This land is my land.

28 03 2011

Now that I have been in the United States for A WHOLE MONTH already, I have come to realize that there is a lot about the culture here that I can still totally identify with, even after spending the past almost 20 years overseas. I feel like I would feel completely comfortable easing back into society here, and pretending I had never left.

For example, take… people. I understand their language, their jokes, their mentality and their concerns. I can talk shop on baseball, hurricanes and inflation in the cost of an ice cream cone. And everyone is just so nice to each other. That’s what I really like about Americans.

In the past couple of weeks, I have also been noticing stuff that is maybe a little under the surface… things you take note of only when you are here a longer time, that are so very different from my life in Europe. A couple of days ago, I started writing down a few of these, and thought I’d share them.

Here an incomplete list of fascinating stuff I have (re-)learned about the USA:

Freight trains, though not as plentiful as in Europe, are exponentially longer than in Europe. The other day I was stuck at a railroad crossing in downtown Hollywood, FL as a cargo train passed. I counted 150 wagons, not including the two locomotives that were pulling it.

– There is a good reason it’s called commercial radio. When there is a commercial on the station you happen to be listening to, there will be commercials on all the other radio stations, at the same time. It’s like all radio stations have together conspired to simultaneously flood their listenership with paid advertising. The exception to the rule is, of course, (commercial-free) National Public Radio… that is in the middle of its Spring fund drive.

Radio Gaga.

– And by day four of the above-mentioned NPR beg-fest, any intelligent and loyal NPR listener is ready to pick up the phone, not to pledge but to tell them to please, please STOP! There is only so much penetrating, public on-air groveling I can tolerate before it seriously grates on my nerves. And you’ll notice that the voices get more desperate the closer the deadline creeps. (“Please, pledge NOW! We need your money!”)

– One more thing about advertising. The U.S. oil and natural gas industry is currently paying millions to bombard television viewers with the message that “the deeper you go the more good you learn about oil and natural gas.” Really?  Deepwater Horizon, anyone?

March Madness is not some kind of psychotic illness that runs rampant in the Springtime, but a basketball tournament that everyone seems to get real excited about. (OK, maybe it is an illness…)

–  To end on a positive note: Americans volunteer more than any other population I know. There are opportunities to do unpaid social work everywhere – coach a team, chaperone kids or help old people. If only there were as many paid jobs as there are volunteer opportunities, this country would be in fantastic shape.

Challenges of the English language

10 03 2011

The other twilight I decided to wade into the darkness over South Florida and try a night flight through some of the busiest airspace in the world. But I discovered quickly that darkness is relative. Though the sun dropped behind the Everglades as it does every day, the southeastern tip of the country is far from dark. A sea of light illuminating the ground beneath our Cessna Skyhawk (as well as the clouds above it) was burning enough energy to power a small developing country. For a year or maybe two.

The lights end abruptly in a straight line though, north to south, and the black abyss of the Atlantic Ocean takes over.

Downtown Miami at night. Gorgeous, isnt it?

One of the great challenges of flying (day or night) in my home country is, I’ve discovered, that I have to actually relearn my own native language in order to figure out what’s going on on the aviation transmission frequencies.

You see, in Europe, where almost everyone speaks English as their first, second, third or fourth foreign language, the pace on the radio is slower and more deliberate. The directions given by the the air traffic controllers have a distinctly European flavor. (And still, I feel sooooo superior with my native English language skills and the “Level Six – English proficient” notation on my pilots’ license.)

But here in the land of the free and the home of the verbally challenged, I am quite simply, erm… a bit lost. That evening when I contacted what is called “Clearance” at my home airport, I gave them my call sign – N5213R – and my intentions – “shoreline south” – this is what I heard back:

“Five-two-one-three-romeo, shwewlypdkjahjhsadoifhniowneknrlkmkdnn. Blurph.”

Ummm… say what?

My response: “Five-two-one-three-romeo, say again slowly, please?”

“One-three-romeo, aslhfkjjkdsopnvoewsdfkljipelous. Opuwernx.”

I looked to the instructor sitting next to me.

“Don’t look at me, I didn’t understand him either,” he said.

A second “say again” call brought clarity, I was cleared to taxi and prepare for takeoff.

Not understanding what is going on is all fine and good when stationary on the ground. There is time to pause and think and breathe and stay out of everyone’s way. There is no pressure, no airspace to watch out for, no altitude or speed to maintain and no reason to worry that something bad just might happen the next second.

Once airborne, however, is when the real fun starts. Especially in, as previously mentioned, one of the busiest aviation centers in the entire country.

A sightseeing flight down to Miami and Key Biscayne crosses the airspace of two busy international airports, where the last thing they want to see is a single-engine gnat getting in the way. Being sucked into the air intake of a passenger jet headed for Europe would create a bad day for everyone.

So therefore little itty bitty aircraft like ours are asked (told) to keep low enough over the shoreline so that we can practically dip our toes into the ocean below, and wave to residents on the 43rd floor of the beachside apartment towers just west of us.  We are almost close enough to see what they are watching on TV. The big boys thunder overhead as they depart from or approach MIA or FLL.

And so the garbled radio transmissions continued this night. I asked the various stations to “say again s-l-o-w-l-y” no less than seven times. I’m sure they threw a party when N5213R landed safely at her home airport.

Damn foreigners.