Saturday, August 22, 2009

Why I'm a slob

Well, not a slob per se. But not exactly fastidious either, particularly when it comes to basements, garages, and hangars. Those three are my own personal domiciles of clutter. Sure, I grab the leaf blower two or three times a year and blow generations of dead insects (and their still living descendants, if they're careless enough to get in the way) out of the garage and hangar, and I'll use the shop-vac to suck up the spider webs that gather in the basement and cellar stairs now and then, but I simply don't maintain those areas to a very high standard of cleanliness or clutterlessness.

Last week, though, when it was 93° and very humid, I decreed that it was "too hot to fly." Oddly enough, I didn't consider it too hot to get the leaf blower out and "sweep" out the garage and hangar. It was miserable work, as I'm sure you can imagine. All of that dust, grass clippings, and dessicated insects carcasses combined with the stickiness of sweaty skin made for a pretty unpleasant experience. Offsetting that discomfort was the welcome sense that I wouldn't need to sweep those floors again until the cooler temperatures of late Fall were upon us.

As I was cleaning out the hangar, I caught sight of an eye sore that I've been hoping to get rid of for five years now: a big cardboard box full of chemicals and containers considered to be hazardous waste by our local solid waste authority and thus not permissible for inclusion in our weekly trash pick up. The waste transfer station just up the road offers a free drop off service once in a blue moon, but I've never had the opportunity to gather up all of my old chemicals and drop them off. The drop-offs are only open for a few hours and have a reputation of drawing a miles-long line of cars and pick-up trucks waiting to rid themselves of inconvenient trash.

They put a big sign out a few days before a drop-off day, and I noticed it a few days ago on my way home from work. I figured I'd get up early and be there just as they opened at 0800. I'd take a magazine to read in case the line was long and/or slow. The Weather-out-the-Window&trade for today was gorgeous, but the forecast for later showed a line of low-ish scattered clouds coming in. The forecast wasn't prohibitive, but the lawn needed mowed and I was really keen on the idea of getting some of the nasty cans and bottles of old chemicals out of my basement and hangar. Flying would have to wait. I also had wanted to drive a mile or two over to Beulah Park, our local thoroughbred horse track, for the annual mass hot air balloon launch. That too would have to wait for Sunday.

I grabbed the box of stuff out of the basement and was over at the hangar by 0745. From there it should have been a simple matter of grabbing the big box of stuff pushed back into a corner, loading it into the car, and making the five minute drive to the transfer station. Of course, had it actually been a simple matter, I wouldn't be writing about it. Nope, it wasn't a simple matter at all.

You see, that box was old when I first brought it to the hangar almost six years ago, and sitting in a humid hangar for all that time had done nothing to improve on its structural integrity. I had made three steps towards the door before the bottom fell out. The good news is that only one container fell through. The bad news was that it was a quart sized plastic bottle of charcoal lighting fluid, and the plastic had become more brittle than Methuselah's tibia over the years. Oh, and it was a nearly full bottle too. It split wide open and gushed pungent smelling, oleaginous lighter fluid all over the concrete floor.

I keep a little tub of kitty litter on hand to absorb the periodic drips of oil that get away from me during oil changes, but not nearly enough to soak up a rapidly expanding quart of lighter fluid. With nothing on hand to contain the spill, the best I could do was move anything out of the way of the ever-expanding puddle that might get soaked. I moved the remaining chemicals to another (stronger) box that I had lying around and headed for the drop-off. I got to the transfer station a few minutes before the official 0800 start time but the folks running the show were already there and didn't stand on formality; I was in and out of there in five minutes.

Still, it was a long five minutes of trepidatious glances in the direction of the airport, hoping against hope that a black cloud of sooty smoke wouldn't be seen growing over my hangar. Once done with the drop-off, it was off to the local grocery store to buy a bag of cat litter. I quickly grabbed the cheapest 20 lb. bag I could find and made my way to the checkout lines. None were open except for those awful self-checkouts that I have so much difficulty with. I usually either avoid them or get Co-pilot Egg to operate them for me, but neither of those options were available to me. Fortunately, a store employee saw my distress and came over to help. Actually, she saw a frantic looking, unkempt guy trying to buy nothing but a bag of cat litter. I swear, if there was some nefarious, felonious scheme that could be accomplished with cat litter, the local Homeland Security cops would have been on the case in minutes. As it was, it was non-clumping cat litter and therefore considered benign. No telling what would have happened if I had decided to buy lawn fertilizer at the same time, though.

I was happy to see that neither my hangar nor my airplane had immolated themselves in my brief absence, but it was a little irritating to see 15 hot air balloons launching into a calm, clear sky just a mile away. Wouldn't it have been nice to be over there taking pretty pictures? Yes. Yes, it would have been. But here I was pouring 19 lbs. (keeping one in reserve) all over my recently cleaned hangar floor. And that is why I'm a slob - I just can't win.

But as it turns out, other folks were having an even worse morning. As is my wont, I had turned on the scanner I keep in the hangar to listen to the control tower. Just as I turned it on, there was a diatribe going on:

"Balloon [number number number number], fifteen balloons just launched into my airspace without any notification at all. This is completely unacceptable. I have no choice but to log this and report it. I don't know what the FAA will want to do, but this is a clear pilot deviation. I need you to call me after you land and provide a list of all fifteen numbers from the balloons."


"You also might be interested in knowing that the cloud bank you're drifting towards has ceilings below 800' and is IFR."

So yeah, I guess my morning could have been worse.

But not by much.

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