Skip to content

To see my words in print

I set out at the beginning of this month to try to write consistently about something that brought me delight. Like the sun illuminating your world every morning, I’d scribe a new post each day.

Sounds simple enough. Things were getting pretty heavy in the world in recent weeks, so I was hoping to redirect some energy towards a more airy topic. Who doesn’t like to delight over something, anything? I even picked the shortest of all months to do so.

If you’re one of the two or three people that might actually read past the first sentence of my blog, I thank you. You, my devoted reader(s) also probably noted that I did not succeed in my endeavor.

I missed a few days. More than a few. 10 to be exact.

True, I do work some strange hours, gobbling up my usual late night typing time. And yes, I have personal obligations in which to attend just like the rest of us.

But sometimes I just wasn’t feeling all that delightfully contemplative. Some nights I just wanted to sit on the sofa with Drew and watch Jeopardy! reruns. Or try to fix partially functioning strings of Christmas tree lights. Curling up with Kat and a glass of wine sounded better than burrowing away in a quiet corner of our home with my laptop, especially given how cold it’s been.

I still do like to write, to produce, to read what I’ve finished–usually the day after I press the “Publish” button on my blog. Something about a night’s rest tends to reset my head when I reread what I’ve typed. Invariably, this means I notice a punctuation or grammar gaffe or the redundant use of a word, so I have to edit my post. Whatever. It’s how I write. Better than nothing, right?

I don’t like that last sentence because ‘write’ and ‘right’ don’t sound, ahem–right.

But still I persist.

I grew up reading Flying magazine. Knowing that I’m a pilot, this probably doesn’t surprise any of you. I’ve had an uninterrupted subscription to this monthly periodical for almost 40 years now. Initially, I was drawn to the sharp photography of the beautiful aircraft that were typical of what I could expect to be flying the day I earned my pilot’s license. Plus they featured bigger planes, too. Fancy bizjets. Exotic homebuilts. Nostalgic biplanes. Historic warbirds. And, of course, big jet airliners. That was my real dream, to fly one of those beauties. I devoured every page of every issue.

Between the front and back cover were also articles devoted to flying techniques, tips for safer flying, and even a column called “I Learned About Flying From That.” In that section, Flying readers would submit their own tales of adventure or woe, and with the providence and solace of hindsight, they would describe exactly how they escaped calamity. I wanted to learn this. This! To keep my neck out of trouble–this!

Eventually, I would work my way to the end of the magazine each month, to where the staff columnists would hold court on their aviation specialties. Peter Garrison and his ‘Technicalities,’ usually something esoteric and mathematical. Len Morgan’s ‘Vectors’ column, written from the salty perspective of a senior airline Captain. Dick Collins and his ‘On Top’ entries, focusing on flying general aviation aircraft safely and efficiently.

But by far my favorite column–and eventually the part of Flying magazine I would turn to first–was ‘Bax Seat,’ written by a warm, earthy fellow from east Texas named Gordon Baxter. “Bax,” as he was known, was a prolific communicator starting in local radio way back in the 1940s, eventually branching out into writing for newspapers and magazines, most notably Flying, where I first discovered him.

Bax’s column spoke to me because Bax was a storyteller. He just had this uncanny ability to draw any reader into the room as he typed. He loved little airplanes. He loved little airports. He loved the people that inhabited both. Those are the stories he would fill Bax Seat with. His own novice escapades. His soaring triumphs, like when he finally earned his pilot’s license after years of trying. Or when he somehow learned to fly by instruments, even when the instruments he was looking at “were making faces at him.”

Or his abject failures, like after being disqualified from flight status due to seizures, he admitted to having blacked-out at the controls of his own private airplane, at night, alone–for 15 astonishing minutes–and lived to tell about it. His column contained breathtaking gut punches just like that. They were rollicking, subversive or riveting, often all in the same monthly installment.

Reading Bax’s humor, homespun style and self-deprecating ways felt like eating a plate of biscuits and gravy fresh off the stove. His humility took a little bit of the mystique out of my vision of what being a pilot was. And in doing so, it made my dreams of being a pilot that more attainable.

And so, while in college, I wrote to Bax. Like an acolyte, I gushed a bit describing to him how religiously I read his work. I also asked, in my chicken scratch penmanship I had by then mastered, “How does one become a writer?” An obvious question, and mostly rhetorical for sure, but I did want to hear directly from the best writer I knew.

Of course Bax wrote me back. I dug out the very letter from the rest of my college memories, cataloged as “JUNK” in that plastic tub in my crawlspace.

In his single-sheet reply, monogrammed with a caricaturized drawing of himself, Bax wrote in clear, stylized print:

“Dear Dave,

I get about one letter a week like yours. All of them I hear seriously.

The only way to write is 1st, be a reader,

2nd just be a writer

–but learn to type.

Good luck,


So it’s with that, with Bax sharing his ‘secret’ way to become a writer, I continue my journey. His own joy and delightful gift is what inspires me to keep typing. Thanks for reading. And stay tuned.

My delightful inspiration

How do you spell ‘delight’?

When I was a kid, I was a lousy student. Woeful at math. My penmanship was atrocious. Being a rambunctious type, I recall Mr. Aron, my fourth grade teacher, adding a column to my report card–in ink, natch: ‘Self Control’, ostensibly to highlight my shortcomings in this area. Low grades every quarter.

Yet another grade school subject–spelling. I was bad. I think I spelled that correctly.

But that doesn’t mean I didn’t wish to improve. I did graduate, after all, so I must have. My spelling has benefited greatly now that every word processing program has built-in spell check. That almost feels like cheating though.

Which is why I find what takes place every summer in Washington DC so delightful. I’m talking about the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

We’ve all heard about spelling bees. Usually held at a local school comprised of area students, none of whom are older than 14. Basically mostly 8th graders. The best at your school would typically go head-to-head with the best from other schools. The winner there would move to a regional competition, where the victor would catapult to the national championship. There, the event would be televised on ESPN–the sports network–the final rounds during evening prime time. It obviously is a big deal.

A big deal to some people, anyway. I’m one of them. Precisely for the things it is not.

It is not March Madness college basketball. It has zero the brute force of football. There is little grace like one displays in figure skating or gymnastics. Unlike downhill skiing or car racing, speed is notably absent. Death is hardly being defied here.

None of that matters to me.

To me these students, many of whom appear slight, geeky or otherwise awkward looking in their stiff, ill-fitting polo shirts, are superstars. Scrawny, bespeckled, maybe a bit chubby–none of these kids are likely to be voted homecoming king or queen.

But this is their Super Bowl. This is their Olympic games. This is their Indy 500.

By the time they reach this national stage, they have mastered the nuances of tens of thousands of different words and their Merriam-Webster definitions, along with their parts of speech, language of origin and any alternate pronunciations. They must pass round after round of carefully chosen words that you and I might never have even heard of before. And they must spell that word correctly the first time. Mistake an ‘i’ for an ‘e’? Forget how some Greek root words can be co-opted to other dialects? What about neologisms and how words can change their usage over time? Get just one letter wrong and you hear the most polite “ding!” of a bell. Sadly, it means your competition is over.

If it all seems “Greek” to you, you’re not alone.

But to me, the English language is fascinating in that there are so many different words, some with the most bizzare definitions or spellings. I thrill to every word that Jacques Bailly, the Bee’s official announcer, recites to the contestants. Koinonia? Pococurante? Hypozeuxis? Yeah, I’ve never heard of these contest-winning words, either. Can’t even pronounce them.

These young people work so hard, so diligently, with such dedication–years of study and sacrifice–to cram this esoteric knowledge into their heads.

You can tell by watching them as they grapple with how to spell the words. Some ask for the pronunciation more than once. Others ask to hear the word used in a sentence. A few take their plastic name tag hung around their neck and use it to write with their finger, tracing how they think the word might look.

That so many former Spelling Bee champions become doctors, engineers or scientists should surprise no one. The effort needed to succeed and excel in these disciplines is well known. I’d be lying to say I wasn’t just a skosh envious. Their focus is intense. Mesmerizing. I want them to get the word right. I wince when they hear that bell, slump their shoulders and are escorted off stage. By the looks on their faces and sometimes the tears on their cheeks, it is heart-wrenching. They try so hard.

And maybe it’s just because I identity with these kids. Not because of my spelling prowess, though I certainly looked like a few of them. They probably had better self control, too. The meek shall inherit the earth. They may as well because they can spell everything on it.

These kids are rock stars to me

Once-a-year delight

Yesterday was Fat Tuesday on the Roman Catholic calendar. That means today is Ash Wednesday, the official start of Lent.

I was raised Catholic, and given my partial Polish ancestry, was indoctrinated by my Polish mother and grandmother in a delightful, delicious way to mark this time in the liturgical year. Paczki.

That’s “pawn-sh-kee” if you want to sound like you might have some Polish blood in you. That’s the singular and plural form of the word in English, by the way.

But what you really want in you is some of these. In your mouth. And soon, your belly.

For you see, paczki are the Polish equivalent of filled doughnuts. After a bath in hot vegetable oil, traditional paczkis are filled with plum jam or custard, then either dusted with sugar or glazed with icing. Here in the U.S., they have been carefully modified for our much more decadent and gluttonous tastes. Lent is usually a time of sacrifice and piousness, so the day before said time period is the time to get “fat,” as it were, by using up all the eggs, sugar and lard.

That means yesterday was Paczki Day! I do hope you imbibed, Catholic or not, Polish or not. After all, fantastic food knows no geographic border, feels no religious prejudice.

For my family’s needs (and my own, of course), I sourced our once-a-year Paczki Day paczki from a local bakery nearby. Renown for a dizzying assortment of paczki, the Central Continental Bakery in downtown Mt. Prospect (IL) has an entire sub-section of their webpage devoted to their paczki production. We ordered online for ease of purchase, as the store is wall-to-wall due to their notoriety in this large Polish-American community. Flavors this year included Chocolate Mocha, Almond Joy, Key Lime Pie, Swedish Flop, S’Mores, Boston Creme Pie and–new this year–Candied Bacon. That was my choice.

No, these “gourmet” flavors are not magically injected into these pastries. Rather, the paczki are sliced in half like a hamburger bun. The fillings are then piped on the lower slice, topped with the upper slice, then crowned with powdered sugar, frosting or, in my case, candied bacon.

Yes, it’s not quite traditional. But man are they yummy. Paczki are still regional, popular in most Polish-American communities. You won’t find them at Dunkin’ or Starbucks (yet). But who knows? My hope is you get to enjoy this once-a-year delight next year.

A sampling of the selection from last year.

Delight at our fingertips

Flip a switch. Push a button. Turn a knob. Pull a handle.

One might control a light. Another, a thermostat. The knob, a gas burner on the stove. And yanking that handle magically causes our toilets to flush.

Think about that for a minute.

As I sit here in a nondescript layover hotel room far from home, I’m looking out on a swath of downtown buildings and parking garages. There’s a sizable metropolitan mall next door. And every flat surface of these structures is covered in snow. Beneath that layer of snow is a thick layer of ice.

Yes, it’s still winter. But when we think of the season, the cold and snow that we all picture in our minds should not be what I see outside. Why?

Because I’m in Houston. Texas. Just down the road from Galveston and the sandy shores of the Gulf of Mexico. It’s an area much better known for hurricanes than for snowstorms.

But that’s what I see right now.

I just went for a walk out there. It’s not just freezing–it’s well below freezing. The temperatures forecast for this evening are estimated to be the coldest temperatures ever recorded for this location in southern Texas. That’s cold.

But the problem is this: most of those buildings I see, including offices, stores and apartments–are completely without power. The winter ice and snow storm has greatly handicapped the electric power grid in this area. Rolling blackouts cascade through the region.

And no power around here means no heat. That’s bad.

My hotel is operating on an emergency backup generator, which is why I can do what I am doing in perfect comfort. That notwithstanding, the conditions here highlight the wonderful, yet completely ordinary and expected creature comforts we all take for granted. Until they are unceremoniously taken away by Mother Nature.

Imagine you lived 150 years ago. Want to read at night? Candles and oil lamps. Feeling chilly? Snuggle up to that fireplace or wood-burning stove. But go outside and grab a bunch of firewood from the logs you chopped down. Bathroom facilities? Right this way! To the outhouse out back. Pardon the odor.

The point is we have comforts and conveniences at our fingertips today. Delights unheard of before the Industrial Revolution, and for some time after. So ubiquitous as to not even give them a second of thought or consideration–until they’re not available. Utilities like water for indoor plumbing, natural gas for warmth and electricity for light hardly seem like something luxurious or delightful. But I say they are. Think of our daily lives without them.

Downtown Houston this morning. Palm trees near the pool (bottom) have snow on them.

It’s never too cold for flowers

I know I posted a few days ago, gushing more than a little about all this frozen white stuff outside.

I haven’t changed my mind about snow. I still think it’s delightful. And currently, my neighborhood has been getting at least a dusting of snow every day for the past week, so I am getting my fill. It really is nice. Trust me.

Nah. I know I’m not going to convince you. It’s cold right now. Really cold. Below zero Fahrenheit tonight cold. But hey, it’s winter. With the snow comes the cold. We deal.

But it’s also a time of the year when something decidedly non-frozen is purchased and given as gifts, or merely tokens of affection because of the holiday, Valentine’s Day. Yes, I’m talking about flowers.

Who doesn’t love flowers? Who doesn’t find them delightful?

Have you really stopped to look at a flower? Roses, tulips, daisies…all look lovely in a vase. Or just naturally growing wherever they do in nature. Plumeria blossoms in Hawaii. Bougainvilea vines all over the southwest. Cherry blossom trees in Japan. Even springtime fields full of wild dandelions. Vibrant, full of life. They adorn altars. They instantly beautify a table or a lapel, or a wrist. Their fragrant petals are showered on those we love or crushed into perfume. They are magic.

My mom loves flowers. Always has. She fastidiously planted daffodil and tulip bulbs every autumn around our house. Come springtime, we all would be rewarded with her efforts in an explosion of pastel pinks, reds and yellows. She’d go to the local nursery and buy trays of petunias, marigolds and snapdragons and fill our flower beds with their color. She would prune her rose bushes with surgical precision. She just adored the way they look. I inherited that appreciation of flowers from her.

Long, long ago, when our world was so much different and I was a pretty confident kindergartener, I distinctly remember walking home by myself the 4 blocks between my school and our house on a warm, sunny spring day. I recall strolling through a lush open field of grass and so many little yellow flowers–dandelions. Not really knowing what they were, or how most adults would consider them what they rightly are–weeds–I decided that they looked pretty enough for me to pick a bunch of, and walk back home and present them, with great pride and flourish, to my mom.

She smiled and thanked me, calling them “Beautiful!” then carefully placing them in a tiny glass of water as a vase. They didn’t last the afternoon without wilting, but back then I didn’t know that. They just looked sunny and happy and pretty to me.

And they still do. And my mom still sends my dad (or me) out to the local Costco for a bouquet of flowers which she carefully divides into smaller vases and places them all over their home. Even in the cold dead of winter. Or more accurately, because of the cold dead of winter. I agree with her. They do look delightful.

My Valentine’s Day bouquet of flowers for Kat

A delightfully big fan

Many of you know I love music.

Some of you know that I actually attempt to play what might loosely be described as “music” (both 6-string and bass guitar).

A few of you know that I even played in a garage band during my high school and college years. We were a big hit in our minds and exactly nowhere else. But oh was that fun. That’s a delightful recollection, however, for another day.

Instead, this afternoon, while rummaging through my crawlspace looking for an old book, I came across a box labeled “JUNK.” In it, besides, well…junk…was a plain legal sized white envelope sandwiched between other bits of correspondence that I long ago felt compelled to save. The address was handwritten: “David Bert, Schneider 1528, Carbondale, IL 62901.”

That was me–my last name abbreviated for ease of spelling–and my first college address. Specifically, it was my dorm name and room number back so many years ago. The postmark was marked and dated “Athens, GA, February 12, 1987.” 34 years ago today. A freshman at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, I was eighteen years old.

I stood there for a moment just holding the envelope, examining it. Even though I hadn’t thought about it for years, I instantly remembered what was inside.

My freshman year of college was memorable in so many ways. I was away from home for the first time. I was studying coursework that I loved and eventually parlayed into a career. Even two of my “floormates” (same floor, different rooms) whom I met that year would become some of my closest friends. It was a vivid time.

Together, my new pals and I would gather in one of our dorm rooms and listen to music. Gary preferred Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and the Kinks. John was a big fan of the Smiths and the Cure. I fancied the Replacements, U2 and R.E.M. We would take turns commandeering each other’s stereo, playing entire sides of these artists and so many more, offering our own biased opinions on who’s drumming sounded the best, or who’s album was most cohesive or which song was most underappreciated. We’d usually split a cheap pizza and stay up way past our bedtimes. Being away at college, we could get away with that.

Our dorm room walls were decorated with posters of these bands. I think I actually had a couple of different R.E.M. posters hung on my wall over my desk. At the time they were my favorite. I had all their records.

And since I played bass in a band of my own, I would often play my bass along with their music–as much as I could. It was a hobby–I wasn’t much good. I couldn’t read sheet music, either–notwithstanding the fact that none of the groups I listened to actually had sheet music with which to reference. I would simply try to play by ear.

I came to appreciate the musicians that played my favorite songs. Mike Mills, the bass player for R.E.M., was at the top of my list. His bass sounded different. He was a multi-instrumentalist. He had some of the most creative basslines on record, which I greatly respected. He looked kinda nerdy/geeky but always looked like he was having fun while he played. Finally, he just seemed like a really down-to-earth kind of a guy from all the interviews I had read about the band. He was cool. I was a huge fan.

So I decided to write him a fan letter. I don’t know exactly what I wrote on that sheet of notebook paper, but suffice to say it was a couple of questions regarding the bass guitar he played, along with the strings and amplifiers he used. You know–musician stuff. I mentioned that I had nominated him as “Bass Player of the Year” in Guitar Player magazine. I then signed off as one of his biggest fans, promising to see him and the boys in R.E.M. play live at my next possible opportunity. I folded the paper, stuffed it into an envelope and addressed it to him “℅ R.E.M. H.Q.”, the address listed on the back of every one of their albums, Athens, Georgia.

I remember tossing it in the mail on the morning of Monday, February 9, 1987, on my way to class.

That Saturday, just five days later, I received that same letter I was holding in my hands this afternoon. From Mike Mills. To me. Handwritten.

In the letter, Mike appreciated my vote of support, answered each and every one of my questions, then cheerily signed off by writing, “Well, there are your answers! I’ve got to go buy some cookies. See you later.”

The postmarked date on the return envelope: Thursday, February 12, 1987. That means after I mailed it on a Monday, Mike Mills received my letter two days later (Wednesday), wrote a response and mailed it the next day (Thursday). It reached my dorm mailbox by Saturday.

Delighted really isn’t the best adjective I could use. Astonished. Flabbergasted. Thrilled. Blown away.

Mike proved to be not just a talented musician, but also a kind, respectful fellow human being who genuinely appreciated his fans–enough so to actually write back to them the day he gets their letter.

A delightful individual. I will always be a fan.

Mike Mills with his Rickenbacker bass
Mike Mills’ letter to me

Green with…delight

When the boys were younger, I loved being out in front of our house with a bucket of sidewalk chalk. We’d be on our hands and knees, doodling. Drew loved picking different colors out and proclaiming that, today, yellow was his favorite color. Or blue. Or purple. Or orange. It would change with the day.

Invariably, he would ask me. “Daddy, what’s your favorite color?”


Always green, I would say. Without hesitation. It’s been my favorite color for as long as I can remember.

Do you have a favorite color? Some people might not, I suppose. But most probably do.

And if you do have a favorite color, why is that particular hue it?

Positive connotations with some memory you have. Or maybe the color of a particular place in which you are fond. Perhaps a specific color makes you feel good.

I’d say all of these are different examples of delight. A delightful memory. A delightful place. A delightful feeling.

That’s all of the above for me. Green is it.

I see verdant forest canopies in the summer. I can smell the aroma of fresh-cut grass. I can even taste that favorite pale green key lime pie that my mom makes for me on my birthday.

Interestingly, the specific shade of green doesn’t matter, with one specific exception. I love olive, turquoise, chartreuse, British racing, emerald…all of them.

Except Kelly green. Not a fan. And I have no idea why.

But all the rest, just delightful.

A perfect example of seafoam green, as modeled by a very covet-worthy vintage 1962 Fender Stratocaster

Delightful help

This pandemic hasn’t been easy on most of us. I have some friends who haven’t been able to see an elderly parent due to quarantine restrictions at nursing homes. Others have simply been unable to travel the vast distances usually covered with relative ease because of a million different travel restrictions. Family members have been forced to adapt to seeing loved ones through glass windows or via a Zoom weblink.

But to physically touch that other person, to hug them? That’s still presently a bridge too far.

And so it has been for my family and Alex, our son. We have not physically been able to hug him since October–almost 6 months now. With his special school for autism closed, he would be staying at the group home 24 hours a day. No daily bus rides. No field trips to the store. Kids with autism needed to quarantine too.

The group home instituted a strict “no visitors allowed” policy when COVID-19 cases started to spike. The strategy was if they limited exactly who would enter the group home and be in contact with the residents, they could better protect them. Remember, Alex and most of his housemates have severe autism, and most of them cannot speak. So keeping them sequestered–and healthy–away from the outside world and its’ viruses seemed like the best of a limited number of options.

It hasn’t been easy.

Since the quarantine began about a year ago, we established a schedule of when we would “Zoom” with Alex. At a predetermined time three days a week, we would dial up the group home via Zoom and attempt a video meeting with Alex. The group home staff would shepherd him to the office computer where Alex would sit on a chair and look at us on the computer screen. The set routine of these calls would hopefully build up Alex’s comfort level with seeing us ‘virtually’ instead of in person. Not ideal, certainly. But safer.

Kat and I (and occasionally his big brother Drew) would begin the sessions with a few questions for Alex.

“How was your day, pal?”

“Did you get to play outside at all?”

“What did you have for dinner?”

The banality of these interrogatives don’t escape us. But we find ourselves asking them simply to attempt the slightest of connection with our son. We don’t expect him to answer. But we do hope he knows we care enough to ask about his world.

We would then launch into a brief monologue of our days, or the day’s events. Nothing big or deep or complicated, lest Alex look bored, get up and walk away from the camera. I also found that blowing bubbles for him would capture his attention best–just like it would if I was standing next to him. Even as a 13 year-old, Alex doesn’t ever seem to tire of someone blowing bubbles for him, even over a Zoom call.

But some days Alex wouldn’t come to the office computer. Some days when we called the group home to check on him, a staff member would say, “Alex is pretty upset tonight.” Which is code for saying Alex is hitting himself again. No Zoom call.

Remember that Alex wears a helmet most days–for most of his day. It’s to protect his head and face from his hard knuckles. Or an even harder wall, or table, or floor.

And then there are those days where Alex will come to the computer at the scheduled time. But instead of calmly sitting there watching us blow bubbles, he would simply moan or cry, and punctuate his inscrutable needs with a few punches to his face. All these years later, it’s still horrible to witness. Even more when it’s over a computer screen at a group home you cannot visit.

That’s what I mean by this not being easy.

Lately, however, things have been different. Because test positivity rates have come down, Alex’s school is back in session. Which means Alex gets to ride the 40 minutes to and from the school each weekday. He gets a change of scenery. He gets to interact with some of his favorite teachers and other staff members again.

One of them reached out this afternoon to Kat and I with a text:

“Hey! This is Christopher, teacher at PACTT…with an Alex update!”

It continued…

“This past week we have seen BOATLOADS of smiles. Alex has been vertical for the majority of the days. [Alex has been known to sleep at school.] He’s been participating in Morning Meeting, doing work stations and connecting with more staff. He’s also been able to wear his helmet less often. It’s always so nice to see his smile and hear his mischievous giggles! With him being more willing to work, we’ve been able to do more goal work, which is going well…”

Christopher then attached a few photos he snapped today as proof. Talk about delightful!

This note and these pictures didn’t make our day, they made our month. As parents separated from our child, it’s exactly what we wish to hear. We are so grateful of Christopher and everyone like him who, during the pandemic, just helps.

My Braniff Dove

I began collecting airline memorabilia for almost as long as I’ve been interested in airplanes. I think I was in the 2nd grade.

I liked collecting this esoteric corner of the vintage world because it harkened back to a romance, an adventure, an elegance. Travel meant taking chances, discovering new places, experiencing a world completely different than the one we knew. It was exciting.

As a boy, my dad started and eventually fed my hunger for almost anything associated with flight. Back then, his job as a salesman with an electronics company required him to travel frequently by air. He would often bring back little trinkets from his flights that might have the airline name on them. Playing cards from TWA. Little sets of plastic wings from American Airlines. Stir sticks from Ozark (I had no idea what a ‘stir stick’ was for). And, in the days before computers and electronic boarding passes, little rectangular paper folders called ticket jackets which organized a traveler’s tickets.

The best of these were from an airline called Braniff International Airways. Often using the slogan “Flying Colors,” Braniff pioneered the use of bold color in the branding of their company to set themselves apart from other airlines with more traditional (read that as ‘boring’) liveries. It certainly caught my eye. Aircraft were painted almost every color of the rainbow. Flight attendant uniforms were equally colorful and distinctive. Airport gate space was appointed with sleek furniture and other modern design touches that coordinated seamlessly into a very distinctive, memorable whole.

Honestly, I had no idea of advertising or marketing until I got much older. It all looked really cool to me.

But there was one simple stylistic image that Braniff used on just about everything. It was the shape of a bird with a slender head and body and a big, broad wing that just dazzled me. Called ‘the Braniff Dove,’ and designed by famed architect Alexander Girard, this totem adorned ticket counters, gate areas, company buildings, uniforms, even bars of soap in the aircraft lavatories. From a design standpoint, it was the epitome of that modern, mid-century, jet-set ethos that captivated the traveling public back in the 1960’s and 1970’s, Braniff’s heyday.

Unfortunately, Braniff International Airways suffered mightily from the changing landscape that rocked the airline industry in the United States after the airlines were deregulated in 1978. Braniff went bankrupt.

Gone were all of the colorful airplanes and beautiful Braniff doves. Even my collection of Braniff ticket jackets never followed me out of my teen years.

It was at least 20 years later, after I had established myself as an airline pilot, that I even knew other people actually collected stuff like airline memorabilia. So much so that conventions of like minded individuals would be held in various locations all over the world, usually near big airports. There, collectors would display vast collections of all manner of airline ephemera: china dinner place settings, glasses that said “TWA”, cutlery stamped “Pan Am” or “Sabena”, all airlines that no longer exist. You could find books of matches, cloth napkins, color posters that one might see in a travel agency, aircraft models for sure–even little mini bottles of alcohol stamped with the airline name–still unopened and full. All of it for sale.

One day about 8 years ago, one of these conventions was near my home. Knowing that “the good stuff” is always the first to go, I walked in the room right as the convention was getting underway. I made my way towards to back of the conference room and finally found what I had been pining for ever since I knew I might find one one lucky day: a bright red, pristine original Braniff Dove.

Probably hung on a wall behind a ticket counter at some midwest airport, its’ condition was excellent. It had likely found a charitable owner who stored it carefully during those dark years after the company folded. Now that I found one for sale, it followed me home without me even haggling over the price.

It adorns a wall in my home today. It is my most treasured and delightful airline collectable, the one that I had always wanted.

White delight

This might be unpopular, but I have a thing for snow.

And that “thing” is actually a sizable affection for it.

Oh yes, I can hear you now. You, one of those that sneer with contempt and scorn at the mere thought of the icy frozen stuff anywhere within 100 miles of you–let alone having to keep it out of your shoes, drive in it, or, worst of all, shovel it. The thought makes you shiver literally and figuratively.

Here we are, just past (but still quite near) the nadir of our annual temperatures, climatologically-speaking. It’s about as cold as it ever gets right now. And in my area of the world, we are, as of today, just ahead of our wintertime average of snowfall, having received almost none of stuff for the better part of December and January.

Some would call that good luck, or fortune. I am not one of them. I love the stuff.

And now, after 4 more inches has fallen in the past 12 hours–big puffy, fluffy flakes–I am even more delighted.

Perhaps I should explain.

In my eyes, snow makes the world look different. Softer. Both more gentle and otherworldly at the same time. Better.

Snow cover magically absorbs sound, especially freshly fallen snow, so it’s actually quieter outside. Other than snow plows scraping by and snowblowers roaring down the street, it is church quiet with snow on the ground. I love that.

As a kid, I used to imagine everything snow-covered outside was instead covered with powdered sugar. Just pick up a gloveful and give it a lick. Mmm. Can you taste it? We’re pretending here.

And if you picked up yellow snow, that’s your fault.

And although it might feel like it does, snow does not last forever. I will conceded that the season of winter does seem about one month too long in these parts. I, too, get tired of having to shovel it in March. Or having to wear extra layers of outerwear simply to go on a bike ride (yes, I ride in the winter, even in the snow–special bike…). So I do grant that it is harder to deal with snow during a typical winter than not dealing with snow.

Some people want to escape to someplace warmer–and never have to deal with snow again. Have at it.

To me, that sounds terribly boring. I lived in Phoenix, Arizona for two years. And I was bored to tears over the weather there–specifically the lack of precipitation of any kind. But especially snow. From Phoenix, I moved back to the Chicago area. I felt better. A favorite saying of mine: “there’s no inclement weather; merely inappropriate clothing.

So pile up the snow, Mother Nature. I remember when you socked us with blizzards when I was a child, so much so that we had record-breaking snow totals three years running in the 1970s. Oooh…and snow days! That’s winter to me. Perhaps unpopular, but also delightful.

The view from my living room window this evening