I’d like to introduce you folks to someone. The guy in the photograph at the bottom is Robbi Hommel, and after my wife, he is the most important person in my life. Or he was. Robbi died over the weekend of a heart attack. He was 67 years old. Until I got the call yesterday, the absolute worst day in my entire life was the day I had to tell Rob that his mother had been killed in a car accident.

For nearly 30 years, this guy has gone along with all my crazy plans and projects, and more than a few silly things. He was the kind of “enabler” you wanted on your side.

We first met while working at a little hole in the wall electronics store called Supertronix in Kent, WA. We made fast friends and spent a great deal of time doing all kinds of nerdy things. From collecting Commodore computers, to pulling a VAX 8250 from the machine room at Mannesmann Tally, carting that sucker home and re-assembling it in the upstairs of my house. (That was in 1994 – when Jennifer & I moved in 2006, there was still a visible bow in the ceiling from that VAX! It’s not really surprising – that was a FULL VAX 8250 system. Four RA81 hard disks, a TU-81+ 9 track tape drive, and the main cpu rack, and the house was built in 1948…)

Rob could get along with just about anyone – he’d be instant buddies with complete strangers the instant he met them. Sometimes that drove me to distraction, especially when I was in a Home Depot trying to get something done. He’d be off talking to someone about whatever, enjoying himself immensely.

He enjoyed puns – the more eye roll-inducing, the better. He knew very odd people (me included!). He played Frisbee once with Three Dog Night at a hotel in Colorado. He didn’t care who they were, he just wanted to enjoy himself.

He’d regale me with stories about is friend Lloyd, who got himself (and Rob) into trouble more than once. Lloyd once worked at a hotel in Colorado where Betty Ford was staying after (it was rumored) some kind of detox. Lloyd had been directed to deliver room service to her room, and he arrived, apparently banged on the door and yelled, “Betty! It’s me, Lloyd! I’ve got your Scotch and Quaaludes!” The door was swiftly opened by a Secret Service agent, and he was escorted off the property. 🙂 Rob loved telling these stories about his odd friends, and I sincerely hope he was able to tell stories to others about his weird friend, Gene.

He worked at Ampex as a tech, doing field service repairs on the huge TV tape systems that they produced in the late 70’s and early 80’s. He and a friend created a huge model train layout they called “The Minnefats-Weehawken Train Line” and all the trains & switches were controlled with a SYM-1 single board computer.

He had a love of science and all things Nerd. He knew a little bit about just about everything and was most certainly a genius in his own right. He’s the only person I could honestly describe as a polymath. I have no doubt that Adam Savage would consider Robbi a peer.

He was right by my side when I was up to my neck in flight simulator things – often times egging me on to greater accomplishments and getting doors opened to places people normally didn’t get to see. He once talked his way into getting us a personalized tour of Seattle Center – the main hub of air traffic control for the Pacific Northwest. It was amazing, and it’s an experience I never would have been exposed to without him. We spent hours there talking to the controllers. The lead meteorologist LOVED his job. I’d never met a Weather Nerd before. That was an experience.

If it wasn’t for Rob, I never would have found the F-15 that we both enjoyed working on. It was his idea that we head out to the Olympic Air Museum on the day we found that fuselage section sitting outside the main hangar. If it wasn’t for Robbi dragging me out of the house to go visit that place, this project would have never existed.

There were times when something would go awry with whatever project was in process at the time, and we’d somehow point at each other and yell, “YOU!” while laughing hysterically at whatever it was that went (usually predictably) pear shaped.

Rob is the reason that I’ve got a rolling electronics bench named Martha Stewart. I once handed him a drawing of the kind of rolling bench I wanted to build and it consisted (charitably) of three lines. He looked at me and said, “Who do you think I am, Martha Stewart?” That bench got built, and it’s fucking awesome – if you look at it side on, you can see the three lines I drew that was the whole genesis of it.

We built a LOT of stuff together. I can’t look inside either one of my workshops without seeing something we worked on together. That’s going to make for some rough days ahead I think.


Rob was all at once, a father figure, a brother, a mentor, a best friend, and an equal.

The last time I got to see Rob was a few months ago – previously to that, it was a couple of years – because of this fucking human malware that paste-eating retards refuse to take seriously. You selfish cunts cost me time with my friend, and I’ll never forgive you for it.

We got to talk on Friday about the work I needed to do on the wood shop that he and I built together out of the run down pole barn/stable that was on our property when we moved here. I had just gotten the roof replaced and we had plans to Get Shit Done, post human malware. By Saturday, he was gone. Now, there’s a lot of things that probably won’t get done, but the things that do, will remind me of him. It will make them all precious to me.

The photo below is of Rob, sitting in the F-15A a the McChord AFB Museum (long before this “JBLM” nonsense). You can tell just by the look on his face that hilarity was going to ensue, and it was going to be soon. That day he managed to get the docent to open it up so I could take tons of research photographs for our work on the F-15C. (Robbi could talk his way into just about any place – that’s how we managed to get some “stick time” in the MD-85 flight simulator at the Alaska Airlines training facility in the mid-90’s.)

I don’t know that I ever thanked him enough for the things he did for me, but I hope he understood how much I appreciated him.

There won’t be any new hijinks, so I’ll have to treasure the memories of the ones that were.

Thank you Robbi. For everything.

Robbi Lee Hommel – 1955-2021

Comments

  1. Lori Van Der Wege on 02.24.2022

    Thank you for this wonderful tribute of my brother Rob. He will be missed greatly.

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