Category Archives: Travel

Escape from a Flying Club

Several years ago I bought into a flying club; it was one of the few financial decisions I truly regret. 

Thankfully, as of today, I’m finally free of the financial and emotional entanglements.  

In any event, I learned a very valuable life lesson – be wary of partnerships or financial arrangements which will bind you to the whims of strangers– be it a time share, club, home owners association, start-up, or partnership.

At the time I joined, the Prescott Flying Club was being actively sued because one of the idiot member pilots took off in one of the planes –overloaded, with a tail wind, and wrecked the plane.  His passengers were badly hurt and they promptly sued the club. 

Additionally, several members simply stopped paying their monthly dues and the club desperately needed to sell the memberships.  As a result, I was given the opportunity to buy into the club for $2,500 – “a deal of a lifetime.”  Monthly dues would be $105.00, to cover the fixed costs, and the rental rates for the planes was provided.  I would be part owner in two hangars and three planes.

I cut a check and immediately made arrangements for a FAA medical.   I booked a ground school class to get the IFR written out of the way.

At the medical exam, I was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes thanks to a failed urine dipstick test.  I walked out of the medical exam in shock, followed up with my primary care physician who confirmed I had diabetes.  

Crap. 

During the next several months, I submitted more and more information (blood test reports, doctor statements, optometrist statements, etc.) to the FAA and was eventually granted a special issuance medical permit, good for one year.

Next, I needed an instructor for a Biannual Flight Review (BFR) and to sign me off to fly solo.  I reached out to several of the Club’s instructors via email.  Only one responded, and after several attempts he simply couldn’t find time in his schedule.

Since it was the dead of winter, I didn’t pursue it again until started to warm up. 

Wash My Plane B*tch, or Pay the Price

imageWhen I joined, I was told that there would be a few “plane washes.”  To encourage participation, people who didn’t attend would be charged a “few dollars” to help pay for hotdogs and drinks that will be served during the plane wash.

Turns out, the penalty was $25. 

The plane washes were scheduled on the weekends, and I elected to skip all of them because I didn’t want to wash a plane I couldn’t legally fly.

After writing dozens of checks, I decided to put my membership up for sale on the wait list.

On a side note, on average, roughly 60% of any given flying club’s members don’t fly and simply cut checks to subsidize the members who do.

New Management, and The President’s New Cirrus

imageAfter nearly a year of being on the “sell list,” the board was taken over by a new more active board.

They wasted no time in making changes.  In rapid succession, there was:

  • A new logo for the club; and
  • New hats with logos; and
  • New shirts with logos; and
  • A new Facebook page; and
  • A new website; and
  • A new mobile phone application; and
  • A scheduled factory tour of the Cirrus factory in Duluth; and
  • Movie nights with the kids…

What.  What?  Movie night with strangers and their kids?  Oh hell no.  

The plane washes and all meetings were scheduled for 6 p.m., always on Thursday nights.  If I wanted to attend, I would have to leave work early and skip my EE class.  Not an appealing option. 

When I objected, I was told my options were: a) stop paying and they would repossess my membership and resell it, b)  they had someone interested in buying in, for $2k — less than I paid in.  

One board member, (who had a relative that worked for Cirrus) managed to schedule a tour of the factory. 

imageNext, an special meeting was scheduled, to look at “options” for replacing one of the planes.  The agenda merely mentioned that a discussion of the possible options of what to do.

Since the special meeting was scheduled the night before my EE 201 final exam, I started pestering board members for a proxy form and requesting what votes would be called so I could vote my proxy.  That is when I was told that a vote would be held to purchase a Cirrus SR-20.

What?  Purchase an SR-20?  They are $350k new.  That is a lot of cheddar.

When it became obvious that I was going to vote against the purchase, the board member who had previously stated he would be happy to my proxy suddenly became less helpful, stating that he couldn’t — I had to find a proxy to vote for me by myself. 

I sent an email to the membership list asking for someone to be my proxy for the meeting and added a snarky comment about I hope they didn’t schedule the meeting to limit participation on the vote for an SR20 and then take a victory tour of the Cirrus factory (they had a tour scheduled on Saturday to walkthrough the factory).

Holy crap. I set off a fire storm.  Two board members called me in rapid succession, fuming mad.  It turns out that most of the members didn’t know there was going to be a vote.  The former president even replied and emphatically said that because this was a special meeting, there could not be a vote. I wasted over 2 hours on the phone talking to irate board members who were pissed that I exposed their plan to secretly ram rod a $150,000 to $250,000 purchase through the club.  Assholes.

I found a proxy.  That is when I was told that even if I had a proxy, whomever I chose to vote for me, they could change my vote.

When I said I was going to become more active in the club, Dan (the president) suddenly found someone who could buy my membership.  

imageUltimately, the board’s shenanigans wasn’t necessary; the members that attended voted overwhelmingly to purchase the Cirrus.  Dan quickly started sending out “strip tease” photographs, gloating, which I found personally offensive.

The SR20’s rental rate was originally quoted to me as $125 per hour, but I knew they couldn’t make that number work.  Once they took delivery, the rental rate was set at $136.50, which I think is still too low.  I believe they are going to have to reset the rental rates in January. 

Yet Another Plane Crash

In the mean time, another pilot crashed the Arrow when he or she overshot the run way in a gusty crosswind and totaled the plane.  Another special meeting was called to “discuss the options.”  I think you know where this is going…

A survey was sent out asking how much more the members would be willing to pay per month in dues, in order to buy a “better” plane. 

I finally received the check tonight and I have to say that today was a very happy day.  I am happy to done with them, and wish the person who purchased my membership has a better experience than I did. 

Poisoned in Las Vegas

Sometimes, simply traveling can be gamble. image

When we arrived in Las Vegas, we made our way to the baggage claim area to pick up our bag.  My wife and I watched as people jubilantly snatched up their bags and giddily raced off to check into their hotels. 

As the crowd thinned, I noticed the conveyor belt stopped, leaving only two solitary bags being pushed around the metallic carousel.    We stared at remaining bags that slowly circled.  Our bag never emerged from the conveyor.

I started to realize that our bag wasn’t going to materialize.  They lost our bag or left it in Minneapolis, I thought.  I sighed.  It was going to be one of those trips.  I started mentally preparing myself for shopping for clothes at 1 a.m. at the local Wal-Mart.

I persuaded my confused wife to follow me to the baggage office.  Half way there I heard my name being paged, asking me to come immediately to the Delta baggage office.

As I opened the door and walked in, we were greeted by the overpowering aroma of ethyl acetate, burnt rubber, and two somber Delta employees.  The Delta employees explained that there was a problem with our bag.   The “problem” was that bag fell off the luggage tug, was run over, and dragged for a good long distance.  She waved at our severely damaged bag.

Sensing my wife’s confusion, the agent quickly tried to change the subject.  “We will, of course, give you a brand new bag.  Here.  This one is about the same size.”  She held up a new carryon bag triumphantly and removed it from the plastic.  She smiled.

My wife slowly reached out to our broken, mutilated, melted bag that had been sodomized by an airport cargo trailer just minutes before. 

My wife started to go through the bag, cautiously surveying the damage.  She didn’t say anything.  The Delta representative finally broke the awkward silence and asked if there was anything valuable in the bag.  Luckily, there wasn’t – just our cherished possessions.

The acrid smell of nail polish was just that, a nail polish bottle had been crushed inside the bag.  A cracked makeup case and ripped toiletries bag rounded out the damages. 

We left with the new bag and travel vouchers and ambled out to the taxi stand to go to our hotel – Hooters Casino Hotel. 

If Depression Was a Hotel

IMG_0148I had booked the hotel stay because Hooters Casino Hotel positions itself as a no-frills frugal place to stay in Las Vegas.  The room rate was $22 per night ($36.95 per night after the mandatory “resort fee” is added). 

The casino is small, dark, and dank.  There were few people, no exuberant shouts of joy from the craps tables; just quiet, punctuated by electronic chimes from slot machines.  

Walking to the elevators, I was surprised to feel water dripping on me.  I looked up and saw water dripping from the ceiling, right before the entrance to the bar.

We exchanged glances and soldiered onwards in silence. 

I expected the worst, but surprisingly, the room wasIMG_0140 remarkably clean and the bed was comfortable.  When I pressed the power on the remote, the TV came to life. 

Other things in the room were less than stellar. The AC/heater was very noisy  The electrical outlet by the bed was broken.  Inserting the plug from the iron would cause visible electrical arcing.

Hooters Room Service: Food Poisoning Without Seeing Hot Chicks

The next morning, my wife left early to attend a seminar, and I casually started getting ready for a full day of gambling.  A full day of my own, in Las Vegas.

The first item on the agenda was to eat some breakfast.  At the Hooters Casino Hotel, they have chicken wings 24 hours a day.  Therefore, by applying my own tortured brand of logic, I deduced that I must order chicken wings for breakfast.

It would be the third mistake of the trip.  The first was checking my bag, the second was coming to Hooters.

After 30 minutes, a knock at the door announced the arrival of my chicken wings.  There was no fancy room service cart, just a guy with a tray of chicken wings.  The server pushed the tray of wings into my hands and then held up the room service ticket for me to sign.  I awkwardly put the tray of wings down in the room and came back the door to sign the ticket. 

The room service menu stated that all room service orders are automatically charged an 18% gratuity.  However, on the ticket, there was a line for an additional tip, and the server had highlighted the percentages for a tip.  In my confused embarrassment, I tipped an ADDITIONAL 18%, thinking the gratuity wasn’t automatically included.  I would find out later after viewing the itemized statement on checkout, I tipped twice.  The double-gratuity or “double-grat” as my waiter friend used to say with a guffaw.

I started eating the wings while watching, “The Lottery Changed My Life” on TLC.  Face smeared with hot wing sauce and ranch dressing, I watched fascinated by the trailer-park to riches stories that unfolded before my eyes.

I started to get a headache and my stomach started to turn. 

I’m getting headache, I thought.  I just need to wait it out.  I’ll be fine in an hour. I watched another episode.  Then another episode.  Then another

After a few hours the headache got worse, followed by an increasing sense of nausea.  I took a nap, thinking it would go away.  On the rare instances where I’ve gotten a migraine headache just sleeping would cure it.

I woke up to find the headache and constant nausea.  About the eight hour mark, the vomiting and diarrhea started.  For the next several hours the misery multiplied. 

I realized that this wasn’t a migraine headache.  I had food poisoning.  There was no fever, no chills; only the unrelenting nausea and diarrhea.

After the worst of it, my symptoms started to lessen.  By 10:30 pm, I was hungry and we left to eat at Planet Hollywood.  I was definitely feeling much better.

You Must Go to Security

Next morning, as I checked out, I made it a point to complain.  Normally, I never complain about anything.  However, I wanted to tell them I got food poisoning.

So we waited for the manager to come from the restaurant.  I informed him that I got food poisoning from the wings I ordered.  I gave him the room service charge ticket.

He then basically said: a) I should have complained right away, b) if there was a problem in the restaurant there would be lots of complaints, and c) I’d have to go to security to make a complaint.

“Security?” I asked, incredulously.

“Yes, security handles all of the restaurant complaints and gastrointestinal issues.”

I told him I wasn’t going to do any such thing.  We were going to the airport.  Besides, I wasn’t complaining to get a free meal or get anything taken off of my bill.  I was trying to tell them they had a problem.

He offered me gift cards for the Hooters restaurant, where I got food poisoning.  I turned him down.  That was an intelligence test I didn’t want to fail.

Avoiding Water Borne Illness While Traveling, Part 1

imageThis is the first in a three part series on water purification options.  I originally wrote this blog article several years ago, but decided to edit it and repost it on my new blog (this one).

On the day I was to board my flight back to the US, I started to get severe heart burn.  I was tired and a little hung over.  I slowly sipped water waiting for it to die down.  It didn’t. 

During my layover, I listlessly shuffled through the Tokyo airport searching for some bottled water, to mix some crushed Alka Seltzer.  During the flight from Tokyo to Dallas, the heartburn would return several times.  I probably ate something spicy, I thought to myself.  The heartburn slowly subsided and I forgot all about.

Several days later, I soon became stricken with gas, bloating, cramps, fatigue, and soon after, severe diarrhea.  For the next four hellish days, I couldn’t eat any solid food.  I survived on water and Gatorade.  I slept continuously, waking up every several hours to spend quality time in the bathroom.  While I had enough energy to listlessly do things around the apartment, I would have to run to the bathroom at random intervals.  After two more days, I entered the local emergency room to seek treatment because I could no longer drink Gatorade without vomiting.

Thankfully, I fully recovered, but for months afterward my digestive system wasn’t back to normal.  It was a major wake up call.  It could have been worse.. a lot worse.

I vowed that I would never get sick again, and started researching how to effectively prevent this in the future.  What could I buy that would render putrid foul smelling water into tasty safe drinkable water?  The gadget-freak in me cried out to go shopping for some insurance that I could drop in my suitcase on those long overseas trips.

Total budget?  The equivalent of my emergency room visit – roughly $400 or less.

Researching on the Internet: Where Every Symptom is Cancer and Where Even Idiots are Experts.

Unfortunately, I quickly found a lot of miss-information about water purification perpetuated by ignorant campers, hikers, and preppers.  Worse yet, I found some advice on traveler forums that was ridiculous, conflicting, or simply harmful. 

Moreover, I found that most advice on water purification on backpacking and survival forums seems to be biased towards the biological threats found in North America.

In North America, contrary to what water filtration companies and environmentalist want you to believe, you will rarely encounter viruses in streams and lakes.  The number one threat is Giardia or bacteria.  In fact, most streams and lakes in the United States are extremely clean, which is why so some idiots will proudly tell you that you only need a bandana or sock to filter water. 

So I started my research.  I needed a portable method of purifying water that would get rid of any of the threats I would face: viruses, bacteria, and protozoa (Cryptosporidium, Giardia, etc.).  For the remainder of this blog series, it is assumed that the water is free of chemical toxins and may have one or more of the following:

  • Viruses.  There are over 140 extremely small (0.004 to 0.1 microns) enteric viruses known to infect humans, including hepatitis A, Norwalk, poliovirus and rotavirus.
  • Protozoa.  There are several very nasty single celled microorganisms (Giardia Lamblia, Cryptosporidium parvum, Entamoeba histolytica (amebic dysentery), and Clyclospora cayetanesis) some of which are associated with death.
  • Bacteria. Bacteria range in size between 0.2 and 10 microns, and are the likely culprit behind your travelers diarrhea and gastroenteritis.  Significant bacteria include: E coli, Brucella melitensis, Leptospira icterohaemorrhagiae (spirochaetales), Pasteurella pseudomallei, Salmonella typhosa (Typhoid Fever), Salmonella paratyphi (Paratyphoid fever), Salmonella schottinulleri, Salmonella hirschfeldi C., Shigella flexneri (Bacillary dysentery), Vibrio comma (Cholera) and Vibrio cholerae. 

But before I get started, here is some generalized (good) advice for travelers.

Prevention (Better Living through Chemistry)

  • Bismuth subsalicylate (2 oz. t.i.d.).  Studies from Mexico have shown when taken on arrival at the destination (three times a day), Bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto Bismol) can reduce the incidence of travelers diarrhea from 40% to 14%.  That’s right, taking Pepto-Bismol — 2 oz. of liquid or 2 chewable tablets can increase your chance of not getting Traveler’s Diarrhea (TD), but you have to take it before you get TD.  Note: this won’t work it you encounter a virus.
  • Probiotics (Lactobacillus GG and Saccharomyces boulardii) don’t work.  All studies to date have been inconclusive.
  • Halogenated hydroxyquinoline derivatives, enterovioform, and other substances are effective, but may cause "neurologic adverse events" and best should be avoided.  I’m not sure what a "neurologic adverse event" is, but I’m betting it might land you in a difficult spot in a country where you don’t speak the language.
  • Antibiotics are effective (attack rate reduced from 40% to 4%), but only on pathogenic bacteria which are sensitive.  However, the medical community in recommends against prophylactic antibiotics except for short-term travelers who are high-risk hosts (immunosuppressed travelers).
  • Antimicrobials have no effect on viral illness.  Hepatitis A and Typhoid vaccinations are a good idea before traveling abroad.

Prevention (Better Living through Common Sense)

This should be common sense for most of us, but for those who have never traveled extensively:

  • First, try to figure out if the water is potable.  In most of the U.S., Canada, and western Europe tap water is generally safe to drink.  In the rest of the world, the reverse is probably true.
    If the water isn’t safe to drink, avoid ice, since it probably is made from tap water.
  • In areas with sketchy water, do not brush your teeth with tap water (no matter what anyone says); use bottled or boiled water.  This is especially true if the hotel has labeled the water "not fit for drinking" above the sink (as I saw this in Macau and in a hotel in the Philippines).  Also, use bottled water or boiled water to wash your contact lenses or dentures (if you have them).
  • Coffee and tea are generally safe, given that most harmful bacteria and viruses will be killed before the water gets to the boiling point, which is lower at higher elevations.  However, cream and milk are not.  If you must have light coffee, bring non diary creamer with you.
  • US and European chains (such as McDonalds) and large hotel restaurants are also usually safe choices.  Avoid street vendors.
  • Don’t drink from or brush your teeth with the water in the aircraft’s rest room.  They are filled with regular tap water in whatever country they happen to be in.  A recent EPA study showed the bacterial contamination of various water samples taken from aircraft were extremely high in bacteria.
  • Check to see if the bottled water you just purchased has an unbroken sealed cap.  In some countries, unscrupulous vendors will refill used bottled water containers with tap water and sell them on the streets.
  • Stick with name brand water.  In some countries, some water companies bottle unfiltered tap water.

In part 2, I will delve into various water disinfection and purification methods and then finally describe my water purification setup in part 3.