Thursday, November 29, 2012

I Could've Been A Pilot

Twenty minutes ago I was taking my dog Underbrush out for her final pee of the night. It's a clear night, and I always look up, hoping to see whatever stars happen to be out. Tonight, though, my eye was captured by a crystal clear plane going from one side of the sky to the other, lights blinking. He was doing it right.

Looking up at that beautiful craft, as I did, I felt a lot of emotions surging in my psyche. I had the emotion of relief, for one, that I am smart enough to realize it's just a plane and not a UFO. For had it been a UFO, that would've been awful. But the bigger emotion I had was one of wistfulness for the past, and all I could've been.

Seriously, it never occurred to me when I was a kid that I might be a pilot. Not once. And I was a kid who slept in the southeastern bedroom, the same direction of the airport here, where I saw the green and white lights flashing through the sky every night. I was always thinking of the airport, even though it was just a local airport and not anything major.

Now, though, that I'm grown up, and more naturally given to wistfulness about what might have been -- I'm rich in regrets -- I'm thinking, Why didn't I go into the piloting business? How cool it would have been to be jetting across the country with a front row seat on the destination. I'd be walking through an airport with my co-pilot, in a nice suit, with a carry-on bag, heading for the exit, ready to go cross country. And I would never have been like some of the bad eggs you hear of, guys who try to fly drunk. That's reprehensible to me in every way!

But what would it have taken? 1) Ambition to do it; 2) Applying myself to get the right education; 3) Then going for it! That's basically it. (Heck, had I been a pilot I would've been retiring right about now, since it is almost my 60th birthday. I believe I heard that pilots (jet airliner pilots) have to retire around 60.) But how great would those years have been. Instead of sitting here, basically vegetating in my grandparents' old house. Nursing along my game toe, from an accident that likely wouldn't have happened had I been a pilot.

That's not to say pilots don't have accidents. Some of the worst accidents in history have been caused by pilot error. The whole plane goes down. You crash in the mountains, or you crash at sea. Everyone dies, including you. There's a whole investigation, and very possibly your name and memory are mud. I was in a waiting room one time with an ex-pilot, true story. He told me a story of himself somehow missing the runway, or overshooting the runway, with the plane then going nose down or off to the side somehow. And with that one little accident he was out of a job. Smacking a mountain, if you survive, multiplies the penalty.

Still, I've been pretty lucky. I haven't had real bad luck. So I probably would've been a successful pilot, had I only done it. By now I would've been an expert in the various facts of aerodynamics. But now it's never going to happen, that's for sure. Too much time has slipped by. And so ... here I stand in my back yard with a pissing dog, watching other guys fly by. It's sad.

Friday, November 16, 2012

The King Of Group Dynamics Returns

Oh God, it's been a long time! A long time coming, baby! Getting back to group dynamics. Where I ought to be.

Here's how it happened. I met a guy at a restaurant downtown, who told me he was in the inspiring talking biz. Roger was in town for a two day thing at the Holiday Inn, giving talks on "How You Can Be Your Best." And he was a little down because on the second day he'd had a surprise resignation, he said, one of the group facilitators for the discussion portion of his presentation.

I got a big fat grin on my face, and he, making something of an intuitive leap, said, "What? You?" I gave a real sly smile and said, simply, "You got it, Ace. I'm an old timer in the group dynamics biz!" We'd already shaken hands a couple times, once upon meeting and once upon agreeing that the coffee was good, but he extended his hand a third time, each of us having found, at least temporarily, something of a soul mate. (We later were to shake hands a fourth time, upon departing.)

We talked it over. He wanted to know how good I was. He pointed to a couple over by the wall. She was crying, he was looking at the newspaper. He quizzed me: "What's up with them?" I said, "She's sad and he's stubborn," just like that passing the audition. This would have been a prime opportunity for shaking hands again, especially with me adding, "And a hot chick like that, he should be kissing her feet!"

I met him later at the Holiday Inn. He had a nice room overlooking an indoor pool, probably heated. I noted the close proximity of his room to the ice machine, and discerned he might be an alcoholic. I asked for my money upfront, which he was apparently used to, as he offered no resistance.

Imagine then my lack of surprise when I returned at 6 p.m. (the meeting would start at 7), to find him passed out in a drunken stupor, and ice scattered everywhere. I had no alternative, since I'm such a die-hard freak for group dynamics, but to borrow one of his nicest suits and head down to the meeting room. I figured, you know, a subject like "How To Be Your Best" would be something I could easily wing, because, frankly, who's better than me?

At the meeting room, I reviewed the Three R's of Group Dynamics: 1) aRrange, 2) Reconnoiter; and, 3) Ruminate. Since I'm the originator of the 3 R's, it took me very little effort to master them. As far as aRranging goes, the tables looked fine, the podium, and the windows. I said a prayer for luck and expertise.

Some of Roger's other helpers were there, checking people in. They didn't know me, but I assured them Roger was fine, only passed out cold, and that I had his personal blessing. One of them had charge of the multimedia and I quickly reviewed the points. It was all standard stuff, like "You can be your best, Believe in yourself, You're the only you," and some interesting things about having learned in Kindergarten everything you need to know. I suddenly realized, If that's true, I wasted seven years of my life before finally dropping out...

The crowd gathered. Many of them looked like whatever inferiority complex they had coming in was justified. They'd be putty in my hands. My opening was, "Each one of you is the best person here. What do I mean by that? I mean exactly what I said: Each one of you is the best person here." With everyone sufficiently complimented, I got into the meat of my presentation. I stepped through the various truisms of the subject, then we broke into groups.

I told them they would need one leader and one secretary/reporter, because we would be sharing our "findings." My honest opinion is this is always a waste of everyone's time, but, hey, it's on their dime. Anyway, it gave me a chance to stretch out and flex my group dynamics muscles, with lots of reconnoitering and ruminating. I gave a nice shoulder pat to each leader and a thumbs up to each secretary/reporter, making them delve into the subject that much more diligently.

When we reconvened the group, I honored their diligence by faux-wiping my brow and saying, "That was a lot of great work, a lot of work!" A spontaneous demonstration was their response, with the several tables of participants hoisting their leaders and secretaries on their shoulders and parading them into the hall and back. I took this as a monumental testimony to my group dynamics chops.

The secretaries gave their reports, that "Being Your Best" is simply a matter of making it happen, as each of us has the hidden potential and its immediate fulfillment upon this discovery and acting to make it happen. I joked, "I hate to say that I just worked myself out of a job, but that's exactly what's happened!" The honor was all theirs, I said, heaping upon them effusive, prolonged praise. I've always found this is the number one group dynamics technique for them to give me even greater honor. We hugged tenderly.

The whole thing was over in two short hours. I returned to Roger's room just as he was coming to. He was all anxious about the meeting "coming up," and was frantic when he heard it was already over. "What the sam hell!" he bellowed, "Why didn't you wake me up?!" I told him he was too drunk -- drunk as a skunk -- and that I had covered it.

He had no choice but to admit that he had been bested by ... the best!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

A Bad Breakfast Means A Bad Morning

You know me, I'm never one to complain. I've done pretty good keeping it in. But there comes a time when even I -- I, with the patience of Job -- finally have to say enough is enough.

I am getting very frustrated, very tired, and frankly very put out with certain restaurants. Of course I'm talking about the ones that never seem to have enough food on hand, so that they have to make multiple runs to the grocery store while you're sitting there waiting.

The meal that I really notice it happening most egregiously is breakfast. Whether they simply have no faith anyone's going to come to their place the next day, or whatever it is, it's getting increasingly frustrating for me to be sitting there waiting for breakfast, only to have them running out of food. And the worst part is they try to conceal it, meaning you have to wait even longer in apparent ignorance.

There's a few places where this doesn't happen, of course, usually the more established chain restaurants. It's always the local places, where no one's buying in bulk, and where they're more or less scrimping by. But in my opinion all they're doing by the penny-pinching and/or lack of planning for the next day is only driving customers away. I for one am about finished...

This became a serious problem for me at a restaurant that's a very cool restaurant, at least in appearance. They have a real nice, quiet atmosphere, mainly, it seems, because other people must be fed up with the poor service. But we still go there occasionally, always thinking maybe they will have learned their lesson. We've been there three times in the last month or so. Will I never learn?

A couple times back, I made a terrible mistake: I ordered a small orange juice. I wasn't thinking anything about it, assuming they'd have enough juice to cover a small order. But no! They brought the juice to me, which had obviously started out a few dribbles in the bottom of a pitcher, but then was watered down sufficiently to mostly fill my glass. I called the waitress over and complained, which I'm not one to do. A half hour later, literally a half hour, she came back with a fresh glass. In the meantime, who knows what had happened back there! Someone had to go out for new juice!

The next time, it was more than that. The menu had a few things crossed out, things they couldn't make real fast, along with prices changed with little scraps of masking tape, like they were updating them constantly depending on whether the grocery store had sales going on. Naturally I didn't order orange juice. I figured coffee would be safe, and bacon seemed like something they'd have in stock, and eggs. My companion had pancakes and a fruit cup.

We got our coffee right away, and I thought, Magnifique! Then it was only a matter of getting our food. Which, unfortunately, turned out to be, as they say, easier said than done. As we waited, my companion tapping his watch, the waitress was a no-show.

After a while, since I was getting cold, I went out to the car to get my jacket. The place must be behind on paying their heat bill, too. While there, I looked up and -- what?! -- the waitress, the manager, and apparently a couple of cooks, two guys in tall white hats, were coming quickly around the corner with a full shopping cart. They pushed it around back.

I returned to the table and told my companion what was going on. He shook his head in disbelief. Then 15 minutes later, here comes our food, the waitress only moderately out of breath. She apologized for the inconvenience and told us there had been a problem with the humidity, so the cook was having trouble getting the eggs right, sunny side up. Very flimsy excuse. But she'd take the coffee off the bill.

In the end, I decided to just mess with her. I asked for Tabasco. She looked at me in disbelief, turned rapidly, and ran out the front door.