At Some Point You Have To Laugh

That was said by the young woman standing in line behind me. Our flight to Charlotte should have left 2 hours earlier. Instead we had been in a slow moving line back out past TSA security waiting to find out if there were some way out of hell.

I am sure you are in no mood to hear another on of my travel horror story but as long as I have them I am giving you the opportunity to relive them with me. Another new reason to delay a flight.

After 14 hours in the office on Monday and a hectic Tuesday morning of emergency emails and calls I left for O’Hare. As it was I dreading the 5 hour two plane trio to Kingsport, TN. The only good news was that at the end of the travels I was to have dinner with one of my favorite clients. If only it had happened as planned.

Instead 15 minutes before the 12:30 US Air flight to Charlotte they announced a maintenance delay. 45 minutes later they announced that the part they needed, it took that long to figure out which part it was, they did not keep in Chicago. The part would need to be flown in. If it came, the plane might leave at 7 pm. The announcement directed us to go to the ticket counter on the dreaded other side of security.

This is one time where being a frequent flier screwed me. I assumed that technology could help get me on one of the three remaining US Air flights to Charlotte or one of the two United flights. Why not, I have high level status on United.

I worked that phone. US Air, United, Us Air again. Different answers each time. Mostly though it seemed as though every flight that day to Charlotte was full. After an hour I realized that I had no choice but to go to the ticket counter. More confusion. There were several lines and no one directing traffic. I stood in the wrong line until I reached the front in time to be told that the person behind that counter could not help me. Into the other line which had to be 50 people deep. Three people behind the counter. No good answers to be had.

If there is a deity with a master plan manipulating world events to the level of my plane travel I have discovered his/her master plan. The purpose of these moments is to provide an environment in which people who would never get the opportunity to converse mingle. People of all races, creeds, colors, and walks of life spontaneously begin sharing stories. They find things they have in common. Mostly what they have in common is their hatred of air travel and whatever airline is causing the day’s frustrations. Sometimes more. The older lady and her even older mother in front of me were on their way home to the city I was visiting. We chatted abut how crowded it got during race week (there is a NASCAR track nearby) and what a nice town it is. As a group we provide each other with solace and understanding.

Well, once it was my turn I was told there were no seats to Charlotte that day. I could have tried leaving the next day but any delay and I would have missed my business meeting. At least person behind the counter was competent. She found a United nonstop to Knoxville that would put me 110 miles away. I took it. I figured I would rent a car and at least be there that night.

On to the United terminal. Finally, a bit of luck, there were only 4 people ahead of me in the security line. But not so fast. I was not given a ticket but a receipt for a ticket the TSA guy informed me. On to another long line to haggle with another ticket agent. Back to security again where the line was now 40 people deep. As I reached my gate my admin called. No rental cars from any company in Knoxville. Hitchhiking was not an appealing option. Fortunately my client agreed to come get me.

For hours later, 11 hours after I left my house I was in my hotel room.  

As I have said before, as long as the plane did not fall out of the sky I can deal with it. Sort of.

E.R.

Don’t ever be sick or old and don’t let anyone you care about get sick or old. Definitely do not do anything that requires health care beyond band-aids on a holiday weekend.

I just spend 6 hours in the ER with my mom.

Short background.  Though only 76, her liver has not been working as it should. This has led to multiple symptoms. She looks like a picture of a starving African child. Distended belly, frail, sticks for arms and legs. She can barely walk with the help of a walker, her legs do not want to move. She needs help getting out of bed or out of a chair. It has been like this for months now. Best as we understand from multiple docs is that this is the rest of her life and she can only be treated to make her more comfortable.

Why the ER today. One leg has been getting numb and her ability to walk has decreased further. Her doc is on vacation. There is no where else to go on a holiday weekend. She needs more than the doc-in-a -box clinics that have sprung up can provide. Plus, while she is weak of body, she is still strong of will. I wanted to take her last night but she refused over and over. I was not ready to carry her over my shoulder. Unfortunately, she was in pain through much of the night and that convinced her to finally call at 6 am to have me come get her. My step dad has taken over full time care duties but moving her and dealing with the docs and the hospital is no one person affair.

I was at her house by 6:30 but it was almost an hour before we were able to get out of the house. Anyone who has dealt with and aged infirm parent can identify.

Checked in and in a bed at the ER by 8:15. Then the waiting begins. It was not busy there when we arrived so I had hoped things would progress quickly. I was delusional. Eventually a nurse comes in and asks the same questions the nurse at admitting asked. Sometime within an hour and a half a doctor comes in. Though this hospital and my mom’s doc are all part of the same group, he has no info on her. Therefore, he starts by ordering basic blood work and an X-ray. The blood is eventually taken and the sign in the room promises results in one hour. The sign writer is as delusional as I am.

So you sit. And sit. and sit. You get the picture. Over the course of the next 6 hours promises about next steps are made by nurses but nothing happens. At the 5.5 hour mark the doc walks in, gives us two minutes in which he tells us she will be admitted over night, answers his cell and walks out. At least four times in this version of No Exit we are told they will try to reach her regular doctor who I know is out of town because I spoke with his partner last night who had no more knowledge of my mom’s file than the ER doc or you do.

They admit her, my sister comes for the second shift and I get to go home for the day physically and emotionally drained.

One Fine Friday Night

Last Friday my wife wanted to take me out for my birthday which had been two days earlier. I had been traveling to Pittsburgh, TX that night which made a family celebration impossible. While my wife often asks if she can travel with me the requests tend to come when the destination is a place like Santa Fe not Pittsburgh, TX.

I am often overwhelmingly tired Friday nights. It is not uncommon on a Friday night for me to collapse on the couch and not move until bedtime. This week had been a hard, tiring week. At one point on Friday I expressed to a colleague that my body felt as if it had been hit by a truck. So during the several times that day I was asked what I wanted to do that night I did not know what to say. I had hoped to spend time outside. No aspirations beyond that lofty goal.

The weather cooperated as did my body. After a day of intermittent rain it was clear and pleasant when I arrived home. I no longer felt like hell. We we decided that for the evening’s entertainment we would take a walk. This is something we do not do enough of. We walked and held hands on our way to downtown Evanston. No particular route in mind. I like it that way.

We talked. Even though we are on the phone several times a day, these are typically short focused conversations. On our walk we had time and no interruptions. It was leisurely and yet I was upright and moving. Almost like exercise.

We started after 7:30.  I can never get home early it seems. It is somewhere in the neighborhood of 2-2.5 miles to downtown. I wasn’t particularly hungery as we passed a multitude of restaurants on our stroll.  Lots of good food choices in Evanston.

Eventually we had something light at a sushi place. BTW I never would have guessed that an avocado and banana smoothie would be good. It was, though the tapioca balls at the bottom of the glass were a little weird.

We walked, talked and held hands on the return trip. What a simple and yet wonderful night.

Oh, I almost forgot. She really scored with my birthday present. She took  a photograph I had taken, printed it as an 8X10 and framed it. Photography is something I enjoy and I know I have a few truly great pictures. I have wanted to see what they would be like big. Now I know. Spectacular. It will hand in our house. I am very happy.

 

P.S. For those of you who read my piece on Paul McCartney and were wondering about the weird references, Sir Paul and I share the same birthday. He had it to himself for 14 years before we began to share it.

A Teaching Moment…Or A 3 Stooges Moment

Two and one half decades ago I was young, new in my career, and in need of someone to help me grow and develop in this world of consulting I had entered. When I started there were two managers and the Big Boss. It was like learning from the Three Stooges. All were bright and good at doing the work. None had a clue about how to manage, train or mentor someone entering the field. From the Stooges I learned how to be a good manager and mentor by doing exactly the opposite of what they did.

Three examples and then on to why I started to write this morning.

 I went to Manager Larry as he was leaving the company to get some sage advice on how to progress in my career before he was forever gone. He looked at me in his most serious, reflective manner and said, “Wear better suits”. Now there may be a metaphor for life in there somewhere or perhaps it was time to upgrade my sartorial standards, but that is the best ya got? After working with him for a year I should not have been surprised.

Manager Shemp (none of the three lived up to the high standards of Curly) once gave me feedback on a report I had drafted. He called me to his office and as I stepped through the door, the papers came flying towards me just ahead of his words, “This is a piece of S–t!”.  I learned so much from Shemp.

Then there was Big Boss Moe. I am ashamed to say that I worked with this man for 14 years. In the bizarro world one can gain great wisdom by doing the opposite. There are too many Moe stories to tell here. I should put the collection of stories in the next business book best seller, “Everything You Need To Know About Management Can Be Learned From The Stooges” or the more simple title of “Stoogeology. Lessons For Today’s Business Leaders”.

OK. A quick Moe as manager story.  It was early in my career and we were working directly with the CEO of a fairly large company. The project had a short time line and we needed to schedule our next meeting with him. The best day for the CEO was in two weeks on a Thursday. Moe looked at his calendar and stated to my great disbelief, “No, I am in a golf tournament at my country club that day.” To this day I do not know if I was more shocked that he put off an important business meeting to play golf or that he admitted it to the CEO instead of just saying that he was booked that day. That was Big Boss Moe.

Fast forward 20+ years. I have been directly responsible for managing people on and off throughout my career. Regardless of my formal duties I have taken it as a key priority to help people coming up behind me to grow. I have been very good at this. However, lately I  have sometimes let the weariness I feel for my work –it has been 27 years — occasionally influence how I interact with my people.

Most of the time I give positive or at corrective feedback in a constructive manner. I regularly check-in with my people to see how they are doing. I take time to work on their skills regardless of whether they are working on something for me or for someone else.  I teach others who seek to learn whether or not they report to me.

Now that I have laid the groundwork that I am really a good guy I can confess to my weak moments. Sarcasm is not foreign to my speech. In fact it is an integral part. When used wisely it can be a good learning tool. When used indiscriminately it can be mean. There are a couple of people at work that frustrate me because they are bright, no longer brand new, and have great potential. Yet they are not growing despite some of the best efforts to guide and teach them. With them I get indiscriminate.

I have not yet gotten to the level of throwing reports at them and evaluating their work with four letter words. (Today, throwing a report would involve tossing a laptop which could not be good in any sense of the word) and yet I can riff one sarcastic comment after another for quite awhile. It hit me the other day when I was riffing to one of the Frustrators and I had to pause for a moment and declare ” You should listen to that last one. This was a teaching moment.”

Yeah, a teaching moment from Curly.

Planes And Automobiles

I always wonder if anyone cares to read my tales of travel woe. If you are one who does not, move on now.

Speaking of moving, I have done nothing but for the last 36 hours. I left my office at 12:45. Went to the airport, flew for 2+ hours to Dallas. Rented a car and drove  and a half hours to Pittsburgh, TX. Went to bed at the Holiday in Express In Mt. Pleasant– did you know that it is booked full every Monday through Thursday?

Woke up early today and had a 4 hour client meeting.  Back in the car to drive 3 hours back to the Dallas airport, waited awhile,  flew the 1.5 hours to Albuquerque, got a new rental car and drove the 90 minutes to Santa Fe. I have a one hour meeting tomorrow morning, drive the 90 minites back, get on a plane to O’Hare, drive home and if I am lucky I am in the house by 6 pm.

Its a wonderful life.

Public Speaking

This past Thursday at  1:30 EST I began to speak. Unlike most of the times I choose to speak, I was standing up in front of a roomful of about 40 people who paid to attend a conference and decided to come listen to what my friend Shelly and I had to say.

We had 75 minutes to inform–and entertain. I made a short introduction, then Shelly did her thing and I followed. There is an old entertainment saying that goes something like, never follow an act with children or animals. Let me add one to that– or Shelly. She is a naturally captivating speaker. Audiences loves her. She comes across as smart, funny and sincere– because she is all that. As she tries to finish, she is being asked one question after another, I stand there off to the side with a growing sense of trepidation running through my brain faster than Marion Jones on steroids.

Before continuing this story lets go back in time. First of all I am an excellent public speaker. To quote Walter Brennan’s character in The Guns Of Will Sonnet, “No brag, just fact.”  Normally I do not worry about speaking in front of a group, I do, however, like to be prepared. I had planned to practice on Wednesday morning until some client work got in the way. I also had been coughing for a week and had dreams about hacking throughout the entire presentation.  And now I had to follow Shelly’s stellar performance.

Good news. It went well. Once I get rolling the only trouble I have is staying focused on what I had intended to say while a thousand ideas are going through my head sending me off on tangents that I may never recover from. Far too quickly it was over. Given time and a locked door I could have gone on for at least another hour or two.  

This was fun. I need to find ways to do it more often.

Unexpected Theft

I had my Blackberry and iPod stolen from my briefcase yesterday. I was in an all day meeting attended only by other people from my company. I left my case near my chair. The pocket with my stuff was unzipped. I wandered around the room a lot so my case was often unattended but always near other colleagues.

I assume the company will pay to replace the Blackberry but now I need to spend for an iPod. I already have too many things to spend money on.

I feel violated. I’m bummed.

SCUBA Spectacular. Watamula

Two fine dives today. We began with the first unassisted (no dive master) dive since early in my 17 year diving career…and I am here to write about it. The navigation required was fairly straightforward. But still, no professional to lead the way or help if something goes wrong. Directions. Swim out past the breakwater to the sea wall and head left and go deep. Once again this could have been a very deep dive but we kept it to no deeper than 60 feet. Out along a good but not great coral reef. A goodly number of fish and other sea creatures. Turn, come back past the point of entry to the right side and then back again. I felt closer to being a real diver having done this on our own.

After a few hours at the beach we boarded a boat headed for Watamula on the northwestern part of the island. I had heard that this is one of the best dive sites on Curacao. That was understated. I wish I had the words to describe what I saw. Spectacular, awesome and fantastic give the order of magnitude but not the visual representation.

The sea life is not what this dive is about…its the coral. Wow. The varieties.  Looked like Giant mushrooms, cactus, brains. And there were sweeping plants waving in the movement of the water. Greens , browns, purples, orange. In some places the shapes were like mountain. In others a fanning circular roof with multiple layers. All shapes and sizes some incedibly large. And it just kept coming. I have never seen so much corral of such variety packed into the same place.

This was a drift dive meaning a current carries you and you just go for the ride. I would shift perspectives. At once moving in to observe the beauty of an individual piece or even a section of a piece. Then I would step back, technically swim back, and take in the majesty of the scene. I wish I had pictures.

We were under for 50 minutes and it took my breath away virtually the entire time. At the end there was the assent to the blue+grey surface. Today from below it looked hard. Hard like the way water feels when you cannonball off a diving board. You move up slowly, slowly, slowly. Then you finally crack the surface of the water. Can you tell, I like this stuff!

Everyone reading this should get down here now. Not sometime in the future, now.

Our thanks to dive staff at Sunset Waters fora great time today.

 

My Funk-y World

I have been sitting at the computer writing little postettes because I am avoiding writing what I feel. I am, and have been for awhile, in a major funk.

This is not depression, just funk. Big difference. But I can’t seem to shake it. I am bored at work. So bored that even though I am not “making my numbers” this quarter I am not working my butt off to change this. Or to do all the not billable things I have wanted to do for awhile.

Besides work, I feel like an old man. O.K. 51 going on 52 is not the end of the world. Even if it was I should be doing all I can to enjoy the time. Live for today and all that.

I the world I grew up in you are responsible for yourself. That means it is up to me to stop wining and to change things. Get a new job, a new hobby, something. The thing about funks is that it leads to inertia. Lots of time spend doing little, watching TV–damn that TIVO– not even dreaming enough let alone doing enough.

So there, its out. I guess that I am hoping for a bit of confession to make the feeling go away. 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10. No. Nothing yet. Maybe tomorrow.

(I never did care for that song. Grumble. Grumble.)

This is more in-line with my mood.

H Is For Hammock

It’s February and at home its as cold as witch’s…well you know. It’s sunny and 80s where I am. People come by every few minutes and to take my order and return with the beverage of my choice. The sound of the waves crashing on the shore surrounds me. I am relaxed.

What could be better?

All this and to be swaying softly in the breeze on a medium designed especiallyto conform to my body. I am weightless, suspended in the air.

BLISS.

One day I will write an alphabet book of adult pleasures. I already have one letter done.

H is for Hammock