Saturday, April 30, 2016

It's not over...

I followed my nose inside Blew Inn from a steamy morning's yard work. The unmistakable aroma of creole fills every nook and cranny; it smells like Christmas on the Gulf.  I foresee a just-In-time visit to Joe Patti's for the last key ingredients.

Our birthday week is ending with an in the ground investment of our gifts:  dwarf Japanese maple, bald cypress, confederate jasmine and those red shrubs that bloom pink feathers in the spring.  All that's left is pine straw and water and regular visits to keep the jasmine under control.

It has been a memorable week for Philip and me.  There are so many changes in our little world.  Maybe the biggest is the reality that he is officially retirement age.  The plans we've made (mostly him) are coming together. The unknowns of the future can be frightening.  We'll do what we can and ride this wave wherever it takes us.

Retirement age or not, it's far from over.  

To be continued...

Monday, April 25, 2016


Any day that starts with one's body perpendicular to the surface of the planet is a good day! (A day that starts otherwise still has potential and potential is what life is all about, isn't it?)

I spend the better part of my waking moments counting my blessings. They are far more than anything I could ever deserve and I am so grateful of that awareness. Unless it is earned, nothing has any real, lasting value; least of all, life.

As my journey unfolds, now well into the 6th decade, I don't begrudge any obstacle or difficulty. Each had its purpose. The particular timing and circumstance of each has made me a better, more complete human being. Rather, I dismiss the "high points" and "bellweathers" because they taught me very little. Value and meaning are derived from striving and accomplishing: small, innocuous victories can be and have been the most precious.

I spent my 26th birthday on the airplane (a DC10 "PUB") and was surprised to have it celebrated by my crew. I very nearly spent my 56th birthday (actually, 4/26) on a trip to Sao Paulo, Brazil and was bowled-over in surprise to have it celebrated by my crew. Yet the two experiences were as different as daylight and dark. So much has changed in 30 years.

26 year-old Tony was younger, thinner, tanner, "hotter". But, if it were up to me, I'd want to spend my time with 56 year-old Tony. Behind that crooked, imperfect smile, broken glasses and considerable amplitude is the realization of the potential that means the most: kindness and care, the evidence that love leaves in its wake.

We are each stones in the stream of life. Caught in and propelled by the flow of time, we accompany, we abrade, we shape one another into the beings we are meant to be. How we accomplish that is up to us.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Does it show?

"You've probably been flying a really long time, huh?", the wide-eyed lady in 16J asked me as I took my place for the safety demo video at the beginning of the first of 2 Houston to Sao Paulo trips Thursday night.  Smiling my "make sure you smile because the whole plane is watching" smile, I tried to imagine on what level that might be a compliment!  My truthful answer, "a bit more than 30 years" led to the follow-on, "Wow!  All for U (my airline-employer)?"  "You bet!"  (Did you really think she wanted the whole nitty-gritty?  Yeah, me neither.)

Turns out, that was her opening gambit to wrangle an upgrade to one of the Business Class seats she could see going vacant from her vantage point.  She wasn't successful.

I had noticed the regal-looking lady in 19F having a fairly intense, one-way conversation with our gate agent prior to boarding.  Onboard, I confirmed that she was our only HVC (high-value customer)  in Economy this evening (a "1K") who had what she characterized as a "tight" alliance partner connection in Sau Paulo to Salvador.  I'm comfortable that we ALL (the crew) were intimately aware of the details of her connection within the first hour of our flight.  She was one of those "energy black holes" for whom more is never enough.  (The forecast of a significantly EARLY arrival in GRU (Sao Paulo) did nothing to allay her anxiety about missing the connection.  Surely, this wasn't her first rodeo!)

And so it began...the Groundhog Day moment of realization that no matter how prepared I think I am or how happy I am to be here doing my thing, the first random interaction seems like sabotage.  Do you ever wonder, "who plants these folks in my path to test me?".

We've seen evidence enough lately of what can happen, as unimaginable as it is, when we allow circumstance to overwhelm us.  Friends, we have control.  Circumstance will only prevail when we allow it.

"I'm afraid that service upgrades can't be handled onboard.  I'm sure that my colleagues working this side of the cabin will make you very comfortable."  "Shoot.  Well, I'm glad we got a nice Flight Attendant, at least."

If she ONLY knew!

"So, you don't think I'll have any trouble getting to my 1020 departure to Salvador?"  "Anything can happen.  But I can't imagine it being a problem, especially for a seasoned traveller like yourself.  It was booked as a legal connection and our arrival should be at least 15 minutes ahead of forecast.  Also, there are always at least 2 customer service staffmembers meeting our arrival.  One of them assists with connections.  I also want to say 'thank you', Ms. Barrera (not her name), for your continued support of our company.  We really appreciate your loyalty."

The 9+08 flight rolled on, obstacles presented, obstacles overcome, just like most days at work.  But this leg didn't have that "something" that makes it feel special.  I didn't know that that "something" was just a few hours away...

We were booked heavily to start with on our return.  As we gathered for the hotel van, our ISM (onboard leader) informed us that GRU/Chicago was 13+ hours delayed with a mechanic and that we would be packed to Houston as a result.  OK.  A quick look at the seat map revealed that it was going to be HVC City tonight, "GS"s and "1K"s all through Business Class and at least 3 "GS"s in Economy.  We also had a large group which we learned early on, were Mary Kay conventioneers, many of whom were unaccustomed to flying.  The potential for issues during boarding and flight was growing exponentially.  And, predictably, the issues presented themselves...

Our first customer was only somewhat ambulatory:  he could stand but required assistance to move to his seat (21L with J & K occupied on this full flight).  As our ISM assisted his steps, I engaged in a light back-and-forth to establish level of need.  "If you need us, just ask.  Ozzie and Donna are working this aisle but I will keep an eye out for you too.  Just make eye contact and I'll know."  What a smile of relief that brought from someone accustomed to being apprehensive in such situations.  Apparently, our group members were all close friends or new friends or soon-to-be friends because their entry into the confines of the cabin were an occasion for conviviality and bonding.  The aisles were impassable with back-slapping, loud-talking group clots forming everywhere.  The young mother with two very small children needed attention.  1 of our 3 GSs in Economy (a displacement from the ORD flight) somehow scored a center seat and wasn't terribly happy, It was a time for pro-activity when avoidance just seemed like such a good alternative.

Issue by issue, my colleagues and I addressed away anxiety, Minute by minute, the cabin filled as did the overhead bins which, thanks to very cooperative students, were arranged perfectly to achieve maximum capacity.  That in and of itself is a feat!

As things settled somewhat, I noticed the cute couple in 25JK trying to take "just the right" selfie and thought "we've got this under control, it's time to come out of character a little."  The result is what you see in the photo.  They couldn't wait to post it and, though they spoke only Portuguese, asked for my permission from a colleague.  "Sure!  But only if they send a copy to me."

Friends, what you see isn't "typical" me, or just silly me, or even red-faced from steroids for allergies me.  That photo is "I love my job" me.  When I see it, I remember that moment and how it felt to have things "in hand" again.  It reminds me that I'll be doing it all over again tonight, when I return to GRU.  And that's so cool.

When you love what you do and feel that you do it competently, even well, that is a success beyond all others.  Philip would probably say, "you look high."

Well...if the shoe fits...

(BTW, our 3 "GS"s all remained in Economy and all were ultimately quite happy.  We personally thanked each for their business, provided a leftover amenity kit and the commitment that we would do all in our power to assure them a safe, comfortable trip.  At the last possible moment, I was able to move Mr. "I" from his middle seat in 17B to a last-minute no-show's aisle seat, 18D.

Our semi-ambulatory customer in 21L didn't eat or drink the entire flight.  He confirmed that he'd done so so as not to inconvenience the customers in 21J&K. As soon as we arrived and it was practical, we got him to the toilet.  He left us with a water bottle, an amenity kit and prayers for his continuing journey.  What a gem of a human being he is.  What a privilege it was to serve him.)