Monday, October 29, 2007

Say It Ain't So, Joe

Seems like I am home less and less these days.

Contrary to popular belief, the life of an airline pilot is not as glamorous as it once was. I frequently spend fours days out of seven living out of a suitcase, shuttling between one airport hotel to another.

I'm not complaining, mind you, just stating a fact.

The vaunted contracts of the pre-9/11 industry are a thing of the past. Though the airlines are beginning to pull out of their long slump, (most are even hiring, after years of layoffs), it will be a long time before wages and working conditions approach pre-9/11 levels again -if ever.

As I was spending some quality time with my sons the other night watching Boston wrap up the fourth game of the World Series, I was reminded of an earlier Series. The legacy of that Series impacts Major League Baseball (and other sports) to this day.

Does anyone remember the movie Eight Men Out?

Starring John Cusack, Charlie Sheen, D.B. Sweeney, David Srathairn, (recently starring in Good Night, and Good Luck), and a near All-Star cast of others, it told the story of the 1919 Chicago White Sox scandal.

Next year will be the 20th anniversary of its release.

If you haven't seen it, The Flying Curmudgeon highly recommends renting it, or it may be purchased through

As the astute reader of The Flying Curmudgeon surely knows, in collusion with local mobsters and gamblers, the White Sox agreed to "throw" the Series, in an effort to get back at their penny-pinching owner Charles Comiskey (Clifton James).

As it turned out, for all their trouble, most of the conspirators wound up getting stiffed by their mob co-conspirators.

Imagine that. No honor amongst thieves.

With the exception of Buck Weaver (Cusack) and "Shoeless Joe" Jackson, (Sweeney), (if Weaver and Jacksons' testimony is to be believed), the entire team decided to put personal gain ahead of the integrity of the sport.

According to Weaver and Jackson, at the last minute they decided to break with the scheme, and played the rest of the Series straight, nearly coming back from a 3-1 deficit, in spite of their teammates' efforts to the contrary.

Though they were found Not Guilty at trial, the commissioner of Baseball at the time, Judge Kennesaw Mountain Landis, (don't you just LOVE that name?) banned the entire team from the sport for life, including Weaver and Jackson.

For the rest of HIS life, Buck Weaver tried to clear his name.

This case set the legal precedent that, to this day, keeps Pete Rose out of the Hall of Fame.

Okay, so what? Why is The Flying Curmudgeon bringing this up now?

Glad you asked that question.

Over the last several years, there have been numerous incidents involving professional athletes representing a variety of sports: the Michael Vick dog-fighting scandal from this summer, the Ray Lewis incident a few years back, the steroid scandal involving Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi and others, the (fill-in-the-blank-with-an-NFL-football-player's name) felony case of assault/battery from the last ten years or so, the Kobe Bryant affair.

The Flying Curmudgeon has had a number of these individuals on his aircraft over the years.

Lewis is not nearly as big in real life as he appears on television. Old school linebackers were MONSTERS.

Remember Ray Nietzchke, Jack Lambert, Dick Butkus? They all seemed huge to TFC when he was a kid.

Without pads on, Lewis seems kind of ordinary, though admittedly, he has blazing speed.

Vick has a little brother named Marcus that could be his twin - in appearance, as well as in the common sense department.

After a night in Atlanta of post-Super Bowl partying a few years back, two men lay dead from knife wounds in the street outside a Buckhead nightclub. Ray Lewis and two of his "homies" from Miami, Joseph Sweeting and Reginald Oakley, were implicated in the deaths.

After much back and forth between the defense and the prosecution, Lewis was allowed to plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge of obstruction of justice.

My how times have changed.

Unlike the precedent set by Judge Landis, not only did Paul Tagliabue, NFL Commissioner at the time let Lewis return to football, the following year Lewis helped his team, the Baltimore Ravens, go on to win the Super Bowl and was named Most Valuable Player.

Though Lewis testified he had seen his friends brandishing knives the day before, and that he saw Oakley kicking one of the victims while someone else held him down, even Oakley and Sweeting were eventually found Not Guilty.

Amazing. Two people lay dead and nobody went to jail.

Kind of reminiscent of another double murder involving a former professional football player, don't you think?

Now, TFC is not suggesting Lewis struck the blows that killed those poor men, one Jacinth Baker and Richard Lollar. However, he was certainly an accessory after the fact. From all reports, he encouraged a number of witnesses not to cooperate with authorities.

Without the testimony of eyewitnesses, along with some prosecutorial missteps, the jury was unable to find any of the defendants culpable for the killings.

Lewis' case is merely one of the more serious examples of sports figures involved in unseemly circumstances in recent years.

The list goes on and on. Fortunately, there are exceptions to this sad litany.

For every Ray Lewis, there is an Emmit Smith. For every Jason Giambi, there is a Derek Jeter.

The Flying Curmudgeon would say most professional athletes try to live up to their responsibilities as role models. Whether they want to be or not, (Charles Barkley), when you are paid millions of dollars a year to play a game, you ARE a role model.

In addition to players, like Smith and Jeter, there have been some notables on the sidelines and in dugouts, as well.

Tom Landry, in his trademark fedora, for a generation defined the word "gentleman" as the head coach of Dallas. Dick Vermeil always struck TFC as being a class act. Tony Dungee is a tremendous human being.

And now, after 12 years and 4 World Series titles, Joe Torre is out as Yankees manager. Few men in baseball, either on or off the field, have defined class like Joe Torre.

In 1971, while playing for St. Louis, Torre won the Batting Title and was named the National League's Most Valuable Player.

TFC can still remember his older brother's picture of Torre hanging on his bedroom wall.

A versatile player, during his career Torre wound up playing more than 500 games - as a catcher, at first base, and at third.

In 1977, he retired as a player and became manager of the New York Mets, but was unable to find much success at Shea, and the Amazin's weren't so amazing, finishing last place in his first three seasons.

Finding more success in Atlanta, he led the Braves to a division title in his first season as their manager in 1982. The good times in Hotlanta didn't last, however. After being fired, Torre went back to his beloved St. Louis, replacing Whitey Herzog in 1990.

After posting three winning seasons, the next two were disappointing and he was let go in '95.

The following year would be Torre's year.

In 1996, he replaced Buck Showalter as Yankees manager and in his first season led the Bronx Bombers to a World Series championship, his first trip to the fall classic in his entire career.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Three straight World Series victories ('98-'00), seven straight division titles (through 2004), while juggling a roster of baseball's biggest names (and egos) and dealing with the mercurial George Steinbrenner.

There are few personalities that have made a more positive impact on baseball, and set a better example for our nation's youth, than Joseph Paul Torre.

From The Flying Curmudgeon, thanks for the memories, Joe.

Hopefully, he won't go too far away. You won't, will you Joe?

Say it ain't so.



Congratulations to the Boston Red Sox on their four-game sweep to win the 2007 World Series from The Flying Curmudgeon!


Sunday, October 28, 2007

Boston Harbor at Dusk from Logan Airport

Posted by Picasa

Quo, I Mean, Where The Heck is the Flying Curmudgeon Taking Us?

The Merriam-Webster's Dictionary definition of a curmudgeon is: "a crusty, ill-tempered and usually old man."

Now, The Flying Curmudgeon wouldn't necessarily call 45 old, and he likes to think that he is not, for the most part, ill-tempered.

However, TFC obviously does have some strong opinions on most things. Otherwise, he wouldn't be blogging under the nom de web of The Flying Curmudgeon.

TFC has been giving some thought to the direction of this blog, currently in it's infancy.

The Flying Curmudgeon's stated purpose in the original post was to provide a place for people to come and vent about their experiences with commercial air travel, and to add his perspective as a commercial airline captain.

This is, and hopefully will remain, TFC's primary focus.

However, as your humble correspondent, it occurred to The Flying Curmudgeon that in order to keep the discussion interesting and relevant, he will have to take the lead role.

Where do we go from here?

Does The Flying Curmudgeon ONLY deal with aviation and related issues, or does he jump, feet-first into the fray, and delve into whatever issues he deems important and worthy of discussion?

The answer is obvious.

TFC will focus on whatever topics he deems worthy of discussion, with a special emphasis on aviation-related matters, in keeping with the stated theme of this blog.

With so many important issues - The War on Terror, Globalization, Immigration, etc. - focusing strictly on the trials and tribulations of commercial air travel seemed a bit like fiddling while Rome burns.

Nothing occurs in a vacuum, especially commercial air travel in the Post-911 World.

Every time one steps into an airport or onboard a commercial aircraft, there are constant reminders of this. From the price of a ticket (with oil hovering around $90/barrel) to the indignities of going through airport security, there is no escaping the fact we live in an increasingly interconnected, complicated, and frequently dangerous world.

In his work, The Flying Curmudgeon comes into contact with a host of people - from all walks of life.

(Speaking of which, best of luck to you in your movie, Ms. Campbell. It was a pleasure meeting you. :) )

Meeting so many people, from the famous (occasionally infamous) to the not-so-famous, and being a student of history, The Flying Curmudgeon is compelled to add his voice to the debate.

One thing TFC has learned over the years is many people are, unfortunately, NOT students of history. Edmund Burke said: "Those who don't know history are destined to repeat it."

The state of history knowledge in this country is abysmal. Don't believe The Flying Curmudgeon? Just watch Leno or Hannity do their "Man-on-the-Street" interviews. The average American can't tell you who his or her congressman is, but they can tell you who is winning on American Idol.


In the public school system today, it seems it is not politically correct to teach kids about a bunch of dead white men.

How can we expect freedom and liberty to survive if average Americans don't know what it cost our forebears to bequeath them to us?

The Flying Curmudgeon will be an honest broker of information.

At all times, intellectual honesty will be the hallmark of this blog. Political correctness will have no place here.

As a retired military officer, TFC will pay special attention to The War on Terror and on the efforts of our men and women in uniform to defend our way of life.

With all this in mind, The Flying Curmudgeon has come up with a motto for this blog: Flying High and Shooting Straight.

This will be the basis for all discussions here at The Flying Curmudgeon.

TFC hopes you will join him for the ride.

Saddle up!


Wednesday, October 24, 2007

"Cell" Phones - What's in a Name?

Do you hate cell phones like The Flying Curmudgeon hates cell phones?

Oh sure, they are valuable tools. The Flying Curmudgeon has one hanging from his belt as he types this. TFC's job as an airline captain would be a lot more difficult without it.

Many times The Flying Curmudgeon has saved a trip back to the gate, and kept his passengers on schedule for their connecting flights, because TFC had access to a cell phone in the cockpit, and could contact his company's dispatch or maintenance departments.

(In case any readers are with the FAA, that is, with the parking brake set, of course, off the active taxiway.)

But think about it - how did we ever go to the grocery store before the advent of cell phones? Who did one talk to in the canned goods aisle in the days before the trusty cell phone?

Cell phones are bad enough.

Is there anything more obnoxious than the god-awful "BEEP" of a Nextel walkie-talkie, followed by some inane conversation along the lines of: "Oh, hi. Whatcha doin'? Oh, nothin', just standing next to the pole beans. D'ya need me to bring you anything?"

Just the sound of that "BEEP" makes The Flying Curmudgeon's skin crawl.

What could possibly be more annoying than the "BEEP" of a walkie-talkie next to the stewed tomatoes?

Try that same sound at 30,000 feet.

Yes, someday soon, you could be relaxing in Business Class after the captain has turned off the "Fasten Seat Belt" sign. You take a sip of your Bloody Mary, enjoying the tanginess of the spicy tomato when you hear it - that horrible, grotesque sound that splits the air like a clap of thunder. For a moment you are no longer in your seat, but have been transported - like Mr. Spock in an old episode of Star Trek - and you find yourself standing in the food section of your neighborhood Super Wal-Mart.


No, wait! This can't be! I'm not at Wal-Mart. I'm in an airplane hurtling along at .80 Mach relaxing in my spacious, Business Class seat, as the flight attendants ply me with adult beverages! I'm not at Wal-Mart. Surely there has been some mistake!

Sorry, Sir. No mistake. And please, don't call me Shirley.

(By the way, for those of you who haven't flown much lately, an FYI is called for here. Don't say STEWARDESS anymore, either. They HATE that.)

Welcome to the future of air travel.

Someday in the not-so-distant future, as soon as all the technological and regulatory kinks have been worked out, you could find yourself cruising along, mid-flight, while you are regaled with all the intimate details of your seatmate's latest rectal exam.

There is something about talking on a cell phone that causes people to lose all sense of propriety.

Like in a beer company's radio ad: "Talking about your brother-in-law's intestinal problem while at a dinner party - unacceptable. Talking about your brother-in-law's intestinal problem while at a dinner party, on a cell phone - perfectly acceptable."

It was bad enough when airlines began allowing passengers to use their cell phones after landing and taxiing clear of the runway.

Before this change, the inside of a commercial aircraft was one of the last places one could go in public and not be subjected to other people's intimate and not so intimate personal conversations. Now, as soon as the aircraft taxies clear of the runway, the flight attendant is on the P/A system with the following announcement: "(DING) Ladies and gentlemen, you are now free to use your cell phones, if they are accessible without removing your seat belt or your carry-on items from their storage locations."

With that, the phones come on and the peace and quiet is gone.

(Give The Flying Curmudgeon a screaming kid any day. No wait, scratch that. On second thought, never mind.)

By now, you might be asking yourself, "How does The Flying Curmudgeon know all this? I thought pilots were in the front of the plane?"

This is true, for the most part.

However, like many of his peers, your humble correspondent "commutes" to work, meaning The Flying Curmudgeon hitches a ride from an airport near his home to his base airport, where he begins his trips. In addition, TFC is frequently "dead-headed" by his company from his base to another airport to start a trip, which means TFC is also in the back while being dead-headed.

Anyway, someday soon, you might find yourself wishing you WERE at Wal-Mart, instead of trapped, like a prisoner in a CELL, while the person next to you whispers sweet nothings to their significant other for the better part of New York to Atlanta.

Maybe THAT's why they call them cell phones.

At least when you are at Wal-Mart and you hear that "BEEP," you can always push your cart into the next aisle.

Time to invest in a set of noise-cancelling headphones, perhaps?


Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Flying Curmudgeon

The following letter was sent in to the "Customer Service" (Disservice?) department of a major airline recently:

"Dear (Major Airline):

I am disgusted as I write this note to you about the miserable experience I am having sitting in seat 29E on one of your aircrafts. (sic)

As you may know, this seat is situated directly across from the lavatory, so close that I can reach out my left arm and touch the door.

All my senses are being tortured simultaneously. It's difficult to say what the worst part about sitting in 29E really is? (sic)

Is it the stentch (sic) of the sanitation fluid that is blown all over my body every 60 seconds when the door opens? Is it the whooosh (sic) of the constant flushing? Or, is it the passengers (sic) asses that seem to fit into my personal space like a pornographic jig-saw puzzel? (sic)

I constructed a stink-shield by shoving one end of a blanket into the overhead compartment - while effective in blocking at least some of the smell, and offering a small bit of privacy, the ass-on-my-body factor has increased, as without my evil glare, passengers feel free to lean up against what they think is some kind of blanketed wall.

The next ass that touches my shoulder will be the last!

I am picturing a board room. (sic) full of executives giving props to the young promising engineer that figured out how to squeeze an additional row of seats onto this plane by putting them next to the lav.

(In this section, the harrassed passenger scrawled a cartoon picture of what his seat looked like next to the lav, complete with a depiction of fumes rising off the lav.)

I would like to flush his head in the toilet that I am close enough to touch (and taste) from my seat.

Putting a seat here was a very bad idea. I just heard a man groan in there! This sucks!

(Here, the passenger put a cartoon picture of himself seated in seat 29E, with another passenger's rear end right in his face with the words: "Depiction of man's butt in my face.")

Worse yet, (sic) is I've paid over $400.00 for the honor of sitting in this seat!

Does your company give refunds? I'd like to go back where I came from and start over. Seat 29E could only be worse if it was located inside the bathroom.

I wonder if my clothing will retain the sanitizing odor...what about my hair! (sic)

I feel like I am bathing in a toilet bowl of blue liquid, and there is no man in a little boat to save me. I am filled with a deep hatred for your plane designer and a general dis-ease that may last for hours.

We are finally descending, and soon I will be able to tear down the stink-shield, but the scars will remain.

I suggest that you initiate immediate removal of this seat from all of your crafts. (sic) Just remove it, and leave the smouldering brown hole empty, a good place for sturdy/non-absorbing luggage maybe, but not human cargo."

Can you relate to this poor passenger's plight?

"Come fly the friendly skies."

"We love to fly and it shows."

"Coffee, tea or me?"

Where did THOSE days go?

What ever happened to Juan Trippe and the China Clipper?

In this day and age of poor service, overcrowded terminals and aircraft, the Golden Age of Commercial Aviation seems like a long time ago, doesn't it?

Lord knows, commercial air travel is not what it used to be.

With TSA and long security lines in the post-9/11 world, overworked and underpaid airline employees, and the increasingly-more-crowded skies, is it any wonder flying is not what it used to be?

Welcome to The Flying Curmudgeon!

This blog is dedicated to all of those Frequent Fliers out there who are sick of being treated like "Road Kill of the Skies" and have been looking for a place to vent.

Have a horror story about a recent trip you'd like to share? Have a screaming kid kick the back of your seat all the way from New York to LA, while his parents sit blissfully unaware of your torment?

Got a funny story from your last business trip?

This is the place to post it!

Nothing is out of bounds.

As your blogmaster and as a commercial airline captain, from time-to-time, The Flying Curmudgeon will be adding an "insider's look," as it were to the discussion. (No, TFC won't be revealing which airline he works for.)

As an amateur historian and a freelance writer, TFC hopes to keep the discussion interesting and relevant. With any luck, we might just learn something. Hopefully, we'll have a good time.

Let's have some fun!