New Direction on the vlog.

In a search for content and direction on my vlog, I decided to switch it up and concentrate on my job. 

This video deconstructs a takeoff from the cockpit. Please comment with questions. 


Baseball, Apple Pie, Pastrami?

205 E. Houston Street New York, NY

Barely across the door’s threshold, a young man sitting on a stool thrusts a small rectangular ticket into my hand.  Ignoring my salutation and obvious bait for small talk, it was apparent that I was slowing the system. Getting in the way.  A few steps further, there is a smile on my face as I, once again, take it all in.  A long, chrome counter hides the torsos of a dozen or so restaurant workers.  Vintage neon signs place a cheap glow on the depreciated wood paneling they adhere to.  Above, the ceiling tiles are nicotine stained from over a century of cigarette smoking patrons.  Covering the large windows and hanging in stereotypical fashion are dried salamis, perfection in charcuterie.

As Americans, we are arguably obligated to certain patriotic pilgrimages.  No matter whether you were born in or brought to the United States, if you have benefited in any form by our characteristic freedom you MUST:  Visit Washington D.C.; walk Boston’s Freedom Trail; visit at least 3 of the 13 original colonies; spend no less than 24 hours in Yellowstone National Park;  and you MUST without question, before you become part of that “fruited plain,” EAT AT KATZ’S DELI!

Often times when visiting destinations of national importance or participating in patriotic ceremony it becomes apparent that certain procedure and parlance must be closely adhered to.  Katz’s is no different.  To prevent the embarrassment of committing a faux pas and the notation of “questionable acts,” I have documented step by step instructions as follows:

1.  TICKET.  Gladly and without question receive a ticket from the seated attendant at the door.  Do no attempt to speak with him.  He is not your friend.  With ticket in hand, locate the most responsible individual in your party and name him “keeper of the tickets.”  (Preferably an Eagle Scout)  If you are eating alone, squeeze said ticket until knuckles are sufficiently white.  (Also try to be nicer, you obviously could use a lunch-mate)  Here’s why.  Katz’s primarily operates on a “serve yourself” basis.  As patrons order food from the various designated stations the employees write the item’s price on the ticket.  When cashing out at the toll booth-like register, the prices are totaled and paid before one is allowed to leave.  In the rare, but occasional, instance that a ticket is lost or a blank ticket is not returned a non-negotionable $50 is added to the bill.  (Example:  4 people in a party, but one person is paying for lunch.  The register worker should receive 1 full ticket and 3 blank ones.  For every ticket not returned, it’s a $50 charge.)  There are signs posted everywhere in case you forget how it works.  Believe me, you have a better chance getting out of a New York City parking citation.

2.  APPROACH THE BENCH.  From door to counter is a span of no more than 25 paces.  This space represents the amount of time one has to configure and finalize an order.  If you are not a “regular” at Katz’s there is only one thing you SHOULD order, a pastrami on rye with mustard.  Make eye contact with the nearest sandwich architect and approach him, ticket first, without being prompted.  To be waved over is to identify yourself as an out-of-towner and thus less cool.

3.  PAY ATTENTION.  The initial two cuts from the knife will find themselves on a small saucer slightly below your nose.  Enjoy these savory samples without making a sound.  Notice I said, “knife.”  A major debate in the Chicago versus New York pastrami scene is the meat slicer versus knife.  The discussion being that the heat from a mechanical slicer’s blade continues to cook the meat to slightly beyond bliss.  Towards the completion of sandwich construction pay particularly close attention and be waiting for a grunt.  This is the call to pickle.  It is a yes or no question so do not respond with, “what kind?” or with a request for it, “on the side.”  It just doesn’t matter.  What you will get is yet another saucer with two types of dill pickle.  Please note:  Delicatessens, for centuries, have specialized in and perfected the art of food preservation.  Thus, the two types of pickle (one made in a lighter brine) are not your standard dill pickles.  These are the real deal.  The un-adventurous eater be warned.

4.  DRINKS.  Verify that your ticket has been returned to you from the architect and slide down to the man with the libations.  Do not look at your ticket while in transit.  A pound of pastrami does not come cheap.  Save it for after you’ve eaten said pound so as to combine it with the remorse you already feel.  There are only two beverages considered appropriate when eating Katz’s pastrami.  First is beer.  ‘Nuff said.  Second and slightly more acceptable is a Dr. Brown’s Cream Soda.  Perhaps its the brown can that teams so well with the walls or the sketch of Lady Liberty on its crest, but for some reason it just works.

5.  SEATING.  Where one decides to sit is perhaps the final way in which a neophyte can stumble; apart from… “Wait, where’s our ticket?  Did you get it back from the drink guy?”  With cream soda in hand, rotate your body 180 degrees so as to scan the majority of the dining room.  There are two specific areas that one must avoid in order to remain anonymous and not show the “tourist card.”

Almost as if by design there are four tables placed so as to hide them from view of the main entrance.  These tables are identified by the presence of menus and are what I like to call, “The Native’s tables.”  The Native’s area is reserved for those lucky few to have been weened from the bottle then given pastrami.  It is this birthright that allows locals to venture away from the sandwich, explore Katz’s menu, and order from a server.  Sit at one of these tables with a tray full of pastrami and you will be asked, politely, to move.

In the center of the bustling dining area hangs a sign.  To a foreigner unable to read English, observation would dictate that something historically significant had occurred in the chair below.  Eating my food I watched as a robust mom in a “I [heart] NY” windbreaker and fanny pack anxiously circled the airspace around the chair.  Sitting at the notorious table another family finished their lunch by taking turns being photographed beneath the sign.  The sign, this historical marker reads:  “Where Harry met Sally… Hope you have what she had!”  Yes, it is the infamous chair where Meg Ryan had her fake orgasm in the movie, When Harry Met Sally.  SO DON’T SIT THERE!  However, place yourself within sight so as to be able to make sufficiently snarky comments.  You are, after all, sitting in New York City!

6.  EAT.  On a commonplace white plate before you rests the unexaggerated history of America.  A testament to the those who stepped across the threshold of places like Ellis Island and made it work.  It’s the story of people in a new land, without means, making the best of what they had.  An undesirable cut of meat preserved in brine to stretch its life then transformed into something delicious and sought after!

7. LEAVE.  They need the table.


The Consequences of Judging a Book by its Cover

With Oshkosh literally days I away, I wanted to get away from the typical overview and description of what EAA Airventure is and what it means to me.  Instead, I’ve decided to write about Oshkosh with an air of dedication and humility.

Whether we know it or not, every day we live our lives as Americans in the hurried pace of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” we are losing something.

My most humbling experience at EAA Airventure in Oshkosh, Wisconsin occurred on the second of seven days during the convention in 2010.  I had spent the previous evening at what has been come to be known (in my circle of friends) as the “Oshkosh Beer Ball Reunion.”  (The reunion is the gathering of my aviation friends that occurs at the beginning of the convention.  For the most part, they are acquaintances that I have not seen since the previous convention.  The term “Beer Ball,” comes from the large helium balloon that is flown over the campground and simply reads, “BEER.”)  Breakfast that morning was spent silently hiding behind sunglasses as I forced down some cold scrambled eggs.  With a few muted grunts, my companion and I agreed that we would begin this year on the North end of the airport admiring the war birds as they slowly trickled in.  Polished and proud, these living pieces of history contrasted the deep blue sky and sharp green grass.  We methodically walked around these mechanical legends with a hushed sense of reverence.  Through the hazy sky, my eye caught the suggestion of four bright lights lining up with the main runway at Oshkosh.  “Something big is coming in,” I said to my buddy as I pointed to the North sky.  By telepathy we quietly moved to the edge of the big runway to see, what had to be, a great spectacle.  The four lights produced a silhouette.  “That’s a 737!” I exclaimed with more than a hint of disappointment.  The silhouette soon gave way to a paint scheme to which I responded, “That’s an Airtran 737,” through gritted teeth.  “An 800 series.” replied my friend, somehow trying to explain why it was here.  As the plane touched down we could now see that a Southwest 737 was chasing Airtran to the pavement.  Perhaps it was my true EAA colors of independence and civilian innovation or the ounces of alcohol still in my system, but I pivoted on one heel and began to march South.  “Where are you going?” asked my concerned friend.  “TO THE SQUARE!”  I answered with the fervor of a military leader.  (The Square, or Aeroshell Square is the geographical center of Oshkosh.  Any plane with any sort of relevance, lands and has it’s time in the Square before it is positioned in it’s permanent location for the week.)  “What are YOU going to do?” asked my friend with a sense of challenge in his voice.  “I’m going to wait until the crew gets off and boo them.  This is Oshkosh, they aren’t welcome here!  No one is interested in a $150 ticket to Tampa via Phoenix!  If we want to fly to Phoenix, we’ll build our own damned planes!”  The Experimental Aircraft Association  was founded by a group of guys that were building planes in their garages.  Every year it seems another commercial vendor shows up selling their products and every year a piece of me dies.  It’s like inviting Justin Beiber to a hardcore blues fest.

My friend, following four paces behind and more for entertainment than support laughed, “Ok, Lou.”  As I maneuvered through the crowd I subconsciously began to scan the area for metal pipes, bricks, or a misplaced Molotov cocktail.  In my mind I pictured myself leading the crowd in a riot that would make an Canadian hockey fan proud.  I would be honored in the EAA museum with a picture of me standing on top of an overturned and on fire 737.  I approached the Square to hear a cacophony of cheers and claps.  “What are you idiots clapping for?  This is the enemy!”  I thought to myself.  With some properly placed elbows and few profanities, I was finally at the perimeter of humans surrounding the elephant bird.  Beside me the crowd parted to reveal a fancy coach bus in the distance.  The door of the bus opened and the crowd erupted in a crescendo of encouragement.  Out of the bus came slow stream of men in their 80’s and 90’s.  As the men past by a lady standing next to me broke rank and hugged one of the gentlemen.  Releasing her elderly target she once again resumed her place next to me.  “What’s going on?”  I asked as I delayed the throwing of my brick.  She replied with tears, “That’s my grandpa, he flew the “hump” as tail gunner in World War II.”

Southwest and Airtran had donated the use of the planes and the crews volunteered on their days off to fly these WWII veterans to their memorial in Washington D.C.  The lady continued, “The EAA is doing this for the veterans who would otherwise not be able to see the memorial whether because they can’t afford it or can’t do the “airport” thing anymore.”  In an instant my anger balled itself up in the shape of a foot and appropriately found it’s place in my mouth.

I was never into comic books as a child.  My youth was spent reading the stories of the young men in the flying fortresses over Bremen, the unlucky B-24 crews flying the “hump” over the Himalayas, and the P-51 pilots that would intentionally run their planes into V1 rockets to divert them away from London.  Here, in a parade of tears with young color guard in full salute, walked my super heroes.

I found out later from an EAA journalist that these veterans boarded the two 737’s and were flown to Washington’s Reagan Airport.  There they boarded air conditioned coach busses and were given the VIP tour of our Nation’s capital ending at the World War II Memorial.  From what I heard and read, the visit was punctuated with reverence, tears, and commemoration.  A color guard met the the bus at the memorial to salute the arrival of these Titans.  Later, as the a wreath was laid the same color guard honored the dead with a 21 gun salute as Taps was played on a distant hill.  I later read that the men boarded the same airplanes en route to Oshkosh, but this time with a first class meal donated by the airlines.

Back at Oshkosh I watched as three P-51 Mustangs approached the airshow from the South.  The sound of  three Rolls Royce Merlin Engines at full throttle when combined with with the playing of taps evokes emotion.  As the formation neared the crowd one of the Mustangs turned out its lights and broke from the formation straight up into the blue yonder.  The missing man formation honors those men and women that never made it back.  The two planes continued in awkward formation as the third, the one never to return, flew West and out of sight.  As the song ended I could once again make out four bright lights in the distance followed by four more.  This time I knew, “Something big was coming in.”

I said earlier that every day Americans lose something.  Honored or unhonored, seven World War II veterans lose their lives every 24 hours.  With them they take the stories that are our history.  The 7 a day statistic does not account for the wives, sisters, girlfriends, and mothers that dropped what they were doing to work in the factories that produced not only the planes that these heroes flew, but the planes I come to Oshkosh to see.  Combined, these groups of people have been appropriately dubbed, “The Greatest Generation.”

To the EAA, Southwest Airlines, and Airtan I offer my sincere apologies.

“All gave some, some gave all.”


Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen

$586.  Not a lot of money, relatively speaking.  But to an 11 year old it meant nearly 2 summers of chores, lawn mowing, and paper routes.  I handed the Space Camp brochure to my parents one night and was met with, “$586, that’s a lot of money.  you’re going to have to save up!”  As I showed them my money there was no argument and my application was in the mail the next day.  I eagerly followed my application to Cape Canaveral several months later dressed in a baby blue flight suit with my name next to a proud NASA patch.  Of all of the things I remember about that week, I hold a few as precious memories:  Walking around the launch pad where the crew of Apollo 1 lost their lives and reading the stenciled inscription on cement, “Abandoned in Peace.”  Being star struck as we met the next shuttle crew while they trained for the their up coming mission.  One of the most inspiring things I remember was a single NASA propaganda poster.  On the poster was a young boy about my age staring into space.  Beneath the picture in large letters was the sentence, “The first person on Mars has already been born.”  (I thought to myself, “No shit he’s already been born… he’s reading this poster right now!)

Today turned out to be an emotional experience for me.  I watched the Space Shuttle Atlantis flex her muscles one last time as she embarked on the historic final shuttle mission.  I held it together until she cleared the tower.  Just as the Launch Commander handed off control of the mission to Houston he said, “Final liftoff of Atlantis!  On the shoulders of the space shuttle America will continue the dream!”  The lump of tears lodged in my throat finally fought me off and found my eyes.

Even as an 11 year old boy, I knew the shuttle wouldn’t fly forever.  However, I had faith in the space program in that whatever was waiting in the wings would be just as awe inspiring.  The day America “moth balled” the Saturn V it also opened the hangar doors to reveal our beautiful (reusable) space shuttle.  Today as we mark the “moth balling” of our current space craft we open the hangar to nothing.  We have become the teenager without a car forced to “mooch” rides from our accommodating Russian friends.   As this era comes to an end, I hope a new generation can pick up the torch.  I hope we can once again realize the importance of space travel and once again use our ingenuity in display of national pride.  Hopefully someday as our children stare into the night sky with great wonder in their souls, they will be able to chase their dreams of exploring in the name of science and country.

I have a tradition when it comes to flying an airplane for the last time.  Whether it’s been due to layoffs, aircraft sale, or transition to a different aircraft, I always make sure to say goodbye.  As sappy as it sounds, I close the door one last time and walk to the front of the plane.  There I kiss the nose and say, “Thanks girl, you always got me home.”  I was never fortunate enough to fly an actual shuttle, but I followed closely her entire life.  This is to you old girl, A big kiss and a huge “Thank You.”  Godspeed.

Let’s hope the first person on mars is already been born!  (And that he’s eating a banana on my lap!)


Independence Day

It’s been independence day for 4 minutes and still I can hear the pops and booms of illegal fireworks outside. I say what the hell, this whole holiday is based on revolution so let them blow crap up in rebellion!

One of my most memorable Independence Day Holiday experiences happened on the night of July 3rd 2007. As is common for New York’s JFK International Airport, all flights departing that night were averaging 2 hour delays. Being a semi-experienced JFK pilot I had learned to have patience with such situations, but that night my patience was running out. I hadn’t been home or seen my new wife in nearly 20 days. As a matter of luck I had been “awarded” a 24 hour layover in Chicago and was going to be able to spend one night that month in my own bed. As we sat on a taxiway, number 56 in line to takeoff with both engines shut down, I was subtracting the hours from my “visit.” Finally, our turn came and we launched off Long Island into a beautiful, clear night. With all of the cockpit lights turned low so as to star gaze, I could see Buffalo New York approaching on the horizon. When we were close enough to make out the silhouettes of individual buildings, something caught my eye. Faintly, I could see a stream of light followed by a bright explosion. I turned to the captain and said, “Check it out! Buffalo just started their fireworks!” We had the best seat in the house! We watched as long as we could before the city past below our nose. Just as we thought the show was over, from the left side of the cockpit we saw another great explosion. It was the fireworks in Cleveland! We both sat quiet, focussed on the show taking place. At one point I looked far in the distance and saw more lights. At the same time as the Cleveland show we could see the fireworks from Detroit. We arrived over Detroit, almost as if on purpose, to see the grand finale. The captain, trying to take some credit said, “Well kid, don’t ever tell anyone I didn’t show you some fireworks for 4th of July.”

In retrospect, and now that I read this, the event seems anti-climactic. At the time, homesick and cursing our delay, it had been worth it. I wonder how many people can say they’ve seen fireworks in three different cities in one night!


Big Stars…

The observer will notice that there is a huge time gap between my last post and this one.  As much as I blame insane work schedules and the duties of being a father to a one year old, there are other reasons for my inactivity.  A lack of followers and some negative feedback literally took the creative wind out of my sails… That is, until last weekend.

Last Saturday the planets aligned, God smiled upon my life and brought the vectors of two men whose work I admire to an intersection on sacred ground.  The first of these men is Chef Paul Kahan.  I first pledged my allegiance to Chef Kahan in 2007 after, literally, the first bite of his sweet breads with black truffles and dill (thymus gland with mushroom-like fungus).  The meal that followed that fateful bite only solidified my admiration and started me on a quest to find equally delicious and pioneering food.  (Specifically, offal.)  So when rumors began circulating in the culinary world that Paul Kahan was opening a taco stand my curiosity and appetite declared that a pilgrimage was in order!

BIG STAR

Drive North on Damen from the United Center long enough and you’ll find yourself enveloped by the neighborhood known as Wicker Park.  This neighborhood adorned with art studios, micro-galleries, and intimate concert venues once hailed as the artistic focal point of Chicago.  Although the area strives to maintain its artistic roots, it seems the white-collar has made the neighborhood a trendy place to live and play.  (That’s a discussion for another day… I’m looking at you Wrigleyville.)

If you drive to Wicker park in search of a restaurant that “looks” like it’s run by a Michelin Star winning chef, you will undoubtedly reach Bucktown before you realize that you missed it.  My very first impression of Big Star was that the great chef seamlessly inserted his new venture into the unique atmosphere that is Wicker Park.  I took this first shot of Big Star while waiting to cross the street with my wife and my son in his high-speed, space age stroller.  I wanted to capture the idea that Big Star is camouflaged, but also focus on destination.

Along with its unassuming facade, the fact that no sign screaming, “THIS IS BIG STAR!!!” in bright letters may cause one to walk right by.  No, the only indication that you are in the right place, and that it is a special place, is found in my next photograph.  After taking the image and working it into something that I felt fit the mood of the location, I quickly placed it in the “best shot of the day” column in my mind.  With a little research into the symbology, this photograph has become one of my all time favorites.  (See why below)

THIS IS BIG STAR

Then there’s the food…

There are two ways to experience the fare at Big Star.  The first is for the eater on the run and truly embraces the idea of the Mexican “street food” that I remember from my childhood.  At a window orders are placed and food is passed from cook to customer.  The patron may then walk off, sit on a curb, or make new friends at one of the communal picnic tables.  My wife and I on this leisurely Saturday opted for the long route.  After a considerable wait, my cell phone rang with news that a table had opened up.  Upon reaching our table it was easy to see why we had waited so long to be seated.  The atmosphere alone:  with its speakers belching the songs of 30’s and 40’s country western legends; a 6 page whiskey menu, 27 varieties of tequila and mescal, and a beer menu that ranged from Schlitz to Three Floyds made one want to never leave.  (And they’re cool with that!)

I come from a long line of what I would call professional guacamole makers.  So when my wife made the quarter back sneak of ordering guacamole from a restaurant I began to fear my status in the will.  Mom, look away…  It was outstanding, perhaps some of the best I had ever had!  Next came an order of the Queso Fundido with homemade tortillas.  The combination of melted Chihuahua cheese, roasted green chile, and homemade chorizo created a lava like consistency of melty goodness in a tortilla.  The spice was just enough to call on my frosty Gumball head ale about every three bites.  I could have ended my meal there and gone home a “happy human,” but remember… This was a pilgrimage!

As my entrée, I chose three different tacos from a variety of choices.  First was the “Taco al Pastor” which consisted of marinated, spit roasted pork shoulder covered in grilled pineapple, onion, and cilantro.  Second was a fish taco of Tilapia topped with chipotle mayo, cabbage, cilantro, and lime.  These first two tacos were great to say the least, however, my last taco was in a league all its own.  It was the “Taco de Panza” which was crispy, braised pork belly topped with tomato guajillo sauce, queso fresco, onion and cilantro.  This single taco in one sitting made a place for itself in my death-bed meal.  All in all, the food at Big Star exceeded my expectations.  Chef Kahan’s attention to detail and use of quality ingredients can be tasted and seen throughout the menu.

The Second Man…

Big Star was not the only reason I found myself in Wicker Park that Saturday afternoon.  Thanks to a little birdy, I knew that if i searched the tables at Big Star I would find the second reason that this particular trip was a pilgrimage.  With a little recon from our server, I found him.  In the third booth from the entrance sat the personification of Chicago.  Tattooed in familiar art and wearing a collection of vintage clothes sat the poet, writer, actor, and artist Tony Fitzpatrick.  Having read his writing and enjoyed his art, I had always wanted to meet him.  Remember my photograph from above of the Big Star?  After some research I came to find out that the star was actually created by Tony Fitzpatrick.   He described the star as, “…Blinking over the city of Chicago at night, illuminating old-time bars, cigars, and gamblers’ trinkets.”  He also said, “It was created for the diverse working class people of the neighborhood and it stands for the labor movement of the Polish, Mexican, Irish, Slovian, Puerto Rican, and Italian immigrants of Wicker Park.”

I admire Tony not only for his work, but because of how much he loves his city and ignores his critics.  As I shook his meaty fist and asked him to sign a book, we engaged in a conversation.  He asked me to sit and moved some spent taco plates in order to sign my book as he introduced me to his son.  In our short conversation I realized he was the real deal and he created what he loved.  The fact that anyone recognized his talent was pure coincidence.

So what do Paul Kahan and Tony Fitzpatrick have to do with my new found inspiration?

Those who know me, know that I rarely leave the house without a camera.  I photograph EVERYTHING!  In a week I will open my shutter over a hundred times.  Most of my shots find themselves in an electronic trash can.  However, once in a while I get lucky and produce an image that I fall in love with.  These chosen few are processed and placed in a folder that I keep next to my bed.  Perhaps out of fear of criticism or embarrassment, these photos rarely are seen by anyone else.  So taking a page out of Kahan’s and Fitzpatrick’s books, I choose to change the direction of my blog.  I look to display what I love, critics be damned.  Sure Fitzpatrick could “dumb” down his art and make it more malleable to the masses.  He could clean up his writing so more people would read it.  Paul Kahan could close his street food venue and make one hell of a living charging $150 per person to eat at Blackbird.  But they won’t because at the end of the day they love what they create.  For that THEY are my Big Stars.

"For Louis a new pal." -Tony Fitzpatrick


Travel

I’ve been going non-stop lately traveling to places like New Mexico, Colorado, and EAA Airventure in Oshkosh Wisconsin.  Here are some of my shots.  Updates to come.

Colorado

Pagosa Springs CO