Remembering my T-6 Texan Warbird Flight

I always had fantasies about flying in one of these. Carl’s T-6 brought me a little closer.

I catch the 10 p.m. newscast as it’s about to go to commercial; the anchor teases a story to come in the next segment.

“A vintage airplane crashes in the desert, killing two,” she says.

It could be any vintage plane, any pilot. But I know it’s not. I turn the TV off. Moments later, my phone rings. It’s Alexa, a friend and colleague at The Arizona Republic.

“Justin, there’s been an accident,” she says.

“I know.”

Where Pilots Are Born

It’s an ungainly beast, this T-6 Texan. No enemy fliers feared it. The Japanese didn’t give it an ominous nickname like “Whistling Death.”

But the sunlight and its deep-blue coat of paint make it look just enough like Pappy Boyington’s F4U-4 Corsair to reach the 6-year-old boy I used to be — the boy that refuses to miss an episode of Black Sheep Squadron.

And really, the T-6 Texan made the Corsair – and the P-51 Mustang and sundry other American fighters. Or at least the most important part of those planes: the pilots. Yes, every fighter pilot of the era started here. A few hundred hours in a T-6 Texan, then into planes twice as fast, twice as powerful and heavily armed. Into the fray against the Luftwaffe or the Japanese.

Carl Schmieder is only 6o — too young to have flown in WWII. But he’s a member of Cactus Squadron, an aerobatic outfit flying the T-6 Texan to its limits at airshows. He’s fairly short, fit, genial. But I expected to see him in a vintage flight suit. In his striped button-down shirt and slacks, he looks like a jeweler sneaking out of work. Which he is.

I climb into the cockpit behind him. There’s a plaque bolted to the instrument panel: Intentional straight and level flight prohibited.

The Takeoff Roll

The radial engine harrumphs to life. The vibration reaches me at the cellular level. I’m more excited than I’ve ever been. We taxi, wagging around so Carl can see what’s in front of the Texan’s elevated cowling. We gather speed, and we’re in the air.

The next hour or so is the stuff of my dreams. Carl starts slowly, with aileron rolls. It’s the first time I’ve ever been upside-down in an airplane. A laundry list of combat maneuvers follows: Cuban 8, Immelmann turns, steep banks, barrel rolls. Carl explains every maneuver – I hear the still-awestruck young boy in his voice. He’s done this countless times, and the little boy still lives.

I learn what a four-G turn feels like. I grunt and tense every muscle in my lower body – quads, core, arms … all clenching to force enough blood into my head to stay conscious. Still, I feel an invisible electric blanket cranked to "HIGH" settle over me. The edges of my vision distort just slightly. It’s amazing.

Back Down to Earth

We land, and I’m physically wrung out, nauseous, over-heated. Carl slides the canopy, and I drink the air. It smells of exhaust and is barely any cooler – but it’s refreshing as lapping water straight off an Icelandic glacier.

I’m delighted, maybe as much as Carl is. He got to fly — and share the magic of aerobatic flying.

But Carl is gone, along with his final passenger and his priceless, dynamic piece of flying history. The National Transportation and Safety Board report can tell you why. A sad piece of aftermath: The Arizona wing of Cactus Squadron disbanded after the crash.

Maybe we shouldn’t embrace risk. No aerobatics, no mountain climbing, no polar expeditions. It’d save lots of lives.

But it would sure make living a lot less interesting.

(UPDATE: Jan. 2020: My original story for the Arizona Republic is no longer online. I’ll see if I can find it somewhere else or even scan it. It wasn’t great, but I was new at this newspaper thing!)

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Why Phoenix Can’t Be More Like Chicago

chicago bean
You'll never see anything like this in Phoenix.

In July, I dropped into Chicago for a four-day visit. Overall, I was underwhelmed. Some cool architecture, yes. But the city marinates in self-importance over its fading foodie scene. The pedestrians, cyclists and drivers are by and large savages. I’d much rather visit Portland, Seattle or Vancouver.

But -- Chicago has some terrific public spaces. I was puzzled. The last few years have been an economic disaster, and we’re only starting to poke through to better times. So where did Chicago get the scrilla to keep its public works projects afloat through lean times?

Through a city sales tax of more than 10 percent.

Interesting. This could never happen here in Arizona, where the city sales taxes hover around 2 percent, give or take depending on the municipality.

An outdoor concert venue - too visionary for small minds.

I’m not upset about not having to shell out another 8 percent per purchase (especially since an intern who’s from Chicago points out that at least half of the Windy City’s sales tax props up graft and corruption).

But you know, a 5 percent sales tax that’s effectively used wouldn’t bother me a bit. The first things I’d like to see? Improved bike lanes, quality city gyms, better parks, functional water fountains along the well-travelled canals, for starters. You know – stuff to make the city more liveable, to make people healthier and more active.

Why can’t this happen here? Because there are too many regressive bomb throwers like Sal DiCiccio, perhaps the most stunted person to ever sit on the dais for the Phoenix City Council.

DiCiccio’s notion of leading is to squawk "cut spending!" like a stuttering parrot. Somehow, I started receiving his "newsletters," which are little more than angsty screeds portraying him as a crusader for the little guy. I never signed up for this; I suspect his staff tapped into city data to find an audience upon which to push his small-time agenda.

Let’s look at some recent subject lines:
Your kids’ milk money pays for raises
Taxpayers misled: Food Tax for pay raises
Your Water Bill: Going UP -- You Can Stop It!
Expected Smears on Reformers
Phoenix can Lead Nation/Unions Stop Jobs
Phoenix Spending ‘ripe for abuse’
Union takeover – Phx City Hall

How sad. Not a single idea for how Phoenix can do more for its residents (nor any idea how to write better than amateurish hack level, but that’s another story). It’s all panicky demonizing and fear mongering. No inspiration, no original thinking. No innovation. DiCiccio equates good governance simply with spending less and taxing less -- and offering fat tax breaks to pet projects in the hope of a fleeting boost in low-paying jobs.

Improving city services? Offering amenities that truly world-class cities enjoy? Forget about it.

Sure, our current tax dollars could go further. Trimming here and there? Never a bad idea. But when that and squalling about unions is all a self-proclaimed leader can do, your city is in bad hands.

I’ve always wondered why Chicagoans who move to Phoenix constantly pine for their former city (well, during the winter months, at least).

Hmm, maybe the answer is the Sal DiCiccio mentality.

Phoenix Councilman Supplies Info About Residents to Special-Interest Group

Sal DiCiccio, a member of the Phoenix city council, has convinced me of something – that he’s funnelling information about residents to an outside organization to further his political agenda. Here’s how he did it:

Back in August, something strange popped into my e-mail box: a newsletter from Councilman DiCiccio.

I never signed up for it. I don’t even live in his district. I chalked it up as an anomaly until I got a newsletter from nofee2hikeaz.com a few days later. I also didn’t sign up for its newsletter.

DiCiccio and nofee2hikeaz.com, it turns out, have a common goal – opposing the Phoenix Park Board plan to charge for parking at less than 20 percent of the city’s trailheads.

City Staff Members Look Into E-Mail Mystery

On Sept. 8, I decided to ask city officials about what was happening: I contacted David Urbinato, parks department spokesman. He passed my e-mail to Toni Maccarone, the city’s spokeswoman. Here’s what she wrote to me:

" -- we did quite a bit of research, and the answer that we came up with is what we thought.  We do not share our city news list with anyone.  We’re sorry, but we are not sure how you got on these other lists. When I asked Councilman DiCiccio’s Chief of Staff Hal DeKeyser about it, he said that you may have been added to the Councilman’s list in a number of different ways because they have a separate, outside list that they maintain, and they add people’s e-mails from a variety of different sources."

Maccarone suggested I talk to DeKeyser. I know him – he is a former Scottsdale Tribune editor. I joined the paper as a reporter just after DeKeyser was effectively exiled to the then even-more-bustling (if you count retirees in golf carts as bustling) West Valley. There, he served as publisher of a flock of chicken-dinner publications like the West Valley View.

I decided to let things unfold a bit before talking to him.

I’m pretty sure DiCiccio had access to my information since I signed up for the phoenixnews e-newsletter. I registered using a personal address, not the one posted here at WanderingJustin.com.

Slip-Up Reveals the Connection

On Sept. 17, I got the break I hoped for: I received a newsletter from both DiCiccio and nofee2hikeaz.com – and the content was exactly the same: every subject line, every sentence, every idea. Identical.

To me, this is a major sign – likely outright proof – that Diciccio or someone working for him provided my e-mail information to nofee2hikeaz.com.

Both parties were stupid, arrogant or a radioactive combination of both.

Local Media is Watching

A reporter at The Arizona Republic also confirmed that the paper is curious about ties between DiCiccio and nofee2hikeaz.com. The reporter said interview requests for the website were not answered – and that DeKeyser denied any ties to the organization. Someone is lying. And the reporter has no motive.

Since the curiously similar e-mail blasts, I’ve continued getting DiCiccio’s Glenn Beck-ish squawking for the entertainment value. In his alternate reality, he is the only guy looking out for the little people of the impovershed Arcadia and Ahwatukee neighborhoods (someone has to make sure families there can afford the payments on their fleet of SUVs). In that alternate reality, it’s also OK to sign people up for e-mail lists against their will and to funnel their information to outside organizations that are not accountable or even willing to be interviewed by media.

It doesn’t seem the city has a policy governing how it handles residents’ e-mail addresses. So DiCiccio will probably escape censure from city officials. But I’m hoping he’ll answer for this and every other act of ethical dyslexia at the ballot box.

So what do you think? Does it look like DiCiccio or one of his staff members provided e-mail to addresses to nofee2hikeaz.com? If so, do you find that dirty pool?

3 Bizarre Buildings Still Stand Tall in Phoenix

Capstone Cathedral Phoenix
The Capstone Cathedral is one of the most odd and distinct buildings in the Phoenix area.

3 Bizarre Buildings in Phoenix, Ariz
Despite its short history, the Phoenix metro area has amassed some unusual architecture. Here are three of the best-known odd buildings you’ll find in the Valley of the Sun.
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Why Phoenix Councilman’s Stance on City Parks is Bogus

Phoenix City Councilman Sal DiCiccio has come out adamantly against a $2 a day parking fee for about 700 of 5,000 parking spaces at city trailhead parking lots. Here’s what he has to say in the latest newsletter he sent out (including to people like me who never signed up for it).

Let’s parse the massaged public relations quacking and uncover the truth, which will prove that DiCiccio’s stance is nothing more than a bush-league politician’s PR ploy:

1. The voice and presence of people who showed up, who contacted the council members, who passed out fliers and who talked with their friends and neighbors – that at least temporarily stopped the city from adding the $2 parking fee.

Right. So far, every single one of the opposition’s attempts to unite have been an abject failure. The NoFee2HikeAZ.com "protest hike" in August fizzled – according to its own Facebook photos, all of five people showed up. Its Twitter feed is followed by an avalanche of 12 people. And The Arizona Republic is reporting that "residents who spoke at the last parks board meeting Aug. 26 were 3-1 in favor of the fee."

2. First the Parks Board was convinced that if it didn’t produce revenue to kick into the general fund that pays normal city operating costs, cuts even harsher than the deep ones imposed in the current budget could be forthcoming. It considered a parking fee as high as $5 a day on hikers

Even at $5, the day fee is still less than the $6 day-use fees at Maricopa County Regional Parks. And I have yet to hear anyone who doesn’t consider that a bargain for excellent trail systems. Phoenix and its parks lag behind – they’re good, but they simply don’t equal the county’s offerings. A day-use fee for Phoenix might lessen the gap. Quality costs.

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How Did I Get on Anti-Park Fee Group’s Email List?

A website called nofee2hikeaz.com is now online fighting the Phoenix government’s proposal to charge for parking at 5 of its most-congested trailheads. Check my earlier post for some of the details.

Let me get this straight: The people who launched this site have the time and resources – in both time and cash – to design, code, launch and administer a website complete with YouTube videos. Yet they don’t have an extra $60 for a yearly pass for unlimited usage of those five trailheads. And they can’t park anywhere else, either.

That is just risible.

I also love the name: nofee2hikeaz.com.

How disingenuous and misleading can they get?

This is about five trailheads in one city. Let me repeat that: five trailheads, one city. Not even an entire city. It has nothing to do with the state of Arizona. Classic scare tactic from some local with delusions of Karl Rove grandeur.

But hey, what’s a little misdirection when there are $60 at stake!

I can’t help noticing that the video shows some awfully slick SUVs and sports cars in the parking lot. Maybe they could just skip a latte or two a week and apply it to the park fee? Nah, that’s crazy talk.

And here’s an interesting addition to the equation: Two days earlier, I received an email from Councilman Sal DiCiccio, the same one who railed against the proposed park fees, two days ago.

I have no idea how the councilman acquired my information. And I have absolutely no idea how the Webmasters of nofee2hikeaz.com acquired my information. NOTE: They did not use the email address associated with this Web site, but my private address.

This was the first email I ever received from Councilman DiCiccio. And the first I received from this group.

Is it a far stretch to conclude that the councilman provided the group with my information? I wonder if he was equally cavalier with the information of any other city resident.

And he has the nerve to talk about “stewardship” of tax dollar. As of right now, I don’t trust him with my e-mail address. Or yours.

Sanskrit to Celebrity Yogis: 10 Things I Hate About Yoga

Yoga that doesn’t mess around. (Photo credit: GO INTERACTIVE WELLNESS)

I took my first yoga class in 1999. I found a lot to like about it. I could feel my body snapping back into alignment. It even helped my concentration – at the time, I played a lot of hockey. After a yoga session, I’d strap on the goalie pads and the puck seemed bigger and slower.

On the flip side, I found out there some things I hate about yoga. An aborted session at At One Yoga in Phoenix (more on that in a future post) really brought this to the forefront of my mind.

1. Sanskrit Chanting – Exactly what is the point of that Sanskrit song that so many yoga classes start out with? I don’t speak Sanskrit, and I’m frankly not there for a "spiritual" experience. And besides, whoever said "chanting" begat "spirituality?" I grew up going to Catholic mass, so I’ve had a bellyful of unneeded verbal repetition. Let’s get to the good stuff!

2. The overly soft, nurturing, gentle yoga teacher voice – Exactly where do some yoga teachers get that overly measured, breathy voice? It sounds ridiculous. And I say that even though one of my favorite teachers uses it. Coming from male teachers makes it even worse – I always hear them as Mr. Van Driessen from Beavis & Butt-head.

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