Posts Tagged ‘Carlo’


When I was young, Dad introduced me to the concept of the bucket list.  This was shortly after one of our first SCUBA dives together, exploring a submerged mountain, watching a cuttlefish changing color in front of us like a rotund neon starship.  I remember the salt taste in my mouth, the ache in my nose from the awkwardly-fitted children’s dive mask as I told Dad that this was the closest we’d ever get to being astronauts.

I didn’t see the look on his face, absorbed as I was by the waves lapping against our banca.  I talked about how it was zero gravity, strange alien creatures, life support equipment.  Adventure.


SEAL Team Sicks


I would later find out that Dad was checking “astronaut” off his bucket list, that list of things one must do before one dies.  This year, he checked off “Fly a Spitfire,” and that’s our previous story.





When I was a kid, all I ever wanted to do was to be a pilot.  My first movie was either Star Wars or Top Gun, which explains a lot.  Mom complained on a trip to Disneyland that the only toys I ever asked for were airplanes.  The first item on my bucket list was there from the start.

I became more sensible, of course.  I grew up.  Learned to be responsible.  The school newspaper.  The honors section.  Dad and I built model airplanes.  I decided I wanted to be a teacher.  Not a legend, like my mentor, Dr. Onofre Pagsanghan (Mr Pagsi to his students).  Just a teacher.  A good one, someday.  Maybe.

I was as surprised as anyone when I lifted off the runway in 2006, in a genuine, bona fide airplane (I had learned to pronounce “Cessna” correctly at the age of three).  I laughed out loud and swatted at the empty air beside me where my instructor should have been.  Solo flight.

It took me two circuits to realize why the plane was pulling to the left.


Carlo in 1049 Sep 16, 2006


There is a very specific feeling, somewhere between disbelief, joy, and satisfaction, when you do something that was on your list.  This is one pleasure that young people don’t realize they have –- to feel something new for the first time.  The first time you influence someone’s life in a big way.  The first heady rush of sexual attraction, at once so natural and unfamiliar.  And of course, the first time you cross something off your bucket list.  You need to savor that feeling, memorize it.  Because here’s a secret:  you will sometimes feel this feeling at the most unexpected times.




I thought I would be as old as Mr Pagsi by the time anyone thought to call me legendary.  When Celadon awarded me their Legendary Teacher award at the age of 27, I felt it again.  I didn’t particularly feel that I deserved it.  But I felt that rush of joy.  Another item off my list.  One that I had stopped taking seriously some time before.




Sometimes, life tells you in subtle ways that you are doing something you were meant to do.  Sometimes, you won’t realize that something was on your bucket list until life gives it to you.

I teach the Ateneo de Manila University’s Introduction to Ateneo Culture and Traditions class, which helps incoming freshmen adjust to college life.  Sort of like a cut-rate guidance counsellor.  I was expecting a bit of good fun, a little extra cash, a chance to brag about my being a fourth-generation Atenean.

What I got instead was a young woman who burst into tears during what should have been a routine consultation.  Her Dad had a stroke.  A student begged for advice on what to tell her cousins, whose mother was dying of cancer.  In my first year of teaching, in a very conservative Catholic high school, someone snuck a message into an essay.  Sir Rivera, I’m gay.  What do I do?  A young woman, eyes no longer quite so young, talked about her baby boy.

There’s something of a formula for these situations.  You listen without judging. You use all your art to convince them that they’re not evil or worthless.  You name-drop a guidance counsellor.  Then you say farewell, and give them a hug if you’re young and foolish enough, and that’s where the formula breaks down, because nothing in a teacher’s preparations prepares you for the feeling that comes next.  I wanted to tell these kids-not-kids that they would be alright.  I wanted to do more for them.  I felt an urge to prove to them that the world is a good place.  I felt…





Sometimes, life gives you something that you never realized you were meant to do.  Sometimes something you’d cast aside as a silly dream.  Sometimes something you’d never really considered.  So that’s why it’s important to check things off your bucket list.  Not just for the experience itself.  But so that you learn to recognize that feeling, to understand that at this moment, life is giving you something Important.

My suspension of disbelief has been broken since about 2006.  Nothing seems impossible anymore.  My cup runneth over.

And for the record, “astronaut” is still on my list.



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Posted from Manila

January 7, 2015


Thank you to Johans Lucena for Carlo’s photo at Reach for the Sky 2





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Dad and I were recently practicing our short-soft field takeoffs at Woodland’s magnificent grass runway.  There’s a fence at the end of runway 08 with the village street right outside it, and on every takeoff, without fail, we had an audience.



More than anyone else, kids get airplanes.

I love how they never stop being amazed by these contraptions of fabric and aluminum, which are, when you think about it, so much more than that.  We take time on cloudy days to ponder it, but kids get it instinctively.  These ones would wave at us and bask in our prop wash every time we took off.

Eventually, we started holding the brakes before takeoff so they could enjoy it full blast.




I count it a victory every time I get an adult to smile the way these kids do.  When did we learn to be so guarded with our smiles?

Answering that question – and giving people excuses to let themselves enjoy life the way these kids do – is my mission in both the cockpit and the classroom. I know just where to start.

A friend and classmate of mine who is now a pop star and stage actress of some renown recently started a blog, in which she stated that at eleven years old, her wildest imagining was that she could fly.  I’m going to get in touch with her, congratulate her on her writing, and offer to to make her imagination a reality.


The rest of you will have to wait until the 17th Philippine Hot Air Balloon Fiesta on February 9-12, 2012!  Look us up at http://www.philballoonfest.net.  See you there!





Posted from Manila, February 1, 2012

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Air Force One


Our English Professor Pilot writer has a new camera.  Clearly, he has been enjoying it.  This is the guy who looked at airplane books all day at the age of 1, and who learned to say “SR-71 Blackbird” before he could say “bookswagen”.





Somewhere in this city, there is a brilliant artist whose name nobody knows.

He may be rich or poor.  He may be one person or a whole group. He may be a she.  All that we know is that his artwork adorns jeepneys across Manila.

One hardly expects to find artistry among the noisy, notoriously polluting, and haphazardly driven avatars of Manila’s road scene.  But it is there if you care to look.  We’re used to thinking of jeepney art as slapdash and ramshackle, but the decorations on the sides of our jeepneys have changed.  Some time in the past ten years, somebody decided to put some professionalism into it – the art is surprisingly well done in many cases. 

There are the usual religious figures and scantily clad women, often hilariously side by side, but increasingly, there are replicas of art from movies, scenes from nature, and even images from video games. Imagine my surprise when I realized that the provocatively dressed vixen on the jeepney beside me was a World of Warcraft night elf.

Because it is a visual medium intended for the masses, and people tend to think visually, jeepney art is a reflection of what urban Filipinos are thinking about. So it’s a heartwarming experience for me to see, between the mynxes and madonnas, the occasional airplane.





Posted from Manila, Friday the 13th, January, 2012.


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Just Add Water

When Carlo was born, 24 years ago today, there was no Google or YouTube.  The infant internet had BBS but no email or world wide web — “websites” were unheard of.  No mobile phones or text messages.  Telephones had finger holes in disks called “dials”, hence we “dialed” each other’s numbers.  We also had a brand new President Aquino.





Audio CDs were newly invented.  DVD’s didn’t exist.  Platoon won the Oscar for Best Picture.  On TV, Detective Sonny Crockett sped around Miami in a Ferrari Testarossa.  But the fastest law-enforcement vehicle in 1986 was the F-14 Tomcat, accessorized with Tom Cruise and his computer-designed face.

Top Gun, premiered 1986


Before Carlo learned to walk, he watched Top Gun every morning.  Every morning.  He wore out the Betamax tape.

If I was still shaving by the time Maverick learned he was going to Miramar …

“You screw up this much, and you’ll be flying a cargo plane full of rubber dog shit out of Hong Kong!”

… I knew I would be late for work.  (Carlo learned later in life that ‘dog shit’ was not an aviation term.)


One morning, the toddler Carlo was watching Maverick and Goose catapulting off the carrier deck.  He was leaning against the foot of the bed, bobbing and swaying to Kenny Loggins’ “Danger Zone”.  Then he he got to the end of the bed.  THUD.

As he lay on the floor, I ran to the bathroom, so that he wouldn’t see me laughing.


It didn’t get any better.  Even today he is still the second-clumsiest person I know.

Except when he is in the cockpit.



A year ago last month, Carlo was flying our Cessna 152 over Central Luzon.  It was wet.  Before we took off, we carefully sampled our fuel tanks for water contamination.  The airplane had been sitting in rain for hours.

Rain soaked ramp at Omni Aviation


We flew around drizzles over the flooded rice paddies below.  Talking about girlfriends.  It had been raining all week.  (Three months later, a flood totally submerged Carlo’s house.)

Central Luzon, near Fort Magsaysay

Central Luzon, near Cabanatuan


We flew back to the airfield to do touch and go’s – takeoff and landing drills without stopping the airplane on the runway.



You know that feeling, when something doesn’t feel quite right.  No worry or anxiety or even unease, just something vaguely out of place.   

Downwind leg.  Carlo is pilot flying, left seat.  All gauges normal.

Airspeed 85 knots (nautical miles per hour).  Flaps 10.  All normal.

Turn to base leg.  Airspeed 75, flaps 20.  All is well.

Final approach, over the bridge at 800 feet, perfect.  Airspeed 75, 15 knots fast.



At 0:05 in the video, we at 75 knots.  Fast.  Carlo reduces power.

At 0:11 to 0:13, the wing angles up vs. horizon — Carlo is pitching up to slow down.

At 0:15, the airspeed indicator still says 75 knots.  Too fast.  Trust your instruments.  Carlo cuts throttle to idle.


The airplane mushes down under our butts, like it’s about to stall.  It’s flying too slowly. 

0:18  Tonet:  “That’s weird, right?”

0:18  [Carlo adds full throttle as Tonet says “weird”.]

0:19  [Stall horn activates.]

0:20  Carlo:  “No way is that correct!”

0:21  [Carlo pushes yoke forward.  Altimeter and VSI immobile.]

0:22  [Sound of stall horn continues, airspeed stuck at 75.]

0:23  [Stall horn ends.  Carlo re-adjusts power and pitch, we are on short final.]


We are on the ground a few seconds later, normal landing, full stop.  They found water in the Pitot-static system.  The system’s drain was blocked. 



The delta between total pressure and static pressure increased as the airplane descended, and the airspeed indicator over-reported our airspeed.  The instrument we were trusting was wrong, because of the water in the system.

 Static port is small silver disk with pinhole, bottom center of image.  Pitot is pointy tube under wing.


The video shows that the ground speed displayed in the corner of the GPS deteriorated from 72 knots to 56.2 knots in those 25 seconds.  There was little wind, so we actually got close to the Cessna 152’s stall speed of 43 knots CAS.



Carlo reacted seconds ahead of me, adding power, pitching down, feeling the airplane with his butt, and going on to land.  The difference between Colgan Air, Aero Peru, and living on to see this year’s birthday.

Toddlers grow up all too fast, and suddenly they are faster and nimbler than their Dads.  I still think it’s a dream every time we fly together.


Happy Birthday to Captain Rivera!  From The Other Captain Rivera.



Posted from Manila, August 28, 2010









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Crosswinds for Today

Every time Dad visits a country, something unexpected happens.  So far, he’s encountered military coups in Manila, street warfare and airport closures in Bangkok, UN Peacekeeper roadblocks in Port-Au-Prince, and student unrest in Tehran.  He had stayed in both the Oberoi and the Taj hotels in Mumbai before they were attacked.

Last April, he was in Europe, having taken my brother David from Bangkok to Brussels, Bastogne and Berlin as a graduation gift.  Guess what?  Street protests in Bangkok and a volcano in Iceland erupted in the same week!  Dad was cool, though – he’s seen it all by now.





Six months after the big flood destroyed our house, we all visited Dad in Bangkok, to recuperate.  Before the malls closed, I bought a whopping number of books — four bags’ worth! — from Kinokuniya.  I can’t remember the last time I was so excited about any shopping.  This will help rebuild the family library, a thousand books reduced to pulp and memory by typhoon Ketsana/Ondoy.


That's Al Gore's Assault on Reason, pulped. Only a handful of books survived that catastrophe.  The graphic novel V For Vendetta was on loan to one of my students.  A children’s book was printed on flexible, waterproof plastic.  A handful were on my desk at work, including a collection of Arthur C. Clarke’s science fiction short stories that Dad sent in a care package once upon a fever.


After the flood.  Bookshelves float.  Books don't. Among the books destroyed was a Moby Books children’s version of Jack London’s Call of the Wild.  It was the first book of any real length that I ever read, and had a place of honor on my shelf.

Another victim, a slim volume on Saint Thomas Aquinas, came from Grandma’s house.  On its cracked and yellowing pages, half a century old, were musings and margin notes by the Grandfather I never met.  I was not able to read them closely, and now I never will.

Another book was a gift from my closest friend in high school, a teacher who inspired me to myself become a teacher.  It hid a heartwarming note written on a copy of Rudyard Kipling’s If.  It’s gone.

Another book was a love story, a birthday present from the first woman who ever told me that she loved me.  Now it’s just a memory.


My bedroom after the flood The books that I’ve owned did not merely tell me stories, but told my story as well.  Some, like Carl Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot and Hilton’s Lost Horizon, were valuable because of what I learned from them as a child.  Others, like The Little Prince and Julius Caesar, were taught in class with such passion that I can quote whole passages years after graduation.  And many were valuable not because they changed my life, but because the persons who gave them changed my life.



Other treasures were destroyed as well.  The photo albums, letters, birthday cards, trip souvenirs, childhood toys, and the dedications on the lost books are not replaceable by any most well-stocked mall.



Counting my blessings, however, reveals many bright spots.  My school medals survived intact, along with nearly all my favorite clothes, my pets, and most importantly, my family.

A hopeless clean up job


A month later, after we’d moved to a rented place and gotten the sick smell of the floodwater out of everything, I sat down and made a bullet list of all my possessions.  It’s rather liberating to have a list that short.

In the meantime, the Hot Air Balloon Fiesta was a huge success, David has graduated, friends who gave me the books are all on Facebook, and I have four bags’ worth of books to fit into my luggage now.  And I’m writing on Flying in Crosswinds again.


Anti-riot gear at Central World Mall in Bangkok, which later burned down Shortly after I bought my new books, the Bangkok malls closed due to the street protests, giving me the perfect excuse to shut myself up in Dad’s apartment, catch up on my sleep, learn to cook, write some blog articles, and finally get started on To Kill a Mockingbird.




This year will be a year of renewal.  It will see my return to the Ateneo (for a master’s degree and teaching), a reunion with my college friends, and a lot more flying.  It will be a year to learn new things and keep old promises.

Carlo, after the flood, lost nearly everything.



In the photo above, Carlo doesn’t look like he had just lost all his possessions.

Written April, 2010 in Bangkok

Posted from Bangkok, August 12, 2010



Our aerial pictures of the big flood that submerged Manila, here.








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2009 Philippine Blog Awards

Our blog is a Finalist in the 2009 Philippine Blog Awards!  Carlo and I are immensely PROUD!



We would have celebrated this with a dozen stories by now.

Except that Carlo’s home was devastated by typhoon Ondoy, which flooded great swathes of Manila last September 26. 

After the floodThe whole house was completely submerged in floodwater and mud, above the roof line.  In four days we cleared nearly 120 cubic meters of mud and debris from the house. 

Nearly everything is gone — laptops, passports, school records, favorite books, old treasured pictures, childhood mementos, school medals and diplomas, and the dog, who either drowned or was lost in the flood.


Carlo, David and Julio have not lost as much as others.  Over 270 people died.  The typhoon dumped an entire month’s worth of rain in a single day.

Over 250,000 of our countrymen, 48,000 households, are homeless tonight.  Carlo and his brothers are wearing borrowed clothes and shoes, and have no permanent address for now.

And they are the lucky ones. 



So we will be back, with funny stories of swimming the floodwaters and hitching a ride on a boat, cleaning up the mess, and learning to treasure what is left.   




Please scroll down and read our past flying stories.  There are over a hundred of them!

As we wait with bated breath for the 2009 Philippine Blog Awards!!  🙂



Posted from Manila, October 1, 2009.








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Carlo flew his first solo on Fathers Day, 2006.  As far Tonet can remember, Carlo’s enduring dreams were of commanding the Starship Enterprise.  He wasn’t the type to fly an X-Wing down an abyss into the Death Star.  More a strategic Captain who backed up his diplomacy with proton torpedoes.

As Carlo and Tonet flew on downwind at Omni today, a taxiing US Air Force C-130 came on the radio:

“Clark Tower, request to hold at this position to align our navigational systems.”

Carlo and his Dad looked at each other and considered the following reply:

“Clark Tower, RP-C1513 would like to orbit here to calibrate our phasers.”


We all hurry to grow up.  Then we wish were were young again… .





It is a truism of adult life that life never ends up quite the way you planned it.

I had a very specific plan upon graduating.  It was derailed.  Badly.  My fault.

On the bright side, I had no plans on going into a relationship after graduating.  Look at me now. 🙂

It is some consolation to me that the unexpected tides of life after school are both positive and negative.  It is even more comforting that I held on to both my dreams of teaching English and flying airplanes.  My only regret is that I did not have the courage and foresight to start teaching sooner.  If I get run over by a bus tomorrow, that last sentence will be among my final thoughts.  But on the other hand, I’m deeply grateful for my hard-earned second chance, and for the support of the many people without whom it would not be possible.

I’m teaching today in one of the best high schools in the country, surrounded by good-natured colleagues, in charge of two hundred endlessly quirky and lovable teenagers, and I cannot imagine ever having wanted anything else.  The classroom is my natural habitat.  Often even more so than the cockpit.

Even my view of flying has changed.  The act of flying itself is not as important to me as it once was, and its endless wonders seem somehow less poetic to my older eyes.  The airplane is a wonderful machine, yes, a chariot to realms of adventure and beauty.  But it is a machine.  It is aluminum, copper wires, three little tires, knobbly things, and rigid wings.

Something happened over the past year that I’m still trying to understand.  Whatever it is, it’s made everything seem a little grayer.  The smiles are just this shade of wry, the laughter is now tinged with mild hysteria, and the flowers evoke nostalgia rather than daydreams.  I look at the wonderful job I’m in now, the one I worked for years to prepare for, and I think, guiltily, that amazing though it is, it is not quite what I spent my years dreaming of.

I miss those dreams.  I miss the times when everything seemed possible, when there was a plan that made sense, and success was directly tied to hard work and trust in your loved ones.

Don’t get me wrong.  I have an amazing family, a girl whom I would trade for no one else on earth, and a job that brings me joy, fulfillment, and pizza money.  I am happy.

But I have learned that the marker of adulthood is not when you begin to earn money, not when you finish school, not when you first fall in love, not when you first feel pain.  It is when you begin to have regrets.

Carlo looking backThe act of flying itself feels almost like a childish memory, the quixotic escape from reality of a young man who can’t even afford the avgas, let alone the plane. 

But I remember the smiles on the faces of the very special people I have taken flying, the wonder of my friends as they see the photos I take and look at their homeland with new eyes, and the indescribable look on Dad’s face when he realized that yes, I was going to be a pilot.  These things feel even more valuable now.  They are no longer just the highlights of life, they are reasons to live.  It is relationships that matter in this new world of funhouse mirrors and nostalgia and small salaries.  And flying is more important to me than ever because of this.

Some parts of flying have diminished in value to me, and some parts have increased tremendously.

And now I think of the man who made this unlikely dream possible in the first place, who’ll enjoy a special day today before being pulled back into the realm of obligations and deadlines. 

My Dad.  We flew for an hour yesterday, performing S-turns in strong winds using a road for reference, laughing at how fun it was to fly again.  I think of the S-turns of life, and how once again my unusual hobby, my aluminum paramour, and my indispensable copilot have helped me make sense of growing up.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad.

June 20, 2009



Posted from Manila, June 21, 2009









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