotherapy both affect my bone marrow, so that it doesn't produce the right blood cells - but the cancer itself is also having the same effect. Some new painful areas, and the evidence of the blood count, indicate that the cancer is working on my bone marrow too.

Oddly, I don't feel that much worse than I have been for the last month. I still have to take painkillers around the clock, and I've had terrible digestive tract problems; but my appetite and energy have been reasonably consistent. But on Monday they asked me to report in immediately if I experienced any fevers (because I have few white blood cells to fight infections) or bleeding (because I have few platelets to coagulate my blood). Well, lo and behold Tuesday morning I developed a spontaneous nosebleed, and Gail took me in early to Dr. A's office. He discussed the predicament that we're in; do we press harder with chemotherapy and radiation, which may leave me bedridden, or back off and risk further damage from the cancer? It's a balancing act between quality of life and quantity, only now with a narrower margin than we have had so far.

So the plan for the coming week is to continue my radiation treatments Wednesday, since I am almost done with the neck-shoulder series, and there is little marrow in those bones anyway. We will delay the next chemotherapy until Tuesday, when we will go back to another medication, one that may be more effective and be less traumatic for the bone marrow. Plus we may be able to use some of the newer drugs to offset the effects of the chemo. Today I had an X-ray on my right leg, which has been a major source of new pain.

The immediate problem of the anemia was addressed with a blood transfusion today, platelets and hemoglobin, to protect me for the short-term. I still feel OK; I ate a full lunch and dinner, and got some sleep while in the oncology lab at Moses Taylor Hospital. (I've been going to Mercy, but they couldn't accommodate me today, so Gail and I got to visit the third major hospital in town.) The verdict: Moses Taylor's food is better than Mercy, not as good as CMC. But it's a big hospital, and parts of it are very impressive; obviously some major renovations were done, but some of the working spaces are still unreconstructed. The staff were all quite friendly, though.

Hopefully my blood count will rally a little this week, and I will get to cook and enjoy my traditional maple-brine turkey for Thanksgiving. As I've written, I've been able to enjoy a reasonable quality of life for the past month or so; I hate the idea of getting sicker and ending up in bed, and/or back in the hospital. All good thoughts are welcome; have a good holiday weekend!

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Some amazing videos

Gail has our flying video from today uploaded to, a very slick video-sharing site. She has been putting together short clips from her digital camera, and adding more editing and her own soundtracks. It's neat for me to be able to watch afterwards, since I'm often busy as we fly (!) and I can rate my takeoff and landing technique.

There are other interesting flying clips, too. Here is one that must have been professionally edited, posted by a military fighter pilot:

Speaking of landing technique - in just a few minutes of browsing I came up with this frightening capture. (Apparently a British Airways flight - shudder to think of the poor passengers!)

Anyway, I'm going back to browse some more; I found these in just a few minutes! You can find Gail's other videos here.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Up there again

Trim crank
Uploaded by AviatorDave.
It was beautiful here today, clear but cold, so Gail and I took off for another airplane ride. I was not feeling too sore, just a little uneven in the gastric department; so I figured I would go up and see how long I could do without a bathroom. Quite a while, as it turned out - fortunately, because Fielding Airlines does not offer lavatory facilities on any of its aircraft. (We pass the savings along to you.)

I took us for a long, clockwise circle around the valley, first heading into the big airport at Scranton for a touch-and-go landing. (As I flew down the runway, I wondered whether any of the airline travelers took notice of our little plane buzzing alongside. If they did, I guess they knew they weren't exactly at JFK...)

Our house
Uploaded by AviatorDave.
On the way in, we passed right over Lake Scranton and our little landlocked neighbourhood, and Gail took some good photos that she's posting now. (Some movies are in the works, too.) Then over the river to the Wyoming Valley airport, a little anachronism that hasn't changed since the 1940s. I landed on the paved runway and taxied over to assess the condition of the grass strip; it's smooth, but we've had some rain lately, and I decided against some soft-field practice - it's too cold to stand outside cleaning mud off the poor Tri-Pacer. Instead we took off again and flew across the north ridge, the "Back Mountain" area, and east back to Cherry Ridge. At this point I put us into a long glide at a higher power setting, as I was starting to want that bathroom; I was grateful for a slight tailwind that pushed us up to around 150 m.p.h. over the ground.

Landed just in time, and had a nice ride back as the sun set, and Gail fixed a supper that couldn't be beat; so, I'm happy to log another very good Saturday. Hope yours was as well.

Friday, November 18, 2005

The Waiting Game

Gail just wrote a very funny post about the many waiting rooms that she endures while I'm in my various treatments. I've been healthy enough to avoid hospitals most of my life until now, so my limited experience with the medical world has been a few stays in those same waiting rooms; and I know how awful they can be, since you may be dealing with the stress and worry about your particular patient. I can't thank her enough for going through all this with me, and keeping her sense of humour.

I thought I would add a few words about what lies beyond... since, in many of these places, there are layers of waiting rooms and recovery areas that Gail doesn't get to "enjoy" with me. I'll go along with her choice of the NROC as the best, even though I'm not a coffee fan (I know she loves the free, modern latte machine!) There, we wait together until it's my time to board "The Machine", and then I go straight to the table. My latest round of treatments include a very tight shot at my neck, so they have been strapping my head down; somewhat unpleasant, but usually over in ten minutes or so.

When I go for my chemotherapy, once a week now, there are several phases to my visit. We start off waiting together in the outer room of the Hematology and Oncology Clinic, which is devoid of magazines - only plenty of materials about cancer, smoking, medications and the like. You know what? By this point, I've read everything I care to about cancer; even Field and Stream would be better. But I usually get called out of this one quickly, and off to a row of phlebotomy "cubicles" where my eternally bruised veins are punctured for a blood test. After this I shuffle over to the next waiting area, which is well-stocked with magazines, including a few issues of my fave - National Geographic. (It's like a glossy little PBS to read!) Next comes the exam, usually by my main oncologist but occasionally an assistant. I'm impressed by how computer-integrated this process is; all of the medical staff carry laptops, wireless networked, and my whole medical history is available on them - even the current day's blood counts pop up, as soon as the lab processes them. The laptop displays not only the dry facts and medications, but all of the scans and imagery in full color, going back to my initial diagnosis!

Then I get walked into the chemotherapy room, a vast half-circle divided into rooms around the perimeter by half-height walls; each room is further divided into four cubicles, each with a reclining chair and individual television. The cubicles on the outer bank have broad windows, looking out on a dull view of a grassy embankment, but at least it's natural light. All in all, it's a fairly friendly place, but the careful planning falls apart in a few ways: First, although every cubicle has a television set, they DON'T have headphones... so that many of the chemo patients switch on, choose a station, and then begin the Volume Wars. To hear one show above your neighbor - who is just a few feet away, behind a half-height partition - you naturally have to turn it up a bit. Remember that most of my fellow patients are well-advanced in age to begin with, and you get an idea of the din in there on a busy day! Lately, the crowds have been light, and due to a technical problem the satellite TV boxes are not working; so everyone has to watch the same show, if they do at all. Better for me, since I never watch anyway, preferring to read or doze while I drip-feed. (Last week, though, I had to endure sitting next to a patient with an older woman companion - one who told long, pointless stories - in a loud, squeaky voice. Maybe I should carry some emergency headphones, just in case.)

Here I sit for usually about two hours, with a big needle in my arm and a blanket on my lap. (It's always too cold, whether my blood is thin or not.) Despite getting chemo every week, my arm veins are holding out, so I haven't heard any more talk about putting in a semi-permanent port in my chest. I don't mind the needles, most of the techs are skilled and set me to dripping without much discomfort. Gail doesn't have to wait for all these hours, our home is just five minutes away; or she can go off to do shopping or other errands. Lately my appointments are timed so that I finish chemo in time to walk through the corridor from the HOC to the NROC and get irradiated, and Gail meets me there.

I should also mention what goes on when I go to Mercy Hospital for any of my various MRI scans, since it's quite different on "the inside". Gail mentioned the MRI waiting area, and it is at least well-decorated - but when I go in, the scene is dramatically different. The trip is a long one, down many stark grey hallways to reach the MRI room; if I am sore that week, one of the techs will wheel me in a chair. (It's not unlike the opening credits in the classic spy sitcom Get Smart.) The MRI lab at Mercy is an all-male zone, and it shows; the guys who do the scans set me up with headphones and ask me what radio station I prefer; classic rock is the default. They are a casual, friendly bunch - one of them is married to one of my radiology techs - and all speak with rich Scranton accents. But for all the rough edges, they are a good crew; they take pains to make me comfortable, which can be difficult depending on my condition. I'm not claustrophobic, but the beige-steel tunnel is small, barely bigger than I am; and sometimes I have to spend 45 minutes or more inside. Often I am sore, and the platform is hard on my back; they try to pad me as best they can. Once I was overcome by nausea between scans, and had to be let out to lose my breakfast. At least I've learned to put my wallet in the locker - didja know that MRI machines will erase all of the magnetic strips on your credit cards? Whoops...

Anyway, a quick recap: I am currently getting a few days off from radiation due to a low platelet count. My shoulder and neck are much better, and my sore throat will be glad for the break; but my left hip is still quite sore. I just started those treatments. I have a good supply of my various pain meds, and I've sorted out the doses to control my overall level of pain, for the most part. I have, at my discretion, several narcotic painkillers and a steroid to use for pain; but none of them are perfect, and to be honest none of them make me feel good; the best I hope for is basic relief. I have many other pills to relieve other symptoms, mostly from the side-effects of chemo, radiation... and all the other pills. If I take too many of any of them, my stomach gets torn up, and other gastric troubles ensue, so I have been trying for minimalism.

Anyway, if you've made it this far, thanks for reading... hope it hasn't been too much of a wait.

Sunday, November 13, 2005


I should mention that the food poisoning incident mentioned in the last post was self-induced. Gail always does a good job of feeding me, and steering me away from the Bad Things that I normally eat on my own. But last week I slipped in a delicacy I found in the freezer section, "Cohen's Egg Rolls" - right there you can spot trouble - and I found them a little bland, so I dipped them in some rather antiquated condiments I had put in the 'fridge sometime around the first Gulf War.

By the next day, I knew that something had gone awry. No details will be forthcoming, but I was very sick for the next three days. The lessons, of course, are: 1) Jews probably shouldn't make egg rolls. 2) Clean out the refigerator now and then, and 3) Listen to Gail.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

The Saga of 02P, Part III

First, the obligatory progress report: I haven't been up and around much for the last few days. Not because of radiation, chemotherapy and cancer, which are all ongoing; but due to a touch of food poisoning, apparently. I will not go into detail because - well, the details are gross. But I'm just starting to feel better, and I think I can sit upright and write for a spell. So on to the next installment of how I bought my plane...

OK, when we last heard, I had bought a one-way ticket to Nashville, Tennessee. The Tri-Pacer I was going to see, N1502P, was based right there at Nashville International. I had only to fly in and meet the seller; if the plane and the deal were satisfactory, I could just fly it home. I had taken the trouble to make this feasible, by arranging financing and insurance ahead of time, all contingent on a pre-purchase inspection. It made things complicated, but I didn't want to have to travel back and forth twice if everything went well.

I had planned on going down alone, but a few days before the trip I was surprised to have a volunteer co-pilot; my friend Karen, an airline pilot herself, wanted to come along. When she heard about my plans, she figured it sounded like a good adventure - she had never flown a fabric-covered airplane before, and she could easily deadhead* down to meet me in Nashville. I warned her: "It's very small, you know... and very slow; it will take around eight hours to fly back, and there's no air conditioning..." But she couldn't be swayed, and I was actually glad to have the company for the trip back, if it came to that.

So on the appointed Friday, I left after work and flew down on the evening flight from Scranton to Nashville. I discovered that anyone traveling on a one-way ticket gets the extra-thorough bag and personal search, so I ran out to the commuter jet cramming my belongings back into my flight bag; I was trying to travel light. I landed in Nashville on a sweltering hot August evening, and got a cab from the terminal to the general aviation ramp (the "F.B.O.") where I planned to spend the night in the pilot's lounge and meet the seller in the morning. I was the only one around, apart from a bored line service guy, and he showed me to the lounge. I was initially happy to note that the the lounge was comfortably appointed and well air-conditioned; in fact, it was downright arctic, as is often the case in the South. Since I only had the t-shirt I was wearing, and one other for the next day, I spent the night alternating between the freezing lounge and the bench outside, where even at 3:30 am it was almost 90 F.

First look
Uploaded by AviatorDave.
The next morning, having hardly slept, I took a courtesy car for breakfast and eventually met up with Karen and the seller. He drove us out to the hangar, where he had a rather lavish setup for keeping such a tiny plane; climate-controlled, with a separate office and plenty of tools and extra gear. (He was selling the little Tri-Pacer to trade up to a larger plane, one which he could use to fly his whole family of four around in speed and comfort.) I grinned on seeing the plane; you can't help it, with the jaunty paint scheme it wears. The previous owner, an older fellow, had chosen the bright 1930s Army Air Corps scheme (purely for fun; no Tri-Pacer was ever used by the U.S. military). I climbed all over the plane and did my best to assess the condition; it all looked to be in good order and as described.

The first order of business was a test flight, so Karen waited while the seller and I climbed in and taxied out for a short ride. It took a long time to reach the runway and get clearance; Nashville is a BIG airport. By this time, the temperature had climbed over 90 again, and when I advanced the throttle, I was not overwhelmed by the ensuing takeoff and climbout. I had expected less performance, since this Tri-Pacer was equipped with an older 135 horsepower engine. But the high temperature and humidity really took a toll; it took a long time to climb to just 1,000 feet and head west of the airport.

I enjoyed flying the plane, though, and did some takeoffs and landings at a smaller airport nearby. Back at Nashville, we stepped into the office and talked over the deal. He ended up coming down on the price, and throwing in quite a bit of extra gear and parts, including his yoke-mounted GPS unit. I shook his hand and signed on the dotted line - and I owned an airplane! Now, to get home...

First problem: packing! There was Karen and myself, and our bags... and a large box containing a set of canvas plane covers, and another with parts and gauges, some cans of spare paint... and finally, a set of Short Wing Piper Club books and magazines that must have weighed 50 pounds. The plane has four seats, and a roomy baggage compartment; but there is a limit to how much weight can be carried, and we were going to be over - and on a hot, humid day to boot. So I prevailed on the seller to do me one more favor, and ship the heaviest items to my address, so that we would have a fighting chance of getting off the ground!

Engine gauges
Uploaded by AviatorDave.
Karen and I folded ourselves into 02P - my plane! - and taxied out again to the active runway. We chugged away, crawling compared to the jumbo jets arriving and departing around us, and headed north into the thick summer haze. From the start it was apparent that we were in for a long trip; we noticed that if we tried to run at 75% power, the oil temperature would keep climbing to the high side of the gauge. The only way to hold the temp steady was to run at lower power, and that barely yielded 90 knots; I had planned our 700-mile trip at 105, so it was going to take a little longer.

Worried about the engine temps, I stopped at Somerset, Kentucky to check the oil. As we hopped out, I saw that there was at least a quart streaked across the belly; the overheated oil had pumped overboard through the bearings for the vacuum pump. So we bought a few quarts, added some to the crankcase and took off again, resolved not to run the engine hard. By the time we reached Richmond we had to stop again to add more oil, and we realized that with our slow progress and extra stops, we weren't going to make it home that day. We pressed on as far as Parkersburg, West Virginia where the setting sun and lowering clouds convinced us to spend the night.

Well, this installment has gone long enough. Tune in again for part IV - cheap hotel rooms, bad weather and close blimp encounters!

* "Deadheading" is a free ride to reposition airline flight crews, in a spare seat on their own or another airline's flight, as an industry courtesy.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Spectacular Saturday

I've been coping remarkably well with my cancer for the last two weeks or so, despite being back in chemotherapy and radiation. I still have pain (and other secondary symptoms) but my constitution and appetite have been, in general, much better.

But my planets must have been aligned extra-well today, or something; I had a wonderful day. Gail and I slept in, she catching up on her sleep after a rushed visit to New York (and I had stayed up late watching airplane movies!) I came downstairs this morning to a stunningly warm and sunny November day, and began to wonder how to make the best of it. (Hugh suggested an outing on the front porch, but surprisingly didn't stay out long.)

When Gail came bouncing down shortly afterwards, she already had an idea: to go out to Cherry Ridge airport, where we always find something to enjoy, whether it's photography, food or just my flying friends. As we drove out to the rural airstrip, I assessed myself and decided that I was in rather good shape to fly - I hadn't taken any strong painkillers, and it was last Tuesday that I last had chemo, and I was feeling strong and clearheaded. And moreover, the weather conditions were just perfect. Clear skies, light wind and shirtsleeve temperature; too good to pass up!

So on arriving at the airport, I suggested that we go straight to the hangar. Gail insisted on doing the heavy work of pulling the plane out of the hangar, to avoid straining my back, and I took my time preflighting the plane. As we taxied out there were a few other planes about (mostly students I think) but then I noticed two of my CAP comrades refueling our squadron's plane at the self-service pump. With a wave (and a snap of the shutter, of course) we took the runway.

Our little plane accelerated down the centerline as smooth as ever, and we eased into a sunny sky. It felt great to be at the controls again, as it's been over a month since I've flown; and longer than that since I've felt so lucid and strong. (I wouldn't have risked a flight, of course, if I hadn't felt sure of myself.) I circled and checked over the plane while Gail worked her cameras, and we flew south towards the lake. I was grinning, enjoying myself; I startled Gail a little when I began banking left and right, rolling in and out of the steep turns that are so much fun in our plane. Once she knew that it was deliberate, she was laughing too, and we took in the sunset over the long lake. Then I flew north up the ridgeline, onto the sunny side of a long farm of wind-driven generators; Gail got several great pictures, including this one. (She has many more to post yet.)

Then back to the airport, where I set up for one touch-and-go landing, as some of the other pleasure flyers watched from the taxiway; I got a "10" for my first effort on the radio from Mr. Tibor. Once more around the pattern and I brought us to a nice slow landing, taxied to the pumps and shut down. My CAP buddies were still around and chatted with Gail and I as we filled 02P's wing tanks, and then followed us to my hangar to help put the plane away; great chaps, those guys.

After a few minutes of hangar talk with them (and Mr. Tibor, who had come taxiing up to be social) dusk was gathering, and Gail and I were by now quite hungry. So we went back into town and stopped at Calabria's, the place to get the absolute best (and biggest) cheese calzone in the valley. I wasn't sure how hungry I was, but it turned out to be a lot, and I devoured my half of the cheesy, kayak-shaped Italian fare. Oh, that sauce... that incredible Calabria's sauce!

And - to finish off a day that couldn't be beat, at home I found out that Penn State had won again today; 35 to 14 over Wisconsin, the highest-scoring team in the Big 10, and making us 9-1 for the season. Let's Go State!

So, a good-news day all around. I've awoken from a deep, ricotta-induced sleep, and thought I would document my day, and wish you all a great one as well.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Movie Review - "Devil's Playground"

A dramatic title, but the film is a straightforward documentary about a very secretive community: the Amish. Specifically, about a custom of Amish teenagers to venture out into the outside world, a period they call "Rumspringa".

The most startling scenes come early on, and show the teens - ages 16 and up - dressing in secular ("English") clothes, drinking, doing drugs and having wild parties. This behavior is an accepted part of community life; the kids of far-flung Amish enclaves meet to blow off steam together. It goes on with the tacit approval of the Amish elders, and it seems clear that the intention of the parents is to let the teens overdo it; to indulge in the worst excesses, and come back to the church with a negative impression of English life - the "Devil's Playground".

The film necessarily reveals a lot about the insular nature of Amish life. I was born in Lehigh County, Pennsylvania, near where some of the vignettes were filmed, and I never knew some of the details of their lives - except that they reject technology, dress alike, and are very religious. (The photo here is of an Amish family that Gail and I saw at the Mid-Atlantic Air Museum in Reading, Pennsylvania - quite a non sequitur, to see the horse-and-buggy technophobes quietly examining the gleaming jet fighter!) But some of the tenets of their community are detailed here, and it is restrictive. The children are only educated to age 13; more education than that is thought to lead to "pride". Even the elder members of the community wistfully speak of the things they miss, and repeat phrases like "you just don't question things" and "you get used to it". Unsurprisingly, the Amish live by strict gender roles that restrict the women more severely than the men.

I remarked to Gail that Hassidic Jews are similar in many ways. They also live, speak and dress alike, and in anachronistic fashion. Their communities are just as isolated, although they tend to live in more urban areas (my theory is that, being Jews, they couldn't cope with the horses-and-buggies; Jews generally don't handle animals larger than a corned beef.)

"Devil's Playground" follows the stories of several Amish youths over a period of at least a few years. One boy becomes involved in using and dealing methamphetamines; a girl struggles with depression, and the limitations imposed on her as an Amish woman. The cameras are allowed very candid access as they try to make the central decision of their lives - whether or not to return to the church, put on the black clothing and turn their back on the larger world. (The elder Amish are very hesitant to be filmed, although a few - with an unusual savvy - do appear on camera.)

Gail and I found "Devil's Playground" fascinating - thanks to Lana for suggesting the title.

Monday, October 31, 2005

The Saga of 02P, Part II

OK, flash forward a year or so. I sold my farmhouse and apple orchard; which I was able to accomplish without a realtor, advertising and showing the house on my own. Another long story, there - but the short version is that I closed on the week before the 9-11 attack, and moved into my current small house in Scranton. That fall and winter I stayed very involved in Civil Air Patrol; it was a rough time for the aviation community anyway, and our squadron saw a big increase in volunteerism after the terrorist attacks. It was not until the following summer that I began shopping for planes again, as it seemed that private aviation would recover - but airplane prices were still quite low due to the uncertainty of new, more restrictive Federal regulations.

I started again with the Trade-A-Plane magazines, and browsing the bulletin boards at the local airports. But this time, it was a little red-and-white plane that caught my eye as I was driving by the Wyoming Valley airport - a Piper Tri-Pacer. I knew a little about these planes; the AOPA had restored one a few years earlier for their sweepstakes airplane, and I remembered being intrigued by the details. A four-seat plane, the most popular model made between 1951 and 1961, over nine thousand were built and nearly three thousand are still flying. Made of steel tubing and covered with fabric, it belonged to the generation before the riveted-aluminum Cessnas I was familiar with. But it was powered by the same reliable Lycoming engine, and offered similar performance, with a somewhat cramped cabin.

I contacted the seller, and arranged to go for a flight in the plane. He showed me around the Tri-Pacer and pointed out some of the quirks - the overhead crank for the trim, and the hand-operated brakes - and spoke with pride of the plane's performance. We taxied out and took off, and as soon as I took the controls, I was smiling. The little Piper leaped off the grass runway, and responded instantly to the controls. After hundreds of hours flying the stable, predictable Cessnas, I was taken by the way that this stubby plane handled in the air - like getting into a sportscar after driving a truck. And the performance was just as the seller described, matching the Cessna for cruise speed but able to take off and land in far less space.

That first flight had definitely set the hook, and sent me off to look for other Tri-Pacers. There are still quite a few on the market at any given time, and I wasn't convinced of the mechanical condition of the one I had flown (it had been parked outdoors for many years.) There was actually another one for sale at the same airport, a later model with some different options, including an auxilary fuel tank. But when I contacted this seller, it turned out that neither he nor the plane had flown in nine months - and he asked me if I wanted to go for a flight! NO, thank you; not until the pilot gets current, and the plane is thoroughly checked over by a mechanic! (You can get nightmares, imagining what can go wrong with a plane that sits idle for that long.)

I decided to cast my net wider, and spent some time looking at Tri-Pacers at greater distances. And I started reading the newsletter of the "Short-Wing Piper Club", the type club for these airplanes. The old fabric-covered Piper airplanes can be divided into two major families - the "Long-Wings" being the famous Cub and its derivatives, and the "Short-Wing" models, of which the Tri-Pacer was the last. Old Bill Piper was a clever manufacturer: each successive model of his airplanes (all built in Lock Haven, Pennsylvania) used as much as possible of the one before. So when an increase in engine power made it desirable to have a smaller wing, for higher cruise speed - rather than design a whole new wing, he just chopped six feet off of the classic Cub wing, and shortened the plane lengthwise as well. The final touch was the addition of a tall, sturdy tricycle landing gear - the first to be offered on any light plane - and the Tri-Pacer was born.

I watched the trade ads and the internet for the next few months, in no particular hurry, waiting for the right plane to catch my eye. And finally, one did; an eye-catching blue and yellow "Tripe" listed on Aircraft Shopper Online (a great site to window-shop, by the way!). I looked over the details, and the few small photos. It was a 1954 model, which meant a slightly less powerful engine, but the engine had been recently overhauled; the plane was recovered in modern fabrics and kept indoors; and the instrument panel was up-to-date with good modern gauges and radios. Importantly, the logbooks were complete back to 1954 and the title search was clean. The seller was very friendly and sent along more photos, copies of the logbook, and even some video clips of the plane in operation. Satisfied that I was close to a sale, I bought a one-way ticket to Nashville, leaving aside the problem of getting back if I DIDN'T buy the plane...

To be further continued...

Friday, October 28, 2005

The Saga of 02P, Part I

I'm back in chemotherapy, with a fresh dose in me this Tuesday; and tomorrow I will start a new set of radiation treatments, too. I can already feel the side effects setting in, so I won't likely be getting out much for the next few days. My fingers have healed, though, and Gail has suggested that I do some writing - so I thought I might start recapping some old flying stories, from my pre-blog days. What follows is the first installment in the saga of how I came to own a little 50-year-old airplane.

'Way back in the year 2000, freshly divorced, I began getting a serious itch to have a plane of my own. I had been flying since 1995, and for those who are truly addicted, renting planes eventually loses its lustre. Renting is far more practical, to be sure, for the occasional flyer - there is a lot of overhead in owning and maintaining any airplane, and if you don't fly much, the hourly costs add up fast. But I was flying a lot, and besides... try finding a plane for rent on short notice, on a sunny Saturday morning! It's a great luxury to have your own plane, flown only by you, whenever you like; to be able to travel, without worrying about having to return if the weather turns sour; and heck, just pride of ownership, and a love of old airplanes.

Having composed this careful set of rationalizations, I began the happy pastime of looking at airplanes for sale. In the pages of Trade-A-Plane, at local airports, and on the internet, I began looking for my first airplane.

The first plane I investigated was a 1940 Aeronca Chief, a tiny orange 2-seater. It had 85 horsepower, and like many planes of that vintage, no electrical system; so it had to be started by hand, pulling on the the handsome (but dangerous!) varnished wooden propeller. The seller accomplished this and took me for a test flight, and I enjoyed flying the little Chief for a while. But I noted that the cruise speed was only around 75 m.p.h. - fine for short hops near home, but very limiting if you actually want to GO somewhere. That, along with a desire for a radio (and a fear of hand-propping!) sent me back to look for something slightly more modern.

The next candidate was a Cessna 172, the most common 4-seat airplane in the world; like many pilots, I had logged the majority of my flight time in this model. Out of the hundreds available, I settled on one for sale out in Kankakee, Illinois - a 1958 model, one of the oldest, but seemingly in fine condition. After a few discussions with the seller, I got my financing paperwork in order and booked a flight out to Chicago. This plane was truly beautiful; it had been impeccably maintained, and still sported the 1950s finish of green and white stripes over polished aluminum. It was late in the day, but the seller and I took the plane out for a test flight to a nearby airport, where there was a little restaurant with live music and great barbecue.

Afterwards, the sun was setting, and the weather was lowering; light rain was already falling, and the temperatures were not much above freezing. But the seller seemed unconcerned; he seemed to know his local weather, and the flight would only take about 30 minutes. Against my better judgement, we took off. We barely had the legal 1,000 feet between the ground and the clouds; fortunately, the terrain around Kankakee is predominantly flat. As we made our way along, I kept shining my little flashlight on the leading edge of the wing - we were definitely picking up ice from the freezing rain, and I counted the minutes to our destination. Luckily, the air just below us was slightly warmer, and the ice began to melt off as soon as we descended.

I agonized over the purchase; the plane was in great shape, and the price was fair. But in the end, I looked at the costs and at the mortgage on the farmhouse, and grudgingly decided to let this one go. I went back home, resolved to sell my house first - something I should have done much sooner.

To be continued...

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Another Outing

Still feeling fairly well today, during my respite from chemotherapy. I drove myself out to pick up a prescription, and then Gail took me over to Nay Aug park for a photo walk. Nay Aug is the "Central Park" of Scranton, and has been undergoing a slow rebirth over the last few years. When I was a lad it held a small amusement park and a modest zoo; surviving still are the Everhart Museum and the large public pool.

Of course, we are still playing with our new toys, the matching cameraphones we bought yesterday. Gail is 'way ahead of me on figuring out how to use hers; we have a lot of new features. The cameras actually work very well, and we can send images to each other, or to our Flickr albums and/or 'blogs. (Gail, the ultimate Flickrite, can browse Flickr on her phone now!) When we sat down for a while in the comfy Adirondack chairs, we clicked each other. Note that our phones are the same, but I have a protective cover on mine; I have a bad record of mobile phone abuse.

Later, as the sun went down, we dropped off Gail's film and went for a drive around town to see if there were any remarkable Halloween houses. There is one family down the hill from us who convert their whole house into a "haunted mansion", complete with animated monsters and a lightshow; the police have taken to putting up cones so that people can slow down and turn up the alley to appreciate the scene. We saw a few well-turned-out porches, some with giant inflatable ghouls, but nothing too spectacular. Maybe people aren't done yet, or we haven't found a properly tacky neighbourhood.

We did find a house that was pretty scary, without any intention on the part of the owner - a crumbling, massive house down in Scranton's "plot" section, hard by the abandoned railroad tracks. A single light shone in one back room, revealing a room strewn with junk and skewed pictures on the wall. The lot next to the house was surrounded by rickety barbed-wire fence, and hung with "No Trespassing" signs; as Gail slowly circled, a frightened rabbit jumped out into the headlights. I opined that the house would be the appropriate residence for a chainsaw murderer, and we moved on...

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Thursday Outing

I got to spend most of today away from the house (hooray!) running a few errands with Gail. Nothing complicated, but I was pleased to be in good enough shape to walk around a bit, and my appetite continues to rally.

Our first stop was the doctor's office - for Gail, this time, for the purposes of her immigration exam. The nearest doctor approved by the USCIS is a 45 minute drive, but it was a nice day for a drive anyway. Now, this doctor's office - Gail was there earlier in the week, this was a follow-up - she had told me that it was peculiar, a tiny and disorganized office by medical standards*. Gosh, she wasn't kidding; this place was scary. Imagine that you wanted to set up a professional office for the practice of medicine, but only had... oh, say two hundred dollars to spend. This is about the result - a tiny waiting room on a strip-mall storefront, sitting alongside a nail and tanning parlor. The next tiny room holds two receptionists (with barely room for a desk between them) and wall shelves, literally overflowing with uncontained patient files. Yes, of course we'll take good care of your confidential medical information!

If there was anything odder than the office, it was the melange of strange shapes and sounds in the waiting room. My first thought was that we had stumbled across a casting call for the next "Addams Family" film; there were people of every disturbing shape, size and accent. I sat close to the receptionist's window (it being hard to be far from ANYTHING in this glorified broom closet) and so I got to hear the odd ramblings of each patient as they came and went.

Later, free of the clinic, we headed back towards home and stopped off at the cellphone store. We replaced both of our old phones and calling plans with a family plan and matching LG phones, which will give us a much better deal on wireless telecom, including unlimited calls between our phones. And the phones were a bargain, two-for-one priced and each with a built-in camera; we are having fun playing with the new toys. Gail had an LG phone before, and the new one is similar; I will rely on her to figure out all the menus and help me set mine up. (My number is the same, for those of you who have it.)

* Yes, "medical standards" may be an oxymoron.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

At The Movies with Uncle Fester

I've been feeling rather well for the last few days; last night Gail and I went out to dinner, and tonight we managed to take in a movie. We both enjoyed it immensely, the most laughs we have had in a long time, so we're both going to review it:

The 40-Year-Old Virgin

It stars Steve Carell, from the American version of "The Office" on NBC, and second banana in several recent Will Ferrell movies. Carell plays a character that must be instantly recognizable to almost everyone, the geeky "late bloomer", with a lonely-guy apartment full of action figures and video games. The movie follows his life as his co-workers discover his terrible secret, and endeavor to "help" him, just as he meets a warm woman his own age.

The setup is simple, but the execution is side-splittingly hilarious. I can't even guess how long the movie was, because the pace was perfect - from slapstick comedy, to VERY authentic guys-and-buddies dialog, to Carell's believable moments of pathos. Some of the more subtle comedy is found in the cultural references surrounding the frozen-in-time Carell; I won't spoil by listing them, but this movie is undoubtedly fine-tuned to persons between 30 and 40. (I want to see it again, just for a closer look at his apartment!) Oh, and if you're near my age, you'll want the soundtrack, too.

Anyway - five stars, or whatever I use here, for "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" - I was literally in tears, laughing through the whole movie. It was the heat of the moment...

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Airshow link

I was browsing around, indulging in my favorite interest (airplanes) and came across the website for one of my favorite airshow pilots, Sean D. Tucker:

Team Oracle

It's an impressive site, selected for a Webby award. (Not surprising, since Tucker is sponsored by software giant Oracle.) I was looking for infomation on his powerful little biplane, which the site has in abundance - including an interactive walkaround, with video interviews with his crew and detail photos for modellers.

It also has a slick viewer which lets you view Tucker's entire 13-minute airshow routine, using two simultaneous views, which you can customize from six choices of camera positions. You can even choose the music to accompany the routine. It requires broadband access, but it's a great way to experience one of the most dramatic stunt-flying routines in the world.

I've admired Tucker's wild flying for years; no one else in airshow flying can match him for the difficulty and danger of his maneuvers. I got to meet him at the 1994 Wilkes-Barre/Scranton airshow; seeing him fly that day, and being caught up with his enthusiasm for aviation, finally pushed me over the edge - a few weeks later, I took my first flying lesson.

Monday, October 10, 2005

I'm out!

Feeling much better, finally home from the hospital. Most of my blood counts are back to normal or nearly so. No other news today... but that's enough!

It's great to be in my old house, with my old cat and my new wife. Many thanks to everyone for their words, cards, visits and support.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Another Weekend at Mercy Hospital

This is Gail writing on David's behalf, since he's still confined to a hospital bed.

Mercy Hospital, Day 8

We've not been discouraging visitors, it's been a matter of not knowing from day to day how much longer he'll be kept in hospital. Every day we're hopeful he'll be well enough to be released, but then it doesn't happen. After yesterday's prescribed blood transfusion, however, it's fairly certain he'll be at Mercy Hospital for the weekend, possibly longer.

If any readers are local and inclined to visit David, or if anyone would like to phone, here's the info:

Mercy Hospital Scranton
746 Jefferson Ave
Phone: 570-348-7100
Room: 927

(The hospital switchboard doesn't route calls after 10pm.)

Please bear in mind that David's immune system is dangerously low. He likes having visitors, but is very prone to infection, which can delay his chemotherapy treatment. If you're feeling under the weather, it's best to phone.

(Please don't send anything to the hospital! There's a whole saga related to the black hole that is the receiving department at Mercy Hospital! To be on the safe side, send stuff to the house...)

When David comes home, he's going to help me make thank you cards for our wedding presents. We're very grateful for all the cards and gifts, and we'd like to show our appreciation in the best way possible.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Alive, kicking and off the market!

[This was written by David at the hospital and posted by Gail.]

(This is a long entry; I have been cooped up away-from-keyboard since the wedding. You may want to enjoy it in installments! -D.)

As of this morning, I am still in the hospital due to complications from my chemotherapy. Last week I was switched to a different set of drugs, and Thursday morning was the second 2-hour treatment. Past experience has been that the side-effects are delayed by a few days, and the first treatment was tolerable; so I felt that we should proceed with the second injection despite our wedding being only two days away - after all, the cancer hasn't taken any days off!

When I finished the second chemo, I was given a shot that worked well at suppressing the nausea. That afternoon I went to the Steamtown Mall with my future father-in-law, and I was able to enjoy some food-court Chinese. But Friday I slid downhill, with waves of nausea and mild cramps that made it impossible to eat anything solid. I woke before dawn, and sat in my easy chair with a book and my old cat. The first to join me was Gail's niece Melissa, who came quietly shining down the stairs, and began roaming around the first floor. Hugh must have felt safe on my lap; he didn't hiss at her on this occasion.

For the rest of Friday, my condition got worse. My cramps were becoming so severe and sharp that I couldn't stand upright, or even lie down. Gail was busy preparing for the wedding, but Mr. Edwin and Melissa's grandmother Jean both took good care of my needs - many thanks, Gumpa and GMP! I'm glad that they still managed to take Melissa to the train museum in the afternoon. I rested, and hoped that Saturday would be a better one.

Unfortunately, I continued to deteriorate. The first chemo treatment had not been anything like this; I was unable to eat anything solid, and even a half-glass of water would come straight back up. Sleep was impossible, and I was running to the toilet with bloody diarrhea so often that it was hardly worth it to leave. The nadir was just before daybreak on Saturday, when I apparently curled up on the bathroom floor and passed out. Melissa's knock woke me, and Jean helped me to sip a little electrolyte drink and crawl into bed.

I was determined to see the day through, though. This day and date were very important to me - one year exactly from the day that we had met, a day and weekend that has been so pivotal for me, and so perfect. And I wanted to have our moment, despite the turmoil of the past few months - to be hopeful and happy, and enjoy the day with our families and close friends, and most of all to really be married - to hold my wife's hand, at last, and formally take the vows that we have felt in our hearts for so long.

So with Jean and Mr. Edwin's help, I managed to shave and shower, and they packed my overnight case and laid out my dress blue uniform, which Gail's friend Lucy had steamed and pressed for me. I rested as long as I could, then got dressed and wobbled out to the car; by this time I was getting dizzy if I stood up for more than a minute or two. I was obviously badly dehydrated and anemic, and hoped that I wouldn't pass out. At the historic Lackawanna Station hotel, the doormen helped me into a wheelchair, and I made my way inside to where our little party was gathering.

Our ceremony was set up in a conference room downstairs, and as I was wheeled in we took the necessary precautions; a bucket in the corner in case of nausea, and a route to the nearest bathroom in case of... well, not very wedding-like, but we must be prepared, right? Our pastor, my good friend and Civil Air Patrol chaplain Bob, went over the ceremony with me and my best man (and friend) Chris, and we all got into position; I decided at the last moment that I would stay in the wheelchair, rather than risk toppling over. There was a long delay, during which the heat in the room was raised; it was freezing, or felt that way to me, with my thin blood!

But at last Gail and her companions were at the door, and the harp music began to play. She will say that she looked a mess from crying and makeup, but I couldn't see anything but her, and she was simply beautiful. She sat next to me and took my hand, and Bob began the ceremony. He did a beautiful job, warm and eloquent. (I believe we were his first wedding!) Chris read a poem, Autumn, by Garrison Keillor; a favorite of mine, one that evokes the magic of our perfect October weekend. And then Pastor Bob read us our vows, which we exchanged line-by-line with one another, a nice idea of Gail's. We wrote our own, of course, and Gail posted them in her first brief journal entry here:

Wedding Weekend

The not-so-good news, as she detailed, was that my condition was now too serious to be ignored. I had to go straight to the room to use the restroom and pick up my case; I had hoped to at least go into the reception and greet and thank everyone, but I had to relent. Chris wheeled me out to his car and took me to the hospital, and I staggered into the emergency room - in full dress uniform, boutonniere and all - so obviously anemic and weak that they immediately put me on a gurney and wheeled me into the ER. For the next few hours, they poured I.V. fluids into me and tried to relieve my pain with morphine; the cramps were now like a knife in my gut. Chris showed the depth of our friendship, refusing to leave my side until I seemed to be stable; I chased him out to get some dinner, since it would be hours before I had a proper hospital bed.

And it was, of course; the sun was coming up on Sunday when I was finally installed in a private room in the cancer ward. During that night, my fever had risen to almost 104, and the nurses were packing ice around my neck and back; the fever soon broke, though, and I have had a lot of I.V. antibiotics, scans and tests since then. In brief, it appears that I have a badly irritated intestine and colon, from a combination of the chemo and the radiation; and that due to that irritation, I may have come down with a bacterial infection like colitis.

As of this moment, they want to keep me another day before sending me home and letting me try solid food; I haven't had anything but gelatin and flavored ice since Thursday. At least Gail and I got to spend the night together last night, finally; she was so tired that the hospital staff let her nap in bed with me, and then in the chair in my room, all night. Maybe not the ideal first night for a married couple, but a very happy one nonetheless, for me.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Like riding a bike, unless you fall off

Takeoff roll
Originally uploaded by AviatorDave.
Gail and I slept in this morning, enjoying the weekend break from my radiation treatments. When we finally roused ourselves, Gail took me up to the Cherry Ridge airport to enjoy the beautiful weather, and in hopes of catching a plane ride with one of my pilot friends.

Things worked out just that way, in very short order; in fact, I had just stepped out of our car when my friend Mr. Tibor pulled up behind us, and asked if I would like to go up with him. He owns a very clean little 2-seat Cessna 150, and likes to fly in the evenings - we often see each other at the fuel pump, but have never flown together. Gail shooed me off to go and have fun, and went off to take pictures around the airport grounds.

I watched as Mr. Tibor carefully preflighted his plane. It's a beauty, an all-metal 1975 Cessna that looks like brand-new, and which he keeps well-maintained and neat as a pin. It's a bit smaller than the Tri-Pacer (not many planes are!) but has some nice equipment; one item of interest is a traffic alert, which his daughter bought for him. It detects the transponder signal of any aircraft within a few miles, and gives a spoken alert over the intercom when another plane is nearby.

Originally uploaded by AviatorDave.
We ran through our cockpit checks and took off, and then did one practice landing and took off again. Over Lake Wallenpaupack, I snapped some pictures and then took the controls for a while; I haven't flown a 150 in years, but it's a very easy plane to handle. Back at the airport, I even managed to grease on a smooth landing from the right seat; I guess I still remember how it's done, even though it's been - gasp - over two months since I've logged any stick time.

With my confidence restored, I offered to reciprocate, and take Mr. Tibor up in my Tri-Pacer. We walked from his hangar over to mine, and I preflighted 02P in the long evening shadows. As we taxied out, we chatted about the differences in our planes - mine is older, noisier and carries a bit more weight, his burns less fuel - but the performance of each is very similar. The air was getting late-evening smooth as we took off to the south, and turned east towards Lake Ariel to fly over Mr. Tibor's house. He took his turn flying, and noted how the Tri-Pacer is as light on the controls as his Cessna, but with a quicker roll rate due to the short wings. Back at the airport, I did one touch-and-go for practice; my approach was a little low, the first time. The next time around I did a bit better, and squeaked down right on the numbers.

It felt absolutely great, to get back into the air again. I really needed a day like this, after weeks of treatments and illness, to lift my spirits. So many thanks to Gail, for coaxing me out to the airport, and to Mr. Tibor for spending some time in the air with me!

Friday, September 23, 2005

Critiquing the critics

Last night, while idly browsing the internet, I found a rich vein of humor: amateur movie reviews on Now, I indulge in commenting on movies myself, here in the Logbook; I assume that most readers are friends of mine, and understand my perspective. But on mega-etailer Amazon, in the listing for each movie or DVD, is a place where anyone can post their personal review of the film in question - and by gosh, anyone does. The most well-known movies get the most reviews, of course; so it's easy to find a critique of The Exorcist, for example (726 customer reviews) from the perspective of, say, an 11-year-old whose favorite movie of all time is Fantastic Four. Or, from the point of view of a devout Christian, one with an extraordinary knowledge of the real mechanics of demonic possession:

"The problem is in the so-called "transference" of the evil entity into the supposedly consecrated body of the priest. Any student of theology should know that this is an impossibility: a priest (even one who has just regained his faith) invoking the power of Christ, blessed by Holy Water, and empowered by the Holy Spirit would never be able to entice a demon to "come into him" or "take him on instead'. Such a proposition (even if it were so) could not be taken up by a demon simply because the priest's consecrated body would burn like electricity to the touch if a demon were to try and gain access."

See? These are the kind of cinematic insights you just can't get from the mainstream press. Too, you typically can't get the range of horrible grammar and spelling that offer such grisly delights, even in USA Today. File this one under "Engrish":

This movie scared the crap out of me. When I go to are bech house I only go in water about half a foot deep. A shark is chompy the people. This movie was the second series of man eater. Better than the classic 1960 horror movie that inspires this genre of monstres.
Quint is herilious he made me laugh. This movie has some comedy as well. When quite said what you got her portable monkey cage. Anti shark. It very good movie. It had three sequels of which two I own. I did not buy the last one because it was alwfull bad plot and low death count.
My advice If you like this sea 2 and 3 but don't waste your time with the fourth on. Yes there is a movie call Jaws 5 Cruel Jaws but its not avilable her. It was sent over sea because it was made illegally.

There again - if "death count" is something you value in a film, then here is information you can use. This next one I have to classify as "sharing too much":

I just recently viewed the film, JAWS, in it's entirety. My brother Michael, who is now deceased, loved this film, so I figured why not get the film?

(By the way, in case you missed it, he was talking about the film.) Alas, sometimes we get to share in even sadder stories from the unsolicited movie reviewer:

I never recieved the product. I will never purchase anything from them again!!

Of course, there are other joys of browsing through these reviews: the Spoiler, who will recap the entire movie in detail, including the climactic end; the Nitpicker, who points out that some scrap of scenery dates from 1948, whereas the movie is set in 1945; and the Endless Babbler, who uses up the entire quota of space - usually with an intensely personal monologue, usually without paragraphs or punctuation. Thanks, Amazon, for providing this valuable service! I give it five stars.