Monday, September 21, 2009


Although I have been reading the New York Review of Books for many years, I can't think of a single other pilot who does so, and I'm betting that none of you read Michael Massing's recent article about newspapers. I was surprised at a tiny editorial decision: while I grew up thinking of my hometown newspaper as the Boston Globe, the article called it the Boston Globe. Similar choices were made for other newspapers.

[Don't worry, there's aviation to come]

I think this choice is a mistake because it reduces the importance of the city; the Boston Globe is no more about Boston than the Harlem Globetrotters are about Harlem, while the separation of Boston from Globe emphasizes the city connection.

All of these newspapers have had wonderful columnists whose daily ramblings taught us what it meant to be a Bostonian, or an Angelino, or a Chicagoan, or whatever,writers like Mike Barnicle, Jimmy Breslin, Studs Terkel, those kind of guys. I'll even extend the honor to Peter Gzowski, whose distinctive voice on CBC Radio taught a generation what it meant to be a Canadian. All of them were controversial, but that's the nature of being the voice of the city (or, in Gzowski's case, the country).

I once spent a semester on sabbatical in Texas. My first weekend there, I bought the Dallas newspapers, and sat down to learn about being a Texan. (Those days are gone. Now I live in Idaho and read the daily New York Times on my iPhone.) There is no concept of "temporary" Texan, as far as I can tell, so I had to get up to speed quickly. I can't remember which newspaper it was in, but there was a wonderful column about a toothless old lady who ran a cafe and store and still loved life. The story painted a vivid picture of life in rural Texas, and I remember it fondly to this day.

That local newspaper columnist who taught me so much about Texas had already taught me a lot about flying. It was Gordon Baxter, whose monthly column in Flying was one of my favorite features.

Lots of his "Bax Seat" stories came flooding to mind today. Spinning the Mooney. Thinking about landing "one of those pesky 150s" on an aircraft carrier in the Gulf of Mexico. Busting the Houston TCA, "squawkin' and talkin'." The ride in the Citation: "Jet time!" Barfing in the Stearman "as the coaming came up around me."

Bax wasn't always the good guy, but his heart was always in the right place and he loved the people he wrote about. He taught us what it means to be a pilot. Let's try to keep him in mind.

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At September 21, 2009 at 6:49 PM , Blogger Sarah said...

OH yes. I remember Bax Seat. It was the first thing I turned to in Flying. He as lyrical writing about Stearmans...

I missed the story about spinning the Mooney.

At September 22, 2009 at 4:48 AM , Blogger Frank Van Haste said...

Dear Doc:

When Flying showed up monthly in the post, I would always start reading it right away -- from the back to the front! Bax first. Always a joy. Then on to Len Morgan, who I thought to be just as good. He, too, taught what it means to be a pilot. Then the other workmanlike columns. Always left the, er, musings of the guys in the front of the book 'til last.

Then Bax and Len stopped writing, and went West. I let my subscription lapse; not worth the time to read. Do you suppose that publications have a natural life span?

Thanks for blogging,


At September 22, 2009 at 5:08 PM , Blogger Tim said...

Nice post Jim. Some of the best parts about the "old" Flying magazine.

Was over your house on Saturday, hope you can fly gliders again soon.



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