Snowbird City

27 01 2012

The Canadians have landed.

The annual exodus from winter to warmer climes began about Thanksgiving (American Thanksgiving, that is…) and usually lasts until Easter. That means, we here in Hollywood, Florida, are currently in the thick of it.

A caravan of vehicles bearing the license plate “Je me souviens” begins moving south down I-95 just as Florida’s hurricane season is ending, and Quebec’s deep freeze is beginning. The colony grows by the day until South Florida is saturated.

Bienvenue! And spend some money here, you Lexus driver, you!

And they really are ALL French Canadians. In all my years of coming to Hollywood between November and April, I have never seen a Canadian license plate from west of Laval. I have no idea why.

One telltale indication that the snowbirds are back in town are the signs in the stores that say “On parle français” and…I walk by this one every day….

Yuck.

For those of you unfamiliar with this culinary delight from north of the border, it is truly disgusting. A heart attack on a plate if there ever was one. Fries drowned in cheese and gravy, basically. I had the honor of making its acquaintance once while at university in Canada, many, many years ago. My cholesterol level has not yet recovered.

R. and I have started playing a drinking game when we are out in one of the bars downtown or at the beach. It’s called “Identify the French Canadian”. I can’t say what it is about them, but we are generally 98% right (and therefore drink a lot). French Canadians just have this look, and they all seem to look the same.

But despite the invasion of les Français, we are thankful for their cash, which they toss around liberally, as every vacationer should.

To keep our French Canadian friends and neighbo(u)rs happy and entertained during their annual sojourn to Florida, Hollywood offers Claude, the two-step king.

Monsieur "MC et DJ prof." in action at "Disco-Karaoké".

He is out a few times a week in the bandshell on the beach, crooning old favorites from the 60’s and 70’s. Hundreds of retired Canucks spend their afternoons in the sunshine, tapping their feet to Claude’s rendition of “Mustang Sally” and other favorites I never new had French subtitles or translations. His finale today was what seemed to be some kind of folk song that had everyone joining in in a sing-a-long.

It’s fun for the whole family, as Claude’s elderly line-dancing groupies – also out for every afternoon performance – will attest.

The ladies doing their thing for Claude.

We Floridians just sit there and gape at the crazy tourists.

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56 hours in bedlam

12 04 2011

As the Amtrak Keystone Service train slid along the tracks northward, I prepared myself for my 2-day New York City visit by trying to recall details from the time I lived there, in 1991-92.

20 years ago? Lord.

Somehow all I came up with were a couple of big blanks across my consciousness. Nothing more than a few fuzzy scenes of alleged ivy league glory. I was a graduate student, and I literally rode to hell and back in an academic year. There is nothing more to tell.

The distant skyscrapers of midtown Manhattan slipped into view…wow, that was quick… it seems like we just left Philadelphia. (It’s this close?) On the New Jersey Turnpike this trip seems to take a lot longer than by train.

We passed towns I know well from those Turnpike exits: Rahway, Elizabeth, Harrison; inching ever closer to that biggest of Apples. Planes approached the south end of Newark airport’s runways, Path trains on neighboring tracks waited for their scheduled departures. Buildings moved closer, emerging from the blue haze, their edges becoming sharper. Unlike my memories.

The biggest apple (core).

Once in the city, it took me less than five blocks to remember why I left New York all those years ago, and only ever come back to visit. If I had to live here again now, the city would eat me whole. For breakfast.

Recently I met a non-native New Yorker who has lived in the city for almost 20 years. She told me that her New York is actually just a small part of it. It’s not the whole megalopolis, from Staten Island to the Bronx, from the Hudson to Long Island Sound, but rather a tiny corner of it in which she lives, works, shops, breathes and exists. She said that the entire city all at once can be overwhelming, even for someone who lives there… every person must carefully and consciously carve out an individual community from the endless opportunities beyond one’s doorstep.

And then a tourist comes and thinks she needs to swallow NYC whole because she is only in the city of cities for a short period of time. That’s impossible, even for the hardiest of souls. I’m glad a nouveau New Yorker confirmed this for me. Some folks think I’m just too sensitive.

My couple of days in New York were full of experiences impossible to replicate anywhere else. It’s that simple. Still, I couldn’t wait to leave.

I didn’t look back when the Amtrak train left Penn station and emerged from the tunnel on the Jersey side. 56 hours in the city was enough for my delicate constitution and I don’t need any more of the smog, dirt or weirdos for the next long while. I’m done with the city and look forward to all the other wonderful places on this great earth that I will have the privilege of seeing. I gladly leave New York to those who can handle the bedlam.

Couldn't have said it better myself.





True piloting and love letters

11 02 2011

On Monday I once again took a foray into the mysterious world of night flying. Two winters ago, I decided to get my qualification – under visual flight rules – just because, well, because it seemed like a cool thing to have.

Not that I would ever dare to go out there after sunset without an instructor safely belted into the right seat. You don’t actually SEE anything when you fly at night except lots of streetlights. And on this night the slim crescent moon provided zero additional illumination. So it just tends to be… really dark out there, and the biggest challenge is making sure you know where you are going. And avoiding terrain, of course.

Cool, huh?

We hit evening rush hour at Zurich International Airport, and despite having reserved a slot time in advance, the folks in the tower decided that our little Cessna 152 would be relegated to their lowest priority. HB-CFF is a trusty trainer, about my age, and, like me, a workhorse that loves to fly and hates to idle on the tarmac.

But as the one of the creatures lowest on the aviation food chain, she and her fellow 152s are also regularly subjected to a fair amount of abuse from aviation authorities (like air traffic controllers) and anyone who flies in anything with more than two seats.

Such as the insult of having to wait at the holding point as at least 15 heavies – commercial aircraft, behemoths of the sky – saunter past with the arrogance that giants tend to exude. They all know that our prop wash is peanuts against their jet blast, and they could knock us over in less time than it takes to say “Full power”.

Our view out the windshield is just about at the same level of their million-watt headlights. Thank you, gentlemen – that’s almost as much fun as enduring a laser attack on short final.

A full 23 minutes after an initial “Ready for Departure” call to Zurich Tower, I wondered aloud if Zurich Tower was going to let us sit there all night till we were completely blinded or till we ran out of fuel – whatever came second. A follow-up call had its desired effect: we were told to line up on the active runway 28. Only to wait some more as another three jets were cleared to cross on a taxiway in the distance.

Once (finally, FINALLY!) in the air, that familiar feeling of ultimate liberation returned and I once again wondered why it took me so long to come back. We flew into the deep orange stripe still highlighting the western horizon, chasing the sun that was long gone. Our destination was Basel, about 100 kilometers (60 miles) northwest of here, and finding the airport was a challenging mini-refresher in night navigation (sans GPS, folks).

Three smooth as silk touch-and-go’s on a runway lit up like a Christmas tree validated my confidence in my landing abilities. On the homeward leg, a clear starry sky stretched over us like a cloudless ink-black dome. Simply magical. It doesn’t get any better than this, I think. You just don’t get this feeling in an jet, no matter how hard you try.

Little birds like CFF are often mocked in places where tonnage and thrust play a leading role, but I maintain they are still the better way to fly. After all, what’s cooler? Actual piloting or systems management? It’s a philosophical discussion among aviators that’s been conducted ad nauseum since computers crept into the cockpit.

I guess that’s kind of like the debate between a ring binder full of paper and an I-pad. Of course the I-pad can do so much more than a stack of paper, but honestly – don’t you long for a handwritten love letter once in a while?

Yeah, me too.

 

(Thanks to the folks at Flying in Crosswinds for the ultra-cool night landing photo. And I sincerely apologize for not having given credit earlier.)





Hello world!

8 07 2010

How the hell are you? Oh now isn’t THIS exciting. You’re there and I’m here. And wow, well, HERE WE ARE! Is anybody even out there? Well it doesn’t matter, does it. If a tree falls in a forest, it still makes a sound.

Hello World!

So what do I have to say? I’m not sure yet. And why would anybody want to read it? Hm. Good question. Hoping this project will grow, mutate and mature with time. This blog business is all a bit new for me – I feel like I was born a generation too early for this kind of thing. I’m also a bit out of practice when it comes to writing so some of it might seem a bit rough in the beginning. So not really great prerequisites for a smashing success. But this super action heroine will probably always have SOMEthing to say, even if no one’s listening.

A very good friend who started a parenting blog last year wrote that starting a blog is kind of like giving birth: “[The] moment when theory becomes practice, when – almost literally – the shit hits the fan…an epiphany of self-doubt is born.”

Well my dear IronicMom you are my inspiration. Let us self-doubt together, thousands of miles apart. Starting with nothing – a blank computer screen – and turning it into something substantial is the toughest job of all.