Monday, February 09, 2009

Texas Scares Me

I'm irrationally scared of Texas. You'll see some criticism in the next few posts. Please forgive me, or educate me, or at least be literate and interesting while flaming me. If you're a die-hard Texan you might just want to skip a few posts. I start out trying to treat Texas fairly, but it just comes out mean. I'm not sure what it is. Texas has a reputation, I guess, as a larger than life, shoot first ask questions later kind of state.

It's enormous, so there's no one Texas. The bit I'm in is flat and cold--we've come all this way and yet the temperature is hovering around freezing. It even snowed in Dallas this week.

We were told we're in the Best Western hotel, and the GPS database in the plane said that was 3 miles from the airport, but the customer who picks us up is clearly driving further than that.

"What hotel are we in?" we ask.

"Best Western. It's nice, but it's way the other side of town."

It turns out that the old Best Western was torn down last year after the new one we're in was completed. There's a sign still up for the Grand Opening Special Rates. The assistant at the customer's company who booked the accommodation must have been working off the same outdated information we were.

On the ride to the hotel a public service ad comes on the radio, addressing pregnant teenagers and scaring them with details of what a difficult task it is to raise a child on your own. We look at one another with raised eyebrows, having never heard abortion advertised, but then the ad wraps up urging the teenagers to give their babies up for adoption rather than keeping them. We realize that abortion isn't even on the table here. The young woman at the hotel check-in desk is pregnant and the others' expressions tell me that I'm not the only one reminded of the ad.

We go for dinner at the Texas Roadhouse chain next to the hotel. Something you have to love about the southern US: food is cheap. We have a tasty steak dinner with side dishes and non-alcoholic beverages and excellent although informal service, for ten dollars. I think I pay that much for a box of Chicken McNuggets and a milkshake at home.

We transported some of the customer's equipment and they shipped some by courier. It turns out we're more reliable today, as some of their equipment is missing, so we'll have the weekend off to wait for it to be delivered.

Something else scary I found today is this news article about a pilot suing three flight attendants who refused to accept his decision not to deice. Notice that the Calgary ground crew also filed a report on the aircraft when they observed ice and offered deicing but were turned down. Some US Airways pilots are more heroic than others, it would seem. Great CRM, dude. If I were him I would bring my own coffee to work.


nec Timide said...

Interesting article. This will make me think seriously about never flying that airline.

dpierce said...

Interesting! I've always looked forward to a trip to Texas, where I've considered the hospitality and general sense of civility and safety much higher than many (most?) other places I've had to put up with. But I'm anxious to read your observations.

I once had the guy sitting in a window seat next to me in a loaded 767 ask, as the engines were being throttled up for take-off, if the flaps "always have to be down for take-off". I looked out the window, following his finger, and the flaps were fully retracted.

After acknowledging that unbuckling my seatbelt and running down the aisle would only either get me shot by an air marshall or simply put me in dangerous position when the plane reunited with the earth, we suddenly throttled back, the flaps were dropped, and take-off resumed while the flaps were still in transit. Kind of a helpless feeling.

Anonymous said...

DP: How long ago was it? Most checklists for the 767 I've seen have the flaps down before taxi, and double checked, but this could be a recent thing. Additionally, I know for sure ERJ, and I'll assume most big passenger jets give off a loud, audible warning, and have the EICAS light up when the throttles are pushed past around 60% of N1 if the aircraft is not in "takeoff config." That is to say, the plane will yell at you if the flaps are not down, the trim is not set etc.

I know that helpless feeling, but they build redundancies into the system. Flying isn't the safest way to travel by accident. (no pun intended)!

(BTW: not all plane need flaps for takeoff, a Cessna doesn't need them except for really hot days or really short runways. And a NOT fully loaded 767 is the same way)

Ryan said...

Great, thanks for reminding me of what I'll be facing tomorrow in (clap X4) "deep in the heart of Texas". Actually we will be in the north, toward Amarillo, so we're almost Oakies! Yep, Texas is its own world.


codrous said...

Was that captain in violation of the CARs? Last time I checked, in Canada if the ground crew deems that deice is necessary it SHALL be done. Also, in Canada if a passenger (and one presumes a flight attendant) reports wing contamination, the pilot must complete at least a visual wing inspection prior to take off.

With respect to flaps - some aircraft can use a slats-only configuration for some takeoffs. Also after deicing procedures wing flap extension can be deferred until "taking the runway" to prevent further contamination from snow etc. So it's quite possible for a distracted crew to start the TO roll only to get that loud warning horn... oops!

Aviatrix said...

dpierce: That's scarier than a month in Texas.

codrous: I don't know any more about the deicing incident than is in that one news story. I'm not sure if a US carrier would be bound by the CARs in this instance.

Syrad said...

The US deicing incident has been going around the pilot forums. There's apparently a LOT more to each side than is apparent. The plane WAS deiced after the pilots and flight attendants discussed the patch of ice on the wing. Then one of the flight attendants contacted the FAA and reported the first officer, because before their discussion he had not requested deicing. The FO went through an extensive investigation by the FAA and company for making an initial recommendation which was overturned before the aircraft took off. That's the pilot's side. The flight attendant's side is of course, that the pilot objected to the need for deicing even though she could see a patch of what looked like ice on the wing, to the point that she had to pretend a passenger had noticed before the pilots gave in. The only actual facts that anyone knows for sure are that the aircraft WAS deiced and the first officer was reported to the FAA by the flight attendant afterward. Basically, there seemed to have been a serious interpersonal conflict between a flight attendant and the first officer which preceded this incident. It was far more than a professional disagreement, to the extent that I don't think anyone who wasn't there knows exactly what happened. Despite that, there are dozens of pilot forums who have been debating this incident nonstop ever since it came out.

I do know that if anyone, flight attendant, ramper, passenger, controller, deicer, sees a patch of ice on my wing I get deiced - no argument. I wouldn't be too happy if one of my crew actually reported me to the FAA for an initial decision I reconsidered, but again - I wasn't there.

PS: I lived in Texas for a short period of time and I fly there often. There's a lot to like about Texas - great steakhouses in every small town, for one. Lots of wide-open land and amazing natural diversity. Texas has everything from mountains to prairies to bayous to beaches. But yes, Texas scares me, too.

Scott Johnson said...

Oh my God, what a worthless piece of crap that captain is! Besides flying skills, one of the main things I want to see in a pilot is good judgement, and on that value he's way overdrawn. The only people more incompetent seem to be the courts. :)

Greybeard said...

I visit Texas often. Reading so far, I think I'm more frightened of Calgary.

As you point out, the "Texas Roadhouse" is a chain, and therefore their great food and prices extend to many States, including many above the Mason-Dixon line.
(Try the ribs... they fall off the bone and don't really require chewing.)

Texas was one of the first U.S. States to make concealed carrying legal.
Violent crime subsequently declined. Other States (Florida is one), have had similar results.
There's a personal narrative of the event leading to the Texas legislation here.

Larry Sheldon said...

It isn't clear to me what it is that scares you about Texas.

(Driving a big truck around Dallas can be pretty scary -- the four-wheelrs all seem to have some kind of suicide thing going.

But most of Texas is nice people.

Anonymous said...

We're getting somewhat used to you dumping on the United States, so your reaction to Texas is not a surprise. :)

Aviatrix said...

It isn't clear to me what it is that scares you about Texas.

It isn't clear to me either. That's why it's irrational. It may be something to do with the fact that it doesn't look all that different from Canada, but it's a different culture, and I have to remember that. I'm just alert that things I say or do at home might not be appropriate here.

We're getting somewhat used to you dumping on the United States.

I don't think I've had anything but praise for the US since I crossed the border. Good ATC, good customs, great FBO, good food cheap. I think you might be as overly sensitive to my comments as I am to Texas.

Larry Sheldon said...

Seems like you are duty bound to either say what scares you about Texas, or be quiet.

Vague slams with "irrational" as a redundant explanation won't do the job.

I'm outa here and your airspace, I hope.

Aviatrix said...

It seems right now that you're criticizing me for not criticizing Texas. More detail in future postings, of course, but there's no "duty bound" in blogging.

I'd really rather you stay and stick up for Texas. I was irrationally afraid of dogs once, but got over that, so presumably I can get to the point where I pat Texas on the head and take it for a walk.

But if I'm not entertaining you, I can't make you stay. Thanks for having a name on the blog so I know if/when you come back.

zb said...

Well, I think there's nothing wrong with having a scared feeling and saying you have it. And this really would be the first time that this blog's author would be up for some irrational, overly-biased bashing towards a subject, so I highly doubt that it will happen.

I've had a similar feeling when I was in some of the desert cities and towns between Arizona and L.A.

There were, on the one hand, insane 4WD cars chasing through the streets at night, and if you were to believe the stories, this scary driving might be the result of people allegedly having meth kitchens in their bathtubs, mostly undisturbed, because who cares what people do in a neck of the woods with actually no woods but only a RR line and an aqueduct bringing water from the Colorado to L.A. And there were religious programs on some A.M. stations that, Christian none the less, seemed fundamentalist to me. All in all, scary.

Then, on the other hand, there were extremely good restaurants with nice people all around, who were nothing but welcoming to strangers. There were customs/FDA folks on the border from AZ to CA who were nothing but helpful while making sure that no one carried possibly harmful produce with them. There was a guard at the street to Parker Dam who explained to me in the most friendly way possible that, well, they did tours of the pumping plant, but after 9-11, they didn't want anyone near the water basin that holds the drinking water for a huge city like L.A. She even seemed to regret that it was her job to tell folks they have to make a U turn and not proceed over the dam. All in all: How nice can it get, even in the middle of life-endangering nature?

As we say, over here: Every beer coaster has two sides.

Then, of course, no matter how hard you try, there's always some sort of expectation or bias towards what you think you're going to experience, which makes it harder to find out what the real thing is about. Once you are finding out about the real thing, you'll always notice some good and some bad stuff, and it might happen that you notice the good stuff first when you expect something good, or the other way round. When you come to the desert towns with Robert Fisher's wonderful music and lyrics in mind, you'll be more likely to enjoy them, knowing he lives there; when you've watched the movie Twentynine Palms, you'll have a somewhat harder time.

Let's not be biased and let's see how the stories unravel before judging.

Anonymous said...

I fear Texas as well. Something I've noticed: Occasionally someone or some group will call for Texas to secede from the US. This happens in several states regularly, but Texas is the only place where no one tries to stop them.... I'm just saying.

Benét said...

Here's a good reason not to be scared of Texas -- my family is from there! LOL I think Texas gets a bad rap from tv shows like "Dallas." My family is from the San Antonio area, and there's not a nicer place to be. I also really like Austin, Corpus Christi, El Paso and Galveston. You just need to go to the right parts of Texas!

zb said...

@benet: This brings back memories of a conversation I had with some friends playing in a punk band: They were planning a show in Las Vegas for one of their tours. I asked if this would make any sense because it seemed that no other place on earth could be less inappropriate than Las Vegas, in terms of punk. Their answer: "Well, a lot of people happen to work and live in Vegas, and so there's plenty of kids who are into punk shows." Lesson learned. Las Vegas is, obviously, more than just The Strip.

dpierce said...

@the above: THAT take-off needed flaps. I presume they reacted to an audible, but I can only give my perspective from the way back. (Do Canadians ever refer to the rearmost seating of giant vintage station wagons as the "way back"?)

Re:Texas secession: It's already essentially a separate country in the minds of many. The federalist part of me sort of likes that. Too many states don't have independent identities of their own.

dave said...

"Some US Airways pilots are more heroic than others, it would seem. Great CRM, dude. If I were him I would bring my own coffee to work."

The newspaper (?) in which this article was printed is notoriously inaccurate and prejudice to anyone with a big salary, except, of course, for left wing politicians.

Aviatrix said...

Syrad & Dave: Thanks for the clarification. There must be quite a lot involved for this to have been brought through to the civil court.

Rhonda said...

One thing that freaked me out about Texas, all one time I was there: I went to this science/space centre next to NASA's Johnson Space Centre, which was mostly aimed at kids. There was a sign on the door that said no guns allowed.

And I had to wonder what kind of person had to be told not to bring a gun into a place intended to be fun for kids, and how often this happened that they had to put a sign out for it.

chris said...

I once had an irrational fear of a Texan. I was fresh out of high school when my employer sent me three states away to a week-long mainframe computer class. The Texan (and proud of it!) who sat next to me was genuinely one of the nicest people I think I've ever met, but for some reason he scared me. Imagine a pudgy, pasty, middle-age white guy who muttered "Yo Momma" under his breath every now and then, and you get the picture. Why did he scare me? I honestly have no idea.

Syrad said...

I'll try to say what scares ME about Texas. As I said, I go there often and lived there for about a year, but the place does scare me a bit. I think it's the idea of Texas, or the overall impression you can get from the state. From the massive Texan flag when you cross the border at Beaumont to the cowboy hats in the downtowns of the biggest cities, you really know that you are in Texas. The state has a more distinct identity and self-awareness than most states (or provinces, I think). People take a lot of pride in being Texan and the culture is unabashedly and proudly different from the rest of the country. None of this is a bad thing, but when you visit the state you can kind of feel that you're walking into someone else's clubhouse of which you're not a member. The state is so big, both in size, industry, and culture, that you start wondering what would happen if that power was channeled and focused - and that's kind of a scary thought. This is also pretty much the way I feel about Disney.

That said, virtually every person I've met in Texas is wonderful. They're proud to be Texan, but in an individual the state pride is charming - like when you meet a Newfie. The food is great, the state has fascinating history and natural beauty...and I've had a LOT of fun in San Antonio and Austin.

Aviatrix said...

Syrad, that's perfect, thank you. You've put your finger on it.