Wednesday, August 26, 2015

On This Wonderful Adventure

In the early 1990s, I returned to the Houston Spanish Speaker Flight Attendant base after my base in Honolulu was closed.  It was not a particularly auspicious time in my career or in my employer's history.  The operation was kind of a mess and "some new guy" (Gordon Bethune) had just come along in the chief executive position telling us that he was going to make it all better.  (He was the latest in a long line of chief executives to say pretty much the same thing, only to summarily depart after a brief tenure, leaving behind unfulfilled promises.)  As a bet hedge, I was working outside the airline as a management consultant for a firm in southern California, requiring a weekly ARDUOUS commute from Houston to Los Angeles.

My "go-to" route bid at the time was Houston/Bogota Colombia; two roundtrips in three days.  Four of those trips was a full month's schedule.  My crewmates, all Spanish Speaker-qualified, were a mixed bag of seniorities and motivations for bidding the schedule:  a full-time nursing student (35+ years of seniority), a Houston local holding her "dream bid", a rotation of others and a commuter from Florida who was displaced from the "Flower Child" era of the 60s with a perpetual, infectious smile.  Susan Ratsey and her husband, Scott, had just adopted a son named Maya who was the center of their universe and Susan radiated her happiness.  I always suspected that Susan was pretty much the same before Maya but Maya put the icing on her life's cake.

Those of us with consistent motivations flew this same trip consistently.  Linda, Susan, Ana, me and the others who rotated in and out of our schedule.  In Bogota, we stayed at a lovely hotel with world-class rooms, amenities and service.  Yet we were there for such a short time, we seldom had the opportunity to take full advantage.  At the time, the FARC (the revolutionary armed forces of Colombia) were quite active with kidnapping, executions (mostly judges and government officials) and other mayhem which rendered Bogota an EXCEEDINGLY unsafe place to be.  Luxury hotel or not, venturing out was ill-advised, no matter how safe the reputation of the barrio (neighborhood).

A 5-hour flight on a 757 can yield some pretty impressive "down time".  In this early-90s era when we still had magazines onboard, one of our motley crew discovered an exhaustive article concerning one of the more well-known Colombian drug families.  The Ochoas, the family in question, also had a passion for horses, particularly a breed known as Paso Fino (fine gait).  Additionally, they ran a well-known, well-patronized restaurant on the outskirts of Bogota known as "Margarita del Ocho", where the patron of the family held court with well-wishers (and cling-ons) from a "throne" mounted atop a dais in the center of the restaurant.  The article detailed how Don Fabio reveled in this very popular side business from his spot on high while his equine treasures pranced among the restaurant's tables and patrons, delighting his assembled guests.  Of course, my crew and I fomented a plan to visit Don Fabio in his place of reputable business before month's end.  There were so many good, valid reasons to convince us of the folly of such a plan but none would dissuade us.  None of our group was any more titillated at the prospects than our own flower child, Susan.  She was positively giddy.

I believe it was the last trip of the month.  We had planned for weeks, each packing just the right "layover attire" for such an ill-advised venture, 3-4 female crewmates and me.  (If I'm not mistaken, Joelcito was to have gone with us but feigned illness at the 11th hour.)  A cab was called.  Our die was cast.  Did I mention that BOG in the 1990s was a MERCILESSLY short layover?  At high altitude?  With an early show?  And a long drive to the airport?

Susan Ratsey's nature was ebullience.  So, I didn't immediately notice that she seemed more ebullient than usual.  What none of us knew was that Nurse Becker had been plying her (on the van ride to the hotel and then some) with libations.  By her own admission, Susan was a "lightweight".  Her customary alcohol intake was a glass or two of wine.  Neither she nor we were prepared for the impact of shots of Remy Martin to her system!  Our friend Susan was well and truly lubricated before we ever reached our target destination.

Margarita proved to be a non-descript hacienda of sorts, WELL outside the city but glowed in man-made light in the damp darkness of a sultry Bogota evening.  One normally thinks of latin people dining late.  But upon our arrival at after 8pm, the place was empty, only one or two tables were occupied.  We were shown to a table suitable for our group, adjacent to another table occupied by light-hearted patrons.  We noticed the wide pathways interspersed among the tables and throne-topped dais from which Don Fabio held forth (alas, he was not in situ on this occasion).  We ordered wine and antojitos antioquenos (appetizers from the Antioch region which were principally charred meat.)  Ana engaged in conversation with the adjacent table and the rest set out to enjoy our adventure.  A Paso Fino and rider appeared in the periphery and we knew that we were in for a unique evening.  How unique?

Midway through our first glass of wine, the charred meat appetizers arrived.  We were famished, so eager to partake.  Each of us helped ourselves and prepared to enjoy comida tipica when...

The horse and rider approached our table.  Just upon their arrival, the horse heeded nature's call.  S/he defecated and urinated directly in front of Susan.  I caught a glimpse of her face JUST as her eyes rolled back!  She managed to turn slightly to the side and behind before "letting loose".  We rushed to try to help Susan AND/OR mitigate the impact on what was a notably precarious position we had placed ourselves into this evening.  The staff were so understanding (surprisingly) and accommodating.  Ana's conversation with the patrons seated at the adjacent table continued unabated.  I've always admired that about Ana.  She can be SO in the moment, yet so not.

"We have to get out of here!  Call the taxi!", someone said.  We were so occupied with caring for our friend (we still didn't know how Linda had layed the groundwork for these events) and minimizing our conspicuousness that we hardly noticed Ana was still at the table, still conversing merrily.  A member of staff brought a container for the charred meat antojitos that we left unfinished but fully paid.  He insisted that Ana bring them with us on our journey home, once he got her attention.  And she did!

It seemed hours before our cab finally arrived.  We walked and fanned, catered to Susan's needs.  When he did finally arrive, our driver balked for some reason at allowing us admission to his conveyance.  We promised to put Susan by the door with the window open so as not to sully his place of business.  After much sweet-talking, he relented and off we went.  Bogota (high altitude) at night is a very chilly place.  We were all half-frozen upon arriving "home" at La Fontana.  After a few invectives (from both sides of the transaction), fees and a hefty gratuity paid, our driver left us in peace.  I believe that, at this point, we had about 4 hours left until our check-in for the flight home.  I was not the only one concerned about what our friend Susan's condition might be in the morning.

When we met in the lobby the next morning, each of us arrived looking awful:  Ana, Linda, me.  "Where's Susan?  Did she oversleep?"  Was she passed out still?  About that time, Susan glided out of the opening doors of the elevator, none the worse for wear.  Actually, she looked as though she felt like a million dollars.  "Good morning, everybody!  Did you sleep well?", she asked.  We were incredulous.  How could the friend that we barely got to her room a few hours earlier look and act like she'd had the best sleep of her life?

The best sleep of her life.

Our dear friend Susan was light, happiness and love.  I don't mind telling you that my eyes are full and my heart is heavy as I write this entry.

Rest in peace, Dear Susan.  You are well-loved and you will be missed.  You may be gone but your light lives on in those with whom you shared it.  Fly west!

The DiLeens

Personal note:  I am aware that some folks wonder how I can be so steadfastly positive about our "situation" these days. A friend of over 30 years informed me that that she and others believe that I'm "crazy". I suppose that's fair in light of things we read daily in social media and elsewhere.

But l know the truth.

We come not from good stock but from THE BEST stock. Our mentors and teachers are survivors and thrivers in a notoriously "bloody" industry. We should believe more in ourselves and pass along the gifts we've been given to those who follow us, including the value of positivity. If we commit to that, our future is GOLDEN.

I see myself making daily payments on the best kind of debt. My creditors expect nothing but I owe them everything.

Allow me to make another installment...


Fifty-one years later, our dear friends and colleagues, Diane Young and Eileen Mines (aka "the Di-Leens"), embark on their final trip, today to NRT. Diane and Eileen, I believe, are the most senior sCO EEO participants. What careers!  And they've been together almost every step of the way.

When they and I flew EZE together a few years ago, Diane & Eileen ran circles around those with half their tenure, all the while enjoying the great and releasing the not-so-great.  What mentors and friends to have had on this incredible journey, both to one another and to those of us fortunate enough to have worked with them!

You know what they say about a lady. She always knows when it's time to leave.

Diane, Eileen:  you are loved and will be missed. You two have set the bar high for those of us who follow.

What a friendship.

Godspeed!  Be well and happy!"


There's no avoiding the sense of loss that so many feel at work these days, it comes in all shapes and sizes. Today in Inflight, we are mourning the ultimate loss, the untimely death of a loved, respected, youthful friend.

Whether it's the loss of a colleague or just the loss of something familiar in the workplace, the loss takes its toll. We have mechanisms for coping, a cycle we humans go through. Those mechanisms can be as unique to the individual as the features of the face.

What's most important is that we treat one another accordingly. Be kind, understanding and accepting. If you haven't felt the loss yet, you will.  Acting in frustration or anger, blaming another person or group do nothing to balm the pain. Often, they just make it worse.

I've felt the repeated loss before. I've felt the joys of winning. Their memory will keep me moving forward to a better day.

I look forward to the day when it's "our turn" again.

Will it be today?