Saturday, February 28, 2009

In the news again.

But this time, I managed to keep my name out of it personally.

The lead picture was taken from inside my wingman's aircraft. Figures, the only time they aren't flying right at my 6'... If any of you know Maj. H. personally please give him shit for the rest of his career for having the New York Times photographer taking pictures of inside his cockpit... and forgetting to take out the FUCKING GIGANTIC "Remove Before Flight" flag from his countermeasures panel! My flares went off that day too... weird it didn't remind him...

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Back from the land where they sip their shots and shoot their coffee:

"My trip to Italian grocery stores..."

Why no wisdom from the Notorious for the past month? The answer: I was on my mid-tour leave. As appealing and inviting as places like Montana and Michigan in January are, I decided to take up a buddy of mine on his standing invitation to come visit him in Italy. He lives in Tuscany...

But First a little stop in Kuwait for some paperwork.

This is the first time in nine months that I didn't have a flight suit on. (Apart from sleeping and in the shower) Shortly after I took that picture of myself I was arrested by the base security. I apparently didn't stay in the approved "Transient Personnel Area." The Transient Personnel Area consists of several hundred tents full of bunk beds, a MacDonalds, a big tent they play movies in, and a KBR chow hall. After nine months in Afghanistan, that didn't hold my interest for long so I went for a walk. I didn't cross any gates, didn't ignore any mine field signs, didn't do go anywhere but slightly away from all the zombies in the tents... then as I walked BACK into the TPA, Whamo! arrested... maybe detained more accurately... either way, I spent some time in an empty office only to eventually be lectured by some dushe bag on safety in a combat zone. Thanks dude... did you notice that you are in Kuwait? The whole reaction seemed way overzealous against a guy that went for a walk. Eventually we all came to the conclusion that I wanted to leave, and he wanted me to go, so lets do that... I was on a plane headed for Italy in about 3 hours. What a dick!

Now in Italy:

First stop...

The grocery store...

Here is the less famous counterpart... the Tuscan rain and fog and drizzle. (Surprisingly, it is also January in Italy.)

I made it easily on a few well connected space-A flights and ended up a few days early to my M's house. So, finding myself with time on my hands in Italy surrounded by medieval cities and ancient ruins what did I do?

I visited the Ferrari factory!

I had read an article about going on a tour of the Ferrari factory once so I figured it wouldn't be a problem. I rented a little Fiat and drove myself up there to go on the tour. (Being a Fiat owner, a Fiat Spider specifically, I had always considered Fiat to be first and foremost a sports car manufacturer that also made economy cars. This is actually not the case... at all! Fiat is first and foremost the producer of a line of cars called "the shit box." They are basically a three wheeled asprin bottle with a rolling spare that is big enough for only you and your favorite testicle and nothing else. It turns out Fiat is a roller-skate manufacture that made a sports car about 30 years ago.) After arriving at the Ferrari factory I found out that you can only go on the Ferrari factory tour if you already own a Ferrari. Damn... I was fresh out of Ferrari's so I payed my 8 Euros and went to the Ferrari museum instead. Though not the factory, it was still awesome, mostly because visitors can touch all the cars and I could take pictures of all the finer details of the race cars... I saw many things I will be incorporating into my Fiat when I get home.

Ferraris are pretty much the mechanical and artistic embodiment of LUST!

Oh yea, and Tuscany was there too...

After an appropriate amount of site seeing around the local area, we headed to snowier hillsides in search of greener pastures. My buddy, M. had some hook ups so that we could stay in a sort of condo in the Alps right near the a huge ski area for free. Hell yea! Free condo in the alps! How could it be bad, right!

(Let me digress for a second: In collage one year I went on spring break to Florida to a free condo that someone had hookups to use. As it turned out, that condo in Florida was surrounded completely by the 60+ with blue hair and General Motors luxury sedans for at least 50 miles in every direction. This was heart breaking to a bunch of spring break dudes from the great white north that drove 2500 miles to meet chicks in bikinis! "Where are all the women... and why is everyone driving so slow!" was the most repeated sentence for that entire trip. Apparently there are retirement areas of Florida... we hadn't considered that before we went. At the time we were only aware of the M-TV spring break part and of course Will Smith's enticing lyrics.)

Fast forward 8 years...

Free condo... same problem, "where are all the women... and why is everyone driving so slow!" Who would have guessed that the people that can afford to hang out in condos on the Alps and ski in the middle of the week are not mid-twenties hotties that are looking for someone to hold their towel in the sauna... it is in fact old middle aged Austrians who passive aggressively cut in front of you in the lift lines. Oh well, no big deal, adventures still to follow:

Yea, it really looks that fucking sweet!

Hey! Has it been ten minutes yet? Lets go grocery shopping then...

I have a new personal proverb, "Mind the punctuation even if you can't read the words!"

Day two on the mountain: So there I was... blasting down the hill! Obviously the coolest guy on the slope as I am the only one I have seen on a snowboard... I was still learning my way around this impressively huge mountain so I was following my friend. I see him go up this little mound and stop on the top next to an orange sign. I decide that I will also go up the little mound and stop behind him. I look at the sign that my friend is next to... It is written in both German and Italian... something like "VORNINGCLIFNSHIT!" (German) and "LASAGNA!" (Italian) Obviously it is not important or it would be in English too right! Never mind that I haven't met a native english speaker in about 5 days now. The important part of the message, which I didn't grasp at the time, was actually the punctuation... That little exclamation point on the end of each of those words was not a frivolous use of paint... Like I said, I had decided to come to a stop just behind my friend so I started to brake and was in a full on skid as I slid to the top of the little mound.

KSHSKSHKHSKHSKHSKHSKHSKHS (Sound of the snowboard braking against the snow as I slow down)


s i l e n c e . . .

Ah, the clean sound of nothing... The reason for that sudden quiet was that my snowboard was no longer braking against the snow. In fact it wasn't even touching the snow at all... in fact, I wasn't anywhere near planet earth at all as far as I could tell.

The only thought that entered my head was, "well shit..."

What I had just discovered was that there was no back side to that mound. It was really just a lip in front of a cliff... I guess that explains the exclamation point on that sign I just passed.

There is an old adage in aviation, "Fly as far into the crash as possible." So with this logic I think, "maybe I can land this!" Nope. I instantly realize that that is not going to happen as I become aware that I am looking at the horizon between my knees and my snowboard is silhouetted beautifully against the blue sky. Nothing to do now but wait for the pain.

CRUNCH!!!!! ............There's the ground!

After a crash like that, my first thought is always, "Yea! I am still alive!" followed shortly by, "what did I damage?" So I sat there for a moment and waited for the pain to begin to register. It seems sometimes your body gives you a moment of complete numbness before it hits you with all the pain. So I sat there... waiting... Nothing.

Granted, I heard every single vertebra in my back pop as I impacted the ground but it seems that I didn't really hurt myself at all. I stand up... look up at my cringing friend at the top of the cliff... Holy shit! I am fine! I am more surprised than anyone.

So, as I have been thinking about this particular snowboard crash and my subsequent getting away totally unscathed, I have come to the only logical conclusion. I must be either immortal or indestructible! (Though after coming to that conclusion I have decided no further experimentation is needed in this department.)

Either way, we probably should go to the grocery store...

The restaurant is always on the top of the mountain. (I don't know why... Europeans?)

After a few days of thrashing our bodies on the mountain, we decide to take a break and go sledding. Sounds good. So M. describes what I understand to be a restaurant next to where we can go sledding. (Enter language barriers) This was not actually the case. What he meant was there is a restaurant, (the italian word he used wasn't actually restaurant... it is something like "refugga" and actually means "restaurant in the middle of no where." I couldn't think of an english equivalent. Anyways... if you ever meet a dude from a Mediterranean country who says, "I think the restaurant is right up this mountain. It should be a quick walk..." you probably should bring lunch and a signaling device. This is the second time they have gotten me with the old restaurant on the top of the mountain trick. There really is going to be a restaurant up there, and it really is going to be awesome... but plan on a few extra hours. It actually turned into a horrible 3 hour sweat freezing death march. First we didn't know exactly where the place was... Second, there was about 4 feet of powder on the whole mountain... Third, we started on the wrong mountain. Oh well.

This is almost to the top... we started down in the bottom of that valley under the cloud layer.

This is the final stretch into the place. I was actually very surprised to find it there and open. Not only was it there, open, and serving beer... it also was full of people! How the fuck did they get here? We didn't follow any other tracks and as far as I could tell, there was no reasonable way to get to this place. (We may have come the hard way... but that is standard for these sorts of things in my experience.) Either way, beer time!

Now do you see those sleds in the picture? Those are not normal sleds... they are special italian alps style steerable sleds. The only problem is they work exactly backwards from every other vehicle on the entire planet. Motorcycles, snowboards, jet skis, and hang gliders all have you lean into the turn... These sleds have you lean to the outside of the turn. Seems simple enough, but think about this warning we got before we left. (read with italian accent) "You'a gonna go'a close to'a da cliffs... You'a gonna wanna lean away from da cliff because maybe you donna wanna be close to that cliff, but dont you wanna do that... Zip! (accumpanying zip hand motions) when'a you gonna lean away that sled gonna turn right off the side'a thata mountain."

something to think about anyways...

So after a few beers, no to many, just the happy buzz... it was time to sled down the mountain. Three pilots, two sleds, and another guy's girlfriend... looks like we have everybody. Now for the trick of getting down the mountain. It turns out that warning was exactly what was going to happen. You get close to the side of the cliff, you lean away, then the sled makes a sharp turn right off the side of the mountain. It only happened 3 times before we got the hang of steering... luckily we still had fast enough reaction times despite the beer for everyone to jump off the sled, grab something solid, and not let the sled fall. Obviously we learned fast enough to survive the trip down. What took us three hours to climb took 13 minutes to sled down. We followed the same path down that we came up...

So if you do the math...

3 hours X 3 MPH = 9 miles total distance.

9 miles/ 13 minutes = 41 mph

Though that seems a little fast to me...

lets be more conservative in our estimates:

3 hours X 2 MPH = 6 miles total distance

6 miles / 13 minutes = 27 mph

Either way, I think the math tells that story of the trip down better than I could with words.

Probably it is time for some grocery shopping.


After days now of following a bunch of skiers on icy crowded groomed runs I was itchy to go off piste and really explore this mountain. So with an exchanged of "see you at the bottoms" near a sign that indicated some sort of summer only trail I left the marked groomed run.


(no, there is to much)

(Dusk now)
I found the search team just as they were leaving the lodge at the bottom of that side of the mountain. Turns out that was a lot bigger mountain than I had a sense of. I bought the snowmobile driver and helicopter pilot a beer. We called it even and I rejoined my friends for pizza.

As someone who has been on a few search and rescue missions... I recommend self rescue in all circumstances and definitely wanted to follow that philosophy myself. Hell, I knew where I was the whole time... It was the others that didn't know where I was!


A nightclub in Italy is no place to fuck around with fashion. Look good or else! I only have one set of civilian cloths with me here in Afghanistan so packing for this trip was pretty easy... All garments that don't have rank and my one set of civilian cloths. It all fit in my backpack. Regardless of all that, I still found myself in Italy about to go to a nightclub and having to look good. I had meant to go to an italian store and get a few civilian items... but we had been to busy grocery shopping.


Luckily I had my one civilian outfit... What? cargo pants and a hawaiian shirt! CHECK YES BITCHES! For all the readers that are cringing right now... don't worry. I pulled it off with all the bravado that would make any red blooded American proud! How does one do that you might ask? You buy drinks for everyone and scandalize them with your dirty american dance moves! Unfortunately there wasn't very many girls, actually with that many italian dudes, it was effectively a Liberachi themed salami fiesta. Still M. was managing to hit on some old lady and I can dance with myself... so everyone was still having a good time.

Then I got the signal from M... With a head tilt and some eye contact he transmitted this, "Dude, I think I am going to get laid if I stay with this girl... but I am obligated to get the both of us home as I have the car, there are no buses, taxis, or hotel rooms anywhere near here, and you don't speak the local language at all..."

Due to the code of "Man Law" a guy is always obligated to not be a cock block due to logistical concerns. So I of course signaled back, "No problem man, I can take care of myself." By doing this I had just put myself in a tough situation. I had no ride, no place to sleep, and not much in the way of options. I can't fuck up his night even if it is an old lady just because I need a ride... so I have to figure something out. Well, I am in a social setting... lets see how much charisma I really have. Can I make friends fast enough to either get invited back to an after party or get a ride home with out it being socially awkward. This should be no problem a confident american pilot in a Hawaiian shirt can't handle! The bar closes in 3 hours, there's a group of girls... I guess I'll start with them! I have been practicing, maybe they will be impressed with my Italian skills!

Shit... They are Austrian... and only speak German. What the deuce! This is Italy after all. (Though this particular part of Italy has only been Italian since world war one, and they aren't to sure they plan to stay that way.) Regardless of language barriers, I impressed them with my mad dance skills and having 9 months of practice playing scherades in a cockpit over Afghanistan I was able to communicate fairly effectively. It has got to be the shirt!

M. and I talked in words and it was decided that I would get back to the condo first so I should take the key. His plan, take her to her house... and hopefully stay the night. Unfortunately as I was getting dropped off he was also pulling into the parking lot. WTF Mate! I guess she was not interested in going as far as he was... but he did come back with the report that 40+ year old boobies are way way softer than young ones. I'll take his word on that for now... because it is obviously time to go grocery shopping!

I am sure there are many other stories that I have already forgotten... so I'll end this whopping post with a pic I took during my returning visit through Kuwait. I managed to not get arrested again, but the place already feels like a prison so it didn't matter much. I sat there for 6 days waiting for a flight back here. I think the main point of Kuwait is to be painful enough you want to get back to the war just to be out of there!

(Shout out to my fellow prisoners in tents blocks E-2 and H-8... keep the faith brothas! ... except the bastard that left the light on at 3 in the morning! You don't have a fucking flashlight? And the guy that used his electric shaver at 2 in the morning then cleaned his razor by blowing the whiskers out onto the floor... major league fail!)