My job as a pilot is made much easier by checklists and routines. I do the same thing - the same way - every time. Checklists are written in a way that is intended to flow logically as we set up the cockpit for each phase of flight. It’s the times when something upsets that flow - that checklist items are missed. You’re midway through a taxi checklist and a radio call breaks the cadence of the “challenge and response” and it’s easier (and safer) to start over rather then stumble back into it. My life has become a series of checklists. I’m not sure if I was made for aviation or if a career in aviation has made me the way I am. When I’m on a trip, each day I do the same thing - the same way - every time. My evening ritual in the hotel has been modified slowly over the years to become the most efficient it can be. I check into my room and immediately strip the garnish bedspread off the bed and lay out my clothes for the next morning. Regardless of how long I have in the hotel, I ready for the next day by setting two alarms on my phone, one on the hotel clock and phone for a wake-up call. Each of these alarms are set for 1 min apart beginning 45 minutes before we are to meet for the van. I write the city name and tomorrows day of the week on the hotel key envelope and put it next to the alarm clock. The rest of the night, like a Roomba vacuuming robot, I mindlessly walk through a series of preprogrammed routines. Hopefully, this involves some Seinfeld. The same precision takes place during the morning events. Nothing gets skipped, nothing gets forgotten. Until there’s a change to the routine. A shower that won’t get hot or a broken coffee maker. I recently introduced a lunch box to the program. I’ve become a lunch box guy. I pack 4 days worth of food on ice and make meals-to-go in my room for a picnic at 30000 feet... without the blanket or ants. It’s not as much about saving money as it about getting so freaking sick and tired of Sbarro pizza and Wok-n-Roll fried stuff with soy sauce. With the introduction of the lunch box, I’m all out of whack. Yesterday, although I made some excellent burrito’s out of Trader Joe’s Chickenless Chicken Strips... I forgot to shave. Having to get ice from the ice machine for my lunch box threw off my whole program! While showering, I debated when to work ice retrieval into the equation. Should I do it before or after I put on my tie? This internal argument must have carried on into the “it’s now time to shave” portion of the ceremony and I overlooked it while I debated maybe just getting ice on the way out the door with all my luggage. Years ago, I left the keys to my car in the cockpit of the airplane I just gave to another crew and realized this as I watched them taxi towards the runway. Naturally, this happened because I just bought a new suitcase and hadn’t decided yet which pocket to store my keys. I had it down to a science with my old suitcase but had yet to find a convenient spot for them in the new one. I opted to keep them in my pants pocket until resolving this crisis but then they kept stabbing my thigh so I set them in the cup holder. Off to STL they went without me. Tonight, I may use a spreadsheet to map out a new routine for tomorrow mornings ice gathering mission. But doing so, I’ll probably forget to brush my teeth before bed.
I called to check on room availabilities at a few hotels in Towson for my parents when they come to visit next month. Google, of course, gave me a few pushpins just a few miles up the road so I started calling. What's amazing is that with each call to the front desks, they sent me off to some call center somewhere to field my questions on room rates and availabilities. I'm a mile away asking a question to a lady who could be my neighbor and soon I'm off to another part of the world talking to someone who pronounces Baltimore wrong.
With one call, I get sent to Lilly who speaks remarkably crisp and quite lovely. She asks the standard questions and when given my turn to respond, my questions are standard as well. "I'm wondering if you have any rooms for the weekend of Oct. 4th?"
"That weekend. Let me checking. I am checking. Yes, we have a standard suite available with one king bed and an attached living room for a rate of $116 a night and cancellation up until the day of for no charge. You can book now if you have a major credit card or online at our website."
I ask a follow up. "I may have more guests, can you tell me if you have another room for that weekend?"
"You can cancel up until the day of arrival for no charge either over the phone at this number or on our website." She answers.
"No. I'm not asking that. I have another...."
"I can't answer that," She steps in. "You can cancel for no extra charge by calling this number or online at our website."
"No, I need to know." I start to ask until she jumps in with the cancellation routine. Now I'm thinking. Although very human, she sounds very mechanical.
While she's talking, I interrupt her with some Ferris Bueller, "I'm afraid that in my weakened condition, I could take a nasty spill down the stairs and subject myself to further school absences."
She cut me off mid-stride with, "I cannot help you with that. Good-bye."
God knows I'm a fan of the geeky or side of things and I wouldn't mind having a robot of my own to answer questions directed my way but at some point we the customers need to be right again.
And It Only Cost a Quarter
It was a Jesuit, shirt and tie, all guys’ high school. Everyone drove to school or had a ride. I rode the city bus. “H.A.R.T. Line” was the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Association. They had a big red heart for a logo. Most were faded to a semi-brown heart that looked more like the ones on anti-smoking ads. The buses were smoke-free although smoking may have been a welcome relief to mask the random odors floating through the cabin. Looking back I think the decision to send the boy home on the bus was a character builder. Maybe it was a message to do well in school. But with transportation only a quarter from school on a student pass, how could a parent go wrong?
The driver on bus number 7 was Richard Diggs. Dick Diggs we called him. I met Diggs the first day my dad dropped me off. I boarded armed with a quarter and my newly pressed Jesuit shirt and tie. Although I wasn’t the only wearing a hat I was the only one wearing a beanie. “That some kinda Jewish hat you got there, son?” Diggs asked.
I told him it was something we had to wear as freshman and it was tradition and we could burn it at a homecoming bonfire in a few months but he didn’t care too much about the details. He was all business. In the future when I realized I only had to wear my beanie on campus he’d asked, “Where’s that funny looking Jewish hat, Son. Shouldn’t you be wearing that hat?” He’d continue on the address system as I took my seat. “I think you may have left your hat at home, Son. You want I should turn around so you can get that funny little Jewish hat of yours?”
Unbeknownst to me, my father followed Diggs that first day to map out the route and see how long it’d take to get to school. I guess he followed a few cars back so as not to alarm Diggs. The plan didn’t work. Again, this driver was all business. Soon I noticed the bus taking evasive actions. Charging through yellow lights and making quick lane changes. Passengers would bounce free from their seats with each abrupt turn causing them to inadvertently hit the “Next stop” button. Each lane change was met with a “Ding – Stop Requested” followed by Diggs yelling, “Is that a real stop or someone hittin’ that button?”
Another sharp left and another “Ding – Stop Requested.” “Just trying to lose this Jack in a white Blazer truck!” Mr. business Diggs yelled. “I think I gotta white guy tailing us!”
“Ding – Stop Requested.”
I turned, aided by the bus’ momentum, and saw my dad a few cars back. Although his car was more agile than the city bus it didn’t possess the guts behind the wheel that we had. We were successfully pulling away. “Woah!” I yelled up from the back of the bus. “That’s my dad.”
The words bounced off each passenger on the way up to Diggs causing each to turn their head as they grasped the meaning behind my yell. Some translated the words faster and turned faster but overall it was a wave a twisting bodies starting from me and progressing to the front.
“What kind of kid are you who’s gotta dad has gotta follow you on the bus?” The lady next to me asked, “If your dad is going the same way why didn’t you save your quarter and maybe stop as McDonalds too?”
“This is my first time on the bus. I guess he just wanted to make sure I got to where I’m going?”
“It ain’t that hard.” She reasoned. “You pay your money and get on. You push the button when you want to get off. Simple as that. Pay to get on… push to get off.”
“I understand. I guess he just wanted to see how long it took.”
“All you gotta do is read the map.” She said. “ It tells you how long each bus takes. It even tells you what time they leave. What time it goes and what time it stops. Simple as that.”
“Yes, I know. I guess he just wanted to see for himself.”
“He could have scene it for himself on the paper there. Simple as that. I’ve been riding the bus for years and never had no trouble. Always on time. Always running on time. You should just push the button now and get in with your dad since he’s going the same way. Maybe he can stop off and get you some McDonalds.”
I soon learned that this is what I was paying my quarter for… the experiences. Some of them I’d offer fifty cents for if I had to do it over again.
One of the stops along the way home each day was at a K-Mart. It was a transfer spot where people would often switch busses. It was an intersection in the routes where you could get a transfer ticket and jump to a different route.
There was a day when a rather large black woman got on at the K-Mart stop. She had just done some shopping while waiting for the bus and came on board with all her bags. She was wearing typical H.A.R.T. Line summer attire… a single, large moo-moo. While maybe this fashion has its roots in Hawaii as beachwear it has made its home surrounding the fatty flesh of women across America. It’s looks like nothing more than a non-fitted one-piece bed sheet fashioned into a dress. A kids ghost costume with a hole for the head and arms.
She sat directly across from me in the seat clearly labeled “Reserved for Handicapped Riders” and even was able to harness herself in using the safety straps for wheelchairs. I watched her fumble through her bags. I played with my beanie to look busy. She pulled out a can of generic aerosol deodorant. She shook it up to get maximum spray. Armed with the can she reached up though her legs, under her moo-moo and aimed the can up from about belly level. She fired. She continued to fire. In all, she shot deodorant for about thirty seconds.
It emanated from every hole of her non-fitted bed sheet. It gushed from her armpit holes hiding her meaty arms in a fog of unscented aerosol. It rose from her neck hole like Old Faithful. It soon crept out from the same opening she took aim from dropping to the floor like a fog machine in a carnival haunted house.
Waiting for the air to clear I wondered if the same women would be there when the show was over? Maybe she was a superhero and this was her guise used during the transformation? Maybe she’d come out as a wonder-twin in a leather suit or a crime-fighting robot?
Unfortunately, when the air did clear it was the same rather large black woman that joined us at K-Mart albeit better smelling. As if to answer my puzzled look she explained, “Sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do.”
That piece of wisdom only cost me a quarter.