On May 11, 1996, ValuJet Flight 592 nose-dived into the Everglades just west of Miami International Airport, 10 minutes after departure. All 110 persons on board perished, with the sheer violence of the final impact sequence making identification of their remains nearly impossible. A fire caused by expired oxygen generators had swept through the cargo hold, eventually breaching into the cabin and cockpit, and then finally damaging flight control rigging such that the pilots lost control in the final moments.
The causes of the fire were the usual, banal suspects: criminally sloppy procedures by subcontractors, poor managerial and regulatory oversight, and outdated governmental safety regulations. All made even more tragic as the fire had actually started while the doomed aircraft was on the ground, taxiing to the runway. There was no requirement for the cargo hold to have either a smoke detector or active fire suppression systems, so the crew remained unaware until their fate had nearly been sealed.
There is a memorial just inside the Everglades National Park, a short drive from Miami. 110 stark concrete pillars, arranged in a triangle pointing to the impact site. My mechanic Marcos and I stopped by on our way to the National Park.
I have often been asked why we are ending our European adventure and returning to San Diego. It’s a fair question, and one I have not articulated very well up to this point, in part because it’s complicated and not very clear cut.
We love Europe; the density and depth of cultural and historical experiences; the gradations of people and societies as you cross borders; the breadth of the landscape’s natural beauty. It’s not perfect of course; yet even so, and even after acknowledging the reflexive proclivity most Americans have to romanticise it, Europe is an incredible place to experience.
So a definite nod to the continent, its blemishes and Brexit and coin-operated shopping carts included. That said, long term residency in a foreign country takes a sustained mental transition, which is probably no surprise. Day to day living is different, the innumerable menial tasks one has to accomplish every day take longer, and outside of the Ireland and the UK, not fluently speaking the native language will begin to eventually sour the experience. And some measure homesickness sets in for many.
Layered on top of that, my job had run its course, in terms of the experience I gained and the skills and qualifications I wanted to pursue. I consider myself unbelievably fortunate for having the opportunity to fly for this particular company, and with this particular client. Yet to remain would have diminished that good fortune in my mind, for another set of complicated reasons, and so I felt an obligation to myself and to my employer to move on.
It was painful for me, personally, to leave our home in Dublin. More than any other place we’ve been, Ireland seemed most like home to us. Stewart’s relatives in County Donegal, my own ancestral lineage leading back to the Emerald Isle, and the easy connection we seemed to make with the Irish. So while it was the right decision to make, it was not an easy one, and not obvious, and one that left me emotionally fraught.
We might return to Europe, and if so most likely Ireland. So the door is not entirely closed. We will wait a little while, and think about it, and remember our time there.
The sheets were frozen hard, and they cut the naked hand; The decks were like a slide, where a seamen scarce could stand; The wind was a nor’wester, blowing squally off the sea; And cliffs and spouting breakers were the only things a-lee. They heard the surf a-roaring before the break of day; But ‘twas only with the peep of light we saw how ill we lay. We tumbled every hand on deck instanter, with a shout, And we gave her the maintops’l, and stood by to go about. All day we tacked and tacked between the South Head and the North; All day we hauled the frozen sheets, and got no further forth; All day as cold as charity, in bitter pain and dread, For very life and nature we tacked from head to head. We gave the South a wider berth, for there the tide-race roared; But every tack we made we brought the North Head close aboard: So’s we saw the cliffs and houses, and the breakers running high, And the coastguard in his garden, with his glass against his eye. The frost was on the village roofs as white as ocean foam; The good red fires were burning bright in every ‘long-shore home; The windows sparkled clear, and the chimneys volleyed out; And I vow we sniffed the victuals as the vessel went about. The bells upon the church were rung with a mighty jovial cheer; For it’s just that I should tell you how (of all days in the year) This day of our adversity was blessed Christmas morn, And the house above the coastguard’s was the house where I was born. O well I saw the pleasant room, the pleasant faces there, My mother’s silver spectacles, my father’s silver hair; And well I saw the firelight, like a flight of homely elves, Go dancing round the china-plates that stand upon the shelves. And well I knew the talk they had, the talk that was of me, Of the shadow on the household and the son that went to sea; And O the wicked fool I seemed, in every kind of way, To be here and hauling frozen ropes on blessed Christmas Day. They lit the high sea-light, and the dark began to fall. “All hands to loose topgallant sails," I heard the captain call. “By the Lord, she’ll never stand it," our first mate Jackson, cried. ...”It’s the one way or the other, Mr. Jackson," he replied. She staggered to her bearings, but the sails were new and good, And the ship smelt up to windward just as though she understood. As the winter’s day was ending, in the entry of the night, We cleared the weary headland, and passed below the light. And they heaved a mighty breath, every soul on board but me, As they saw her nose again pointing handsome out to sea; But all that I could think of, in the darkness and the cold, Was just that I was leaving home and my folks were growing old.
Robert Louis Stevenson
One of my favorite podcasts.
One of my favorite Venn diagrams, just in time for the holidays:
12” tweezers exist, and are surprisingly functional when picking out individual breakfast meat slices.
The French, like most other Europeans, eat heavy lunch meat for breakfast. Which I inartfully and routinely steal in the form of a sandwich for later.
Christopher Cross has a greatest hits album, which the Mecure breakfast cook or someone in a position of power loves a little too much.
French cottage cheese is tweaked yogurt, no chunks.
Serving filter (“American”) coffee and American bacon pains the French to no end, although they are resigned to it.
A servant buying provisions in a local Bagdad market was abruptly jostled by someone behind him. Turning to confront the person, he was overcome with terror upon seeing it was Death, with a surprised expression, staring back at him. In a panicked run he returned to his master, describing the encounter and asking, in a fit of desperation, for the master's horse. The master obliged and the servant mounted and drove the horse in a full gallop to Samarra, in order to avoid his fate with Death.
His curiosity piqued, the merchant returned to the market and saw Death still standing amongst the crowd. He approached and asked him about the encounter, and about his look of surprise upon seeing the servant. Death replied: “Indeed, I was taken aback upon seeing the servant, as I have an appointment with him tonight in Samarra."
It has not been a great weight loss month. I struggled with eating while on travel, and while guests were visiting. I have learned that a single day of overindulgence can be difficult to overcome; I have acknowledged that my body is now aware of the reduced caloric intake and in response has become suddenly far more efficient in energy consumption; I am now resigned that in order to achieve my weight loss that there is no other way, really, than to go to bed hungry, sometimes very hungry, every night.
There is also a finality to it: the eating excesses of my youth, which should have ended over 20 years ago for me, have got to come to an end. I cannot order a pizza and simply eat the whole thing anymore. I cannot eat fish and chips and believe that constitutes just one meal, instead of the three (or four, thanks Ireland) that it actually is. I need to measure the spaghetti I cook. I need to eat a great deal of fiber, fruits and vegetables. And I need to disassociate the act of eating from the act of social interaction, even though the two are almost inextricably linked.
It seems clear to me now, that a failure to lose weight is a failure to reckon with the reality of one's body and one's corporeal existence, and a simultaneous failure to appreciate the consequences of not accepting that which cannot be changed.
Nothing there that millions of first-worlders have not endured at some point in their weight loss endeavours. It's just getting very personal for me.
Regarding the chart: I'm so far off the original target that I've added a new target line. July 2nd is now the date.
Over the course the past years I have travelled a lot, but after a particularly intense schedule in 2017 I thought it would be interesting to track my whereabouts via the transportation modes I took. And hence the chart below.
To keep it simple, I'm recording individual trips rather than time spent or distance travelled. So the chart below indicates I have thus far, in 2018, flown in a helicopter once (oy vey), and took four trains, ten planes, and 18 automobile (taxis and uber) rides.
This past Thursday my cousin abruptly died at the age of 48. Colon cancer, undetected until it was far too late, that slowly and methodically consumed her body. She lived six days past the official diagnosis, and the doctor—I can’t even imagine how the conversation went—-had little to say and provided no course of action to follow, save for an oral chemo pill that might buy her a few extra days.
As chilling as it would have been to be her in that office, being told there was nothing really to do besides go home and await your imminent death, it is actually a subject I think about regularly. Not obsessively, but enough such that her predicament resonated with me. We will all meet our own demise of course, and yet it is unlikely you’ll ever know how it’s going to play out until you’ve arrived at or near that moment. And to not be prepared for however it ends—to be caught unaware, as if the omnipresence of your own mortality had somehow slipped your mind—I find personally troubling.
To the extent I can plan for it, I want to. To the degree I can meet death with all the dignity I can muster, I will try to. With the hope of ending it all with a measured note of acceptance, of gratitude for even having lived at all, and with the acknowledgement that it is the definitive end of my existence.
On a side note, ”As I Lay Dying” is supposed to be a tragedy laced with comedy. But I found nothing funny about it.
Birthday celebrations towards the end of the week were difficult to overcome, but hail mary fasting on Saturday and Sunday saved the week from being a loss. Hardly a plan for long term weight control, but...well, I've got some time to figure it out.
By the way, Stewart is likewise on a weight loss program, a little more surreptitious than mine but he's lost nearly 10 pounds so far.