Monday, November 9, 2015

Half Full

I never really thought much about philosophy. Well, except that it doesn't pay very well. I've listened to many philosophical conversations over the years and decided a lot of people are really good at fooling other people. But, then again I'm a techie, and have been ever since the Air Force stuck a wrench in my hand back when I was eighteen and said, “Here, kid, turn this.”

Philosophy has always seemed to be for those who had too much time on their hands, or an independent income that didn't rely on any particular skills or talent. I always laugh at pseudo-intellectual questions such as whether or not a tree falling in the woods really makes a noise if one of our arrogant, entitled humanoid species that coexists with everything else on this planet isn't around to hear it. That pretty much sums up my desire to engage in time-consuming, inconsequential exercises that keep me from going fishing.

Relationships? I have always treated other people pretty much the way they treat me. It seems to work, and I seem to be relatively happy for a 72-year-old white male who is supposed to be continually grumpy and upset about something or other. Well, from what I gather from television and the books I read at any rate. Apparently being happy at my age is like flagging yourself as being senile.

So, when the planned tour of the U.S. Air Force Space and Missile museum at the Cape Canaveral Air Force by our TAC Missileer Association earlier this year was canceled, I was disappointed but not discouraged. When the museum people offered to seat us in the press area for the launch of an Atlas V the same day as a substitute, I was thrilled.

When, just twenty-four hours before the scheduled event was to take place, the launch was scrubbed, I was once again disappointed, And, once again, when the staff at the museum came through and reinstated the original cape tour, I was once again thrilled. Our group spent two days touring both the Cape Kennedy Space Flight Center and the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. We were among the fortunate few who get to tour the entire Cape, from our old pads at 21 and 22, to the Shuttle pads 39 A and B on the other side of the Banana River. With a little luck, I might get to see the launch after all, it was rescheduled to the following day when I would be visiting an old friend down in Vero Beach, some 80 miles south.

Some things are just not meant to be, a philosophical person may say, but I prefer to think we were just looking the wrong way when the Atlas V lifted slowly through the cloudless sky. We were ready, my friend and I, having set up lawn chairs under two huge shade trees, ready to watch the delayed show of immense power and technical skill. My friend's wife approached us as the scheduled time passed and asked why we were looking the wrong direction. Sure enough, moving to the other side of the tree, we could see the faint, disappearing contrail of the long departed missile as it headed down-range. Still, it was great to renew old friendships and catch up on old times. The missile was just anti-climatic.

The weather was great and it was time for me to head home after three days away. I had also managed to visit old friends in Orlando on the first day of my trip, and again on the evening of the second night when I met up with an old high-school friend for the first time in 55 years down in Cocoa Beach. Things just couldn't get much better.

Traffic was light as I headed across the state from Ft. Pierce toward home on Florida's west coast. The road is good, even after it drops to two lanes as it heads almost arrow-straight across the cattle country of Florida's mid-section. As I sped along, a flock of vultures gathered around some kind of road kill on the side of the road caught my eye. One of the birds in the flock was white. I slowed and at the first possible place, turned around and drove back to the congregation that included mostly Black Vultures and Turkey Vultures, or buzzards as everyone knows them, and two out-of-place Crested Caracaras. I got four photographs before they got apprehensive and flew off.

I was home within an hour, soon showered and fed, and before too long, back in the familiar grasp of my PC. Later in the day, I posted one of the Caracara photos on Facebook along with a comment I made about not seeing the launch. One of my friends commented I'm a “Glass is half-filled” kind of guy. Well, yes I guess that would sum up my philosophy, if I had one.

Black Crested Caracara foraging alongside State Road 70, Okeechobee, FL

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Like a Rock

I carefully selected the old photographs I envisioned for our walk-in video. You know, the background video accompanied by knock-your-socks-off music every corporation puts on the big screen at the opening of every major corporate event. Or sometimes, as we have done in the past, played on the video playback units of the huge tour buses as we headed toward one of our special venues. 

While I thought the big tour buses would be a great way to show the video as the audience is basically captive, I found out at the 2009 Dayton reunion that wasn't always true as two old missilemen in front of me on the bus jabbered about a faded memory they shared from fifty years ago while my masterpiece played to the few who bothered to look up. I decided I would do it differently this year. I would make this one so dynamic they wouldn't even have to turn up their hearing aids. I was going to evoke memories that would bring tears to their eyes.

Visions of people wildly clapping, joyous at the marvelous integration of our nostalgic photographs from days gone by with the soul-stirring words and powerful guitar of Bob Seger's classic anthem, “Like a Rock,” flashed before me. This would be the third such video I've done for the TAC Missileers Association and my last, so I decided to keep it short and powerful. This video would have no Air Force anthems or bugle calls of Reveille. No, this would pluck the strings of everyone's heart as they saw themselves as we were some fifty years ago, standing tall as missilemen on combat duty in Okinawa, Taiwan, Korea, and Germany, overlaid by photographs from recent reunions showing us as we are now. Just over five minutes long, including every single unit's patch shown in chronological order with its own label, I knew I had a masterpiece. 

I pondered contacting the publisher of “Like a Rock,” or even Bob Seger himself to get permission to use the song, but decided it was far easier to ask forgiveness than permission. Besides, it was only going to be used once. I didn't plan on uploading the video so no one would know I'd used his music without permission. I rationalized he would allow using the song if he saw the video, so I wasn't worried. After testing the final video on my wife, who couldn't attend the upcoming TAC Missileer Reunion in Orlando because of her class schedule, really liked the video. I burned three copies to DVD as we used three buses the last time we visited an Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio. I was ready, one for each bus. We had two tours scheduled at the nearby Cape Canaveral, but only Friday would we have all of our people together at one time.

There are two separate, distinct parts of the Cape. The civilian NASA part, which was our Thursday tour, houses the Kennedy Space Flight Center and includes the huge Vehicle Assembly Building, shuttle launch pads 39A and 39B and the Saturn V display hangar. The KSFC is located west of the Banana River. All other launch pads, such as the ones used for Apollo and Gemini, are on the east side of the river known as the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, which we were scheduled to visit on Friday. The Air Force Station also houses the Air Force Space and Missile museum. Unfortunately, it is a military establishment and has been on security code Bravo since March. 

The museum was closed to the public and all tours were canceled, but only after our association had already reserved a tour. As a gesture of good will, the folks who run the AF Space and Missile Museum invited us to watch the launch of an Atlas V on Friday as their guests instead. Being invited to watch the launch of an Atlas V from the press area was a remarkable event for our group, the TAC Missileers Association. The consolation was as exciting as the scheduled tour as many of our association members have never seen a live launch.

Saturn V
Atlas V at pad 41
Pad 21 A & B Cape Canaveral Air Force Station
Our first bus trip on Thursday from the Embassy Suites on International Drive in Orlando to the Kennedy Space Fight Center didn't include all of our attendees as some elected to visit Mickey and his friends, or more productively, the Morse Museum of Art in Winter Park that houses the Tiffany collection. Only two buses made the trip, but it didn't matter, I lost two of the three video disks anyway. As long as I had all three for the trip on Friday to watch the Atlas V GPS IIF-11 launch from pad 41 at the Cape Canaveral Air force Station, my dream would be fulfilled.

Murphy was riding on our NASA bus on Thursday – yes, NASA runs its own tour buses around the Kennedy Space Flight Center as part of the admission ticket – and as we passed pad 41 off in the distance on the other side of the river – where we could see the Atlas being readied for launch – our bus driver casually mentioned it was an Atlas V mission scheduled for Friday that had been scrubbed.

After an agonizing night for our organizers and the marvelous people at the Space and Missile Museum, the original Cape tour was reinstated to compensate for the scrubbed launch. So, on Friday morning, armed with the only Walk-in DVD I could find, I was ready to show the video on each of the three buses in succession.

While many of the members had little connection with the one pad that was special to all the veterans from my particular system, the marvelous volunteer tour guides let us stop at Pad 21A and B, and get off the buses. Special memories from the early sixties swept through the few who knew the place, and as we all know, we'll never be back. As we pulled out of the Museum parking lot, I handed the DVD to the driver to play on the bus system. A great time for the video, you'd think, but cries of protest from two women in the front of the bus put a crushing end to my vision.

“Turn off that horrible music!” wailed one gray-haired woman even before the TAC Missileer logo rolled onto the display screen. A second woman immediately picked up the complaint, loudly protesting that the music I specifically selected to get everyone's attention was awful. The bus driver quickly stopped the video and that was that. I put away the DVD, disgusted that the two women who stopped the video weren't even missilemen. They outranked everyone on the bus: they were wives.

Saturday morning was filled with goodbyes and handshakes and promises to meet again in two years in Las Vegas. We know we won't all make it to the next reunion, our ranks get thinner every year. I started my truck and rolled south and thought about the video, “Like a Rock.” Yeah, we were like rocks back then. Young, smart – or dumb as rocks depending on your point of view – but we were the best. Well trained and dedicated to our beliefs. We did what we were trained to do, and we did it better than everyone else. Yes, we were rocks back then, but that was a long, long time ago. Way back before we got married or began wearing hearing aids.