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Pere-Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, 12/9/05

Several years ago, Patti and I went to Paris to celebrate one of life’s little milestones. We went in late-November/early-December and it was, for the most part, cold and gray most of the time we were there. Towards the end of the trip, we made a stop at a location that all the books said was totally worth it: the Pere-Lachaise Cemetery. You may have heard of it. It’s best known among people of my demographic to be the final stop for Jim Morrison. We found it to be much, much more than that.

First off, it’s huge (over 190 acres). There are lots of other famous people resting here. One of the first we saw was the bizarre tomb of Oscar Wilde, which for reasons I can’t begin to explain was covered with the red lipstick impressions of hundred of lips (not all female, I suspect).

Oscar Wilde's lipstick covered tomb. Pere-Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, 12/9/05

Morrison’s grave was protected by some fans, all significantly younger than ourselves, to protect it from vandalism. At Chopin’s tomb, there was a little old man tending to the many fresh flowers (in December no less) and generally keeping things tidy for old Frederic. We strolled past the resting places of Abelard and Heloise, Alice B. Toklas and Gertrude Stein, and many other graves, tombs and monuments of Parisian society. It was all pretty cool, even though it was our coldest day yet.

Chopin's monument is tended with great love. Pere-Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, 12/9/05

What surprised us the most, however, were the monuments to the losses taken in WWII. We ran across them early and often. There were many of them commemorating the victims of the camps, members of the resistance, specific incidents and who knows what else. And some of them, many of them, can only be described as surreal. Grotesque shapes, skeletons and weird art adorned them. It was quite sobering.

One of many sculptures honoring the lives lost in WWII. Pere-Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, 12/9/05

Pere-Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, 12/9/05

Pere-Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, 12/9/05

STS-135, Atlantis, lifted off earlier today on the last launch of any meaning for the foreseeable future. As I type this, there are friends of mine on the launch team with all kinds of emotions running through them. Many people have been laid off with many, many more heading out the door later this month. Sad stuff. The entire launch team is like a family with a common purpose. They did their jobs well and with passion and they are justifiably proud of their 30 years worth of accomplishments. After wheel stop on this mission, the US will no longer have a Manned Space Flight Program, at least an active one. Time to move on.

The first launch I saw live was STS-6 (Challenger). Today I stayed home, unwilling to brave the roads to watch from close up. 1,000,000 people all hopping in their cars at the same time is not my idea of fun. (I talked a bit about that here.) I watched from my back yard but, due to weather, I only saw it for about 2 seconds before it slipped into the clouds. The view below is a quick shot from my backyard. It’s something that every taxpayer should have seen at least once. I was very fortunate. I can only hope that I will have the chance to see men launched from KSC again before I retire. Odds are not good at this point, but you never know.

PS: A huge pat on the back to every member of the Launch Processing System (LPS) team, past and present. LPS comprises the Computer and Display Systems that checkout and launch the Shuttle. During 30 years of operations, there was never a launch delay due to an issue with LPS. That’s the kind of people I work with. I couldn’t be prouder of them.

STS-6 Rollout, Spring of 1983

STS-135, 7/8/11

Yours truly in the Orbiter Pilots seat, Long, long ago

In 1979 I worked for a company in Baltimore that performed quality testing on various construction materials: concrete (not cement!), soil, paint, steel, etc…. It was a turning point in my life; not because of the job itself, but because of my boss. George & I immediately “clicked” and became close friends. He was my best man at my first wedding, as well as at my final wedding. During that early time frame he was a keyboard player in several bands. Although I tried to get him to come camping with me for years, he had a wife and two kids. Between work, music and family, he had no time for an additional hobby.

Then, in 1982, I moved to Florida in order to finish college. Leaving Baltimore, I had to shed a bunch of crap stuff so I gave him several rucksacks … essentially big sacks with a couple of wooden strips sewn into them for stiffness and a couple of shoulder straps. Crude, huge and uncomfortable. And off to Florida I went, with no idea of what I had started.

That winter, while huddled around a heat stove in the cold garage that served as the testing lab, George and another friend/co-worker Arne, decided to put the gear to the test. They packed everything they could think of into the packs, threw some more stuff in just in case they had forgotten something, and went backpacking in the Shenandoah National Park. And were hooked. George went on to become extremely involved in the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club where he devoted countless volunteer hours over the years. And a traditional camping trip to a backwoods cabin on the second weekend of January was started. For about 28 years now, we have gone off to the woods for a bit of hiking in the cold, more than a bit of adult beverages and laughter. Lots and lots of laughter. Early on, George’s son, Jesse, became part of the crew (I can still picture his first taste of alcohol in the Virginia backwoods). Each year we caught up as kids were born and grew, as divorces took place and marriages were celebrated. Each year a group photo was taken. Most of these show four guys heavily bundled mugging for the camera. One of the first was taken during a summertime trip on the porch of the cabin that gives our group our name: Corbin Cabin.

The Corbin Club, taken a long time ago.

Last week, we met on the beach of North Carolina for a week to attend the wedding of Arne’s daughter. We shared a house just a few minutes walk from the ocean and the unique thing about this trip was that we each had our ladies with us. Although Patti had met all of my buddies before, this was the first time she had spent an extended amount of time with them. On the way back to Florida, after watching George, Arne, Jesse and myself interact for a while, she stated that she now has a better appreciation of why the four of us are so close. The only way I can explain it is that they are members of my family. The family that I have chosen. I look forward to seeing them whenever and wherever it may happen.

Like 6 months from now on the second weekend in January.

January, 2011

Oak Island, NC. June, 2011

The Corbin Family, June, 2011