The Ups and Downs of Ups and Downs

There’s always one in the crowd.

My company, Flying M Air, did helicopter rides at an airport event in Buckeye, AZ last weekend. I believe it’s called the Buckeye Airport Open House.

The Event

The folks at Buckeye really know how to put on a safe and fun family event. They had a D.J. playing music, classic and experimental aircraft on display and flying by, flight schools, an Army recruiter, fire trucks, a medevac helicopter, a crop-dusting helicopter, and parachute jumpers. They also had a bunch of food vendors and a train to take little kids on rides around the airport.

It was an annual event and this was our third year participating. Although attendance was down a bit this year from last year, we still managed to give about 50 rides, five of which were freebies awarded as raffle prizes.

The Airport staff had set me up on a ramp that connected the main parking area with the taxiway. This was an excellent location because it gave us plenty of space on pavement to operate and made it very easy for us to secure the landing zone. Best of all, it was within view of all attendees, so everyone got a chance to watch me take off and land. (Funny how normal helicopter operations can make their own “air show” for folks who don’t usually get to see helicopters operate.)

They were supposed to have a B-25 parked behind me, but the plane had some engine problems and couldn’t attend. I had mixed feelings about that. On one hand, I was glad that we wouldn’t have to worry about people behind my landing zone. On the other hand, I was disappointed for the attendees, because I knew they’d like to see the plane.

Just Say No to Long Lines

In the past, we’ve always been the busiest “vendor” at the event. During the past two years, I’d continued flying at least an hour after all the other vendors had closed up and gone home, just to work off the line that had formed. I clearly remember flying in at the end of a ride to see eight or ten people waiting in the shade under the wings of a parked aircraft on the ramp. They were waiting for me.

This year, we decided to keep the price the same but shorten up the rides a bit to prevent hour-long lines from forming. Our prices continue to rise — 100LL fuel is now more than $4/gallon at most airports — but we figured that with shorter rides, we’d still come out okay. I liked keeping the price affordable — $35/person — so people could afford to fly and to take their kids. (I always fly a lot of kids at this event.) So I aimed for the low end of our usual 8 to 10 minute flight range. Although actual ride length varied depending on the wind and maneuvers I needed to perform to avoid skydivers and other aircraft, most rides probably came in right around 8 minutes.

It’s important to note here that we never advertised the ride length. It did not appear on any sign. When asked, my ground crew — Mike, Darlene, and Dave — would tell passengers that the ride went out toward the town of Buckeye and came back on a different route. When pressed, Darlene gave out the usual 8 to 10 minute range. None of them were actually timing me. I’d timed the first few rides to make sure I had a suitable route and then stopped timing. I have better things to do when I fly than to watch the chronometer — like making sure the skydivers weren’t going to miss the mark and land on the taxiway in front of me as I approached. The passengers, on the other hand, could easily see how long the rides were by timing them as they waited.

The Route

The flight was a good mix of farmland, new development, and empty desert. I took off, following the taxiway parallel to Runway 17, then headed east toward downtown Phoenix. Early in the morning, it was hazy and the buildings in the distance were impossible to see, but as the sun moved across the sky and the air cleared a bit, details emerged.

We flew over some freshly sown farmland that was being irrigated. In this area, they use gravity to siphon water from a narrow irrigation canal through short lengths of tube that run from the canal to the beginning of deeply cut irrigation rows between rows of crops. The water flows down the rows and, as you fly over it, the sun reflects off its moving surface.

Beyond that, in another field, farm workers were cutting alfalfa. A cutting machine would drive up and down the field, neatly cutting the crop. Then another machine would gather the cuttings into narrow piles of the stuff. A third machine, paired up with a big open-backed truck, would come down the rows, scoop up the cut alfalfa, and dump it into the back of the truck. I found the process fascinating and watched its progress all day. To the south of that, beyond our flight path but still visible, plows worked on another field, sending up clouds of dust that blew back toward the airport in the strong breeze.

Next came a former farm field that had been prepared for a housing development. You could clearly see where the roads and sidewalks and homes would go. But construction had never begun and weeds were growing tall in many areas. Beyond that was a brand new housing development that hadn’t been there the year before. Probably about 200 homes, a school, and a park.

This is where we made our turn to the left, crossing I-10, rounding the east end of a tall hill, and following what I was told was McDowell Road heading west. Now we were over empty desert. Well, empty if you don’t consider the people illegally shooting at makeshift shooting ranges and the incredible amounts of trash dumped out there. We crossed this area with a tailwind, following a fenceline. Ahead of us, in the distance, we could clearly see the Palo Verde nuclear power plant. Below us were a few homes, then more, then more. About two miles from the airport, I’d make my radio call and start scanning the skies for jumpers. I’d turn final for the taxiway parallel to runway 17 and land at the ramp where I was set up for operations.

A Busy Day…and a Crazy Lady

I flew pretty much nonstop from 8:30 AM to 11:30 AM. Then I took a break to use the bathroom and have the helicopter refueled. Buckeye has a 100LL fuel truck, which really takes all the hassles out of refueling. (The first year we did the event, we had to refuel by carrying 5 gallon fuel cans back and forth to the helicopter. What a drag!) I also had a bite to eat. Mike and my ground crew had already sold my next three flights, so I didn’t get a long rest. After 30 minutes out of the helicopter, I was back in my seat, spinning up, getting ready to go.

The event ended at 2 PM and that’s about the same time the other vendors were packed up and gone. I finished flying at about 2:30. We packed up the helicopter, topped off the tanks — I paid for the fuel by check and got an excellent price — and headed home.

That’s when Mike mentioned the “crazy lady” who kept shouting that the rides were only 7 minutes long. I don’t hear anything in the helicopter unless it comes over the radio or intercom, so I had no idea that anyone was giving my ground crew grief. Evidently, her husband and grandson (or maybe son?) had gone on a ride and she’d timed it. According to her, it was only 7 minutes. She claimed that we’d advertised 10 minute rides.

I told Mike that we hadn’t advertised any length for the ride. I asked if she’d bothered anyone else and he said no, she hadn’t. I asked him if anyone else had complained. He told me that everyone else was very happy. And then we just forgot about her. There’s always one malcontent in the crowd and I wasn’t about to let it ruin our day.

The Crazy Lady Makes Herself a Nuisance

I was in Austin yesterday when I checked my voicemail messages from the day before. A Mrs. Smith (not her real name) had called and wanted a call back. She didn’t say what it was about. I called her back and, within a few minutes, realized that I was speaking to the crazy 7-minute lady.

She immediately accused me of ripping off all of my passengers by 1/3 of what they had paid for. Not the best way to start a conversation with me — especially when she was dead wrong.

I told her that the rides were not advertised as 10 minutes and that no one had said they were 10 minutes long. She insisted that that’s the way they had been advertised in the newspaper. I told her that we hadn’t placed any newspaper ads.

She continued along the same vein, repeatedly accusing me of cheating my passengers by three minutes of flight time. She wasn’t interested in the truth. She had this 10 minutes locked in her brain and I couldn’t shake it loose. And the conversation was going nowhere fast.

At one point, she claimed that she had other people to complain to about this but that she thought she’d give me an opportunity to respond first. That sounded like a threat to me. I don’t like threats.

Finally, I said: “What is it that you want from me?”

“Well, you didn’t give your passengers one third of what they paid for –”

More of the same. I cut her off. “I can’t believe you’re wasting your time and mine with this nonsense,” I said. And I hung up the phone.

I don’t know what she wanted from me. Maybe she expected me to give her a refund to keep her quiet. I hadn’t done anything wrong and I wasn’t about to refund money I’d earned. And if she wanted her money back, why hadn’t she asked for it? Did she expect me to offer it? Why would I do that if I’d earned it?

Keep in mind that I’m originally from the New York metro area, where it’s not unusual for people to complain about something in an effort to get it for free. Her threat was a line a New Yorker would use. I wonder how many other times she’d used it successfully on unsuspecting Arizona merchants and vendors who just gave her the money back to shut her up.

Maybe she didn’t realize that she was playing games with the wrong person.

Interview Does Not Equal Advertisement

I was curious about where she’d gotten the 10 minute time from, so I called my contact at Buckeye airport. I told her about the crazy lady and asked if the airport folks had advertised a ride time in the newspaper.

“I didn’t know how long the rides would be,” my contact told me. “So we didn’t put anything specific in the paper. Just helicopter rides.”

“So where did she get this idea?”

“Let me look in the paper.” I heard pages rustling over the phone. Then she came back on. “There’s an article about the event in this week’s paper.”

And she proceeded to read me a section of the article where a couple who had just come off the helicopter was interviewed by the reporter — possibly the same reporter I’d taken for a flight. They used phrases like “once in a lifetime opportunity” and “ten-minute ride” and “highlight of the event.” They were very happy with the ride. (I’ve never had an unhappy passenger.) And I guess that since they didn’t have stopwatches going during their ride, they thought they were in the air for 10 minutes. (Maybe they were. I didn’t time all the rides.) But a report with an interview after the event is a far cry from advertised information.

“Don’t worry about it,” my contact concluded. “There’s always one nut in the crowd.”

We talked about the event and the turnout and how I’d done. “I’d like to come back next year,” I said meekly.

“We want you back,” my contact assured me. “We want you there every year.”

Now I’m wondering what the crazy lady will do next. Because if there’s one thing I know: people crazy enough to make such a fuss over nothing obviously don’t have anything better to do with their time.

The Who, In Concert

Not too old to rock and roll.

Mike and I were lucky enough to have seats on the floor at Wednesday night’s Who concert at US Airways Center (formerly America West Arena) in downtown Phoenix. It was an amazing experience.

First of all, the last time we saw The Who, John Entwistle was still alive. We saw the concert at Shea Stadium (I think; you’d think I’d remember something like that), which is a huge venue. Most of the rock concerts I’ve been to have been in big venues: Madison Square Garden (where I always managed to be in the Yellow “nose-bleed” section) for Elton John and led Zeppelin (in the 1970s) , Nassau Coliseum (for Styx and Yes), Shea Stadium (for the Rolling Stones, The Who, and Elton John and Eric Clapton (together, in the 1990s)), and Giants Stadium (for Pink Floyd, Division Bell tour, 1990s). US Airways Center is smaller than Nassau Coliseum (I think), so seeing these legends of rock and roll in such a “tiny” place was a real treat.

Second of all, I was among the youngest people in the place. The average age of concert-goers was approaching 50. Lots of balding heads and beer bellies and overweight women. Mike and I fit right in. There were exceptions, of course. One guy apparently had his son (or perhaps grandson?) with him. And there were a half dozen geeky 20-year-olds who became somewhat of an annoyance by bouncing along with the music past the floor sections, only to be pushed back repeatedly by security. (I would have kicked them out after the second incursion.)

Our seats were 20-30 rows back from the stage. Very nice seats. There was an aisle in front of the row in front of us, so it wasn’t as if we had to look over a sea of heads. Mike did good.

We arrived just in time for the opening act, The Tragically Hip. I can understand how the word “tragic” got into this band’s name. It was a tragedy for us to arrive in time to hear them. It was also a tragedy that they played 5 or 6 songs, all of which sounded pretty much the same to me. And the lyrics:

You’re not the ocean.

You’re not even close.

Huh?

The lead singer had some kind of weird dance move that isn’t exactly original — Cab Calloway was doing the same thing back in the 1930s a hell of a lot better. And I guess he didn’t understand that the thing he was shouting into was a live microphone, because he found it necessary to scream most of the lyrics.

You’re not the ocean.

You’re not even close.

Yeah. Whatever.

The Tragically Hip exited the stage amidst applause. The roadies came out and started working on the stage. The people who had been watching the opening act, went out to get beer and nachos. (Yes, nachos; very strange for an east coast girl.) The smart people who knew that the opening act would suck started filing in. The place filled up. They were playing recorded music over the loudspeakers. They were in the middle of Led Zeppelin’s When the Levee Breaks when the music died out, the hall went dark, and Daltrey and Townshend took the stage with their band (drummer Zak Starkey, keyboardist John Bundrick, guitarist Simon Townshend, and bassist Pino Palladrino).

Endless WireEveryone was immediately on their feet. And we stayed there for the next two hours, sitting only when the band played a track from their new CD. We were all there to hear the old stuff and they didn’t disappoint.

They opened with I Can’t Explain. And for guys in their 60s, they looked pretty damn good. Daltrey is in excellent shape — he looks like he works out. Even Townshend, who never stuck me as the kind of guy overly interested in appearance, looked good. The show was great, full of energy and the “trademarked” moves Who fans have come to expect: Daltrey’s swinging of the mike (he’s probably the only performer who still needs a mike with a wire) and Townshend’s “windmill.”

The concert lasted about two hours, including a 20-minute encore. They played Teenage Wasteland, Pinball Wizard (leading off a Tommy medley), My Generation, Behind Blue Eyes, and more than my addled brain can remember. (If you were at the concert, please use the Comments link to fill in my memory gaps. You can also read a review here.)

The show was great and kept my attention for the entire time — which is something unusual (I think I suffer from ADD symptoms sometimes). I was energized, dancing and singing at the top of my lungs. (Don’t worry; no one heard me above the sound of the band.)

But the thing I came away with from the experience is this: I’m not too old to rock and roll — and neither are the two surviving members of The Who.

Telephone Support for the Price of a Book?

Not likely.

I was driving down to the Phoenix area yesterday — my first time driving down there in months. It was a beautiful day, sunny with temperatures in the 70s. I was driving my little Honda with the top down and my iPod, connected to the stereo, blasting some classic rock. I had a 30-mile drive ahead of me on Route 60 (Grand Avenue) to get to the nearest PetSmart (or is it PetCo?), where I planned to buy some tropical fish for my aquarium. Route 60 isn’t the most pleasant road to drive on, but it’s nothing to complain about in the stretch I was driving.

I was having a good time.

My cell phone rang. The only reason I heard it is because it’s on vibrate mode and my ears were not necessary. I hit the mute button on the stereo and answered the phone.

The woman on the other end was difficult to hear at 65 mph in a convertible, so I pulled over. After all, she could be a customer for Flying M Air and I needed to hear what she wanted and to give her my full attention.

The words started coming through: QuickBooks. Book. Non-profit. How do I print checks?

It took all my patience not to explode. Apparently, this woman thought that since I’d written a book about Quicken for Windows and another book about QuickBooks for Macintosh, I could help her figure out how to print checks from the non-profit version of QuickBooks for Windows, which I had never even used, let alone written about. I don’t know where she got my phone number — it’s no longer on this site because of calls like hers — and I don’t know where she got the idea that the author of a book about a software product would be her free, technical support hotline.

I set her straight, hung up, and got back on the road. I was fuming for a short while, but the music and wind and great weather soon soothed me.

Here’s what people don’t seem to understand:

  • A book’s content is determined, in part, by the book’s project editor and page count. So an author cannot include coverage of every single nuance of a software program. The least used features are left out to make sure there’s room for the most used features.
  • An author cannot write a book about a topic unless the publisher feels that there’s enough of a market for the book to sell. That’s probably why this person could not find a book covering the not-for-profit version of QuickBooks for Windows. It’s also why I did not update my QuickBooks for Macintosh book to cover QuickBooks 2007 or my Quicken for Macintosh book for any version after 2003 (I think).
  • An author receives, on average, less than $1 per book sold. I don’t know where anyone can get one-on-one, completely personalized technical support by telephone for $1. (Even the folks in India use a script.) My point: buying one of my books does not entitle the reader to interrupt my day by telephone to ask questions about the book’s content or topics not covered in the book at all.
  • An author certainly cannot be expected to provide support for another author’s book. True story: I once got a question in my old FAQ system from someone who told me he’d bought a book by [insert author name here] and was having trouble understanding it. Could I help him? He wasn’t joking. Neither was I when I told him to contact the author of that book, not me.

This might seem like a hard line to take, but I don’t think so. I do a lot to support my work and provide content above and beyond what’s between a book’s covers. The Book Support categories you see listed near the top of the navigation bar are just an example — each one provides additional articles somehow related to a specific book. My Q & A system is also set up to receive questions that I can answer in a place where all readers can benefit from them.

That should be enough.

My New (Old) Office

I move back to old quarters.

I spent much of today preparing to move my office back into my house. Late in the afternoon, Mike arrived from work and we loaded a bunch of stuff into the back of his pickup. I’m now typing this from my relocated office.

For the three and a half years, my office has been in a condo I own in downtown Wickenburg. I moved it there after the last tenant broke their 1-year lease and abandoned the place. When I discovered that nice white carpet (installed by the previous owner; I’m not a complete idiot, you know) completely trashed, I decided I was sick of tenants and sick of having a three bedroom house with only two occupants and no guest rooms.

We moved our offices to the condo in August 2003 (I think). It was nice to have a dedicate workspace, a place I had to go to to work. It got even nicer when DSL became available and I could get fast Internet.

But as time went by and I got more and more involved with my helicopter work, the downtown office became an inconvenience. If I had a call for a flight, I’d have to hurry home and get changed into normal clothes before driving to the airport. That was about 30 minutes shot to hell. And I started to get lazy, to not want to go to work in the morning. That’s not a good thing when I’m facing a deadline.

I wanted an office at Wickenburg Airport, but the powers that be in Wickenburg decided my small business wasn’t worthy. I guess I told too many truths on wickenburg-az.com. Made a few people feel uncomfortable. They decided to punish me by not letting me have an office at the airport. When I got the FAA involved — after all, the town’s agreement with the FAA has an “economic non-discrimination” clause — they started “cooperating” and finally got around to putting out an RFP for the 1000 square feet of land I had my eye on. But do I really want to be a tenant of the town? I thought so at first, but after dealing with the town’s crap for the past eight months, I’m pretty sick of it all and not very interested in giving the town any of my money. Frankly, most of my business comes from Scottsdale these days anyway. I’m still trying to decide whether to bid on the space after all.

So I decided to move my office back into the second bedroom at our house, the same room that was my office when we first moved here 10 years ago. It’s a 12 x 10 space with a nice, big closet. There’s no additional cost and a nice tax deduction for a home-based office. Best of all, I can go to work at any time of the day or night without commuting a single mile.

Mike’s office, which occupied the master bedroom of the condo, has been reduced to the size of a desk and set of shelves in the upstairs “den” where the television and stereo are. Not too shabby. He tunes into Sirius radio on Dish Network while he’s working and listens to it in surround sound. The window he faces has the best view in the house.

The view from my officeMy window also has a nice view. It looks out into the garden with the mountains in the distance. I just finished setting up the Webcam for wickenburg-az.com, which shows the view. Here’s the small view. (Well, if you’re looking at this during the week of January 22, you might actually be seeing the inside of KBSZ studios; there’s a tiny Webcam problem right now.) When spring comes, I’ll start working in the garden again. I’m looking forward to it. I miss gardening, but when my office was in town, I never seemed to have time for it.

Right now, 2/3 of my L-shaped desk has been moved into my office. My Dual G5 computer and the big 20-inch Sony monitor has been hooked up. I put the Dell speakers on the computer, but I think the old Altec Lansings sound better, so I’ll put them on tomorrow. I’ll get the last piece of my desk later in the week, after I clear space in this room for it. (Still got one of the old “library” shelves in here.) That’s also when I’ll bring in the printers and the Ethernet hub.

Other stuff that cluttered my office is gone. I sold the G4 that was my Web server — it sold for $335 on eBay yesterday and I shipped it out today — and I moved the G4 eMac to KBSZ studios for audio streaming. Today, I disassembled the Dell Dimension L933r computer that was my old PC test mule in preparation for donating it to the local library. My old Strawberry iMac (a G3) is in the garage, waiting for me to restore it to factory settings and dispose of it. I gave my old clamshell iBook SE to my next door neighbor, who is home-schooling her four young kids. She now has her own “computer lab.”

That leaves me with a very reasonable 3 computers for my work: my Dual Processor G5 (now about 3 years old), my relatively new Dell Latitude D820 laptop test mule, and my reasonably new 15″ Mac Book Pro test mule. Oh yeah, and my 12″ G4 PowerBook, which I really can’t part with. No need for all the desk space I had in my downtown office. I’m even cutting myself down to two printers (rather than the 3 I had accumulated). Look for some new items on eBay soon.

Getting rid of all this old equipment feels good. Although I actually threw away — in a Dumpster! — three external SCSI hard drives and a dual bay SCSI CD-ROM reader today, most of the other equipment is finding a good home. I hate throwing stuff away, but I really hate storing it. And let’s face it: old computer equipment has very little value these days.

So now I’m sitting at home in my office at 8:25 PM, listening to iTunes music on my G5 (right now: “Wish You Were Here” on Wish You Were Here by Pink Floyd). It’s later than I’d usually be working. I think I’ll be working longer hours with my office in the house. Getting more work done. Blogging more.

And doing a lot of work in my pajamas once again.

CDs vs. Downloads

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been thinking a lot about the inconvenience of downloading music from iTunes. Yes, you read that right. I said inconvenience.

Sure, it’s great to download music immediately, when I want it, and pay only 99¢ per song. But what’s not so good is the restrictions on music use:

  • I must register every computer I want to play my purchased songs on and I only get 5 of them. That covers my desktop Mac, my PowerBook, my Mac test mule (for writing Mac books and articles), my Windows test mule for writing Windows books and articles), and my husband’s laptop. About a year ago I was faced with a not-so-unique problem: the motherboard on my dual G5 went bad and needed to be replaced — before I could unregister it from iTunes. I lost one of my computer registrations and had to do battle with Apple to get it back.
  • I can’t easily back up my purchased music. I need to go through some kind of procedure that I simply haven’t had time to explore. In fact there seem to be restrictions on how I copy the music, period.
  • Apparently, there is some loss of quality if I burn purchased music to a CD and then rip that music to a computer. I haven’t played around with this enough to have the full story, but I shouldn’t have to spend the time to figure out why my music quality should change. It shouldn’t change.

Fortunately, I have an iPod (or three) so the fact that iPods are the only MP3 players that can play iTunes purchased music isn’t a problem for me. But I understand that it’s a major gripe for other people.

I was going to write a blog entry about all this, but now I don’t have to. I just read a piece that expresses my feelings and frustrations on this matter better than I could. From Alpha Geek: CDs vs. Downloads on Lifehacker:

DRM, the chief source of all this grief, is the love child of Satan and Osama bin Laden. If I could pay 99 cents for an unprotected, unrestricted, 320Kbps MP3, I’d do it in a heartbeat–and it would be all over for CDs. Instead, online music stores treat us like thieving children, locking us into one bit rate, one file format, a limited number of CD burns, and other annoying handcuffs. Apple and Microsoft impose the worst kind of restriction: Songs purchased from iTunes and Zune Marketplace can be played only on iPods and Zunes, respectively.

And later:

Call me old-fashioned, but I’ve rekindled my love affair with CDs. They let me do things, to borrow from Old Blue Eyes, my way. See you in hell, DRM.

Thanks, Rick Broida, for putting my thoughts into words. See you at the CD store.

An Evening Out

We visit a friend above town.

Last night, my husband and I spent the evening with a friend who lives part-time in Wickenburg. His house sits on a ridge overlooking the town.

As I drove up the road that led to his home, I felt I was rising above the scum that floats just below the surface of Wickenburg, the scum of small-town politics, corruption, and business owners being threatened for signing petitions that support their personal beliefs.

Our friend, Tom, can’t live full-time in Wickenburg. He simply can’t get the things he needs to live comfortably. So he has a condo in the Deer Valley area of Phoenix, near where his business is based. He comes to Wickenburg to work on his house, which he’s systematically torn apart and put back together over the past three years, working with one contractor after another to get each job done. By the looks of things, he’s about 80% finished. He shops in Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods Phoenix before he comes to Wickenburg, bringing up organic groceries to stock his kitchen and incredible wines to stock his in-wall wine “cellar.”

I used to try to get Tom to move his business up to Wickenburg, to build a building in the town’s industrial park and operate out of there. But he would tell me that he has a great staff in Deer Valley and he knows they wouldn’t commute up here. He doesn’t want to lose them. Now, after thinking about it for a long time and seeing the hurdles a small business needs to jump to get set up in Wickenburg — I’ve been trying, unsuccessfully, to get an office at the airport for my helicopter charter business for more than eight months — I don’t nag him about it anymore. I wouldn’t want to push him to a decision that would make him unhappy.

Tom’s ridgetop home offers stunning views in every direction, marred only by the power lines APS recently strung along another ridge nearby. The poles and wires are a heartbreak to Tom, who bought the house because of the incredible views. He’s angry because APS had an alternative route, one that would have taken the power lines through unoccupied areas of town where they wouldn’t be such an eyesore to residents. But APS took the easy route, following the edge of state land. Although I agree that they hurt his view, the situation is even worse for the homes they pass near. Literally dozens of homes were affected by the power line installation. But although he’s complained to APS and the Town of Wickenburg, no one seems to care.

We spent the evening listening to classical music and jazz, drinking wine, making dinner, and looking out at the lights of Wickenburg far below us. Tom’s view of the town at night is just like mine from the helicopter as I come into Wickenburg at the end of one of my moonlight dinner tours. He remarked at how many more lights there are now than there were just three years ago when he bought his home. “Imagine how the difference is to us,” I told him. “We’ve been here ten years.”

At Tom’s house, I felt so far removed from town, like I was in another place. A place where culture, fine wine, and quality food were an important part of everyday life, not something to be treated to once in a while. The air seemed somehow cleaner up there, the political situation not so dirty, the conversation more educated and interesting. It was as if we’d left Wickenburg and stepped into a city home. Not necessarily a Phoenix home, mind you. Perhaps one in New York, high above Second Avenue and 60th Street.

The feeling stuck with me all evening as I sipped wine chosen by my host, minced fresh garlic for the garlic bread, and ground sea salt over my soba noodles. Less than two miles as the crow flies from my home, I was in another world.

Treadmill vs. Walk in the Park

Pros and cons.

I joined a health club recently. Wickenburg has an excellent “exercise center” that’s part of the Physical Therapy department at the local hospital. It has weight training equipment, elliptical exercise machines (is that the right name for those things?), stationary bikes, and treadmills. Just about all of it is computerized, so you can set goals and quantify many activities. The place is clean, there’s good music playing at a volume that’s not too loud to override it with iPod earbuds, and there are even televisions with captioning so you can read what’s being said onscreen.

Best of all, the members are an incredible mix of people, from the 20-year-old, skinny as a rail (as I was at that age) to the 40-something-year-old-who has had about five hundred too many cream puffs in her lifetime to the 90-year-old who comes in on a walker. I fit in nicely with this group, since I’m middle aged, overweight but not dangerously obese, and just enough out of shape to have to really work at my exercise regime, which is still in its infancy.

The treadmill is part of that regime — the warmup part. I start with a 20-minute session on the treadmill, using one of its built-in programs and setting the speed to about 3 mph. The programs change the machine’s incline, so I could be walking on flat ground for part of the time and climbing a hill moments later. Not a big hill, mind you. But one that’s enough to get your heart beating, which the machine monitors for you. In fact, if I enter my age and weight into the machine, when it gives me my heart rate, it’ll also tell me whether my work out is for weight loss or cardiovascular. I try to keep it in the cardiovascular range. I want to break a sweat, but not get soaked.

When I first thought about treadmills, I thought they were pretty dumb. After all, why use a machine to go for a walk. Why not just go for a walk? But I realized, after using a treadmill for about a week, that it does have some benefits over just walking. I thought I’d summarize them for people who have never tried one and, like me, wonder why they should.

Treadmill Walk in the Park
You can set a speed and stick with it. You don’t really know how fast you’re walking or whether you’ve changed speed.
You can monitor exact distance, speed, incline, time walked, and calories burned. You can’t easily monitor exact distance, speed, incline, time walked, and calories burned
You can do other things while you walk: watch TV, listen to music or podcasts, read a book or newspaper (a bit tricky), or talk to a companion. There are a limited number of things you can do while you walk: listen to music or podcasts or talk to a companion.
You’re breathing “conditioned” air, which may or may not be of a good quality. You’re breathing “fresh” air, which may or may not be of a good quality.
While you’re walking, there’s nothing to look at but the room you’re in, the view out the window (if you face one), and the people around you. While you’re walking, you can see a wide variety of things as you walk past them.
You can do it in any weather, at any time of the day or night (dependent on access to machine). You can do it in any weather, at any time of the day or night (but you probably will avoid hot, cold, rainy, and dark).
There’s nothing to interrupt you while you’re walking. You can be interrupted by friends and acquaintances you pass along the way, traffic, or obstacles along the trail.

 

This is all I can think of right now. The conclusion I’ve reached from all this is that a treadmill offers an efficient way to walk for exercise. Efficient is good if you’re pressed for time and want to make the most of every minute. That’s me. Right now I’m walking at 3 mph (average) for 20 minutes as a warm up for other exercise, including weight training. During that time, I can burn about 75 calories (no Hostess Cupcakes in my immediate future) and get my heart rate up to 130+ beats per minute. But if I didn’t want to do weight training and wanted to base my workout around a good, long walk, I could easily choose a more difficult program at a faster speed and for a longer time, I can just push a couple of buttons, pick a good playlist on my iPod, and have at it. Nothing will interrupt me and I’ll get the workout I want.

If you live in Wickenburg and have been considering the hospital’s exercise facilities, I highly recommend it. It’s moderately priced — I paid $300 for 6 months, but that includes the “setup fee” to introduce me to the weight machines (and them to me via programming). A longer membership is cheaper per month; a shorter one costs more. But the way I see it, what’s more important: money or my health? I know I won’t walk or exercise regularly on my own. And I know I don’t walk as fast when I’m out with my walking buddies as I do on that machine. So I’m getting a lot of exercise each 90-minute session at the “health club.”

I must be. I slept 10-1/2 hours straight through last night.

And a side note here: I also started the Atkins/South Beach diet. I know they’re not the same, but they’re close enough for my purposes. I’ve lost 8 pounds in a week. Still very overweight, but starting to get back to the point where I can wear most of my jeans again.

And the way I see it, every pound I lose is one extra pound of passengers I can take flying. With some of my passengers so big they fully extend the seatbelt before fastening it around their midsections, somebody has to lose weight.