Saturday, March 29, 2014

Plane Talk

"Oh, I've slipped the surly bonds of a manner of speaking." With sincere apologies to John Gillespie McGee.

I love to fly (yes, this is one of those). Ah, the simple pleasure of getting on an airplane.... Yeah, simple.


Little has changed since I last wrote about the patient, friendly men and women charged with ensuring the safety and security of air travel. I arrived at DIA long before the sun rose (you can imagine how early I got up) and stood dutifully in line. Years and repetition have taught - put everything in the backpack, wear easily-doffed shoes and grab two bins at the earliest convenience. A squat fellow wearing a hideous toupee, his  blue TSA garb disheveled, strolled by our hundred-foot line and muttered "Look and see if you have pre-screen on your ticket." By the time I'd fished my boarding pass out and found that, in fact, I had that he'd wandered off without saying what virtue (or vice) that might afford. The scolding I endured at the eventual head of the line.... I was supposed to be in a different line! Seriously!? "There was a sign" the snappish woman informed me. I informed her right back that I watched several of her peers place the sign ten minutes and forty feet aft of where I'd joined in. Argue with the TAS - always a fabulous idea. I am ushered off - to a new line.

I begin the usual dance except.... "Leave your shoes on, laptops in your bags." The guy isn't very nice about it, as though deprived of the entertainment value airport security duty affords him. Wait.... What? I shuffle through a simple metal detector while others are doing the surrender position nearby. I await the "catch" that never arrives. It is a new program, a month or so old. I am not amused. It has made the TSA folks cranky. How can I tell? Point.

In Flight

I have been extremely lucky, of late. New aircraft, exit row seating, pleasant flight crews. Note that I did not include "smooth air." The flight to Charlotte hopped and skipped like an exuberant pre-teen for the last 90 minutes of the flight. It made my typical hunt-and-peck typing especially challenging. The leg from Charlotte to Tampa was ripe with people-watching opportunities, though.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

"Car Four Will Be Beacon Command"

“There is no fault, only responsibility.” 
― Rob Liano

The tragic events at 298 Beacon Street in Boston illustrate just how dangerous the profession of firefighting is. Two men - Lt. Edward Walsh, Jr. and Firefighter Michael Kennedy - were killed, trapped in the basement of a collapsing brownstone. More than a dozen were injured, including several police officers.

Audio of the call became available on-line, as is almost everything these days. Thirty-seven minutes of riveting, heartbreaking voices and sounds as Boston Fire responds to a box alarm. Engine Thirty-Three arrives first, reports smoke showing and assumes command. If Boston follows the convention of our local departments one is hearing the voice of Lt. Walsh, the officer of that company.

Shortly thereafter, Car Four arrives. He is a District Chief and he assumes command of the incident. He orders Engine Thirty-three into the basement, the place where the fire apparently started.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Crazy Brave

According to William Langewiesche writing American Ground: Unbuilding World Trade Center the New York firefighters who ascended World Trade Center on 9/11 honestly believed they could put out the fire.

Firefighters. I've spent thirty-five years watching them in action, marveling at their bravery and thanking my lucky stars that I chose law enforcement. They are, as a group, free-spirited, gregarious, and professional. The men and women who wear the bunkers do crazy stuff (cutting holes in the roof of a burning house - seriously?!) in the service of others.

Two Boston firefighters were killed today at a blaze not far from Northeastern University - my alma mater....

bostoninternal1771.jpgWinter, 1973. Over a period of weeks an arsonist had started several small fires in our dorm. One especially cold night we stood shivering along the walkways as Boston firefighters fought the latest insane, shitty act of stupidity. Several pieces of equipment idled along Huntington Ave and Forsyth Street, choking diesel fumes adding to the distinctive plastic/wood/fabric smell of a structure fire. Several firefighters emerged, one holding his arm tightly. Blood dripped from between his fingers - his coat torn, arm filleted.

One of the students pointed at the Boston firefighter and laughed.

The injured firefighter broke from the ranks and threw a short punch. The student dropped into a snowbank, motionless momentarily before gaining a semblance of consciousness. The firefighter's buddies hustled him to a rig and roared off into the night. I turned to my roommate.

"Fuck. If the firefighters are that tough, what must the Boston cops be like?"

Of course, we have our rivalries. We often kid the "hose draggers" about their schedules - work a day, get two off. Work two, get three off. Work three, get a month off. "So, did you put the Playstation on pause before you left?"

"Send West Metro" uttered into a portable brings a host of well-trained professionals to whatever big or small disaster has occurred. They keep coming, too, until the problem is solved. We are blessed to work beside them.

Two of Boston's Bravest died today. From Fox:

The firefighters were identified as Lt. Edward J. Walsh, a 43-year-old father of three who had almost a decade of experience, and firefighter Michael R. Kennedy, a 33-year-old Marine Corps combat veteran who had been a firefighter for more than six years.

They were Boston tough. Thank you for your service.

Thursday, March 20, 2014


"Warm face, warm hands warm feet.
Oh, wouldn't it be lovely?" My Fir Lady, Julie Andrews (Frederick Loewe, music; Alan Jay Lerner, lyrics) 1956.

Walking out of King Soopers wearing shorts, sandals, a polo shirt and.... Digging it. After a long hard winter my face actually feels warm. It moved me to sing "Wouldn't it Be Lovely?" until I could boot up Rhapsody. I'm not sure what key, nor if somewhere Julie Andrews gave an involuntary shudder. All I know is spring has peeked around the corner. Dude, it's about freakin' time!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Covering Amy

"What would you do if I sang out of tune, would you stand up and walk out on me?
Lend me your ear and I'll sing you a song, and I'll try not to sing out of key.
I get by with a little help from my friends." With A Little Help From My Friends, The Beatles, (Lennon and McCartney), 1967

Writing is, for the most part, a solitary pursuit. Quality alone time and immersion into the story produces hundreds, sometimes thousands of words. Rarely does a good working environment include multiple interruptions. Sometimes (as now) the wrong music - even LeAnn Rimes doing the glorious How Do I Live - is intrusive.

That's where the "I, me, mine" of writing ends. It is especially true of aspiring, small-market authors. Even those lucky enough to attract the attention of a publisher do a lot of the work themselves. Layer on self-publishing and.... I get by with a little help from my friends. Friends who offer suggestions, help develop characters, preview dialogue. Friends who read raw text (God love them!), friends who endure countless questions.... Friends who can take pictures of friends wearing uncomfortable cop gear.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Three Dee

Tommy Webber: Whatever, the one with the hologram. The wall of fire.
Gwen DeMarco: How the hell is Fred supposed to project a hologram?
Guy Fleegman: We're doing episode 81, Jason?
Jason Nesmith: It doesn't have to be a hologram, just a diversion.
Guy Fleegman: Jason, are we doing episode 81 or not?
Jason Nesmith: It's a rough plan, Guy, what does it matter if we're doing episode 81 or not?
Guy Fleegman: BECAUSE I DIED... IN EPISODE 81!
Galaxy Quest,1999.

The far-ranging work conversation somehow evolved to mention of Karen. Let me explain.
"It's made by Hazard 4," my work buddy said of the tactical gear bag he owned. "I think it's called the Evac Plan B."
"Awesome!" I replied. "That's exactly what Karen carried as a diaper bag."
"I used it as a diaper bag the first three months I owned it." He showed me how the interior could be customized, panels moved to and fro.
"Who's Karen?" another work friend asked.
"The main character in my first novel." Of course.
"You talk like she's real."
Out of IdeasI first met Karen Sorenson in 2005, at an airshow. An airplane had crashed miles away from the airport. I read a report and, on the drive home with a very good friend began what became Out of Ideas, my first novel. I needed a main character.
I chose Karen.
Creating a character, I've discovered, is a series of stops and starts. The first dimension is a gender, a name, and an outline. Tall, attractive and athletic. Successful in everything but love. Cindy, Claudia.... Karen! Blonde? Why not.
A police officer, of course. In an unhappy marriage, working for a good sheriff's department that is a thousand miles from where she wants to be. Lonely. Longing.
I wrote nearly a hundred thousand words just with that. But she was still one-dimensional.
An especially gracious friend at work helped me with a woman's perspective on being tall. Another, a decade-long peer, filled in a lot of blanks about the challenges of being a woman in law enforcement. My wife endured hundreds of "Karen would do...." questions at the most inopportune times. Surreptitious eavesdropping on how police women talk to each other evolved into dialogue. 
A writing instructor with a keen eye for consistency, two writer friends.... A friend who unwittingly but then graciously lent me a name....
She is three dimensional, as though projected as a hologram.
"You talk about her like she's real," one of my valued coworkers said.
She is.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

A Parking Space In My Heart

"Let's make a Ford and a Chevy that'll still last ten years, like they should.
The best of the free life is still yet to come, the good times ain't over for good." Are The Good Times Really Over, Merle Haggard, 1982.

Luis arrived in a battered pick up, his wife in the passenger seat. He emerged with a huge grin, firm handshake accenting his enthusiasm. Paperwork laid out, pen in hand....

The Malibu had been in our family for nearly ten years. It was the first major purchase of a young couple beginning a life together. She - money smart - found it economical, sensible and easy to drive. He - building an impressive career one block at a time - had reliable transportation with which to pursue financial security.

His talents were obvious. The companies that employed him always offered a car, and the Malibu sat. A casual conversation found a willing buyer - her Dad. The bargain wasn't hard, cash and keys exchanged hands. Dad insisted that daughter buy enchiladas and margs at the Rio. He'd spent his last cent on the "new" car.

Five years and fifty thousand flawless miles later it started to act up. The transmission no longer found high gear. No one puts a couple grand into a third car and so it sat again. Sat until Luis spotted it, left a card and brought cash. His friend, a mechanic, could drop in a tranny and give him a bigger car for his wife and infant child. Sob story, hard bargaining? A solid car in need of a bit of TLC for a young family is reason enough to sign the title away.

Outside, a parking space where the Malibu had been. She wasn't inanimate. She had safely carried the most important people in a man's life - children, wife - until the day she was called to serve someone else.

Getting used to having a parking space where the Malibu sat will take some time.

The Writer's Craft

"I get up each morning and dust off my wits,
open the paper and read the obits.
If I'm not there I know I'm not dead,
so I eat a good breakfast and go back to bed." Pete Seeger, Get Up and Go

Writers write. They come in all shapes, all sizes and all ability levels. Some are funny. Some melancholy. Some....

Walter Bruhl, Jr. has an obit worth reading, if only for two reasons. First, whoever wrote it (I suspect the late Mr. Bruhl may have had a hand in it) is a genius. Second - in lieu of flowers he requested a random act of kindness toward someone less fortunate. (HT Powerline). Done.

 I lift my University of Maine School of Law coffee cup to you, sir. I wish you fair winds, following seas and an attentive audience in heaven for your irreverent wit.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Wild Bill

"When I went in, I was eighteen. I thought it was all glory and you win lots of medals. You think you’re going to be the guy. Then you find out the cost is very great. Especially when you don’t see the kids you were with when you went in. Living with it can be hell. It’s like the devil presides in you. I knew what I signed up for, yes, and I would do it again. But the reality of war—words can’t begin to describe it.” SSgt William J. "Wild Bill" Guarnere.

Noting the passing of Bill Guarnere, member of Easy Company 101st Airborne Division during WWII. Sergeant Guarnere was like many of his contemporaries - enlisted in his teens, volunteered for demanding and dangerous assignments. He was wounded twice, the most severe requiring amputation of his right leg. He returned home, to South Philadelphia, and made a life doing odd jobs. He finally received a VA disability and retired.

In his later years he worked extensively on behalf of other veterans. Combat vets - men and women who have been under fire - have a particularly hard-earned credential. They understand the sacrifices made in the service of freedom. For Bill Guarnere and the many like him, WWII never really ended. They carried the scars, be they physical, emotional or mental, for the rest of their lives. 

We read about their exploits and celebrate them. He, on the other hand, called himself "just a small part" of the war. "Sometimes it makes me cry" this tough paratrooper admitted. Now he is at peace, joining his friend Babe Heffron again.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

First Contact

"No plan survives first contact with the enemy." Helmuth Karl Bernhard Graf von Moltke

Sometimes, the best plan fails. In his book Field Command Sid Heal explains an important inevitable of police tactical planning - in the case of an armed adversary, the other side is often obsessed with foiling your mission, is actively seeking ways to prevail and will kill you if given the opportunity.

Yesterday in Phoenix (AZ) experienced, superbly-trained detectives from a fugitive-apprehension unit attempted to arrest a felon. There was a chase, a crash and a gun battle. Detective John Hobbs was hit, as was his partner. Detective Hobbs's wounds were grievous. Despite that he fought on, killing the suspect, a recently-released con wanted for an attempted murder. Later, he died of his injuries.

There is nothing low-risk about arresting armed, desperate people. Men and women who volunteer for this job know that fact up front and yet.... Often, this job is highly sought after, extremely competitive and attracts the best, brightest and most capable officers an organization fields. Why?

Putting violent people in prison saves innocent lives. 

Thank you for serving, Detective Hobbs. 

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

A Princess

Crazy sick. Once a decade sick. Hallucinations, lesser-evils choice sick. The first time in memory going-home-early sick. A day, maybe two, passing without memory sick.

Abandoning concentration, surfing the net. Political bantering (my old and very dear friend is hopeless) while Rhapsody streams music. Half listening...Ukraine is invaded by guys in green - no magazines in their guns? The Great Lakes are frozen solid. Maybe another cracker, some more Coke. Okay, that hurts.

Like a...what?

Sammy Johns was born in North Carolina, and lived most of his life there. He wrote a song - a fantasy, of sorts - about a Chevy van, a female hitchhiker and a one-night stand. Released in 1975, it sold 3.5 million copies. The sexual revolution was in full swing, love was free and every guy could envision the moment when a beautiful woman might.... That's why it sold 3.5 million copies.

"Like a princess she was laying there,
moonlight dancing off her hair.
She reached up and took me by the hand,
we made love in my Chevy Van,
and that's alright with me."

I was barely out of high school when the song was popular.

Huh. The years have not been kind. Sammy died at 66, having blown all the money on drugs and failed marriages. I don't envision the princess anymore - I've worked "The 'Fax" on bike patrol for too long. She has STDs, is drug-dependent and alone, barefoot because she'd fled her latest "job" with only her life to show for it.

The virus will run it's course. Right?

Monday, March 3, 2014

A Plan

"Everyone has a plan 'till they get punched in the mouth." Mike Tyson.

Spring is in the air. Four times in the last two weeks it was warm enough to work in a bike ride. My leg injury is virtually healed. Time to get motivated. Work out, and:

Plan A - eat right. Minimal trips to El Jimador, one celebratory marg on National Margarita day and...dessert? Ha! Watching my weight ties closely to enjoying the bike.

Plan B - contract acute gastroenteritis.

According to WebMD, stomach "flu" is a misnomer. The standard virus causing gastrointestinal distress in adults is norovirus, tiny pestilent asshole of cruise ship fame. Not associated with an influenza strain, it is characterized by all of the usual horrors of the 24 hour fits. The only benefit seems to be rapid weight loss.

My wife, helpful as always, has consulted Brown University for guidance. Clear broths, plain pasta and then grains as a way out of the abyss. "It may take up to two weeks for your bowels to recover." She is an astonishingly bright woman, capable researcher and soon-to-be PhD. I appreciate her guidance, but that last little bit we could have saved until later.

Friends who have endured this report that several weeks pass before they are back to normal. But.... It's supposed to be 68 this week! Okay - let's see if the little bastards can keep up.