A Party in Two Parts: It’s All about Friends

Many hands make quick work.

About three weeks ago, in early June, it looked pretty certain that my building shell would be finished by June month-end — a full month before I’d expected. I realized, with a great sense of pleasure, that I could get all of my things out of storage and into my own building. That meant not only finally getting all of my possessions under one roof — a dream of mine for years — but saving a month of rent for the hangar everything was currently stored in.

Win-win.

I thought about hiring movers. I really did. But then I realized that if I could get a few friends to help me move the furniture — sofas, bedroom set, dining table, TV, shelves, desks — I could handle the boxes on my own. After all, I’d gotten the boxes from my Wickenburg house into my Wickenburg hangar on my own.

Full Hangar
This is apparently the best photo I have that shows everything stored in my hangar. Shot this past winter, along the left wall was my boat, truck, Honda, countless boxes, and flatbed trailer. Near the side door was all of my furniture. I left the middle aisle clear for my helicopter, pulled by my ATV. My RV might have been in here, too, if I hadn’t gotten the house sitting gig that kept me from freezing my ass off in the RV.

And then I thought about how neat it would be to have a party at my home, to finally be able to show it off to all my friends after telling them so much about it.

And then I thought maybe a few of those friends might have trucks and be willing to bring them to the airport to help me move that furniture.

And that’s how the idea of the Moving Forward Party was born.

Moving Forward: A Party in Two Parts

I made up the invitations one Monday morning and sent them out via email and Facebook message to dozens of people I knew. Most of them were local, but others were as far away as New Jersey, New Mexico, Arizona, and even Alaska.

Invitation
The digital version of the invitation looked like this.

I sent a special version of the invitation to Staples for printing. It would be half page, with one side showing the top half of this and the other side showing the bottom. I picked them up and began carrying them around with me so I could hand them out to people I know when I ran into them in town. I also left them in mailboxes and rolled up in driveway gates for the friends I had no digital contact method for. I even dropped a few off at friends’ workplaces.

The RSVPs started coming in. I was surprised by the percentage that seemed interested in helping out at the airport. Maybe I’d be able to move more than just the furniture that day.

The week of the party arrived. The builders stopped work. They were waiting for the concrete to be poured inside and the concrete guys were backed up with other work. First, it looked like it might be Wednesday. Then Thursday or Friday. And finally Friday. Definitely Friday.

I was stressed. The party was Saturday afternoon. Would we be able to walk on the concrete then? Store things on it? Would we damage it? Cause cracks and scratches? Prevent it from curing properly?

Some people advised me to stay clear, but the concrete guy, who showed up on Thursday to look over the site, told me I’d be able to walk on it the same day. “Just don’t drive on it,” he advised. “We recommend a week, but wait at least five days.”

The moving part of the party was on.

Prep

I spent most of Friday morning picking up coolers loaned by friends and shopping for party supplies like ribs (for smoking), soft drinks, and beer. That afternoon, it rained and I had to fly. It actually turned out to be a pretty crappy day, with some bad news from friends that was sad and/or stressful on several levels. I remember texting with one friend late that evening, assuring him that everything would work out while wondering if it really would.

I woke up early on Saturday and got right to work on party prep. I needed to get the beverages into the coolers and cover them with ice. That meant a trip down to Fred Meyer, which ate up an hour of my morning. I didn’t need to set up any tables; there were enough tables and desks among my furniture to spread out food and supplies. I needed to organize the refreshments for the hangar part of the party. The whole time, I was watching the sky and the radar for any sign of rain. My biggest fear was that the rain would start while I was at the hangar, 30 minutes from my helicopter, and would have to leave my guests to go to work. But the weather held, despite the cloud activity.

And at 2:45 PM, I rolled into the airport parking lot beside my hangar and prepared to greet whoever turned up to help.

Many Hands

People started arriving almost immediately. I had just walked around the hangar to open the side door when my neighbor, Mike, arrived with a pickup truck. He helped me move my old desk to a spot beside the doorway, then kept me company while I put out various chips and dips and set a small cooler full of beverages nearby. Then Melanie and Al in a pickup truck, followed closely by Jill and her husband. They’d brought a very large horse trailer behind their pickup truck. More people began to arrive, all of them in pickup trucks. The party started right in the doorway with everyone chatting and making new friends.

Loading the Horse Trailer
Tim shot this image of us loading the horse trailer early on in the packing process.

Someone suggested getting started and I suggested filling the horse trailer first. Jill’s husband backed it up to the hangar door. And that’s when the “controlled chaos” of my move began.

My friend Tim had brought along his camera and took lots of photos. Most of the ones you see here were taken by him.

There were at least 30 people on hand and my furniture and boxes quickly began shifting from their storage positions to the side door of the hangar. They loaded that horse trailer quickly, but not quickly enough for the crew. A bottleneck formed. People began to ask whether they could move a truck around to the other door, the one inside the airport fence. I didn’t see any reason not to, so I opened that door while someone moved a truck around. From that point forward, they were loading trailers and trucks from two points. At one point, we had two pickups in the hangar while a third was being loaded at the side door.

Front Door Moving
I spent more time answering questions that actually moving things. I couldn’t keep up with what was going on. Photo by Tim.

One of my friends, who lives in the Seattle area, asked, “How you do you know so many people with pickup trucks?” I didn’t have an answer for him.

Penny and Sofa
Penny stayed clear of the movers. Here she is, hiding by my red sofa, which is still shrink-wrapped from its original move out of Phoenix. Photo by Tim.

Other people commented about the sheer quantity of stuff I owned. I responded the same way to each of them: “Blame my ex-husband. If he would have settled with me instead of dragging me into court, I would have left most of this stuff behind. The longer he made me wait, the more I packed.

Empty Hangar
I shot this photo of my nearly empty hangar as I locked up the front door. I’ll fetch these later in the week when the concrete is safe to park on.

After about 90 minutes, most of the trucks were loaded and there were still a few things left. My guests were getting antsy. I was ready to leave the rest behind, but with a sudden burst of energy, we got the last three empty pickups into position and loaded the rest of my things into it. As I locked up the hangar, I looked back to see just three things left, all of which I could move myself: my Honda, my cargo trailer (with helicopter landing pad still strapped down on it), and my boat.

Trucks Lined Up
I never did get a final count of the trucks that helped out for the move. Maybe 12? 15? Tim took this shot from his place in line after about half of them had been unloaded.

More than half the trucks had already left when I pulled out with another five trucks. I was very concerned about my friends off-loading without some idea of where I actually wanted the stuff. When I arrived, I found myself at the end of a long line of pickups going down the hill behind my house. I parked and got out with Penny and the remaining moving party supplies and walked the rest of the way.

Everyone was surprisingly cheerful and upbeat. I think the weather helped — it was sunny but cool and the wind hadn’t kicked up to full speed yet. One by one the trucks (and the trailer) backed into the driveway. My friends offloaded everything, placing boxes in one area and furniture in another, just as I directed.

I wanted to help them, but didn’t have time. I needed to tend to the ribs, which were done, and organize a food area. With the help of some friends, I moved my old desks into position in the first garage bay and then began putting out food and plates. Every time I came back out, there was more food on the tables, placed there by my guests. I organized the drinks and the wine, brushed the ribs with sauce and finished them off, helped my friend Cheryl get the chicken and salad out. I didn’t stop moving.

Meanwhile, my moving crew worked hard to unpack every truck that appeared at one of my garage doors. When a truck was empty, it pulled out of the way and another took its place. It was amazing. I had the construction time-lapse camera going and extracted 90-minutes worth of images; here they are in a video slowed down to 6 frames per second:

Everyone just did their part and the work went quickly. Someone even went up to fetch my truck, bring it down, and unload it. We’d arrived at my place by 5:15 and were done unloading everything less than an hour later.

And that’s when the second party began.

The Celebration

As I’d said on the invitation, I wanted to celebrate the construction of my new home and the beginning of my new life.

I had plenty to celebrate. After living in limbo in a dead-end marriage and the aftermath of a cruel divorce, I was finally back on track to move forward with my life. And I was moving forward quickly. The 4,000-square foot building I’d designed and had built on my property was proof.

I wasn’t rebuilding my life; I was leapfrogging around it and building a better life. And that was something to celebrate.

I knew that this would be the first of many gatherings here, the first of many parties and celebrations.

Party on the Ground
Tim took this shot during the party. In the background are all my things. In the middle of the shot are Forrest and Sharon, the couple who sold me my property. They’re very happy with what I’d done with it.

More guests arrived with more food. People mingled and ate and drank. People who hadn’t known each other met and discovered people or places or schools in common. People wandered around my property, out to Lookout Point, around the helicopter parked on its temporary landing zone. They checked out my chickens and my garden. Their dogs and kids ran and played.

Party Panorama
Here’s the party in full swing. The rest of the guest were outside.

Going Up?
Going up? Tim took this shot as I made several trips upstairs with guests. Can’t wait for the stairs to go in!

The builder had been kind enough to leave the man-lift behind so I could use it at the party. I made a few trips up to the second floor with guests. They commented on the view and the floor plan. Another local helicopter owner and his wife said they were considering building a place just like mine on some vacation property they owned.

Sunset Bagpiper
Tim took this photo of Mike piping out over the valley as the last rays of sunlight struck the hills across the river.

The sun began to sink lower in the sky and it got chilly out. One by one, my guests said their goodbyes and left. Soon, only a handful were left. My friend Mike pulled out his bagpipes and treated us all to a sunset concert.

It was a perfect end to a perfect day.

It’s All About Friends

I learned something yesterday, something I hadn’t really thought about.

Kriss and Tim
Two local teachers, Kriss and Tim. Not sure if they knew each other before this party, but they look like good friends here.

I realized as I watched my friends enjoy the food and drinks and company under my roof that what I really had to celebrate most about my new life was my friends.

To understand why, you need to know a little about my past in Arizona.

I made quite a few friends in Arizona after moving there in 1997, but over the years, they began to abandon the area, following their dreams to places that appealed to them more than the fading retirement town we lived in. In the end, I had few friends there and didn’t seem able to make any new ones. My wasband’s few friends disliked me and often made that clear in no uncertain terms.

For a while, my wasband tried to convince me that my minimal social life was my fault, that people simply didn’t like me. That added to the self-esteem problems I was having near the end of our marriage. But I know now that he was dead wrong.

Yesterday’s party is proof of that.

I’ve been living full-time in Washington state for only a year. Yet yesterday, at least 30 people showed up at my hangar to help me move and another 20 or so showed up for the second part of the party. They didn’t come empty-handed; they weren’t takers out for a free meal. They didn’t whine or complain — they made it happen without coaxing. They are friends, real friends, the kind of people who make my life full.

I make friends easily here and I’m not sure why. I suspect it has to do with the kind of people living here — people who are good and want to help members of their community. People who do the right thing because it’s the right thing and don’t even think about doing something that isn’t right. People who are open and friendly and sharing because they’re not hung up in petty jealousies or suspicions. People who love more than they hate and give more than they take.

Oddly, a friend and client who attended yesterday’s party told me about the release of a video we’d worked on together earlier this year. I’d flown him around to get some aerial footage of two of the local dams on the Columbia River and the waterfront. He told me that he’d linked to the video on his Facebook page. This morning, I followed that link and found a video that talked about the people of the area as being what makes it special.

That video is right on target. It’s all about the people, it’s all about friends.

Boating with Friends

Another nice day out on the river.

On Thursday, I took my boat out for the first time this season. It was a girls day out: me, Stephanie, Megan, and Penny the Tiny Dog.

My BoatMy little boat in a photo from 2012. It’s a 1995 SeaRay Sea Rayder F-16. It’s a fun little boat, but it definitely looks faster than it is.

I admit I wasn’t very responsible about winterizing the boat. I was supposed to disconnect the battery and I didn’t. I did, however, remember to put fuel stabilizer in the half-empty fuel tank. Then I parked it in my hangar and pretty much forgot about it.

About a week ago, I pulled the battery and brought it to Les Schwab. The previous owner, Ron, had bought the battery there years ago. One of the benefits of having a Les Schwab battery is that they’ll test and charge it for you for free. A friend of mine dropped it off there for me and I picked it up a few days later. It took a charge and tested good. On Thursday morning, I reinstalled it, closed the engine lid, and crossed my fingers.

The Boat’s Role in my Divorce Saga

Oddly, my little boat played a role in my divorce trial drama last year.

My wasband apparently believed it was worth more than I’d paid for it. He, or more likely, his mommy, decided to try to trick me into admitting it was worth more by offering me $1,000 for it in court. Because I’d only paid $1,500 for it and had since had a mishap that reduced its value, I accepted the offer.

But when he learned that he’d have to get it from Washington to Arizona and pay for storage until he could do so, he took back the offer and I got to keep it.

The exchange between his lawyer, my lawyer, and me must have made a nice show for the judge. My friends and family certainly laughed about it afterwards

His loss. But then again, I suspect his mommy isn’t the kind of person who likes to have fun outdoors. She’d rather spend her time living life vicariously by reading my tweets and blog posts. Are you enjoying this one?

I towed the boat behind my Jeep to the gas station where I topped off the tank with premium fuel. I always do that for vehicles that have been left sitting too long. Then I crossed the bridge to Wenatchee, drove to the boat ramp behind Pybus Market, and launched it. I got there 30 minutes early so it would be in the water when my friends arrived and, with luck, I’d be able to get it running. I didn’t want my friends to have to wait while I launched it and cranked it and possibly couldn’t start it. I figured that if it wouldn’t start, they wouldn’t have to waste too much of their time.

Stephanie showed up just after I parked the Jeep and was climbing on board. She admitted to a certain fear of water and I handed over my old jet ski vest, which I’d brought along. She climbed aboard and took a seat while I crossed my fingers again and began cranking the engine.

It caught on the second try. I don’t know why I was so worried about it.

I left the engine idle while securely tied to the dock. Being a weekday morning, there weren’t any other boats coming or going. That’s one of the things that amazes me about the Columbia River. It’s a huge river — really a chain of dam-formed lakes — and the water is usually calm and blue and very inviting. Yet there are relatively few boats on it. Even on weekends, the boat ramp parking lot is seldom full.

I let the engine run for 10 minutes, then shut it down. No sense wasting fuel or talking over its sound. I opened the Bimini top and Stephanie and I sat in the shade. The temperature was perfect — in the high 70s, I think — and there was a gentle breeze. Beyond the boat ramp, the river, which was running high with spring thaw in the mountains, rushed by at what I’d later clock at 5-1/2 miles per hour.

In the Boat
Megan took this photo of me and Stephanie with Penny as we headed upriver.

Megan showed up with a big cooler full of food a while later. We loaded it on board. Megan grabbed the bow rope while I started the engine. We cast off. I backed up gingerly, then shifted into forward and steered us out of the little lagoon.

We headed upriver, as I always do, at about 25 miles per hour. It was very cool out on the water and I was glad I’d brought along a long-sleeved shirt. I pointed out a few points of interest along the way, including the swimming lagoon at Walla Walla Point Park, where they also rent kayaks and paddle boards, and the estuary where I’ll be paddling with other friends later today.

Along the RiverAnother one of Megan’s photos. It was a really beautiful day with light wind and few clouds in a clear blue sky.

We headed up the Wenatchee River a bit. The water was high and moving quickly — quite a difference from when I’d been there with my friend Janet the previous summer. I went as far as the second bridge before turning around and heading back out to the Columbia. We continued upriver, past the north end bridge. After a while, the water began to get turbulent from the water release at the Rocky Reach Dam. Because I didn’t want to spook Stephanie — and I know how crazy the water gets closer to the dam — I decided to stop there. I pulled the power back to idle and cut the engine.

Wonderful silence.

That’s the trouble with motor boats. When you’re moving they make a lot of noise. So what I typically do on a boat outing is drive the boat upriver to a certain point, then cut the engine and drift back.

Megan Selflie
Megan captured this selfie as we drifted downriver. The water was glassy smooth in many places.

Stephanie opened her picnic cooler and produced a bottle of pinot gris and glasses. She pours wine at Kestrel Vintners‘ tasting room in Leavenworth. I couldn’t drink — I’m on call during daylight hours for cherry season — but both Stephanie and Megan had some. Then Megan started pulling food out of her cooler. Soon we were sitting in the drifting boat as it gentle spun its way down the river, eating and talking and enjoying the scenery.

The river was moving pretty quickly — 5-1/2 miles per hour according to a GPS app on my phone — and it took about an hour for us to drift back past the boat launch. Since we weren’t ready to go in and there was still a lot of river between us and the next dam, we kept drifting. Megan and Stephanie took pictures. I lounged in my seat in the shade or on the engine compartment lid out in the sun. I’d worn short shorts with the hope of getting some sun on my legs. I’ve got a great tan on my arms and upper chest — hell, I live in tank tops this time of year — but my legs are terribly white.

South End Bridges
Stephanie’s shot looking back at the south end bridges.

Soon we passed under the south end bridges. Megan wanted to know if we could see my home from the River. I knew that I could see that part of the river from my home so I figured I should be able to see my home from the river. I looked up and spotted it — the building under construction is visible from literally miles away — and gave them landmarks on the top of the cliff and then below it. I’m not sure if they saw it, but they said they did. I know my friend Judy has been monitoring construction from her home right across the river from me.

We got as far as the Billingsley Hydro Park, which is another local boat launch facility on the East Wenatchee side of the river, and I figured we’d gone far enough. It was nearly 1 PM and I had to put the boat away, buy a concrete box (long story), and meet with an HVAC contractor at 3. We stowed the dishes and glasses and napkins and I started the engine. Five minutes later, we were pulling up to the boat launch lagoon and I was easing the boat alongside the dock. Fifteen minutes later, the boat was out of the water and we were snapping on the cover and bungeeing it to the trailer.

It had been a great day out. We all agreed that we needed to do it again soon.

Bad Advice Ruins Lives

Sad to see the dreams of a good man destroyed by taking bad advice.

I got some sad news not long ago. A very close former friend of mine sold his airplane.

He’d owned the plane for more than 10 years and had often told me of the role it would play in his retirement: he planned to become a CFI (certified flight instructor) and use the plane to do biennial flight reviews and some flight training. It was a goal I thought suited him and I supported it to the best of my ability — although there was nothing I could do beyond offering moral support and advice to help him achieve it. My advice: fly as often as you can, build time, build experience.

He didn’t take that advice.

I thought he was serious about that dream — like so many of the others he shared with me. But he never moved forward with any of them beyond making some notes on paper and buying domain names he’d never use. Maybe he wasn’t as serious as he led me to believe. I thought aviation, which we’d discovered around the same time, meant something to him. But apparently, it didn’t.

When he pissed off a friend whose hangar he was sharing and got the plane kicked out, the hangar he got in Scottsdale cost him far more each month, making the plane suddenly very costly to keep. (Some people just don’t know a good deal when they have one.) I suspect that was a factor in the plane’s sale in November 2013.

Not long afterward, he sold a condo he’d bought in Phoenix back in 2008. He’d bought as the housing market was falling but hadn’t quite hit bottom. He got what he thought was a good price, but the thing came with outrageous monthly maintenance fees that, when coupled with the mortgage, was a real financial burden on him. And, in all honesty, the place wasn’t very pleasant — its windows looked out onto a courtyard so there was no privacy unless the blinds were closed — which only made it darker and drearier than it already was. Most of the other units were owned by speculators and either empty or inhabited by renters. I’d advised him to buy the other condo he’d been looking at, a bright and airy second floor unit not far away.

He didn’t take that advice.

When he lost his job and got stuck in one he grew to hate, it seemed to me that he was working primarily to make payments on that condo. He was miserable most of the time, living in the condo part-time instead of the house he owned half of and used as his primary address. The house was completely paid off and far more comfortable, and it had a heck of a lot more light and privacy.

In 2011 and early 2012, I advised him to sell the condo, despite the fact that he owed a bit more than the market value. The loss would help on his tax returns and the sale would stop the bleeding of money for mortgage payments and maintenance fees. It would relieve his financial burden so he could live within his means and wouldn’t be a slave to the job he hated.

He didn’t take that advice.

I even offered to buy the place for what he owed. I’d take the loss. (I was a very good friend.)

He didn’t want to do that, either. Instead, he claimed he wanted to keep it as an investment and rent it out. And he expected me to help him.

But I’d already gone through the nightmarish experience of being a landlord and wanted no part of it. My refusal to get involved was one of the things that began the destruction of our friendship.

When I learned in March that he’d sold the condo in December, it made me sad. I knew that if he’d sold it when I advised, before he turned his back on our friendship, we’d still be friends. I don’t think he ever put a tenant in there, but I really don’t know. I can imagine him stubbornly paying the mortgage and taxes and maintenance fees on the place, month after month, before finally giving up.

The sell-off of his assets doesn’t really come as a big surprise. Nearly two years ago, he initiated a costly legal battle to end a long-term partnership and take possession of assets that weren’t his. He misunderstood the law governing the case. The very last time I had a chance to speak to him directly, back in December 2012, I tried to reason with him. I tried to make him understand how the law would be applied. His angry and defiant response proved that he had no idea what the law was. I urged him to talk to his lawyer, to have his lawyer explain it. I urged him to take the counteroffer he’d received from the other party — a counteroffer I know that party’s lawyers thought was far too generous.

But he didn’t take that advice.

It frustrated me. He’d always been so reasonable. He’d always understood the difference between right and wrong. He’d always had morals and principals that I could respect and look up to. But now he was acting unreasonably, doing something stupid and hurtful that was so obviously wrong. What had happened to him?

It didn’t really matter. By that time he was no longer my friend and never would be again.

AdviceInstead, he listened to other, newer friends — including one he’d only recently met — friends who apparently either didn’t know the law or didn’t know the facts of the case. They told him he could get so much more if he just kept fighting. They fed him lies about the other party, convincing him that the other party had been using and manipulating him for years, convincing him that the other party was now an enemy and couldn’t be trusted.

So he kept feeding his lawyers money — tens of thousands of dollars, month after month. (I don’t know why the lawyers didn’t set him straight; maybe he wouldn’t listen to them, either?) And he kept harassing the other party with legal action, hoping that other party would give in to his outrageous demands.

And while all this was going on, my old friend began to take on the financial responsibilities of his new friend, helping her with mortgage payments and the like. He likely justified this by living with her, leaving the condo that was costing him so much money every month empty. She kept urging him to fight, to take one action after another to wear the other party down. She even began directly issuing orders to his lawyers and feeding them incorrect information that she misinterpreted from things she read online. She was rabid in her hatred, insanely jealous — or maybe, by some accounts, just insane.

But the other party in this legal battle was in the right and wasn’t about to give in, especially after investing in a costly legal defense. The other party needed to win. And unlike my friend, the other party was living within their means so there was money to pay lawyers for the fight. And to keep paying as long as necessary to bring an end to the battle and closure to the wounds it had caused.

In the end, my old friend lost his legal battle. The other party was awarded far more than the December 2012 counteroffer would have given. (After all, it really was a generous offer.)

I suspect my friend thought he would pay his legal fees with the proceeds from his win. I suspect he and his new friend looked forward to celebrating their victory over the other party.

But there was no win, there was no big settlement. Even later accounting for other matters proved disappointing. There was no windfall coming. My friend had acted on bad advice and had lost all the money he’d spent on legal fees plus the additional amount he’d have to pay over that original counteroffer.

Ah, if only he had taken my advice!

My former friend’s downfall fills me with pity for him. Not only do I care very much for him and value the years of our friendship, but I’m sad that he remains so close with the people who led him astray, friends and a lover so full of hate and anger and greed that they can’t see facts and listen to reason. I’m sad that they have his ear and are likely, to this day, giving him advice that will only cost him more in the long run. I’m sad that a man I once thought the world of has become a greedy and delusional puppet.

So he sold the airplane that would give him his retirement “job.” And he sold the condo that he claimed he wanted to keep as an investment. And now he’s trying to sell the house he has part ownership of. Liquidating his assets — one can only assume that he has money problems.

Meanwhile, he’s failed to comply with court orders regarding the case and has to defend himself against legal action related to that. More legal fees because he failed to do the right thing. What will happen next? Who knows?

It’ll be interesting to see if the friends who led him astray step up to the plate and help bail him out of the mess he’s in.

I know that I won’t.

Keep the Social in Social Networking

Stop wasting time chasing likes and accumulating followers and “friends.”

Twitter LogoToday, my friend Andy started a job at Twitter.

Andy and I met a little over seven years ago on Twitter. He, in fact, was the first person I followed there.

Back in those days, Twitter was only a year or so old and no one really “got it” yet. Actually, I don’t even think the folks who made Twitter got it. They promoted it as a “microblogging” platform, a place to share very brief comments with others. Did they ever dream that it would become what it has become? A valuable and timely source of news and information? The world’s “water cooler” for chatting, venting, and sharing?

This morning, when Andy announced that he was tweeting from Twitter’s U.K. headquarters, I realized that not only had we met on Twitter, but that Twitter had become a source of our livelihoods. Andy works at Twitter now, so he’s on their payroll. And I’ve written courses for Lynda.com about Twitter, so I get royalties for sharing my Twitter knowledge.

Funny how that worked out, no?

The Frustration of Facebook

Facebook LogoI really don’t like Facebook, but like so many of my friends, I find myself drawn to it. It has so much potential to be a truly valuable social networking service and enough of my friends understand that to make it worth visiting.

But at the same time, I find it immensely frustrating, mostly because of the number of people who just don’t seem to get it. I let some of that frustration out the other day after reading a post by one of my friends — coincidentally, someone else I met on Twitter — that proved how little she understood the “social” aspect of social networking.

She’d shared a humorous photo that had made the rounds at least two weeks before, presenting it as if it were something new. It wouldn’t have bothered me so much except for three things: (1) she considers herself a social networking “expert,” (2) her accompanying commentary clearly indicated she thought she was so clever for finding and sharing the image, and (3) I know she’s friends with at least one of the people who’d shared the photo when it made its original rounds so she should have seen it when the rest of us did. It’s this last point that bothered me most: she obviously wasn’t looking at anything that the rest of us shared. She was just posting whatever she found.

And posting and posting. Dozens of Facebook status updates with links and images every day, about half of which I’d already seen days or weeks before.

For some reason, Friday’s post was like the straw that broke the camel’s back. I posted a status update that said:

If some people would READ their Facebook timeline as much as they POST to it, they’d discover that about 50% of what they post as new and novel was shared by their friends on Facebook 2 weeks ago. #JustSaying #FunnyThenNotNow

I know I wasn’t completely off-base because 12 people “liked” it. That’s slightly above average for a status update that doesn’t include a photo. (More on that in a moment.) But one of my friends commented to say, “Wow…that’s kind of mean.” And another one added, “New, novel, Facebook all in one thought? Oxymoron there fly lady. Think it’s vacation time. Don’t pack the cranky pants.”

And that’s when I realized I needed a break from Facebook. So I pretty much took the weekend off.

Chasing Likes, Follows, and Friends

I began to realize a few years ago that a lot of people were using social media as a way to stroke their personal or business egos. (Hell, it’s a lot easier than blogging, which actually requires you to come up with original content.) I think that realization hit me when I heard about Klout. That’s a social media monitoring service that tells you how “influential” you are. Your Klout score is a number and apparently a lot of people who should have more important things to think about think their Klout score is vitally important.

I’m not sure how you build up your Klout score. I’m not sure because I don’t care. I don’t have the faintest idea of what mine is. From the way people talk, I suspect it has to do with how many Twitter followers and Facebook friends and LinkedIn connections you have and how many Google+ users — yes, there really are some — have you in their circles. It probably also takes into consideration things like retweets, likes, and shares — at least it should.

Stop Hijacking Tweets!

One of my pet peeves with certain Twitter users is the way they retweet content by copying and pasting tweets instead of using Twitter’s built-in retweet feature. What they’re doing is hijacking content. Even if the author’s name appears in the tweet (usually after RT), the hijacker’s account is the one that appears when it’s subsequently properly retweeted by others. It’s like taking credit for someone else’s comment or link or photo.

It’s a slime bag way to use Twitter for self-promotion.

And if you don’t know what I’m talking about and want to learn, read this.

As a result, to some people it becomes vitally important to accumulate followers, friends, connections, and circlers (or whatever Google+ calls the people who supposedly monitor your activity). And it’s equally important to post new content on the social networks with the ultimate goal of attracting attention to pump up that Klout score. So lots of these people post all kinds of things all day long.

I guess they figure that if you throw enough crap at a wall, some of it’s gotta stick.

Or maybe they just assume that everyone who follows them on social media does it they way they do: a quick glance a few times a week to see what others are saying. They figure that if they post a ton of stuff, something will be seen. So they go after quantity and not quality.

Of course, there are dozens of “viral” websites cropping up every day to provide content that’ll get social networkers the likes and shares they crave. Any site with the word “viral” or “share” in its name exists solely for that purpose. They have staffs who comb the web for interesting or amusing content and repackage it on their sites surrounded by dozens of ads. They write headlines designed to hook bored readers and drag them in. You’ve seen them: “This second grader’s revenge against Common Core math will make your day” and “Bella Thorne Suffers “Major Wardrobe Malfunction” at Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Awards: Picture.”

Quote List
How many of these do you see on Facebook every day? Too many, I’ll bet.

Then there are the lists: “16 Alarming Airline Secrets That Will Change How You Feel About Flying.” Or the simpler lists that just appear in images.

And the inspirational quotes, superimposed over (often inappropriate) photos.

Love Mom
I didn’t share this. What does that really mean? That I don’t love my mother? Or that I don’t want to clutter up my friends’ news feeds with idiotic crap?

And the short stories of friendship or love or faith — that end with a statement implying that you’re uncaring S.O.B. if you don’t share it with everyone you know on Facebook.

This is the (mostly) crap people are “sharing” in search of likes and shares and retweets. And the people who share this (mostly) crap don’t understand that they are being manipulated into promoting websites that have hijacked content solely so the hijacker sites can get hits and maximize ad revenue.

And Facebook doesn’t help matters. Instead of showing me everything that the people I follow post on their own timelines — like Twitter does quite faithfully — it uses some mystery algorithm to determine what appears, what order to put it in, and how many times to show it. So I wind up missing half the content posted by the people who tend to share interesting stuff and get stuck looking at a lot of crap because my friends happened to comment on one of their friends’ mindless drivel.

Social Is More than Sharing

It’s all about likes and retweets and favorites. Apparently, that’s what most people want. It’s a good thing, too. Because most people can’t be bothered to participate any more than with a simple click on an icon indicating their approval.

Deep discussion is rare. Very rare. I’m fortunate that I follow a few interesting and thoughtful people and they follow me. I’m fortunate to get the few exchanges of comments and ideas that I get. I know that now.

But it still frustrates me.

How can something be social when there’s no real interaction between people? I post a photo, 20 people click a like button. Is that a real “social” activity? (Tip: Updates with photos are far more likely to get “likes” than those without.)

I share a link to an article Hobby Lobby trying to use a claim of “conscientious objection” to avoid providing health care to employees that includes birth control coverage and I don’t get a single comment. Is it possible that no one has anything to say about this?

(And don’t get me started on the people who do comment based on an article’s headline but obviously haven’t read the article.)

Maybe the problem is what I expect from social media. I expect a two-way exchange. I expect civil discourse, conversation to carry an idea forward or sideways or simply expand it.

That’s why I got hooked on Twitter so quickly — I was building relationships with people there. These people were keeping me company throughout my work day, when I was stuck in a home office in front of a computer. They were there when I needed a break. They were my water cooler companions.

There were plenty of two-way exchanges. I was even meeting Twitter friends in the flesh — I remain very good friends with more than a few.

To me, that’s what social networking is all about: making and communicating with friends.

It’s social.

Real People, Real Friendships

Andy lives in the U.K. I’ve never met him in person; I’ve never even spoken to him on the phone or on Skype. Yet I know that he’s a techie, he loves Lego, and he’s been through a divorce. He’s someone I can communicate with every day, the guy I can find at the “water cooler” and exchange links, comments, and gripes with.

There’s a pretty good chance I’ll meet Andy in person in April. He’s coming to Twitter headquarters for some orientation. I’m in the Sacramento area with a wide-open schedule. I’ll work my schedule to meet his.

To me, social networking is social. It’s an exchange of information and ideas — an exchange that works two ways. I’ve built good friendships with the folks who understand that, folks like Andy who see how social networking can truly enrich our lives.

Hot Air Balloon Flight

Drifting through Napa Sacramento Valley by balloon.

Napa Valley Balloons
These guys are the best in the business: professional, safety-conscious, and fun!

As I mentioned in a recent blog post about Thursday’s helicopter flight through Napa Valley, I’d been invited to take a spot on a hot air balloon flight with Napa Valley Balloons, Inc. on Friday morning out of Yountville (just north of Napa). I actually did the flight on Friday as planned. Well, sort of.

I was invited to fly by Bob, the pilot I’d met a few weeks before at the airport where I’m currently living in the Sacramento area. Bob had landed with his passengers in what I consider my “backyard” here — the ramp I can see from the back window of my RV. I’d taken some photos of his landing and had sent the best one to him. He said he’d try to get me on a future flight; I told him I’d take him and two friends up in my helicopter. After too many windy days, the weather had finally calmed down and I was scheduled for the first flight with an opening: Friday, March 21.

I got my confirmation with instructions via email. All passengers were supposed to meet at Domaine Chandon in Yountville at 6:30 AM. Google Maps told me that was about an hour away. And because I don’t like to be late to anything, I gave it an extra half hour of drive time. That meant leaving at 5 AM.

I’m an early riser and didn’t have any trouble making that departure time. With my first cup of coffee in a travel mug, I put Penny and her breakfast into the truck and we headed out.

I’d just passed the exit for Winters when my cell phone rang. It was Bob. “Don’t leave yet,” he told me. “I think there’s fog in the valley. We might depart from Winters instead.”

“I just passed Winters,” I told him.

“Wow. You’re running early. Why don’t you hang out there and I’ll let you know when I have a better handle on the weather.”

We hung up and I gave it some thought. It was dark out, but I could clearly see the moon and stars. No fog here. But also no place to just “hang out.” I kept driving, thinking of maybe pulling over in Vacaville, which was coming up. I could see the rotating beacon of the airport there, Nut Tree. Maybe I could find a coffee shop close to the freeway to wait at?

But then I started thinking about how long it would take me to continue the drive if Bob gave me the green light to keep coming. I didn’t want to be the last one to arrive. And I was hoping to see them inflate the balloons. I’d keep going and, if I had to drive back to Winters, I’d do it with them.

So I kept going.

I was just entering Napa when I started seeing the low clouds of a marine layer creeping into the valley. Still clear overhead. I called Bob.

“I don’t know what to tell you,” he said. “It’s a tough call. The crew and passengers are still meeting at Chandon.”

“I’ll be there in 10 minutes,” I told him. “No bother if I have to drive back. I don’t want to hold anyone up.”

We hung up again.

I pulled into the Chandon driveway at 6 AM and followed the signs to the parking area. I took Penny for a quick walk before following more signs to the reception area. I’d been to Domaine Chandon years before — probably on my very first trip to Napa Valley with my future wasband. My memory of the place did not match the grand establishment I was at that morning. Gardens, ponds, fountains, patios, catering rooms. The place was huge and, even in the dark, impressive. I looked forward to seeing it in the daylight.

I was the first passenger to arrive. I signed in and signed a waiver, grabbed a cup of coffee and a tiny croissant, and then chatted with the two receptionist and the pilots as they arrived. Bob was no where in sight, probably still trying to figure out whether it would be clear enough to fly.

The answer came with a phone call to one of the pilots who then began briefing the 40 or so passengers who had arrived. Safety first, legal matters second. Bob had determined that the flying conditions in Napa that morning were neither safe nor legal. We’d be departing from Winters, in the Sacramento Valley.

While the passenger briefing continued, I asked one of the pilots where they were departing from in Winters. He showed me on Google Maps on my phone. Bob’s crew and the other two crews were already enroute with plans to have the balloons fully inflated when the rest of the passengers arrived in the shuttle vans.

Apparently, I wouldn’t see Domaine Chandon in the daylight that day after all.

I got directions, told the pilot and crew in the reception area that I’d go on ahead, and left. Before I left, one of the receptionists gave me two Chandon bags. I could tell there was a bottle in one of them. Consolation prize for missing breakfast with the rest of the passengers. How nice!

Sunrise
I got to see the sun rise through the marine layer on my way back.

It was a quick drive back. The fog was settling in and, although it was high still over the highway, I could see that Bob had made a good call. As the sun came up through the marine layer, it was pretty obvious that low clouds were filling in the valley.

There was a balloon company setting up beside the freeway at the Winters exit. I called Bob, thinking they might have relocated. He said that was their competition. Before he could give me directions, I told him I knew where to go. I hung up, followed Google’s guidance, and wound up in a field north of town where crews were spreading out three large balloons.

Balloon Setup
The crews were already beginning to set up the balloons when I arrived.

I’d been ballooning twice before. The first time was at a balloon festival in New Jersey, back in the 1990s, before I’d moved to Arizona. My future wasband had taken his niece and me for a flight. It was a great experience in what was probably considered a medium balloon. I don’t remember there being many people in our basket. I do remember being in a crowd of brightly colored balloons ascending into the sky over southwestern New Jersey farmland. I remember drifting silently on the breeze over people’s backyards while dogs barked. I remember seeing a woman in her bathrobe coming out to ge the morning newspaper. I remember grabbing the leaves off the top of a tree. And I remember the loud rush of gas and flames as the pilot added heat to the balloon envelope to keep us afloat.

The second time had been much more recently and I’d honestly almost forgotten it. It was back in January 2012 when I did a charter job that also involved a balloon. (Long story.) It was a tethered flight out in the desert west of where I lived in Arizona at the time. I blogged about it here.

This was different. This was real ballooning with a real commercial balloon company and pilot. The basket and balloon were huge; the basket could hold 17 people, including the pilot, and the balloon had to be large enough to lift that. The basket was carried to the site in a large truck with a hydraulic lift gate in the back. It took a lot of brute strength to get it down and into position on the ground beside the empty balloon.

Balloon Setup
The baskets for these balloons are huge.

I put Penny on her leash and wandered over with my camera to watch.

If you’ve never seen a hot air balloon inflated, here’s how it’s done. They start by spreading out the empty balloon envelope on the ground. They lay the basket on its side beside the bottom of the balloon and fasten the balloon to the basket with a series of ropes and carabiners. Then they put out one or two large fans that are fastened to generators, fire up the generators, and use the fans to start pushing air into the balloons. One or two members of the crew hold the balloon open at the bottom for the air to go in.

Inflating the Balloon
Bob (left) and a crew member hold open the balloon while two large fans begin filling it with air.

Inside the Balloon
It’s odd seeing people walking inside the balloon as it is inflated.

Meanwhile, crew members work in and around the balloon to make sure all the rigging is properly organized and there aren’t any tangles. I’m sure they do other stuff, too. It’s actually quite odd to see them walking around inside the balloon as it’s being inflated.

At a certain point, the balloon has enough air in it to begin holding its shape. But that air is the same temperature as the rest of the air. The balloon won’t fly. It’s time to add hot air. The pilot lights up the burners and adds fuel to shoot flames into the balloon. The fans and generators are shut off and moved away. As the hot air enters, the balloon starts to rise.

Adding Heat to Balloon
Adding heat to the balloon completes the inflation and makes it rise. You can see the other two balloons also being inflated on the right side of this picture.

Me in a Balloon
Yes, that’s me in a balloon.

At some point, the balloon has enough lift to bring the basket to the upright position. That’s when it’s time to load up.

The passengers on our flight arrived during the inflation process. Most of them hung back, although a few came closer to take pictures. I snapped a photo of a couple for them. No one else seemed to want to get that close.

The basket had five compartments: one on each corner for passengers and one in the middle that ran from the front to the back of the basket for the pilot and the fuel canisters. Bob and the crew loaded us up with two couples in each compartment except mine; I shared with just two people. It was cosy but not crowded. A member of the ground crew took a photo of me just before we lifted off.

And then we were off the ground, drifting into the sky. Bob snapped a photo with a GoPro he had mounted off the balloon envelope.

Basket of People
Is this a great picture, or what? Gotta love those GoPros! Bob sent about a dozen shots and I like this one the best.

Balloon Lift Off
I took this photo of our companions still on the ground as we were lifting off; you can see our shadow on the right.

Balloon in Flight
I got this nice shot of one of our companion balloons not long after takeoff.

The flight was wonderful. If you’ve never been in a hot air balloon and you can scrape together the cost of a flight, you really owe it to yourself to do it. It’s a completely novel experience, floating above the ground with this massive structure above your head keeping you aloft. There’s nothing like it.

We were the first ones from our group off the ground, so Bob did most of the navigating — which meant climbing and descending to test the direction of the wind at different altitudes. When he’d find an altitude that took us in the direction he wanted to go, he’d stick to that altitude. We buzzed along in what seemed like a gentle breeze, sometimes reaching in excess of 10 miles per hour. We moved mostly south down the valley with our companions behind us and the balloons from the other company mostly out to the east.

Navigation seems to be the big challenge — and fun — for a balloon pilot. Bob decided to do a “splash and dash” — that’s when the balloon touches down gently in a body of water and then takes off quickly again. He aimed us for Putah Creek, where it ponds up just upstream from a small dam. It was amazing to see him home in on the small pond with nothing to steer with except the wind. We cleared the trees on one side of the pond, descended quickly, and splash! Some water came into the bottom of the basket, soaking our shoes as we climbed out. I looked straight down into the pond and shot two photos of our reflection as we continued drifting south.

Balloon Reflection
Here’s our reflection just after lifting off. That’s the edge of the basket in the bottom of the shot.

Balloon Reflection
Here’s another shot a few moments later when we were drifting away from the pond past the tops of the trees.

Splash
Here’s the second balloon from our group going for a splash and dash. Can you see the reflection of his basket in the pond surface?

We continued drifting mostly south for a while. Meanwhile, the ground crew had packed up and were chasing us on the ground. One of the crew members was driving my truck with Penny inside. Bob talked on the radio occasionally, suggesting potential landing zones. We passed them one by one, occasionally seeing the ground crew below us, my truck easily recognizable by the big white fuel transfer tank on the back.

Balloons in Flight
Here’s another shot of our companions.

Eventually, the flight had to end. We’d flown south nearly to I-80. There were a number of office complexes down below us that had plenty of room for landing. We wound up coming in on the grounds of a college campus in a very gentle breeze — so gentle, in fact, that the basket didn’t even tip when landing. We touched down several times — each time, Bob would say, “We’re not done yet.” — before coming to a rest against a curb on an empty cul de sac. Bob began deflating the balloon as the crew came out to grab ropes. The balloon fell gently to the ground ahead of our flight path.

Landing Zone
X marks the spot of our landing zone.

The passengers climbed out while the ground crew worked on getting the balloon and basket gathered up and loaded. Bob said goodbye and hurried off with half the passengers in one of the vans. They’d go back to Domaine Chandon for a champagne breakfast. I could have come along, but didn’t see any reason to be a burden. After all, I’d been a guest on the flight. Just experiencing that was enough for me.

Champagne
My parting gift from Friday’s flight.

I watched the ground crew work on the balloon for a while, then went back to the truck where Penny was waiting. I let her out for a little walk before we headed out. I stopped in Winters along the way and had a late breakfast at a sidewalk cafe.

I’d forgotten all about the two Chandon bags in the truck, but caught sight of them when I was getting out back at the airport where I’m living. I brought them inside and unwrapped a bottle of Chandon sparkling wine and a glass to toast with.

That champagne is chilling in the fridge right now.