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By Tom Demerly for tomdemerly.com


 It was like the beginning of a favorite new song. It began quietly, and you could barely hear it. The soft cooing of a distant sound, a trilling that seemed reassuring and comforting. The world was safe. Everything was all right. It was home and warm and nature surrounded our little neighborhood. I listened to it in bed, shushing my girlfriend with our heads on the pillows, “Listen!” I whispered. There was silence in the dark. Then the gentle spring breeze carried the rising song. “It’s an owl! Can you hear it?” She did. “That’s a good sign. They trap mice and are good for the environment and the neighborhood. He probably lives at the end of the block down by the park.”

We drifted off to sleep to his quiet, lilting song. It made for an easy transition to dreams of rolling, wooded hills filled with friendly owls building nests, cooing their gentle songs while sitting on tree branches as wise, powerful sentinels maintaining the delicate balance of nature.

The Eastern Screech Owl (Megascops asio) is a relatively common small owl species found throughout the Midwest and into Canada. It eats mice, rodents, and has adapted well to a suburban environment.

Owls are oddly social and friendly birds to humans. One very early morning a few years ago in Mission Viejo, California I saw an owl swoop down, glance off the windshield of an SUV driving in the early morning darkness, then drop into the street. I walked over to him, he appeared stunned in the middle of the street but otherwise, hopefully, OK. I spoke to him for a moment, asked him if he was OK. His feathery owl head pivoted to my voice. He looked confused, stunned. I scooped him up carefully in my arms, his soft feathers delicate to the feel.

I don’t know how to take care of an owl. I figured I would bring him home, get him a drink and make a little nest for him and take it from there. He was large, the size of a small cat, and very beautiful. He was also exceptionally well mannered, riding in my arms comfortably as if he knew I was trying to help.

In only a block of walking he had composed himself from the brush with calamity. He spread his wide wings carefully even as I held him, then gently lifted off with a downward flap and flew out of my arms. He did one circle over my head, as if to demonstrate he was fine and say thank you for the help, then he flew east up toward the mountains on the outskirts of town. Helping the owl felt like religion. It was like being visited, and blessed, from another world. A kinder, fairer world.

When I heard the owl outside our window here in Dearborn, Michigan I was elated. This is a great omen, a sign that our neighborhood is blessed and safe and well looked after. That things are in balance and that nature and mankind have arrived at a reasonable détente.

But then reality smashed home.

The quiet song disappeared. The owl was found in the street, his eyes barely open, standing on the ground. Confused, sick, in deep trouble.

A Good Samaritan named Jamie found the owl in the street a few days later around 10 PM. She said he was half dead. She picked him up, called the University of Michigan Emergency Veterinary Hospital. She was on the phone with them, getting instructions for how to save the owl as she held him in her arms. He opened his eyes once and she spoke to him as she held him. Then he closed his eyes.

They never opened again.

The owl in our neighborhood died because someone put out rat poison to try to control mice. But the problem with poison is it doesn’t know to only kill mice. It kills everything. The mouse eats the poison, the owl eats the mouse. The owl dies too. And we are left in a world without the owl’s song. It’s a world different than intended. A world that is ruled by our poison, literal and moral.

Using poison to control animals is wrong and immoral. We learned that in the 1950’s and ’60’s with DDT poisoning, and countless times since. It’s also ineffective and short-sighted. The owl was in charge of controlling rodent populations and did an effective job. He maintained a manageable balance of nature. When that is disrupted the results are always different than we imagine, and never better. But our human, insatiable need to control things drive these short-sighted and selfish decisions like using poison to kill a mouse.

You can buy things and you can build things. A fancy house, a yard that looks like a golf course. It proves you are rich and fancy. But you are driving a wedge into the world that pries things apart and ruins what was here before us and will hopefully return when we are gone. We are not better or smarter or stronger or more important. We’re temporary participants in a complex process. When we upset the process we spread suffering, not only to animals around us but to our own lives, often without even know it.

When I think of the most important events in my life, the most extraordinary, the most valuable and lasting they are not the day I bought a car or a house. I actually don’t remember much about those things. But I remember the owl in the street in California. I remember the song of the owl down the block. These things had value. They reminded me that I am part of something bigger and that, if I care for it, it will care for me.

But when the owl down the street went silent I suddenly felt very alone.

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By Tom Demerly for tomdemerly.com

This past Presidential election was one of the most divisive and closely contested in the past three decades. We’re still arguing about the outcome. It was set against a backdrop of new participant media. Everybody with social media has a voice of equal visual size, if not reach.

Because of this our closely contested and highly divisive election played out over the stage of social media. And now it feels like we’ve entered an era of rising hysteria.

Why?

From the printing press, the Manhattan Project, the Internet, stem cell research, and social media, we develop technology before we develop the ethics and conventions to employ it with moderation and reason. We just turn it loose, and hope for the best. We’re experiencing that now with social media and in politics.

We’ve entered an era of more polarized and less moderate opinion shared at louder volume than I’ve known in my 55-year lifetime, and maybe in the history of mankind. Author/philosopher Alan Watts once recounted a tour of the MIT campus where the vast and numerous science and engineering facilities were showcased with pride and grandeur, but when someone asked where the philosophy department was, the response was, “Oh, I think it is somewhere over by the library.”

Some of that may be good. But a lot of it isn’t. At least not yet.

There is an axiom that if you redistribute the collective monetary wealth of the planet equally between all people it will, over time, wind up right back with the people who originally had it, and away from those who didn’t.

But what if you equally distributed access to publishing media? To having a public voice? The same outcome might happen in contributory/social media, and for the same reasons. People may not use it responsibly and with reason. So, just as those who would not be good at managing monetary resources would fall victim to those who are, those who do not use communicational resources responsibly will stop getting listened to and lose their voice to those with more judicious use of media. But before they do lose their voice they raise the volume and frequency in one last, desperate attention grab.

We are at the leading edge of that redistribution of voice right now. Everyone has a voice now, and most people love using it, but aren’t quite sure what to say except that they should say something. And, in a new global room full of rising voices we continue to shout louder and louder to be heard above the rising din. And few people take the time to listen. I’m constantly reminded of that great axiom, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”

The formerly mainstream news media is included in the rising number and volume of voices and opinions. In order to compete with Twitter feeds, Facebook posts, Snapchat, and Instagram attention grabbing, the formerly mainstream media has had to change to also grab attention. Much of that change isn’t for the better. That has influenced our own behavior, but mostly it has influenced theirs. For mainstream media now, it looks and reads like, the rules are, there are no rules.

So the shouting gets louder and louder, more and more frequent. And as the frequency increases the depth of insight seems to become shallower, more superficial. Sound bytes, YouTubes, hotlinks and infographics are batted back and forth in some new form of cyber argument that mimics a fast and loose version of the Greek forums, where debate raged between scholars in a public forum.

We’ve seen two examples of this in the ongoing, divisive political narrative. Some time ago an expired rock star, Ted Nugent, ignited rancor with radical right commentary that included inciting violence as a political tool. That’s wrong, no matter the political agenda. Every despot has proved that. More recently, an equally less relevant celebrity, Kathy Griffin, depicted the President’s decapitated head in a sensational lampoon that also suggested inciting violent response as a political tool, at least as commentary. That is also wrong.

Both are wrong. Both went too far. Both are a sensational attention grab for a waning career. And both sides argue some justification for each one’s bizarre and extreme political commentary. Both also illustrate our use- or misuse- of new access to media and our rising consumption of it.

One positive outcome has been the impetus to do more investigation into the media we see. That has been fascinating. It’s also helps shape opinions, hopefully to the more informed. And I’ll suggest a more informed opinion is likely to be more structurally sound.

Before the last presidential election I took an online survey that queries you on a long list of issues and, depending on your responses, prescribes who you should vote for. I got Bernie Sanders. I liked that, so I dug a little deeper into the ramifications of having Bernie Sanders as our President.

Voting for President is a little like going shopping without knowing any of the prices. The system tells you, “Pick out something nice, whatever you want.” But there are no prices and you may not even know how much you have to spend. You don’t get the bill until after you made it to the register. If you can’t afford what’s in your political shopping cart you either throw it on a charge card that has been maxed out since Nixon was President or you say, “The person in line behind me is paying.” Then they do that for the next person, and so on…

Increasingly, being in the middle seems to feel oddly isolated as the rising din to “pick a side” on social media gets louder and louder. It seems like the social media doctrine is to pick a side lock, stock and barrel- a political “Happy Meal” that includes a somewhat superficial acceptance of all or nothing from one side or the other. We only get a second to read, to decide, to respond. We may have learned something a long time ago in school, and we do remember part of that, so we quickly compare what we see to what we know and then we hit “post”. God forbid we should actually question, criticize, and inquire. And when we disagree, we need to be ready for the attempts to be shouted down.

I’m satisfied looking at the political and social landscape ala Carte though, and I’d like to know what it is I’m reading and where it came from- to the extent I can.

The outcome of this last election was about as wild a swing from one extreme to the other as you can get. The only way we could be farther from who we had as a former President would be to have elected an albino Margaret Thatcher with male reproductive organs. So things are pretty crazy right now.

The choice we have now is to make use of social media as a shield to paint our existing beliefs on and protect our entrenched views from the swords of new thinking, or as a mirror to reflect our own beliefs in the concern that we may have a big political booger hanging out of our nose.

I’m checking my own nose now. I suggest you do the same.

 

 

 

 

 

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By Tom Demerly for Tom Demerly.com

Only a mile and half at its widest, The Detroit River has been a geographical barrier between opposing tribes, rum runners and nations. Few rivers hold this much history. Globally, the Detroit River shares its historical relevance with the Mississippi in the United States, the Bosphorus in Turkey, the Rhine in Germany, the Ganges in India, the Volga in Russia, Paris’ Seine River, Egypt’s Nile, China’s Yangtze and other globally significant waterways like Iraq’s Tigris and Vietnam’s Mekong.

Last Wednesday, as members of the Detroit History Club, my girlfriend Jan Mack and I sailed the historic Detroit River on the 85-foot long Appledore IV two-masted schooner. Appledore IV transports its crew and passengers back in time as soon as they step on board. It is a fitting vessel for a trip back into the remarkable history of Detroit and its unique river.

Our guide on board Appledore IV was Miss Bailey of the Detroit Historical Club. Her encyclopedic knowledge of Detroit history was matched only by her wit and talent. She delivered a fascinating running narration of Detroit’s sensational history from Native conflicts to daring rum-runners driving modified Ford Model-T’s across the frozen river in an occasionally unsuccessful attempt at defying prohibition.

After casting off from the dock in front of Detroit’s Renaissance Center and General Motors headquarters we set sail on moderate winds and calm waters north and east toward Belle Isle and the Hiram Walker distillery. As we sailed across the Detroit River the strong and delicious scent of baking bread drifts off the Windsor shore from the Hiram Walker complex. The yeast processing for spirits production at the distillery produces the delightful aroma, lost on powerboats to their exhaust smell but blissfully preserved onboard the sail-driven Appledore IV.

Once at the top of the river we reversed course under jibbing canvas sails, ducking under swinging booms and picking up winds that brought us downriver toward the majestic Ambassador Bridge. We sailed under, marveling at the incredible volume of truck traffic engaging in the free exchange of goods between Canada and the U.S. that typifies the relationship between the two countries.

To the south we saw the dark silhouette of the industrial monolith of Zug Island, formerly one of the most polluted places on earth, now in the midst of reform into at least a slightly less toxic habitat. Today foxes, peregrine falcons, feral cats and other unusual species share the island with its heavy industrial tenants like steel mills and coke ovens. A rare species of sturgeon lives on one side of the island because of the deposits of coal cinders that collect on the bottom of the river from the industrial activity.

Mystery surrounds much of Zug Island, a private, manmade industrial otherworld that has produced an undefined loud humming sound to the distress of residents as far as ten miles away. Some say it is the sound of wind through industrial structures on the island. Over a million dollars has been spent on studies to find the source of the bizarre sound but the maker of the mechanical music remains a mystery.

Shipping traffic is a huge part of the Detroit River. During our cruise we saw two passages, one a massive ore freighter and the other a smaller cargo vessel, our radios crackling to life with instructions from the river traffic control as Customs and Border Patrol vessels zipped back and forth. The Detroit River is one of the busiest commercial rivers on earth, and ship spotting along its banks is a popular pastime.

This cruise aboard Appledore IV with the Detroit History Club is a rare and intrinsic perspective on Detroit, and one all Detroiters ought imbibe in. People who live in Detroit and its suburbs often have a deep affection for something undefinable about the city that makes it unique. An intrinsic authenticity and resilience belonging to a place that survived riots, wars, fires and economic collapse. Detroit has produced iron and steel, innovation and art. But few people own the deep historical context of Detroit’s remarkable and repetitive penchant for survival and prosperity.

To join the Detroit History Club and enjoy their many fascinating and varied events follow this link:

 

http://www.detroithistoryclub.com

Media Release, April 1, 2017: “Depends” Brand to Become Official Ironman On-Course Adult Diaper.

International personal health product conglomerate Kimberly-Clark today announced a new strategic partnership with Ironman World Triathlon Corporation. The five-year title sponsorship will feature a new version of the world’s best selling adult diaper, “Depend”, called “Depend Endurance 140.6”.

“This new partnership benefits every participant at Ironman events” Said Kimberly-Clark CEO Thomas Falk. “From elite athletes who don’t have time to stop for natural breaks to back-of-the-pack athletes for whom on-course restroom facilities may be inadequate.”

Andrew Messick, CEO of Ironman/WTC told media at the launch event on Friday, “The Ironman participant demographic is shifting. Ironman triathletes are graduating to older age categories and creating a new demographic of super-active geriatric participants. This partnership with Kimberly-Clark and the industry leading Depends brand is a natural evolution of the sport. It serves all parties now, and into the future of Ironman.”

World Triathlon Corporation, the parent company of the Ironman brand, is rumored to have sought the co-branding deal as a way to further reduce on-course race production costs at events by reducing the number of portable restrooms, or “porta-johns” that must be rented for each event.

“Our lead portable, on-course restroom vendors are charging from $150-225 per porta-john for single day rental. Those costs add up over the distance of an Ironman event. We typically serve over 150 portable restrooms on-course for the run portion of Ironman alone. If you do the math, allowing participants to manage restroom needs where and when they want to adds convenience, performance and efficiency. This partnership is the definition of win-win for participants, event managers and Kimberly-Clark” said Ironman officials.

As an additional benefit to Ironman participants, the new Depends Endurance 140.6 will be included in entrant goodie-bags and available for sale at race expos, online and from select specialty triathlon retailers. “Athletes will have advanced access to the new, aerodynamic, lightweight Endurance 140.6 version of Depends prior to race day” Depends project managers told media assembled at the launch event.

Along with the new partnership Kimberly-Clark and WTC/Ironman have announced several sponsored pros who will compete wearing the new Depends Endurance 140.6 on-course sanitary garment. Julie Moss has been named official spokesperson for the brand and the captain of the new Ironman/Depends S.H.A.R.T. sports marketing initiative.

At the release event Ironman Hall of Famer and SHART team captain Julie Moss told media, “S.H.A.R.T. stands for ‘Sponsored High-performance Adult Race Team’ and is all about blowing out the personal limitations of aging. The Ironman/Depend SHART athletes will redefine what it means to age in America and participate in endurance sports.”

Ironman athlete Moss, WTC President Messick and Kimberly-Clark CEO Thomas Clark all quipped, “The Ironman motto is, ‘Anything Is Possible’, and when athletes are wearing Depend 140.6 Endurance, an athlete is ready for anything, and stops for nothing. It equips our participants for a new level of performance.”

 

 

By Tom Demerly for tomdemerly.com

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According to an e-mail sent to sponsored athletes last night and reports on social media, Computrainer, the innovator of the computerized indoor ride simulator, is closing.

Reports indicate an e-mail was sent to sponsored athletes late last night. Phone calls to the company, Racermate, and its sister company, Floscan, were not returned as of this hour. In a phone call with a representative from sister company Floscan, who asked not to be named, early Tuesday, February 28, this reporter was told “I don’t know what is going on over there [at Computrainer].”

A copy of the e-mail received by tomdemerly.com via social media reads:

“It is with a heavy heart that those of us here at RacerMate must tell you that we are closing the doors on CompuTrainer. Technology and competition from larger companies have both eaten into the marketplace. As a small company with the premier indoor trainer in terms of performance and durability, we have found ourselves in a place where we cannot continue. It has been a marvelous 40+ years and we have enjoyed sharing in the victories and friendships we have made along the way.” [signed]

Chuck Wurster, Vice President

RacerMate Inc.

Seattle, WA

Voice mails left at Computrainer’s extension contained the message, “Please don’t be surprised if it takes several days to return your message.”

Computrainer is related to Floscan, a company that provides aviation and maritime fuel flow monitoring equipment.

The Computrainer indoor ride simulator revolutionized bicycle training by projecting performance telemetry on a screen in front of riders while a load generator varied resistance creating a realistic ride simulation indoors. The system also enabled riders to “compete” with each other in a virtual environment and to ride against themselves from previous performances saved on a computer that controlled the Computrainer.

If reports are accurate, contributing factors may include an unusual, non-retail sales model, low profit margins, service intensive products and the introduction of other computer controlled ride-simulation “smart” trainers into the competitive space from companies like Tacx and Wahoo Fitness who have a dealer network and existing distribution at the consumer level from brick and mortar retailers.

While this report remains unconfirmed from Computrainer as of this hour, the inability to receive or return sales and service inquiries throughout the first half of Tuesday, and reports of the e-mail announcement sent to sponsored athletes have surfaced on social media.

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When I was a kid, about 8, a neighbor took me to an airshow. It was 1970.

There were Army Rangers there with a giant boa constrictor. You could put the snake around your neck and have a photo taken. Famous test pilot Bob Hoover, who flew with Chuck Yeager when he broke the sound barrier in 1947, flew a Rockwell Aero Commander prop plane with both engines shut off. There was a real P-51 Mustang there too.

For the finale of the airshow the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds would fly in their supersonic Phantom jets.

After the Thunderbirds landed the father of the kid I went to the airshow with, Alan Larraza, decided we might as well wait there instead of sitting in a hot car in a big traffic jam. Al’s dad heard a rumor that the Thunderbird pilots would sign autographs after the show if you waited. Of course, a rumor like that could never be true.

We waited on the wide expanse of the open airfield. There was smoke in the air and the smell of jet fuel. A fence separated us from the important men who got to walk close to the airplanes and actually touch them. The fence also separated us from the tall, thin men with sharp chins and crisp uniforms who looked like statues and wore their hair stubble short in perfect haircuts that looked like they were done this morning. Everything about these men was perfect- how they stood, the sunglasses they wore, the places they were from, the angle of their jaw.

These men were pilots.

I waited on the other side of the fence, where the regular people had to stay. I came from a single parent home where my Mom barely made ends meet. I wasn’t a great student in any subject except English, which wasn’t really even a subject since it was so easy. I knew, even at 8 years old, that I would always have to stand on this side of the fence at an air show. Only the tall men with the perfect haircuts, patches on their crisp uniforms and polished flight boots got to go on The Other Side Of The Fence.

The Thunderbirds were the biggest, most incredible, most important, loudest thing I had seen in my life. The sound, the smell of jet fuel, the incredible speed of their planes and the giant crowd that came to see them, even at the height of the Vietnam war protests (some hippies were kept outside the gate because they were protesting the “war show”). It was boggling to me that something could be so… big, so serious, so vast, so important.

Men on the other side of the fence in uniforms handed out a free pamphlet with photos of the Thunderbird pilots on the front. The photo on the front showed six men kneeling, one knee up, the other knee down, with big smiles and thin pilot hats. Every man was positioned identically in front of a giant, red, white and blue Phantom jet. These men were the actual Thunderbirds. And I got a free picture of them.

“If ya’ll stick around son, the Thunderbirds’ll be sign’n autographs soon e’nuff”, said a tall man with a cowboy accent in an Air Force uniform from the other side of the fence. He handed out the free pamphlets. Inside the pamphlet were diagrams showing maneuvers the Thunderbirds did, the “Diamond Roll”, the “Knife Edge Pass” and the “Roll Back to Arrowhead Formation” were some of them. On the last page was a photo of a real F-4 Phantom jet with all the numbers about it; how wide its wings were, how fast it went, how far it could fly. Everything you needed to know.

The crowd got thicker at the fence. Six tall men in blue jumpsuits and thin pilot hats were standing out on the concrete near the actual Thunderbird planes. All at once the men began walking up to the fence. The crowd pushed forward. People started holding out their pamphlets as the men got closer to the fence. When they got to the fence, people started snapping photos on their Kodak Instamatics and holding up pens.

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In a tradition that dates back to the first airshows, the U.S. Navy Blue Angels pilots sign autographs at the fence line after their flight demonstration at the Cleveland Airshow this summer.

The men in the blue jumpsuits shook hands, leaned over and let people take photos with them, smiling wide grins with their special sunglasses and shaking hands like they knew each other or came from the same town. The men would sign their autographs next to a photo of themselves with the number of plane they flew on the free pamphlet.

I held out my pamphlet. “You gonna be a jet pilot someday son?” One of the Thunderbirds asked me when he signed my pamphlet. He took a pen out of a special pocket on the shoulder of his jumpsuit. I was too stunned to answer. He was very tall. Every part of him seemed… sharp. Perfect. His life must be the opposite of mine, everything in order, everything decided, everything perfect. Everything sharp and perfect and clean

I wanted that. But I never got it.

I joined the Army and did minor work in a special operations unit that gathered intelligence. I wound up with the guys who had the snake at the airshow. It was good, great even. We won a war, spied on the enemy and knew secret things.

But it was never- perfect. Not like the clean, crisp tall men with the red, white and blue Phantom jets at that first airshow.

A month or so ago I found out the McDonnell-Douglas F-4 Phantom II, the “Phantom jet”, would fly its last flight with the Air Force at the Aviation Nation airshow at Nellis AFB in Nevada. My girlfriend asked me what I wanted for my 55th birthday. I told her, not entirely seriously since it was such a big thing, that I wanted to see the F-4 fly for the last time. It was 47 years after that first airshow with the Thunderbirds and their Phantom jets.

In the way she works her magic my girlfriend, Jan Mack, got us to Las Vegas just a few miles from Nellis for the airshow. I write for an aviation website called http://www.tacairnet.com and wanted to do a story on the final flight of the F-4 Phantom II.

Jan and I meet co-contributors to TACAIRNET (Tactical Air Network) Melanie Mann and Ethan Garrity, both pilots from Texas. We’re sitting up front in the VIP area with catered food, our own bathrooms and chairs on the flightline and about 50 cameras.

There are two McDonnell-Douglas F-4 Phantom II’s here at Nellis AFB for its last official airshow. These last surviving two of only about seven left in the U.S Air Force, are called QF-4E’s. They have been modified to be flown by remote control without a pilot or with pilots. When they are unmanned other planes can practice shooting them down. Some of the QF-4E’s will die a fiery death, shot down by live missiles fired from brand new F-35 Lightning II’s out over the open ocean in tests.

One of the QF-4E’s here today is on static display so we can touch it and see it up close, the other will be flown in the final airshow demo by Lt. Col. Ron “Elvis” King and retired Lt. Col. Jim “Wam” Harkins of Holloman AFB, New Mexico.

I get to see the last F-4, touch it, look at how it has aged and weathered. I wonder where this aircraft has flown, when it was built, about what happened to the pilots who flew it and where they are today. There are old men here wearing F-4 Phantom hats. They’ve come from around the world to see it fly and touch it one last time. Some of them flew the Phantom a long time ago. One of them may have flown in that first airshow I was at 47 years ago.

There’s a convention that a pilot always says whatever aircraft she or he is flying is the absolute best. Pilots pick careful language to describe a plane they fly, and if you listen closely enough, you get a feel for what it must really be like.

I meet Air Force Lt. Col. Jim Harkins and Lt. Col. Ron King near the QF-4E they will fly today. A bunch of maintenance guys are tending to the tired old plane. Like an old person with difficulty controlling their body, she is leaking everything- fuel, hydraulic fluid. She needs a lot of maintenance to keep her in the air now.

“She’s old, but she still flies good.” Lt. Col. Harkins tells me. “We’ll be taking her home after this, then… that’s about it…” He signs prints of these two QF-4E’s I brought to the show with me. He writes the date of the last flight on the posters. I get a few signed, including one for my friend Lance who is back in Michigan taking care of Jan and my cats while we’re gone.

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I shake the pilots’ hands. Thank them for bringing the F-4 out one last time. “You’re welcome. It’s a pleasure”, he tells me. We pose for a photo that Jan Mack takes of us.

And that is it.

The QF-4E flies its last demo. I’m focused on getting good photos of her but during one of the passes I lower my camera and just watch. The smoke and smell and sound are exactly like 1970. It’s 47 years ago and I’m a kid at that first airshow all over again. There’s a new plane here, the F-35 Lightning II, and pretty soon we’ll get a chance to see it fly, talk to the pilot, maybe even touch it if we’re lucky…

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Photos and story by Tom Demerly for tomdemerly.com.

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I didn’t move to Tucson, Arizona by choice. I was a refugee of the American Recession.

In a migration that mimicked a modern day “Grapes of Wrath” I took a job with the world’s largest triathlon retailer in Tucson and moved there after losing my own business in Detroit.

TriSports.com flew me to Tucson for an interview. Following the interview I was convinced I was finished in this business. The founder, Seton Claggett, asked some tough questions. I left with my head down.

But I got the job.

I did a little of everything at TriSports.com’s massive headquarters. Marketing, sales, promotion, writing, photography, video commentary, employee training, managing, sweeping floors, bike fitting, driving stakes in the desert and cleaning up trash by the roadside. Working there was immersive. The H.R. director counseled me that I couldn’t work as many hours as I did because it wasn’t good for me. But in reality, it was exactly what I needed: self imposed exile to the desert gulag.

Today we’re on a photo shoot.

I saw a road headed south from Mt. Lemmon, Freeman Road, that makes a lumpy black beeline toward the Mexican border. It looks like a black snake laid across washboard desert sand. It will be perfect for a photo shoot.

There are a few problems. Firstly, it is beastly hot in Tucson. Shooting in natural light with the sun overhead means working in the open desert at noon. Temperatures are well over 100 degrees. There are rattlesnakes, ill-tempered desert pig-bears called “javalina”. Every plant on the shoulder of the road is wearing knife-like thorns that pierce clothing and implant flesh with barbed needles.

Secondly, I have a clear vision of what I want the photo to look like, but without an aerial camera platform that shot is impossible. I want to show a cyclist riding south on the oddly rolling black road set against the desert backdrop. I chat with a couple local private pilots about the possibility of flying me over this road for the shoot, but the logistics and expense of getting a small aircraft over the road while coordinating with the cyclist/model on the ground make that impossible. We don’t have camera drones yet, and even if we do, getting the resolution and type of image I want would be tough from a small drone.

So, we load up the tallest stepladder from the warehouse, grab one of the big company trucks and recruit Debbie Claggett, a founder of the company, as fashion/action model for the day and head into the desert.

Debbie is a dream to work with. She is pretty, fit and knows how to ride. But it is a little awkward giving photo direction to one of the founders of the company you work for.

I describe the photo I want. We set up the stepladder on firm enough sand to keep me from falling into a prickly cholla cactus, and Debbie sets off south on her bike.

“Ride for about thirty seconds past those lumps in the road then do a U-turn and come back toward me. Keep doing those loops.”

Debbie does a few out and back circuits. I shoot a few frames. It looks pretty darn good. I’m careful to frame the photo so there is space to drop text in the upper left corner. It is a lot of work for a pretty simple photo. That said, the weird looking lumpy road is kind of cool, but it could be anywhere. Something is missing.

We need something that defines this photo as being distinctly Arizona. Distinctly Tucson.

We need a cowboy.

On queue a man who looks like he dropped out of a Clint Eastwood spaghetti western rides a beautiful horse onto the road. We could have spent hours in wardrobe and costume and not done as well. When you look up “Cowboy” in the dictionary, there is a photo of this guy. He is John Wayne, The Marlboro Man and Clint Eastwood all rolled into one with a dash of Boss Hoss for good measure.

Jackpot.

Debbie recognizes the opportunity instantly. Without a word she wheels around, glances over her shoulder to check if I am getting this (I am…) and she makes a few riding passes by the cowboy. Smoke is coming off my cameras this is so good.

debbie

She stops and pets the horse. More incredible images that say, without a word, “Cycling in Tucson is extraordinary, there is no place like it in the world.”

We thank the cowboy and horse, load up our gear; brush off the dust and race back to the warehouse to see the photos.

This one photo describes riding a bike in Tucson, Arizona better than any single image I’ve seen, thanks to Debbie and the mid-day rider of Freeman Road in Saguaro East.