Tuesday, December 23, 2014


I needed 3 cups of firm, tart apples for a cake recipe that I haven't tasted in over 40 years. I stopped into the nearest market to pick some up. The market just happened to be a "cost plus" wholesaler. 

I collected my 3lb bag of "Granny Smiths" and queued at the customer service counter behind 1 other patron to pay. I couldn't help but hear the conversation between the patron and staff member.  It was clear that neither was enjoying what most of us would describe as prosperity in their lives. "My man and all my kids are with me. My place is decorated from bottom to top. Of course, I couldn't afford to do much but my mom is helping out", said the staffer. 

The patron matched her, "I'm just so lucky that my mom is still with us now. We didn't expect her to be."

In spite of the difficulties and obstacles that both faced 2 days before Christmas, I could best describe them as ebullient, full of the joy of the season. "My best wishes for a Merry Christmas!" And "please remember me to your mom" were how they parted. 

When I stepped to the counter, I was greeted with the same warmth and familiarity, as was the patron who followed me, I noticed. 

Having just yesterday left The Woodlands, TX for the drive down, I couldn't help but recall how sterile it felt when I ventured out there to shop last week, how cold. If ever a place could be associated with prosperity and success, The Woodlands could.  

It's not how much you have. It's what you make of what you've got; appreciation. 

What a special little place this is!

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Vespers: Choral Evensong

The setting of the Sun on a wintry day in the far north is almost anti-climactic. If it's never fully light, of what significance is the early darkness?

Upon entering sanctuary, the warm smell of incense hangs in the air. The flickering of candles subtly illuminates the darkness within, punctuated by the shimmering reflections of gilt, all around. The ambient chill is held in abeyance by the warmth of atmosphere.  Calm. 

A single voice rises, pitch-perfect. Two-score voices respond, in velvety harmony.  Underscoring the melody and harmony, the colossal organ speaks profoundly of that which is mightier than man. The liturgy in song is as remarkable as it is rare.  The near-perfect acoustics of the nave and apse conspire to transport the spirit to a heavenly place:  a truly altered state. 

For a fraction of an hour, in one small space, fewer than a hundred brothers and sisters live and breathe in the perfect peace of faith. 

"For whenever two or more of you are gathered in my name..."

May the peace of the season be upon you, now and always. 

Friday, December 12, 2014

Why can't I? Ch 3

"You can cancel the main for 8D.  He's calling it a night.", Scott said as he rounded the corner into the galley.  8E had long since withdrawn from the service and surrendered to slumber, now that all of the drama and uncertainty of our rolling delay and aircraft swap were behind us.  At this point, their holiday plans were hinging on whether or not Captain Hill could make good on his promise to "fly the paint off of this bird" and get us to AMS quickly.

Our 1545 scheduled departure had morphed into an actual time of 1815; significantly tardy but well done, all things considered.  The not-knowing is what really ramps up anxieties:  can we/can't we, will we/won't we, should we/shouldn't we.  Of course, anxiety therapy is the REAL job of the 21st century airline professional.  Our marketing department is quite successful in raising our customers' expectations to spectacularly unrealistic heights.  Then we, in the operation, are tasked with tempering and managing those expectations, in light of the realities of machinery, weather, political instability, global terrorism, etc.

How do cogent, successful human beings become so detached from reality anyway?  Are we really so susceptible to the outrageousness of hype?  We WANT to believe that the implausible is possible.

At breakfast time, the atmosphere in the cabin was perceptibly "lighter".  Captain Hill was able to fulfill his speed commitment and it looked as though we would be arriving at 0915lcl, only about an hour past our scheduled arrival.  After service, when everything was buttoned up for landing, I put on my jacket to say good-bye to our guests.

"It was our pleasure to serve you today.  I hope that everything was satisfactory and that we'll see you again soon.  Thank you for flying UNITED."  The folks seldom have much to say after the short night's rest but feedback this morning was positive.  "Nice job."  "This could have been so much worse."  "Wow, how did we make up so much time?"

When I arrived at row 8, I wasn't sure what to expect.  Both D and E had been unconscious most of the flight. Now was the time for the opera anxiety to ramp up again, in light of their planned connection.  8D was smiling and gracious, as one might expect.  But, other than when expressing outright anger, 8E has one of those "neutral" faces that is almost impossible to read.  Who knew what was going on behind those intense eyes?

"Gentlemen, have you consulted united.com about our progress?"  8D, "Yes.  It's almost unbelievable that we're only an hour late.  It looks like we might make it to VIE in time, after all."  "Wonderful.  I'm sure that our GS Representatives in AMS will be waiting for you.  Thanks for your patience and thanks so much for continuing to choose UNITED."

8E, "I wasn't confident in our chances.  You guys really pulled it off tonight.  I want to apologize..." as he extended his hand.  "Mr 8E, I certainly understand.  I didn't take it personally.  Your plans were aggressive; maybe too aggressive.  But it looks like you'll be able to enjoy Der Rozenkavalier, as planned."

A light conversation about the plans that Philip and I had made ensued.  We landed.  Rene, our top-notch GS Rep in AMS took over and, I assume, they all lived happily ever after.  I haven't heard anything to the contrary.

Philip and I did NOT get to Lohengrin, as we'd planned.  Oh well, it's the nature of the business, isn't it?  Instead, we enjoyed a nice supper at a favorite Asian restaurant and a nice stroll, ending up at Grand Hotel Amrath-Amsterdam, an Art Nouveau confection of a building whose history is as fascinating as its architecture and decoration.  But that's another chapter...

In retrospect, as disastrous as this overall scenario must sound, the pieces of the operations puzzle seemed to come together as designed:

Issue:  Rolling delay over a seemingly minor MX issue.  Resolution:  Timely, calming, informative announcements and appropriate crew presence in the cabin allay growing anxiety.

Issue:  MX issue unresolvable.  Resolution:  Replacement aircraft available and ready for crew and customers, already cleaned.  Re-catering accomplished in a timely and competent manner.

Issue:  Customer uncertainty and anxiety.  Resolution:  Again, the announcements were of great help.  Each department handled its component of the irregularity efficiently and in a customer-friendly way.  Both aircraft were WiFi-equipped, so customers could track our progress inflight in real time.

Issue:  Unreasonable expectations (our stock-and-trade)  Resolution:  Calm, confidence, poise, tact and timing.

The End?

Friday, December 5, 2014

Why can't I? Ch 2

"So, what does the GS Desk know that we don't?", he asked. I was thinking exactly the same thing. Our situation must be a little graver than we'd been told. I reassured them both that I'd let them know right away if I learned anything more and quickly finished my welcomes in the rest of the cabin, offering follow-up drinks as I went. (This, too, became an issue as the pre-departure kit had been removed and our liquor was still in bond. Ugh.)
When I returned to the galley, I noticed that a water service had been started in UE. Then Scott, the ISM, stuck his head around the corner and said we should get all of our catering supplies back into the original carts and carriers. It looked as though we would be doing an a/c swap. I began doing just that, fully intending to return to 8D and E to let them know the latest when...
"Ladies and Gentlemen, this is the Captain..."
We were on an aircraft parked at E4. There was another 777 waiting, already cleaned, at E18. Despite 30 years of previous experience to the contrary, what I observed was one of the most orderly and timely widebody aircraft swaps possible. The caterers did an excellent job of quickly, carefully moving our prepped supplies (I didn't lose a drop of milk from either of the 1/3-full cream pitchers!), customers methodically made their way between birds, and the crew was allowed onboard the new plane almost as soon as we arrived at the gate. That NEVER happens!
As we approached E18, I saw 8D and E standing in the Group 1 queue. I tempted fate and walked over, "This is going as smoothly as I've ever seen, gentlemen. I am cautiously optimistic about your chances." 8D smiled, of course. You can imagine the look on 8E! I asked, "May I ask what you have plans to see tonight?"
This is when 8E really surprised me. He turned and had immediate diarrhea of the mouth! "Der Rosenkavalier by Strauss. Curtain is at 2000..." He went on and on about how they'd looked forward to it, how they'd booked and paid online and were continuing an annual tradition of a different opera in a different city each year, etc, etc. I listened as my crew filed past to go onboard. When I had a chance, I mentioned that my partner, Philip, and I were doing practically the same thing in AMS in an annual tradition of our own. "We were planning to see Wagner's Lohengrin but didn't pre-purchase the tickets becasue we didn't want to take a chance..."
The look on his face was priceless. He went from angry to "I knew I shouldn't have been so impetuous.." in a split-second. That was my chance!
"Try not to beat yourself up about it. We're making good progress here. Looks like we might not be as late as we thought!" All the while I was thinking, "Who in their right mind would book and pay for something important and expensive scheduled within a few hours after an arrival from an international CONNECTION?!"
"Well, I'll see you onboard in a few minutes." With that, 8E smiled. It wasn't a big, all-is-well-with-the-world-smile, but it was a good start.
To be continued...

Thursday, December 4, 2014

"I can't do that..." Ch 1

"There's no way I could ever/would ever do that!"  How many times has that thought crossed my mind when someone has suggested I try some new concept or approach at work?  We get into our routine, into our comfort zone and it becomes very easy to say, "I can't".

Over the last few years, I've been making a more conscious effort to get OUT of my comfort zone.  The more common question for me these days is, "why can't I?"  If you've followed me for a while, you've read about some of my little theories and experiments; some more successful than others.  But the underlying theme is always, "Make our customer feel welcome and valued in the first few minutes and the rest will be easy."

That's a little easier said than done from the B-zone galley of a 777!  Working that position successfully is all about planning and setup.  The key preparations are accomplished during that critical first few minutes of customer arrival onboard.  It's generally unlikely that the B-zone galley Flight Attendant would ever have much face-to-face interaction with customers but especially not during boarding.  Besides, there are 2 Flight Attendants in the aisle whose express purpose is to get folks settled in.  Who needs a third?

A week ago, as our crew gathered for the departure of flight 58 to AMS on our Thanksgiving 5-day trip, I noticed two very nattily dressed gentlemen approach the gate podium, looking anxious and excited.  They consulted with the agent and took spots in the queue for Boarding Group 1.  (Our plane had arrived on-time but was still being cleaned and catered.)  Something about their appearance and energy told me that it wouldn't be the last time I'd see them that afternoon and evening.  I was right.  They were seated in 8D and E, B-zone front and center.

Once the lion's share of boarding was complete, we learned that a seemingly minor maintenance item on one of the cargo doors would likely delay departure for up to 30 minutes.  That lessened my own anxiety level because it meant I would have more time to get things in order.  But as often happens, the "update in 10 minutes" proved not to be promising.  Since most of my tasks were complete already, I put on my jacket and set out to say "hello" to our customers.

When I work premium galley, I'm actually able to do this about 20-30% of the time, circumstances allowing.  "Hi, my name is Tony and I'm the Flight Attendant that you won't be seeing very much this evening.  I'll be working for you in the galley.  If there's anything special that I can do for you, please let me know.  I'm happy to do what I can."  The responses I get can be interesting:  a smile, a laugh, a "thank you" are the most common.  8D and 8E surprised me.

8D was so gracious, his body language was relaxed, he had a smile on his face when he said, "Nice to meet you Tony".  8E was the polar opposite.  His face was red and drawn up in a look so sour it would curdle milk.  "We have pre-paid reservations for the opera in Vienna.  Do you have any idea how long this will be?"

"I don't but this captain is very good about keeping us informed.  I'm sure he'll let us know."

"Well, the Global Services desk has already sent a message that they're protecting us on a flight from AMS to VIE that's 2 hours later than what we booked.  We're not going to make it and our trip will be ruined."


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Reinventing Life

Philip made an important point over breakfast this morning. Over the 30 years or so that we've been together and worked in aviation, circumstances have often demanded that we reinvent ourselves and our lives at work.

Base openings & closings, backruptcy(ies), mergers, gain &/or loss of destinations, changing alliances, network growth & shrinkage, early out departures and subsequent new-hires... 

It's endless, isn't it?

With each shift in our reality, we shifted to accommodate the commensurate changes to our life and lifestyle. Some of the shifts were undeniably positive, others required time and patience for their benefit to reveal itself. In aggregate, it all got us to the here and now. 

This morning, we are looking toward the future again, only this time through the "Vaseline lens" of middle age. I have to say, the future looks as bright and exciting as it ever did. 

A joint contract, seniority integration, the continued maturing of our corporate merger, the sudden seniority boost wrought by an attractive Early Out, the prospect of newly available bases and flying, etc all point to another reinvention of Philip & Tony. We are planning our "final move".  Like a snowball rolling downhill, the approach of retirement is gaining mass and speed. If I were in my 20s, I can't imagine a more exciting place to be or more exciting industry within which to build a career. 

In my 50s, my excitement is undiminished. I've (virtually) met many of the colleagues with whom I'll soon be sharing a jumpseat.  Some, I harbor undeniably positive feelings toward already. Others will require time and patience for their benefit to be revealed. Fortunately, I have the luxury of experience to show me that all have their place and purpose. 

In either case, I'm ready, no eager, for our next reinvention to begin. Fasten your seatbelt...

Friday, October 24, 2014

"Gentleman Pilot"

Aloha o'e to our friend and colleague Captain Phil Bohner (777) who will be operating his final UNITED flight tomorrow from Narita to Houston.  

I can't truthfully say that Phil and I are great friends; more, we are respectful colleagues.  Phil is the affable, collegial sort who never fails to smile when you pass, to ask how things are going, to be concerned when concern is merited and to be a calm, reassuring force in the face of any storm, either figurative or literal.  He is a "gentleman pilot" to use a term I've reserved for very few.  And I, for one, will be sad to see him leave us.  Phil Bohner is a Mensch whose contributions to who and what we are are noted and appreciated.

When I asked if he minded if I took a quick photo to memorialize his retirement, I couldn't imagine him agreeing to any more apt pose than this!  ("2 creams, extra sugar")

Saturday, October 11, 2014

American Gothic

Every year on October 12th (or close to it) we gather to celebrate the beginning of our family.  Papa and Granna were wed on Granna's 18th birthday, October 12th, 1924.  Some of the details are a little cloudy in my mind, others are crystal clear.  Help me, if you can, to complete the picture...

When Papa (Harold Reece) first asked Papa Cloud if he could marry Granna, she was just 15 years old.  Papa Cloud (noted for his fiery disposition) was not enthused with the idea, "she's my best worker."  But he promised that if they waited until Granna (Alma Cloud) was 18 that he wouldn't stand in their way.  

When I was alone with Papa and Granna, I had a habit of asking them some pretty personal questions, especially in hindsight.  Most often, Papa would answer for them both, Granna content to sit in her chair quietly, arms folded.  She surprised me one day when I asked, "what did you wear for your wedding?"

Granna replied that Papa Cloud took her to a shop on the square in Marietta.  He told her to pick out the dress she wanted.  The one she chose was "robin's egg blue" and cost $24, a princely sum for the day.  At the time I asked, she avowed that she still had that dress.  I wonder what's become of it?

At the time they wed, lives were driven by the season, by the needs of the land and livestock.  After their wedding, Papa and Granna were free to enjoy the afternoon and evening.  The very next morning, they were expected in the field.  The harvest would not wait.

Discipline governed their young life together.  Discipline remained throughout their almost 73 years together.  Discipline became the ethos for our family.

Our American Gothic began 90 years ago.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

A Great American

I'd like for you to meet Mr. Eugene Milliken, ordinary man, extraordinary human being.  We met Mr. Milliken a dozen or so years ago when we were looking to build a small shed on our property in Maine and our neighbors heartily recommended him for the job.

He made it clear at the outset that he liked things done the old-fashioned way.  He hated plywood (OSB wasn't even on the radar) and if we wanted to use any in our project, we'd best find someone else for the job.  That was no problem for us as we intended to leave the interior unfinished and I loved the thought of the wide plank floors and the tongue-and-groove decking for the roof.

He arrived on Day 1 with his younger helper, "Junior", in tow.  By the way, Mr. Milliken was 82 years old when work started, Junior was 78.  The pace wasn't the quickest; glaciers move faster.  But along with some pretty impressive woodwork, we were serenaded and told stories and generally enrapt by a born charmer of the highest order.  With a twinkle in his crystal blue eyes and an ever-ready smile, Eugene Milliken evinces the phrase "extraordinarily ordinary".  

Like so many of his generation, Mr. Milliken hails from modest beginnings, he served his country on foreign soil, he wed and raised a family, he worked honestly with his hands, he embraces joy, he eschews sadness (though he has known his share) and he leaves a path brighter than how he found it.  He is dignity and grace incarnate, yet would be the first to object to that notion.  He is an everyman who distinguishes himself in the world one person, one day, one job, one smile-at-a-time.

When I ran into him yesterday at breakfast, it changed the course of my day.  Well into his 90s now, his vision is failing.  His brand new white Chrysler is evidence enough of that, poor thing.  But the radiant beauty of a simple soul still shines bright in a ready smile and twinkling, impish, crystalline blue eyes.  

Eugene Milliken, great American...

Sunday, September 21, 2014


It's just a simple little word, really.  It exists in all languages.  

But the English adjective "my" (and its possessive pronoun equivalent, "mine") can cause endless trouble.  Employing "my" is the linguistic equivalent of peeing on something to mark it as your "turf".  My house, my car, my dog, my partner, my job, my airplane, my position, my seniority.  Of course, the larger implication when we use "my" is that it is "NOT YOURS" (sometimes followed by the word "bitch", for emphasis)! "My" is the ultimate excluder; the epitome of "ranking" on another person or group.  And we employ it liberally to make our most critical point(s).

As a student of language, I'm fascinated by the way we choose words to express an underlying thought process.  Sometimes, those words are precise and pointed.  Other times, they are vague and full of implication, open to interpretation.  It is the latter usage that fascinates me so, as it apparently does others.  "What did s/he mean by that?" is a question that can launch all-out war, either literal or figurative.  "My legacy culture is being lost/ruined by this merger."  Get my drift?  It's not the words, the semantics, that matter as much as it is the underlying thought that propagates them.  "This is something of value to me.  I'm afraid to lose it."  So what do I do?

I defend it.  I extoll it.  I even imbue it with qualities it never actually possessed.  And I OWN it.  "You can't touch this.  It's mine!"

As children, we are taught sharing as a fundamental for growth, much like tying one's own shoelaces.  Selfishness is bad.  Sharing is good.  One assumes that adults all learned and practice this valuable lesson.  Perhaps this assumption is flawed.  Or perhaps we suspend the tenets of sharing in special, very important circumstances, like the loss of something critically important to defining who we are or who we see ourselves as being.

Clearly, "mine" must evolve into "our" before substantive progress can be made toward unity with another individual or group.  How does this happen?

Institutionally, a "clean sweep" approach can detach the strongest tendrils of legacy thinking and identification; a $100K early-out opportunity, for example.  Once those strongest links to memories of past greatness and self-identification are removed, a natural evolution begins.  The "new wave" stakes its legitimate claim on building a new, distinct future.  The voices of the past fade; the voices of the future assert themselves and begin to form a new identity.

Individually, we have the power to be part of this magic, no matter where we find ourselves in the process.  The next time you feel the urge to assert yourself by using "my" or "mine" when discussing something important, try substituting "our" or "ours".  Go ahead, force yourself.  It's practically painless.

Feel good about being part of the solution, even if you were part of the original problem.  (ESPECIALLY if you were part of the problem!)  Take the leap of faith:  OUR very best days lie ahead.

Friday, September 12, 2014

My 24-Hour (Virtual) "Moment of Silence"

It's true.  Our world is getting (virtually) smaller and smaller.  24 hour news and social media put us into direct contact, and often conflict, with those we'd never meet or even be aware of otherwise.  In virtuality, it's possible for us to meet and interact with any/every other human being on the planet; all 7+ billion of them.  Are you ready for that?

My 24 hour "moment of (virtual) silence" was pretty enlightening.  It allowed me the self-imposed freedom to spend my time and energy on something we may be forgetting to do or consciously foregoing.  The lack of virtual stimulation (I also eschewed the 24 hour news stimuli) compelled me to face and interact with only those things that I can touch, i.e. the "real" world.  I'm fond of saying that virtuality is real too and, on many levels, it is.  Those levels are usually the very most negative and anxiety-provoking; online bullying, for example.  But, at least for my generation and older, the tangibles are irreplaceable:  gardening, a relaxing day at the beach, walking the dog, doing the dishes, learning to sail.  I wonder if because we're spending more and more time in virtuality, are the conventional stimuli to our bodies being sacrificed for greater and greater levels of stimuli to our brain? If so, what's the saturation point?

Since declaring my intent to observe a 24hour moment of virtual silence (conceived with my "boonie" hat covering my face while sprawled on a beach chair in the sand at Perdido Key, by the way), I have freed my body (and mind) to reminisce about times gone by.  A sunny drive in the convertible, cleaning and prepping a bed in storage for introduction to its new guest room home, doing the dishes, doing the laundry, yardwork, finalizing plans to purchase and enjoy a sailing dinghy, listening to classical music on the RADIO (yes, radio!) and allowing myself the mental freedom to be immersed in all without the insistent tug of a PED. It feels nostalgic, familiar and a little bit romantic.  Are Gen-X, Gen-Y and Millennials as comforted by the mundane, the quotidien, as the Baby Boomers and older seem to be?  Has my generation robbed its progeny of the ability to enjoy drinking water from a spring, catching lightning bugs, picnicking on a mountaintop, removing bats from the cabin, hunting 4-leaf clovers, etc?  If so, are there generational equivalents?  Video games and chat rooms?

I realize that I'm probably asking the same questions that eons of humanity have asked when they reach "a certain age", curious about the motivations and dubious about the chances of those who follow.  But OUR generation is seeing those changes at "warp speed", aren't we?  The innovations of the last half-century eclipse those of the previous few millennia in terms of wow factor and individual empowerment.  Is the brain ready?

I don't know the answer.  And the not-knowing scares me more than a little.  Perhaps a touch more yardwork will yield a clue!  I know this much, my general feeling of anxiety today is much, much less than yesterday.  That can't be just a coincidence. 

Thursday, September 4, 2014

"Make It Work!"

The immortal words of Tim Gunn on Bravo's PROJECT RUNWAY resonate in my head after reading a comment or two on a recent post in The Way FORWARD > > > >.  Whenever the dapper host is looking over the work-in-progress of a fashion design wannabe whose output comes up short, his brow furrows and eyes intensify as he delivers sage advice, "Make it work!".  Unfortunately, "Make it work!" is usually just a precursor to hostess Heidi Klum delivering HER signature line, "I'm sorry.  You're aussed!"

In my little world, a co-Admin colleague on our social media group nominated a group of co-workers at one of my airline-employer's larger hubs to receive our group's peer award.  It seems that an operational upset threatened several departing flights with lengthy delays and/or cancellations, which would have impacted a significant number of our customers.  The colleagues being nominated "stepped outside" their normally prescribed roles to accomplish the feat of saving the flights from disaster and promoting customer goodwill.  To at least half of our group's membership, these were laudable accomplishments, deserving of praise and recognition, regardless of means.  To the other half, it represented egregious threats to the "scope" clauses of several work groups' collective bargaining agreements (contracts), clauses that were won at a cost and are to be protected, as they protect the jobs of the workers who won them.  While laudable, their efforts threatened the hard-won concepts of scope.

This episode is prime evidence of the CULTURE CLASH that has been and will continue to be one of the primary impediments to the successful, harmonious integration of two great, yet very divergent, airlines.  Values conflict is the basis of so much of the acrimony lobbed by one group at the other, often with great gusto.  Values are fundamental to who and what we are.  They define us.  They are how WE define right vs. wrong.  So how can two groups, performing the same job at two different aviation companies who've recently merged, settle on a new set of group values when the ones they each bring to the merger are as different as black and white?  Who is RIGHT and who is WRONG?  It's not nearly that easy!  (With apologies to Tim Gunn.  What makes for good TV, often doesn't work in the real world.)

Each of us has his/her own values system by which we make choices:  our RIGHT and WRONG.  We reduce and distill every situation as much as we can so that we can determine whether that situation fits our definition of being right or wrong.  It starts early with a slap of the hand or a swat to the rear and continues through elementary education and on into adulthood.  Eventually, our individual values system is set and we see the world through it.  Unfortunately, reality does not conform to our way of seeing it.  So it's possible for two individuals who are both prescient and concerned to reach conflicting conclusions about what is right or wrong in pretty much ANY given situation.  The key is to see the "shades of gray" in a world made artificially "black and white".  So, how do we try to follow Tim Gunn's advice and make it work?

This requires finesse and self-control.  It requires "quieting" our inherent values system when a potentially volatile scenario arises.  It requires CONTROLLED RESPONSE when the "hot potato" is thrown your way, even if that response means stepping out of the way and letting the potato hit the ground.  When you have no good play to make, don't make one!  This is the first step, because in the game of "hot potato", the premise is that you will keep the potato in play, right?  So what happens when you've committed to play and purposefully let the potato drop?  You cause the other player to ask, "why did s/he do that?"  

The ONLY way to resolve such fundamental differences in how we perceive things so differently is to pay each other respect, to understand that we see things differently for very important reasons.  Since I came from the sCO culture, I'm much more likely to value "working together" over any other approach, including scope.  Since you come from the sUA culture, you're much more likely to value scope over any other approach, including "working together".  The fact that one of those two approaches seems to have prevailed in management at our merged company further complicates things.  "Will I be forced to abandon my long-held values system on this issue just because 'the other side' is in power now?"  "How can I make sure that my perfectly valid point-of-view is heeded and valued in the future merged company?"

The key is respect.  We can demonstrate our respect for each other and one another's culture by listening thoughtfully and patiently and by responding with care.  An active listener actually HEARS what's being said rather than using the other side's time to talk as an opportunity to form a rebuttal and reinforce his/her own point.  An active listener may not always respond immediately.  And when s/he does, that response will come from the heart, not the mouth.

"I value you and respect your history.  Your here and now are just as valid as mine and I want to understand why you see things differently than I do."

Is that so hard?

Friday, August 29, 2014

"...where everybody knows your name"

Well, maybe not everybody.  But Linda certainly does!

For lack of a proper title, let's call Linda the "Dining Room Hostess" at the Chik-Fil-A on Howell Mill Road just off of I75N in Atlanta.  She greets you when you enter with a smile and a "How y'all doin'?" that can turn your day around.  "Ms. Reece, I haven't seen you in a while are you doing okay?  I see you got your son with ya today.  Would y'all like a table or a booth?  Looks like you're puttin a little weight back on."  There's never any question about whether or not we will acquiesce to Linda's quiet demand to "see to us".  That's just how it is and how it will be.  It's as comfortable and natural as visiting my Grandmother's home, growing up.  There's also the same warmth of feeling accompanying every visit.

"I haven't seen y'all in a while, is everybody doin' OK?"  By everybody, Linda means my brother, David, my niece, Jennifer, and any other person of significance who may have accompanied us to lunch at her table over the last 5 years or so, most of whom she remembers by name.  Linda has been a fixture at this Chik-Fil-A since we began visiting regularly with my Dad, at the beginning of treatment for the cancer that ultimately took his life.  NO VISIT to Piedmont West began until we had been properly fed, both literally and figuratively, at Linda's table.  Of course, you can get a Chik-Fil-A lunch just about anywhere these days but not one accompanied by the unique attention that Linda provides.

Over the years, she's been with us during our triumphant mornings of "remission", during our turbulent mornings of "not knowing what's next" and, ultimately, during the morning where we received the ultimate news:  "There's nothing more we can do."  And every morning was the same at Linda's table; all smiles and love, a hug hello and a hug good-bye.  She has been our rock in triumph and tragedy.  What prepares a person for such a pivotal role in the lives of complete strangers?  The truth is, I don't know.

Linda is a lady of color who appears to be somewhat older than I (I'm 54), so she was raised in and lives in Atlanta during a period of great metamorphosis.  I can't imagine that her life has been all roses and sunshine, yet she gives no outward sign that it's been anything other than roses and sunshine.  Her smile and care are genuine.  When learning that Dad was having a particularly bad patch in his disease process, she expressed herself the way only a genuine person can:  she became very quiet, moved to my Dad's side and put her arm around him in caring embrace.  That embrace is a treasured memory.  Coming from Linda, from outside our family's little circle, it meant so much.

On a follow-up visit to our table today, Linda asked if we had any plans for the Labor Day weekend.  Mom and I were a little somber because Dad died on Labor Day, two years ago.  Before Mom had a chance, I interjected, "Well, Linda, it's kind of low-key for us.  Dad passed on Labor Day."  Immediately, I wanted to take it back.  The expression on her face said it all.  Linda's face lost its animation, sorrowful that she might have caused us hurt.  It's the kind of thing one expects from a friend, from someone who really cares about you.  She does.

During lunch, I noticed that Linda has many "regulars", many friends whose names she doesn't forget.  And while I have seen others express their appreciation for Linda as my family has over the years (my brother and I learned after the fact that we had both been generously expressing it for a while!), there's nothing that adequately compensates another human being for their expression of humanity.  Gratuities don't do it.  "Thank you" isn't enough.  The ready return of a warm hug is a start, I guess.  What gets that job done, exactly?

Now that Mom sees the same hematological oncologist for her blood disorder who treated my Dad's cancer, we continue our tradition of stopping for an early lunch with Linda.  I remember thinking before we entered this time, "what if Linda isn't here anymore?"  And, for a moment, I felt the oddest sensation, the sensation of the potential for unforeseen loss.  Do I ever instill that feeling in ANYONE?  ANYWHERE?  for ANY REASON?  

How could we possibly see Dr. Mininberg without first seeing Linda?

"Have a safe trip home, Mr. Reece!"

Thursday, August 21, 2014

What's your theory?

Why doesn't "normal" or "average" get the job done like it once did?  More and more it seems that, in order to get our attention, an event or issue must be over the top, sensational, extraordinary; with social media posts being a prime example.  

I think back to the utter contentment of my grandparents who raised 8 children (of 10; 2 died in infancy) on a subsistence farm in the rural south during the Depression and celebrated 73 years of marriage together before death separated them.  They are my Thoreauvian idyll of contentment.  On late winter afternoons/early evenings when the dark came early, we would stop to visit them at home, without notice.  The way we would find them, consistently, still inspires me:  their chairs were pulled close, side-by-side, by the dwindling flames of the fire.  The TV and radio were off.  All was silent except for the occasional whip and whistle of the wind against the woefully uninsulatetd windows or an occasional POP from the fire.  The room was dark except for the flickering light of the flame and a small lamp, lit on a table in the corner.  They were so deep in conversation that they often didn't know we'd come until we opened the door.

I've always wondered, "what were they talking about when we interrupted?"

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

How Much Should One Pay for 10,000+ Photos?

The dreaded visit to THE GEEK SQUAD...

I knew the hard drive on my SONY VAIO notebook was failing. That's why I replaced that computer with a large, inexpensive Windows 8 HP notebook before it was too late. I dutifully transferred my backed up data files then transferred my 10,000+ photos (many laboriously digitally acquired via flatbed scanner).  I did it all just in time!

Or so I thought. The photos didn't transfer. The drive died at the next power up. SONY charged $50, all the while assuring me, "we can solve your problem."  (Which they did if my problem was having $50 too much money!)

So, here I am with lil Honey, the Best Buy Geek, my Hail Mary pass. 

I've just been informed that the files "won't populate" (a $99.99 fix for media backup), so the drive must be "sent off" for data recovery:  minimum charge $500 for level 1 and over $1000 for level 3. 

My choice?  

Level "0" for $0.00!

I shake lil Homey's hand, thank him for trying, tuck my tail between my legs and slink away. 

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Maxxi's Sunday Morning

A walk in the sunshine and tall grass,

Rife with butterflies and squirrels. 

"Good morning", from a magnanimous neighbor, mowing the green belt by the street, improving the neighborhood for all...just because. 

An enthusiastic answer to nature's call (twice) and an eager response to "let's go home for a cookie."

Never once doubting or questioning that THIS is how it is meant to be. 

Or that tomorrow's promise of the same will be fulfilled over and over again. 

It's a dog's life!

Saturday, July 19, 2014

The flight home is always special.

What is your most valuable possession?  

Is it your family; your partner, your children, your parents?  Have you just purchased the car you've always dreamed of driving or a collectible watch that was never within reach?  Did you finally move into your "dream home" or snag that perfect job?  I've been asking myself this question for the last day or so and I've settled on something that to many will seem pretty mundane, to others, trite.

My most prized possession is my life, the next breath, another opportunity, another moment, another day, that next revelation waiting in the wings to make itself known,  the next chance to fulfill my mission.  What mission?  To be the best possible iteration of me, the truest, the most complete, the one that will not reach his end undone, unfinished.

Less than 24 hours later, I begin a day very much like one that colleagues a world away began; colleagues that I've never met and will never meet.  I prepare for a long-haul intercontinental flight aboard a fully-booked Boeing 777-200ER, departing in the late-morning, mid-day with 282 "souls on board" (passengers and crew, including infants in arms).  As crew, our routine is just that, routine.  We move in the same way, speak in the same way, interact in the same way as we have so many times before which, in my case, is for the last 30 years.  We work with old friends and with new acquaintances, some whose names we've heard before, some not.  The routine of it all gives the very mistaken impression that it is just routine.  As we've learned, it is until it isn't. 

After we prepare the familiar spaces of the cabin for the onslaught, customers begin to board, each with his or her own unique "baggage".  We, all of us, are on our own journey.  This is the tiny, cramped, pressurized space where so many of our journeys intersect; sometimes harmoniously, sometimes calamitously.  But the cabin of a long-haul aircraft is a "pressure vessel" on many levels.  The normal personal space and control that we enjoy in our own comfort zone of home is unceremoniously removed and our innermost anxieties are exposed.  The fact that we volunteer for this experience, in some cases paying great sums of our hard-earned money for the experience, does not make the experience any less an assault.  To believe otherwise is to fall prey to the pervasive powers of marketing.

Everyone settles into his "place" onboard.  Expectations are set with crew briefing, announcements, the safety demonstration, individual interactions, etc.  Each participant reaches his point of stasis for the flight.  (For the crew this often means, "3A is so funny and engaging" or "32K is going to need a lot of attention" or "that pilot is a jerk" or "I can't believe I have to work with him/her again" or "why can't the company just listen to us and give us the tools we need?").  No doubt some of the crew aboard MH17 were pondering these thoughts as they heard, "Flight Attendants, prepare the doors for departure, cross check, and stand by for all call". 

Finishing cabin checks and taking a jumpseat are the prelude to more routine:  the sound and movement of engine start and taxi.  "Flight Attendants, be seated for departure". The building roar of massive engines whose circumference is nearly the same as the fuselage of a Boeing 737.  The "silent review" of what my individual responsibilities will be (determined by my jumpseat assignment) if something should go awry during takeoff.  The thunderous takeoff roll is punctuated by the whir of hydraulic pumps under the floor at doors 3L & R, over the wings.  The pumps drive the retraction of the landing gear, gear door closure, flap and aileron actuation, each with its signature, somehow comforting sound.  

The nose lifts and hovers above the ground for a critical moment or two as our speed builds sufficiently to lift the remainder of the aircraft from the support of the main gear.  Then magic:  Flight.  Our vessel makes a split-second transition from ungainly terrestrial behemoth to spectacularly graceful airborne miracle of human ingenuity.   Metamorphosis.

Once aloft, many anxieties relieved, onboard services commence and the legendary ennui of long-haul flight sets in.  While initial services will generally consume the first 2-3 hours of a daylight-departing flight (typically less for night departures), that leaves another 8+ hours of boredom, compounded by the discomfiting physiological effects of extended air travel under pressure.  The fourth hour of today's flight (#7 from Houston to Tokyo/Narita) finds the aircraft at FL360 (36,000 feet), somewhere over western Canada, near the frontier with southeastern Alaska.  It finds me in Overhead Attendant Rest (OHAR) bunk #1 (of 6), wide awake, attuned to all of that which is happening around me.

I am one of 6 Flight Attendants (half of those onboard) on break 1 which is three hours in duration today.  I've been in my bunk for about an hour and begin to reflect on the events of yesterday, so much is similar.  Many passengers try to sleep after the first service, finding it the least egregious way to pass the long, dull period of inactivity.  In smooth, level flight, the principle contributors to ambient noise are the low-frequency groan of the engines and the constant, unvarying whoosh of the wind as it caresses the surfaces of the aircraft.  No extraneous distraction intrudes here:  no phone, no work colleague, no teacher, no schoolmate, no pet, nothing that wasn't brought along on the trip.  Some watch movies.  Some read.  Some listen to music or do handicrafts.  Some sleep, or attempt to.  Some write.

And then...

In one instant, the journeys of 298 lives came to an abrupt halt.  The flight and their sudden ends are likely the only things that many of those journeys shared.  It's  a certainty that no two lives were at the same "place" with maybe one very notable exception.  

In that moment, each was discovering or rediscovering his most valuable possession.

Epilogue:  My flight today is to a layover in Japan.  The crew of MH17 was departing their layover in Amsterdam on their homeward-bound leg.  Kuala Lumpur is Malaysian's principle hub and home city.  

As similar as they may seem in other ways, flights "home" are always very different to crew than flights to a layover.  Perhaps the distinction has its roots in the very romantic way that each of us thinks of "home"; perhaps it's as simple as a trip being over, complete, done.  Whatever the reason, the flight home is always special.

Every. Moment. Counts. 

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Paying It Forward

Philip was making his daily visit to the Produce Dept of our favorite supermarket, scrutinizing (the way that only he can) the avocados.  He overheard a lady nearby say, "Do you think he would like some?" and noticed that she was looking in his direction.

She smiled at him.  He smiled back.  That's when she popped the question:

"Would you like to have some fresh, home-grown tomatoes?  I'm visiting from Palestine (TX, 4 hours away) and will never use them all before they ruin."  Philip has never been one to turn down a vine-ripened, home-grown tomato, so he followed her to her car.  The tomatoes he brought home from that adventure were delicious! 

Over a tomato, sweet onion, fresh herb and balsamic vinaigrette salad, Philip said that he had the feeling the lady wanted to hug him.  So they hugged.  She refused to accept any payment for something so rare that you just cannot find it in the store anymore.

They parted company with his promise, "I will be paying your kindness forward!"

She answered with another smile.

Can you remember the days when this story would have been so common that it wasn't noteworthy enough to repeat?

Just paying forward my part of a (delicious) kindness!

Friday, July 4, 2014

Freedom isn't free

Happy Independence Day!

Our nation has paid a high price for our freedom.  We continue to pay that price over and over again, even today.  It wouldn't be an overstatement to say that our industry, aviation, has been uniquely called to satisfy the debt of freedom, after 9/11. While there is political division in this country, significant differences of opinion, there is no equivocation that the price for freedom must be paid.  We honor those who obliged us to that debt over 200 years ago as much as we honor those who continue to service it.

In the matter of our unity at my airline employer, what price are you willing to pay?  We must each contribute something in order to make it real and lasting, not just wordplay.  Nobody, no pre-merger "side" gets a pass!  

Will you sacrifice a workrule, your relative bidding seniority, a (temporary) base reassignment,  your hourly rate of pay, retirement benefit, or just a self-serving need to be "right"?  Talk is cheap and, as we have seen for 4 years now, it is oh-so-divisive and ultimately, fruitless.

We live in a strange, mythical time where one can "have" things without paying for them.  But without payment, what do those things really mean?  Freedom isn't free.  Nothing of any real value is.

What price are you prepared to pay?  The only certainty is pay we must.

"We must all hang together or assuredly we shall hang separately" - Benjamin Franklin

Enjoy the fireworks and celebration.  Then, try to remember what it all means!

May God bless the United States of America and all those who have paid so much for our way of life!

Sunday, June 29, 2014

"I got what I came for."

The Saturday before July 4th had become something of a tradition in the Reece family; the children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren of Harold and Alma Reece and anyone lucky enough to be dear to them.  My family had begun to convene, reunion-style, at Dad's Ellijay, Georgia heaven-on-Earth every year to celebrate "being", for lack of a better term.  I think my parents dreaded the event as much as they eagerly anticipated it, since hosting 100+ can be a tall order, even in an open field beside a lovely mountain stream.  But few things brought Dad the joy that this weekend did.  It was an honor to be there and to share that joy.

Two years ago, on this weekend in 2012 was very different.  My Dad underwent surgery to remove cancerous growth on his brain.  We had every reason to believe that procedure would be the end of his life.  As it turns out, it was the definitive beginning of his end.

I was able to be with him and with my family thanks to the memorable efforts of a very special Delta employee named Dora, whom I've only seen once or twice since.  Dora (last name unknown) will always occupy a special place in my heart and prayers.  How different things might have been without her.

Dad survived his surgery in typically jaw-dropping fashion.  But he didn't escape the final few steps of his path.  They were difficult for all of us, to say the least.  Dad took those steps with his characteristic, uncomplaining plodding gait right to the end.

I've said it before but will do so again and again:  My Dad was likely the most unexpected teacher for this student of life with a fire for learning, discovering, knowing.  We were alike in many ways but different in just enough ways to make our journey together a struggle, as much for him as for me!

In the final analysis, if there ever is such a thing, Neal Reece taught me the most important lesson I'm ever likely to learn.  He taught me how to face my fate with dignity and grace.  It's a tough lesson to learn.

I can only imagine how difficult it was to teach.

Friday, June 27, 2014

"I miss..."

Against the odds, my point in posting was to focus on those meaningful, dear things that will most likely NEVER be the same. I feel like I've been at a 4 year funeral but the grieving is endless!

It's a funny thing about loss. Until you stop denying it and embrace the loss, admit to the universe how profound and permanent it is to you, you're unlikely to move past it.  Sometimes just saying (or writing) the words "I miss..." can get the ball rolling.  Then, just go where the feeling takes you:  some cry, some scream or lash out, others rationalize, trivialize or demonize. There are even those who express their grief by writing.

But until the loss is acknowledged and dealt with, the future is "on hold". 

Grieving the loss of something fundamentally important in your life is a prerequisite to moving on with your life.  If there's no chance of getting it back, face it, grieve over it and let it go. 

Let. It. Go.

Accepting that life as we knew it will never be the same is terrifying but can also be exciting and certainly life-altering:

How awful, "My life will never be the same."

But how exciting, "My life will NEVER be the same!"

Since we can't go back, what's next?

"When there's no turning back, then we should concern ourselves only with the best way of going forward."

  -Paulo Coelho

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Departures: Another step on the path (Part ?)

I woke this morning (at 4:30) to some pretty profound thoughts and feelings.  Doors open.  Doors close.  Beginnings.  Endings.  Our lives are the very definition of transition.  From the moment of birth, conception even, the constant state of change that typifies our existence is set into motion.  The process culminates with our demise...or does it?

Philip, Maxxi and I are preparing to leave Pensacola this morning and return to Texas, our month-long mission a success.  The mission didn't go according to plan (when does it ever?) but it was certainly successful.  "Blew Inn" is up and running and surpasses our expectations.  Fom the moment we walked through the door on the day it was set in place, it felt like home.

Ironically and in a totally unforeseen turn of events, we learned at the mid-point of our planned move-in month that the tenant at our "shotgun house" in downtown Pensacola had suffered a catastrophic life event and could no longer afford to remain there. In hindsight, how serendipitous that we were here, in Pensacola!

Without going into great detail, at the age of 65, our tenant's husband of many years, also on the lease, quit his job and announced that he was leaving her, taking his physical and financial support along with him.  "M" was left to fend for herself with a disability income of $783 per month.  That's it, unless you include the few meager possessions that she was left with.  (In the process of communicating the situation to us, M disclosed that they had divorced years ago but continued living together "not as man and wife.")  Given that we had already stabilized the rent for the last few years at $750, far below market, M's situation was untenable.

To protect our interests and hers, Philip used local connections to see what we could do to help an understandably distraught woman in crisis.  As it happens, Philip may have saved her.  When she finally found the courage to disclose her situation to us, she had no food, no money and very little hope.

Philip learned of a government-supported development specifically for seniors with limited incomes that had an unusual reputation:  clean, well-maintained, respected in the community, and very, VERY difficult to get into.  It appeared that M qualified but she had to meet a rigorous set of entry qualifications AND there was a waitlist.  By virtue of her qualifying circumstances and the fact that she is a fastidious record-keeper, M was "fast-tracked" and was offered an apartment within 2 weeks!  The rent for her new 600 sq foot home is 30% of her monthly income and includes all utilities except for electricity, which is around $50 per month.  Who could have foreseen such a happy ending?  She is over-the-moon.  (As an indication of the nature of our relationship with M, though she has siblings and children, when she completed the entry application, she listed Philip as her emergency contact.  Appropriate, don't you think?)

Moving day was poignant...and telling.  We sometimes demonstrate our inability to cope with our reality by simply not participating in it.  M was a perfect example:  with 2 or more weeks to prepare, the movers we hired found her largely unorganized and unpacked.  Five hours later, the lion's share of the move was completed but much was left to be done.  The significance of the events taking place in her life had overwhelmed her, I guess.  Yet, there was no denying that she had fallen backward into the best possible fortune, given her circumstances.

Since we have a mortgage on the property which must be serviced, Philip and I were anxious to clean and prepare the shotgun for whatever and whomever comes next.  With our small trailer in tow, we collected M early in the morning with a commitment to help her finish up and get everything she wanted to keep with her.  In spite of knowing that we were "doing the right thing" and helping all we could, there was an overwhelming sadness that went with the sweat and strain of finishing the move.  Of course, an afternoon cloudburst once everything was on the trailer was the frosting on the cake.  But at day's end, M was in her new home, safe, secure, and ready to address her future.

And so were we...

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Magic at Work!

Today at work bordered on magical; it was like a closely-held belief fulfilled. On Flight 1 from Houston to Tokyo, our crew demonstrated how it's possible to pull success out of the clutches of the atmosphere of failure that surrounds us. 

In our briefing, the captain emphasized that we would be flying fast since flight 1 was made a focus after gathering customer complaints as a result of missed connections in NRT due to chronically late arrivals. Who could fail to note that flight 1 was recently "re- timed", DELAYING departure by 15 minutes? (Even though the affected NRT outbound connections bank timing was unchanged). 

"Is this airplane equipped with wi-fi?", I was asked by two different B-zone customers during boarding, one of whom was a very disappointed 1K when I answered.  "How can I be disconnected for 14 hours?", he said, as anxious as he was sarcastic.  Who could disagree that an approach that first equips smaller, relatively short-range equipment with satellite wi-fi seems questionable?  (All wide bodies are scheduled for completion by the end of 2015; little consolation for him). 

Several customers were directly impacted by yesterday's monumental weather assault on IAH. I overheard that more flights were cancelled in IAH yesterday than on any single day in the airport's history. 

So far, does this sound like a recipe for success?  Maybe not. But then, the cabin door was closed. 

From the moment that the words "Flight Attendants, prepare doors for departure, cross-check and stand by for all-call" were uttered, success was ours!  We were in our element, doing what we do, making the difference that we've been trained for. Most importantly, we believed in and supported each other. Does anything feel better?!  (OK, be reasonable. You know what I'm talking about!)

The ever-critical galleys were staffed by 3 of the best:  Julie, Donna and Grace. The aisles were nothing but unflappable, unyielding people-pleasers:  Yuka, Sylvia, Robin, Mitsue, Vicki, Yoko and Rosey (oh, and me!).  And when it comes to onboard leaders, our Paul is a superstar!

We didn't solve all the problems in my airline employer's world today. We just did what we do, what all of us are capable of doing.  We dominated our realm of control and prevented extraneous factors from stealing our thunder.



I have no doubt that we'll pull another rabbit out of the hat tomorrow on flight 6, come what may. 

Who is the FACE of MY AIRLINE?

"Hello.  Welcome to XXX!  My name is..."

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Milestone: Testify!

"Cheery" is not a word I would use to describe my workplace these days.  Circumstances have made it very much the opposite, generally speaking.  A recent edict from on-high, reducing staffing on our workhorse international aircraft and eroding our ability to provide excellent service as a result, makes "cheery" an ever more elusive state.

That edict was the thesis of a post in a social media group that I help administer.  Its author suggested that "Pastor Reece" would need an epic "revival" to help with this issue.  After addressing the issue, I suggested that the word revival evoked vivid memories and images for me and asked the question, "should I expound?"  A positive response to my question elicited the following:

"At Arbor Hill Baptist Church in Cherokee County Georgia, revival is traditionally held in mid-July, when summer is at its most tempestuous.  As a child, I felt God's breath on the back of my neck, warm at the beginning of service, cooling, almost chilly, as the inevitable evening thunderstorms rolled in as service reached a crescendo. I mentioned that our revival was held under the arbor. That arbor was and is to this day a huge, timber frame structure whose roof is sheathed in corrugated metal. The posts and beams were rough-hewn from local timber in the 1800s. The hard, purposefully-uncomfortable benches were also hewn on-site. The comforts of the congregation were not the primary concern of those in charge (further evidenced by the outdoor "conveniences" in service until the late 20th century). 

At service time, sometime after "supper" (the evening meal in the South), temperatures were in the 90s at minimum. The funeral home- furnished church fans (hardened paper stapled to a Popsicle stick) did little to abate the inferno. 

As benediction was said (sometimes, a "spirit"-enthused hour), I would silently pray for rain. By the time the visiting preacher ascended to the pulpit, the clap of thunder and flash of lightening had begun. God is great!  The storm was usually preceded by a gush of cooling wind, announcing the coming relief. 

Imagine the wonder of an 8-year old, raised in the faith of fire and brimstone when God's nightly show started!  "Awesome" has become such a trite expression through overuse and abuse. 

Through the eyes of a child, THAT was AWESOME!  I remember the change in the smell of the air as lightning flashed and it became infused with ozone or positive ions or whatever God used to make it smell so heavenly. I can smell it as I sit here typing on my phone with just my right thumb, 46 years later!

(I was sitting standby for a Delta flight from Atlanta to Houston when typing the above.  The below was written once onboard & in flight.)

Lest I give the impression that my approach to my revival experience is cynical, let me assure you that nothing could be further from the truth.  Much of who and what I have become has a direct link to the Southern Baptist tradition.  Conversely, I've had to overcome many of the stigma and assignations Southern Baptistry places on me and people like me in order to thrive in life.  Isn't it ironic?  That which is intended to give one spiritual succor takes it away at the very same time!

Thanks to Delta's hospitality (19C) and inflight wi-fi, I'll continue with the revival experience...

The sweetness of the relief (rain) from hellfire and damnation (July heat) was tempered by the very literal soul-pounding of the crashing thunder, streaking lightening and fiery rhetoric from the altar.  At a young age, I was very aware of who and what I was and even more attune to my tenuous standing in the eyes of my church and community.  My spiritual guides had this young boy believing that the thunder and lightening were God's address to the abomination that I represented in His eyes.  I cannot adequately express the self-loathing that a child of 8 is capable of feeling.  God knows ALL, especially one's deepest secret.

One night, the service was mercifully short, as was the evening thunderstorm.  The thunder rolled into the distance quickly, followed by the flashing skies and ominous clouds.  As the Sun began to set, the sky parted and radiated crimson on the remaining, dispersing cloud-cover.  The same clouds which had seemed so threatening earlier, seemed so much friendlier, almost gentle, forgiving.  The cloud shadows formed in the setting sun formed recognizable shapes and objects.  The air had "that smell". 

That was the night that I finally felt I would be okay, that my life would be worthy.

God was transfigured in my life that night and it had very little to do with the revival.

When I return to the arbor these days, the memories flood back:  I can almost see Reverend McGaha wiping the froth (literally) from the corners of his mouth with a white handkerchief.  I smell the fresh pine sawdust on the ground, smell the communal body odor of simple, honest, God-fearing people fulfilling their commitment to God and their community. I taste the icy cold water drawn from a well and shared among all the children using the same enameled tin dipper, one at a time.

I momentarily feel the angst of an 8-year old sinner, forlorn and damned.  And then I look up to the sky and remember.

It will never be that way again."

I found the following link in my Facebook feed this morning.  Coincidence?

Not to me...

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Making Do: Yankee Thrift in the Florida Panhandle

Another problem has been solved at Blew Inn.  The issue of television at our retirement cottage has been a potential budget-buster.  Local cable provider Cox has the go-to solution for TV in our area but the pricing is astronomical in view of our limited usage.  Finding a workable, budget-friendly solution to the problem was a conundrum.

The Slingbox setup at our home in Houston has always been the key to enjoying the premium TV services we pay for in Houston pretty-much anywhere:  Tokyo, Amsterdam, Rio de Janeiro, etc.  For an investment of <$300, the Slingbox hardware integrates our home TV with our home network and assigns it an IP address.  The Slingbox software on our iphones and ipads allows us to control the home-based hardware and watch remotely anything we could watch at home.  All that's required is a high speed internet connection (a speed sufficient  for streaming video.)

My initial thoughts in Pensacola were to employ the hotspot feature of my iphone to allow our ipads to control Slingbox, as we do on layovers.  The strong Sprint LTE signal at Blew Inn is certainly sufficient for supporting this approach but Sprint has recently eliminated the option of unlimited hotspot data usage from its user plans.  We are now capped at 6GB per month (not enought for daily TV consumption) and even that is a hefty $50 fee.  After considering other high-speed options for our area, I started thinking more about Apple and the myriad solutions they provide for their products.

Since the data usage on our iphones IS unlimited with no additional charge, they are the key to solving the problem of large monthly fees.  After doing a little research at the online Apple store, we solved our problem with a $49 "Lightning to A/V Adapter" plus a $10 HDMI cable plus a surplus 26" LCD TV that we brought with us from Texas.

With virtually NO "tweaking" and a one-time investment of $60, we had a perfectly acceptable (actually, quite elegant), cost-efficient solution.  

Apple + Slingbox = Affordable Home Entertainment!

Monday, May 19, 2014


When I rose, shortly after 5 this morning, I arose with a story to tell.  I may tell that story yet, it is vivid still in my imagination. But no matter how early the morning, one task must always be attended to before any other.  My four-legged charge was afoot and scampering before I could even utter, "Maxxi, do you want to go pee?".

Wonderfully disciplined about such things, Maxxi descended the steps, took care of business, ascended and dashed between my legs in the general direction of her still-warm bed before I even had my eyes fully-opened.  As I secured the door behind her, I turned and took one fateful step into an icy-cold "what the hell is that?" puddle.  The splatter felt on the weeks-old flooring of one's new home instills an instant air of foreboding.  "WHAT THE HELL?"  Did the brand-new washer, installed just hours earlier, leak on the 1st or second load?  Did Maxxi have a mistake in the middle of the night (unprecedented).  No, it was icy-cold.

The air conditioning unit!

I opened the door to the HVAC closet and quickly found the source.  I woke Philip (not easily done at 0500) and asked that he come have a look.  A moment or two later, we located and removed an air filter laden with enough ice to sink the TITANIC.  I snapped a few iphotos, zapped them to our contractor and by 7am had a commitment from the unit's installer that he would be by today.  All things considered, it sounded a reasonable and fortuitous resolution. If we hadn't been here, who knows what calamity would have ultimately resulted?

The day meandered on in pretty much the same vein:  issue arises, issue is addressed, issue is resolved.  Settling in to a new home is labor-intensive.  Since I'd exhausted myself in previous days with the heavy lifting, I committed to make today about "clean up" and turned to washing dishes, linens and clothing, long in storage.

Midway through the mindlessness that is folding laundry (load #5 or 6), I happened to glance out the window.  Anew, the sheer beauty of my surroundings registered.  "How could I make THIS about drudgery?"  But, I had.  Crisis, cleaning, sorting, putting away had taken precedence over everything, even this incredibly gorgeous day and place.

Just then, I noticed a shimmering on the water's surface near our shore, bait fish were teeming near the surface.  Suddenly, a glistening shape moving as fluidly as the water itself broke the surface in its unhurried turn at the buffet. One, two, three dolphins, then a fourth, no doubt the cause of the bait fish frenzy, took their lazy turn devouring their prey.  They were soon joined by bown pelicans and seaguls, all drawn by the telltale disturbance.  Water glistened and sprayed, the dolphins rolled and feasted, the pelicans dove and exploited the opportunity, the seagulls noisily played their role as "clean up crew".

It was a wondrous episode of NATURE, lacking only the jaunty commentary of one or other of the brothers Attenborough, viewed in magnificent real-life resolution.  Spectacular!  Horrific and beautiful, at the same time.  Life.

Now, shortly before bed, I reflect on the walk that Philip, Maxxi and I shared by the same water, now placid in twilight.  There was no sign, no evidence of the events that I witnessed earlier today.  Only peace.  Only calm.  Only a memory, resulting from a detour.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Touchstone: Paying It Forward

If you have a moment or two to spare, settle in. I'm in the mood to tell one of my stories...
In the 1980s, the post-deregulation US airline industry was being upended by upstart "mavericks" like Carl Icahn and Frank Lorenzo. Through a variety of contrivances, these two rather unconventional, atypical airline executives took control of industry stalwarts TWA and Continental. While deregulation itself provided the stage setting, it was these characters who forever altered the US airline landscape. While TWA and Continental were the direct targets, the industry as a whole was impacted by their machinations.
I was a Flight Attendant for Continental during this very tumultuous period. "Peanuts fares", "no frills", "Add-a-friend" for a penny", domestically at Continental, the gimmicks seemed endless. At the same time, Continental was operating 3 class DC10-30s in the Pacific and offering a level of service comparable to our international competition. "Who in the hell are we?", even employees of long-standing would ask. Who were we supposed to be, anyway? Southwest or QANTAS? The questions were legitimate as we had no clear identity or mission. Essentially, we were trying to be all things to all people...and failing miserably on all fronts. We were widely viewed as the worst US airline in the industry and the traveling public, who spent their money for the privilege of flying with us, never hesitated to remind us of that sad fact.
There's just one thing...
I was relatively new and impressionable. What I knew of Continental was it's glorious past under Robert Six; both he and the airline were legendary. Assimilating the very real disconnect between what I knew and what I was experiencing was DEVASTATING to my morale and to the morale of many of my contemporaries. I remind you that Continental did not have the resources or global scope that today's airline leviathans enjoy. Going out of business completely was a very real, EVER-PRESENT possibility. Of course, we survived and even thrived. But it wasn't easy and it wasn't quick. How did we muddle through the quagmire and into airline paradise?
We relied upon each other, plainly and simply. Our Chief Executive was a quiet, almost anti-social and reviled (by many) public figure. I met Mr. Lorenzo on several occasions and, oddly maybe, felt sorry for him. He pursued his own agenda and became one of the most unsympathetic characters in American business. His actions and/or inactions quite literally destroyed lives. We did NOT find solace or hope in the corporate offices. But we DID find them "on the line".
In particular, I remember those who were somewhat senior to me as paragons to be admired and emulated for their strength and conviction that all would be OK. As I remember them today, the feelings they engendered in me, a young and very impressionable "new kid", I can get misty-eyed. Maybe they knew what an impact they had on myself and others. Maybe not. But they shared a gift that cannot be repaid. It can only be paid forward.
Why am I confident in my future at my airline employer, in our future here? Because I've been here before. I've been through worse; much, much worse. I survived. We survived and we rose like the Phoenix through our own force of will and our belief that we would make it. We did. We will.
I have worked for the most reviled airline in the industry. I have worked for the most respected airline in the industry. Irony of ironies, they were one in the same.
Whom do I thank? Chris & Bill RattraySimon CasarezRae Mackintosh, Pam Hart Cole, Connie Seger, Judy Blair, Judy Noonan, Suzanne Hendricks, Byron & Sally Pettingill...and countless others. Many are still here today, doing exactly what they were doing 30 years ago. Role models. Hope inspirers. Colleagues. Friends.
for Cody...