Diversion – P is for “Psoaring”

20171021_143745Okay, I made up that word (because I’m a bit psycho), but when we booked our trip to Hawaii (see “P is for Pu’uhonua”), we bookended the flights to Honolulu with stops in Los Angeles to break up the long flights from the East Coast.  On the first of those LA stops, Judy and I decided to check off a bucket list item with soaring lessons!

As a private pilot, all my flying has been in planes with motors, but soaring in a glider has held a certain appeal…matching wits with nature in search of thermals that will take you to new heights, rather than just gliding “down hill.”  I reached out to Jeff Jewell, one of my LA-based flying buddies who had spent some quality time flying gliders, for some advice.  He pointed me straight in the direction of the Southern California Soaring Academy in the high desert town of Llano. He also let me know that on the day we were planning our experience, he would be flying the tow plane!

We arrived dressed for the desert – shorts and t-shirts – but were met by breezes and cool temps. That didn’t dampen our enthusiasm as we were met at the door by Julie and introduced to our instructors.  Judy was shown to her glider first and after she and Jim pre-flighted, a golf cart towed them to the end of the runway.  22730336_897410107074580_3258421392343006608_nDale gave me a thorough rundown of the instruments and controls of the ASK-21 sailplane we would be flying, the difficulty we might have finding thermals this particular day, and the procedures we would follow when being towed into the air.  We, too, were then towed out to the end of the runway, where Jeff taxied-up and the crew hooked up the tow line.  When the line was taut, we waggled our rudder indicating we were ready to go, and Jeff firewalled the throttle in the Piper Pawnee tow plane ahead of us, and we quickly lifted off right behind.

A truly masterful instructor, Dale walked me through the tow procedures, one of the hardest parts to learn when one is getting their glider rating, as I followed along with my hands and feet on the controls. As we approached the mountain ridgeline south of Crystal Airport, we dropped the towline. We were soaring!  Flying within just a hundred feet or so of the treetops, the view and the sensations were exhilarating, and maybe a bit intimidating.  A pilot in a powered aircraft like I fly would never get that close to a mountain, Dale said, and I can certainly attest to that. We skimmed along the ridge, looking for the slightest amount of lift created by the winds rising up the mountain (called ridge lift or, in meteorological terms, orographic lifting) … lift that could be felt in the seat of the pants and seen in the very sensitive vertical speed indicator called a variometer.  There wasn’t much, but Dale found some (Judy’s instructor would quip that Dale “could find a thermal in a fart”) and he racked the tiny aircraft with the incredibly long wings into a spiraling turn to stay in the thermal.

Then it was my turn.  Flying that glider was unlike anything I’ve ever flown before.  Dale was constantly urging me, “More rudder!”  Unlike the Pipers and Cessnas I usually fly, where only a bit of rudder is needed to coordinate the turn, sailplanes with impossibly long wings experience a LOT of adverse yaw.  But I got the hang of it, and soon Dale was showing me how to use speed in a dive to build energy to climb.  We found a small thermal in a place dubbed “The Chimney.” I did my best to stay in it, spiraling in a steep turn as we climbed ever so slowly.

Soon, it was time to head back to the ground.  I had long lost sight of Judy and Jim, but I was too mesmerized in my own experience to really notice.  I did some stalls and steep turns to get a better feel for the bird, then Dale demonstrated the aerobatic capabilities of the ASK-21 with a wing-over! I flew the pattern toward the airport with Dale working the spoilers to lose lift in a glider that would rather fly than be on the ground.  Nevertheless, we nailed the touchdown and coasted to a stop.  Our first soaring flights were done, but they won’t be our last!

There’s a whole world out there, waiting to be explored.  See it from the air!

Judy ready to soar

 

Diversion – Of Whiskey, Wood and Warm Welcomes

Rick HouseDriving down the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, you’ll discover many things beyond tasting good whiskey. First, that it’s not really a trail, but a smattering of distilleries located in and around Louisville and Lexington, and second, that every distillery making “bourbon” follows the same basic recipe required by U.S. law. Woodford ReserveUnexpectantly, you’ll find a wide variety of flavors both in the drinks and the distilleries themselves.

Maker's Mark TastingWoodford TastingWhen it comes to the whiskey, I’ll let you be the judge of what you like and don’t like. Try as many of the distilleries as you can, follow your guides’ tasting advice, and don’t be afraid to try new things. Judy was our Designated Driver – she generally doesn’t like Bourbon – but she was a trooper and tried some of them, even finding one or two she liked. I reveled in the new and different flavors, all derived from the grains used in the mash and the wood of the charred oak barrels. I became a bourbon drinker several years ago, when a former boss – a retired Air Force two-star general – pretty much insisted I join him at the bar when we were on business travel and introduced me to Maker’s Mark and a few others. Greg sips Bourbon.jpgI became hooked. Judy and I now keep a small collection of fine bourbons, scotches, and Irish whiskeys in our library’s globe bar. There’s something uniquely relaxing about reading a good book with a dram of amber, 90-proof liquid rolling around your tongue and palate.

Angel's EnvyMaker's Mark CopperI also reveled in the wide variety of architectural styles. From the classic “down in the holler” buildings of Maker’s Mark, Woodford Reserve and Buffalo Trace (not on the tour but worth a stop) built in the 1800s with their worn and aging cypress fermenters, to the modern and spotless glass and stainless-steel Town Branch facility, to the gleaming polished copper, brick and wood Angel’s Envy distillery built inside a former manufacturing plant in downtown Louisville…architectural personalities young and old were featured. Even the retail “experiences” of Evan Williams and Jim Beam featured architectural styles that put their products and personalities in best light.

Nicholas at Town Branch.jpgEach of our guides also brought their own unique personalities to the tours and tastings. Nicholas at Town Branch was, by far, the funniest and most entertaining, but the booming voice of classically trained actor Jimmy James Hamblin at Angel’s Envy earned him a nomination for Louisville’s Recognition of Service Excellence (ROSE) Awards this year…and our utmost respect and admiration. done-that-got-the-tshirt.jpgBut unvarying among all our guides and the people we met along the way were the warm Kentucky welcomes we received and felt, making our Kentucky Bourbon Trail experience one of our favorite diversions so far.

There’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored. Go see it!

 

Why I Fly

From my earliest days, I wanted to fly.

As a youngster, I was fortunate to fly commercially before airliners became nothing more than airborne buses and coats and ties were de rigueur. ClipperFlights in Lockheed Electras, Convair 440s, Boeing 707s and DC-8s had me glued to the window as the earth fell away during takeoff. Back then, cockpit tours for kids were a must, and the stewardesses (as they were called then) ALWAYS had wing pins for their young passengers.

Balsa wood, tissue paper and dope models followed, as did subscriptions to every flying magazine I could get my hands on. Dad took me to airshows at Pt. Magu where I saw the incomparable Bob Hoover in his Aero Commander Shrike perform a complete aerobatic routine with both engines silent.

My best friend’s grandfather took us up for a ride in a Piper Tri-Pacer out of Van Nuys airport and later a Piper Apache; his dad took us up in a Cessna 310 … the stage was set.

But priorities changed.  Sailing, then cars and girls in high school, more sailing in college and a first marriage kept my aviation dreams at bay. But then in 1993, the planets aligned and an opportunity presented itself that was simply too good to pass up … a close friend had an opportunity to buy an old Cessna 150 for $9,000 – a bargain! – did I want in?  Absolutely!  Another friend had just received his Certified Flight Instructor certificate and would train me in exchange for the flight time.  Deals were made, checks written and the airplane was ours.N5749E

My logbook tells the story.  My first lesson was on April 6, 1993 in a Cessna 172 when we went to pick up the plane.  Mike flew it back. I soloed just three months later with only 18 hours logged!  I passed my private pilot checkride on March 21, 1994.  Bigger and faster airplanes followed and in December 2001, I passed the checkride for my Instrument Rating.

It all stopped in 2003.  I moved east and when the promise of a new job failed to materialize the finances to fly just weren’t there, and then life ensued.  The dream faded but never went away.  A new, but short-lived job with the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association threw new sparks on the fire, but my then-wife wasn’t a flyer … it wasn’t a priority.

Fast forward to 2012 when the woman of my dreams enters my life … and she wants to fly!  Judy not only supported my dreams, but wanted her dreams of flight to be realized.  For a wedding present, I got her a logbook of her own and an introductory lesson.  On a cold day in January, I watched her take off for the first time at the controls.  Later that summer, I, too, was back in an airplane with a new medical certificate in hand and an instructor putting me through the flight review paces.  It took a few flights – I was definitely rusty, but it all came back and my instructor signed me off.  I was back in the air!Checklist

A week ago, I was again signed off by an instructor to fly one of my favorite airplanes, a Piper Arrow, and later this year, I hope to regain my Instrument Rating currency. In the meantime, Judy and I are planning many flights together.J&G Flying

Today is National Aviation Day…a day to celebrate why we fly and our nation’s long history of flight. I am incredibly thankful to live in a country that affords me this opportunity…but it is an opportunity that is being put at risk by Congressional legislation to privatize our Air Traffic Control system. This move will make private aviation too costly for all but the richest folks and put control of ATC in the hands of the airlines that do NOT have your interests at heart. Thousands will lose their jobs and critical infrastructure served by general aviation will be lost.

If you have ever, even once, thought about taking a flying lesson, enjoyed a scenic flight, taken a flight with a friend to another airport for a “$100 Hamburger,” I ask you to do two things:  1) Write or call your representatives in Congress and tell them to Modernize, not Privatize, our ATC system, and 2) Book a flight with an instructor TODAY and see for yourself what joy flying brings!  If you need some advice, contact me…I’m always happy to talk flying.

There’s a whole world out there, waiting to be explored…see it from the front seat!

Short Final

Of Diners, Drive-Ins, and….Road Food*

I’m a car guy … have been since my youth. In my early 20s, I was obsessed with autocrossing … racing my car around a parking lot on a course defined by orange cones, racing against the clock. I rebuilt the engine of my ’73 Opel Manta from the ground up. There was grease underneath my fingernails nearly all the time; no weekend was complete without at least one skinned knuckle accompanied by a few choice swear words because of a slipped wrench.

Today, I let the mechanics do the dirty work and I’m quite a bit more laid back about my driving, but it should come as no surprise that road trips have a certain appeal to me as a “car guy.” If Route 66 is the Mother Road, then driving Route 66 today is the mother of all road trips.

To me, a big draw of road trips is food. Sure, Judy and I talked about staying close to our diets, eating lots of veggies and other healthy stuff, but let me ask you, did Ron Howard and Harrison Ford’s characters in “American Graffiti” go to Whole Foods in their souped-up Hot Rods? No, they went to Mel’s Drive-In for Burgers and Fries. In “Pulp Fiction,” when Uma Thurman and John Travolta went out to eat, the diner in which they danced was completely car-themed. Name one movie featuring Steve McQueen and a car that also had him eating sushi and hummus and I’ll become a Vegan … for a day.

But I digress … road trips are about eating road food, and Route 66 has plenty to offer. Our daily journals featured lots of paragraphs about food we ate along the way:

IMG_7409The Donut Man in Glendora, CA, had donuts made with FRESH strawberries. Yes, you read that right … fresh strawberries.

The Outpost Cafe at the north end of Cajon Pass had a pretty decent burger and a salad drenched in too much dressing, but it was a classic diner in every way.IMG_7443

 

Dinner was at Jenny’s Place in Barstow, reputed to have “something for everyone” by the owner of the Route 66 Motel. It turned out “something for everyone as long as it’s Mexican” but I had some delicious carnitas tacos and too many chips, rice and beans, completely sating my SoCal appetite for spicy south-of-the-border fare.

This was all on Day 1.

The rest of the trip would be remembered for similar culinary adventures.

In Kingman, Arizona, Floyd’s BBQ came highly recommended, but since it was Monday, it was closed. We went to the Diana’s Cellar Door, a combo brewery and wine bar next door instead and enjoyed a couple of glasses of red while chatting amiably with the patrons. But hunger prevailed and we dropped in to another recommended place, The Kingman Chophouse, where we shared a great Delmonico in a classic western setting.IMG_7583

IMG_7584

In Seligman, Arizona, we stopped at Delgadillo’s Sno-Cap Drive-in for lunch. The staff, reputed to be pranksters, didn’t disappoint. Rita was behind the counter and when I asked what a Choink Burger was, she gave me that look that only stupid tourists get (it’s a Bacon Cheese Burger, by the way. Duh.). I ordered the Choink and a Malt.

20170404_165452After “standing on a corner” in Winslow, Arizona (such a fine sight to see), we followed some local’s advice and made a reservation (reservation?!) at the Turquoise Room at the La Posada Hotel. Built in 1930 as a Harvey House, the hotel has been restored to much of its early glory and its restaurant draws raves worldwide.

Our window seat gave us magnificent views of the passing trains while the wide portico outside shaded us from the setting sun. We enjoyed Bison Taquitos, Elk in a Black Currant Sauce, Crispy Quail with Oaxaca Sauce, and a Braised Bison Tamale. Not exactly road food to be sure, but well worth the stop.

The Southwestern flavors of the road were a big highlight for me. At La Fonda on The Plaza in Santa Fe, we dove into local specialties offered with your choice of red sauce, green sauce or “Christmas.” Just thinking back on all that beef, cilantro, sauce, beans … makes me hungry.

In Shamrock, Texas, we ate at Big Vern’s Steakhouse – apparently, the only place in town worth eating at. Our waitress, Gail, was straight out of the Texas panhandle; pretty in a sun-beaten/leather-skinned sort of way, and most pleasant. She treated locals and tourists alike, but I am sure that if we had wanted steak sauce for our delicious ribeye, she would have chased us out the door with a hot branding iron.IMG_8051

And it continued…

In Arcadia, Oklahoma, Pop’s with it’s 50-foot Soda Pop neon sculpture out front, beckoned us in for burgers and fries, and a six-pack of sodas with the grossest names imaginable, culled from their 144 varieties; in Baxter Springs, Kansas, we were the only customers at The Smokehouse, which served some of the best barbecue we’ve ever had…the sauce was so good we bought a quart to bring home.

The next morning, we stopped at the Riverton Market for some of the best deli sandwiches you’ll ever eat before crossing the border into Missouri. In Springfield, Missouri, we ate those sandwiches in the parking lot of the original Steak and Shake, where we bought chocolate shakes, just because. IMG_8125We bought fudge packed in Uranus, Mo., where we couldn’t stop laughing over all the innuendos. Shelly’s Diner in Cuba, Missouri, is one of those places where everyone knows your name, but also treats tourists like regulars. We ordered a BLT and their special for the day – a Chicken Melt – and talked about the trip so far. It was blissful. Nearing Chicago, we longed for deep dish pizza; after check-in, the hotel clerk pointed us toward Gino’s East where we dined and laughed our butts off with the waitress (another Rita…I’m sensing a pattern here)…an evening worthy of a blog entry on its own.

The Road is like that…stopping along the way, trying new things, and meeting new people. That’s why we travel, and we hope you will too. There’s a whole world out there just waiting to be explored…go out and see it. And order me a malt while you’re there!

*Don’t want that “guy” to sue me!

The Road is Calling

I grew up a Californian. The ocean, mountains, valleys and deserts all have a certain lure; the automobile was my ticket to ride, the vehicle that took me to all these majestic places. From my earliest days, the road was calling, begging me to explore.

I was on wheels at an early age…first a tricycle, then I learned to ride a bike when I was only five…motorcycles when I was 10. Sailing was introduced to to me when I was 8, and I became a water rat. An early dream to fly became reality in the early 90s. But my first love, the road, was always calling.

IMG_0219

Even though I grew up in the muscle car era, hot rods had no appeal…sports cars like those I read about in Road and Track and Car & Driver were my dreams as a teenager. My dentist had an old Porsche 356…he saw my passion and gave me a ride one day. I was hooked!

The road was calling.

In 1976, my family took a month-long road trip from Southern California through Arizona and Nevada into Utah and Colorado; up the eastern spine of the Rocky Mountains into Canada and the glaciers of Banff and Jasper. Heading west, we drove south along the Pacific Coast Highway. We had delayed the trip one week so I could complete Driver’s Training. Learner’s permit in hand, mom let me drive a good chunk of the time. I must have logged 2,000 miles that summer, an experience every new driver should have.IMG_0218

The road was calling.

On my 16th birthday, I was at the DMV when they opened. I passed the test and for the first time I was behind the wheel on a public road alone…well, at least legally. An old Toyota Corona bought from my sister for $300 and a new clutch installed by me with her boyfriend’s guidance became my chariot. Every chance I had, I explored the mountain and coastal roads of Los Angeles and Ventura Counties. I discovered that a great way for me to shake off teenage angst and trials was to go for a drive through “a dark desert highway.”

The road was calling.

Forty years later, the road is still calling. This time, it’s Route 66…the Mother Road…the road that Bruce Springsteen sang about…”the highway is alive tonight.” As Judy and I prepare to set off on our epic Route 66 adventure, I can hardly contain my excitement…looking forward to driving through the deserts of my youth, into the high plains of Arizona and New Mexico; tornado alley (in Spring, which might make things interesting) and into the Heartland ending in Chi Town.

The road is calling.

I’ve driven cross country once before, when I moved to the East Coast in 2003. I did it in two and a half days…challenging myself to log as many miles each day as I could. The final push was from the eastern border of Oklahoma to D.C. in 16 hours, with stops only for gas and food. It was a monumental feat, but I missed the exploration…the joy that is called the road.

This trip will be different. We’re taking our time…we’re going to stop at every kitschy photo stop, stay in classic Route 66 motels, and eat all-American style.

There’s a whole world out there, waiting to be explored. Go see it, because the road is calling.IMG_0222

Diversion – Our Own Winery!

Romano signOkay, it’s not really ours, but it’s kinda cool to have a winery nearby that shares your last name. There’s nothing like having personalized wineglasses and wine bottles in the cellar to make your guests wonder!

Romano Vineyard and Winery is in Brandywine, Maryland, in southern Prince George’s County. PG County, as the locals know it, is mostly urban and suburban; home to the likes of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Cente, NOAA’s National Center for Weather and Climate Prediction, the U.S. Census Bureau, and Joint Base Andrews; and, according to U.S. Census data, the most affluent county in the country with a primarily African-American population. But this area of PG County is decidedly rural…former tobacco farms now yield lots of corn, soybeans, and more importantly, vineyards.  It’s a stone’s throw from historic St. Mary’s and Charles counties…even the infamous Dr. Mudd House, where Abraham Lincoln’s assassin John Wilkes Booth had his broken leg set, is nearby.

I’d like to say that Judy and I stumbled on this gem of a winery as one of our regular diversions, but this story is a bit different. When the winery opened in 2011, I lived just a few miles away with my previous wife and saw the “bootleg” signs announcing its opening and wine-tasting availability along the rural roads I regularly took to work. I vowed to visit and introduce myself to the proprietors.

That never happened. In 2012, I moved out, filed for divorce, and moved to much more urban Northern Virginia. When Judy and I got together, we discovered a shared passion for good wine and often enjoy visiting wineries as a regular weekend activity. Romano vineyardVirginia’s wines have become world-class and there is no shortage of wineries to visit. Our neighbors even gave us a Virginia Wine Pass to enjoy regular discounts!  But I still harbored the desire to visit the winery that shares my family name, so when a trip to Annapolis offered an opportunity for a Southern PG County diversion, we jumped at the chance.

We weren’t disappointed. Unlike many of the Virginia wineries, the Romano winery has a very casual, rural farm feel. Owners Jo-Ann and curiousities sidebar 2Joseph Romano were delightful. We quickly figured out we weren’t related, but then, we Romanos are like the “Smiths” of Italy…many in number, not related, but all happy to meet one another.

The wines were excellent, too, so naturally, we joined the Romano Wine Club. We received our membership materials a couple of weeks ago, including our card for two free glasses of wine each month.

Today, we found ourselves in the area once again, top-down on the Fiat spider enjoying the spring weather with temps in the low ‘60s – a nice break from recent freezes. Naturally, we stopped at “our” winery.  Jo-Ann instantly recognized us. We sat outside, each enjoying a glass of merlot.  We chatted with several ladies who were enjoying a similar fine day.  With other errands to run, we didn’t stay long, but for a brief respite, Judy and I reveled in the joy of each other’s company, a fine glass of wine, and the peace and quiet that only a rural atmosphere can bring.

We have long held that part of the fun of traveling is getting off the beaten path to find hidden gems like Romano Vineyard and Winery.  Stop in and say hello, even for a just few minutes.

There’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored.  Go see it.

Fiat at Romano

 

 

Diversion – Getting to Know You, Part 2

A reader responded to my recent post about talking up servers and bartenders with a simple question, “Why?”  I’m not really sure where she was going with this question … “Why travel?”  “Why enjoy yourself?”  “Why talk to people?”  But if ever there was any doubt about the last question, it was answered this past weekend…again.

As often happens, Judy and I needed to spend a night in Fredericksburg, Va., about an hour south of our Alexandria home.  In a few previous instances, we’ve enjoyed the food and vibe of Fahrenheit 132, located in the heart of historic downtown Fredericksburg. Fahrenheit 132 In all our previous visits, we’ve sat at the bar, enjoying fine cocktails (their French Martini is always a hit), excellent appetizers, and even one of the best Filet Mignons we’ve ever tasted.  But this time, I wanted to make it a bit special, so I booked a table (through Open Table…one of my favorite apps) for 8:30.  We arrived scandalously early to the crowded restaurant, so we checked in an ordered a drink at the bar.  We were only halfway into our first cocktail when we were shown to our table.

Two things stuck out about this visit.  First, we had never seen the wine list before.  It was extensive…the selection of Italian reds, alone, took up the better part of a page!  We chose a 2006 Villa Gemma Montepulciano D’Abruzzo (one of our favorite varietals) and to say we were pleased is an understatement. Villa Gemma The legs were longer than Cyd Charisse’s and the color was an incredibly deep, inky maroon.  If you held the glass to the light, you couldn’t see through it.  The nose took you away to some other place, and the first taste on the tongue was captivating.  THIS is why you spend good money on good wine.

Second, our server, Jessica, was everything you could hope for.  Like Araceli in our previous post, Jess was sweet, beautiful, and like our wine, captivating.  In our two hours together, we learned much about this lovely young lady and her zest for life in between bites of the best pork chops you will ever taste.  As a server, she was there before we needed her, suggested brilliant accompaniments to our entree, and instantly recognized and appreciated our desire to take our time enjoying our meal. As a new friend, we learned that she has tackled hardship and heartache in a way that is truly inspiring.  She truly made our evening joyful and we cannot wait to see her…and Fahrenheit 132…again.

There’s a whole world out there just waiting to be explored. Go see it…and take the time to get to know those around you along the way.

Here’s to you!

Greg & Judy