Sheboygan, WI

Things aren’t looking good for the weather tonight.

About a month ago a bunch of us from the flying club decided to try and do a dinner run. Several of us have been to Final Approach Steakhouse so we decided to make the hour long flight there to give them some more business.

The nights are long during the midwestern winter, so I’ve been looking forward to doing some night flying. Most of the considerations when flying are the same at night. Occasionally it’s possible to lose the horizon as the stars in the sky blend in with the lights on the ground, but cross checking the instruments even while flying VFR solves that problem. The bigger challenge is landing. The sight lines are very different between day and night, so pilots have a tendency to flare higher than they should, leading to clunky landings as the plane eventually hits the runway a bit harder than usual.

Weather forecasts were initially good, but over the past 24 hours got a lot more pessimistic. I’m going to file an IFR flight plan, but that doesn’t get us completely out of the woods. During the winter flying through the clouds in a small plane is pretty much a non-starter. Our planes don’t have any anti-icing capability so cannot fly through the clouds during most of the winter. Worse, this is a night flight, making it harder to see if any ice is accumulating on the wings.

I call the person I’m flying with and one of the other pilots to discuss the forecast. I seem to be the most concerned in the group. I look at the satellite images and don’t like the movement I’m seeing in Minnesota. There is a small system moving our way with ceilings as low as a thousand feet. This would leave us stranded if it comes through while we’re eating. We would get home eventually, but it could add several hours to the trip if we have to wait it out. I’m not excited by this possibility.

The other guys point out that the aviation forecast for the airports along our route is generally good until after we’re scheduled to come home. This information has actually been improving over the past couple hours, a good example of why to make the final decision close to flight time instead of hours earlier. With the trend improving and the flight a short one, I make the decision to launch and head to the airport.

One step out the door and the cold hits me hard. It’s been a very mild winter until this week and this is the first bitterly cold day we’ve had this year. I have my lobster claws, hat and multiple layers but it’s going to be a cold pre-flight.

Arriving at the airport my co-pilot is just parking and we start shaking down the airplane. I throw my flight bag, camera bag and other camera bag into the plane and we taxi over to the pilot lounge to meet the rest of our group.

We arrive at the pilot lounge right on time only to find out that the other two planes haven’t yet been pre-flighted. That being the case we cut the pleasantries short so they can get themselves ready to go. I’m surprised that they aren’t ready, one of the pilots is a guy who likes to fly fast and get places, but such is life. Since my plane is ready to go, we take off into a crimson sunset climbing fast toward the first stars through the dense winter air.

I’m flying tonight with a real pilot. He used to fly for one of the regional airlines, so we practice some crew resource management and split the duties. On the first leg I fly the plane and he works the radios.

As we pass Milwaukee the sky gets completely dark and the temperature at our altitude is 9F. These little planes are very leaky, so it’s cold in the plane until I notice that the heat isn’t properly configured. Turning on the cabin air a little bit provides some additional airflow and things warm up nicely.

Just north of Milwaukee we’re at 6,000 ft in smooth air and staring at a cloud bank up ahead of us. As we start to fly over it becomes apparent that they are thin clouds. We can peer below us and see the city lights underneath. Even better, it’s only about 20 miles ahead before the clouds are gone and we can already see the welcoming lights of Sheboygan.

Finally, we start to be able to hear the other two planes. They seem to have taken about 30 minutes to pre-flight and are now airborne and leaving the O’Hare airspace. We land and park the airplane next to a Piper Arrow.

The parking lot is absolutely packed tonight. Good to see the place doing a healthy business.

We go to our table and find a couple other pilots already there. One is a member of our club but has flown in from his home in Wisconsin to join us. We order some appetizers and wait for the lollygaggers to catch up.

There are a surprising number of hot girls in skimpy clothes and guys capable of bench pressing a Hummer floating around tonight. Like bees to honey they seem to have established a path from the restrooms, through the gift shop and out into the hanger. We ask and find out that there is an MMA event taking place out there tonight. That also explains the huge number of cars in the parking lot.

One of our other planes shows up and we find out that the third has turned around due to an equipment failure. Their turn coordinator has gone south and they elected to bail out given the possibility of instrument weather and the requirement for a turn coordinator to fly an instrument flight plan.

After tasty dinner and telling some great lies about what wonderful pilots we are, it’s time to head for home.

I’m working the radios this time. We have clear skies so we take off VFR and I request a clearance in the air. The other club plane took off just before we did, has a several minute head start, is being flown by the guy who likes to fly fast and is a faster plane. We also filed for a couple thousand feet higher than they, leading to a longer climb. By the time we get to our assigned altitude the other plane is well ahead of us.

About 20 minutes into the flight we are told we can navigate directly to our destination and notice that we actually seem to have gained ground on the other plane. Instead of it getting further and further away we actually may be able to pass it. We must be benefiting from an increased tailwind at our altitude.

Another 15 minutes pass and we have indeed passed them. Now that we’re a little ahead of them and getting close to the destination ATC has to slow them down so we don’t arrive too close to the same time. I hear ATC tell them to turn and immediately afterward the other plane cancels IFR so that they don’t end up delayed by us. We begin our descent and request a straight in approach and hear the other plane request the crossing runway. This will allow them to beat us to the fuel pump.

I ask my pilot if he wants me to request a switch of runways, but he’s in no rush. We’ll let them get to the pump first.

We land and, due to the ice on the runway, are unable to make the first turn onto the taxiway as the brakes are gripping badly. That will settle the “who gets to the fuel pump first” question. We drive halfway down the long runway, do a 180 onto the taxiway and start to wander back toward the fuel pump. As we roll to the ramp we see the other plane heading skyward instead of stopping. He tells the tower he’s going around and they clear him to land again. He’s doing multiple landings in order to lock in his night currency.

We go to the pump and he pulls in behind us. Now we find out the truth, he was so excited to beat us that he hadn’t managed his energy well and was hot on final. He had to go around because he was way to fast to land.

After a good round of teasing him we head for the hanger and lock up for the night.

Posted in Uncategorized

5,4,3,2,1… Blast Off!

New York City is made up of five boroughs, four of which – Brooklyn, Queens, Richmond, the Bronx – compose crinkled lily pads about the basking trout of Manhattan. – New York Panorama (Federal Writers’ Project of the WPA)

Who knew that simply going to a movie could make a huge impact on your life? That’s exactly what’s happened to my daughter Sarah. No, I’m not talking about the earth-shattering concept of unlimited popcorn or gallon-sized sodas. While she was home this last summer, we went to the local theater to see a flick. I have to confess, I don’t remember the name of the movie, but in it the characters were in New York’s Times Square for New Year’s Eve. As the scene unfolded on the big screen, Sarah leaned over to me and said, ‘That’s on my bucket list’. Really?! Two weeks later, our room was reserved and our tickets purchased. Look out, Big Apple, the girls from Chi-Town were comin’ for New Year’s!

s_n32_RTR2VSB0.jpgWe stepped onto the streets of New York on a busy friday evening in the middle of Korea Town. With New Year’s eve the next night, people were getting a jump on the festivities which made an already hectic friday night that much more busy and fun. Having many (and I mean, many) Korean barbecue restaurants at our disposal, we opted for a more vegetarian friendly menu and headed to a Thai restaurant. Taan Thai fit the bill perfectly. With a cold Singha beer, spicy basil fried rice and steamed veggies we planned our attack on the city.

Our first morning began with a 1.5 mile walk up 5th avenue to Central Park for a run. We passed Rockefeller Center and the Empire State building on our way and when we saw the horse-drawn carriages decked out for the holidays, we knew we were close. Central Park is a wonder. Set amidst the crowded city is a magnificent 843 acre playground complete with zoo, museum, castles and lakes. A leisurely run had us circling the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir on the last day of 2011. It’s no big surprise to anyone who knows me that I’m an outdoorsy kind of gal, but to put something like this in the middle of Manhattan? Brilliant. Our 3.5 mile run through this iconic park was exhilarating!

After our walk back to the hotel, we showered and got geared up for our next experience…the New York subway. To sum up, the subway is dirty, loud and old but efficient and cheap. Watching the classic New York subway tile whizz by us, we felt like typical New Yorkers but here’s an atypical fact: I’ve ridden on the subway in Tokyo, Washington D.C., London and now New York, but never in Chicago. *shrugs* Go figure.

The subway was kind enough to drop us at Cortlant street as we headed for the most difficult part of our trip. Ground Zero. Everyone knows exactly where they were and what they were doing on September 11, 2001. I was starting my very first day of teaching that day and as I stared in disbelief at the news broadcasts coming from the twin towers I remember being confused, scared and incredulous. Now, I stood between the footprints of these mighty towers where so many died. The memorial itself is simple, really and the calm serenity of the falling water into to squares below reminds us that water is life although the sharp sting of death still hangs in the air. There’s an odd sense of calm even though the memorial sits nestled amongst the tall buildings and rush of a busy city. My take-away: life goes on. remember and persevere.

Have I ever mentioned how awesome technology can be? Well, here’s an example: I posted on Facebook that Sarah and I were headed for Chinatown for dim sum. A few moments later, my cousin from New Jersey whom I haven’t seen in about 10 years was shopping in the Soho district only a few blocks from where we were. After a delicious meal at Vegetarian Dim Sum House, we found ourselves chatting with my cousin on a street corner in Chinatown. Um, amazing.

A quick subway ride back to our hotel had us napping in the afternoon for our long and hectic evening ahead. We had a couple of tacos at Maui Tacos and headed up 6th avenue toward the big event. Turns out, nothing we could have done would have prepared us for what happened in the next 5 hours. Walking up 6th avenue to central park south, we turned west to 7th street and began to ‘inch’ our way toward 1 Times Square. After several police security checks we ended up at 54th st and 7th avenue to watch the ball drop with 1.5-2 million of our closest friends. Police feed spectators into pens that are 1 block long and then when people file as close as they can to the front, they allow those in the pen behind them to file in back, thus cramming 2 million people into 10 or so blocks. The same happens on Broadway, but we opted for 7th since it’s a straight shot to view the ball. Broadway veers off, so screens are necessary for folks to see the action. No way. If I came all this way, I’m not going to watch it on a big screen. I could do that at home.

We hit our final mark about 8 o’clock and then it was just a waiting game. We chatted with people around us and it was clear that the night was extremely festive… and warm. It was almost 46 degrees that evening and the unusually warm weather had many more revelers than in years past. We could clearly see the ball and the big screen that had the entertainment, but all we heard was the people around us. Occasionally there would be hoots and hollers but the real fun was on the hour, the big screen had a mini countdown. ’4 hours ’til midnight! 3 hours ’til midnight! 2 hours ’til midnight’ and so on.

And then, it happened. 5,4,3,2,1… HAPPY NEW YEAR! It was like the streets exploded. people were hanging out of windows, jumping up and down, kissing, yelling, throwing confetti, the list goes on and on. Sarah and I were filming on our phones and staring in awe at the insanity that surrounded us. Fireworks burst from 1 Times square as the 2012 sign lit up and New York went absolutely bat sh*t insane! Sarah and I literally had no words for each other (hard to believe, I know) as we stood with gaping mouths as people hugged and celebrated. We turned around behind us to watch fireworks explode over Central Park and continued to watch the spectacle before us for the next 20 minutes.

With nothing but pure adrenaline fueling us, we walked down 7th towards Times Square to get a little closer to the main stage. It was absolutely electric. Winding our way through the crowds back to our hotel had us feeling happy and sated. We watched the new year ring in in Chicago, but honestly, every New Year’s eve from now on will pale in comparison to our first time in NYC for NYE.

As if the night’s activities weren’t enough, we still had another day. Rich’s cousin, Hollis is attending school in New York and we had made plans to meet with her while we were there. We met at the famous Carnegie Deli for sandwiches and conversation. Turns out, Carnegie Deli makes more than sandwiches, they make mountains of meat! It’s not unusual for you to receive a pound or more of meat on any given sandwich. They pile it high and even stab it with a skewer so it doesn’t fall apart. Wowwee! Being vegetarians, Sarah opted for the greek salad and I had two, giant scoops of egg salad on wheat, but really, why even bother with the bread? It was measly and almost comical, but fun and delicious.

Our next adventure had Sarah even more slack-jawed than the stroke of midnight revelry. Times Square itself. We hadn’t actually been in the thick of things the night before, but even as close as we were, nothing compares to the square itself. Lights, people, action! I’m sure that on any given day of the year the square is magical and electric. Stories-high billboards flank each side and the onslaught of activity to the eye is startling. Sarah stood amazed and silent at the experience. Yes, the viewing of one little movie all those months ago had culminated into a life-changing experience for Sarah. All she could say was ‘This is so cool!’ over and over again. This is one reason why I travel and why we’ve made a point of traveling with our kids. To have your child in awe of their surroundings and take it all in with child-like wonderment? Not much better life experience than that. All I will say about Times Square is that it’s exactly like the Grand Canyon. Yes, *exactly* like it. You can not know how amazing it is unless you see it in person. Words and pictures will never do it justice. Trust me on this one.

We rounded out our trip with a Broadway show. Oddly enough, we went all the way to New York to see ‘Chicago’. We’re big fans of the movie and thought the show would be great too. We were right. The music, dancing and singing were all classically Broadway’s best and we left the Ambassador Theater with toes tapping and jazz licks running through out heads. On to a little post show nosh at Sangria 46. We’re big fans of tapas and this place didn’t disappoint. Traditional spanish flair and tastes were the fare for the evening and we completely enjoyed reliving our trip over marinated olives and patatas aioli.

An early morning shuttle had us back at LaGuardia in no time at all. The city was clearly still in a haze from the weekend’s festivities and we were still in a senses drunken stooper ourselves. New York is the world’s fourth largest city and the sights, sounds, smells and excitement are bigger than life as well. The hustle and bustle are invigorating and if you like fast-pace experiences, this is the place to be. It’s hard, fantastic, gritty, honest and rude. We’ve been to Tokyo and while Chicago is a ‘big city’ we were still amazed that NY seems to be a big city on crack! Be that as it may, our trip was all too short and believe me when I say we’ll be back to see the sights we didn’t get to in our 60 some hours. Thanks, New York. It’s been a hoot!

Posted in Uncategorized