Sunday, March 29, 2009

A Trip To Utah

Early this year my wife decided we should visit the daughter out in a place called Utah. She said, "Don’t worry, it doesn't get that cold and we'll be sight seeing before you know it." Well, I suppose it goes back to what your definition of “is” is but it got so cold that "sight seeing" became television commercials about Florida beaches and whatever could be seen from the window of a car. It snowed three inches shortly after the plane skidded to a landing in Salt Lake and another three by the time we found the Wal-Mart, where cold weather items like aspirin, Nyquil and Kleenex could be purchased. The wife caught a cold the minute her feet touched the ground in the Minneapolis airport. I know Utah by way of Minnesota sounds weird but we got these cheap tickets in order to see more airports and save money we could lose in Vegas, a mere six hour drive away from Salt Lake, if you can average eighty miles per hour. By the time we landed in Utah, I felt like I was sitting next to a maraschino cherry. The nose blowing had her nose looking large, bulbous and edible. I got her to sleep with a bottle of Nyquil and six reruns of Family Feud. She prefers box wine, (what upper class female doesn't?) but the only wine in Utah comes in the form of grapes so she opted for a couple of Nyquil shots and the Feud. For late night entertainment we turned to "Celebrity Rehab" and watched Gary Busey do his imitation of a reformed addict. Like most of his other performances, this one won't make it to the Golden Globe Awards. He did ride off in a limo though, so I guess he made it home in one piece.

As I said, we flew economy...but, we still managed to be completely humiliated at two different airports. It wasn't just the taking off the shoes thingy at Hartsfield/Jackson, my wife insisted our "carry-on" bag was small enough to fit above the seat and it may have been but we'll never know because it was too heavy to lift that high. I guess she was thinking NASCAR where you can bring in a cooler as big as an upright freezer if you can get it between your legs.
I was taking a much needed "constitutional" break at the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport, when my cell phone started vibrating in "panic text mode". "Hurry up, I read, we're boarding!" Boarding! I'm sitting here with the "cargo bay" open and she wants me to board?! Suffice to say, I didn't get my money's worth and she had the time zones mixed up, putting us on a plane for Salt Lake two hours early. As if that wasn't enough, she wanted to raise a stink with two people she insisted were sitting in our seats! And she was about to pull it off until the flight attendant recognized us for what we were and explained the deal about time zones. It seems the farther you go west the earlier it gets and I'm wondering if I could fly on one of these things long enough to get off the Viagra. And speaking of Salt Lake, does anyone living there over the age of sixteen not have three kids? We saw more kids at Wal-Mart than we did at Disney World and I'll bet my galoshes the State mascot is the rabbit.
Upon arriving at Salt Lake we checked in to the "Frugal Inn" where you can see the wafer thin soap through the towels. However, the water was hot and the heat in the room stayed on till midnight. The microscopic shampoo bottle was plenty for me and when I finished the wife filled the bottle and used it again. Reminds me of the time my brother paid us a visit and drank all the wine from the wine rack...refilling the bottles with colored water. When he left we commenced celebrating with a glass of what we thought was nice claret. That first bottle of wine racked cool-aid was the nastiest stuff I've ever put in my mouth and I wondered then why the cork came out so easily. My brother was one of the most frugal people I've ever known.
They say Robert Redford lives in Utah, but I haven't seen him at the Wal-Mart yet. He probably winters in Roberta or Ft. Valley.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Where are you, Sgt. Dutto?

I suppose he’d be about sixty now, gray headed if he has any hair left. He was a big Italian from San Francisco, cut from the Joe DiMaggio mold with a prior history as one of the better baseball players in the youth leagues of that area. He wanted to go into police work when he got out of the Air Force and in fact became a lieutenant on the San Francisco police force, retiring recently with thirty years to his credit on some of the meanest streets in the country. If anyone could do that, it would be Joe. He taught me something about work ethic at a time when eating and dribbling a basketball were all I knew.

We were assigned to the base gym in Minot, North Dakota. A place few people can remember because their minds just won’t allow it. Look for it on a map or ask Fred and Barbara Pirkle, they can tell you all about it. Minot was so isolated we actually looked forward to the Inspector General coming by for an occasional inspection. I remember one year, after spending weeks getting the gym in pristine condition, standing outside at attention in the freezing parking lot and watching him drive through with a nod that said, “Well done, but I left my galoshes in the VOQ and just can't make it in.” Mattered not because the latrines were so shiny it looked like two people using one urinal and we’d have probably been “gigged” for improper usage of military property any way.

Sometimes all that does matter is the work and some pride and that’s what Dutto taught. We learned a great deal watching him work. He turned an ordinary job into something quite special for us as the gym became more than just a government job or an occupation created by the government. It goes to that saying, “If you’re going to do a job, do it well.” Something I may not always do but, because of what I learned at the hands of Dutto, feel at least a twinge of guilt when I don’t.

We were actually disappointed when the I.G. didn’t come into the gym. We had scraped, painted, waxed, and shined in a more intense way than was normal. Dutto insisted we always keep the gym “ready” as it were and we were really always prepared for an I.G., but when he simply passed by I began to look for a snowball to throw at the car with the flag on the antennae, his car. I think it had a couple of stars on it. I looked at Dutto and he was without expression. Then we walked back into our gym, the one we had taken care of and prepared for his visit and I realized that whether or not the General had come in made no difference. In the words of Bill Murray, “Meatballs”, “it just doesn’t matter, it just doesn’t matter.” And it didn’t. We had grown to the point where we had done the job for us, not someone else. The gym, the job, the responsibility, the latrines had all become ours and we were ready. Today we have a fancy word for it, “ownership”. It’s the kind of thing that makes you feel like turning off the lights or lowering the thermostat when you leave work. Unfortunately, few employers know how to give “ownership” to employees; for if they did, they would see benefits beyond their ambitions. “Ownership” requires no reward, no honors; no recognition, for it comes from within. Sgt. Dutto gave us “ownership” of the gym and from that day forward we passed this creed along to each person who replaced us at Minot. I made a return visit years later and found the place much as we had left it. A little older, showing the signs of wear but a legacy of work ethic begun by a young Sergeant who was just doing his job. Wherever you are Sargeant Dutto, I hope you're doing well.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Pay Toilets on Airplanes

The corporate world has always been something of a mystery to me. I had a chance to sell insurance once but the manual loaned to me to learn the business spent two weeks in the rear floor board of my fastback Volkswagen and looked like a frat house Playboy when I gave it back. I had hauled some folks in the back seat who must have used it for a floor mat. But I do know how to read, so when I read about some corporate “genius” wanting to put pay toilets on airplanes I had to ask myself, “Has this idea been researched?” Did he spend some time in the library and check out the demographics of airplane riders? Back in the day, I could have “held it” from Miami to San Francisco. Today I’m lucky to go “non-stop” from the concourse to my seat on the plane. So now I’ve got to tip the cabbie, tip the nice waitress, tip the guy handling my baggage, and make sure I’ve got enough quarters (sounds a little like Jack Benny) left to relieve myself when I board? Don’t we have enough intrusion into our private lives without having to worry about how many quarters we’ll need for the sky high privy? To be honest, it sounded to me like someone stayed up too late, had a few too many “Shirley Temples” and figured they could climb to the top of the airline industry food chain by charging me a fee when I try to hit a round target in a flying phone booth at thirty thousand feet. This guy is obviously on anti-depressants, male, has a prostate the size of a pea and is more concerned about his portfolio than my aim or pocket book. What if I arrive at my seat and find I have only bills in my wallet? Will there be a money changer like they have at laundry mats? Will they want me to bring my own paper? There are some really informative magazines provided on board but the ads are usually too “slick” for me. I suppose I could bring an old Sears/Roebuck catalog on board but that would no doubt require another “contribution” to the airline industry as the catalog must weigh at least fifty pounds, requiring an additional fee of fifteen or so dollars. What about the people in “first class”? Are they going to have to pay more, like they do in taxes? That would seem reasonable. After all, they’ve probably got more access to quarters. Is this the first example of the “change” we’ve all been hearing about? And who determines who gets to go first? Are we to raise our hands and let the flight attendant choose?

That seems like a more fair way to do it. For all the money they want me to spend on this innovative pay toilet, I could buy “Depends Adjustable Underwear” and see the world!

But there’s one person our airline “genius” has failed to factor into this get rich at our expense innovation. It’s not the idiot shoe bomber. It’s the dreaded “cherry bomber”, the fiscally challenged guy on the international flight who spent his last dime for a ticket to Europe and knows he can’t afford to ride the trains. He would probably like nothing better than to see rich, middle aged males suffer through eight hours of urethral torture on a flight over the Atlantic. All because some “genius” made the airline privy pricey and more attractive to terrorists like him. So, we lose another of our basic freedoms as put forth by that hallowed body, the United Nations. I can’t be sure but there’s something in article twelve about no one being subjected to arbitrary interference with his privy or something like that.

I know this article sounds negative and bitter but common sense needs to prevail. We smell each other’s feet every time we fly, isn’t that enough? Is there no room here for some semblance of dignity with regard to the sky high privy or must we be forced to choose between a pack of gum or an embarrassing moment on an airplane somewhere over the Atlantic? Vote no on the airline “privy tax”!


We’re not a nation of cowards, just a bunch of folks afraid of the unknown…An unknown that breeds a lack of trust from all sides. But if you’re going to call me a coward, I do have a second opinion and will visit the race issue whenever I choose. Be forewarned however, I consider myself fairly well educated in the area of cowardice, having lived with two women for more than twenty years.
Segregation exists today because people do not trust one another. And this lack of trust comes from people not knowing one another. So it’s what you might call a “catch-22” I don’t know you therefore I don’t trust you and I don’t trust you because I don’t know you. Those of you who have friends of another race, probably don’t think of them in terms of race, but only as a friend. Now that’s a beautiful thing. Although let’s not be na├»ve here, there are people we all know that we still don’t trust.
So, around 67’ someone came up with the idea that we should put Masters Clark and Jamal in close proximate to each other by integrating the schools. We sent school buses over to master Clark’s neighborhood and took young people to master Jamal’s school and sent buses to Jamal’s neighborhood and took more young people to Clark’s school. We did that in an effort to ensure Jamal was getting as good an education as Clark, among other things. But, while our efforts were noble, Clark and Jamal’s lives were never integrated because even though the Clarks and Jamals were sitting under the same roofs, there was no communication taking place. We are just not going to tolerate socializing in the classroom! After all, we are here to learn. Consequently, Jamal and Clark had no opportunity to get to know each other and develop a sense of trust.

The only two opportunities these two had to develop trust came at lunch and on the bus ride. When lunch did arrive they sat with friends they already knew and another opportunity to learn about each other slipped away. Well, we all prefer eating with friends rather than strangers but what’s that old saying, “A stranger is just a friend waiting to happen?” Try telling that to a fifteen year old. The truth is they were probably just as hungry to get to know each other as they were for lunch but the safe haven they once had at the old school was gone, along with some of their friends. And, because no one enjoys eating with someone they don’t know, lunch was just a greasy piece of cheese toast or a brown bag full of banana sandwiches. This was back before we realized we were what we ate.

Buses are noisy but at least these two guys were near each other. Maybe we should have assigned seats and ridden them around town for an hour or so before dropping them off at school so that “face time” could be increased.

Now, when you think of what our political leaders did to Clark and Jamal back then, you have an idea about cowardice. Busing was an expensive yet simple “solution” to a huge social problem in order to avoid a real issue; an issue that is still in existence today.
So "lunch" and the bus rides go through four generations, four presidents, three recessions and one assassination. They go through millions of dollars of gasoline spent on moving Clark to Jamal and Jamal to Clark and trees and trees of paper spent on making sure Jamal and Clark are seen sitting next to each other in a classroom. We did it. We integrated the schools! And the results were? Our lunchrooms remain the same…segregated. Most of the Clarks and Jamals have yet to know each other in that way that blinds one to another’s race. But...there are no cowards here…just people who are afraid of the unknown.

Today we bus Clark and Jamal to a location on the outskirts of town; “Out of sight, out of mind.” Maybe we should have started by busing children to church. At the least we could have counted on a more varied menu for Wednesday night suppers.
No one would deny that integration is necessary. Maybe it’s just the way we’re going about doing it that has me confused. After all, who are the adults here?