Coping: With Adrenaline Junkies, Skydiving, Death-Stalking

I’m pretty much convinced that everyone has (like cats) nine lives.  I can account for a handful of times when I have almost lost mine…and each time there’s a lesson to be learned.  The imminence of losing your life does two things for you:  First, it teaches you how incredibly important having information is.  The second thing it teaches that not everyone dies every time.  And that leads to point three:  When your number’s up, your number’s up.

We’re going to talk about skydiving in a minute, but first a few notes on nearly dying that are quite personal.  Worth sharing because they taught me things…

When have I almost died?

Once, back in 1986, or in there, I was on my way to the office.  I was driving my 2.7 liter Porsche 911, wearing the power suit, and looking like “that guy.”  The engine made an odd noise and I popped open the rear deck to take a look by the side of the road, engine running.  My yellow “power tie” took one turn around the alternator belt as I bent over and flipped back out, again.

Whew!  Close one!

That’s what I mean by a close brush with death.  Wrapping a tie up in an alternator would have pulled my head into a running engine.

Oh, sure, I was competent in all kinds of things mechanical and aced every shop/power tools course I’d ever taken.  And yet, that’s how accidental death works.  It sneaks out when no one is expecting it and WHAM!

Another time, much younger, I was working on a transmitter.  A Johnson Pacemaker, (here’s a whole page on how cool they are) one of the finest early single sideband transmitters ever

Aged 17, or so, I’d replaced a few components and the final tube (a 6146B if that matters) and I was readjusting the plate neutralization cap.  Momentarily, I lost focus, distracted (looking at the manual while making an adjustment inside a high voltage cage that’s open ain’t terribly smart.


800 volts!  I had been wresting the bottom of my palm on the grounded metal chassis and one finger brushed a high voltage point.  The reason I’m still alive is simple:  When I was 13, I’d picked myself up off the floor from a more modest 200 volt shock and already had learned the “keep one hand in your pocket” rule of dealing with electronics.  High voltage through the hand was another one of those near-miss deals.

And on my first flight solo in an airplane, I inadvertently entered a spin after doing a series of [planned/required] stalls.  I recovered from that because I’d memorized the part in the “learning to fly” book about stall recovery.

So far, I haven’t hit nine lives, but toss in a commercial flight to Panama where I was in an L-1011 that dropped 1,500 feet in severe clear air turbulence and a close call of short final in Miami when a new mechanic pulled a DC-10 in for maintenance right onto the active runway as we were 500 feet up in a 727-227 down and dirty for landing.  Again, close, but no cigar.  The Captain (Kel) had a nearly photographic memory and rolled left, keeping an eye on the 727’s left wingtip, holding it 10-feet off the ground in order not to cartwheel a fully loaded 727 into the ground.  It was a full flight, as I recall, and I was riding jump seat. 

All’s well that ends well, in each of these cases, but it reminds me of the critical things to pass onto my kids, lest they do similar things and exit this life prematurely.  My list?

  • Never, ever, no matter what, get near a running engine with anything other than bare arms and tight-fitting clothing.
  • In ham radio, never make an adjustment without a) wearing nitrile gloves on the “hot” hand and b) memorize the schematic, settings, and only look at a diagram with hands away from hot transmitters and receivers.
  • Never unintentionally let a stall develop into a spin when driving airplanes.
  • Never – even for an instant – take off your seat belt when flying (even commercial).
  • Always – if you have a choice – fly with the smartest pilot you can.

Those are just a few personal encounters with death that didn’t work out for the Grim Reaper.  But now that I’m up there a bit (65 shows up next month) I’m hardly in a taunting mood.  I know he’s out there somewhere, waiting for me to put on one more pound and trigger an M.I., waiting for me to choke on a big piece of steak, waiting for me to slip and fall wrong off a ladder, or have a table saw blade break up while I’m using it.

Death is always around and you’ve just got to keep an eye out for it.

But this morning’s ramble isn’t about me …it’s about why we pursue the kinds of activities that give us the adrenaline rush.

imageI don’t know as I mentioned it, but my son came down to visit on Saturday.  After a nice steak dinner, the usual father-son chat, we went off to the local Denny’s Sunday morning, him driving my old pickup truck, and I haven’t seen him since.

Since Sunday, he’s been down at Skydive Spaceland where’ he’s been fine tuning his free-fall skills.  When he left the house he had 61 jumps, or so, but when he returns this morning he’ll have about 75 under the canopy.

Why skydiving?  Frankly, he’s an adrenaline junkie of the highest order.

Yes, he got into a bit of trouble when he was young, but turns out that his brief encounter with crime was not because of a need for money, or a drug addiction.  No, for him it was an addiction to adrenaline.  That’s been sorted out for 10 years and then some.

Over the years he’s found more socially acceptable (and legal) ways to “get some” of the buzz that goes with high adventure and it has worked for him professionally.  That’s why he’s been a first responder, EMT, and works in epidemiology sorting out who’s got AIDS and so forth.

About a year ago he took up the sport, getting his “A” license up at Harvey Field (Snohomish) north of Seattle.  It’s a wonderful place to jump, but George II wanted to visit with “the old man” a bit and he didn’t want to wait for the wintertime Seattle gray to clear every time he wanted to go up.

The weather is a lot better for skydiving this time of the year, and he made a decision to come down here and use four days of vacation time to get max fun out of life, which seems to be the point of it, right?

You can click over onto the Skydiving Spaceland site and go through the pictures, but the nice thing about it from G II’s standpoint is that if you are a jumper, they have a bunkhouse (great showers and facilities including laundry) for itinerant skydivers, which G II fancies himself.

I know from our talk before he headed south that he’s thinking about becoming a “skydiving tourist.”

Tuesday, the winds in the drop zone were running 25 and gusting 30, so he only got one jump in, but as he pointed out, by jumping a 170 chute instead of a 180 or 190 and keeping speed up on final approach while in the pattern, you can come down, flare out, and so a “tip-toe” landing with no forward speed.

For reasons that aren’t clear to me, skydivers are some of the most adrenaline-hooked-up people on earth.  To hear G II tell it, nothing on terra firma is anywhere near as exciting

And for those who find event free-fall not enough, there’s the matter of base-jumping.  This is where you find a tall structure and pack a special chute and go off at super-low altitude.  I friend of mine from back in my news days, John S. was one part of the original group that base-jumped the Space Needle in Seattle.

Oh, and that’s why the Space Needle Observation Deck was eventually encased with clear plastic so people like John and Art couldn’t plan round 2.  (Not sure what the statute of limitation is on base jumping, but it was more than 30-years ago now…)

Rumor has it that G II almost went base jumping while on this trip.  Apparently there’s a high antenna somewhere down on the Gulf Coast where base-jumpers go. 

So far, and fortunately for a worried parent, G II hasn’t gone that route.  He enjoys the free-fall part of it the most…but for how long?

When he gets back, we’ll have the father-son discussion about gear:  Does he keep renting, or, at some point, does he buy?

The “numbers” work out this way:  Rental rigs run about $25 per jump.  George is looking at buying his own hear now, and has been saving money like crazy for it.  Still, he’s looking at a $5,000 investment in equipment.  And, worse, if you do get all that gear and want to go schlepping around the country, you’ve just got that much more crap to pack and carry.

Oh, and the gear as a useful life about 10-years, he figures.

This is where I put on the “accounting hat.”  In order for gear rental to make sense, he’ll have to do 200 jumps over the next ten years.  That’s only 20-jumps a year.  OK, I can see how that might make sense – at least for now.

But one of these days, one of those young ladies he’s been dating is going to get her hooks in and there goes the party animal lifestyle of a vagabond skydiver.

Meantime, get’s got the full court press on to get dad and Elaine to take up the sport.  I continue to decline, however.  I’ve counted up the number of times that I’m had near-misses with the Grim Reaper and if we’re playing a “short game” of 9-holes in Life, I’m not going to taken a chance of a bogey.

He’s had to pull his reserve twice in his skydiving adventures so far…in both case “normal accidents” with safe recoveries.

I’ve carded a few more bogies and realize that I’m playing an opponent who never loses.  I’ll keep landing with the airplane we take off in, thank you very much.

But for him, it’s a fine ADHD treatment and much better than what comes out of a bottle of pills.

Explaining Conan O’Brien

Reader Ray H, one of our favorite critics of the ol’ column, sent in this:

Wurst, brats, dogs, get’cher links here. They’re fresh, they’re smokin’, and a few are even spicy! Links, get’cher links…

Media Reacts: A Christmas Present Or Two Or Ten Edition
A Conan O’Brian clip featuring excerpts from a number of local news broadcasts. The broadcast affiliates are ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX, and a smattering of non-network stations.
Tell me, upon viewing the clip: Are there any “broadcast journalists” left?

Oh, dear, Ray…you missed something. Lemme fill you in…

What most people don’t realize is that there are “story idea” companies that send out suggested scripts and story ideas for “soft news” that begins to fill up the local airwaves around holiday.  Usually a subscription service…a couple of hundred a month is budget dust compared to Chopper X time, right?

So when I see this kind of compilation, I recognize it for what it is….a whole of of assignment editors and/or news directors saw the “suggested script” that came with the story idea from one of these news consultancies, and they look at what the “ratings consultants” have been telling station management “(Usually:”More health heart, and pocketbook!”) and all decided to run with the same story,. same script line, local variances and local B-roll. 

They show up on slow news days, mostly.  We used to make jokes in radio on such slow days like “Can’t Channel 4 go out and roll over a car on Interstate 5, or something?” 

So nothing mysterious about it. 

Just like there’s nothing surprising when  administration “sources” tell the same thing to key reporters (like the WaPo or NYT) because as anyone knows in the major media, when you go to a presidential news conference, the most important story is often not what’s being said by the “talking head” – it’s often what’s being said to the Biggest Media by the “staff briefers.”

Those remarks often begin with “What the President means to say here is….”  or “What the President is trying to get across is how…”  And yes, I had White House press credentials at one time and I’ve seen “the dance” first-hand often enough to enjoy the choreography.

No Worries About Summer War

Earlier this week, we were talking about how one solution to cryptic Nostradamus painting might be the advent of global war this summer.

Well, hold up there, old pard, says reader Michelle:

Sorry George,

The Sun will be in Cancer Jun 21/22 to July 22/23. The dates here depends on the time zone. The Sun will be in Leo on Jul. 27/14, Jupiter is in Cancer till July 16/17…

Now, she’s not a professional astrologer, and I don’t have time to go through all the machinations, but additional input is welcome.

…..Or, Are There War Worries?

A reader note, questioning our resident war-gamer “warhammer’s” view of Middle East developments deserves mention about here because of events this morning wherein Iran is making the point (previous section) that they haven’t agreed to dismantle a damn thing

Tuesday one of your readers commented that I was unfairly sniping at the Iranian Islamic Republic, which as was quite accurately stated by said reader, has never invaded another country in its brief 30-odd year history.

I’d like to point out that Iran did have a rather nasty soirée with Saddam Hussein in the 80s, but that was more of a tit for tat affair with both sides to blame and with a moderate loss of blood and treasure on both sides.

What Iran does do quite well these days is sponsor a violent and long standing proxy war with Israel via Hamas, which is openly supplied, trained and advised by the Iranians.  Hamas is currently lobbing Iranian supplied missiles into Israel on an almost daily basis.

{Link to source here}

Hamas claims to be fighting for the Palestinian cause.  The Palestinians supply no arms but covertly furnish limited troops to Hamas.  No Iran, no Hamas.

Iran supplies the murderous Syrian Assad regime and likely assisted with their still yet to be destroyed red line crossing chemical arsenal.  As you aptly note, Russia has a huge investment in Iran, and also Syria, so Russian sponsorship emboldens Iranian rhetoric and action in a literal game of Middle East Stratego against American and Israeli influences. 

Due to the religious infighting between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shi’ite Iran, the Saudi’s are taking umbrage with Iran’s growing region influence as the U.S. pulls back to our pre-WWII ‘island fortress’ roots, making the Saudis strange bedfellows with traditional enemy Israel.

Once Iran builds nukes weapons, they will hold tremendous coercive regional power and achieve membership in a rather limited but growing nuclear club which includes the U.S, Russia, UK, France, China, Pakistan, India, N. Korea, Israel (undeclared) and perhaps S. Africa (which worked with Israel on their nuke program in the 60s and 70s).  Also, one or more S. American counties may have purchased or developed nuclear weapons in the past two decades and the Saudis may be seeking to procure nukes from Pakistan as a hedge against a nuclear Iran.

The danger is, unlike with the USSR/Russia and the U.S. in the Cold War, there is no diplomatic vehicle (SALT, START, ABM Treaty) to allow for verification and then de-escalation protocols should tensions rise.  Nukes in the hands of apocalyptic religious and/or totalitarian extremists is not a good thing at all.  A regional spat can quickly spiral out of control and end up with sprouting mushroom clouds.

Finally, I am a socio-poltical/military analyst, not a war mongering troll.  I left the military, turning down promotion to colonel, to move my family into a better place, one that would also allow me the luxury of getting a good night’s sleep from time to time.  But I’m trained to see certain patterns.  A war gamer extrapolates those patterns into viable alternate futures, any of which may or may not occur.  It’s all about statistical probabilities.  While I’m not in the same league as Bruce Bueno de Mesquit,  I ran with the big bulls back in the days before I put myself out to pasture and ‘went academic.’

I admire your protesting reader’s underlying morality.  It shines through like a bright candle in a dark room.  The world needs more of that.  

While I constantly see threats and potential dangers, I never relinquish my personal hope that sanity and peace will ultimately prevail.  Honestly though, looking at the current slate of actors on the global nightly news and the woeful state of macro-economics, I’m considerably more pessimistic than optimistic these days.


You may not like what warhammer has to say, or approve of my sketch-ups of the Middle East developments, I’d point out that we’re very much in synch, wh & me,  on the forward projections.  It ain’t here yet, but it ain’t pretty, either.

The most important thing you can take away from UrbanSurvival this morning comes down to simply this:  Hard times economics are just around the corner and as that arrives, governments worldwide are under tremendously increased pressures to keep their populations paying taxes and under control/  To accomplish this, they historically have granted themselves liberty to wage wars in order to hold tight the reins of power.

The odds of which I’d place at 90% or greater during the coming five years when the economic collapse runs begins to bleed through it’s paper bandages – and if you’re not mentally and physically prepared (prepping, getting out of harms way now) you may have enough remaining liberty or wherewithal to structure life as you’d like it to have worked out later.

Only a fool spits into the wind.  The era of levered gains and “Going for the Big Win!” has been replaced by a more up to date strategy:  Play not to lose.

As the fine print of many raffle tickets reads:  You must be present to win.

Write when you break even…