Saturday, June 30, 2007

Take to the skies

Here's a column I wrote for the Enquirer after taking a ride with an acrobatic pilot. There's a link to a short video at the end. If you want to see the full video, just let me know.

Enquirer reporter tastes 4-point rolls, 4 Gs

Michael Mancuso is a pilot. Not the "Thank you for flying whatever airlines" kind of pilot, but the kind of pilot that makes you kiss the ground once you're back on it.

Technically, I suppose, he's an aerobatics pilot or a stunt pilot. What it boils down to is Mancuso doesn't fly much in straight lines or even right-side-up.

He is the James Dean of pilots, dressed in chinos and a T-shirt, a couple days of stubble on his face. Obviously, he knows what he's doing, but he seems just a bit cavalier. Not careless enough to be dangerous, but cocky enough to be a bad boy.

Being a curious reporter, I got to ride along on one of Mancuso's flights Thursday. I wore a parachute, was told not to touch the little red levers inside the cockpit, and was strapped tightly into place by a five-point harness.

I was a little nervous, to be sure, as Mancuso taxied to the runway. The fact that my 36-year-old pilot has been doing aerial stunts for two decades and began flying before he was 11 years old was a great comfort, though.

"Every little boy wants to learn how to fly. I grew up around it, so I just had the opportunity to learn," he said, remembering his grandfather's flight school on Long Island.

That's the same grandfather, he said, who was too short to be a World War II pilot, so he became a flight instructor for the Royal Air Force.

Mancuso said he's been flying in air shows around the country for 10 years. He's done about 18 shows a year, including one in Germany, and possibly one this fall in Spain.

"When you're a little kid and you have an airplane, what do you do? My goal of being in aerobatics was to be a competition pilot, which I did for a few years," he said. "Most good competition pilots end up being air show pilots."

Back to my flight. We're about 4,000 feet over Gull Lake, flying about 200 mph when the earth and sky suddenly switch places. There's a little space under my backside, but a lot of pressure on my shoulders.

Stomach's OK. Head is clear. Eyes are open. It was quite a rush. There's something inherently thrilling about seeing the sky and ground switch places over and over and from different angles you just can't get from a movie or simulated experience.

Mancuso maneuvered his Extra 300 plane through barrel rolls, a four-point roll, a loop, a "hammerhead" involving the plane climbing straight up then falling off to one side and diving toward the earth, and a tumble, which I can't really describe because ends and sides were changing so fast I couldn't keep up.

For me, the best part was pulling out of the dives. Mancuso said we were pulling about 4 Gs, which I think means pressure on the body about four times the force of gravity.

I was reminded of the scene in "Spies Like Us" with Chevy Chase and Dan Aykroyd when they went through flight training and they came out of the spinning machine with their faces contorted from the centrifugal force. I smiled to myself. Well, I think I smiled, but it's possible no one else would have been able to tell because my face was sliding down off my skull.

Mancuso was calm and collected through the entire flight. He should be. He's the pro.

But he's done so many of these flights, I asked him if he still enjoys it.

"I'm flying 210 miles an hour, 10 feet off the ground," he said. "We're doing things in air shows that are normally illegal. It's still a rush."

When I asked Mancuso if he has any heroes, his reply was, "All dead." Then he smiled.

Apparently, Mancuso doesn't have heroes, but there are people he looks up to.

One of those people is Gene Krantz, NASA's mission controller in Houston for many of the Apollo missions, who was portrayed by actor Ed Harris in "Apollo 13."

After we were back on the ground, I learned the last person to sit in the seat in front of Mancuso before me was Krantz.

"I took a little bit from him," Mancuso said of his flight with Krantz. "I think I have a lot of pilots I look up to and take a little bit from all of them. They all have exceptional qualities that you'd like to emulate."

You've read my story, now watch my video.
Just a couple things to keep in mind while watching the video.
1) Turn up the volume on your computer.
2) The black thing I'm putting on in the beginning of the video is a parachute.
3) The video camera is directly behind my head and aimed at the back of the plane. (Yes, that means I'm in front.)
4) Everything you see is real, and really am in the plane. You can hear me a couple of times, especially when Mancuso goes into the tumble.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Back by (lack of) popular demand

To all of my loyal readers, my apologies for an extended absence. Life has managed to get in the way... Again.

So, a few updates. My boys are healthy, happy and my pride and joy. They're about midway through baseball and T-ball, and even though I'm not the most patient father, it still makes me proud to watch them play. They're growing up so fast.

Michael will be finishing the first grade this year, and already he has been slotted for placement in Kalamazoo Public Schools' gifted and talented program for next year. Anthony has been tagged to be in the program's precursor, Sprouts, which Michael is in this year. I couldn't be prouder.

I have made a change recently, as well. I've been promoted from Marshall and Calhoun County reporter to the Battle Creek City Hall and political reporter. That is the top reporter position at the Battle Creek Enquirer. It's a big move and I'm more than a little nervous about it, but it's time. It's also very exciting, but you all understand that emotional duality that comes with a big change.

We now also have a dog. Gidget was born Jan. 29, and we got her from Kalamazoo Animal Rescue. She's border collie-boxer mix, and couldn't be a better dog. Simply awesome!

Perhaps the biggest news is Kris, the boys and I are looking to buy a house with my mom. That may sound a little strange to some ("You actually WANT to move in with your mom?") but for those of you who know my mother, it's nothing short of exciting. She's one of my best friends, and we've come through a lot to get where we are now. I know, it still sounds weird. Well, I am super excited.

What would a "Script" post be without a little humor? Well, it would be a post without a little humor. But far be it from me to deprive you all of a good laugh.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Just hangin' out with the guys

One of the undeniable perks of my job is getting to meet lots of people; some famous, some ordinary, some grieving, some celebrating, but all unique.

Today was one of the rare days when I got to meet someone famous. Well, actually, I got to meet several famous people.
Manager Jim Leyland
Hitting Coach Lloyd McClendon
Third-base Coach Gene Lamont
Pitcher Justin Verlander
Catcher Vance Wilson
First Baseman Chris Shelton
Second Baseman Placido Polanco
Third Baseman Brandon Inge
Left Fielder Craig Monroe

In case you don't already know who these guys are, they are members of the 2006 American League champion Detroit Tigers. But, of course, you already knew that and I'm just bragging.

The circumstances surrounding the assignment aren't important, but it was a rare opportunity and I'm glad I had it. They really are just a down-to-earth bunch of guys who like to play a kids' game.

I got to chat with Inge, Monroe and Verlander a little bit, and they are pretty cool cats. I dropped a little of the baseball lingo I learned while riding the bench in high school, then I just listened to them talk.

Inge made fun of Polanco's hair. Polanco and Shelton had to leave early because they were allergic to the family basset hound. Monroe and Wilson spent five minutes trying to find the basset hound to play with him.

This is one of those assignments I couldn't wait to tell all of you about. I hope you don't mind that I shared it with you.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Miss me?

It seems like forever since I last had time to blog, probably because it's been... Well, forever. Time is a precious commodity when you work two jobs and have kids you actually enjoy spending time with. Sometimes, being an adult really sucks.

Enough of the pity party. Things are going relatively well. I've been on vacation for a week now, and I have another week to go. Vacations rock! I've spent a lot of time just hanging out with my boys. They got skateboards, snowboards and Heelys for Christmas (helmets, too). The mild weather has been perfect for teaching my 6- and 5-year old sons how to skateboard, even though it's been a while since they're dad was shredding the half pipe at the Red Brick Inn in Plainwell. Snowboarding, on the other hand, has been a bit difficult without any snow. Once we get some, I'll have to commandeer Uncle Tony to teach them how to shred the slopes.

Tomorrow is New Year's Eve, and it amazes me another year has passed. I don't know when time started moving so fast. So many things I hope to accomplish remain unchecked on my life's to-do list. Are there enough years remaining in my humble time on this earth to do all I hope to do? O.K. Moving away now from the philosophical mumbo-jumbo.

Here are the things I am thankful for in 2006, in no particular order of importance.
- Time with my family, especially my two sons.
- The blessing of having two jobs and the ability to work to support my family.
- Good friends and loving family, who keep me going every day.
- Mountain Dew and jalapeno flavored Krunchers.

Here are my wishes for 2007, also in no particular order of importance.
- My wife, children, family, friends and co-workers have a blessed, safe and prosperous year.
- People worry less about their "rights" and start to focus on common sense and courtesy.
- We find peace; within ourselves, within our society, with other cultures and with our God.
- The continued ability to support my family and give my boys all the privileges and opportunities I was fortunate enough to have.
- More Mountain Dew and jalapeno flavored Krunchers.

Those of you who know me, know I am a sentimental sap. I'd apologize, but I can't help it. I love you all, and I wish you all a wonderful and blessed New Year.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006


There's nothing quite like watching your children.

They can be doing anything: Eating, playing, coloring. Whatever it is, you're convinced your child is a prodigy and, surely, there are no smarter children of the same age anywhere else in the world.

My boys are both playing hockey now, and let me tell you, that illusion has come quickly crashing down. Don't get me wrong. I still well up a little bit each and every time I watch them skate, but clearly, there are better hockey players out there. I hear my dad's voice: "Son, there will always be someone better than you."

Michael is the slow and methodical skater, making sure each and every motion is done to perfection. His skills are developing but he doesn't have speed yet. Anthony, on the other hand, is all about speed. His form is ugly, and he is known as "crazy legs" in the KOHA learn-to-skate circle because of his complete inability to control most of his body as he jets around the ice at top speed.

They both make me smile and I love them both more than I ever thought possible. Perhaps that's why I'm able to laugh at their shortcomings while revelling in the absolute joy of fatherhood.

It wasn't so long ago my wife and I had the conversation about what kinds of "hockey parents" we'd be. Of course, she was convinced I'd be the dad in the stands coaching his kids, berating the other team and correcting the officials, all at the top of my generous and well-exercised lungs.

Actually, quite the opposite is true. I don't like to yell. I enjoy watching them and smiling... or frowning, if the occasion calls for it. I guess it all boils down to this: I don't need my boys to play hockey. I just want them to find something they are as passionate about as I am about hockey. The tuba, sculpture, cars, ballet or hunting. It doesn't matter what it is, as long as they're passionate about it.

But hockey was a logical place to start, don't you think?

You might have heard these before, but they made me laugh


I used to eat a lot of natural foods until I learned that most people die of natural causes.

Gardening Rule: When weeding, the best way to make sure you are removing a weed and not a valuable plant is to pull on it. If it comes out of the ground easily, it is a valuable plant.

The easiest way to find something lost around the house is to buy a replacement.

Never take life seriously. Nobody gets out alive anyway.

There are two kinds of pedestrians: the quick and the dead.

Life is sexually transmitted.

Health is merely the slowest possible rate at which one can die.

The only difference between a rut and a grave is the depth.

Health nuts are going to feel stupid someday, lying in hospitals dying of nothing.

Have you noticed since everyone has a camcorder these days no one talks about seeing UFOs like they used to?

Whenever I feel blue, I start breathing again.

All of us could take a lesson from the weather. It pays no attention to criticism.

In the 60's, people took acid to make the world weird. Now the world is weird and people take Prozac to make it normal.

How is it one careless match can start a forest fire, but it takes a whole box to start a campfire?

Who was the first person to look at a cow and say, "I think I'll squeeze these dangly things here, and drink whatever comes out?"

Who was the first person to say, "See that chicken there? I'm going to eat the next thing that comes out of its butt."

Why is there a light in the fridge and not in the freezer?

If Jimmy cracks corn and no one cares, why is there a song about him?

If quizzes are quizzical, what are tests?

Do illiterate people get the full effect of Alphabet Soup?

Did you ever notice that when you blow in a dog's face, he gets mad at you, but when you take him on a car ride, he sticks his head out the window?

Why doesn't glue stick to the inside of the bottle?

Tuesday, November 14, 2006


Apparently, the newsroom election-night slideshow link didn't work in a previous post.
Sorry about that.
It wasn't that big of a deal anyway.

Friday, November 10, 2006

A step in the right direction

Voters nationwide were so mad at Republicans, they voted the Democrats into power.
Forget what Gee-Dub said last Wednesday. It was ALL ABOUT the war in Iraq. How else can you explain the world's most liberal Republican losing to a Democrat?
But it wasn't 72 hours and already Bush was up to the same "I own the world" bulls--t. I'm not sure if he really thinks getting rid of Rummie will secure Bolton's confirmation, even if Gates has been a vocal opponent of some of the President's moves.
Ah, yes. Politics.

The election is over, and Democrats rule!

So, aside from my obvious elation at the Democrats reclaiming Congress, Tuesday was a long day.
And by long, I mean about 18 hours. Phew. It's over, and here's what the newsroom looked like for most of the evening.
Thanks to Dana Jacob-Carter, assistant metro editor at the Enquirer, for the cool slideshow.
Also, it's kind of ironic that I asked you all to tell me what you thought about my blog, including should I post more frequently.
That was, what, like a year ago?

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Dooce and blurbomat

So a friend directed me to read this blog, Dooce, and I went, albeit reluctantly. I've read other blogs by people who post daily or near-daily entries about their lives. I usually wind up thinking, "Who cares?" Then I remember I am one of those bloggers.


Now I am wondering what kinds of things people actually like to read when they visit blogs. As a reporter, I am used to reader survey information that tells us what readers want from their newspaper. But I've never actually approached blogging from that standpoint. Perhaps it's time I did.

Here are a few questions I encourage you to answer, if for no other reason than to help direct the future of The Script.
- What do you like to read?
- Which posts on The Script have been your favorites? Which ones did you like the least?
- Should there be more pictures and videos?
- If you could change anything about this blog, what would it be? Feel free to list all of your ideas.

In the meantime, I have added Dooce and the author's husband's blog, blurbomat, to my links on the right. Check them out and let me know what you think.

Oh, and GO TIGERS!