formerly "The View From Up Here"

Formerly titled "The View From Up Here" this column began in the Liberty Gazette June 26, 2007.

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Tuesday, March 6, 2018

March 6, 2018 Owning a Business in a Communist Country (part VII in a series)

The Liberty Gazette
March 6, 2018
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

After a great visit to Phnom Penh, we boarded Cambodian Angkor Air for a thirty minute domestic flight to Siem Reap. Such a short hop is most economically served by the popular ATR-72. There’s a training program in Houston for this airplane, a twin-engine turboprop.

We reserved a room in a traditional Khmer wooden house belonging to a local family, a young professional couple with two preschoolers. They arranged for private transportation from the airport so when we arrived we looked around for our sign. A young man who introduced himself as Alex (his American name) escorted us to his tuk tuk. We hopped aboard the romantic carriage and away we went through lovely Siem Reap.

We’ll have more to say about our experiences in Siem Reap, but one thing that got our attention was that despite a communist government, entrepreneurism is alive and well inside the Cambodian people. They have spirit and drive, and hospitality seems to come naturally. So while we can’t wait to tell you about sticking our feet in fish tanks to get a pedicure, exploring Pub Street, the markets and temples, the floating village, and the circus, we must start with Alex. He was, after all, with us for every adventure.

His real name is Sophal Chea. He’s twenty years old and lives in a small village outside Siem Reap with his brother and grandmother. Like most Cambodians, he has significant gardens, growing lemongrass, rice, as well as orange, banana, and coconut trees. And one cow, so far. His English is pretty good, and his people skills are excellent.

When we first met, Alex shook our hands and said, “Welcome. I’ll be your driver during your stay.” We had learned in Phnom Penh how competitive the tuk tuk business is. While Siem Reap is a smaller city, it’s heavily dependent on tourism, where the motorcycle chariots fit in well to serve visitors. By working with a homestay and claiming his clients upon introduction, Alex is ahead of his competitors, and he doesn’t have to park along a busy street asking passers-by if they need a ride. Nothing wrong with those who hustle for their business, but Alex is employing a more sophisticated approach advertising on travel sites and social media. So if you plan a trip to Siem Reap (and you should!), look for Tuk Tuk Okay. You’ll find Alex’s business in hot demand.

On our first full day, he took us to tour five wats (temples). Most of these are ruins, but the biggest, Angkor Wat, is in great shape for its age. Built in the twelfth century, it remains the largest religious monument in the world, the complex occupying about 400 acres. Wall carvings of traditional stories, kings, Hindu gods, and Buddha, are vivid. These humongous stone temples were built with the help of elephant labor to bring rocks from distant mountains.

After climbing through the ruins, Alex brought us back to our homestay to rest up for more escapades, which we’ll tell you about next week.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

February 27, 2018 Traditions Alive (part VII in a series)

The Liberty Gazette
February 27, 2018
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: Many years ago, I was moved to pray for Cambodia. I did not know why. I had no personal connection and didn’t know where Cambodia was, but I prayed. In December, we visited that beautiful country.

Last week, we introduced you to Phnom Penh. Now it’s time to discover the strength of this city—its people.

What most of us know of Phnom Penh is the atrocities of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. From 1974 to 1979, they tortured, starved, and murdered over two million fellow Cambodians. Victims were all ages, and the torture was as horrific as you can imagine—or more so. They turned a high school into a torture camp. Documentation of what happened there and the nearby killing fields is abundant. Next to the temples, these are probably the most visited “attractions.” I’ve been to several countries of genocide, Anne Frank’s hiding place in Amsterdam, and Houston’s Holocaust Museum. I did not want to see the killing fields. It’s important, but it’s also full of pain. We chose instead to support their future—through the arts.

The answer to “why the killing?” is hard to understand. Pol Pot claimed he wanted to make Cambodia an agrarian utopia, but the truth was he was consumed by evil. His vision of “improvement” was to kill those who could disagree—intellectuals, artists, and musicians.

Arn Chorn-Pond was a musician, and his family owned an opera company, making him a target. He escaped the massacre and came to New York a refugee.

When he returned home, 90 percent of his country’s artists were gone. Becoming reacquainted with his city, he happened upon one of his nation’s greatest opera singers begging on the street.

Determined to not let their culture disappear, he asked her to join him to search for other surviving artists. He brought them out of hiding and raised support, first to feed them and then for the arts, as a way to keep Cambodian history alive. Since 1998, when he founded Cambodian Living Arts, he has brought back traditional teachings to new generations, providing scholarships and support for cultural arts.

At a traditional dance show, we were treated to an Apsara dance. Wordlessly, they told a popular folk tale that dates back to the 7th century. In Hindu mythology, Apsaras were “celestial dancers”—beautiful female creatures that descended from heaven to entertain gods and kings, neither of which could resist their charms. In elaborate silk costumes, with complex, intricate movements, the dance troupe enacted the story of a kidnapped princess and the efforts of her prince and his helper monkeys to rescue her.

This endearing fable has lived in the hearts of generations of Cambodians. With unparalleled skill, the dancers bring their plight and hope for healing right to the soul. One cannot help but be absorbed in the beauty and the determination to survive, to live.

Arn declares his goal: “My hope is that someday people will come to Phnom Penh for its arts rather than its killing fields.”

Sunday, February 25, 2018

February 20, 2018 Phnom Penh (part VI in a series)

The Liberty Gazette
February 20, 2018
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: I had come face to face with the building married to the impression formed in my youth, the scene of escape hours before Saigon fell to the communists. It was time to head back to the Tân Sơn Nhất airport to board Vietnam Air for a half-hour flight to Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital.

Linda: We picked our accommodations on Airbnb. Our hosts had a spacious, modern high-rise only a block from the lively riverfront of the Tonle Sap. Less congested than Chicago’s Magnificent Mile, the shopping, night life, and tourist district touts open-front restaurants where traditional Khmer and Thai herbs and spices arouse the senses: jungle cardamom, lemongrass, and kaffir lime; basil and lotus stem. Their “Asian spring onion” looks similar to flower chives but doesn’t smell like an onion—it smells like dinner! On podiums along the sidewalk the menus tempted us. I wanted to stop in every café.

Imagine Galveston’s Seawall Boulevard, except on each block the buildings are densely packed together. Across the busy four-lane road people jog and workout on public exercise equipment installed on the spacious pavement of Riverfront Park. Everywhere, tuk tuks (motorcycle-carriage vehicles) are for hire. One can barely walk three yards without an entrepreneur offering a ride in his tuk tuk.

Phnom Penh, translated as “Penh’s Hill,” was named for a widow who had a temple built there. Borrowed from Sanskrit, the word for temple is wat. In 1372, Lady Penh found a Koki tree floating down the Tonle Sap after a storm. Inside the tree were four bronze Buddha statues. She believed this was a divine blessing, and asked villagers to help her build a wat out of the Koki wood to house the statues. Wat Phnom still stands and is open to visitors. Inside are many more Buddha statues, much burning incense, and a place for worshippers to pray. We removed our shoes, as required, and entered to witness the sacred practice of their faith.

Cambodia’s modern wats, lavish and intricately carved, are many, but these are not the only buildings that capture attention. Over the years, Phnom Penh has become known for its architecture. In the 1920s, the “Pearl of Asia” was one of the loveliest French-built cities in Indochina, strong in tourism and trade. French colonial buildings can still be found along grand boulevards. Our stay was next to the Royal Palace and near the National Museum, both architecturally and historically significant. This is the Angkor region of the Kingdom of Cambodia.

From the ninth to the fifteenth centuries, Angkor was the seat of the Khmer Empire, the largest empire of Southeast Asia. Over 4,000 ruins, surviving ancient wats, including mammoth Angkor Wat, remain as evidence of the world’s largest pre-industrial urban center—greater than New York today.

The most important part of visiting this city was yet to come. Join us next week for a chat about survival and restoration after genocide.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

February 13, 2018 Face to Face with a Lasting Impression (part V in a series)

The Liberty Gazette
February 13, 2018
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: Captured in an iconic snapshot is a “Huey” helicopter landing on a roof in downtown Saigon. UPI photographer, Hubert van Es, immortalized the scene on April 29, 1975, hours before the city fell. A line of people clawed their way up a ladder, desperate to board—their last hope of escape. The van Es photo became symbolic of the entire evacuation.
Photo by Hubert van Es. Source:
The Vietnam War was in the news daily, but early on, the innocence of childhood shielded me. I played with my G.I. Joes, dug foxholes, and engaged in mock battles. I must have been shot a thousand times.

For a fourth grade school assembly celebrating Armed Forces Day, we were encouraged to bring something symbolic to honor those serving. My neighbor had been in the Special Forces in Vietnam. I didn’t really know where it was, and the meaning of war was not yet within my understanding. Yet I swelled with patriotic pride when he let me wear his green beret to school. That bonded me to the cause—the fight for freedom.

When I entered junior high, men a few years older than my brother were dying in that far-away place. A youth advisor at church had recently returned from Vietnam. Preparing to pray for the soldiers still there, he played a recording of a battle he was in. Shouting and screaming were interrupted by rapid gunfire as bullets struck nearby. When the recording ended with a crack, he explained the tape recorder microphone had been hit. I got a little older that day. I knew if I was called, I would go.

Mid-way through freshman year, the Paris Peace Accords were signed and we thought the war was over. Then the North Vietnamese violated the treaty, attacking after the U.S. withdrew. We didn’t go back. I felt we betrayed the trust of the South Vietnamese people.

My junior year, as the communists breached Saigon, Operation Frequent Wind evacuated thousands. Because the airport was heavily bombed, helicopters took people from landing zones throughout the city out to ships.

The Pittman Apartment building was one of those landing zones. It isn’t on any tourist map. TripAdvisor refuses to publish anything about it. We didn’t ask any locals where it was—they live under a communist regime. But I had researched and had an address.
Pittman Apartments, Saigon, December 2017. Photo by Linda Street-Ely.
Before me, the shabby nine-story structure was diminished by a skyline of modern glass-walled buildings. The roof-top looks like it does in the photo. The evacuation signal played in my mind—Bing Crosby’s “A White Christmas.” Here I stood, where mothers with babies had fled, soldiers with guns had aimed, and frightened families had fought their way to the building in hopes of escape. In the streets around me, South Vietnamese troops had abandoned their uniforms to protect themselves, as tanks rolled into the city.
Pittman Apartment rooftop, Saigon, December 2017. Photo by Linda Street-Ely.
This is the far-away place of my impressionable youth; the building in the photo, a piece of history that, though I lived on the other side of the world, was part of me.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

February 6, 2018 A Taste of the Mekong (part IV in a series)

The Liberty Gazette
February 6, 2018
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: Nearly fifty years after the Vietnam War, mangrove and coconut palm trees still grow and the Mekong still provides for the hard working people.

The next stop on our private tour is a coconut plantation. Balancing on the boat’s bow, I grab the ladder. A bamboo retaining wall extends from the water to a level landing above. During wet season, the ladder is unnecessary, but it’s dry and we have to climb.

On top, our guide, Vi, explains process and purpose as workers bust open the outer husks and strip out the hard-shelled centers. “A strong worker can remove 2,000 coconut husks a day. They shred and spin it into twine to make garden mats. These coconut palm leaves will make roof thatch and brooms.” We walk through the plantation amid sweat and swinging arms. There will be no waste.

Vi leads us down a mud trail. We tight-rope atop palm tree trunks over irrigation ditches to get to the plantation owners’ home. She wants us to meet the friendly, entrepreneurial family. The patriarch welcomes us from his hammock strung across the front porch of the traditional wooden house. Their plantation provides jobs and raw material for the broom factory we will tour. A motorcycle-rickshaw called a “tuk tuk,” takes us there.

Linda: We step into the open concrete building, a roof for shade and only two walls, allowing ventilation from husk dust. Women sit on the floor, crafting up to two hundred brooms per day by hand. Their smiles are warm and genuine. They’re happy that people come to see how they make a living. If they work fast, they’ll earn two dollars a day. Though materially poor, they have pride. Some bring their children with them; we see babies on mats and school-aged children playing tag. The kids giggle when they hear foreigners talk. The brooms wholesale locally for fifty cents, retail thirty dollars in the States. Tour tips help the workers afford food.

We’ll have more food than we can eat on this tour. Americans have a reputation, so the agenda includes a snack stop at Tám Nhu Garden. The 82-year old master gardener serves us a sumptuous variety of fruits on his gazebo—melons, bananas, and citrus. He loves his Jackfruit, the special treat of the region. We’ve never seen so vast and lush a garden.

Not far from this botanical wonderland we step gingerly into a sampan. Our captain paddles the narrow boat through gentle currents in winding water under a canopy of coconut trees in a cinematic experience. When this quiet fork of the Mekong merges with the main river, we transfer to a power boat. We’re expected for lunch at an exclusive riverside restaurant.

Under a thatched roof, on the patio on stilts, they bring dish after dish, at least ten courses. We want to be gracious. But we want them to take all these leftovers to the broom factory.

We’ll take Võ Văn Kiệt Avenue back to Saigon. The avenue runs along the Tofu channel. Vi grins. Being vegan, we should like that name. But we’re full.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

January 30, 2018 "MySaigon" (part III in a series)

The Liberty Gazette
January 30, 2018
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: A Boeing 777 brought us to Saigon where a trip down the Mekong awaits. Our private guide, Vi, has a full day planned.

The Communist name is Ho Chi Minh City but the people say their home is Saigon. With pride in their city, their history, and their identity, many call it “MySaigon.”

The journey from the heart of Saigon to the Mekong Delta takes a couple of hours by car. Not a minute is wasted. Vi is a pro. She’s brought a binder full of pictures and maps. Artfully, she tells stories of her land and people. In the SUV, we’re moving through culture, time past and present, like a documentary, only better.

Distance grows between us and the big city and soon we’re cruising the countryside. Vast agricultural land is only partly rice fields. Pig farms and cattle ranches feed carnivores. We witness the variety of vegetables and fruits sown and harvested. Rivalry claiming who has the sweetest bananas exists among the countries in Southeast Asia. At every farm ancestors’ crypts guarantee the property won’t be sold.

Into “Coconut Kingdom” we head, through Tiền Giang Province, Mỹ Tho City. Coconut oil is good for the skin and this city earned its nickname, “Beautiful Girl Village.” Nam Phuong, the last Vietnamese empress and three-time Miss Indochina was born in Mỹ Tho. Princes may flock to this town to find a wife but we move on.

Further south is Ben Tre Province. During the rainy season you can boat through the wet market. Tightly packed booths brim with meat, fish, vegetables, fruit, coconuts, flowers, grains, herbs, and spices. Farmers’ markets in the states pale in comparison to the size and variety. Displays are colorful, layouts well designed—a photographer’s delight.

Vi says tigers roamed this area long ago. Not wanting to waste land, the king determined to colonize the southern part of Vietnam. But he couldn’t risk losing family members to ravenous felines so prisoners were sent to colonize the area. I ask where all the tigers went. Vi grins.

“The restaurant.”

Mike:  A short distance from the wet market, Vi leads us down the riverbank and onto a traditional wooden boat. Our captain chops notches in three coconuts and impales them with straws. He is at home on the Mekong. We sip the native juice as Vi acquaints us with legends and traditions of the people on the river.

Floating lazily past thick, twisting mangrove trees, I am lost in thought about young men barely out of high school patrolling these waters in U.S. Navy Swift Boats. There was no safe place; danger was their closest companion as they scanned the trees, twin 50-caliber machine guns ready to fire.

Nearly fifty years have passed since that violent era but the river doesn’t know it. Mangrove and coconut palm trees still grow and the Mekong still provides for the hard working people. It is still their home.

See you next week, with more of the taste of the delta.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

January 23, 2018 Hello Vietnam (part II in a series)

The Liberty Gazette
January 23, 2018
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: Saigon’s population exceeds ten million. In its narrow streets, locals commute on scooters—over seven million of them—separated by inches (at best). Traffic rules are only a suggestion. Many things are delivered by scooter or motorcycle. We saw a full-size refrigerator standing upright, strapped behind the driver weaving his way through traffic.

Seems crazy, but it works for them. Westerners tend to blow up with road rage in such congestion. The Vietnamese however, go with the flow like tight schools of fish in currents converging from all directions. Pedestrian crossing is a developed skill. Make eye contact with the drivers, but don’t maintain it while progressing through the onslaught of cars and motorbikes.  Move like you’re auditioning for a dance in Saturday Night Fever. We survived, (crossing, that is), but it’s not for the faint of heart.

So, Saturday night in Saigon. One block near us was closed to motorized traffic. The scene reminded me a little of Austin’s Sixth Street—but Saigon-style. Meaning, it’s not all bars and we saw no drunks. It’s just full of life. Sidewalks are parking lots for motorcycles stacked four deep in front of businesses renting space; plastic chairs ubiquitous in the space remaining. Go ahead, have a seat! Visit with Vietnamese, people-watch, and enjoy food from any of the million street vendors competing for scarce sidewalk space. Folks are friendly and sociable. I hesitate to mention New York City, but there is a heartbeat here, only it’s different. It’s settled.

Linda: Sixteen days is not enough to see Southeast Asia, but you can get a sense of things if you do it right. We use Airbnb. It gets us closer to the real life. We did the same across Iceland. With Airbnb, homeowners make extra money renting out a room, or a whole house. Some people have turned it into a business, offering travelers something hotels cannot—a non-touristy stay.

In Saigon, we opted for a family-owned coffee shop, internet café, and bookstore where they’ve added rooms. The owners were delightful and lodging there gave us the opportunity to meet more locals and experience the neighborhood. College-aged kids gathered at the bookstore with laptops. Ordering Vietnamese coffee alongside them immersed us in their culture. Fortunately, many speak English.

Of course, we wouldn’t spend much time in our room. We came to explore and had booked a fascinating activity for our first full day: a private tour down the Mekong River, through villages, markets, and the “Coconut Kingdom.” We discovered this tour on, a company that arranges unique experiences with local, knowledgeable guides. Our guide was Vi (pronounced “Vee”), a lovely young Vietnamese woman who left the banking business to show the world her Vietnam. Vi is well-studied about her country’s history, geography, businesses, and cultures. Sunday morning, we hopped in an SUV with Vi and a driver and left Saigon for the farms and villages to the south.

Join us next week for a delicious trip down the Mekong River Delta.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

January 16, 2018 To Saigon (part I in a series)

The Liberty Gazette
January 16, 2018
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: My favorite adage comes through again: “A mile of highway can take you a mile. But a mile of runway can take you anywhere.” This time, we boarded EVA Airlines for a sixteen day adventure through Southeast Asia.

From Houston’s Bush Intercontinental Airport we’d stop first in Taipei, Taiwan before continuing to Saigon (the North Vietnamese won the war so it’s officially Ho Chi Minh City now, but the folks living there love you more if you call it My Saigon or just Saigon, which was their city).

Mike: Near midnight, we departed in a Boeing 777. Our track was north of what would have been the most direct route between Houston and Taipei, probably to avoid strong headwinds. While everyone slept, I watched our progress on the seat back monitor map.

We flew northwest, crossed the Rockies over Idaho then British Columbia and on to Alaska. I opened the shade over Fairbanks. We crossed the Bearing Straits and overflew Russia along the eastern part of Siberia. Outside, all was black. Suddenly, over the Sea of Okhotsk which separates mainland Russia from the volcanic Kamchatka Peninsula, our flight made a forty-five degree diversion toward the west coast of Japan and into a one hundred seventy-five knot headwind—away from the Korean Peninsula and North Korea’s lunatic dictator. Obviously we didn’t need to be over the Sea of Japan when he threw a tantrum.

As the sun rose, we approached Taipei. Breaks in the clouds allowed me to look down upon houses and buildings, and for the first time in my life, set my eyes upon an Asian city.

Linda: I call Taipei’s airport “the Hello Kitty airport” for its abundant portrayal of the little cartoon cat—a playground, a lounge, wall paper, life-sized stand-ups, wall hangings, statues, pay phone, and retail store with everything HK. Pink is everywhere.

The sixteen and a half hour flight to Taipei was too much. I wouldn’t recommend such a long flight. But we had over three hours to move about Hello Kitty airport before re-boarding for Saigon. We walked, browsed the many shops, and had our first bowl of Asian noodle soup in an Asian country.

Mike: We landed in Saigon at the same airport where U.S. troops arrived over 40 years ago. A few buildings at Tân Sơn Nhất airport remain from that era. Most have been replaced with airport expansion.

Customs in Vietnam was straightforward and reasonably quick. Outside, I guess they’re used to it, but passenger pick-up was like the trading floor of Wall Street. We located our driver and I soon realized my mistake in sitting in the front seat. I was introduced to Saigon traffic mere millimeters from vehicles in front of and next to us. Traffic rules are only a suggestion.

In the coming weeks we’ll share more about our visit to Southeast Asia. We opted for airline travel between cities to leave more time for experiences. The places the airplanes took us provided for truly amazing experiences. Stay tuned. 

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

January 9, 2018 Vintage Journals from Domestic Papers

The Liberty Gazette
January 9, 2018
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: Lee Steiner has a business and sells her products on the popular internet marketplace, Etsy. We met Lee at a Houston Writers House meeting when she presented her unique creations and immersed us in her passion for the past. Lee’s company, Domestic Papers, blends her lifelong love of books, paper, art, and antique ephemera into a fun mix of vintage vibe handmade books.

From her fascinating talk and a thorough look through her books, we were absorbed in her story. Lee finds trashed books no one wants and gives them a second life by creating journals for writers, artists, travelers, moms, teachers, and anyone who likes to draw or jot down their thoughts and ideas.

Recreating the books is the journey she loves. Her zeal ignites an audience of writers and artists. She’s learned the old ways of bookbinding and her results are stunning, adorable, and lovely. You can trace the history of every book she turns from old to new in her studio back to its beginning perhaps centuries ago, in lands far away.

Lee is in the Houston area, but you can easily see and buy her vintage and antique rebirths on Etsy.  As you browse her shop, you’ll see many of the books have a fascinating history to boast, thanks many times to old and interesting photos, postcards, maps, and general miscellany she collects when she travels.

And yes, there’s an airplane in this story.

After Lee’s intriguing show, Mike and I wandered up to peruse the offerings. We were met with journals of great variety in both form and function and were impressed with her artistic skill, imagination, and weaving things she loves into a business.

As I stood at one end of the table, a friend showed me a green book with gold lettering and the silhouette of an airplane in old fabric covering typical of hardbacks decades ago. The binding is beautifully re-stitched in ancient fashion and several pages from the original book have been salvaged. Between them are blank pages and graph paper. This had been Francis Pope and Arthur Otis’s book, “Elements of Aeronautics,” published by World Book in 1941.

Originally 660 pages, it served as a textbook for an introductory course in aeronautics at the high school level. Library card pockets are still on the inside of both front and back covers, but affixed to each pocket’s space where the due date would be stamped is a photo cut from the original book. Boeings and Douglases are sprinkled throughout the little journal, and Lee even rescued a page of instructions on how to figure a wind triangle. Patti Atkins can appreciate that.

Mike found a map-themed journal to take on our next trip. It will be perfect for jotting down sights and experiences in the moment.

With Lee’s books, you can continue a tale she’s reincarnated, but the rest of its story is up to you.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

January 2, 2018 The Masons and Mr. Gilmour

The Liberty Gazette
January 2, 2018
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: Across the pond, Irishman Brendan O’Brien thrills air show audiences. As a youngster growing up in London, he wanted to fly like the birds. But life changed in his early teens. Despite the hardships that came with losing his parents so young, he became a world record holder of over 200 flying records, earned an unlimited license to fly any aircraft, and proved he wasn’t just another brick in the wall.

Linda: Two things I’ve said ever since learning to fly: One, the best way to get over the fear of flying is to learn to fly; it takes the unknown out of the equation, and we really only fear the unknown. Two, drummers would make good helicopter pilots—all hands and feet have to be moving independently, but in coordination. I stand by both statements, and appreciate the confirmation provided by Mr. and Mrs. Mason and their friend, Mr. Gilmour. I also appreciate the Masons’ support for the idea that a non-pilot spouse should at least learn how to land the family airplane, should the need arise. When we present a “Pinch Hitter” course to non-pilot spouses that is exactly what we teach.

Mr. Mason dreaded flying, but he had to for business. One day he spoke his mind to a colleague who in turn convinced him that learning to fly would cure him of that fear. Mr. Mason considered the advice good, and went with his friend’s recommendation of Brendan O’Brien.

A busy schedule kept Mr. Mason from completing his private pilot training quickly, but in about a year he finally had a license. Then he realized, not being a spring chicken, if he had a sudden health problem while flying, he’d want his wife to be able to land the plane safely and get help. Therefore, a year later, Mrs. Mason earned her license. Both became smitten with aviation and soaked in all they could, including twin-engine ratings. The Mr. and Mrs. enjoyed flying their aeroplanes, but soon discovered there was more to British life than fixed-wing aircraft. There were rotorwings! Money was no object and soon Mr. Mason added a helicopter rating to his license, and Mrs. Mason followed a year later, falling in love with flying their whirlybird.

One of Mr. Mason’s co-workers, Mr. Gilmour, also hated flying, and for the same reason. When Mr. Mason explained how learning to fly changed his life and now he loved it, Mr. Gilmour contacted Brendan O’Brien to see if he could get the same results. He did.

It didn’t take long for the co-workers to invest in an airport and several airplanes together. All of this would not have been possible were it not for Brendan O’Brien, and also for the success of their album, Dark Side of the Moon.

These days, it probably doesn’t matter to Pink Floyd’s founding members, drummer, Nick Mason and lead vocalist/guitarist, David Gilmour, what side of the moon their on, as long as they’re airborne.