Friday, December 29, 2006

Ramblings of a Year Gone By

This is the time of year that most of us reflect on the past 12 months and begin to look forward to the year to come. I am no different. The year, 2006 has been filled with many adventures in the news gathering game. It has been particularly good to me personally.

We are lucky in many ways as our jobs give us an up close first hand look often of what becomes history. It may not be world history or even national history, but often stories we cover become local history. We meet interesting people, we experience events, mind you, through a lens, but we experience none the less.

2006 began with a federal election in Canada. A change of government. Not a world historical event, but perhaps a national one. My assignment was at a cabinet minister's reception. He won that night, but within weeks defected over to other side of the House. It was a story that had legs for several weeks, but like most things political, blew over and we won't know if it has helped or hurt him until the next federal vote. That Vote may come as early as the spring of 2007.

I was fortunate enough to have been assigned to the 2006 Torino Winter Olympic Games. It was an experience I will never forget. It was a grind, but our crew managed to squeeze in some events. Hockey games and the closing ceremonies. It was my second Olympic games, yet my first "working" games. Anybody who knows me, knows that the highlight for me was getting my photo with none other than Number 99 himself.

As far as my duties aboard Chopper 9 was concerned, the year was pretty good as well. The Olympic trip took me off the flightline for a month but the summer and fall were very good to me both in terms of flight hours and stories covered. My colleagues, Pete Cline and Gary Barndt both logged lots of hours and covered some rather great stories. My most memorable story from the air was the Kidnapping recover Operation in the spring. We were high above the house where a young man who had been held against his will for a week, was rescued by a Police/RCMP tactical unit.

The weather played a big part of our Stories cover this year, from near record rain last January to the heat and dry summer, to the storms of the fall. We are still cleaning up from the last one.

We had some big stories, the Queen of the North sinking, the storms, the mounting casualties of Canada's young men and women in the deserts of Afghanistan. These all shaped the year that was.

Covering these stories we met some very interesting people. Some famous, most not so famous but all had compelling stories and I know I feel richer for having met and spoken to them. Some like Mario, the restaurateur in Turin, Italy, who didn't realize just how busy his establishment was going to get during the Games. His place was a two minute walk from our media village and even though his usual closing time was 11PM, stayed open until 3AM so that the ravenous media hoard would get a hot meal at the end of the days work. He always met us at the door with a smile and still sends me the occasional email just to say hi.

Not to mention Alberto our driver/guide, in the business we call them a "fixer". Here's a lad in Medical school and he worked his ass off for us while in Italy, never complained once or if he did it was in Italian and we didn't understand it.

But what always amazes me, are the folks that we intrude upon, dare I say invade, daily, for whatever reason. Fire, flooding, accidents, streeters, you name it. We rely on people to share their stories with us. And they do. Many I will only remember as a face ( I am horrible with names anyway). Some days it truly is one of the wonders of our business.

Yes, I have been blessed this past year. Working in a profession that I love. Meeting new people everyday. Yes all this and I fly. Can it get any better??
I guess we will see what the new year brings, better yet, what the next assignment brings. I'm back to work tomorrow.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Christmas Best Wishes

I want to thank each and every one of you, who have either searched, linked or otherwise stumbled onto my Blog.
I want you all to have a Merry Christmas.
It is about to get very busy for allot of us during the next few days. Some of you may be traveling, others getting the last minute shopping done. The stress will be high, and the race will be on, but please, please take a moment to be nice to a stranger. A smile, some kind words, a cup of coffee, or some spare change, hold the door open for someone, it doesn't matter. Allow the spirit of the season to dictate your actions. Remember the reason for the season.

Travel safe, enjoy the moments, give your time to those you love.

All the very best of the Season to you and your families.


Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The Four Snowmen of the Apocalypse

Friday began with my cell ringing, at freakin' 4:45 AM. I thought, I'm not the on call guy, but I got my tired butt up and went to see the call display and find out who would be calling at this ungodly hour. When a phone rings at those odd times it could be one of three things. It could be some drunkin' idiot thinking he's calling a cab or his girlfriend or some damn thing ( This has happened to me several times over the years) or it could be one of those call we hope we never have to answer, one from back home relaying bad family news. Or finally and it is most often , work. I go down the stairs to check the number as I had left my cell in my coat by accident, my voice mail rings. I check the voice mail in my groggy state, I listen to a familiar voice asking me to saddle up and give him a call back. I must have dosed off for a couple of minutes, but when I came to, about 5 minutes had passed. I called Dave as I was asked and he tells me the situation. I let him know I am on my way.

For three days we had been hearing weather casters of every stripe predicting the third major storm of the season. High winds, rain miserable stuff. Now why those folks in assignment and in the planning department, and I say this with respect, don't take heed of those "beware the ides of March" like predictions and make oh I don't know, perhaps a game plan is well beyond me. I guess it's more of a test when there is no plan.

So off I go into the darkness searching for the destruction I turned on my radio and scanners and just started taking notes. Oh my, I thought, this was a big one.

A few weeks earlier we were hit with another big wind and rain storm. At that time I was assigned to the area to the north side of the Burrard Inlet. The winds were very strong, but in a typical East Coaster's attitude I thought that these people in the west were really weather weenies as it was just a bit of rain and some wind. It wasn't until I got to our assignment area in West Vancouver, that I saw just how big this first storm would be. Trees down, power out, driving rain. Now that's more like it I thought, that's more like a good Bay of Fundy gale. I was with Mike K on that day. We hadn't worked that much together since our return from the Torino Games in February. It was wet and miserable. The winds were blowing down large numbers of trees over roads, into houses, downing power lines. This weather system was as good as I have seen so far in my time on the pacific coast.
There were a few scary moments during that day. One when, I was at the Eagle Ridge exit overpass. I had to cross the overpass on foot to get a shot of the traffic being turned around on the highway. As I crossed the overpass, a gust of wind made me into a rather awkward projectile for a couple of seconds. I'm a pretty hefty fellow, yet for an instant, I was defying everything about aerodynamics and became a "flying cameraman" minus the flying machine. I decided that the rest of the traverse would be made on my hands and knees. I got my shot and headed back. On the return leg I got clipped by a pine cone that nearly knocked me out. I suddenly became an instant admirer of those poor bastards with the power corp trying to restore power.
When I returned the the building later in the day. All the crews had similar war stories to tell. For me that storm was as good as any I had experienced back east.

The second major weather event came just a week later. This time I was on flight duty, so my contribution would be from a warm aircraft cabin. This one would involve SNOW. For those of you not from the northwest, SNOW is a four letter word, especially in Vancouver. In the past I have seen the entire lower mainland shut down with just an inch of the white stuff on the ground. It's partly because, there are allot of drivers that have virtually no experience with the snow and partly because the works people in the GVRD have sold all of the snow plows for some magic beans. All we have left to deal with the snow is a shovel and a bag of sand.
Well this storm, the forecast called for several inches, like 12 or something. Yes we were about to get a visit from the Four Snowmen of the Apocalypse.
Again, power out , schools closed, traffic at a stand still. Crews working very hard to bring the video and stories to air. The way they spoke of it on the all news radio stations, you would have thought we were indeed living in the end times. I am sure the folks in Toronto, whom we generally laugh at during the winter months, with the cold and snow, while out here we golf and tend our spring gardens, were laughing their asses off at us.
Don't get too smug Toronto, we didn't have to call in the army to shovel us out!!!!

That brings us to storm #3. The early morning call out and the destruction of this past Friday. I have never seen as many trees down, and I am not talking about the little weenie trees that can be found to the east of the Rockies. We're talking trees that are 150 feet high and several feet in diameter. There were no shortage of stories to tell. In my suburb, Coquitlam/Port Moody there were over 40 homes damaged. Some will or have been condemned. Imagine sleeping and suddenly you are awakened by the crashing sound of a western cedar tree cutting through your house. You couldn't travel more than a couple of blocks and not see some massive tree or other debris on the roadway or on top of a house. There were wide spread power outages. Some had just got their power back from the last storm and now it's out again. I personally was lucky. We did not loose power nor sustained any damage.

Yes it was a tough few weeks as far as covering weather stories is concerned, not as tough as a year ago in New Orleans, but tough none the less.

We got another one on the way later this week, I guess I better get some fresh lens wipes and a hair dryer.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Mmmmm, Lobster,,,,,,,,,,

It had been a long week dealing with the weather. We had a few flight missions this week all weather related of course, but I just wanted to skies to clear for Saturday.

I had been looking forward to Saturday for some time. It was party time at the Talon hangar. A kick off to the holiday season if you will. But this gathering means a bit more to me than most realize. Every year for who knows how many years, Peter and Ronn put on a party for all of their clients, friends and family, as I suppose a way to say thanks. Thanks for the business, thanks for the support, thanks for making Talon Helicopters a success.
It's a grand affair, live music, helicopter rides, things to do for the kids and of course food. Lots of food and drink.
One of the items on the menu comes from my home part of the country, live lobster, cooked up and served up to the guests. Its a treat that most here in the West only have on the most special of occasions. And this occasion is indeed special.

Three years ago when I was invited to attend this event for the first time, I offered to help Ronn cook the lobster. The cooking area was outside of the hangar, the pots on gas burners. We had a large table in which to crack open the shells for the many guests. I relished the job as any true maritimer would.
Now many out here in the West have ever cooked or even shelled a lobster. If they have had it on the plate it has been at a fancy eating establishment and the crustation has already been shelled for them. Watching Ronn that first time was rather amusing as he had a pair of surgical scissors to open the tails after they had been cooked. For the claws, a hammer.
"What are you doing!" I remember saying to him with a look of disbelief.
"This is how we do it here in BC." he said with a smile.
"My god man we'll be here all day and night, we need a couple of cleavers"

The next year, I found myself back at the lobster table, this time well prepared for battle.

I'm dressed for the part

Cleavers, a rain suit, rubber boots. I looked the part. It would just be me that year and it was an all day thing. Boiling water, cooking, cracking shells, splitting tails, all to the music of Stan Rogers. Oh I had some help, Brian and Hidey, two of our pilots. They kept filling up the pots when the lobster were finished cooking.

Brian helping out during last years bash

The next thing you know I have an audience watching me whack these things. Bits of shell flying here and there, the heads ( the folks out here don't care for the heads, they're tail and claw people) stacking up on the table before me. It was a spectacle. The next thing I know I have people asking me how to cook them, how to shell them, one person asked me what restaurant I worked at, he thought I was a chief. I guess I fooled him. In any event I am having a great time as I am getting in touch with my maritime heritage. I feel I some old salty bugger from Fiddlehead Cove or that sea captain from the Simpsons.

Whack'n Lobster

This year I was ready to do battle with the clawed ones yet once more. I do love it. Its once a year and for some reason people seem to think I know what I am doing. (fooled them again) This year I would have the privilege of having a special guest along side me for the lobster boil, Mr. Wheeler. His son Kelsy is one of the pilots. Mr. Wheeler is also from the maritimes. So the Lobsters this year were indeed in good hands. We worked all day and when were were done we had cooked, cracked and split 10 cases, that's near 300 of the tasty little nippers.

mmmmmmm goooooooooood

The party seemed to be a success again this year. I understand that there were more than 600 people. I didn't get inside much to have a look. We were having too much fun boiling up a storm. The thing I forgot about from previous years was just how tired I get after the cooking is done. Oh well I have all year to rest up and get ready to hopefully do it all over again next year.

For those of you who might be curious about just how to cook one of these tasty beasts, here's what you do:

Boil a large pot of water (Sea water is best, but you can add salt to your tap water, I find the more salt the better)
The larger the pot the better.

When the pot is at a hard boil, add the Live Lobster head first completely immersing the fish.
When the water comes back to a boil, begin timing.
Boil for 12-14 minutes.

Use some tongs to remove the lobster. Rinse under cold water.

Now here's the tricky part, cracking open the shell and splitting the tail.

You can use nut crackers if you got them or a meat cleaver. Remove the tail from the body with a twisting action. It should breakaway easily. Now remove the claws from the body. You can crack open the claws with your nut crackers and use your cleaver to split the tail into two. Enjoy!

Some people like melted butter for dipping the meat.


Next post will be back to News Gathering, I promise.