Sunday, June 26, 2005

Young Eagles and Old Cubs

It was a long, hot day in the air yesterday; tons of fun, though. I started the day early at Cherry Ridge, where the EAA was holding a weather-delayed Young Eagles day. This is a great program which offers free airplane rides in small aircraft to children in the community, to encourage interest in aviation. My CAP squadron supports their efforts by helping to brief the children while they are waiting to fly. We tell them how an airplane works, and what kind of sensations they can expect in the air, and it really seems to help them have a positive experience.

While waiting for our CAP plane to fly in, I parked 02P in front of the hangar to help with the briefings; but there was a huge turnout of kids waiting to fly. (A good thing!) The EAA organizers had three Cubs, which can carry one passenger each, but the four-seat Cessna was sidelined with a mechanical problem. So they asked me if I would like to take some riders in my plane.

Megan and Segen Garrit
Levi and Cody Jessica and Kelly
Well, those who know me know that they didn't have to ask twice! I love taking kids for rides. I ended up launching six times, with two kids on board each time; twelve for me, with the day's total being 67 Young Eagles! The chapter guys told me that that is a record; and a great day all around, lots of big smiles and not one case of airsickness. Most of the kids I flew with were from 9 to 11 years old, and many were first-time flyers. I took them on a circuit around Lake Wallenpaupack, and we watched the boats on the lake, and they got to experience the world from on high. ("This is like a bird's-eye view!") So, to Kelly, Jessica, Garrit, JJ, Josiah, Shawn, Megan, Segen, Chris, Steven, Cody, and Levi - it was great flying with you!

Afterwards, I peeled off my damp flightsuit and refueled the plane. I was planning on going down to Lock Haven, Pennsylvania to catch the end of the yearly fly-in, "Sentimental Journey". My CAP comrade Alan said that his afternoon was free and asked to come along, and I was happy to have his company; we are both old-airplane buffs, and Alan is a Cub flyer from "back in the day".

Originally uploaded by AviatorDave.
A little aviation history: (here he goes again...) From 1931 to 1994, over 100,000 small airplanes were built in the pastoral valley of Lock Haven; our Tri-Pacer was one of them. The most numerous and well-known was the Piper Cub, a simple two-seat airplane that came closer than anything to being "the Model T of the Air". In the decades after WWII, the little yellow planes with the black lightning bolts on their sides were everywhere; "Piper Cub" became synonymous with "small plane" in the way that people now call all small planes "Cessnas".

Plane camping
Originally uploaded by AviatorDave.
Today, thousands of the old Pipers are still flying, and many of them fly to Lock Haven every summer for Sentimental Journey. It's a friendly, low-key fly-in; many of the visitors camp out on the broad meadow that serves as parking next to the grass runway. The old Piper plant is still there, silent except for a small but very nice museum - all modern Piper airplanes are now made in Vero Beach, Florida.

Alan and I parked next to another Tri-Pacer; the field was about half-empty, as this was the last day. Some of the attendees fly in from as far away as Texas and California; an awesome commitment, as the old Cubs only fly at about 75 m.p.h.! Vaulting over the Rockies must be a feat with 65 horsepower, too. We walked up and down the rows of antique planes, had a carnival-food lunch, and toured the museum (making a point, of course, to make a fuss over the museum cat.)

Another hour's flight in the summer haze and we were home. I haven't totaled up the time yet, but I'm sure it was close to six hours in the air! Quite a fun weekend, for a weekend flier.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Philly Flickr Meetup

Feeling a little burnt out from work and other commitments, I indulged in a little mid-week getaway last night. I flew down to Philadelphia, figuring to drop off some CAP paperwork but mainly to meet some of the local Flickr users, who were having a photo meetup. I posted a message begging a ride from the airport, and Gregory kindly offered to pick me up at the Northeast Philadelphia airport, not far from his home.

The last thunderstorm
Originally uploaded by AviatorDave.
The weather was cloudy and warm through the day, with some thunderstorms wandering through the area; but all the forecasts called for clearing, as a block of cool air moved south across the area. Scranton was already clear when I left, but near Allentown I caught up to the last big storm cell. The air traffic controller warned me that he had heavy rain and lightning ahead, but I could see it all clearly; I was able to avoid it by detouring a few miles to the west.

When I met Gregory, I offered to show him the plane, and take him for a ride around town; a ride for a ride, only seemed fair! As we strapped in and took off, the storm I had bypassed had caught up to me, but it was passing just off the eastern edge of the airport - we took off into some heavy rain, but as we turned west towards Brandywine the skies cleared. We loitered north of town, waiting for the clouds to part a little and let the last of the day's light in on downtown Philly. Gregory got some shots of downtown, and we circled over his neighborhood before landing back at PNE.

Seuss purchases ice cream
Originally uploaded by AviatorDave.
Soon we were downtown, catching up to the rest of the group, who had just started walking near the waterfront. (It wasn't hard to identify the knot of people wandering ahead, what with the telltale flashes!) I knew a few of them from their online albums; mostly amateur photogs, although Gregory is a pro, and several of us are designers. All very friendly and fun, and nice enough to let the out-of-town kid tag along. We all walked south, into a part of old Philly that I hadn't been to in decades - the Italian Market, the oldest and largest working outdoor market in the United States. The markets were closed, but the aged storefronts and their neon signs offered interest for photos. (And lingering odors of the day's wares, more pleasant than otherwise.)

Neon pig
Originally uploaded by AviatorDave.
I took in the sights, and tried to photograph them, but my Panasonic has always been weak in low-light situations. I got a few interesting shots, and filed away a few places that I'd like to go back to with Gail when she gets back. Mostly I enjoyed chatting and strolling with the new company; it was a pleasant evening to unwind a bit.

When the group broke up, Gregory drove me back to the airport, and I took off into a smooth night sky. The full moonlight was brilliant, bright enough for me to see pale blue forests below, and the Tri-Pacer droned along rock-steady. I listened as a bizjet over Allentown got some disappointing news; there was some system-wide delay in air traffic, and they were asked to hold for an hour before going on into New York airspace! Luckily, I was the only one heading into rural Pennsylvania, and I chugged by underneath as they circled above. (Probably sipping drinks in their comfortable leather chairs... but hey, I got home first!)

Thursday, June 16, 2005


Originally uploaded by MonaPenny.
I finally got a new PC, and now my mother has some new technology too. Her WebTV unit failed, and it was already replaced once under warranty. So we bought a new one, the next-generation receiver for WebTV (Now MSNTV).

The new unit is much nicer; it can utilize broadband connections, and has USB ports for digital cameras and other accessories. And, it can view movie clips and has much better audio. It seems to display more clearly too - you can see in this photo that she's beating me by over 100 points in our Scrabble game!

When I set up Mom's bookmarks, I noticed that Gail's page was easier to read through this system, with her posts galleyed on the right. So I've changed my template too - since Mom represents a large segment of my readership!

(Hi, Mom...)

Sunday, June 12, 2005

A Flighty Bunch

Playing hooky
Originally uploaded by AviatorDave.
Well, we tried to have our monthly meeting, really we did; but the skies were clear, and the breeze had died down to nothing, and the planes were all out on the ramp... our planes, y'know, with the keys in them, ready to go, beckoning... and it really is better for the planes to be flown, you know, they need that, or Very Important Parts inside the engine will corrode...

Yeah, we all took off like a flock of startled starlings. This evening the Cherry Ridge Pilots Association was supposed to have had our monthly meeting, and even planned a buffet dinner an hour before at the Airport Café. But like my mother and I, many of the guys (and one gal) were making the best of the weather, which only cleared up last night after four days of muggy heat and rain. We landed and parked at the café, but only a handful of people actually showed up - so we had a nice meal, and chatted with a few of the gang, and as a group decided that any business we had to discuss could wait until the next picnic. I spent a few minutes taking photos of the traffic coming and going, and then Mom and I climbed back into 02P.

Summer mode
Originally uploaded by AviatorDave.
It was great to get into the skies again; as I've mentioned, my plane was laid up for its inspection since the last week of May. We didn't go very far, just up a few thousand feet to the cooler air, and then over Lake Wallenpaupack to chase speedboats. I finally was able to satisfy myself that the plane was all in order, and it is; running cool and strong, climbing like a homesick angel. (Well, a homesick angel in no particular hurry... it is still a Tri-Pacer.)

These are the Pros and Cons of... Scrounging

Life support
Originally uploaded by AviatorDave.
Last week I took in a stray computer; a little HP Pavilion that one of my co-workers brought in. His daughter got a new machine, and was looking to dispose of her old one. I didn't need it for the office, but I figured it would make a worthwhile upgrade to my home PC; like the shoemaker's kids, I "go barefoot" at home technology-wise. The PC it was was replacing dates from 1997 - the Late Jurassic, in computer history.

So I happily dismantled the HP, and rebuilt it with the best of what I could find in my scrapyard. I filled the memory banks with castoff RAM, added my old HP CD-writer and four extra USB ports; and, though it irked me, I had to part with $14.00 for a network card. I formatted the hard drive and installed Windows XP Pro. Then I spent the next few days installing all of my favorite software, and transferring my old files to the new machine. I was able to import my email archives too, which are complete back to November of 1996!

This was a major step up. Even though obsolescent, the 600 Mhz Pavilion was far faster than my relic Gateway - and at last I could run the latest software, access my digital camera, and use the HP printer that Gail and I bought.

So it was with some chagrin, then, that I switched on Saturday morning and was greeted with an audible pop and a puff of smoke from the back of the new machine. Damn.

The power supply - I hoped. I hadn't switched on the PC, just the surge protector. I dismantled the machine and, sure enough, the power supply was scorched; it was also filled with dust. Apparently it had been living in a dusty environment - I cleaned the motherboard when I rebuilt it, but I didn't think to look inside the subassembly of the power supply.

So after a sweaty day of home repairs at my Aunt's house (and a final Greek meal at the church - mmmm!) I went by the scrapyard again to look through the carcasses for a compatible power supply. I couldn't find one that would fit the microtower case, but I took home a larger unit with a built-in cooling fan. With this unit spliced in externally, I was relieved to see that the HP booted up normally; so I went online to look for a proper replacement. Apparently the original part is only a 100 watt unit, and notorious for failing. I found a 240W replacement for $24.00. So now I'm in for $38.00, but I'm still pleased with my windfall.

Didn't I just write a long post about fixing things? Ah, yes - my weekly irony supplement.

Friday, June 10, 2005

It's that time again!

It's that time again!
Originally uploaded by AviatorDave.
As the flyer says, it's time for one of our area's richest (*burp*) traditions - the Greek Food Festival! Last night I had to go to the airport to pick up my plane, but tonight my stomach took precedence and I drove straight from work to the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church on Washington Avenue. I got there early enough to avoid the line that forms - out the basement door and down the street - for dinner; it's a popular event!

Greek feast
Originally uploaded by AviatorDave.
It's the big community event for the church; they convert the whole basement into an assembly line, and raise tents outside with long tables to accommodate the diners. Over the years, the crowds have grown so large that you can order takeout in a separate line - they even use a side basement window to process phone orders, so you can duck down low and get your food drive-thru style!

More dessert... mmm!
Originally uploaded by AviatorDave.
All of the meals are prepared by the parishioners, real church-basement cooking, and it's all delicious. Tonight I had my favorite, Pastichio, and it was the best I've ever had - the top layer was cooked to perfection and just creamy underneath, mmmm! I picked up a Greek salad with feta and potatoes, and selected my favorite dessert, Galaktobouriko; custard, wrapped in phyllo, then baked and drizzled with syrup. Oh, baby...

My heart goes out to the church people for all their hard work, especially in today's heat. That little church basement was like one big oven today - no air conditioning, just big fans at the doors to try and move some air through. But they were all cheerful and welcomed everyone, and the bouzouki music played, and everyone left stuffed to the gunwales! Hopa!

Pastichio - Macaroni and seasoned beef, topped with bechamel sauce then baked.

Spanakopita - Spinach, feta and other cheeses and spices baked between layers of phyllo.

Moussaka - Layers of fresh eggplant, potato and ground beef topped with bechamel sauce then baked.

Dolmades - Ground beef and rice wrapped in a grape leaf and simmered in a special broth.

Baklava! - The most famous Greek dessert, layers of flaky phyllo and chopped walnuts and spices, laced with syrup and baked.


Originally uploaded by AviatorDave.
Gail had me blushing a bit recently, when she wrote about my handyman skills. I do love to tinker, and work with my hands. (Being born in a pre-internet, pre-PlayStation era, I guess I qualify as a "primitive tool-user". Gail is an Anthro geek, she would know. *hee*)

For as long as I can remember, I've been taking things apart, and for nearly all of that time putting them back together. As a kid I built model airplanes; not just the plastic glue-together kind, but the balsa wood skeletons that came out of the box as tiny sticks. It took a long time to learn, but as an only kid I had plenty of time, and I learned patience and developed my skills. Too, growing up with no father around, I managed to develop some facility with household repairs.

I've lived in a few houses over the years, and own my second old house, and it's good to know how to look after things if you don't want to pay professionals for every clogged toilet or blown fuse. And I've accumulated a... well, extensive collection of tools. Gail once asked me if I had a soldering iron, and I almost burst out laughing - I have three, at least, as well as three torches for electrical and pipe soldering.

I have three hand sanders and a disc/drum sander. I have three drills and a jigsaw and a scroll saw, and probably a dozen hand saws. I have blind pipe wrenches and jack planes and prick awls and ball-peen hammers - and an adze, which word has scored for me several times in Scrabble. I have tools that do many things, and tools that do one arcane thing, and tools that I've forgotten what they do. I love tools.

I love the work, too. I tried to explain to Gail that it doesn't feel like "work" to me to fix something; I enjoy the little challenges involved in sorting out a mechanical problem and putting it right. (Not that it's all sunshine - sometimes, you're upside down on the bathroom floor and water is spraying everywhere because the furshlugginer valve broke off in your hand...) But it feels good to be able to do things like this... useful, I guess. When my poor old cat hurt his back, and couldn't jump up on the bed anymore, I took a few pallets home from work and used the lumber to make a set of steps for him. Nothing fancy, but for a few years he was able to get up and down without hurting himself.

Jenny plans
Originally uploaded by AviatorDave.

The model airplane thing hasn't gone away, either; I still enjoy building and flying them, although most of my free time goes to the C.A.P. these days. My most ambitious project was a scale model I built back in 1997, of a Curtiss "Jenny" biplane of the 1920s; I designed it, drew my own plans and built it from scratch. It flew well (still does) and when I took it to the model meet at Old Rhinebeck, quite a few guys asked me about the plans. One of them was the editor of Flying Models magazine, and he convinced me to write a construction article. I cleaned up the plans and rendered them on my computer, and wrote the piece; I ended up getting eight pages of color, and the cover of the magazine. They paid me for the article, and modelers can still buy my plans from Carstens Publications. (Plan #CD-024)

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Annual inspection

My plane came out of the shop today; it's been there for over two weeks, getting the annual inspection required by the FAA (and a jolly good idea, anyway!) I looked it over for almost an hour myself - checking every hose, belt, wire and linkage carefully, just to satisfy myself that all is in order. I would have taken it up right away for a test flight, but a thunderstorm had just passed and another was approaching.

Cat and logs
Originally uploaded by AviatorDave.
An aircraft "annual" is orders of magnitude more involved than what you might have done on a car, with good reason. For starters, there are some fundamental legal matters unique to aircraft maintenance; first, that many of the systems on an airplane may only be worked on by FAA-certified mechanics; and second, that the mechanic who does the work must detail the work in writing, and sign his/her name to the work. Flying airplanes and working on them, then, are two of the last vestiges of personal responsibility in the American legal system.

TML Aircraft is the outfit that did my inspection this year. Mike Lovelace, the proprietor and head mechanic, impressed me with his presentations to the Cherry Ridge Pilots Association and with his thorough knowledge of the regs; and, he has moved his business into a new hangar right at the airport, so I didn't have to ferry the plane anywhere. Since this was his first time doing an annual on my plane, almost a third of his time was spent working not on the aircraft, but on the paperwork.

When I bought this 51-year old plane a few years ago, I received a stack of books and papers with it - compact logbooks that record every bit of maintenance and every inspection, starting with the factory test flight in 1954. They make for a fun read, if you're interested in your machine's history, and why wouldn't you be? 02P has had an interesting and eventful past. Highlights detailed in the logs include two complete rebuilds, one after the plane was flipped over on landing in the 1960s, one for restoration in 1992. For a few years in the 1980s, she carried an outlandish electric sign under her belly, and was used for scrolling advertising messages over local sporting events. Only 200 hours ago the engine was completely overhauled with a new crankshaft and new chrome steel cylinders, which was part of my incentive to buy this particular plane.

Mike went through these logbooks in great detail, looking for the more serious matters of compliance with Federal law. There are two varieties of legal items that must be accounted for: ADs and 337s. ADs, Airworthiness Directives, address safety issues that are specific to each type of airplane, and carry the force of law; if they are not complied with, the aircraft is illegal to fly. An FAA Form 337 details any change made to an aircraft that alters it from the design as it was certified; any such modifications must be inspected and approved. These ADs can be expensive, depending on the model of plane; one of the most serious for the Tri-Pacer fleet over the years involved the lift struts, the two steel poles that support each wing (and clutter many of Gail's photos.) The original struts could corrode on the inside, weakening them invisibly. 02P has been refitted with sealed, gas-filled struts as well as new attachment hardware of a thicker size and higher-grade steel.

The strut AD, and 51 years' worth of other improvements to 1502P are now listed on four computer-printed pages, in the fancy zippered binder that TML provided me with. Mike's computer system will provide reminders of when recurring inspections are due, and make next year's checkup easier.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

The Wide World of Cats

The elegant Ebi
Originally uploaded by gailontheweb.

The somewhat less elegant Hugh
Originally uploaded by AviatorDave.
Cats are elegant, graceful, and mysterious. I think mine is broken.

Or perhaps they take after their human counterparts. Ebi belongs to Gail's friend Eliza, who is very elegant and stylish herself, and lives in an immaculate modern apartment in Vancouver.

Hugh belongs to me.

SiestaFat cat nappingcontentsleepyvilleblisslet sleeping cats lie

Sunday, June 05, 2005

WWII Weekend

Originally uploaded by AviatorDave.
The meteorological curse of the last two years was lifted - just barely - for the annual WWII Weekend airshow and reenactment in Reading, Pennsylvania. It did rain Friday night, wetting things down a bit for the intrepid Civil Air Patrollers who camped out; but Saturday stayed dry, with a broken overcast that probably saved things from going right into heat-and-sunburn mode.

The show is one of the largest surviving airshows in eastern PA, a major event for the quiet new airport and the resident Mid-Atlantic Air Museum. (Gail and I visited the museum a few months ago, when it was cooler and all-but-deserted save for a few Amish aviation enthusiasts.) In addition to the airshow, hundreds of people from the WWII reenactment community converge to put on a full show; combat reenactments, authentic military camps and exhibits, and best of all - a real 1940s-style swing band in the main hangar Friday and Saturday night.




M*A*S*H, anyone?
I drove down (oh, the ignominy) as my plane is still in pieces on the hangar floor at TML, getting its annual inspection. But I wanted to see the event, and check in on my crew - the C.A.P. provides major support for the activity, and some of my squadron officers and cadets were there. I arrived just as a vintage Grumman "Avenger" torpedo bomber rumbled overhead, and checked in at C.A.P. H.Q.

The show was great, machine guns popping away as vintage Japanese aircraft made bombing runs; then the Allies took the skies, in displays by a British "Hurricane" fighter, hero of the Battle of Britain, and a Russian Yak-9. Eventually all of the planes were put through their paces, and I walked around snapping photos - and admiring the time, effort and money that people put into their hobbies. Most, but not all, of the larger antique planes are maintained and flown by museums; but many of the smaller craft, and the old jeeps and trucks and halftracks, are kept running by private owners.

Besides having fun, they all work to preserve the history of that era, and it does make a strong impression to see it all live; full-color, realtime, sights, smells and sounds. But I couldn't help but remember that it is a war that's being recreated, and of course the one element missing is the blood. I quietly reminded a few of the kids that these weren't toys or sportscars, but military hardware, built for a grim purpose in a grim age.

But I got caught up in the day too, and enjoyed myself. I met one of the original Tuskeegee Airmen, and looked over a Fairchild 24 flown by the Civil Air Patrol during the war; when the search missions were not for lost civilians, but German submarines lurking off the Jersey Shore. And I was happy to see the cadets having fun, learning how to jitterbug for the hangar dance - while greyhaired soldiers and sailors swapped stories, and the U.S.O. girls adjusted the lines on their stockings.

Soldier Show

Solo with camo
Originally uploaded by AviatorDave.
Friday afternoon I went out to the Tobyhanna Army Depot, where my squadron headquarters are located. I only knew that there was some kind of public function, and we were invited to put out a table and take the opportunity to interact with the base personnel and the community.

I found out that the event was a performance by Army Entertainment; the 2005 Soldier Show. The cast were all talented amateurs - young men and women from the U.S. Army, from various posts and duties, who perform in this touring show on behalf of the Army's Family Support Center. The show runs 90 minutes, and features all sorts of musical acts; a rock band, solo vocals, hip-hop, and dance numbers.

It was good. Great, even. I forgot about distributing our flyers and enjoyed the show - there were some incredible singers! The rock band opened up the show with a few current songs (hey, according to the program, the Army has a Battle of the Bands!) Other numbers featured some Ray Charles songs, popular again since last year's hit movie, and other soul and pop numbers. I posted a set of photos here.

The theme of the show - despite the glurgy title, "Operation America Cares" - was "A Package From Home", and it wasn't overdone. There was very little flag-waving or gratuitous sentiment; just the occasional reminder that young soldiers stationed overseas can be very isolated from their homes and families, their 'real' lives.

After the show, the performers came out to the main doors and greeted all in attendance, which was a crowd of at least 500. Looking over the program, I read about their backgrounds and military specialties. All the performers have "day jobs", other skills and duties; and are stationed all over the world. They rehearse and perform in this show as TDY (temporary duty) for only six months at a time, traveling to U.S. bases all over Alaska, Korea, Japan and the continental U.S.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

MTCMH, Chapter IV - My Buoyant Birthday

Monday, May 30th - and all over the world, in the impossibly tiny silicon switches and magnetic media where my personal data are stored and duplicated many times over, electrons flow and notch my age from 37 (100101) to 38 (100110). I don't feel any older, still a kid inside; and thanks to clean living, I estimate that my outside can still easily pass for 37 1/2.

Gail had dropped only a few mysterious clues about her birthday surprise; only that I would need a hat and sunscreen, as I would be outdoors. We left Socar's and made our way to Beach Avenue, Gail's old neighbourhood, and continued on down to catch the Aquabus across False Creek to Granville Island. Here we checked in for the surprise - Gail rented a motorboat, for us to spend the afternoon on the waters around Vancouver! My eyes lit up at the idea, I love the water and hadn't gone boating in quite a long time.

We first had a great brunch of Indian food at the lively Public Market on the island, which features a vast selection of fresh food and booths for local artists to sell their wares; and Gail stopped to buy a gift for my mother - which I won't describe, as I haven't given it to her yet!

Originally uploaded by AviatorDave.
We picked up some snacks and drinks to take out with us, as we planned on staying out a long time; Gail picked healthy fruits for us, while I selected some empty sugar calories (hey, it's my birthday!) and we went back to the docks. The rental guy suggested that we take a larger 17-foot boat, since we planned a longer excursion, and gave us a good rate on a newer motorboat; a really nice one, generations improved over the old outboards I had driven in the past. We lowered the top for optimum photography (and wind-in-the-face fun!) and purred out into False Creek.

The weather was overcast, but not as hot as it had been, and we made our way along the skyline south of Vancouver and out into English Bay. Once clear of the marker buoys, I pushed the throttle over and the outboard roared - quietly! This was definitely a very civilized new boat. But it was quick, and came up on the step smoothly, and handled like a waterborne sportscar. We clipped along to the north, making a wide circle around Stanley Park, and turned into Burrard Inlet. Here there were higher waves, from currents in the channel and the wakes of the huge cargo ships that ply the waters here. I was having a ball - I'm used to boating on Pennsylvania lakes, but here there was so much to boggle at - the huge ships, the bridges soaring over the channel, the bright Vancouver skyline and beautiful Canada Place, where the giant cruise ships depart.

Originally uploaded by AviatorDave.
We continued on to the east, noting the warnings on the map on the boat; our plan was to travel all the way up to the end of Indian Arm (here's a downloadable map) past where Gail had been before. We did just that, slowing the boat at times to take pictures, and stopping it when we saw seals in the water - there were quite a few, but they are very boat-shy. I managed to catch a few noses above water with my zoom lens, and also some of the most beautiful scenery anywhere. The low clouds and mist gave a quiet beauty and sense of scale to the soaring mountains on either side of the broad waterway; a few of my photos are here.

Cargo ship
Originally uploaded by AviatorDave.
Coming back, we worked our way down the western side of the Arm, and stopped in Deep Cove to take on some more fuel. As we came back into the Vancouver area, the sun started to peek through, and we got some wild, pounding wake-jumps from a departing freighter. Ah, to be skimming over the water in a sleek boat, the wind in my hair, a beautiful woman at my side - I told Gail, it lacked only the pursuing boats of the Chinese Mafia, shooting at us with submachine guns, and it could have been a James Bond film! Now that's a birthday.

Back on land, we collected our things and packed the two big suitcases with some of Gail's things for me to take home. We saved this night for just the two of us, and Gail had booked us a room in the historic Sylvia Hotel. Thanks to her, it was the best birthday I've had in a long, long time.

Update: Gail tells her story of the day, with much photographic enhancement, here.

MTCMH, Chapter III - Heat, Drink and be Merry

Saturday morning I was apparently still on Eastern Standard Time, and woke up early. I let Gail and Socar sleep in and went for a long walk around the area in the morning cool, mainly up and down Davie and Granville streets. Eventually I began to look for a shoe shop, when my new sandals began chafing my feet, but couldn't find one and came back for a bagel and coffee at a shop near her building. Later in the day Gail and I met her friend Eliza for dim sum at Kirin, a posh Chinese restaurant in City Square - which is a foursome of brick heritage buildings, joined into a beautiful enclosed space with modern glass roof. Eliza helped us order, and all of the food was amazing (although we shied away from some of the menu items - one rare type of soup was $288.00, and another was tagged at $600.00!) Gail and I continued our unplanned crusade against the wily squid; more great calamari, mmm!

After I had my sandals adjusted by a friendly cobbler, we made our way back downtown, stopping for a few touristy photos of me by City Hall, and some minor shopping. Gail's dad was out at a picnic, so we passed the time in the city the best way - more eating! Last time I was here, we missed out on tapas and sangria at La Bodega, one of Gail's favorite haunts; so we trotted over to correct the situation. The cool, fruity sangria hit the spot, and everything was delicious, including - you guessed it - the calamari! Whee! Greek, Japanese and now Spanish calamari, within 24 hours! Later, back at Gail's father's, we dried off from the daytime heat and spent the night.

Supervising the cake-cutting
Originally uploaded by gailontheweb.
Sunday was the big Allan-and-David Birthday Bash; Gail's older brother and I share a birthday, May 30th - it was his 34th and my 38th. Gail, her father and I did some food shopping in the morning and went over to Allan and Cheryl's new place, where I also got to meet Gail's younger brother Alvin. We sat down for a lively meal, all of us and the five Ms, and then I got to spend some quality time with the kids out by their new swingset. When my energy reserves began to run low, we all went back inside for cake and coffee, and the exchanging of gifts and cards.

gailontheweb: Joint Birthday Bash

Since we had filled up at the birthday party, we pushed dinner back an hour or so, and made plans to meet with Gail's cousin Tosca and her husband Mike. They picked us up and we drove to the Thai House restaurant, where we appetized on spring rolls (natch) while waiting for the rest of our party, Gail's friends Erich and Caroline. (Gail took a raft of great photos at their wedding last year, so I felt as though I'd already met them!) When they arrived, the six of us decided that we would all order different entrees and appetizers, and share everything in one big Thai smorgasbord, to mix cultural references. And we did, and it was all delicious - including the calamari! Hee! That made four times - Gail and I were devouring squid like a medium-size thresher shark!

MTCMH, Chapter II - Rats!

Rat A whiskering
Originally uploaded by gailontheweb.

Rat B's big ol' nose
Originally uploaded by gailontheweb.
Friday and Sunday nights we crashed with Socar at her apartment. Her building manager seems to be far behind on the maintenance, so while I was there over the next few days I endeavoured to repay her hospitality by fixing a few things - namely a very leaky toilet, and some minor computer repair.

I also enjoyed meeting Rat A and Rat B, her whiskery little flatmates. While we were all sweating out the heat wave, I would open their cage door and let them explore my hand in their cautious way; eventually, Rat A got bold enough to walk all the way out onto my lap or hand. If I stood very still for a long time - which, thanks to public schooling, comes easily to me - they would walk into my hand, sniff my fingers, and nibble on them a bit. (They were mostly curious to see whether I would feed them, of course!) On Monday I finally gave them a whole strawberry, which they had a merry time swiping back and forth from one another.

When not creating haunting artwork, or writing in her brilliantly witty journal, Socar indulges in her not-so-secret habit: video games. I watched her proficiency with interest, and she introduced me to a quirky but addictive game, Katamari Damacy. It's an odd mix of obviously 3d-rendered graphics, harmless fun, and rollicking Japanese translations; plus an infectious soundtrack that rolls up an assortment of different musical styles into - well, a big ball. Socar described it, about as well as one can, here.

My Terrific Canadian Mini-Holiday, Chapter I

I had an amazing long weekend in Vancouver with Gail; too busy to write about it as it happened, of course, and we were rattling from place to place anyway. I already mentioned my good fortune on my flight out on Thursday; that streak of luck went on to give us four rain-free days! Not a drop until Tuesday morning, when we headed to the airport for my flight home. On arriving back in the Land of Free (after my interrogation and partial strip-search) I found that it had been raining rather a lot here.

Friday I arrived in the wee hours of the morning, and was reunited with my baggage and with my cherished fiancee; Gail and her dad picked me up at the airport, and we went back to his place for a few hours' sleep. Later that morning Cheryl came by to drop off the three older Ems, and we spent the next few hours with them while the twins went for a checkup. Gail, her father and I walked with Melissa, Michael and Madeleine to a nearby mall for a meal. While we were there, I bought a pair of shorts and some sandals; I hadn't brought enough cool clothes, and the weather was unusually hot - in the upper twenties, even over 30 for the next few days. (Okay, for my countryfolk, that's 80 to 90 degrees! I heard someone on a bus mention "32 degree weather" and yes, I thought of skiing...)

Bubbles with Auntie Gail
Originally uploaded by Allan & Cheryl.
Back from the mall, we broke out one of the gifts I had brought for the kids; a big bucket of assorted bubble wands and pipes, and lots of bubble soap! Gail and I went out on the balcony and blew bubbles with the trio for a while, then came inside to see some photos from Mr. Edwin's recent trip from the Philippines, and watch some flying video that I had brought.

Friday evening we packed up our kits and took the Skytrain into Vancouver for a birthday dinner with George, his wife Lana and a circle of their friends. George ( is one of our online friends, a pilot for Air Canada, and quintessentially Greek! We took public transportation to join everyone at "The Mad Greek" restaurant in Richmond, BC, just south of Vancouver; George is a regular there, and gave us excellent advice on the menu (great roast lamb, far above the ordinary!) and treated everyone to appetizers and wine. It was here that I began my reign of terror over the local squid population, snacking on some delicious calamari. Later, as the food and wine worked their wonders, George got up and gave some lessons in Greek dancing - hopa! Gail and I stayed and chatted with George and Lana until the restaurant was closing, and they generously drove us all the way back to town - they, too, are far above the ordinary.