Sunday, September 28, 2008

P.J., We Hardly Knew Ya

In which we say g'bye to a beloved character

From 2001 to 2006, the affable, Boston-born Irishman, P.J. Corkery, wrote a lively three-dot column for the San Francisco Examiner. In a way, Corkery had taken over where Herb Caen left off, to the point of even emulating the great man's turns of phrase. It wasn't in a bad way, but rather as an homage.

Corkery died last week of something called non-Hodgkins lymphoma, which sounds pretty awful.

I was never introduced to Corkery, but I did often see him making his man-about-town rounds. He was always smiling and dapper, sometimes jauntily swinging a cane. I read his column often.

Recently, Corkery helped write The Honorable Willie Brown's excellent memoir, "Basic Brown: My Life and Our Times."

Although Corkery was a relatively new part of the San Francisco scene -- only coming here in 1988 for health reasons but immediately falling in love with the place -- he nevertheless represents a bit of the old city, the one we loved before the legions of Silicon Carpet-baggers invaded and took over. There are few left who can carry on the torch. Bruce Bellingham is one. Jon Carrol (who just won a major award) may be another -- when he's not writing about kittens, anyway. (Besides, he lives in Oakland, where a gentleman never goes.) And poor Leah Garchik, bless her heart, tries but one always gets the feeling that she operates almost exclusively through email, and isn't really on The Inside, the way it always felt with chaps like Caen or McCabe.

Well, at least we've still got our Willie.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

A Day-and-Half at the Air Races

In which we get our speed on

Last weekend was all about the Reno Air Races with Pops. Took the train -- which by the way, is excellent -- up to Davis on Friday, where I met Pops. Next morning we were up and at 'em early for the quick sprint over the High Sierra and down into Reno, arriving at the Air Races just as the sun was beginning its sizzling ascent into the unbearable. The shot above shows the unlimited jet races, in which the planes zip around a "track" -- outlined by pylons -- some two score miles long. The sound is awesome.

We took a break and went into the pits, where the crew teams take care of their planes, making them ready for the next race.

Vintage cars were on display as well as planes. Here, a boat-tailed, 1930s-era Rolls Royce Silver Cloud has been covered in copper and brass and installed with mahogany accents.

P-51 Mustang! Cadillac of the Sky! This lovingly restored P-51 -- probably the best performing prop-engine fighter of the Second World War -- sports gorgeous nose art as well seven Nazi, indicated the original pilots kills during the war. Take that, you Nazi bastards. Oh, the plane's name is "Reluctant Virgin."

A U.S. Air Force C-17 "Shark." A cargo aircraft, beautiful and graceful for its size, soars low over the grandstands. When I was skydiving we used to call these planes "sharks" because of the way they looked from above. C-17s would fly out of Travis Air Force Base and pass beneath our jump plane, hence the instructors would warn, "Look out for sharks!"
Before the U.S. Airforce Thunderbirds show, skydivers unveiled the colors to the sounds of the Star Spangled Banner.
The Fabulous Thunderbirds. Not as good as the U.S. Navy Blue Angles, but pretty darn good. One of the things I did not like about their show was that it was accompanied by a heavy metal and rap soundtrack, along with a recruitment voice-over that hit every nationalistic cliche in the book. Listen, guys, I know this is a recruitment excersize after all, but there's just no need to lay it on that thick. It's insulting. Besides, the 'Birds make a music all their own that is ten times more moving and powerful than any corn-ball soundtrack.

The T-Birds move fast. Not easy to photograph, yo?

The highlight of the show. Above, the F-22 Raptor shows off its bombay doors with a low pass over the crowd. This aircraft moves like magic. It doesn't so much as turn as it simply changes direction. We kept hearing people in the crowd exclaiming, "But that's just impossible." Well, not anymore. The thing can, literally, start and stop on a dime and, using vectored thrust, shift direction, going from straight up to straight down in a split second. It can even fly backwards at 100 miles per hour.
I pity any airmen in a rival airforce who finds himself pitted against the F-22, because he simply does not stand a prayer in hell.
I have to say, the races themselves were not all that. Some, like the jet races and the stunt biplane races, were fun. But in general, they were a bit too much like NASCAR, and it was clear that whoever took the early lead was going to be the winner. Not much "jockeying" for position. It was the demostration flights that made the Reno Air Races worthwhile.

This pic says it all. In the foreground sits the mighty F-22. Flying behind is a standard Cessna, flown by an expert stunt pilot who flew it like it was a high-performance formula one aircraft, doing outside loops, barrel roles and other complex maneuvers.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

What Every Man Wants: More Power

In which we indulge our testosterone just a little

Recently, the United States Coast Guard took delivery of its new flagship cutter, the USCGC Berthof. Named for Commodore Ellsworth Price Bertholf, the Coast Guard's First Commandant, the Bertholf is a state-of-the-art military and law enforcement vessel that packs a punch.

Length: 418 feet
Beam: 54 feet
Displacement: 4,500 long tons
Navigational Draft: 30 feet
Speed: 28 knots
Range: 12,000 nautical miles
Complement: 113 (14 Officers)
Armament: 1 57mm Bofors Gun
1 Phalanx CIWS 1B 20mm
4 50 Caliber Machine Guns
2 7.62mm Light Machine Guns

The Berthof on San Francisco Bay.
She will be home-ported here at Coast Guard Island, in the estuary between the island of Alameda and the Oakland shore. Note her elegant, sweeping lines and steeply raked bow.

The Berthof's 57mm Bofors gun.
This computer-controlled canon, capable of firing up to 200 rounds per minute, can put a shell through a dope-running cigarette boat dead amidships from more than a five miles away.
The Berthof can travel half way around the globe without refueling.