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.