News I Could Use

I’m finally free.

Regular readers of this blog know that since the end of June 2012, I have been going through an extremely ugly divorce.

I won’t summarize the outrageous chain of events again here. If you want to get an idea of the crap I’d been dealing with for more than a year, read “The Divorce Book” post and follow some of the links in it. Then read any post tagged divorce that was posted afterwards. Give yourself about eight hours — there’s a lot of material to wade through.

Our case went in front of a judge in May. The second of two half-day court dates was May 31. As I left the court with my lawyer, family, and friends, we were happy, in a weird sort of way — more relieved, I guess — that it was finally over.

But it wasn’t. They dished out some more crap, like fish that had flopped themselves out of water, thrashing a few more times in a futile attempt to — well, I really don’t know exactly what they expected to accomplish with that final bit of harassment.

The Wait

The judge told us on May 31 that it would take 2 to 3 weeks for a decision. I waited anxiously, completely unsure of my financial future.

In the meantime, I was chomping at the bit, eager to get on with my life. I’d been in escrow for 10 acres of view property since late March. I couldn’t get financing without a divorce decree. I couldn’t put in a septic system or enter into a contract with a builder until I owned the land. I was living in a fifth wheel travel trailer on a friend’s land. That was fine during the summer months, but what would I do later in the year if I couldn’t get my home completed before it got cold and the snow came?

My anxiousness over the waiting was a strange thing. At first, my attitude was hopeful, sure that my future would be decided any day now and prepared for the worst.

Then, when the third week rolled along, I started getting worried. It would be this week. What would he decide? Could I really deal with the worst? Would that be what I faced?

When the third week passed without the judge’s decision, I felt sort of relieved. And even though I expected the decision any day, I continued to feel sort of relieved every day it didn’t come.

But time was not my friend. No matter what the judge decided about the division of assets, I needed that piece of paper to get on with my life.

The Deadline Approaches

The law gave the judge 60 days to make a decision. As we got closer and closer to that deadline, I started to stress out again. Had the judge forgotten us? Why did he need so much time? I called my lawyer and he had his assistant follow up. That was on Friday. That’s when I did the math on timing. The 60th day would be Tuesday.

By Tuesday morning, I was a nervous wreck.

I had a charter on Tuesday morning. I had to be at the local airport with the helicopter at 9:30 AM to fuel and wait for my passengers. They had a meeting at 11:00 AM 60 miles south. I was trying very hard not to think about what I should learn that day. I was trying to stay focused on the charter flight before me, thinking about the TFR we’d have to avoid on our way south, thinking about my fuel load with four people on board on a warm, humid day.

My phone rang at 9:17 AM, just as I was heading out to the helicopter. It was my lawyer’s assistant.

“I got the judgement,” she said. “Do you want to hear it?”

I immediately began to cry. It was finally over, but did I want to hear what the judge had decided?

“Is it good?” I asked through sobs.

“Yes,” she replied. And she began to read.

The Result

It was good. The judge had done the right thing, the fair thing, the thing we expect judges to do.

Throughout this entire ordeal, I had been plagued by unfairness, dishonesty, and a complete lack of ethics and morals from a man I’d loved and trusted for more than half of my life. As I prepared to turn my fate over to a judge, I feared that the legal system would fail me, too. I knew the law, and I knew what was fair. How would the judge interpret the law in our case? Would he allow my husband’s lawyer to wield the law as a weapon against me, forcing me to give up so much that I’ve worked hard for my entire life? That was my fear.

But the answer was no, he would not allow it. He made a decision based on the reality of the situation. He did what was right and fair.

As my lawyer’s assistant read each paragraph of the divorce decree, I sobbed. I cried for joy, mostly — at least I think it was joy. I cried to release the anxiety that had been building up for the past few weeks. I cried because I knew that my year-long ordeal was finally over and that I could get on with my life.

And I cried from sadness. I cried for the man who had been tormenting me for the past year, the man I still loved, knowing full well that he would have been so much better off financially if he’d simply accepted my very generous counterproposal back in October. I cried knowing that if he’d just sat down with me in October with our lawyers and we’d hashed this out then, we could have gotten on with our lives — perhaps even as friends — without the heartache and financial burden he’d forced on both of us. I cried knowing that the man I’d spent 29 years with had a sense of morals and ethics that would have prevented any of this from happening — and that that man had been smothered out of existence by the greedy and vindictive old woman he’d chosen to replace me. I cried because she’d made his bed — by running his side of the divorce for him — and he’d slept in it — by letting her have complete control — and now he was paying the price. I cried because I knew he hated me for reasons they had cooked up to justify his treatment of me — delusions that had taken over his mind. I cried because I felt so sorry for him.

Yes, I cried for the inconsiderate bastard who had asked for a divorce on my birthday, the man who’d locked me out of my only home, the man who had been harassing me for the past year, the man who had dragged me through a costly legal battle to protect what was rightfully mine.

Love is strange.

When my lawyer’s assistant was finished and I hung up the phone, I cried a little more. Then I pulled myself back together, dried my eyes, and headed out to the helicopter. I needed to put the past behind me. I needed to stop thinking and worrying about a person who didn’t give a damn about me and get back to the business at hand: making my new life.

Ball and ChainAt 9:45 AM, I was on the ramp at the airport, waiting with my helicopter for my passengers. It was the first day of my new life as a free woman.

I Love My Life

Why I love my life — and how you can love your life, too.

I love my life.

That’s the thought that struck me last Saturday afternoon, as I walked across the transient parking area at Lake Havasu Municipal Airport, from the FBO office to my helicopter, swinging a plastic bag full of BBQ takeout.

I love my life.

The sudden thought amazed and exhilarated me. It put a skip to my step and made me smile.

I love my life.

This was near the end of a busy day when I’d spent 2-1/2 hours flying an aerial photographer and videographer over six different target vehicles in the 2013 Parker 250 off-road race. It had been hard, challenging flying, sometimes dangerously close to the ground, performing maneuvers that pushed the helicopter’s capabilities as much as — if not more than — I’d ever pushed them before.

This was the same day I’d been up at 5 AM and had gone out with just a half a cup of coffee and some oatmeal in my belly on a 31°F morning. The same day I’d preflighted my helicopter and pulled off its doors in the predawn gloom with just a Mini Maglite to light the way.

This was the day after I’d spent the night in a houseful of strangers — all men — sleeping in a bed on sheets that someone else had slept in the night before.

And it was only 24 hours — almost to the minute — after being offered the aerial photo gig 80 miles across the desert from my home.

It had been a most unusual and challenging 24 hours.

And I had enjoyed every minute of it.

I love my life.

I realized, as I walked across the airport ramp, smelling the aroma of my BBQ dinner and looking forward to the fried okra I’d nibble in flight on the way home, that I needed to blog about this sudden realization, I needed to document how and why I felt the way I did. I needed to capture the moment in my blog to remember it forever, just in case the feeling should fade due to events in the days or weeks or months to come. I needed to share it with others who may also love their lives but not really know it. And to share it with the folks who are missing the point of life — the meaning of life, if you will — in an effort to help them understand and set a course that would enable them to love their lives, too.

What I Love about My Life

In thinking hard about this, I think what I love most about my life can be broken down into several things: freedom, time, variety, travel, challenge, and friends. Bear with me while I address how each of these affect my life and personal philosophy.

Freedom.
Because I don’t have a “regular job” and I don’t have kids or a husband to answer to, I have the freedom to do pretty much whatever I want. If I feel like getting up at dawn to photograph first light over the desert, fine. If I feel like eating leftover Chinese food for breakfast, great! If I feel like hopping in the car with my dog and spending the night in Prescott after a pot-luck dinner with friends there, wonderful! Anything goes. My only limits are time (see below) and money.

Time.
Not having a “regular job,” kids, or a husband also means I can make my own hours and do things when I want to do them. Obviously I’m not completely free — I still have work to do and appointments to keep — but my time is extraordinarily flexible. For the most part, I make up my day and week and month as I go along. If something I’m doing needs more time, I take it. The only time of year when my time (and freedom) are restricted is when I’m on contract for agricultural work — but that’s only 11 weeks out of the year. (I don’t know too many people who would find that a hardship.)

Variety.
Back in 1987 (or thereabouts), I took a job as an auditor with a large residential developer. I did construction project audits. Every single audit took about two weeks to complete and was exactly the same. After two months, I started looking for another job. The lack of variety in my work was driving me insane.

I feel the same today — I thrive on variety. I like the fact that every day of my life is different. I wake up at different times, I do different things, I see different people, I eat different things, I go to different places, I go to bed at different times. Unless I’m elbow-deep in a book project that consumes 10 hours a day, no two days are the same. And that’s very nice.

Travel.
One of the benefits of time and freedom is the ability to travel. I love to travel, to get out and see different places. When things get dull — when I feel as if I’m slipping into a rut at home — I shake things up with a trip. I’ve been home in Arizona since September and have managed to take at least one trip every single month since I’ve been back: Washington (twice), Las Vegas, California, Florida, and Lake Powell (by helicopter). That doesn’t count the day trips and overnight trips I’ve squeezed in on a whim: Prescott, Phoenix, Winslow, Parker, and Tucson. And I already have my next three trips planned out.

I don’t travel as a tourist, ticking off items on a list of things to see. I travel to experience the places like someone who lives there. It’s a much better (and usually cheaper) way to experience the world.

Challenge.
What can I say about challenge? Simply put, a life without challenges is simply not a life worth living. I need goals — realistic and achievable goals — and I need to be able to work toward them.

My entire life has been a series of challenges and achievements, some minor, like learning to ride a motorcycle or horse, and some major, like building a successful career as a freelance writer or building a profitable helicopter charter business from the ground up. I’ve always got a handful of goals in my back pocket and am always working toward achieving the ones that mean most to me at the moment.

I’m fortunate to have a good brain and good work ethic — two prerequisites for success. I’m also fortunate to have good health, which makes everything else a lot easier. But I know plenty of people who have all these things and still don’t challenge themselves. They skate through life, doing the least they can do to get by comfortably, never challenging themselves to go the next step. I simply couldn’t live like that.

The best part of always having challenges and goals to work toward? I never get bored.

Friends.
It wasn’t until this year, when my marriage fell apart, that I realized how much my friends mean to me.

When I was married, living with my husband in Wickenburg or Phoenix, I didn’t have many good friends. I couldn’t. There was no room in my life to build and maintain friendships.

But when I went away to Washington for my summer work, my husband stayed behind. I began building strong friendships with some of the people I met. I also kept in touch with other friends from all over the world by phone, email, Twitter, and Facebook. This network of friends was amazingly helpful and supportive when my husband called me on my birthday in June and asked for a divorce. And they were even more supportive when I discovered, in August, the lies and the woman he’d been sleeping with. The pain of his betrayal is sharp, but my friends help ease that pain.

Even now that I’m home, dealing with harassment from my husband or his lawyer on an almost weekly basis, my friends have been extremely helpful, showering me with invitations to get out and do things together, offering me their homes as destinations for trips, or simply sharing words of encouragement and support. They not only take the edge off my divorce ordeal, but give me a great outlook on life.

Without good friends, no one can truly love their life.

How I Got Here

I got where I am the way most people get where they are in life — but with an abrupt turn and an important realization along the way.

The abrupt turn: career change
Raised in a lower middle class family, divorced parents, stepdad that brought us all up a notch and offered my family the financial security we never really had. High school, college. 9 to 5 job with a good employer and good benefits. A new job that wasn’t a good match (see above) followed by a better job with a Fortune 100 corporation. Things seemed pretty sunny for me.

But they weren’t. I wasn’t happy. I didn’t like the work I was doing. I didn’t like the way the hour-long commute — each way — was eating away at my life. I didn’t like corporate politics and game-playing. I was good at my job, I made good money, I kept getting raises and promotions, but I dreaded getting up in the morning.

Been there? I bet you have. Many people have.

Trouble was, I made a bad decision back in my college days. I always wanted to be a writer, but I was convinced by my family that I needed a better career path. I was the first in the history of my family to go to college, so it was a big deal. I was good with numbers and math so we figured accounting was a good course of study. I ended up with two scholarships in a great business school, Hofstra University on Long Island. But in my junior year, at the age of 19 — did I mention I started college at 17? –I began realizing that I really didn’t want to be an accountant. I wanted to be a writer. I called home and told my mother I wanted to change my major to journalism. She had a fit and told me I was crazy. That I’d never get a job. That I’d be giving up a great future. I listened to her. I was 20 when I got my BBA degree with “highest honors” in accounting.

I’ve always regretted listening to my mother that day. Indeed, that was the last time I took her advice on any important life decision.

I always wrote — I kept journals and wrote novels and short stories that were never published or seen by others. And I always remembered my dream of becoming a writer. So in 1990, when the Institute of Internal Auditors was looking for someone to author a 4-1/2 day course about using “microcomputers” (primarily 20-pound “laptops”) for auditing and there was a $10,500 price tag attached to it, I sent them a proposal and got the project. I asked my boss for a leave of absence to do the work but was turned down. So I quit.

And that’s when I began my freelance career.

Believe me, leaving a job that paid me $45K/year plus benefits (in 1990) at the age of 28 was not an easy decision. As you might imagine, my mother absolutely freaked out.

Looking back at it now, this abrupt turn in my career path marks the day I stopped skating through life and started challenging myself to do better.

And I did. I had some rough patches along the way — the first full year freelancing was pretty tough — but I worked hard and smart and picked up momentum, mostly by working multiple jobs as a per diem contractor while writing articles and books. By 1998 I had my first best-selling computer book; the second came the following year. By then, money was not a problem — I finally made more money than I needed to live comfortably. I saved, I invested, I put money away for retirement.

And I used my excess time and money to challenge myself again: to learn how to fly helicopters.

By 2001, I’d bought my first helicopter and was trying to start a business with it. In 2005, I took that to the next level with a new, larger helicopter and FAA Part 135 certificate. In 2008, I found the niche market — agricultural work in Washington State — that finally enabled me to turn a profit. As publishing began its death spiral, I was already prepared with a third career that could support me.

People say I’m lucky. I disagree. The only thing I’m lucky about is having a good brain and good health — and even that’s something that I work at. It’s my work ethic — my deep-rooted philosophy that the only way to get ahead is to work hard and smart — that made everything possible. I truly believe that if you have a reasonable goal and you work hard and smart, you can achieve it.

Being able to make a living doing what I really love to do — writing and flying helicopters — makes it possible for me to love my life.

The important realization: the meaning of life
On my journey through life, I also made an important realization that changed everything: I discovered the meaning of life.

No, it isn’t 42.

As far as I’m concerned, there is no meaning to life. Life just is. But there are some undeniable facts about life and careful consideration of those facts should guide you to get the most of your life.

I guess I can sum it up my realizations about this in a few bullet points:

  • Life is short — and your life might be even shorter than you expect.
  • You only have one life. (I don’t believe in an “afterlife” or something like reincarnation.)
  • You should live your life as if you’re going to die tomorrow. That means not putting off until tomorrow what you can do today. It also means skipping the “bucket list” and doing what you want as soon as you can. And, by simple logic, it also means not waiting until you reach retirement age to start doing all the things you’ve wanted to do. You might never reach that age.

I think the light bulb came on back in 2008. When my friend Erik got sick and died unexpectedly at age 56, I realized that life can be taken from you at any time. I decided that I wanted to live life nownot when I turned the standard retirement age of 65. I realized that I never wanted to retire — that I wanted to do some kind of income producing work for the rest of my life. But I also knew that I didn’t want to be a slave to my work, now or ever.

I realized that in order to really enjoy life, I had to ensure my current and future financial security. That meant shedding assets I didn’t need and the debt that went with them. That meant paying off debt on important assets I’d always need, like a roof over my head. That meant building my business while paying off debt on its assets so that the business could support me without taking over my life.

And I’ve done all that. My house was paid off last February; I made the last payment on my helicopter earlier this month. I haven’t bought a new car since 2003 so I have no car loans or personal loans. Everything I buy now is by cash or credit card and, if by credit card, it’s paid off in full at the end of the billing cycle. I live within my means. I have no debt.

Do you know how cheaply you can live when you’ve got a paid-for roof over your head and no debt?

Go back to my discussions above about freedom and time. I mentioned that I don’t have a “regular job.” I’m proud of that fact. I worked hard to become debt free so I’d never have to get a regular job. Being debt-free gives me time and freedom.

Being debt-free makes it possible for me to love my life.

Don’t Get Me Wrong — My Life is Not Perfect

I don’t want you to come away from this blog post thinking that my life is perfect and that nothing ever goes wrong. That’s simply not true. My life might be good and I might love it, but it’s far from perfect. It’s worth taking a look at what’s not quite right.

Personal failures
I mentioned above that I need challenge to enjoy life. You might think that I always succeed at what I try. The truth is, although I have a pretty good track record, I don’t always succeed in what I set out to do. Sometimes it’s my fault, sometimes it’s the fault of others I trusted or relied on — which is ultimately my fault for trusting or relying on them. Sometimes it’s just the fact that what I was trying to achieve wasn’t really possible for me to achieve.

One example is my stint as a landlord. Back when I starting making good money, I started investing in rental properties. At one point, I owned a condo, a house, and a 4-unit apartment building. The idea was to run these as a business that generated enough revenue to pay the mortgages and possibly a little extra. But try as I might, I simply could not succeed in keeping the units full with tenants who paid the rent on time and respected my property or their neighbors. There was never enough revenue to cover all the expenses. There were headaches with complaints and repairs and cleanup. It was a miserable ordeal that I hated. I wound up selling my properties before the housing market tanked. One of them resulted in enough of a profit to put a healthy down payment on my second helicopter, so I guess I can’t complain. But as a landlord, I was a complete and utter failure.

Then there were the aerial video projects I attempted back in 2008. I hooked up with a video production company based in the San Diego area. I’d worked with the owner and liked his work. He came up with a proposal and I signed up, giving him a chunk of money. I then spent at least another $10K on flying and related expenses to gather footage. And paid another chunk of money for him to start turning it into something. Then I saw the footage and what he was trying to pass off as a “trailer.” I realized that he was simply not capable of creating the products he had contracted with me to produce. I threw another $2500 at a lawyer, trying to get some of my money back, but the video guy was unreachable and I soon got tired of throwing good money after bad. Finally tally of money lost: about $40K. Ouch. That was an expensive lesson.

I’ve also had failures getting contracts for book ideas and books that simply didn’t sell very well. I’ve failed to get certain writing or flying or web creation jobs I wanted. I’ve made bad (or at least regrettable) decisions on purchases of RVs, vehicles, and property. I’ve trusted people I shouldn’t have trusted and said things I shouldn’t have said. I’ve dropped the ball when it was my turn to play it, thus making a successful outcome impossible. And I’ve even let other people down when they expected or needed my help. I’m not proud of any of these things, but I can’t pretend they didn’t happen.

There are two things I need to say about personal failures and bad decisions:

  • There’s no reward without risk. If you don’t take chances, you will never achieve anything. This all goes back to the idea of skating through life. People who skate do so on a flat surface, never moving up or down. Nothing ventured, nothing gained (or lost). People who take risks can either climb or fall — by taking measured risks and putting the right effort into achieving goals, they’re more likely to climb.
  • We must all take personal responsibility for our own decisions and their outcomes. While others might advise you based on their own experiences or agendas, it’s up to you to make the final decision. Once made, you must take and keep ownership of the decision. Yes, I’ve made some bad decisions in my life that have led to disappointment or failure, but I alone am responsible for them. And I can live with that.

Life partner
And that brings up the second big thing that’s not perfect in my life: I don’t have a life partner.

I did — or I thought I did — for 29 years. We met in 1983 and hit it off almost immediately. We began living together only six months after we met. He liked to use the word “partner” to describe our relationship, but the partnership began to get tenuous not long after we got married 6 years ago.

It took me a long time to realize this. For years I think we were life partners, a real team that shared the same interests, dreams, and goals. But as time went on, that changed. The man who had been my leader became my follower and then my ball and chain. It happened slowly over time — so slowly that I didn’t even realize it was happening. And even when I began to realize it, I couldn’t believe it and remained in denial. I loved him too much. I didn’t want to believe it. Even today I’m having trouble believing that the man I’m in the process of divorcing is the same man I fell in love with and began sharing my life with 29 years ago.

I think part of the change had to do with our outlook on the future. Where I wanted to shed unneeded financial burdens to gain freedom and live my life now, my husband didn’t share either goal or philosophy. His purchase of a second home in Phoenix put a huge financial burden on him, but he refused to sell it. (And I won’t even go into how his living there with a roommate four days every week drove a wedge between us.) His worries about saving up for retirement and paying his bills put him in a string of dead-end jobs with employers who didn’t appreciate his skill set or compensate him properly. He’d become a slave, working primarily to satisfy his huge financial responsibilities and refusing to take steps to improve his situation. He was frustrated and miserable — and, in hindsight, probably jealous of my freedom. He took it out on me, with a never-ending string of put-downs and arguments and “the silent treatment” that wore away at my self-esteem and made me bitter and angry.

Even after visiting a marriage counselor (at his request), when I went back to Washington for my summer work last May, he immediately began to look for my replacement. He found one on a dating website: a typical desperate, middle-aged woman who would do or say (or share photos of) almost anything to snare a man who could ensure her financial future in exchange for sex and ego-stroking. His birthday call to me included the announcement that he wanted a divorce and a series of lies I honestly didn’t think he was capable of.

The transformation of life partner to vindictive and hateful enemy was complete.

And while the pain of his betrayal is probably — hopefully — the worst pain I’ll experience in my life, it does free me from the only thing still preventing me from loving my life: him.

But it also leaves a void in my life, an empty space I thought I had filled. While I enjoy my life, I think I would enjoy it even more if I could share it with someone. Still, I know I’ll be very careful about who I invite to share it with me; I’d rather go through the rest of my life alone than to trust and rely on the wrong man.

Been there, done that. Ouch.

I Love My Life

But as I walked across the tarmac at Lake Havasu Airport last week, swinging my bag of BBQ takeout, I wasn’t thinking about the things that kept my life from being perfect. Indeed, thoughts of such things never entered my mind. Instead, I felt a surge of happiness — exhilarating and exciting — that overwhelmed me when I suddenly realized that I love my life for what it is.

Sure, I have some rough patches ahead of me. My financial situation will take a bit of a hit when I lose half the house and have no place else to live. But I still have my brains and my good work ethic and my health. And I have the business I worked so hard to build over the past ten years. And I have my imagination to think up new ideas and new challenges. And my willingness to take risks to move forward and up — and accept the consequences of my decisions and actions. And I have all those other things: freedom, time, variety, travel, challenge, and friends.

My life is ahead of me — not behind me. And I embrace it because I love it.

How to Tell if the Person You’re Dating is After Your Money

A objective list of things to consider to reveal the truth.

A very, very good friend of mine — someone I’ve known for a very long time — has begun dating a woman who may have ulterior motives in the relationship. My friend is apparently quite smitten with this woman and I suspect it’s because they met at a time in his life when he was feeling particularly vulnerable to an agreeable woman’s “charms.”

Sadly, my friendship with this person is on the rocks — indeed, he’s tuned me out completely and won’t listen to anything I have to say. And although many of his other friends have similar suspicions about this new woman in his life, they just want to “keep out of it” because it’s “none of their business.” I think they should be ashamed of themselves. I think friends who really care do need to get involved, at least to offer objective advice.

I’m doing my part. Here’s list of bullet points to consider when there’s a possibility that the person you have begun dating might be after your money:

  • How did you meet? Dating sites are excellent tools for people trolling for good financial partners. Many sites encourage you to provide financial information such as annual income. This makes it easy for someone looking to improve their finances to find someone in a better financial situation then they’re in.
  • How quickly did conversation turn to your material possessions? Did you mention your multiple homes, flashy European car, or airplane? (These are just examples, of course.) If someone is interested in your money, they’ll be impressed by what you own and more anxious to “seal the deal.”
  • What techniques did this person use to get and keep your interest? This can be conversation based — for example, agreeing with everything you say or siding with you against a common enemy. Or it might be more emotionally based, such as sharing risqué photographs or personal details to gain your trust. A rather well-off friend of mine who tried dating sites told me that a few of the more desperate women sent him “boudoir photos” very early on in their email conversations.
  • How quickly did the other party satisfy your basic emotional needs? I’m talking about button-pushing here — “sealing the deal.” Women can easily seal the deal with good sex, the sooner the better. Men can seal the deal with things like flowers, romance, hand-holding, cuddling, and/or excellent foreplay before sex. Someone looking for a meal ticket will want to build a strong emotional bond quickly, while you’re still wowed by all the attention you’re getting and don’t have time to think clearly about what’s really going on.
  • How big is the financial inequity between you? There are five main things to consider here:
    • Employment status. Is this new person gainfully employed? Has he/she been working steadily for a while or bouncing from one job to another? While being “freelance” or “self-employed” might sound good, if there’s no work and no revenue, it really doesn’t count as being gainfully employed.
    • Income. Is this person earning enough income to cover living expenses with enough left over to live comfortably? Is his/her standard of living and lifestyle similar to yours?
    • Outstanding debt. Does this person have a lot of outstanding debt such as student loans, credit card balances, and personal loans? If this person owns a home, is it under water? If so, by how much?
    • Net worth. Is this person’s net worth — that’s total assets minus total debt — negative? Someone who is in debt up to his/her eyeballs will be highly motivated to find a partner who can help prevent him/her from drowning in it.
    • Retirement savings. Does this person have his/her own retirement savings including pensions, IRAs, and retirement investments? Someone without a retirement plan could be looking for someone else to provide it.
  • Has the other party asked for assistance? Has this person appealed to you to help with his/her finances? Perhaps borrow a small (or larger) amount of money? Ask your advice about refinancing or selling a home? Enlist your help getting a job?
  • Has the other party indicated that he/she wants to get married? Marriage — as I’ve so recently discovered — is more than just a vow of love until “death do you part” (which can apparently be broken). It’s a legal and binding contract with all kinds of ramifications on finances. If the other party is in a hurry to get married, it might be because he/she is in a hurry to grab your purse strings. Remember that a good prenuptial agreement can save you far more than it costs to draw up. And if your new partner refuses to sign it, that’s a pretty good indication of what his/her intentions really are.

In my friend’s case, an objective look at these points raised a lot of red flags. It seems that there’s a huge financial inequity between him and the woman he’s dating. In addition, the woman was extremely quick to seal the deal (yes, with sex) and gain his trust. That, coupled with what I know about the woman’s personality and my friend’s extraordinary behavior changes after they met, has me convinced that she’s primarily motivated by the financial benefits of a relationship with him. But because she meets his emotional needs — constant agreeability, ego stroking, companionship, and sex — he’s become blind to what’s so obvious to the rest of us — including the friends who simply won’t speak up.

What makes this all the more lamentable is that my friend, at age 56, is at a point in his life where he’s achieved an enviable amount of financial security. No, he’s not rich, but he’s financially stable with a positive net worth and very little real debt. To take on the financial responsibilities of a person he barely knows just because she’s pushed the right buttons when he needed them pushed is breathtakingly tragic.

Now I don’t know if my friend will read this. He very seldom reads my blog. I’m sure that if he does, he’ll recognize himself and his situation. He’d be blind not to.

But will he take what I’ve written here in the spirit in which it was intended: as a wakeup call to objectively look at the situation and possibly slow down? Or will what I’ve written here for him further damage our long friendship? Sadly, his irrational behavior lately leads me to believe that it’ll do the latter, possibly destroying our friendship forever. I believe that at this point, he’s too far gone down a foolish path.

As good good friend, however — a really good friend who truly cares about his emotional well-being — I’m willing to take the risk. To do otherwise would be to betray our long friendship.

I hope he reads this and understands.

Gold Digger

A definition that I find extremely fitting for a certain person.

As I learn more and more about what’s been going on in Arizona since I left in May, a term came up that I find extremely fitting for one of the parties involved. From the New Oxford American Dictionary:

gold digger
noun informal
a person who dates others purely to extract money from them, in particular a woman who strives to marry a wealthy man.

What amazes me is how easily a weak man can be led around by his penis.

Why I Spent $11,524 to Replace Perfectly Good Fuel Tanks on my R44 Helicopter

The short answer: Lawyers.

I’m not sure when the brouhaha began.

It might have been right after this crash, when a helicopter operating at or near gross weight at an off-airport landing zone in high density altitude situation by a sea level pilot crashed, killing all four on board and starting a forest fire that raged for two days.

Or it could have been earlier, after this crash, which I blogged about here, when a helicopter operating 131 pounds over the maximum gross weight for an out of ground effect hover by a brand new helicopter pilot low-level at an off road race crashed, severely injuring all three people on board.

I’m sure it was before this crash, when a 250-hour pilot landed to “relieve himself” at an off-airport landing zone with a density altitude of at least 11,000 feet, then panicked when he got a low rotor horn and aux fuel pump light at takeoff and botched up a run-on landing on unsuitable terrain, severely injuring himself and his wife.

These three cases have two things in common (other than pilots who did not exercise the best judgement): the helicopters were R44s and the crashes caused fires that injured or killed people.

Crash an Aircraft, Have a Fire

Of course, if you crash any kind of aircraft that has fuel on board hard enough into terrain, a fire is likely to result. Fuel is flammable. (Duh.) When a fuel tank ruptures, fuel spills. (Duh.) If there’s an ignition source, such as a spark or a hot engine component, that fuel is going to ignite. (Duh.)

I could spend the rest of the day citing NTSB reports where an airplane or helicopter crash resulted in a fire. But frankly, that would be a complete waste of my time because it happens pretty often.

Don’t believe me? Go to http://www.ntsb.gov/aviationquery/index.aspx, scroll down to the Event Details area, and enter fire in the field labeled Enter your word string below. Then click Submit Query and check out the list. When I ran this search, I got more than 14,000 results, the most recent being a Cirrus SR22 that crashed on April 27, 2012 — less than 2 weeks ago.

The Knee Jerks

But Robinson reacted in typical knee-jerk fashion. After issuing a ridiculous Safety Notice SN-40, “Postcrash Fires,” that recommended that each helicopter occupant wear a “fire-retardant Nomex flight suit, gloves, and hood or helmet,” they began redesigning components of the helicopter’s fuel system. First they redesigned the fuel hose clamps and issued Service Bulletin SB-67, titled “R44 II Fuel Hose Supports.” Then they redesigned the rigid fuel lines to replace them with flexible lines and issued Service Bulletin SB-68, titled “Rigid Fuel Line Replacement.” And then they redesigned the fuel tanks to include a rubber bladder and released Service Bulletin SB-78 (superseded by SB-78A), the dreaded “Bladder Fuel Tank Retrofit.”

Why “dreaded”? Primarily because of the cost of compliance, which was estimated between $10,000 and $14,000.

Originally released on December 20, 2010 (Merry Christmas from the folks at Robinson Helicopter!), Robinson did give us some breathing room. The time of compliance was set to “As soon as practical, but no later than 31 December 2014.” I did the math and realized that my helicopter would likely be timed out — in other words, back at the factory for overhaul — before then. But the February 21, 2012 revision moved the compliance date up to December 31, 2013. At the rate I was flying — about 200-250 hours per year — it looked as if I’d still be flying it when December 2013 rolled along.

Is it Required?

I talked to my FAA POI. He’s the guy that oversees my Part 135 operations. He’s a good guy: reasonable and easy to talk to. He doesn’t bother me and I try hard not to bother him. After all, he’s got bigger operators with bigger headaches to worry about.

We talked about the Service Bulletin. Neither of us were clear on whether the FAA would require compliance for my operation. After all, it was a Service Bulletin, not an Airworthiness Directive (AD), which is definitely required.

We left off the conversation with acknowledgement that I didn’t have to do anything at all for quite some time. We’d revisit it a little later.

Pond Scum

Around this time, I was contacted by a lawyer representing the family of the 250-hour pilot who crashed in the mountains because he had to “relieve himself.” This guy had seen my blog posts about my problems with my helicopter’s auxiliary fuel pump — perhaps this one or this one or possibly this one. Or maybe all three.

He was looking for an “expert witness” to provide information about the problems with the fuel pump. It was clear that he was trying to pin the blame for his clients’ injuries on the fuel pump manufacturer and Robinson Helicopter. Not on his client, of course, who had caused the accident by making a series of very stupid decisions. Apparently, Robinson is supposed to make idiot-proof helicopters.

I got angry about the whole thing — lawyers shifting the blame to people who don’t deserve it — and responded as you might expect. I also blogged about it here.

I didn’t make the connection between lawyers and bladder fuel tanks. I believed — and still believe — that it’s not unreasonable for post-crash fires to occur in the event of an aircraft accident. It’s part of the risk of being a pilot. Part of the risk of flying.

The Buzz and Insurance Concerns

Meanwhile, the Robinson owner community was buzzing with opinions about the damn bladder fuel tanks. Some folks suggested that they’d been developed as a means for Robinson to make money off owners in a time when helicopter sales were slow.

Maybe I’m naive, but I don’t think that’s the case. I think Robinson was just trying to protect itself from liability. By offering this option, it would be up to the helicopter owner to decide what to do. If the owner didn’t get the upgrade and had a post-crash fire, Robinson could step back and say, “The new fuel tanks might have prevented that. Why didn’t you get them? Don’t blame us.” And they’d be right.

And that got me thinking about my insurance. So I called my insurance agent, who was also a friend and helicopter pilot. The year before, he’d managed to come up with an excellent and affordable policy for R44 owners and I’d switched to that policy as soon as my existing policy ended. Would I be covered if I didn’t get the tanks installed right away? He told me that of course I’d be covered. The compliance date wasn’t until December 31, 2013.

Buy Now, Save Money?

I also talked to my mechanic. He told me that the tanks were on back order and it could take up to eight months to get them. I was also under the impression that the cost of the tanks was going to rise at the end of 2011. And that if I ordered the tanks, I wouldn’t have to pay for them until they arrived. I figured that once they arrived, I’d store them until I was ready to have them installed. Or maybe even hold onto them until overhaul.

So I ordered them in late December, right before the Robinson factory closed for the holiday break.

I’d been misinformed. I had to pay for them up front: $6,800. Merry Christmas.

And, oh yeah: the price didn’t go up, either.

A Horrifying Scenario

Time went by. I thought about the damn tanks on and off throughout the winter months. In February, during my occasional checking of accident reports, I saw this report about an R44 with a post-crash fire. It got me thinking about liability again.

And then I started thinking about lawyers, like that sleezebag who had contacted me. And my imagination put together this scenario:

My helicopter crashes and there’s a fire. One of my passengers is burned. Although my insurance covers it, the blood sucking legal council my passenger has hired decides to suck me dry. He claims that I knew the fuel tanks were available and that they could prevent a fire and that I neglected to install them. He puts the blame squarely on me. My insurance, which is limited to $2 million liability, runs out and the bastard proceeds to take away everything I own, ruining me financially forever.

Not a pretty picture.

Is this what Robinson intended? I’d like to think not. But I’m sure that as I type this, some lawyer in Louisiana is working on a case using the logic cited above. The pilot might be dead, but his next of kin won’t have much left when the lawyers are done with him.

I started thinking that I may as well install the damn tanks — just in case.

Dealing with Logistics

In late March the fuel tanks were delivered. It cost another $310 for shipping. The two boxes weren’t very heavy, but they were huge. I had them delivered directly to my mechanic.

And then I started thinking about logistics. I had originally expected the tanks to arrive during the summer while I was gone for my summer work in Washington state. I figured I’d have them installed at my next annual or 100-hour inspection near year-end. But here they were, waiting for installation any time I was ready.

But when would I be ready? My mechanic said it would take about 10 days (minimum) to install them. Because the tanks had to be fitted to the helicopter, it was a multistep process:

  1. Remove the old tanks.
  2. Put on the new tanks and fit them to the helicopter. (Metal work required.)
  3. Remove the new tanks.
  4. Paint the new tanks.
  5. Reinstall the new tanks.

Most of that time was taken up with getting the tanks painted and waiting for them to dry.

Logistics is a major part of my life. I’m constantly working out solutions for moving my helicopter and other equipment to handle the work I have. I’m also constantly trying to schedule any maintenance at a time when I’m least likely to need to fly. This spring was especially challenging: I had to get my truck, RV, and helicopter up to Washington before the end of May. I also had to go to Colorado to record a Lynda.com course before the end of May.

So on April 13, I flew the helicopter down to my mechanic in Chandler and asked my friend Don to pick me up (in his helicopter) and take me home to Wickenburg. Then, the same day, I started the 3-day drive in my truck with my RV to Washington. I arrived on April 15. A week later, on April 22, I took Alaska Air flights to Colorado, where I stayed for another 6 days. Then, on April 28, I flew directly back to Phoenix. Don picked me up at the Sky Harbor helipad and dropped me off at Chandler. All the work on the helicopter was done and it looked great. I flew the helicopter back to Wickenburg that morning. Two days later, on May 30, I picked up passengers in Scottsdale and began the 2-day flight to Washington. We arrived on May 1.

Item Cost
Fuel Tanks $6,800
Shipping $310
Tank Installation $3,960
Tank Painting $454
Total Cost $11,524

The installation and painting had cost another $3,960 and $454 respectively, bringing my total for installing the damn bladder fuel tanks to $11,524.

I Blame the Lawyers

So, yes, I spent $11,524 for tanks that might only benefit me in the event of a crash. No guarantees, of course.

I didn’t need the tanks. They didn’t make flight any safer or better. They only might make crashing safer.

And the only reason I did this is so that a lawyer couldn’t point his finger at me and blame me for ignoring a Service Bulletin that wasn’t wasn’t required by law until (maybe) December 31, 2013.

The only reason I did this was to possibly prevent a lawyer from taking away everything I own, everything I’ve worked hard for all my life, in the unlikely event that my helicopter crashed and a fire started.

Do you want to know why aviation is so expensive? Why it costs so much to fly with me? Ask the lawyers.