Monday, September 27, 2010

The flying couple

It feels like years since I've made a decent landing in an airplane. I'm in a slump. I can't tell you for sure when it began, and now I can't tell you when it's going to end.

This is one of the problem with being a renter: It's too expensive to get out and keep one's skills sharp. Yesterday, Carolie and I flew along the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers to check out flooding that hit last week after some areas got 10 or more inches of rain in 24 hours.

Carolie usually doesn't fly with me, so it was nice to have her along. It was a little bumpy down low and she probably drove up the stock of Benadryl a fair amount, but she's a trooper:

And before the flight, I perform the traditional toast to the airplane.

Actually, I'm checking the fuel sample I just took out of the wing tank.

Then we flew...

The actual flying skills were fine -- better than fine, actually. I held altitude at 1,000 feet AGL in steep turns over Pine Island. While filming.

What else went right? Situational awareness. We flew well, we spotted the traffic (including birds) we needed to find, we did a great job of communicating through some busy airspace around Mankato, keeping everyone alert for us, and helping them navigate around us. We got a great view of tow plane, cutting its tie to a Civil Air Patrol glider over Mankato, and then diving for the ground.

There's just this landing thing to overcome.

We headed over to Red Wing for a bathroom break and a check of the Vikings score. Red Wing is a huge runway (5,000 feet), along the Mississippi, below bluffs on the Wisconsin side. And, sure, it gets a little squirrely, but it shouldn't have been as poor a landing as it was, especially given an incredibly stabilized four mile final.

But it was a bad landing, partially because the size of the runway makes you think you're lower than you really are, and partly because I'm not focusing on the far end of the runway, I'm looking ahead of the nose. I know this is the problem, I'm just not getting out enough to practice it.

So as we bounced down the runway, I firewalled the throttle and executed a go-around, which couldn't have thrilled Carolie, who rarely flies with me and didn't know what I was doing.

The second landing was a little better, but I still dropped it the last 10 feet or so.

And back at Flying Cloud -- a more familiar runway -- I had a better landing, but still not great.

As the RV-7A project nears its conclusion, I always think immediately after landings, "What would have happened if you were flying an RV?" I don't like the answer.

(If you're reading this via Facebook, you'll have to go to the "original posting" to see the video and Flash slideshow)

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A day at Target Field

The last time I can remember all four of us being together at a ballgame was 1994, the first year Jacobs' Field in Cleveland opened and we were on our way back to New England. As luck would have it, the Twins were in town. As skill would have it, the Indians toyed with them. Those were good days.

Carolie says we went to a Mother's Day at the old Metrodome, but I can't remember it. When it comes to indoor baseball, the mind blocks out trauma.

Jon McTaggart, the chief operating officer of Minnesota Public Radio, gave us his four seats to the Indians-Twins game at the new Target Field today. Before I tell you about our day, let me tell you a bit about Jon, who've I've known since the first week I started at MPR when he was running the station in Collegeville. He also ran the new media department and was the one who approached me about being MPR's first online news editor.

Some years later, after seeing an e-mail that announced I'd be gone for a few days because Patrick and I were going to Cincinnati to watch some baseball, he literally ran down the street to the parking garage where I was exiting, to give me $20 for a hot dog and beer. "You do good work," he said, "and I want you to have a good time."

I've told this story many times since that day, mostly to people who seem to think that some book, some class, some seminar will show them how to get their troops to run through a brick wall for them. Nonsense. All you have to do is give a rip enough to run down a street for them. Trust me. It works.

So we went to the game.

Of course, we had great seats, right in front of the Indians' broadcast booth. Patrick and I have spent many years listening to Tom Hamilton, the long-time play-by-play man for the Tribe. We heard his voice coming out of the booth, and we knew exactly who it was.

"Hey, Tom!" Patrick shouted between innings. And up popped Tom Hamilton:

"Hey, where are you guys from?" he said, after seeing me in my Indians hat and Patrick in his Grady Sizemore jersey (the origins of which can be found here).

"We're from here," Pat said, telling him that we've been listening to him online for years. We didn't bother to tell him we were originally from Massachusetts, that my parents both have Ohio ties, but we otherwise have no reasonable explanation for why we're both huge Cleveland Indians fans.

Patrick got his autograph.

I'd love it if the Twins fans could have a play-by-play guy like Hamilton. Baseball is a great sport and it's worth a guy who can get truly excited about a game, even though it's the last week of the season, your team is 27 games out of first, and is about to turn in back-to-back 97-loss seasons for the first time in its awful history. And by "excited," I mean really interested and excited, not that phony nonsense.

Here, hear for yourself. Here's the only run the Indians scored in the game. It was in the first inning. No sense making it out to be more than it was. And then he got right back to his story:

Great stuff. By the way, Twins fans, Hamilton said, "It's hard to believe Ron Gardenhire has never been manager of the year, which goes to show you how much those awards mean."

Meanwhile, in the second inning, Indians manager Manny Acta decided to blow the game up to mean more than it did, by bunting. Second inning. A bunt. It didn't work. His runner on second got thrown out at third.

Manny Acta is a horrible manager. You know who should manage the Indians? Jon McTaggart.

We love baseball at the Collins house. We always will. More than that, of course, we love being all together when we can. And I love watching my two young men laugh and chat with each other at the game, reminding me again that I was right when I told them during the fights they had as kids, that they'd be each other's best friends later in life. It's later in life.

Target Field is a lovely ball park. A lot of people think it's the best park in baseball and I guess I can't disagree with that. Still, it feels a bit like the Twins tried too hard to have the best park in baseball. There are the usual luxury suites and the restaurants and all, and there are plenty of opportunities to go inside and therein lies the oddity. After complaining about having to go indoors to watch baseball for a few decades, the new facility provides plenty of opportunity to go inside.

But I may be getting an improper perspective. Both games I've been to this year -- both Indians games -- were free tickets. One was the Champion's Club behind the plate and the other was the Legend's Club. I'm probably viewing the park from the high end. I'm not complaining, though, because it's an unbelievably comfortable facility. And I love going to ballgames. And though they've broken my heart for more than 45 years, and I'll never experience the thrill of their winning a championship, I still love the Tribe.

I love acknowledging a local guy who joined the Navy and went to war in 1942 and became one of Minnesota's most decorated soldiers. (by the way, Minnesotans don't show up on time for noon starts)

Is there anything better than a seventh-inning stretch with 40,000 people singing, Take Me Out to the Ballgame? No. No, there's not.

By the way, I know it's Minnesota and everything, but do these look like people who just clinched the Central Division and are on their way to a possible world championship?

You better get your game faces on soon, Minnesota.

The kids

Having kids is like playing fantasy sports, except it's real.

Yesterday, I got big points. Son #1 got a promotion, a new pay grade, and an acknowledgment of his good work at his place of employment, which also happens to be my place of employment. He's well on his way. Good for him.

Son #2 got himself on television to talk about being the newest member of the White Bear Lake Fire Department. Scroll to 14:00.

Lake Area Beat-September 2010 from Lake Area Beat on Vimeo.

I'm in first place!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The empty nest project

By now, thousands of people within the sound of my blog are probably suffering a bad case of empty nest syndrome. The last of the brood has gone off to college. Maybe someday they'll come back home to live, but it'll never be quite the same. I think about this as I watch the geese -- they were just little critters a few months ago -- get ready to leave the Twin Cities.

Dona Schwartz knows the feeling. She's working on a photographic portrait project about empty nesters. "I am interested in this moment in time because I think it's a significant transitional period in people's lives," she says. "I photograph parents in the vacated bedrooms their kids have left behind. Sometimes the bedrooms have been left as is, and sometimes parents repossess the space--both scenarios say a lot about the nature of the transition to life without children at home and the different ways parents approach it."

Schwartz has raised six children and stepchildren; the last is almost ready to fly. Leading up to this point, she thought she'd enjoy the coming solitude. Now, she's not so sure.

"One day I was overwhelmed by the teenage energy and drama (and angst) and I thought, 'I'm tired of the transitions in teenagers' lives! Adults go through transitions too and someone should pay attention to adults' lives!' she says. 'An empty nest! That's a transition I can relate to!' It was a eureka moment and the project came into being. The project is called On the Nest and it has two parts. I have been photographing people who are expecting their first child in the space they have prepared for the child's arrival, so part one is the transition to parenthood. Part two is empty nesters photographed in the vacated bedrooms of their children -- parents who are now transitioning to life without day-to-day responsibility for the care of children -- adults who are again on the threshold of a new identity and way of living."

If you'd like to be part of the project, contact her at

Monday, September 20, 2010

A little bit country

Carolie and I went on a short road trip to Zumbrota, Minnesota on Saturday. It's farm country. The first annual Minnesota Testicle Festival was being held at the Goodhue County Fairgrounds. We didn't stay for the rodeo, or the fashion show, or the concerts. We only stayed long enough to ask, "what the hell?"

Afterwards, we took the back roads up to Red Wing and had a nice lunch at the old St. James Hotel.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Better than Oshkosh

Hate to say it but hanging around the MPR booth for a week at State Fair time has replaced Oshkosh as the highlight of my summer.