The One Man – Andrew Gross

Imagine that there is one man who is vital to the development of the nuclear bomb…and he is a prisoner in Auschwitz.  What to do…

Mr. Gross writes about just such a scenario in his book The One Man.  I suppose it is somewhat plausible historically because Niels Bohr who was a central figure in the Manhattan Project himself barely escaped the Nazis [his mother was a Jew].

With the help of a Polish escapee, the United States concocts a plan to drop him by parachute near to Auschwitz and have him infiltrate the death camp and rescue Ivan Mendl, the scientist crucial to the development of the nuclear bomb.  Infiltrating Auschwitz is also plausible because someone actually did during the war.

Mr. Gross does an excellent job of ratcheting up the suspense due to several plot twists, such an excellent job that he kept me up until midnight last night finishing the book.  A very good book.


Alone on the Wall

Alex Honnold is a world renowned rock climber.  He is mainly known for his free solo climbs of very large rock faces like Half Dome in Yosemite.  When I say “free solo climb,” I mean that he climbs major walls…alone…with no rope in case he falls.  Just the thought of this is sheer terror.

He has written a book about his life called Alone on the Wall. It’s a fascinating book if you are at all interested in climbing.  Yosemite, where he has done many of his most famous climbs,  is one of my favorite spots so I listened (audio version of the book) through the book in a couple of days.  Mr. Honnold is impressive, dedicated, and admirable, although he really cannot explain why he does what he does.  What drives a man to risk so much for the sake of being able to say that he climbed a huge wall by himself without ropes?  I cannot say, and neither, at the end of the day, can Mr. Honnold.  Sure, he will tell you why he does it, but none of it makes much sense, which I suppose is ultimately the point.  He is doing things that no one in the world has ever tried and succeeding because he can and because he wants to, this seems sufficient for him.

The problem is that, sooner or later, he will probably fall and die like so many other climbers who have come before him and taken major risks.  All of his friends are afraid this will happen, mainly because they understand the risks better than we landlubbers do.

In one of the memorable parts of the book a lady asks him how he feels when he sees himself on camera free soloing these huge walls, Mr. Honnold’s answer: “My hands get clammy.”

At any rate, he is a fascinating [and to all accounts kind and intelligent] person and the book is well worth reading.

Red-Eye: SEA to DTW

A red-eye flight is pretty much any flight on the back side of the clock that lands in the morning and leaves the passengers and flight crew with, you know, red eyes.  For me that means mostly either a flight from the west coast back to somewhere in the east, or a flight to Europe.  Most of our flights to Europe leave in the evening and land somewhere around daybreak or an hour or two later.  These are definite red-eye flights.

Sunday night we pushed back from SEA at 10.30 [on time, yippee!! You are welcome, dear passengers.] and headed off to the east for Detroit.  We flew along the top of the country until Wisconsin where we began angling southeast toward the arrival into Detroit.

Flying the back side of the clock is a lot different than day or evening flying.  There are only a limited number of red-eyes heading back east and a commensurate number of air traffic controllers working.  Consequently, the normal radio chatter that you hear on most other flights is not present at night.  There are long stretches of silence because there just aren’t that many flights that need instructions from air traffic control.  Sometimes the radio is so silent that you begin to wonder if you flew out of the controller’s airspace and he forgot to switch you to a new radio frequency.  This occasionally happens but air traffic can usually hunt you down fairly swiftly courtesy of emergency radio.  This is a dedicated emergency frequency that everyone monitors while they are airborne.  If  air traffic loses us on one frequency they can usually find us on the emergency frequency.

We once got lost on Scottish radio heading from Paris back to Cincinnati.  When Scottish finally found us they gave us quite the tongue-lashing.  We believed that they forgot to switch our frequency and let us fly out of the airspace, but they certainly acted as if it was our fault.  In these post 9/11 days no one likes to be out of radio contact, neither pilots, nor air traffic control and for understandable reasons.

It was a pretty uneventful flight [the kind that pilot’s love].  We did get to see some of the northern lights as we flew, but they were not the spectacular ones where fingers of light stretch from the horizon straight up into the air.  These were just a faint glow low in the northern sky.  Good northern lights from the cockpit are pretty impressive and definitely a memorable event.

We landed in Detroit on a chilly fall morning, 30 minutes early due to some nice tail winds that pushed us across the country extra quickly.

Now for a few days off…


JFK to SEA is one of the longest domestic routes that we fly.  Do it in the fall and winter when the upper level winds are whistling from the west and the flight is even longer.  Get trapped in JFK on a day when they are only departing from one runway because the winds are so strong…a painful 7 hours from push out to wheels chocked in Seattle.

It took us 1.08 from push back to takeoff as we were in a line of about 30 aircraft all waiting to depart from one runway (31L), while JFK also had to land arriving aircraft on the same runway.  I am not a patient man.  This was not fun, and of course a bunch of our passengers missed their connections in Seattle [my apologies, dear passengers, events were beyond my control].

On the upside the first officer and I got to watch the sun set for about 4 of the 7 hours.  Flying east to west we kept chasing the setting sun and the light lingered and lingered and lingered.  The ride was mostly smooth also, so while painful, it was a beautiful 7 hours, well 5.45 hours after we actually, you know, took off from JFK.

Being humans it is easy for us to let the extraordinary [a four hour sunset] become the ordinary when we witness it again and again and again.  Amazing as it seems, we have to remind ourselves to be grateful for nights like these, otherwise we will get distracted from the magnificence that surrounds us at every turn in nature [fall colors!] and become entrapped in a dreary world of our own making.

This reminds me of one of Clyde Kilby’s resolutions: “I shall open my eyes and ears. Once every day I shall simply stare at a tree, a flower, a cloud, or a person. I shall not then be concerned at all to ask what they are but simply be glad that they are. I shall joyfully allow them the mystery of what Lewis calls their “divine, magical, terrifying and ecstatic” existence.”

20161023_102737Someday frankly, this is easier to do than other days.  Today is one of the easy days. The view out my window in Seattle.

Long Way Gone

“Some have been burned. Broken. Left out in the cold. Some are wrestling with painful words spoken over them by someone they love or walking around in chains of their own making. A few are dying inside. Whatever the reason, when you sit down in front of them and say, ‘Let me play a song for you,’ you’re giving them something that no money can buy.”

He looked confused. “What’s that?”


An excerpt from the extraordinary, beautiful, happy, sad, riveting book, Long Way Gone. It’s a book about music, how it touches us “underneath our DNA” and how it plays a central part in one man’s journey from love to the path of a prodigal to loss and then a journey back to grace. Mr. Martin takes up all the worthwhile topics of life: music, loss, love, forgiveness, redemption, and hope.

The father writes to his son [Cooper, aka “Peg”] after his son has broken their relationship in the most public and humiliating way possible:

“Here’s the truth: No matter what happened on the stage tonight, no matter where you went when you drove out of here, no matter where you end up, no matter what happens, what you become, what you gain, what you lose, whether you succeed or fail, stand or fall, no matter what you dip your hands into…no gone is too far gone.

You can always come home..

And when you do, you’ll find me standing right here, arms wide, eyes searching for your return.

I love you. Dad.”

Here is another passage I really enjoyed, a description of Colorado:

“Colorado is like a girl I once knew.  Beautiful in any light.  When the light or angle changes, something new is revealed. Something hidden rises to the surface. In late September and early October, the light in Colorado shifts.  Snow dusts the peaks. The color in the trees has peaked and begun draining out.  Colorado in the fall is a peek into the throne room.  Colorado in winter is majesty defined. A declaration.

When God carved this place with words, He lingered.”

It’s an excellent book, you should read it, and everything else Charles Martin has written.




We flew from Detroit to Los Angeles and then back to Salt Lake City today. It was a long day and I didn’t do much after I arrived besides a 30 minute gym workout and a quick meal. I fell asleep at 7.30! 😳

We had a nervous flyer come up to the cockpit in Detroit before we left to ask how the flight was going to be. I had a good discussion with him which I think reassured him (that and the gray hair on my head. He must have figured gray hair equals experience…or maybe prudence).  At any rate it was an uneventful flight. Just a little bit of turbulence and LAX had a nice day to welcome us.

I can’t say the same thing for LAX gates. We landed 40 minutes early and our gate was occupied. We waited….and waited….and waited…and were finally cleared into the gate only to greet a conga line of three other planes in our alley who were ALSO waiting for gates. In LAX we have to shut down our engines and get towed into the gate because of the danger from jet engine exhaust blowing things over behind us (the alleys are very narrow in LAX).

When we finally got shut down and ready to tow…ding!…our lead flight attendant rings us up.

“There is a guy in the lavatory!”

“He couldn’t wait 5 more minutes?!?”

So we got to block the alley while we waited longer. We finally got the door open an hour after we landed.

Thank you LAX!

“The Bridge” – [to nowhere] by Karen Kingsbury

My daughter has read a lot of books by Karen Kingsbury.  My wife has read a lot of books by Karen Kingsbury.  I looked up this book on and it received 3.99 stars.  If a book is close to 4 stars or better it is usually a very good read.

So I read this book.  Well, that is several hours of my life that I cannot get back.

Short summary: Ryan and Molly were QUITE THE PAIR five years ago.  They are both alone and lonely now, although for some unknown reason BOTH THINK THE OTHER IS MARRIED, even though [spoiler alert] neither are actually married.  [You CANNOT be serious!  Has Mrs. Kingsbury never heard of oh, let me think…Facebook, Instagram, the internet?]  If the love of your life appeared to but [spoiler alert] DID NOT dump you five years ago, wouldn’t you have the slightest curiosity about what they were doing and how their life progressed in the intervening years?  Especially since Molly PLAYS A VIDEO of Ryan every year because she misses him SO MUCH [but has no clue what he is doing or if he is married even though he TRAVELS WITH A FAMOUS COUNTRY BAND!]

Get this!  What broke them up 5 years ago?  A phone call from Molly’s zillionaire father who “tricks” Ryan into thinking that Molly really doesn’t like him.  Which Ryan NEVER TELLS MOLLY ABOUT?  Seriously?  He gets a call from psycho father but doesn’t get around to telling the love of his life about?  Nope.  He just breaks it off and spends 5 years pining for lovely Molly.  Does this sound like an actual person to you?  Me neither!

Needless to say, the bookstore “The Bridge,” and the crisis in another couple’s life [spoiler alert] bring them back together and the pair live happily ever after [minus 5 years in the wilderness because Ryan can’t seem to bring himself to ask her about a certain phone call from her father] and of course they make it into a Hallmark movie, because why not?

…And Back to Winter

All good [summer!] things must come to an end, so we headed back to Michigan from Sao Paulo on New Year’s Eve.  [Which, by the way, explains why I was flying the trip anyway.  None of the senior guys wanted to fly on New Year’s Eve, the football playoffs were on! And it was New Year’s Eve!]

We took off at 2200 Local, so we got to celebrate the New Year over the Amazon rain forest. Even though it was mostly clear, no fireworks for us.  Apparently the tribes that inhabit the Amazon aren’t interested in fireworks.

We flew north out of Brazil–flying out of Brazil is almost 1/3 of the entire trip!–clipped the southwest corner of Suriname.  Flying through Guyana, we coasted out over the Caribbean Sea just east of Venezuela.

We hit “The Merge” around about the north coast of South America.  “The Merge” is when all of the flights coming down from Canada and the United States pass all of the flights going back north.  For about an hour we kept passing southbound flights, flashing our landing lights at each other as we passed at a merge speed of around 1000 mph.

The weather was remarkably clear most of the way, so we had a good view of Puerto Rico as we flew right over the top of it at 34,000 feet.  I got the third crew break, so just north of Puerto Rico, I headed back to the crew seat and fell asleep quickly.  I slept most of the way until the final push into Detroit, when all three crew members are on the flight deck.

We were greeted in Detroit with light snow.  Yep, back to winter…

A Man Called Ove – Finale

Ove had a friend in the neighborhood in which he lived for 40 years, his name is Rune, who is married to Anita.  Anita and Sonja, Ove’s wife, get along quite well.  Rune and Ove do also… at first.

For some reason which neither can articulate now since it is so far in the distant past, the pair had a falling out and now they are bitter enemies, attempting to undermine each other in the housing association.  Rune orders a robot lawn mower that mows the common area outside of Ove’s house endlessly.  Ove rewires the robot mower and it mysteriously drives itself into Rune’s pool.  The tales of subversion are endless.  It doesn’t help that Ove will only drive a Saab and Rune will only drive a Volvo. Each thinks the other is an imbecile.

Without giving away spoilers, Mr. Beckman uses the relationship as the climax of the book when Ove discovers quite unexpectedly [and the reader with him], the value of community and the necessity of friends and human interaction, even when one is inclined to be a curmudgeon and hermit.

This, ultimately, is the value of Mr. Beckman’s book and no doubt the reason it became a bestseller internationally.  We all need community around us to support us when we need help, and to be helped by us when we are able to offer it.  Ove needs to both be served and to serve, which the reader realizes is the human condition.  We need to serve in community and not be too pride-filled to be helped by our community when we need it. Combine that aspect with a genuine, sweet, endearing love story and one can see the draw of the book across cultures.

Mr. Beckman manages to pull off a sad, sweet, bitter, happy ending to his excellent book, but of course I will not reveal that to you, dear reader.  That is for you to discover on your own.


A Man Called Ove – Part 4

Well, the cat has moved in and Ove seems to tolerate it, even though he acts like he doesn’t, indeed, the reader begins to suspect that Ove likes the unnamed cat, even though he doesn’t want anyone to know that he does.  The cat rides around with him in the car and pretty much goes wherever Ove goes.

Mr. Beckman has a knack for vibrant and humorous detail, especially in regards to the cat.  In this scene Ove is teaching the pregnant Foreign Lady [Parvaneh] how to drive and they have stopped at a café:

The cat and Parvaneh make themselves at home, the latter mopping sweat from her forehead although it’s ice-cold in there.  Colder than outside in the street, actually.  She pours herself some water from a pitcher on the counter.  The cat unconcernedly laps up some of it from her glass when she isn’t looking.

We discover that Ove has stopped at the café to help fix a bicycle for a young man who is trying to use it to impress a girl.  Parvaneh, who seems to be the first to discover that Ove is not nearly as curmudgeonly as he lets on, points out:

“So me and Ove drove all this way just to give you a bike so you can mend it?  For a girl?”

Adrian nods.  Parvaneh leans over the counter and pats Ove on the arm.

“You know, Ove, sometimes one almost suspects you have a heart…”

This is what the reader slowly begins to understand as Ove’s life and backstory are languidly revealed: Ove has a heart, a huge heart.  It’s hidden behind a fierce, curmudgeonly demeanor, and despite his best efforts to keep it hidden, weird things keep happening to Ove that force him to reveal it.