31 January 2005 -- Price of Freedom
It is one of those nights when certain emotions hit me harder than usual. Normally I scoff at myself when this happens,
often muttering something along the lines of, "Big bad ass controller with an attitude," and work hard to quash the
reaction. None of the usual methods had any effect on what I was feeling. So instead, I gave it a voice.
Ten o'clock on a cold winter's evening.
Not much happens at this time of night at this particular airport. We don't roll up just the sidewalks at sunset up here, we put away the runways
as well. It is peaceful in the way that the unbroken forests of the east coast were peaceful before the colonists arrived. And I have a unique
vantage point from which to view life as it tumbles by, driven on arctic winds. On most winter nights, that consists of watching house lights wink
out one by one, clouds scudding by on the breeze, and moonrise, a sight that seldom fails to send a chill down my spine.
Lights shimmer on the horizon. Ice fog begins to gather in the low spots, turning runway lights to softly glowing orbs of diminished illumination
reminiscent of a time gone by, as though half-sunk pirate ships rest in the swales, their lanterns warning travellers of the hazards that await
there. Ventilation stacks give off wraithlike columns of hot air, carrying the hopes and fears of everyone who dwells within, messages from the
earth-bound to someone's god rising in the steam.
This evening is different from all the rest ... because I watched a Marine come home tonight.
An honor guard gathers by the plane. White covers, dark uniforms in the night, chevrons half-seen, as if to say, "Tonight there is no rank.
Tonight we are only Marines." Medals and insignia catch stray beams of light, sending out glimmering, momentary signals of where these men
have been, what they have seen, what they have learned, what brothers they have loved and honored. The family stands to one side, a man
and woman leaning against each other, striving to find something other than physical warmth, his arm around her and her head on his shoulder.
All because a Marine came home tonight.
The flashing lights move away into the dark, taking their time. There is no hurry; there are no sirens. The cold, the snow, the chill aren't going
anywhere. I can watch them for a long time. There are men in uniform waiting at every intersection, standing up straight -- patient men,
knowledgeable men, men who know something of what one Marine has seen -- ensuring that this young man's last trip goes smoothly. The route
they travel will take them through peaceful, sleeping towns so small you can still call them 'hamlets'. Wood smoke, cows sleeping in the barns,
snowbanks heaped high, peace, clear skys, starlit meadows, trees creaking and crackling in the cold ... freedom.
So I watch from a vantage point few share, privy to a moment that feels as if I have stolen it away from strangers. A son comes home to his
parents, and tonight I do something I have never done at work before. I cry ... for a soldier who never made it to his 20th birthday, for his family,
for the pride all our men and women in uniform take in doing their jobs well, and for all the rest who are still carrying weapons in a foreign
Pray for them, everyone who takes the time to read this. Pray for the ones who are still in harm's way. Send them letters, pictures, books,
magazines, and goodies, and most of all, send them our prayers that they come home safe. And pray for the family of one young Marine who
came home tonight.
9 February 2005 -- Vid: Monday
Going To Work On Monday (Windows Media File, 274 KB) This is just too true not to share.
15 February 2005 -- God Bless Friends
I'm in one of those mental modes that occur all too seldom where I realize just how lucky I am. Specifically, I'm sitting here reflecting on how
fortunate I am to have a secure, good paying job to which I am incredibly well suited in terms of overall personality and temperament. I have
always been something of a hyper-organized control freak. This can be a major drawback in some careers but comes in handy when your job
description includes the word 'controller'. I tolerate shift work far better than I tolerate the antics of one or two of my coworkers, and I absolutely,
100% love doing the work that I do. The past few months I've been fixated on all the things that are wrong with my job, instead of all the things
that are right. That's not a difficult place to wind up in. We all do it at one time or another; it's incredibly human. Crap starts to fly at work, you
get discouraged and frustrated, and then one day you look up and discover that there isn't any crap sailing about any longer, and you're still
stomping around in the midst of a six-month hissy fit, barely capable of restraining yourself from kicking puppies and small children.
God bless friends.
No one talked me into the new mood. It was more a case of looking at what other people put up with in their lives and realizing that there is a
monumental supply of extremely annoying events that we never have to cope with in my profession. A 'for instance' is that wonderful
phenomenon of working extra hard and maybe even extra (sometimes unpaid) hours before a vacation in order to clear your desk. And then
spending your time off with the knowledge hanging over your head that when you get back you'll be buried for at least a week catching up. Take
a day off, and then pay for it by scrambling around for several days clearing out the mess that mysteriously appears at your desk whenever you
step away from your job for more than a bathroom break. I would go nuts! I'm quite happy in my "immediate gratification" career where you know
within a matter of minutes whether you've done your job right. (All right. I admit it. When I don't do my job correctly, the ramifications are a bit
extreme, and it takes a certain kind of person to cope with that sort of pressure.)
When I sign out at the end of the day, it's like someone throws a huge circuit breaker. The job is over. I can't stockpile landing clearances
ahead of time for when I'm on leave, and there isn't a holding pattern with 492 airplanes waiting for me when I come back. There are times, like
last night, when the flight progress strips for the arrivals climbs right out of the strip bay (which means you are about to get your ass kicked with
traffic), and you get that *GULP* "Uh oh!" kind of lurch in your stomach. But if you take a moment to remember that in an hour it will all be over
and you'll be leaning back in your chair thinking about better things (Farscape springs to mind), albeit with an adrenalin boost that could lift
most of Los Angeles into geostationary orbit, then it doesn't seem so bad. It's marginally different at the larger airports. When those men and
women walk into work, they know that there will ALWAYS be another plane to vector, another arrival sequence to set up, more handoffs to be
accepted ... the traffic is perpetual and non-stop. But when their shift is over, it's over. Done. Go home. No post mortems on whether United
could have been on the ground ninety seconds earlier if you had chosen to cut him in front of the regional jet. You hang up your headset, sign
out, and you're done for the day.
It is a unique version of paradise.
Anyway ... Life is good when you have a job you enjoy. So what if the peripheral bulldren sometimes threatens to drive me to committing
murder? When all is said and done, I like what I do, and wouldn't have it any other way.
Onward to other things.
Pilots are human, which is to say that they are sometimes also brilliant in an entirely sneaky kind of a way. If a controller gets a bit wishy-washy,
sliding into that "Air Traffic Suggestor" mode instead of making decisions, the pilots will drive their B737 right into the opening you provide for
them, and run with it.
(I need to provide a little explanation before proceeding with my story. As a general thing, once a flight checks in on your frequency, you tend to
associate one particular voice with that aircraft. The normal routine for a cockpit crew is for one person to do the flying and for the other person
to do the talking on the radio. So there is a tendency, when it is not too busy, to expect to hear a specific voice answering the transmissions you
make to that aircraft. If the cockpit crew switches roles, and they don't identify their aircraft, you don't have a clue who is calling you.)
Controller Wishy-Washy: "USAir Five Eighty Two and Lear Six November Charlie, you two are going to be a perfect tie getting to the airport.
I'll need to widen one of you out to follow the other."
Pilot's Voice: "No problem. We'll let the USAir jet go first."
Controller Just-Been-Suckered: "Lear Six November Charlie, thank you. Turn right heading zero-niner-zero, vectors to follow the USAIr."
Learjet 6NC: "Approach, we're in the turn to zero-niner-zero, but we just want you to know ... we didn't say that!"
Okay, okay. I'll come up with a better ATC anecdote next time. I had to tell this one at some point though because I love what happened. There
is a very important Air Traffic Controller's lesson in this one, however, which is that there are certain times when you do NOT want to turn the
decision process over to the pilots.
NOTE: If I’ve completely baffled you so you don’t understand what just happened, here’s the secret …
It was the USAir crew that answered the first time, not the Learjet.
There was a frantic scramble in the cockpit of the USAir B737 to swap the microphone or to agree to have the second crewmember make the transmission so that the
controller wouldn’t recognize the voice, and then they volunteered to let themselves go first.
You have to admire initiative and fast thinking!
22 March 2005 -- Vids: Farscape and Jurassic Fart
Two of my favorite videos.
It's Raining Men (Windows Media File, 11 MB -- This is a very large file. You may not want to attempt this if you are on dial-up.) This is the
Farscape music video that is currently my all-time favorite. There are an enormous number of videos that rank an extremely close second place,
so this is not an attempt to create some sort of 'winner'. This video simply appeals to me on a lot of different levels, and gets played a LOT, so I
thought I'd share what I consider to be some pretty exceptional work by LithiumDoll and DocWyrm. (Farscape Fantasy has several hundred
superb Farscape music videos stored there. If you've got an entire afternoon to spare, I recommend stopping in to see what's available.)
Jurassic Fart (Windows Media File, 1 MB) This has nothing to do with Farscape (although the subject matter would probably fit right in, and the
guy on the left looks kind of like one of the guys in the Wonkavator in LaBomba). Actually ... I think I work with these three guys.
25 March 2005 -- Vid: Heroes
I seem to be heavily into videos these days. But they can often express ideas with more emotion than the written word.
Heroes (Windows Media File, 1.7 MB) Produced by Anheuser-Busch, it says it all without a single spoken word. Even
the message at the end is superfluous.
30 March 2005 -- Innies, Outies, and Self-Perception
I'm having yet another "Introspection Interval" ... which is another way of saying, "RUN FOR YOUR LIVES!!! Crash has been THINKING again!"
Or it might be simpler to suggest that you skip this entry, which will tend more toward mental musings than it will toward making any sort of
conclusions, and head on down to the next block of text (assuming there is one).
This interval of cranial hyperactivity is the result of something that happened while I was shopping an hour or so ago.
I was in one of the big "Sheets-Towels-Picture-Frames-Cooking-Utensils-And-Everything-Else-You-Can-Think-Of" stores, just wandering around
searching for a $1.00 item, when a large display of I don't remember what started to tip over. It was kind of amazing to watch. I find it hard to
believe that the entire shelving unit wasn't secured to the wall behind it, or that they had somehow managed to overload it in a manner that
caused the center of gravity to pitch outward, but there it was, slowly creeping out from the wall ... and there was a toddler standing beneath it
with a finger in his mouth and spit dripping onto the front of his jacket. What you need to understand is that the entire thing was happening in
slow motion. I noticed that the top of the display was creeping outward, knew that there was no way anyone could stop it, and was having fun
watching it approach the point of no return. So when I noticed the kiddo standing right where the big red X would be located if this had been a
Road Runner and Wile E Coyote cartoon, I walked over, scooped him up in one arm, kept walking, and set him down next to his mom about ten
seconds before there was an almighty crash behind me. She had just enough time to look enraged that I was holding her child before the
display hit the floor and her eyes bugged out.
And the only other person who saw it couldn't believe I moved that fast to grab the kid and get him out of the way.
That's the source of my introspection for the day: Internal perceptions of self and one's actions versus the way other people perceive us and
interpret the reasons for the things we do.
I think everyone has experienced this at some point. It can be something as simple as thinking that a friend has done something for one reason,
only to find out they were motivated by something entirely different. As you progress further along the scale of disparity between internal and
external interpretations, you wind up with the teacher who was grading my sister exceptionally hard because he thought she was snooty and
stuck up (an absurd way of grading a student no matter what the perception), when the truth of the matter was that she was shy. (We fixed him
good ... but that's another story.) I guess if you take the process far enough you get bigotry -- where the mere appearance of a person is
enough to assign pre-assumed motivations to their actions and to see behaviors where they don't exist.
Two years ago there was a situation where a number of people felt I moved VERY fast (physically) in response to a situation. A group of us (the
Fluffy Bunnies) were going to have our picture taken with Ben Browder, and when the photographer said that two people had to sit on the floor,
according to witnesses I hit the patch of carpet in front of Ben like I was sliding into second base. I'm not saying they're wrong. I'm only saying
that I remember it differently. From the first moment the photographer said, "Wait a moment. How many are there in your group?", I was putting
together the arrangement of chairs, who was in our group and how many there were of us, and I know now that I was also reading Ben's body
language. So by the time the photographer said he needed someone on the floor, I already had the pieces put together. SHAZAAAAMMM!!!
There I was, happily installed on the toes of Ben Browder's Blunnies.
Internal perception: I sat down. External perception: Everyone's standing around wondering where Crash got to.
Part of the disparity is a result of the work I do, and it's something I tend to forget about as many times as I've had it happen. It is very natural for
me to constantly watch my environment and put all the little clues and hints together into a larger conglomeration of relative speeds, possibilities,
openings, subliminal cues, and whatever else you want to throw in there. (And then there are the days when my brain is locked in "Neutral" and I
could get hit by a meteor without noticing that anything interesting has happened.) I continue to maintain that I'm not all that quick. God knows
I'm not that quick physically. As the saying goes -- I'm built for comfort, not speed. From my viewpoint, I simply arrive at the answer sooner
because I start working on the question earlier ... even if the question is "Who gets to sit on Ben Browder's toes?"
It's the more subtle behavioral stuff that I find even more fascinating. Again, I'm not coming up with any conclusions. Just observing,
considering, and blathering at length.
I had a friend at one point who, I eventually learned, thought she was playing second fiddle to me socially. Depending on the dynamics of the
friendship, there doesn't have to be anything wrong with that. It happens sometimes. I was the 'understudy' to someone else's more assured
mannerisms for years, and because of our personalities and the social situations we were in, it worked out beautifully for both of us. We remain
very good friends to this day, even though we've seen very little of each other over the past few years. What I find noteworthy about the first
case I've mentioned is that I always thought I was playing second fiddle to what I perceived as this person's stronger, more outgoing and
confident personality. We were both blundering along without realizing the impact we were having on each other, we weren't managing to
communicate how we felt about ourselves, and in this case it didn't work out so well.
Where the frell am I going with this, you ask?
Beats the heck out of me. I'm here to pose questions, not answer them!
I think the observation I'm dancing around and not making any definitive comments about has to do with being human, being safely ensconced
inside our own skulls, the very natural tendency to interpret other people's actions through our own experiences instead of in the framework of
who they are, and the inadequacies of human-to-human communication. What I wouldn't give for an easy-to-swallow pill that would allow one
person (me) to understand another person's life and the universe they live in. I say one thing, they hear something entirely different. I do
something, and they assign a set of motivations to my actions that, when I find out what they thought, leave my jaw hanging down around the
toes of my Reeboks. And vice versa. I'm certainly not immune to doing it.
This isn't an extended "I'm Misunderstood" whine. This is an eye-bulging, shocked "How the hell did we get from Point A to Point B?" kind of
head-scratching moment. Basic, frequently tragic, often hilarious, human misunderstandings. I see myself as a particular set of not too
admirable qualities. Other people think I'm self-assured, decisive, confident, and a bunch of other words that I have trouble using in the same
sentence as 'Crash'. I do a double-check in the mirror and wonder who the f**k they were looking at when they were saying those things, cuz it
sure wasn't that person whose reflection is currently sticking her tongue out at me.
Dunno. And I wish I had the answer to avoiding some of the larger disparities between how each of us sees ourselves inside our heads and how
others view us, because there would probably be a whole lot less heartache if we had that magic pill I was talking about a few paragraphs back.
The sun is shining, and the one thing I do know about myself right here and right now is ... I need to go wash the car.
Here endeth the mindless blather (for today).
7 April 2005 -- ATC: Critter Tales, Part 1
Good morning, gentle perusers of the internet. At long last I'm going to wander back to ATC stories. Some time ago, I mentioned something
about Ground Control -- Menace or Menagerie Manager? I thought I'd meander back to that subject for a little while. Therefore, our topic for
today is ... Airplanes and Animals.
Before launching into the sort of mammalian mayhem that occurs whenever some four-foot wanders onto an airport, I need to say that I know as I
type this that I will not have time to finish it this morning, so you may have to wait a day or two for the conclusion. If there ever is one. Animals on
airports isn't one of those things that can be solved ... unless of course someone decides to put some walls and a roof over the aerodrome, but I
suspect the pilots would have a gripe or two about that solution.
If you're ever so fortunate as to wind up sitting just short of the runway with the captain telling you that they can't take off because there's a lone
seagull sitting on the runway, sit back, relax, read the SkyMiles magazine, and don't blow your stack over the idea that a five pound flying rat is
no match for an Airbus. Strange things begin to happen when an engine ingests feathers instead of air and jet fuel. If you are uncertain about
how this works, here's something you can try at home. First, lock the kids in the house so they can't turn themselves into guinea pigs Then go
get the lawnmower out of the garage, start it up, and then turn it on its side so the spinning blades are visible. (Yes, I realize that the engine will
probably stop, but this isn't about reality. It's supposed to be a mental image.) Then take your kid's favorite stuffed animal, rev up the lawn
mower, and toss that fluffy critter into the blades and see what happens ... I mean aside from the howls of grief coming from inside the locked
Critters that I have personally seen attempting to tangle with various sizes of aircraft: moose, deer, coyotes, a very large German shepherd,
osprey, the invasion of the dump ducks (i.e. a flock of several hundreds seagulls), a turkey vulture, Canadian geese (these suckers are very
likely the most DENSE creatures on the planet ... I mean pound to size ratio, not intellectually), a fluffy white cat, a snapping turtle, a variety of
stray dogs, one fish (I'll come back to this story, but no, it didn't walk onto the runway by itself), and the all-time winner for the "oh my god, I don't
want to fly in that airplane" award, a skunk.
Now, before you tear up your airline tickets and vow to use Amtrak to get to Burbank next November, you need to keep in mind that you hardly
ever read about an airplane crashing because it ran into a living creature. This isn't because there's a conspiracy to cover up the evidence. It's
because "strikes" are extremely rare, and seldom cause enough damage to make the aircraft incapable of flight. Pilots and controllers are
diligent about watching out for furry or feather-coated visitors, which is why I started with the part about being patient if they decide to wait for
vehicle to come out and clear the runway.
But enough of this "it really won't turn into a catastrophe" stuff.
Speaking of catastrophes, let me start with the cat story. (Cat-astrophe ... get it?)
Gawd, I just crack myself up! Too bad I'm probably alone on this one. All right ... I'm done with the horrendous, unfunny puns.
The story begins with a woman taking her window seat on the mid-morning Delta Airlines L-1011 flight, eventually headed for Houston and a cat
show. Her prize show cat, "Mez Fluffy", a puffy whiter-than-snow purebred, has been banished to the cargo compartment. Why this woman
would entrust her irreplacable, multi-million dollar show cat to the questionable mercies of the baggage handlers, I'll never know. Fortunately the
answer to that unnswerable question isn't critical to the tale. The woman gets settled, and then takes a peek out the itty-bitty little "why do they
even bother" window just in time to see Mez Fluffy go firing off across the ramp area like a string mop that's been fired out of a cannon. Yes,
they've dropped the crate, the door has popped open, and Mez Fluffy is on the loose. One now thoroughly frantic woman commences to beat
her way up the aisle against incoming passengers (which we all know is a bit like trying to swim up Niagara Falls), yelling bloody cat-murder and
threatening to sue every member of Delta Airlines if they don't recover Mez Fluffy.
Of course, we don't know any of this. (We received the Behind The Scenes featurette a couple days later from someone who was within earshot
of the woman's initial sounding of the alarm.) We're sitting up in our elevated greenhouse like so many potted plants, doing our best to cope with
the summer repaving project, which has (luckily for Mez Fluffy) closed down our primary runway. So unbeknownst to us, Delta Airlines and the
airport management staff have put out an All Points Bulletin on the fugitive Mez Fluffy. They've got a couple dozen people down there combing
every baggage cart, every vehicle tunnel, every open cargo compartment along a relatively long line of aircraft because they've just mislaid
several thousand dollars of feline flesh. The first we know of this catastrophe is when the Ground Controller happens to look over at the closed
runway and says, "Hey, there's some sort of animal out on the runway."
Animals rarely stay in one spot, so we call the Airport Manager's office and tell them, "Hey, there's an animal on the runway. It looks like a cat!"
And he says, "LOOK, WE'VE GOT ENOUGH PROBLEMS WITH THIS WITHOUT YOU GUYS JERKING US AROUND AND MAKING JOKES!!!"
(Yes, he was a bit frazzled by this time, and for some reason felt that controllers were the type of people to make fun of other people's
misfortunes. Don't ask me where he got that idea.)
"No! Really!" the controller says. "There is a CAT on the runway! A white fluffy one."
Silence from the other end of the phone for a moment, and then, "You're not kidding, are you?"
"No. It's out on the approach end of the runway."
CRAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAASSSSSSSSSSSSSHHHHHHHH!!!! The airport specialist slams the phone down, and is gone.
The next thing we see is a fleet of every vehicle imaginable headed out -- bumpitybumpitybumpity -- through the grass toward the runway. (It's
closed, so they don't have to get permission to go on it.) Everything from the airport manager's Chevy Blazer to pickup trucks belonging to the
construction company and even a baggage cart tractor are migrating westward. What are we doing? Fighting over the two pair of binoculars to
watch the upcoming cat herding event.
They were smart about it. They spread out in a big circle, and began closing in around Mez Fluffy. Picture about 15-20 guys, most of them
dressed in blue uniform pants of one sort or another and t-shirts, closing in around Mez Fluffy, very obviously all going "Here kittty, kitty, kitty,
kitty. Nice kittty, kitty, kitty, kitty."
Mez Fluffy can be seen greeting her rescuers with a "Mrrrroowwwww" (translation: Touch me and I'll slash you to ribbons) and skittering about
like a drop of water on a hot frying pan.
"Here kittty, kitty, kitty, kitty." Fifteen cases of butt crack closing in around a fritzed out, oversized ball of dryer lint.
"Mrrrooowwwwwww." Spit and hiss at the nice men.
"Here kitty, kitty, kitty, kitty," in a bass grumble that would prefer to be saying, "Come here you useless piece of meat, or I'll come back with my
steamroller and make sure you can't run away!"
"Here kitty, kitty, kitty, kitty." Big macho guys bent over, with their arms outstretched making 'come hither' motions with their hands. Closer,
closer ... closer.
"Mrrowwwww." Skitter, skitter, hiss, spit.
Yes, in the end they captured Mez Fluffy, but it looked like she very nearly made it out of the shrinking ring of "Here kitty, kitty, kitty, kitty."
Half an hour later Mez Fluffy was back in her crate (no doubt duct-taped to the interior so there was no chance of a repeat), she and her owner
were on their way to Houston, and life at the airport was back to as normal as it ever gets.
The situation with Mez Fluffy is really sort of the worst case scenario with animals loose on the airport for the simple reason that they needed to
capture it alive. Most of the time, operations personnel only need to shoo the critters away, or in some cases are allowed to shoot them.
More on that later. Enough drivel for one day.
15 April 2005 -- An Explanation
I received an e-mail this morning asking why I didn't just get a blog or a livejournal, either of which would be easier to use than adding entries to
The Mushroom Patch here at the site, and would allow for people to comment about the entries. I thought I should share the answer.
Primarily, it's because I am both a lazy cuss and a perfectionist. I had a LiveJournal for a brief period of time, and wound up putting an absurd
amount of effort into getting it to look juuuussssst right. I have a gazillion other things I'd much rather be doing instead of deciding what color
background to use ... like finishing up the fanfiction I am currently working on. For better or for worse, Kansas remains my preferred forum for
public discourse on the internet. The community there is pretty much a known entity, and I like the mixture of mentalities that frequent the place.
When a topic is flung out for input, the replies pretty much run the entire gamut of possibilities. I like that.
None of this is intended to discourage anyone from commenting on anything I've written here, even if that includes "Crash, you're full of dren!"
I'm simply too damned lazy to shift to a method that would fling the doors open.
So there's my little tale of the ultimate in cyber-laziness.
|Mushroom Patch -- Page 3
January 31, 2005 thru April 30, 2005