Steps, Steps, Steps … When Will They End!

tree-machu-picchu-peru-inca-ruins Ever go to Machu Picchu? Well if you have, then you know what I’m talking about.

The Incas built their civilization in the Andes Mountains in Peru. Know how high the Andes are? Real high — over 22,000 feet at the highest peak. There are temples and towns that the Incas lived in at 14,000 feet. That’s almost three miles up, and at that height the air gets really thin and it becomes difficult to breathe, especially when you’re climbing steps as high as you can see.

Interesting side note: The word Inca means king, or ruler. The actual name of the people was Quechua, but the Spanish adopted the term Inca as an ethnic term referring to all the subjects of the empire, which I will use since it’s the name most commonly use when referring to them.

Now since the Incas lived in the Andes, they had to develop a way to level the ground so they could grow crops, so they terraced the landscape. As you drive through the Peruvian Andes, you see terraces etched into the mountains everywhere; the majority of them built during the Inca dynasty. Now these terraces climb up the mountainside, and when I say up, I mean way up. So, how do you get to the upper most terraces? You walk, and everyone knows how difficult it is to walk up a mountain, sometimes to the point of being impossible. So the Incas built steps, and I can’t imagine how many they built during their rein, which lasted only about a hundred years. But I’ll tell you what; we walked for miles on end going up and down steps.

Machu-picchu-c18Two of the sites we visited were Ollantaytambo and Machu Picchu, and guess what? That’s right … steps! Now when I say steps, I’m not talking about the flat steps we’re used to with a nine inch rise. No, I’m talking about steps made from stones and rocks that aren’t flat, nor is there a given rise to each step. There were times when the rise was over a foot. The question was asked, “Why are the steps so high. The Incas weren’t tall people, so why did they build such high steps?” Danny, our guide, informed us, “Speed governed the design. Taking a lot of little steps doesn’t allow fast movement. Big steps allow assents and dissents to be made much quicker.” Yeah, I thought, as long as you have the strength to take those big steps. David, who was born in Peru, had absolutely no problem with steps, either going up or down. But then David was in his early thirties; the rest of us in our late sixties or early seventies, which proved a point I already knew — older people cannot move quite as well as younger people can.

Ollantaytambo was our first stop at an elevation of about 10,000 feet. We would walk for a few minutes and then rest to give ourselves time to catch our breath. By the time we reached Machu Picchu, which is about 8,000 feet, we were a little more acclimated to elevation and able to carry on for longer periods. But Machu Picchu has far more steps. There are two hikes that extend up two different mountainsides, which take the better part of an hour to hour and a half to climb. I found out that climbing up is easier than going down, especially when it’s raining, which, of course, it did.

It was a wonderful trip, and one I would encourage everyone to go on if they ever have the opportunity.

Ever Pilot A Boeing 747? … Well I have.

jnfgjnfgnnfghnI received my pilot’s license in 1976 and flew private planes in one of the most nerve-racking and congested areas in America — Los Angeles — right next to LAX, and other airports in Torrance, Hawthorne, Compton, Santa Monica, Van Nuys, just to mention a few, and all of them within a twenty mile radius of LAX. I learned real quickly: keep your eyes focused out the windshield for other aircraft.

In flight school we were taught to follow power lines as a visual reference when flying because they usually ran fairly straight, were easy to pick out on the ground because of the large green belt they were placed in the middle of, which could be easily identified from a distance. And then I went flying, in and around the wonderful Los Angeles area, and guess what? I couldn’t see a power line to save my life. It wasn’t until years later when I was flying in Missouri that I actually saw my first power line. Forget about following miles and miles of green belts in Los Angeles; there are none!

Now one of the clients my consulting firm had was Flying Tiger Line, the first scheduled cargo airline in the United States. Corporate offices were located at LAX, and the company’s main aircraft was the Boeing 747. One day the manager (whose name I cannot recall, but lets assume it was Bob) approached me and said, “I hear you’re a pilot.” I answered proudly, “Yes I am.” He then smiled. “Would you like to fly a 747?” I remember thinking, Yeah, sure, let’s go. I’m sure I can handle it. Heck, I can fly a Cessna 182!

Flying Tiger Line had a 747 simulator on the premise, which they used to train their pilots. They also rented it to other airline companies for their pilots. Anyway, after scheduling issues were ironed out, it was arranged for me to use the simulator, and what an unbelievable experience it was.

I walked into the simulator, which was an exact replica of an actual 747 cockpit, and took my seat at the controls — in the pilot’s seat, I might add. No co-pilot seat for me. Remember … Cessna 182. Bob gave me some instructions and then started the simulator, saying that I would be taking off from LAX with a maximum weight load. So I taxied the aircraft onto the runway, only to have Bob abruptly stop the flight and inform me that I was turning way too soon onto the runway and would run the front landing wheel aground. I was told that a 747’s front wheel was many feet behind where I sat, not directly below me as it was on a Cessna 182. Ouch, that hurt! So I made the correction and was given clearance to takeoff. Now let me tell you, the instrument panel and controls on a 747 are a bit more congested than my 182, but I found the throttles and applied full power. The plane began moving and slowly gained speed as my eyes scanned the instruments. And then I waited … and waited … and waited for the plane to reach takeoff speed. I could actually see the end of the runway before I was able to lift off. Learned something else: 747s take a tad bit longer, more speed, and a lot more distance to takeoff than a 182. Okay, okay, I’m getting this.

Once in flight, Bob told me to stall the aircraft so I could experience it. Put simply, stalling entails lifting the aircraft’s nose until flight is no longer possible. In a Cessna 182, a high-pitched whine is emitted and grows in volume if the stall isn’t corrected. When I heard the simulator whine I nodded to myself, knowing exactly what to do. But Bob said to hold it a little longer, so I did, watching the airspeed drop precariously low. Then suddenly the yoke started vibrating rapidly, almost shaking me from the seat. “Hold on,” Bob instructed. So I tighten my grip and held on for dear life. Then a few seconds later, a voice blared out at me, filling the cockpit with an alarming scream, “Lower the nose! Lower the nose!” Bob then told me to perform a stall recovery, which I did. He then informed me that in certain instances, pilots have not responded to any of the three warnings, holding the yoke fully back and never letting go. The outcome is not good.

Anyway, I eventually landed the aircraft in Hong Kong and got a pat on the back for my flying skills. As we were leaving the simulator, I asked Bob how much the session would have cost had I been a pilot with another airline. This was a while back, in the 1980s, and he said, “About $5,000, and you’ll be getting an invoice in about a week.” Then he laughed and walked off.

Now I’ll be honest, I love to see people’s mouths drop when I tell them that I once flew a Boeing 747. Problem is, I’m still fearful of that invoice showing up someday.

Canine Companions For Independence Graduation Day!

IMG_0504Last Friday, Canine Companions for Independence held the first graduation class of 2015 at multiple sites across the country. I, along with my wife, daughter, and three puppies in tow, attended the festivities at their facility in Oceanside, California. It was an emotional day as was every other graduation we’ve attended.

The emotional release comes in two phases. The first is when the puppies that have just completed their eighteen-month training period are turned in at matriculation, and will now enter nine months of professional training. Slides are shown of all the matriculating puppies — there were about forty at this graduation — from the time they were eight weeks old until they were fully grown. Ahhhhhhs can be heard throughout the auditorium as each puppy’s timeline is displayed on a big screen. And this starts the first crying session. The families that raised the puppies are obviously overwhelmed at the thought that their sweetest little puppy will no longer be with them. I can’t tell you what that feeling is like; you’re basically losing a child, a four-legged, furry one, but a child nonetheless.

Then phase two begins, where the graduates receive their assistance dog to take home and live with for the rest of the dog’s service life, which is usually ten years. Videos are shown of the graduate describing how he or she fell in love with the dog in a matter of days, and what it was like to have their new assistance dog at their side for the two-week training period that each graduate goes through. They try to explain what their dog will do for them, but don’t realize that they really haven’t experienced all of it just yet, because they’ve spent such a short time with the dog so far. But the smiles on their faces indicate they have a wonderful feeling inside that their life is about to change dramatically. And once again,  audience tears start to fall, but this time from the knowledge of what this organization and these dogs do for the graduates, and how it will definitely change the graduate’s life forever. And then the puppy raisers, who raised and trained the dog for the eighteen months, walks up on stage with the dog on leash and ceremonially hands the dog over to the graduate.

The first time I saw a graduation, I wondered why there where Kleenex boxes positioned on every forth seat across every row in the audience. Now that I’ve attended and experienced the ceremony, both in delivering my dog for matriculation and handing it over to a graduate, I really don’t know how the audience — or I — would get through the ceremony without those welcomed Kleenex boxes.

Maybe My Dog Wants To Be A Writer

I trained Tawny, my Canine Companions for Independence dog, in over thirty commands before she went off to professional training. But after five months of the professional training program, which lasts for only six months, Tawny decided she didn’t want to be an assistance dog and was returned to me (referred to as a “release puppy”). But the one command I taught her, which was not part of her list of commands to acquire, was to get the newspaper in the morning.

IMG_2713Now I live in Palos Verdes, California, which is a small peninsula that extends out into the Pacific Ocean. The peninsula was basically formed by a tectonic uplift, resulting in an underwater mountain, the top of which elevates approximately 1,400 feet above the surface of the ocean. Now mountains are usually steep, and so is Palos Verdes. So getting the newspaper in the morning was quite a chore at my age, having to walk down the driveway and then back up. So, I trained Tawny to do the morning ritual for me. I open the gate, and she walks out and sits. Then I give the command, “Paper … get!” and off she goes. She runs down the driveway, grabs the newspaper, and then hightails it back up the driveway, into the garage, and then up the stairs into the kitchen. When I finally get there, I say, “Give” and she releases the paper into my hand. For her efforts, I give her a Glucosamine Chondroitin pill (for dogs), which she loves.

Often, people are taking early morning walks when Tawny gets the paper. They inevitably say something like, “Look at that. That dog is getting the newspaper. Boy, do I wish Fido would do that. Then I wouldn’t have to go down and up our driveway every morning.”

Now it took only three times to train Tawny to perform the command before she executed it perfectly on her own. I often wondered why she was so excited to get the newspaper — besides getting her Glucosamine pill — and then it hit me; she also loves the written word. Therefore, I believe she’s the epitome of an author’s dog.

Hear, hear to Tawny!

Taking A New Step Into The World Of Music!

Unrelenting Nightmare Author PhotoWell I did it. After discussing the matter with my editor, I’ve decided my next novel will not be in the suspense genre. The novel in the publication queue was Hostile Takeover, but my editor said it might be a good move to venture outside of suspense and show my talents in another genre. So how does romance sound?

That’s right, I wrote a love story titled Without You. It’s about two performing arts school students — a young man who is a pianist, and a young lady who can sing — who meet and fall in love. That’s all I’ll tell you about the story. If it interests you, then you’ll have to wait until it’s published, probably by next month, and then read it. I will tell you one thing, though, I enjoyed writing the story more than any other I’ve written. So I guess I have a romantic side after all.

I will return to suspense novels and finally release Hostile Takeover, which has been on the sidelines for well over a year. But that’s how the publishing business goes. When your editor says do this, you do it, unless you’re a very successful and popular author and have the clout to say “No”, which I don’t. But when she said that releasing a love story would demonstrate my ability to expand beyond suspense novels and show versatility, I agreed. Mainly because I really, really like the story.

For those of you who don’t know, in my early years I was an artist before turning to theatre arts and becoming an actor. I then went back to school and got a degree in accounting. I was employed by a national accounting firm, received a CPA license, and after many years left to form my own company. My suspense novels are all based on my experiences from the business world. So I enjoyed returning to my artistic roots, even though I branched into an arena that I knew little about: music. But I thought the backdrop of music would be more enduring to readers than a lonely artist or thespian. But who knows, we’ll see.

So if you’re interested, stay tuned and I will announce when the novel is released. If you purchase the book, I hope when you read it, it will hit an emotional spot in you as it did with me when I was writing it.

I’m Going To Check Out Darwin’s Theory

GalapagosI’m heading to the Galapagos Islands at the end of this week, to see if Charles Darwin knew what he was talking about. If I don’t have a follow-up posting outlining any contradictions, then assume everything Charles said is true.

Now, of course, I’m joking. My scientific achievements and qualifications pale in comparison to Darwin’s, since I have absolutely none at all!

The remarkable thing about the Galapagos Island, and what Darwin was to discover, were certain species are endemic to the islands. The concept of Darwin’s Theory of Evolution is partly based on his findings during his five-year trip aboard the HMS Beagle from 1831 to 1836, which included a stop at the Galapagos.images Everyone I’ve ever talked to who has visited the Galapagos has enjoyed the trip. I’m certainly looking forward to the adventure.

I will also be visiting Machu Picchu — Land of the Incas. My concern, though, are the thousands of stone steps that need to be climbed in order to get picturesque views of the ruins.

So off I go, and I sure hope Darwin was right so I don’t have to refute his theory.

The Best Alternate Ever!

IMG_8541When I received my jury duty request this year I had a slight problem. My wife was out of town and there was no one other than me to take care of Tawny. When you raise and train a service dog, one of the governing rules is you never leave them alone at home for more than a couple of hours at a time.

So off I went to City Hall with Tawny in tow. I was part of the first panel of thirty-five jurors selected in the jury room to go to an assigned courtroom where we all sat and listened to the specifics of the case. And then the first twelve potential jurors were selected, and guess what, I was one of them. So up I went with Tawny close at my side, half expecting the judge to ask why I had a dog with me, which I would explain, figuring that she would then reluctantly release me. What she asked, however, was, “Would you like to sit at the end of the last row so your dog will be more comfortable? And by the way, what is your dog’s name?” I knew right then that having Tawny with me wasn’t going to get me released from jury duty.

As things turned out, I was asked all sorts of questions by the judge and the two counsels as a means of determining if I would be a qualified juror. Having Tawny at my side never, and I mean never, came up as an issue. Juror after juror was released for all sorts of reasons, but having a companion dog didn’t seem to be an issue at all. At the end of the day, all thirty-five jurors in the panel had been interviewed with twelve being selected, and I was juror number twelve. There was one problem, though. There was no alternate juror.

The judge decided to allow the jury to stand as is, without an alternate, saying, “I don’t want to take the time to pull a second panel tomorrow to find one alternate. So none of you had better get sick and not show up at court. It won’t be a long trail, so hang in there with me so we can all get through this.”

A fellow juror raised her hand and the judge acknowledged her. The juror stood and then announced, “Tawny could be our alternate.”

There was general laughter with an overall acceptance that Tawny would be designated as the alternate juror, and, I might add, did a wonderful job. Although, if we’d been required to call on her as an alternate, I doubt if she would have been able to contribute much in deliberation, since she paid little if any attention during the trial because she slept most of the time. But everyone enjoyed having her there, especially the judge and two counsels, who personally came up to me after the trail and said how much they enjoyed having her in court.

Developing Characters In My Novels

price_of_admissionOne of my daughters asked me once how I came up with the different characters I had in my books, and where I got their names? “Do you just look in the telephone book?” she asked.

Well, most of my characters are derived from the story itself. In other words, the plot creates the characters. There was one instance, however, that a character came from an encounter I had with an actual person. I was sitting in an airport terminal, waiting for my plane, when I saw this younger man walking by himself and talking out loud. He was good-looking and dressed nicely, but his actions surprised me. Then I figured out he was talking on his cell phone using a small wire mic with an earbud, the first I’d ever seen. I must mention that this was when cell phones were early in development. My cell phone at the time was permanently attached to my car. Anyway, I found this person interesting as I continued to discreetly watch him. He appeared to be doing business over the phone, and had a very assured attitude. For some reason, I locked his image away in my mind.

Eight years later, I was writing my first novel, The Price of Admission, and the plot required an aggressive, power hungry young executive that would play a major role in the story. Bingo, the image of the man came back to me and instantly I had my character, with all the assuredness and air of confidence this young man had projected during a simple cell phone call.

But hold on, what would this character’s name be? Remember, this would be a leading character and, therefore, needed a name that would fit his personality and role in the novel. I actually didn’t have to ponder too long, and contrary to my daughter’s suspicions, I didn’t go to the telephone book. His name came to mind the first time I started writing about him — Travis Manning. It sounded right to me and fit the personality I wanted him to have. By the way, my daughter also loved the name and thought it fit him perfectly.

To this day, I still enjoy recalling the times when I was writing scenes that included Travis Manning, and how he tried to control a much older, more seasoned executive character in the book named Brad Paxton.

FYI: Paxton won!

Hey, Don’t Worry, I’ll Do Fine Watching The Baby

Shannon BabyI remember saying that, or something close, to my wife, Melayne, when she told me she would be gone for the evening . Now the baby was my oldest daughter, Shannon, who was probably three months old at the time. I figured I’d take her for a walk around the local college, you know, to expose her to higher education and maybe get her competitive juices flowing. Then I’d take her out for dinner so people could see how cute she was and what a good father I was, able to handle a baby all by myself.

Now I should explain, this was the first time I’d ever been alone with a baby, not just my own baby, but any baby. Once again, I figured this would be a piece of cake. She’d probably sleep most of the time, so what could possibly go wrong? So I packed up the minivan. That’s right, a minivan, the consummate vehicle for a family that includes a baby and a dog. A few years prior, I lived alone, drove a Porsche and had a Harley Davidson motorcycle — and there was no dog. But gone where those days.

So, anyway, off I went, with a smile on my face and brimming with confidence. Well, that confidence lasted about four minutes. I suddenly became aware of a horrible stench coming from the backseat. I pulled over and checked it out, finding the problem came from my sweet little Shannon sitting in the car seat. And that’s when it hit me, and I mean hit me hard!

I believe I must explain. I grew up when fathers worked and mothers stayed home with the children. This particular occurrence happened in 1987, when this prevailing concept was still in practice. The key ingredient was that men didn’t change diapers. I never had or ever imagined doing so, knowing that Melayne would take care of that issue. “But guess what?” my mind said. “Melayne isn’t here. So have at it, big guy.”

I immediately returned home, grabbed the little stinker from the back seat and headed into the house. Now what we had done was convert a nice bar into a changing table, keeping in place the mirrors, shelves to hold bottles of booze, overhead cocktail glass racks, and a sink with running water. The only thing remaining to identify its previous life were wine glasses still hanging in the racks.

I laid Shannon down on the changing pad, not so sure of what I would uncover. I had an idea, but still proceeded cautiously. As it turned out, it wasn’t as bad as I’d expected. But then I recalled Melayne telling me about discarding the old diaper, using baby wipes and powder, how to put on a new diaper, etc. To tell the truth, I’d never really paid much attention, though. But there I was, trying to figure out which container held baby wipes, what did baby powder come in, and where in the heck did Melayne keep the new diapers?

Fortunately, I conquered all challenges, although it took me more than ten minutes to complete the task. However, no sooner had I picked Shannon up than another whiff announced … round two! To indicate how quickly I learn, though, round two only took a couple of minutes.

Considering that changing a diaper was once so foreign to me, I can now proudly say that everything involved in being a parent is … the greatest gift of all!