Sunday, October 19, 2008

Gotta Have a vehicle!

I have been considering buying a car for some time out here. There is a bus stop outside my appartment but i have never seen a bus stop there. I have seen the bus that does stop there but that was the only time (and i can't remember where i saw it). The flying school does provide us with three mpvs but that is between 30 people. Thanks to Gmail's Calendar feature, my course is the first in the school to successfully administer an effective car sharing system. Once again, if any airline HR are reading this, please take note.

However this does not allow for impulse trips to Taco Bell. So a car is needed.

Going to a secondhand car lot is a very good way to experience good old fashioned sales techiques. When i was an actor, and searching for good monologues, american salesman used to regularly appear in my choices. Mamet's film Glen Garry Glen Ross, Miller's Death of a Salesman, a sketch I stole from Raymond Carver. I suppose what attracted me was that they were generally well meaning people with dreams that were inevitably shattered and stooped low to get out of their mess. In a country that prides itself so much on enterprise and people achieving their dreams, the salesman holds an important place in American culture. They are respected here, unlike in Britain (having been a salesman myself, i can vouch for this).

So i was quite excited when i walked on to the first lot. Geoff (not the cowboy) saw me looking at some of the cars and within a minute of me setting foot on to the forecourt (as us Brits call it) he holdered over "How you doin sir?". I explained i am over from England and will be here for some months and am looking for a car. Geoff was in his thirties but his neat moustache, white polo shirt and grey chino trousers made him look older. Turns out he'd served in the army and was stationed in Germany. He showed me a few cars and eventually i said the words that had for some reason scared me.

"I want a convertible".

Geoff, looked slightly surprised. He assumed that as i was British I would want an economical car. This was probably because i had told Geoff that a gallon of fuel back home works out at $8, compared to $3.50 here, and i think he kind of still had that in his head when he was showing me the cars.

We happened to be standing by a convertible when i said this. Geoff took out a cigarette and said:

G: Do you mind if a I smoke?

Me: Go ahead

Geoff lights a cigarette in a snap movement from his zippo lighter. The convertible request seems to put him at ease. He knows where this guy is coming from now.

Me: What about this one?

A red Pontiac Firebird.

G: Thats a nice car. Pretty low mileage for its age. 5 liter engine, plenty of go, smooth ride, nice interior, and the great thing about buying from us is that we've got the lowest sales tax in the area. The boss struck a tough deal with the council, said if you wanna us to open up here, this is the tax we want. And he got it.

Geoff opens the driver's side door.

G: Hop in.

(Ok, i didn't record the conversation but that is pretty much what he said.)

Me: Its nice

G: You won't find better than this in your price range. I could get the paperwork together and you could drive it away today.

Whoah!! I explained to Geoff that i would need to get an arizona licence as that would mean my insurance would be much cheaper and that i wasn't ready yet to make a decision. He invited me inside to take down my details and said he could assist me in getting some good insurance rates. A company had quoted me $3000 to insure a mustang for 6 months. I told Geoff this, to which he replied:

"Wow... did you tell her to 'step away from the pipe'?"

It took a couple of seconds to work this out, until i realised he was referring to a crack pipe. We both laughed. Geoff took my details and i left.

I was quite relieved to leave. I started to feel that Geoff really wanted that sale. In sales there is a phrase called "KISS IT". Which means you've got to lightly touch the buyer with some kind of key selling feature. Geoff was using a bit a sledge hammer in my opinion but, but hey maybe it works for him.

On to my next parking lot...

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Geoff and his horses were waiting for us. He asked me if i'd ridden before. I did what i always do in these situations, which is say yes, then back track and say something like they weren't real horses or that they didn't really move that much. Charlie, being from South East London, had never ridden a horse in his life and Nan, had ridden before but warned Geoff that she always got the problem horse, which kind of meant Geoff wasn't about to give her that kind of horse.

Geoff knodded to his buddy and said "put him on Jaynee" (at least thats what i called her). So having been intoxicated by the wiff of the wild west and believing i was now a cowboy, i prepared myself to take on the mustang of the troop. In reality, these horses were very happy with their lot and weren't intending to break out anywhere fast. Geoff said we would take it easy as he'd been up all night drinking beer and playing cards. Of course he had, he's a cowboy. This was just what i was looking for.

He took us on what seemed like a small path through a forest, but was infact an old route used by early settlers. They were also remnants of a railway track used for mining the area. You wouldn't have known it unless he'd said. Not really sure what they were mining. Geoff was up ahead on his stallion and i don't thing he really liked repeating things. So you generally nodded in appreciation.I liked Geoff. He seemed a to travel around a lot following what he loved doing,working with horses. Wether it was lasooing cattle down and herding them, training horses or taking tourists on treks. He said his friends had settled down and took proper jobs but that "never appealed" to him.

I've been listening to Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash. A lot of the songs seem to be about well meaning feckless men who work hard but blow their paycheck in the bar or on wild adventures, but always have a strong woman to stand by them. I suppose cowboys don't really grow up. I wasn't bothered about them when i was a kid (unless you include The Lone Ranger, but he was more Knight Rider on a horse than a real cowboy). But as a man the cowboy represents so much more. The freedom, the wilderness, the wanted man, the hell raiser, the loner.

Ah well, as Willie said "Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be cowboys!"

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Going Native!

It seems the best way to really understand Arizona is to push through the artificial marvel that is phoenix and find the heart of this desert. What this is leading to of course is an excuse for me to become... a cowboy!!

It started on a brief road trip to the mountains with my flying partner, (or buddy as they're known) Charlie. We headed about 200 miles north to the mountians to a place called Mormon Lake. The Lake is now dry but that takes nothing away from its beauty. Its like a mini prairie in the mountians. It even has Buffalo grazing on it. Finally, i get to feel like Kevin Costner!

Our reason for visiting Mormon Lake is that our instructor, Eric, and his wife, Nan, were spending a weekend up there camping and they invited us a long. Of course Charlie and i would not be camping. Pretty much anything that lives in this state has the capability to kill you, very quickly (including humans - 70% of arizonans (i think thats how you call them) carry guns). So we opted for the reasonably priced Mormon Lake lodge.

Being trainee pilots, and flying partners at that, any journey undertaken becomes a sort of extension of the flight training. Charlie doesn't have a licence, so i drove the musclely Dodge Charger and Charlie navigated. It was getting late, and very quickly became very dark. Roads became dirt tracks then paved again. I drove fast as i wasn't sure about arrangements at the other end. It wasn't long before we were lost. However, Charlie and i were cool under pressure and with an uncanny sense of direction Charlie put us back in the right direction. Incidently if any airline human resource people are reading this, it really was an amazing piece of navigation, situational awareness and crew resource management.

When we got to Mormon lake village, another problem arose. We were presented with a western film set style street. It worked on me. However, there was no sign of life. No one answered the telephone or any knocks on doors. Granted, it was about midnight, but i kind of thought someone might have stayed up. I mean it was actually cold here (its about 6000 ft up) and neither of us wanted to spend a night with eachother in the charger.

Then we found two enevoples with our names on stuck to a door. Our room keys!! But with no directions to find them! We wandered through the village trying to find our lodge, wondering what people would be thinking and if we've get shot for trespassing as there didn't seem to be clear territorial boundaries. Of course, we eventually found a our rooms and again it was a remarkable piece of survival team work. All those "you're on your own on a deserted island with a paper clip, piece of string, and some gucci sunglasses" exercises in oxford had paid off. We closed the doors to our rooms (which were more tarantino motel than mountain lodge) and went to sleep.

In the morning, we went straight to the stables to meet Eric and Nan to go horseriding. While we were waiting I met a guy waiting in his pick up for someone. He asked me where i'm from and I said Britain (I hate saying UK, makes it sound like a tax code or something). I can't say England just... can't when you're welsh. Dwayne was very friendly. He'd served a US paratrooper. He done over 5000 jumps, had scars on his face and just said he'd seen a lot of action. He was in Grenada when he was 18 and i'm presuming he served in the first Gulf War too.

Dwayne seemed bitter about what was happening to America now. But not in the way you might think. He'd obviously given a lot to his country, said many friends of his had given much more. He recented unemployed people taking his taxes and being given medical care when he had to work in walmart so he could afford to pay for his own. He said he wasn't badly off and did it for something but if he did it, why couldn't others? I tried to change the subject as i could see the conversation going the same way as a previous one with a car salesman (thats for another posting).

We talked about aircraft and the C-130 Hercules, an aircraft he was familiar with. During Hurricane Katrina, Dwayne and some others from the area drove some refrigerated vehicles (there was a local food company in the area who owned many) from the village to Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The Federal emergency services had put out a request for such vehicles and they were in desperate need of them, to put the dead in to stop their corpses from rotting. Dwayne said the airfield was like a wartime air base.

We spoke more about being a soldier and he was showing me his revolver which was resting on his passenger seat when eric pulled up in his truck. I introduced Dwayne to everyone but i think he felt slightly uncomfortable about the crowd round his truck so he said how nice it was to meet us and drove off.

With that, we headed to the stables.