23 Aug 2014

The Return of the Quick Call

Date: 19AUG14
Dest: CDG
Equip: 332
Altitude: FL411




The passengers are asleep, half the crew is asleep.  Nature is putting on a spectacular show that few humans ever get to see.   Black clouds distinguish themselves from the dark ocean below by rapidly strobing every few seconds.  All I hear though is the steady white noise of the atmosphere passing over the air frame.  It is hypnotic.  My usually busy mind finds peace- a temporary respite from the stress and misery of life.   A few hours earlier, it was pure adrenaline.

Three hours earlier...

I was ready for sleep.  I just slipped into bed, turned on Democracy Now, the news show I always fall asleep to (I loathe the infotainment on cable news).   At 10:30 PM I'm fairly confident I'm free from the crew scheduler's merciless lasso.  It's been a busy day doing chores.  The car is clean and waxed. The motorcycle has new oil.  Now I hear the high pitched chimes of the ovens from the Boeing 737 coming from my cell phone.  This can mean only one thing.  Crew scheduling is calling... The plane to Paris came back to the base after the flight attendants reported fumes in the cabin.   Fumes are a serious matter.  I breathed them before and my cognitive abilities took a big and instant hit, and didn't return for months.   Luckily the pilots still had enough mental capacity to make the right choice and divert back to the base.   Now schedulers are re-crewing this big bird with new(ish) hires.  Half had never been on this plane outside of training, and most had never taken it somewhere this far.

I get to the airport, dressed in full uniform, bags in tow, only to find security has gone home.  Employees behind the scenes quickly arranged a place for the new crew to meet be escorted to the secure side, and even arranged to have an electric cart to drive us to the gate.   We pass through the filthy underbelly of the terminal where luggage is dropped down from conveyer belts in the ceiling and sorted manually into carts and cans that will be sent plane side.  We walk out onto the muggy tarmac and climb up a jet bridge staircase to get into the terminal.

I ended up being number two in seniority and the rules state that picks for jobs onboard will go according to seniority.  Number one took the aft galley job.   I took the lead flight attendant job.  A lead on this plane to this destination virtually never happens, I knew this would probably be the only crack I'd get at it for years.   Many on the crew were relieved when I took it as it is the most responsibility. I recommended that everyone take a position that they have done before or are the most comfortable with.   Any position would be a challenge for me, but this.. I wasn't sure at all that I could do it.  There is a class for doing this job, but I don't have enough seniority to qualify for it.

I held my briefing in the first class.  Two of the people on my crew I'd known and liked working with a lot.  After the business of safety and coordination were settled, I ended the briefing by saying that the only way we'll get through this is if we work as a team.  Ask each other questions and if there is uncertainty. Speak up if you see someone doing something wrong, and offer someone a hand if you see them struggling.   If the crew was experienced, my job would have been easy.  No such luck this time.

Time to begin.  I can't believe this is happening.  I feel out of my league, but I don't want the crew to see it.  Just about everything I know about leadership I learned from Captain Picard. I'm excited.

The tower calls me to inform that the kitchen is closed and catering can't prepare the proper transoceanic meals, so they are substituting transcontinental meals.    Ok, so now the meals won't match the menus.  Good to know.  I relay the information to the rest of the crew.  The gate agents are anxious to board, they want to know how much time I need.  One of the flight attendants tells me we can't board because we don't have the glassware and ceramics we need.  I get a call from the back saying the meals haven't been boarded.   The captain has 30 mins to take off before he times out and the trip will cancel.  I veto the flight attendant's suggestion to hold off boarding and ask the agent to board the passengers who need special assistance now, and give us five minutes to do our safety checks.  We'll have to make due with what supplies we have.

The flight attendant in the back discovers he actually has the meals, and we push back from the gate after a quick boarding only to return to the gate due to a problem with a navigational computer.  The mechanics reset the computer and give the all clear to fly.

During the course of the flight nothing severely wrong happens, but there are some medium and minor problems.  Medium ones like not filling out the inventory paperwork properly and not noticing one of our three desert options was onboard.  Minor ones like making an announcement that WiFi is available when it isn't, and using espresso cups to substitute for ramekins to hold the warm nuts served in first class.  Some of my snap decisions weren't the best.

I was so nervous about doing our service properly, I gave up my three hour rest break to set things up.  I'm not sure I could have slept anyways, the nervous energy kept fatigue at bay.

When we got to Paris it was early evening and we hit the ground running.  We had a proper French dinner and wine and sat around talking and laughing for hours.

One day later...

Not sure that I care for that lead position.  It is a challenge, particularly when those under you don't want to to their jobs properly but you're also friends.   It is also hard to maintain respect when they see you make judgement calls they disagree with.   One flight attendant in particular disagreed with nearly all of my choices and the atmosphere on the way back went from jovial to tense.  I tried to locate her boundaries and not step over them, for example she wants as much space to work in the mid galley as possible.  No problem, the other two of us in the front brought our service equipment to the forward galley, but then it became a problem when she couldn't find the things she needed and she was visibly annoyed again.  At the end of the flight I told her I was glad she was in the front with me.  She looked surprised and inquired as to why.  I replied that it was because she has experience (from other airlines) and she's not afraid to speak up if she thinks I'm making a mistake.

Next week I'm going over to Europe again.

Life on the line continues...

24 May 2014

Beckoning Frontiers

Marriner S. Eccles had a very rich father who carefully ignored parts of Adam Smith's Wealth Of Nations that didn't suit the mood of wealthy men.   He raised a son who valued above all, self denial, saving, hard work, laissez faire/freedom from government getting in the way etc... And until the 40th year of Marriner's life he was blind to the shape of the interdependent industrialized society he, and others like his father helped create.  When these virtues are practiced in excess they are a source of great danger to society.  After a great collapse Marriner made the following changes to his view.

-Personal security can be had by too few people through individual effort and savings alone.
-That the average person's security is no greater than the stability of the economy in which he is a participant.
-That the contemporary problem is less one of gathering in the forces of production, and more one of providing a steady distribution of the goods and services a superb technology and labor force know how to turn out.
-That unless the income from the national product is currently spent on consumer goods or new investments, either public or private, then deflation is likely to set in.
-That while millions of people and tens of thousands of businesses in our country receive income and decide how to use it, there is no assurance that they will make a sufficient total expenditure to disburse the total income received.
-That the job of warding off trouble in this event is nobody's individual responsibility but everybody's collective responsibility, acting through the organs of our government.
-That the social problem is not whether there would or would not be government planning.  In our interdependent economy, planning of some sort was a prerequisite to survival.  The problem instead has become one of seeking out ways by which that planning is kept to a minimum so that the talents of each of us will not be squashed by the cumulative weight of all of us.  

28 Apr 2014

The Lead Upgrade

I'm eating a really great apple. Great apples remind me of the first time I got the lead upgrade as a baggage handler. The story is too good to trust to memory, it's time to commit it to writing.

 Like most baggage handlers, the only way to make enough money to survive was to work the frequent double shift. Shifts are 8.5 hrs, a double shift is 17 hours long (that is if you're lucky enough to find a shift that starts exactly at the time the first one ends).  Back-to-back double shifts leave about four hours for sleeping if you bother to sleep in your own bed, many prefer to sleep at the airport. I had been riding my scooter to work, and working in Chicago O'Hare's Terminal Five (T5). T5 has its own parking lot which is closer to my home, and I can walk to the terminal instead of waiting for the parking lot bus to come around. It is expensive to park in that lot so no one does it unless they're late to work. The manager of that lot and I had an understanding that allowed me to park my scooter there without paying. This arrangement shaved an hour off my daily commute, and worked well until I transferred to Terminal Two (T2).

The T2 parking lot is far larger, but it has sidewalks that lead to street that I thought would make for good exits. I pulled my scooter up to the gate, pushed the button for a ticket, and nothing. The gate couldn't detect my scooter. I backed up, and tried another gate. Again, no ticket so around the gate I went.  I followed the path which lead me around and around a steep spiral and I exited at the Chicago Bulls level.  I parked, tried to remember where I parked relative to the elevator and worked my double-shift without incident.

At 12:30AM my shift ended.  I was exhausted, but glad I parked in the customer lot instead of the employee one.  It immediately dawns on me that I didn't make note of which elevator I took out of the parking lot.  Big mistake. This lot has about eight elevators equidistant from each other.  I walked around the lot for an hour.  Eventually calling my poor mother at 1AM to come and drive me around the lot.  Half an hour later she arrived, I was still looking without success.   We looked for half an hour together and my fear is they towed my scooter after recording me bypassing the front gate.  As a last resort we asked the parking attendant if any vehicles were towed away.  He asked for the license plate number. I didn't have it.  He then called over the radio if any other parking attendants had seen a scooter in the lot.  One had.   My attendant brought me into a van and to a mix of exhaustion, relief and embarrassment we found my scooter.   Half the battle was won.   Now if only I could get out.

I followed the exit signs and they lead straight to to the exit gates where I would have to pay.  The price would be steep if I didn't have a ticket.  Nowhere did I see the sidewalks that I noticed from the street.    I went around and back up the spiral ramp and realized the only way to the section of parking lot that has sidewalks to the street is if I take the closest elevator to it.

At around 2:30AM, I parked my scooter outside the glassed in elevator waiting area.  The area had cameras around, so I figured it was smartest to not wait for the elevator with my scooter next to me.   I hit the down button and waited outside the area with the scooter.  The elevator doors opened and I wheeled my scooter into the elevator as fast as possible.  I hit one, and when the doors opened again I could see the sidewalk that leads to the street.   With my engine and lights off I rolled my scooter all the way to the street, fired it up and drove home.   Mission accomplished, and only thanks to the airport being empty at that hour of the night and my dear mother.

Now I had just one and a half hours for sleep. No time for dinner. I set four alarms and collapsed in my bed.   The next day I arrived at work completely spent and extremely unhappy about doing another double shift.    All I had time to take from home was an apple and coffee.   I sat in the break room waiting for the board lead to assign me a position to work for the day.   He calls my name.  I walk up to him and he asks,  "Have you ever been lead before?"
"Never."  I respond.
"Would you like to be?"
My pay more than doubles when I take the lead upgrade.  It is the first time I'd be leading anyone, signing off on paperwork, communicating over the radio and taking the heat if we fail to perform.  A large amount of adrenaline pumped into my  veins.
"Absolutely."
"Get a box, you'll be working gate E3."
I'm all smiles.

Suddenly it wasn't necessary to finish my coffee.   The two others working under me were very experienced and we all worked well together.  The supervisor knew it was my first time, and he was more nervous about it than I was.  He spent much of his morning keeping his eye on E3.  After being busy for the first couple hours, there was finally fifteen minutes of down time between unloading and loading the plane.   I remember the sun was shining, and I rested on a concrete barrier next to my airplane.  My airplane, at my gate.  With passengers who are trusting me to get them out safely and on time.   I pulled the apple out of my backpack and took a bite into it.   It is the most delicious apple I've ever tasted.  

21 Apr 2014

The Quick Call


Date: 17APR14
Location: KCLT 
Destination: Unknown

There is a way to fly more.  A reserve flight attendant can put themselves on the quick call list and if there is a flight going out in less than 1.5 hrs, Scheduling will call the flight attendants on the quick call list before they call the regular reserve flight attendants.  I placed myself on the list, waited all day, ate dinner, put on my pajamas and the phone rings.  Crew Scheduling calling at 10pm.  One of the four required flight attendants is a no-show.  The flight is scheduled to leave at 10:20pm, from gate C10. The pairing number (number given to look up your assignment) is 15083/17.   They ask me how long will it take?  I said I can probably be at the gate in no longer than 35mins.  I race to put on my uniform.  Throw the iPad in my tote bag, run down three flights of stairs, jump onto my motorcycle where my suitcase, packed for four days, is waiting and speed off towards the airport.  How many days will I be gone for?  I don't have a clue.  Where am I going on this flight? Beats me.  What am I doing after this flight?  Heaven knows.

I get to the airport and call Crew Scheduling to update them on my progress.  They call Systems to advise them and Systems updates the expected departure time.  Typically I'd have to go to the crew room to check-in, but since this is a quick call they want me to proceed directly to the gate.

I get to the gate and wipe the sweat off my forehead. It is empty save two cleaners chatting away near a stairwell. The screen behind the podium reads Ft. Lauderdale delayed 10:40PM.  It is 10:35PM.   Where is everyone?  No agent. No passengers.  The door to the jet bridge is closed.    I look out the floor to ceiling windows and see a plane at the end of the jet bridge.  The fluorescent lights from the main cabin are spilling into the cockpit and there are two pilots in their seats.  The jet bridge is still connected to the 1 Left door.  I punch the secret code into the jet bridge door, roll down the carpeted jetway, and discover a plane full of flight attendants, passengers and the missing gate agents.

They boarded without me to save time, something they usually can't do.  This time they were able to because there were two flight attendants who were commuting home onboard.  Not only had they boarded but they gave my exit row passengers their safety briefing and checked all the safety equipment in my area.  As I made my way to my jump seat located near the rear of the plane, bags in tow, all eyes are on me.  No smiles.  I gather my safety demo equipment, as the flight attendant in the very back starts the speech over the PA.  A bead of sweat rolls down the side of my face as I demonstrate how to fasten your seatbelt.  We're not moving.  The rampers must have wandered away.  The captain is probably flashing his headlight madly trying to get their attention.  At 10:40 I feel the plane lurch back.

I'll call scheduling once I land to find out what the rest of the trip entails.

Life on the line continues...

15 Feb 2014

The Big Charlotte Blizzard of 2014

Date: 15FEB14
Time: 06:51
Location: GIG (Rio de Janeiro)



I’m writing this on my hotel balcony in my pajamas.   The sun is just beginning to rise, the waves and birds are the only sounds, pretty soon hang gliders will appear coming down from the tall cliffs a few miles away.  The scheduling gods awarded me 40 hours on this tropical paradise and I’ve already spent the first 24 of them.. sleeping.  

The mother of all winter storms hit Charlotte three days ago.  The aircraft deicers were out in full force when the first snowflakes fell.  Two dozen deicing trucks lined the edges of the runways and cargo pads- two powerful diesel engines running inside each. One for hydraulic and glycol pumps and the other for wheels.  It began as a few snow flakes that melted upon touching the skin of the airplane.  A quick once over with piping hot orange type I fluid and then a sprinkling of unheated green type IV, and the plane was good to go after a few minutes.    My driver was a kid from the same neighborhood as I in Chicago.   He’s one of the sharpest working for the company and not afraid to communicate any useful advice while I spray. I like him. I got three planes under my belt before I had to leave the truck to work a trip. 

I leave the deicing hanger, take off my reflective vest and winter jacket.  Underneath I am fully dressed in my flight attendant uniform.   My flight is to Cleveland, where I’ll layover and work a flight back to Charlotte the next day.    We board, shut the door, and wait for two hours to get deiced.  The passengers are frustrated but appreciative of the frequent updates.  

We take off and begin our service. A call bell goes off in the first row of economy.  A passenger complains of being given a tonic water when he requested a soda water.   It must have been the straw that broke the camel’s back, I could tell he was genuinely far too angry about this than anyone should be.  “Sorry to hear that, I can fix that.”  I say.  I return a few seconds later and I said with a smile, “Here is your tonic water sir.”   His face drops, and he begins to protest,  “I said sparkling water!”  
“Ohhh you want sparkling water, I have a trick for that.”  I rub my wings and say “Delta Aqueous. Now try it.”    He takes a careful sip and smiles along with everyone else in his row.  

We get to Cleveland, and the captain tells us that our return leg was canceled, we’ll be deadheading (airline speak for flying as a regular passenger) back to Charlotte.  I’m disappointed because I’m flying with a tall young French gal.  We flew once before when she was just starting and I was impressed by just how mature and diligent she was.  She had all her training material spread over the galley countertops as it was her first time doing that (lead) position and she wanted to be sure she didn’t miss a thing.      Now she was deadheading with me back to snowy Charlotte.  The flight attendant working that flight asks for four of us to move to the back of the plane for weight and balance reasons.  Frenchie and I volunteer.  We pass the rest of the crew on the way to the back.  My captain gives me a puzzled look.   I say loud enough for others to hear, “They told us we’re too fat to sit in the front. Something about not being able to lift the nose wheel.” It got some chuckles, especially considering her and I are slim.  

I go to bed at 9PM, I had a strong suspicion crew scheduling would be calling at 5AM.   Sure enough, got the call, 5:15AM.  I’ll be flying to Tampa at 5:50PM. Good, I can pick up a deicing shift.  The snow has been falling pretty consistently since yesterday.   Schools are closed.  The roads and highways have a foot of snow on them.   Only a few sane people, the ones threatened by severe disciplinary action from their bosses are out on the road.   I get to the deicing hanger, and am immediately put to action.  This time I’m a driver.  My sprayer is experienced and it shows.  His technique was quick and didn’t waste precious fluid.  Together we sprayed 78 planes that day.    The only time we stopped was to refill the truck’s (combined) massive 2,000 gallon tanks.  If we had to piss, we did it on the side of the runway.  As the shift pressed onto the 16th hour, the trucks were dropping of service like flys.   One truck couldn’t couldn’t get their basket to move left without also moving up.   Another truck’s type VI fluid would only dribble out. Another's hydraulics cut out completely and the sprayer was stuck three stories above the ground until the driver operated a backup electric pump located in the back of the truck.  Everyone was on edge from working so long.   The radio chatter became hostile at times.  My sprayer asked if we could switch positions in the truck after our next refill.  Spraying is by far the more stressful position.   The company passed out a Whopper to each of us.  My sprayer and I were both starved.   We scarfed them down in less than a minute’s time then went to work on the next plane.  The image that will stick in my head most from that night is getting out next to the 737, in front of the screaming engine #2 with no ear protection.  I pull out the ground gun from the front of the truck and blast the underside of the wing and side of the engine.  These conditions are the most difficult to deice in.  Under the snow there is ice which has to be taken off by a combination of melting and prying with a narrowly focused beam of fluid.  I spray upwards and watch the ice slide off the leading edge of the wing in front of me in sheets, shattering upon impact with the wet runway.  Luckily the wind is to my back and the spray doesn’t come back onto my face much. My Tampa flight cancels. 

During the next refill, we were given a one hour break.   The driver of one truck tells me a plane started driving away mid-deice.  The pilots mistook his tail number for a different one.   The sprayer shouted over his headphones to his driver not to move, the driver shouted back that it’s not him that’s moving, it’s the plane!   The driver released the break and drove the truck out of the way and the truck’s boom missed the plane’s horizontal stabilizer by a few feet.  That could have ended very badly if the driver wasn’t so quick.  Another tuck was missing a side view mirror.  He was spaying behind the massive Airbus A330 when an engine ingested some ice, which struck the mirror and tore it off.    I don’t think any wide-body plane should deice with engines running.  The engines, even at idle produce too much thrust.  When you’re behind the engines the whole truck wobbles, the hood of the truck flexes on either side of the mounting points and the windshield wipers always look as if the’ll snap like twigs any second.   

At midnight I go home.  I’m exhausted.  I get two and a half hours of sleep and return to the deicing hanger. The snow is still falling hard and winds are gusting.  The roads are only marginally better.  I miss my exit because there is a snowbank in front of it.  I use my GPS as a way to spot where the next exit is located.  Most of the airlines canceled all their flights until 11AM, so there is time to top off all the trucks with fluids.   A storage tank pump for the type IV fluid breaks down and there is no backup.  First the battery dies, then the backup pull start cord breaks off.  

At 6AM scheduling calls and asks me where I’d like to fly.  I ask for Rio de Janeiro and it is granted.  The airport is short on deicing fluid.  There is just enough left to fill up all the trucks once.  Luckily, almost all the flights are canceled so fluid won’t be a problem.  So tired, I arrive at the terminal and look at the departure board for my gate information, everything is delayed or canceled except for a few high priority international flights. The Rio flight I’m working was scheduled to leave the night before, it was delayed and when it finally left the gate they waited to be deiced so long that the pilots timed out and they returned to the gate.   All the passengers slept in the terminal.  Hotels in Charlotte had few rooms left and even the economy hotels were charging $200/night.   There were cots and blue yoga mats with the Charlotte Douglass Airport logo peppered all over the gates.   

When boarding, there were a few polite smiles and plenty of people who looked angry.   We waited an hour and a half to be deiced.  Nobody was following their instructions to remain seated.  I got requests for food before we took off (sorry it’s not ready).   One passenger rang his call bell just to ask why we are so disorganized.   I said we’re doing our best, the fact that this flight can even go in weather like this is amazing if you knew all the organization that has to go on behind the scenes.   He rang his call bell again 20 minutes later and complained to another flight attendant the same thing.  

It was the worst flight I can ever remember doing.   I was tired, and the call bells were never ending.  Every 30 seconds (no exaggeration) there was a ding, the only time I sat down in those 8 hours was during my 2 hour crew rest.   The crew was just ok, mostly new(ish) hires, and a couple of them felt their few months seniority over me makes them bossy know-it-alls.    A woman who checked her heart medication in her luggage came to the back galley asking for water and breathing heavily.  She drank it and could no longer stand.  Luckily one of the flight attendants was also a nurse and she took the woman’s vitals.  Another passenger translated. She said she was feeling better and made her way back to her seat unassisted.  

I got to my room at 5AM,  shut the door, collapsed in bed and slept until my phone rang at 1PM.  The crew wanted to know if I wanted to go to lunch with them.  I declined, cooked the MRE that I brought, drank a bottle of water, and went back to sleep until 6AM the next morning.    The hotel van leaves at 9PM tonight.  I’ll be meeting a good friend of mine today. We hope to go to the beach, eat, and ride bicycles.  Now that I’m rested, with a few cups of coffee on the plane I should be ok for this overnight flight.  


Beat the boredom problem I was having.  Life on the line continues…

22 Jan 2014

Dash to Deice

Waiting at the hotel restaurant in Buffalo for my wings to be ready.  This airport hotel is mainly filled with truckers and airline people.   A very rough and loud looking cargo captain is sitting at the bar with his first officer knocking down beers and loudly talking to a very young very attractive blond female who's drinking white wine.  "Rounds for everyone!" He announces.  The bartender puts down a napkin and asks what I'm having.   "Rolling rock."  I say.   I raise my beer to the captain in gratitude.    The captain gets into a pissing match with the woman after he guesses wrong that she's a flight attendant.   "I'm a first officer asshole!" She says at the same volume as the captain.  The captain pulls out three plastic cards the FAA issues when you get certified.  This captain is licensed to fix airplanes as well.   The woman brags that her turboprop Dash 8 can slow down in a hurry on final approach whereas the big 727 he flies would have to make a go around.   It comes out he's divorced.  The young woman announces that she never expects airline marriages to last and quotes a study that says people with 45+ min commutes are more likely to break up.  She's talking as if her superficial approach to relationships doesn't bother her but I'm not buying it.  I have the same deep seated fear no one will want to stay with me for the long term.   I'd rather love completely and lose than to never love.  My wings are ready.

The next day I have an uneventful flight from Charlotte, NC to Buffalo, NY, other than a hour long delay.  The  my whole crew is being deadheaded back, which is to say they get seats as regular passengers and another crew works the flight.   The rest of my crew decides to take an earlier flight to beat the snow headed for the north east of the empire.  I'd prefer to stay on the original flight, there is no way I'll work over my hourly guarantee for the month, so the extra payment for the trip is just the per diem.    I watch half of Phenomenon.  I forgot how much I like the relationship John Travolta's character has with his best friend played by Forest Whitaker.

Everyone on the plane is asking the crew if they are going to make their connections.  I'm pretty sure I saw an infant look up at the flight attendant with her big blue innocent eyes and utter her first word, "Connection?"  

I gave myself an hour and a half to get to my second job, deicing.  Now we've landed late and I have just thirty mins to make my way from the employee lot on one side of the airport, to the deicing hanger on the other side.  I grab my bag off the belt loader, run back up the jet bridge, where a row of anxious passengers awaiting their bags look at me.  One remarks sarcastically as I pass her "Isn't he important."    Note to self, take up two bags next time so I look like less of an ass.  

I take the bus to the employee lot, drive the five miles to the cargo / general aviation side of the airport, pull off my tie, and throw a sweater over my flight attendant uniform to hide my other job.


Even when there is a small chance of snow they'll fully staff the tucks.   I sit in the truck for six hours and watch the rest of Phenomenon.   They send us home two hours early once it is certain we won't be spraying any planes.  Life on the line continues...

20 Jan 2014

Prolonged silence

I'm going through a long period of having nothing to say that anyone gives a damn about.  I don't talk about my achievements because it makes people who started where I did feel bad if they aren't achieving the same or better.   I don't talk about my daily life which has for the first time ever become totally average.   I need to get the hell out of this zone.

10 Sep 2013

How did I get here?

I still believe there is a greatness to America.  It is a country who's good things exist in large part because it has allowed people to develop their interests and get a decent pay doing work in that field.  Before I began thinking much about economics I remember thinking Capitalism is working better for more people than any system ever implemented. What I was doing (working in a retrovirology laboratory) is pretty much the same thing as I'd have done if I didn't have to work for a paycheck, even my material wants are all more or less satisfied.


I knew lots of people in the country weren't so privileged. They weren't offered all the opportunities that I had growing up. I knew there was injustice being inflicted on those barely visible in my periphery, but the details and extent of these injustices were vague.  Who were the villains? How do their poisonous schemes work?  Those suffering the lows of the capitalist system were people I hardly came into contact with, people who would hurt me, I was warned, if I didn't lock my doors as I drove through their neighborhoods. 

I became obsessed with how nations organize and run themselves, particularly after finishing college and living in Russia as they transitioned to Capitalism. When I came back to the states I began my informal study of the working toilers by taking a job as a baggage handler. I saw how they can't afford to have a family (or barely support themselves) unless they work double shifts most days of the week. I (and others) even brought meals to one who picked part-time college over food. Today I see how flight attendants, airplane mechanics, and pilots pack themselves into "crash pads" where you share beds, sometimes crawling into one where the sheets are still warm from the last person. Meanwhile shareholders and executives constantly demand more flesh from all while taking more for themselves. Nothing was as radicalizing as the forced sleep deprivation and care for those who don't have a good exit from this lifestyle. I had an easy exit, my degree, although now I've not worked in a lab for so many years, I'm doubtful anyone would hire me, and even if they did I'm not sure I remember anything.



I find this life of intellectual turned worker revolutionary meaningful.  I'm still in the intelligence gathering phase for the most part, MMT and reading Great Depression era (and earlier) econ literature blew my mind unlike anything I'd read so far. Had I stayed in academia I think being an economics professor would be an ideal way to spend my life. Instead of professing to willing students, I find I'm still able to have an impact talking to fellow workers who's thinking hasn't been clouded by neoclassical garbage and there is a very strong understanding of what we all have in common and a willingness to make the most of it.

17 Aug 2013

ORD to CLT via GY6

 
Bags packed, ready to roll.  A minute after this photo was shot I'd break the scooter.
Date: 13AUG13
Time: 1657 Zulu (11:57AM local CST)
Location: River Forest, IL
Weather: 22C (72F), Sunny, 64% humidity, 10MPH winds NNE

My friends warned me this is a crazy idea.  I agreed, but my mind was made up.   The plans were made, hotel was paid for, 10 hours of scooting to Lexington KY on day one, and 10 hours of scooting to Charlotte NC on day two.  Just my thoughts, the scooter and mother nature.

Right off the bat there was a problem.  I turn the scooter's key and the lights don't come on.  Dead battery I suspect, I'd not ridden the scooter in three months.   Luckily I have a kick starter for backup, I kick it and it the sound the scooter makes tells me the engine is just how I left it, carefully tuned and happy.  I figure the battery will charge as I drive, but I can't figure out why the battery would be dead. Had I left the lights on?  The headphones connected to my Android's GPS make a crackling noise associated with the connection to the 12V charging power flickering on and off.  The headlight flickers as well and the gas gauge bounces around as power is applied and removed.   Odd, I think, is this how a deeply discharged battery behaves?   As I drive the flickering stops and I assume the problem has been resolved.   

I fill up on the Chicago/Indiana boarder, try the starter and it gives a half turn and and gives up. I try again and nothing.  Battery must be totally shot, sometimes that happens if it's been discharged for a long time.   I kick start it again and accidentally kept my thumb on the starter button.  Once the engine generated power the starter motor ran and made a sound I'd never heard before, not good.

I ride@50 mph along flat farmland avoiding the interstates and major highways.  County roads are best for getting local flavor and staying out of traffic.  I look up in the sky, just sun and clouds.  Most of the time I'm crossing the empire high up there at flight level three nine zero.  Now I'm way down below feeling every bump in the road, dip in air temperature and smell of rotting road kill.  

Four hours out of Chicago in the middle of boring farmland Indiana I stop for gas and lunch.  Scoot won't start and to my dismay the kick starter is jammed.  Alright, I'll just get a jump from someone.   It's 1PM, I walk to the local NAPA Auto Parts and convince them to allow me to bring their portable jumpstarter up the road to my scoot.   They talk it over and agree.   I brought my tools for working on the scooter, unscrew the floor panels and connect the jump starter to the battery in the McDonalds parking lot.  The lights don't come on, it doesn't start, not even the sound of the solenoid clicking can be heard.  This indicates to me the problem is a loose wire.   The NAPA people will get scared if I don't return their starter so I roll the scooter back to the store and return what I borrowed.  

Under the seat I find the loose wire.   It is where the battery connects to the starter solenoid and most electronics.  I had been working on a prototype ultrasonic fuel flow monitoring system and removed it before I left for flight attendant training three months ago and forgotten to tighten down the nut.  I tightened it down and expected it to turn over and start.  But it didn't.  The Solenoid clicked, battery voltage dropped from 12.8 to 10 volts but not a peep from the starter.  I let off a string of curses, this is going to be a lot harder to fix than a loose screw, and I'm not confident I can fix it.  I send out an SOS to my Facebook friends in the local scooter group.  One suggests using a hammer to unstick it.  Hammering doesn't do it.  

Cover off, kick starting gears miss-aligned.
I look on Google Maps for any scooter repair shops.  Nothing within an hour and a half's drive.  I call some vehicle rental places to see if I can get a van or pickup delivered to me and I'll drive it back to Chicago.   No one will do it.  Now I'm very motivated to get my hands dirty and get this scooter going again.   I pull off the CVT cover, as expected the kick starting gears fall out and I am not sure how they go back in.  I look around for any damage, nothing.   My knees press into the gravel behind the NAPA store.  I pull on the drive belt, the motor turns and I can feel the cylinder compress.   I try to run the electric starter without the kick starting gears in hopes that it would be free to turn over.  Nope.  I discover that if I hold the kick starting gears in place and turn them, the engine turns over.  Great! I use logic to deduce how to align the gears, wish I had brought my service manual.   I'm in a rush, it's now 5PM and I have only two hours left of sunlight. My knees are too uncomfortable to figure out how the return spring works but I can just lift the kick starter petal back up by hand replacing the function the spring would have performed.  I put on the cover, and a few of the bolts to see if it will start.   It does!  

When pilots accelerate down the runway at some point they announce V1.  At this speed, it's too late to hit the breaks without going off the runway, they have to attempt a takeoff even if there is an engine failure.    I'm approaching that point, do I return to Chicago tonight while there is still time to abort?  If the scooter fails again I'll be so far away from Chicago that I can't ask anyone for a ride back.   It's the safe decision, but then I won't have anything to drive when I move to Charlotte in Sep.   I call my mother, she says come back.  I think about aircraft, if anything breaks on the ground they consult a minimum equipment list (MEL) to decide if they can continue with the flight or not.  If the aircraft's engine starter is inop, they will still fly because on the ground they can still spin up an engine using the airport's powerful air compressor.  If my electric starter is inop, and my kick starter is usable, I'll continue.   I consider the pros and cons of leaving the engine running and going to Chicago, but decide to give the kick starter another test.  I shut off the engine.  Kick start the engine.   It comes back to life.  Power reading 14V.

Sometime during the day, I had misplaced my headphones.  Now I can't hear my GPS that I kept zipped in my pocket.  I use some of the electrical tape that I brought with me to tape my cell phone to my knee so I can read the directions off the screen.   Night falls, and the temperature drops to 52F. I become freezing cold. Unlike a car road trips, you have to plan for temperature variations.  At the next gas stop I re-attach the inner-lining to my jacket, put on three undershirts, a long sleeve shirt, my poly-wool uniform suit jacket and serving apron.   It doesn't help.  My neck hurts from fighting the wind and around midnight fatigue is setting in hard.  The shivers are uncontrollable, and I still have two hours of driving to go.  I switch my GPS from "avoid highways" mode to "normal mode" and it gives me a shorter route.   The scooter will not go 70MPH (the speed limit) on flat roads, but with a tail wind it should easily hit 62-65.   The user manual instructs me not to go full throttle for long periods of time... How long is too long?  I alternate every five minutes from full throttle to two thirds throttle.

The GPS leads me to the interstate.  Cars and trucks pass me at 70 or 80.   I keep a constant watch on my side view mirrors to ensure that no one runs me over.  Hardly anyone on the roads at 2AM, but the wind chill at 65 is far worse than it is at 45.     I shut my eyes for a second to test my energy level.   A huge wave of fatigue hits when I do it.   Time for a hotel?  No, lets try a Red Bull.   I chug one down inside a gas station, and like magic all the fatigue is gone and I don't even feel jittery.  I use the gas station hand dryer a few times to thaw out.

At 3AM my scooter is down to its last quarter of gas.  I consult the GPS for gas stations.  The closest is 20 miles away.  I take the exit and drive full throttle to the gas station.   At full throttle you can almost see the gas gauge needle move, its movement is as noticeable as the minute hand on an analog watch.   I switch my upgraded Xenon headlight to brights as I zoom down the road.  Best investment ever. I get to the gas station and it is empty and dark.   Another string of profanities can be heard inside my helmet.  The needle is fully on empty.  I know from experience that when it is on empty, I have about eight miles of range left if I go at the most fuel efficient speed which is 30mph.    I consult the GPS again and it locates a cluster of gas stations five miles away.   Hope it works.   It does.  I fill up.   A curious cop inquires if I need a license to drive this scooter.    I say yup, it's big enough to need a motorcycle license.   He says he's glad it's me not him making the drive.  I say you can say that again.  He does and walks off.  In darkness, Indiana turned into Kentucky, the steady buzz of the scooter exhaust tells me all necessary systems are good.

By 4AM I reach Lexington, KY.  I walk into the hotel, take a shower.  The bar of soap is black from my grease covered hands.  I call my aunt and mother to inform them I'm still alive and relatively well.  They are worried. Briefly I video chat with my gf in Japan.   I set the thermostat to 80F and pre-fill the coffee maker so it's ready to go after five hours sleep. 

Date: 14AUG13
Time: 1403 Zulu (10:03AM local EST)
Location: Lexington, KY
Weather: 24C (76F), Sunny, 66% humidity, 9MPH winds NNE


Leaving hotel in LEX.  Trying out improved tie-down method.
I wake up automatically after five hours.  My muscles ache, arms, legs, neck, back. It was a mistake not to put on the wind shield before I left Chicago.  I usually put it on in the winter for warmth, but it would also be good for keeping your muscles relaxed.   It's sunny out and another beautiful day like yesterday.   I keep my pajama pants on under my jeans for warmth this time and head out again towards the Great Smokey Mountains.   Yesterday's riding was totally flat and much of it was in the dark.  I'm really looking forward to this day's ride.   A kind/smart Facebook scooter group member links me to a picture that shows how to put the kick starter gears in properly.

People's accents have changed.  They are totally Southern.  At every gas station my scooter would attract a few curious people.  It was always the same questions, how fast does it go, how much gas does it use, do you need a license?    My answers were 60ish on flat ground, 50-55 going uphill, 100 mpg with conservative driving under 40mph and 80mpg going full speed but going full speed defeats the whole purpose of the journey.  I'd love to make small talk but I got a late start and am pressed for time. 

Kentucky turned into Virginia.    

The land became very hilly and the roads curvy.   The sides of the roads were carved out of stone, dense pine forest could be seen high above.  At the tops of the hills you could see far and the downward slopes could be a mile long.  My speed would go from 50 to 75.  I might have been able to go faster but at 75 I could hear the motor RPMs going past the factory set limit, and a pulsing vibration which I assume was a drive belt harmonic could be felt all over.   This isn't the time or place to test the limits of the scooter, I let off the gas and the engine breaking took me down to 70mph.    

Virginia turned into Tennessee. The hills turned into forested mountains.  This was the most beautiful scenery I'd ever driven through.   This is what I came for!  It's a shame I'm in a rush, I'd like to take pictures but my cell phone is taped to my leg. I'll have to come back, maybe in the Fall. I stopped for food in some small town.  Google Maps said there are three restaurants in the center.  I drive to them but they are all closed.  There are churches all over, a gun store/gas station, and pawn shop.  Google takes me to what is supposed to be a pizza place on the outside of town but when I get there all I see is a dilapidated house.   I head for a bigger town, this time I find a Mexican restaurant.    There was no straight road left, they all twisted, which makes for fun driving.  I discover the joy of singing in my helmet, it's mostly music from my childhood.  Singing Beach Boys and looking at this sparsely populated wonderland.  If I had to make a left turn I'd look forward to where the road goes to judge my path through the turn.   Then counterintuitively I'd push the left handle bar forward and turn left.  The harder I'd push the more I'd lean.  The suitcases behind me raised the center of gravity which took some getting used to.  I took the turns slower than the speed limit, covering the breaks, watching for any gravel which could cause me to lose traction.   At a no-name gas station/truck stop/diner there are chubby girls behind the counter smoking.  I smile at one, and she smiles back almost surprised.   There is a claw crane game that has a digital camera and an iPad mini in it that you can play for $1/turn.  I wonder if I put $200 in the machine I'd have won it?

Somewhere I noticed the license plates went from saying Tennessee to North Carolina.  
Blue Ridge Parkway photo by Cardens Design Digital Photography 
On the side of the road was a stand with farmers selling watermelons and peaches.  I bought a bushel of peaches for $5, and the usual crowd formed around my scooter with Illinois plates.  

In the forest darkness came quickly.  With my brights on the dips in the road would be black until I was almost on top of them.  A string of cars were behind me and I felt pressured to rush through the twisty roads.   It became more nerve-wracking than fun.  Muscles tense, knuckles white.   If I'd turn too steeply left the fallen kick starter petal would scrape against the pavement. I can't see anything but the road and starry sky now.    Occasionally I'd smell a campfire.

The scooter doesn't have modern electronic fuel injectors, sensors, and computer that calculate the perfect stoichiometric fuel air mix to send into the combustion chamber when the air density changes.  At high altitudes the air becomes thinner which makes the engine run "rich" or with more fuel/less air than ideal.   An engine running rich is not as dangerous as an engine running "lean" which can overheat and cause the engine to seize.  However I did notice that I could no longer idle my engine without it pooping out.   I could adjust the idle set screw but that would take time so instead I just kept a little pressure on my throttle to keep the engine going. 

The temperature fell, and I put on everything in my suitcase again.   This time I spotted a Walmart and went inside and found an ugly orange sweater on the clearance rack for $3.   Perfect.  I bought it along with a king sized Snickers and pointed the scooter south east towards Charlotte.  I made a makeshift scarf by wrapping my silver synthetic running shorts around my neck.  It worked to keep me warm.

At 1:30AM my GPS informs me that my destination is on the left.    My friend Sherry who has generously offered her couch to me for a couple nights greets me with a hug.  I unzip my jacket so she doesn't rub against the squished bugs covering my jacket.   I've arrived.

If I were to do it over, I'd have made it a three day trip, put on a windshield and brought the service manual.  For sure I'd bring cold weather clothing, maybe a more comfortable helmet equipped with bluetooth. I'd have built a cell phone holder (everyone stared when I walked into the gas station wearing my padded Robocop looking riding jacket with a phone tapped to my leg).    Maybe I'll buy a motorcycle, it would be safer if I could keep up with traffic or punch out of bad situations.

Life on the line goes on...

28 Jul 2013

Best of Frank Newman's _Freedom from National Debt_

Former Harvard grad, top Treasury exec and Wall Street CEO wrote a book called Freedom from National Debt which if understood turns the national debate around debt and deficit reduction around a full 180 degrees.   It reads like a laymen's guide to money mechanics. For those of us who have been arguing these lines for years, here is some additional ammo Newman brings to the fight.

S=I causality:
Saving cannot generate productive business Investment; it’s the other way around: Investment generates economic Saving. Deficits do not reduce national Saving or Investment. Issuance of Treasury securities (deficit financing) cannot “use up” equivalent amounts of funds intended for private-sector use.
Treasury securities are cash equivalents thus quantitative easing won't cause inflation:
In order to understand the implications of Fed purchase of Treasuries, it is necessary to look at the overall portfolios of financial assets in the system, and especially at the total of highly liquid assets, including deposits and Treasuries. To look at only what is called money would be similar to looking only at savings deposits, or only $20 bills, or any other single component of the total picture. Appendix D illustrates the direct effects of QE on the aggregate financial investment portfolio in USD.2 With that full picture, it is difficult to see why Fed purchase of Treasuries would cause inflation. Only what is defined as the money supply has increased, while other “cash equivalent” assets have decreased by the same amount. Suppose an investor owned $10 million in a portfolio including a “cash” component of $2 million: $1 million in the bank and $1 million of Treasuries. After the Fed buys Treasuries, the portfolio contains $1.1 million in the bank and $900,000 of Treasuries. Either way, the highly liquid “cash” component of the portfolio, available for other investment (or spending), is $2mm, 20% of the portfolio. Why would that investor be any more inclined to spend excessively? There are other, very different circumstances in which rapidly growing money supply could seriously portend inflation: specifically if the money supply were to increase as a result of bank loans growing excessively in a strong economy. The money supply grows automatically as loans are made, but the driving economic force is the use of the proceeds of the loans: as companies and consumers borrow from banks, they typically plan to spend the new money. If overdone, in a hot economy, that could well cause inflation. But that form of increase in the money supply is very different from QE. 
The CBO explains in 2001 how the Social Security Trust fund is nothing more than an accounting mechanism, and not relevant to our ability to set aside output to the sick, widowed and elderly in the future. Saving now does nothing to help make these "real economic assets" more available in the future.
Government trust funds differ from private trust funds in significant ways:  Claims by private trust funds against future output are limited by the value of the funds' assets. By contrast, federal trust funds function as accounting mechanisms that record tax receipts, user fees, and other credits and associated expenditures. When receipts exceed expenditures, the government’s books show trust fund balances. According to the Office of Management and Budget, "These balances are available to finance future benefit payments and other trust fund expenditures but only in a bookkeeping sense. These funds are not set up to be pension funds, like the funds of private pension plans. They do not consist of real economic assets that can be drawn down in the future to fund benefits. Instead, they are claims on the Treasury that, when redeemed, will have to be financed by raising taxes, borrowing from the public, or reducing benefits or other expenditures. The existence of large trust fund balances, therefore, does not, by itself, have any impact on the Government's ability to pay benefits.  --AN ANALYSIS OF THE PRESIDENT'S BUDGETARY PROPOSALS FOR FISCAL YEAR 2001- CBO 
Mr. Newman suggests everyone forget what they know about debt because for a country issuing debt in a currency they control is really is different.
Of course, as we’ve seen in earlier chapters of this book, there really is no “national debt” in a traditional sense; there is exchange of one form of government-backed financial instrument (Treasuries) with another form of financial instrument (bank deposits). There is no sense in disrupting this exchange process which is such an integral part of the financial system.
After reading this book I thought it was a very nice way for non-economists to get a basic understanding of sovereign debt.  The writing style is to the point and easy for anyone to understand. He doesn't go into the weeds (no mention of TT&L accounts or reverse repos etc) like the MMT academics do in their scholarly work.   I don't like his chapter on what would happen if the debt were to be paid off (although I agree with his conclusion: that it would cause a major global economic crisis).    I'd recommend the book to any of my non-economist friends who are interested in not being swindled by politicians using debt and deficit hysteria to suppress the economy and cut popular government services which make a positive contribution to most of our lives.  Mr. Newman doesn't say anything new but his credentials and exposition make this an ideal primer.

10 Jul 2013

Flight saving life attendants

Flight attendants from the downed Asiana Flight 214.  They had just worked for ten hours, crashed, evacuated a plane and still look more put together than many people do at check-in
    On the Fourth of July I encountered my first rude passenger. So much for kindness being a shield from disrespect.   He was sitting in the first class therefore fell under my main service area of the plane that flight.   "How many times are you guys going to ask us for those papers!?" He asked me using many more expletives than I care to type.  His father brought on a portable oxygen concentrator (POC) and there are procedures I must conduct for safety and liability reasons.  "It will be the last time I promise."  I respond with a defensive smile.   Half way through that flight the man's son tells me the battery is draining faster than expected and it will soon be dead.   I grab an oxygen bottle from a nearby overhead bin and secure it to the sick person's chair for use before the POC's battery expires.   No sooner had I finished securing the bottle the POC goes completely dead.  Sometimes oxygen is there for comfort but not for sustaining life.   I ask the son if his dad will be ok.  It's normal procedure to address the sick people directly first, but he is hard of hearing and we don't have the luxury of time.  The son doesn't know if his dad needs the oxygen.   I pat dad's knee and ask loudly "Are you ok?"   The dad's blue eyes are open and he's gazing around but not acknowledging my presence. Uh-oo signs of hypoxia.  I start the flow of oxygen from the ship's supply.  I check for flow, color and odor by putting the oxygen mask to my cheek.  The son takes the POC cannula from his father's face and I secure the new oxygen mask.  Almost immediately the father recovers.   I ask the father again, "Are you ok?"  "I'm ok" he says back.   While I was taking care of the sick man, the other crew members assisted me and helped serve the passengers that I normally would.  We'd only met for the first time a few hours earlier but we worked seamlessly as a team.

Over the course of that flight we go through three oxygen bottles.  The son went from being rude to grateful.    The passenger sitting next to the father was on the previous flight I worked that day.  He witnessed me go from someone who serves coffee with a smile and a few kind words to someone who uses his medical training to quickly and calmly respond to a life threatening emergency.  All flight attendants signed up for that, they've been trained for it, it's the only reason they haven't been replaced by vending machines.   They've had to learn hundreds of federal and company regulations, trained for fighting different types of fires in a live fire pit,  taught how to shock a heart,  deliver a baby,  get out of their harnesses, open the doors and evacuate a full flight in 90 seconds when the cabin is filled with smoke, the plane is upside down and submerged in water.

From the first reports of the downed Asiana Flight 214 it sounds like the flight attendants did a textbook job of getting everyone off quickly.  It might come out that they skipped a step or two but I'd like to see anyone do better.  If a step was skipped, I'm not going to write about it, what they did is nothing short of heroic.  The plane looks in worse shape now than it did when it first crashed because of the fire.  A lot has changed over the years regarding the materials they use in aircraft cabins. The materials are now more flame retardant.  The downside is when they burn the fumes are now more toxic.

A lot of planning goes into safety. I'm looking  forward to reading the NTSB report when it comes out.  I'm sure the smart people will scour the report and come up with new rules to replace the rules the last smart people wrote.


26 Jun 2013

First week summary

Swank hotels, plenty of time to explore, eccentric crews and handed the occasional dirty diaper when coming down the aisle.   I'm still learning how to fit in with the crew.   In the last episode of life my co-workers saw me every day.  I don't fit any conventional personality type so it takes a while before people know what to make of me.  Eventually they warm up and we enjoy each other.   Now I don't really know how to act and after a two or four day trip I end up liking them more than they like me.  It's tiring and lonely but also a new challenge for me to work on.

Actual conversation-
Senior flight attendant to me, "Why aren't you sitting down?"
Me feeling restless, "I'm going to collect trash and see if passengers want anything."
"You'll get over it."
End of conversation.  Senior feels like I'm not his/her type.  I think Senior is dead wrong but I won't say it.

I have better luck with passengers, here is another actual conversation I had yesterday-
Passenger, "What do you mean you won't take my cash? It's legal tender for all debts private and public!"
Me, "You're right but they don't let me write the rules."
"I'm never flying on United again!"
It's not United, but I'll let him think it is.  I get down to eye level with passenger and use my sincere voice, "It would be a shame to lose your business, I don't think any of the airlines accept cash anymore. Do you have a credit or debit card?"
Passenger hands me his credit card I recognize he's just a bored right winger who wants to entertain himself by picking a fight.
Passenger, "Then I'll take the train, they take cash."
"Oh the train! One of my best memories is taking the train from Los Angeles to Chicago.  So where are you coming from?"
He tells me he was coming from a meet up with Vietnam vets from his platoon.  He pulls out his smart phone and starts showing me pictures and telling me who the people in them are.    I thank him for showing me them and thank him for his service to the country.    I think we'll keep him as a customer, or at least United Airlines will.   When I speak off the cuff like that I'm always afraid I'll say something I shouldn't.  It's happened a couple times when I was much younger.  The fear is somewhat addictive.  My first instinct when he challenged my refusal to collect cash was to paraphrase the US Treasury's webpage

Q: I thought that United States currency was legal tender for all debts. Some businesses or governmental agencies say that they will only accept checks, money orders or credit cards as payment, and others will only accept currency notes in denominations of $20 or smaller. Isn't this illegal?
A: The pertinent portion of law that applies to your question is the Coinage Act of 1965, specifically Section 31 U.S.C. 5103, entitled "Legal tender," which states: "United States coins and currency (including Federal reserve notes and circulating notes of Federal reserve banks and national banks) are legal tender for all debts, public charges, taxes, and dues."
This statute means that all United States money as identified above are a valid and legal offer of payment for debts when tendered to a creditor. There is, however, no Federal statute mandating that a private business, a person or an organization must accept currency or coins as for payment for goods and/or services. Private businesses are free to develop their own policies on whether or not to accept cash unless there is a State law which says otherwise. For example, a bus line may prohibit payment of fares in pennies or dollar bills. In addition, movie theaters, convenience stores and gas stations may refuse to accept large denomination currency (usually notes above $20) as a matter of policy.
  I need a challenge or I would die of boredom.  Overall the new job can be characterized as pleasant.   Very little excitement, purpose, misery or mental challenge.  I find myself missing the excitement of airport operations.  We'll see if I can get my fix in somewhere else while keeping this job.


20 Jun 2013

The OE

artist unknown

In a dark room there are 70 pairs of small metal wings sitting on a cloth lined table waiting to be handed out to the graduates of Barbie Boot Camp.   Before our instructors hand them to us we must first pass the Operational Experience (OE) test.  Two students are paired up and placed on a real flight.  During this test for the first time we'll face passengers, step onto a real airplane (no more mockups) and do a service from start to finish. We'll be joining a regular compliment of crew members.  An OE supervisor will be watching us clipboard in hand, taking notes, hopefully writing checkmarks in the boxes marked PASS.
   
I arrived at airport 2.5 hours before check-in time just in case the hotel shuttle got a flat tire, speeding ticket, and the queue for TSA was an hour long.    It turns out this was a wise move, I had left my passport (a required item) at the hotel.  A call to my friend staying at the hotel followed by a string of laughs at my expense resulted in my passport being delivered by another classmate 30 minutes later.  I get a shoe shine, inspect the equipment and procedures they are using on the ramp, discover the flight attendant lounge, and make small talk with the gate agent.   My phone chirps on a few occasions indicating a text message, more "friends" are teasing me about the passport incident.   Boy, with friends like these...  

The OE supervisor shows up along with a classmate.   She puts us at ease when she says we're going to have fun, don't be nervous and she made sandwiches for us.  Just won the check rider lottery.

On the first flight I work the lead flight attendant position, the actual lead just sat down and said it's my plane.   I'm in charge of communicating with the pilots, customer service and responsible for everything running smoothly in the cabin.  We do our preflight checks and begin setting up the galley for our service.  The customer service agent pokes her head through the doorway and asks if it's ok to board the people who need special assistance.  I give her the thumbs up and a little old woman shows up a minute later in a wheel chair.   She gets out and takes my arm.  I walk her to her seat and have a small chat with her.  She's very nice.

First class files in and I begin my pre-departure beverage service.  The guy in seat one alpha orders a Bloody Marry.  I tell him he's getting the first beverage I ever serve.  He says, "I'm number one!" I ask the person next to him what he'd like.  He says "Number two would also like a Bloody Marry."  My first class passengers number themselves off this way until we get to eight who's upset there are crumbs on her arm rest.  I apologize and tell her I'll fix it right away. She turns her head in disgust towards the window.   It's too late to call for the cleaners and still leave on time, so I search the bag they taught us would have alcohol wipes.  I found it right away but the bag is empty.  Ok, damp paper towels will have to do.

We take off on time and everything is going smoothly except my number three.   He's decided to entertain himself by testing my mettle all flight long.  Not enough ice in the cup, GoGo Wireless Internet should be free in first class, not enough food and on and on.   He's just role playing, and I role play back, pretending to be the flight attendant who doesn't assume a thing.  Not enough ice?  My mistake number three,  how many cubes would you like?  Would you like them finely crushed, whole, or a mixture of the two?  He's loving it,  I'm loving it, at the end he asks for my name.   I ask if I'm in trouble.   He said big trouble.  I feign horror, and inquire if this is about the "ice cube incident."  He can't keep a straight face with that and tells me he'd like to write a complimentary letter about me to the company.   Number 2 asks for my information as well for the same reason.  I shake both their hands.    One leg down, one to go.

On the return trip I was in charge of making the announcements.   I get my announcement booklet out and start reading over the PA.   My eyes are reading four words ahead of my mouth.  I just announced "pillows and blankets" and am about to say "are for sale" but I happen to know they aren't onboard from doing an inventory check.   Time to improvise, hope I can do it.  Ok, said "aren't for sale" instead of "are for sale."   Phew.  I continue reading, "GoGo wireless internet is now available for use..." and some instructions on how to connect.   I should have stopped there instead I unwittingly begin reading the announcement that is made when the internet is unavailable. Explicits run through my mind.  After reading the available announcement I'm about to tell them it's unavailable.   The sentence is "GoGo wireless internet is unavailable on today's flight"  I catch it in time and announce, "GoGo wireless internet IS available on today's flight."  Just in case the passengers forgot what I was talking about five seconds ago!

The rest of the flight is smooth. Nice nice crew. We all hug each other good bye.  The next morning we had a lovely graduation with cake, family and big mucky mucks from the top of the department.   There was your usual corporate propaganda video that had the CEO doing a bunch of talking about how great the team we are joining is.  There was a slide show full of pictures from our training.  Half the class was quickly whisked away for additional training on the other end of the empire. I didn't even say good bye.   The next day most of us begin work.  Because they aren't giving us any time to find a place to live, they are paying to keep us in the hotel for at least two more weeks.

Life on the line begins... 

15 Jun 2013

Training Week Three: How good of a person am I?



This week we learned about our union contract, respective bases, retirement plans, health care options, and ways to earn extra moolah.  It felt a like being shown your assigned tiny dorm room for the first time knowing that your old life as you knew it is officially over, and this is where you'll be spending a significant portion of your time.   For me it was a cause of anxiety, I'm too old to make this little money, my 401k will be underfunded and the complexity of actively managing my portfolio is daunting to say the least.  While the benefits lady went on about how great the 401k plan is, my mind wandered to which employers would hire a 70 year old.  I took this job because it gives me an opportunity to make people's lives better, that's what I view as my reason to wake up in the morning.  I knew taking it would mean joining the ranks of the embattled working poor.

We were told we can make extra money by selling credit cards and duty free.   Not just a little bonus, but potentially doubling our paychecks.   This brings me to the quandary that I've been giving a lot of thought to.   Some of the items we sell (alcohol, tobacco, credit cards) carry with them guarantees of some catastrophic outcomes.  As an enabler, I feel partially responsible for the downsides these products cause.   This conflicts with my reason to wake up in the morning.  Yes, some will smoke and never get cancer, some will use credit cards and reap the rewards and none of the costs of their use, most will enjoy their alcoholic beverage responsibly.  If that was everyone I'd not have any issue with promoting their consumption. I'd advertise the crap out these things, they'd be happier, my paycheck would make me happy, my company would be happy, and everyone could go on worshiping the virtues of unfettered Capitalism.   My gut told me it's wrong to make money this way, but I found myself rationalizing doing it anyways.  If I don't someone else will, so all I'm doing is hurting myself.   If I don't sell I'm unjustly restricting other's freedom to choose.  These arguments aren't without merit.  

After discussing my hangups with fellow classmates, I found others share them as well.    A tentative solution was proposed by one classmate. It is ok to sell, but you must donate the profits to charities that are dedicated to addressing downsides of their use.  This is superior to abstaining from sales because doing so won't  restrict availability of the products but it will reduce the resources going to prevention and treatment of the ailments they cause.    If anyone can think of a better solution, I'm all ears.

2 Jun 2013

Half way

We lost one of our own this week, the student failed a retake test.  I passed by him in the cafeteria, notes spread out all over trying to memorize the contents.   I offered to quiz him on the material and he gladly accepted.   We got about two minutes study time in before it was time for him to take the test.  Twenty minutes later one of the instructors entered our classroom room to say he didn't make it.  The student was rushed out of the building before anyone could say good bye.   Everyone liked this guy, he would have made a fine flight attendant, the only flaw I saw was his inability to cram.  They need to make this training at least one week longer.   The students in their 40's and above, the ones who bring to the job twice the life experience as the younger students are at a disadvantage, their minds just don't absorb facts as quickly. It shouldn't be this way.

I thought quitting my last job, where I often put in 17 hour days, would mean I'd finally get a full night's sleep.   So far that hasn't happened. Over the course of the day we'll drink what feels like a gallon of coffee.  By the last hour we're all slap happy and the trainers are tasked with maintaing focus. When mistakes happen they tend to crack everyone up, even the trainers.

This week we began our evacuation drills.  There are lots of commands you have to shout verbatim without hesitation.  Meanwhile the adrenal glands dump a full load into our blood and make complex actions and decision making all the more challenging.   They are too hard at first, no one is good at them. Some very amusing mistakes happen.   When the passenger reaches the door slide we're supposed to command "jump feet first, hands up!"  What came out of one student was "jump head first, feet up!"  If there is smoke in the cabin we tell the pilots to perform "smoke removal procedures" what came out was "smoke go away procedures!"    By the end of the week most of us had it all down cold. 

We also learned how to deliver babies.   One of the steps is to suction the baby's nose and mouth, and we don't have a suctioning device onboard.    You're able to use your mouth to suction.   One of us found ourselves in that situation.  He was his impression that he had to decide to orally suction a newborn from a mother known to be HIV+ or let the newborn die.  This was before the days of post-exposure prophylaxes.   This person made the decision to suction, the baby lived.  He said that he didn't believe god would punish him for this action.

--
PS  Met an ex-flight attendant for one of the regional airlines that serves United.  When I asked her if she knew any of the gate agents, she knew only two.   One of them was the guy I wrote about two posts down.   He stands out in a good way to everyone.  

26 May 2013

Week one of training complete. Memory overload.

The one good thing about the bad economy is bosses are finding it easier than ever to find well qualified people to do the jobs less qualified people would have in the past.  To boost our self confidence they remind us how we were the tiny minority of applicants who got the job;  we were chosen because they are confident we have what it takes to make it through training and be good at our profession.  It doesn't help my confidence, it just makes me expect whatever we're in for is going to be HARD.   Every day of training lasts ten or more hours followed by studying until our eyes won't stay open any longer.   They have figured out how many procedures, rules and regulations they can pump into our heads per day and then err on the side of too much rather than too little.  Class done early?  Ok let's start on next week's material.  Then they test us.  We must achieve a 90% or better on the tests or we must retake the test the next day.  Fail the retake and that's it,  you're flown home and it's over.   So far we've only lost one, but we've had some close calls.

The ones who failed a test made it through the retake by virtue of the trainee community.  Once it was known that one of us might be in trouble, everyone pulled together to assist before we hardly knew each other's names.  The distressed trainee was flooded with test taking advice, study material and words of encouragement. One bought groceries to free up some time for the distressed student and two more stayed up all night to help study, sacrificing their few precious hours of sleep.   The distressed student said to me that he isn't the crying type but that he was brought to tears by the generosity.  It was a complete reversal of the "you're on your own" culture he's used to.   It was all worth it, he passed.  This is the synergy that keeps onboard emergencies from happening and if, heaven forbid, they do occur the teamwork can make the difference between life and death.  The recruiters knew what they were doing creating this microcosm of kindness and generosity.

On a more personal note, it feels good to be around people who don't give you a look like they don't understand your joke when you talk about how your care for others is your motivation.

19 May 2013

New Episode of Life

Raul and Tschäff
The time has come for me to say good bye to the old airline, the one I gave everything I had to make it great and hello to a new one.  This new one took me in as a flight attendant which decidedly is a more pleasant way to spend one's life.  What I'm best at is customer service and flight attendants are the ones who potentially have the most interaction with the customer.   They also are shielded from the brunt of the customer's anger when things don't work out as planned.   On the left is Raul, he's been perfecting the art of customer service on the ground for over 30 years.  He is really something to behold especially when under fire.   His approach is to have as much fun at work as he can and his positive energy is contagious.  He's always quick with a smooth compliment to a passenger,  he'll engage in conversation with anyone if time permits, and his entertaining and timely announcements will disarm the most ugly of mobs that have been delayed for hours and bounced from gate to gate.

Whenever I had a moment of downtime he'd allow me to work next to him so I could get my customer service fix.   We worked effortlessly together to solve passenger issues with extreme efficiency.  If a flight was canceled he would work on issuing a hotel or meal voucher while I would look for seat availability on alternate routes to their destination all the while delivering lines custom made for the specific passenger to make him/her feel better or laugh.     I will miss working with this guy, he is a true master at his craft.

I write this in my hotel.  Six weeks of training are about to begin tomorrow. The hotel has a complimentary breakfast, pool, gym and...three(!) free alcoholic drinks a day.   Uh oo.. I just read on a pilot's blog three rules to live by:
1. Never, ever drink at the hotel in which you and the crew are overnighting.The reasons are obvious...
2. Never, ever turn down an upgrade opportunity.Your airline might be bought by a competitor, then the seniority fences keep you from upgrading to Captain.
3. Never, ever have an affair with a flight attendant if you are married.The reasons are obvious...
My Captain friend had an affair with a hot flight attendant. Now she is pregnant and wanting some answers about her future. Big time trouble! I am trying to imagine how I would break the news to my wife. The consequences would be unimaginable.
Source

I'll be having the cranberry juice.