Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Couch by Couchwest 2014


You've probably heard of South by Southwest, a music and film festival based out of Austin, Texas. Thanks to our local music duo Still Married, I learned that there is an online alternative to South by Southwest called Couch by Couchwest. As the folks running CXCW explained on their website, "Let’s face it, we’re all too broke to go to Austin, and even if we had the money, we couldn’t get out of work anyway. There’s this pesky thing called “life” that keeps getting in the way. Allow us to introduce you to Couch by Couchwest.CXCW is an annual online music festival that is for everyone. No badges, lanyards, bracelets, parking fees, ticket lines, exclusive parties, VIP tents, porta-potties, babysitters, dogsitters, expensive beer prices, or crappy hotel rooms…just the sweet comfort of your own couch. Here’s how it works, artists and bands from all over the globe record a video performance for us from their living rooms, kitchens, porches, bathrooms, you name it…pretty much anywhere but a stage…and we post them during the week of the festival (March 9 – 15, 2014)."

I've lived in Shasta County for twenty years, but as much as I love live music, I've hardly explored the local music scene until recently. But, after seldom playing the guitar for thirty years, last year I picked it up again, prompted by my son Dylan's interest in branching out from classical music on his upright bass. I started singing some folk and alt-country songs while strumming the guitar and singing, accompanied by Dylan on the bass. We had loads of fun. One thing led to another, and with the encouragement of Rhonda and Dylan, I sang a few songs at an open mic in town. Nobody booed or threw anything at me, so a did it a few more times.

And then I read Erin's post about Couch by Couchwest. I thought about videoing myself singing a song to submit, but I was kind of chicken. Then my new friend Jonathan Foster, a singer-songwriter I met as a result of sticking my toes in the local music scene, mentioned that the deadline for submissions loomed.

So, I drove out to the "monolith" here in Redding, equipped with my guitar and an iPad, and I did it, covering "Too Late" by Andrew Duhon, a singer-songwriter out of Metairie, Louisiana.

Erin Friedman and her husband Craig also submitted a song to CXCW, "The Best Damn Man." Erin wrote the song - she's been writing songs since in her teens - and Craig sings it.

My new friend, casual mentor, and fellow singing sasquatch Jonathan Foster submitted one of his own creations, "Two Wheels."

As much as I love covering songs by songwriters who deserve more notice - such as Erin and Jonathan - come next year I'd like to submit one of my own songs.

I'd better get started.





Hal Johnson – Too Late (Andrew Duhon)

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

HUET Training, and One Woman's Crossroad


Every four years, I go through water survival training at the Marine Survival Training Center in Lafayette, Louisiana, which is run by the University of Louisiana. MSTC actually offers a few different courses for folks who make their livings in offshore waters, and ours is known by the acronym "HUET": Helicopter Underwater Egress Training. It involves, along with classroom instruction, strapping oneself into a helicopter mock-up cabin elevated above a pool, then riding along as the cabin is dunked into the pool, then turned upside-down. It's then up to the students to stabilize themselves with handholds, locate the emergency exit, operate the emergency exit, release the seat belt and shoulder harness, and escape from the "aircraft."

I think it's safe to say that most of our pilots and mechanics do not look upon HUET training fondly.

HUET isn't designed just for pilots; oil companies and service companies send their employees, those who ride as our passengers, to the training as well. This year, for the first time, I was the only pilot in the class, although a PHI mechanic was in the class with me. The morning hours were devoted to classroom instruction, and with a number of first-timers to water survival training in the group, the air of trepidation was heavy.

Oh yeah, there was another first for me: I was the oldest in the class, and the one who'd been through the training the greatest number of times. Getting older is weird.

We had a break for lunch, and then reported to the pool building for the training. Several of the students looked nervous, but one woman in particular looked scared as hell. I overheard her talking to a classmate and learned that she was a single mom, and that her upcoming offshore position was her chance to break away from a life of dead-end, minimum wage jobs.

The kicker, of course, was that she had to successfully complete HUET training before getting her chance to gain a better life for herself and her children.

Her group went into the "dunker" before mine. I saw the look on her face, and I felt terrible for her.

"Please let her make it," I thought.

In the training, everyone gets six rides in the simulator. The first involves only partial submersion, staying upright, when the students are responsible for deploying the emergency exits. The second brings actual immersion of the cabin, and escape from the simulator.

The third, fourth, fifth, and sixth rides are when things get really interesting: the cabin is submerged and turned upside down. Maintaining orientation by using handholds instead of vision, and pulling oneself out instead of trying to swim are crucial memory items.

I watched the young woman go through her first two rides. She looked petrified, and she hadn't been turned upside down under water yet. I wondered how she'd respond. I feared it wouldn't go well, and it made me sad. Four more rides in the simulator, and two hours on the clock, and she'd be on the way to a better job and a better life.

But looking at her face, and watching her body language, I had the feeling her journey was coming to a sad ending.

Her group came out of the water, and the group before mine went in for their first two rides. I  maneuvered along the side of the pool to where she stood. She was on the verge of tears.

"It's kind of intimidating, isn't it?" I said.
She looked at me. "You're a pilot. (We're required to go through the training in uniform.) It probably isn't intimidating to you."
"That's because I've done it for years. But geez, the first time, I cried."
She laughed. "You're lying!"
I laughed too. "Well, okay, but I felt like crying."
She sniffed. "So it gets better?"
"Yeah."

That was all I could offer for moral support, though. Our groups got separated again.

And then it was her group's turn again, and she was the last out of the simulator, assisted by two safety divers wearing scuba gear. Her first upside-down egress obviously didn't go well. She stood at the platform at the end of the pool and cried. I couldn't hear her, but I'm pretty sure she was saying, "I can't do this."

The youngest of the instructors leaned toward her face and talked to her, quietly. I have no idea what he said to her, but I could see the kindness and the patience in his face, and the end result was that she agreed to give it another try.

Out of the eight people onboard the simulator on the next ride, she was not the last out. She was next to last. An improvement. And, the safety diver wasn't holding her arm. She looked scared, but I thought I saw a glimmer of hope on her face. On her fifth out of six rides, she was still next to last getting to the surface.

On her last dive, though, she popped up in the middle of the pack. She smiled as she swam to the edge of the pool. The instructor fist bumped her and said "Good job!"

About that time, I imagined her going home to tell her kids that Mama was getting her new job for sure, and maybe taking them to their favorite place to eat in celebration. My sinuses started giving me fits.

Damn pool water.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

A Thing From Before



 
It was too foggy to fly, so I drove down the road from the heliport to get something to eat. I first noticed a driveway that looked like it once led to some commercial establishment, but now leads to nothing but a building pad. The building was taken out by Katrina, or an earlier hurricane. Off to the side of the driveway, in an overgrown parcel of land, I saw this boat.

It might have been someone's personal sportfishing boat in days past, or it could have been a smallish commercial fishing boat or commercial guide service boat. I don't know.

Old things get to me. They hold stories they can't tell. I looked at this old boat, and wondered how many people may have made their livings off of it, or how many good times and sorrows danced across its deck.

I wish old things could talk. I wish when old people talked, more people would listen.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

First Cousin

It was a cold night near the end of 1991. I'd finished berating myself for being a chickenshit wimp, done with giving myself a pass because my dad had died just a few months earlier. I showered, dressed, and drove away from home into the night to Saint John's Hospital in Oxnard, California. I was born there. But for the next few nights, I would keep my cousin Jimmy company. Jimmy was my closest cousin on my mom's side, so it was only right that I would join him at the hospital to watch his dad die.

My uncle Owen was fast losing his fight against prostate cancer. A big, tough man, he'd ignored symptoms until the cancer spread.

I hadn't seen Jimmy in over a decade.  He'd moved to Houston and had nearly severed ties with the family. It didn't feel the same at first; that old cousin bond seemed gone forever, but in the next few nights, it came back.

When my Uncle Owen took his last breath, I stood next to Jimmy. I didn't know what to say, so I just hugged him. My aunt Wanda, Owen's sister, and my uncle Marvin, a retired Navy chaplain, stood weeping in the room with us.

Jimmy left to go home to Texas soon after Owen passed. He didn't offer an address or a phone number. It seemed obvious that he intended to disengage himself from family ties once again. I didn't know why. I still don't.

Jimmy called the night before he left. When I asked him for an address or a phone number, he just changed the subject. But, before he hung up, he said, "Dude, I love you. You've helped me more than you know."

It would be the last time I spoke to Jimmy. My mom told me a couple of years later that she thought he might be in prison, but that the news was sketchy.

I learned yesterday that Jimmy died six years ago, at the age of fifty. No word about the cause of death, or whether he'd left a wife or children behind. Darkness always seemed to rest on Jimmy's shoulder, and I wondered if light had left him for good.

I felt like I halfway grew up with Jimmy. He was my cousin, the same age, and my friend. We did lots of crazy, stupid stuff together. But at the end, he died a stranger, wrapped in mystery.