Archive for the blind faith Category

Time and Space in the Passage Place.

Posted in air travel, airliner, airlines, blind faith, flight, flight crew, jet, life, passenger, pilot, weather with tags , , , , , , , , , , on January 5, 2011 by Chris Manno

There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
–T.S. Eliot

The Greeks saw time as a two headed monster: chronos, which is the moments ticking by, and kairos, which is the moment, the “aha” sledgehammer of revelation. Funny how one you count, the other you live. Chronus is the abacus and the sliding of beads; kairos the realization of self–and yet kairos takes a back seat to chronus in life as in flight.

Unless you fight it. Let me explain.

Here comes the god Chronus. The price of jet fuel is up 3.3% this week, up 9.6% over last month, and a whopping 26.3% over December of last year–with the price of oil rapidly rising as we speak. My life–and your flight–is counted in air nautical miles per pound of fuel; ANPP, as we call it.

I don’t care about gallons, because they mean nothing in the lift equation, which is what gets our eighty ton freight train into the air. I don’t care about dollars as much as I do minutes, which is what moves us from here to there.

Can’t argue with physics, chronus’s relentless thug. And while I know can’t forget chronus’s digital constructs of “now” and “then”  orchestrating the results of “where” and “when” . . .

. . . I have his relentless data stream from a dozen satellites crunched by another dozen on-board processors populating the abacus with characters accurate down to a ridiculously small margin, claiming “here is where and when you are breathing out and in.”

He’s got a picture for those who would track us, constructed from the ionic backscatter bounced off our riveted hull and scooped up by a scythe-like radar arc sweeping relentlessly, converting us into a dot inching across a black glass pancake.

And he has a cartoon for me that converts our 160 bodies of blood and bone into a white triangle on a magenta line, ever forward-facing, with a numerical count of the seemingly silent action of our passage.

And if it weren’t enough to reduce sky and earth to formulaic characters interacting in sums and differences, the twenty-first century chronus presents me a with a combined image of both the digital abacus and the dirt below–all in one cyber-mirage.

“See?” barks Chronus, dog that he is. “Wasn’t I right all along?” Yeah, he’s tidily accurate to within a few feet, even after a few thousand miles aloft. As if that were all that mattered: the counting of the beads. The passage of time. Like the passage itself didn’t matter. You just sit there–I’ll drag everything by you, tell you what you need to know, never mind seeing or the gods forbid, being.

And that’s exactly where chronus is a liar and a thief. He wants to bottle you up like a genie inside your head. He wants you to overlook your own being in favor of a place ahead or behind; he wants you to live in the “then” and forget the “now.” Use your head and not your eyes. And this is what he’d have you do:

Pretend you are elsewhere. Not notice the “here”–be all about “there.”  The time between here and there is of no consequence and in fact is best left alone or if need be, avoided with the deliberate distraction of Inflight Entertainment or digital connections (chronus has ’em, right?) that reach beyond where you are (inflight wireless connections!) in favor of where you wish you were. He’ll tell you that what matters is solely what you can quantify, what you can calculate, what you can reduce to figural representation.

What a crock. He has no soul.

What chronus would desperately like to hide is the reality that your time spent in passage is a passage itself. And like poetry, that’s not something you’re supposed to “get” –it’s what you’re supposed to live. Kairos is all about the eyes and the heart–not the mind and the head.

It’s the burning lip of death on the horizon, as the day heaves a last sigh that endures for a thousand miles through a long, long flight hour. Would be convenient to ignore the approaching sunset–hard on the eyes, isn’t it? But it’s underway regardless, a portent of the future painted in our “now.”

It’s Arizona sneaking into New Mexico on the dragon breath of a west wind, looking more like an uber-pastel than a omnivorous cloud of stinging dust.

Or consider–and look (LOOK HARDER, my T-38 instructor pilot used to say) at the aquamarine jewel embedded in the jagged Sierras.

Doesn’t cost you anything–give it a long look, and contemplate the deepness of blue, above and below and ahead. And aren’t we lucky, miles above the wall of thunder beating up the plains states right now? Enjoy: this is included in the price, because it’s not just the passage of time or miles–this is your life cruising by with the hands of the clock. We’re way too fast for the storms, but of course, not the clock.

But for kairos, that’s less important. In the moment of revelation, of living out the beauty of the passage, the limitations of time and place mean little.

But missing the moment means everything.

Flight–like life–is the intersection of kairos and chronos, and the trick is to balance the two: one endures, one is simply endurance. If you can’t tell the difference, or if you can and just need a reminder, it’s time to fly.

If you look–if you bother to look–the revelation is there for free: flying, in passage, where you really ought to “be.”

*****

I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.

I do not think that they will sing to me.

I have seen them riding seaward on the waves

Combing the white hair of the waves blown back

When the wind blows the water white and black.

We have lingered in the chambers of the sea

By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown

Till human voices wake us, and we drown.

–T.S. Eliot

September 11th: Where Were You, Where Are You?

Posted in 9/11, air travel, airliner, airlines, airport, airport security, blind faith, faith, flight, flight attendant, flight crew, jet, passenger, pilot, security, travel with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 11, 2010 by Chris Manno

It’s difficult to remember, but hard to forget: where were you when the World Trade Center fell? And as importantly, where are you now?

The first question takes you back to a time that’s growing dimmer, but no less painful. The shared stunned looks where there were seldom looks exchanged: at a stoplight, from one car to another, the look of incredulity between drivers as if to say, “what just happened to us?” There was, for that moment, an “us” between random strangers struck at the same time by the horrific events as they unfolded.

Then the common denominator that mattered was both the pain of reality and our citizenship in a nation under attack. For me at that moment, sitting in a flight simulator giving flight training to a new copilot who would in short order be furloughed as a direct result of the 9-11 attacks that ravaged my airline and ultimately, the entire industry, the reality was ugly: jets commandeered, fellow crewmembers murdered at their duty stations. Our sleek, beautiful, powerful jets which we always used for good turned into missiles by dark forces intent on bad.

I’ve always liked the fact that our jets carry the flag on every tail, that our name says “American” in bold letters. And even though that’s probably why our jets were selected by the terrorists for maximum psychological impact, that very fact was also their downfall.

The flag and all things American were reinvigorated from the east coast of this nation to the west. More than just a glance between stunned drivers at a stoplight, the entire nation seemed to rise in dedicated opposition to the terrorism and extremism that cost thousands of innocent American lives.

Several flight crewmembers I know decided to be done with flying as a result of the infamous attacks, and I don’t fault them for that. It’s not like when we were in the military, where it was accepted as a fact that yes, you could get killed flying a mission. Our 9-11 colleagues weren’t on a military mission–they were just doing their jobs when they were murdered.

But there was never any question, at least for me, about getting back into the cockpit and flying again, even knowing that the terrorist threat still existed. It’s a different world now in flight, with security being a constant challenge to a degree unheard of before 9-11. Maybe that’s one positive change, although working under such a threat has changed the profession in ways I don’t always like.

But I believe my part in the opposition of terrorism is to refuse to let the dark forces win. We will fly coast to coast because we can, we want to, we have to. We don’t bow to threats and violence, as a nation or as a flight crew. We fight back for what’s right–which brings us to where we are today.

The fight goes on, and with it comes a huge pricetag in lives and loss. That’s the part of where we are today in the post-9/11 world that worries me.

Because except for on the anniversary of that awful day, there’s little day-to-day remembrance of the important people: not only the thousands whose lives were taken on that day, but also those given since then to keep the rest of the nation safe. That, in my mind, should not be something to “remember” periodically. Rather, that should never be forgotten–ever.

We see the remains of fallen fighting men and women passing from one coast to a hometown on our jets every week. We honor them the best we can. And like most flight crewmembers, we keep alive the memory of colleagues who were killed in the first battle of the war against terrorism.

Never mind the partisan politics of the war on terrorism; the squabbles over the mosque near ground zero, or opposition to the war on terrorism.

Today is about remembrance and appreciation for those fighting the war, those who have lost their lives to the enemy and those carrying on the fight today. That’s what’s most important to me and to many others on this day of remembrance . . .

. . . and every single day of the year, in every single moment in the air.

Nightshift: Meditations From A Dark Sky.

Posted in air travel, airliner, airlines, blind faith, cruising, faith, flight, flight attendant, flight crew, jet, life, night, passenger, pilot, travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 19, 2010 by Chris Manno

There’s a soundtrack especially for this text.

Click here to download the music, adjust the volume, click play, then return here to read.

Ah, the sun: sneaky devil.

Puts on the same show twice–once at dawn, again at dusk. One’s the same as the other, only in reverse; one followed by darkness, the other brilliance. How are you supposed to know which is the real deal, which the rerun? What’s the day’s main event, darkness or light?

It’s a different world once the sun sinks into the far west leaving the sky empty cold and black.  Happens slowly in a showy way as if the dazzling exit can somehow justify the expectation of an equally brilliant return in a matter of hours.

It’s a major league show no matter where you view it from but especially from six or seven miles up. Because even if the sun sets behind you, the sky spreads the news, repainting the image in case you missed it.

Topside, a quick brush from the crimson lip burning away behind you slaps rouge on the towering boomer ahead. But the sun’s not quite done, still spreading the gold above and over the gathering darkness. That’s the cool thing about a perch seven miles high: you can see the night sneaking in between the sun’s angle over the curve of the earth and the actual horizon.

Twins abound: look at the ghosts below, clouds and their doubles. Like magic, darkness mimes light, twin schooners in flight.

Racing away from the sunset, trailed by the hulking shadows of thunderbumpers behind pointing ahead, monstrous cloud stacks thunder east.

But we’re way too fast in a jet to be caught. But do you think any of the ordinary mortals below see the sunset striated with bruising blue fingers and will put two and two together hours later when the thunder booms and lightning streaks away?

Closer look? Sometimes the sky is so thick with boomers there’s no choice but to pick your way through the darkness with our x-ray vision at least giving you a fighting chance.

Sure, you can slip between the big-shouldered thunderstorms, but they let you know who’s boss and why it’s important that you don’t get too close.

It’s not that I only appreciate the sunset at the expense of the sunrise–I don’t. It’s just that I find little reason to get up early enough (yeah, I used to have to) to see what I know is replaying later anyway.

This could be either, couldn’t it? Except that I’ll tell you that it’s heading west, as we all do. Maybe that’s the point of the light show at the end of the day: reminds you of old times, of the past, of mornings when this tired day was new and all things were possible, all things ahead. That’s all behind you at sunset.

And that’s where everyone’s headed, eventually. Follow the trail, enjoy the show. Not sure, but I think it’s nature’s version of the Faustian cataclysm in Renaissance drama: sound and fury, flash and fire.

Exeunt.

Then darkness. Silence opposing the dwindling flash, swallowing the glaring echo of day’s brilliance. All that’s left is the veiny glow of feeble ground lights allowed only after sunset to inscribe a a place on earth.

Sometimes it’s the darkness itself that provides a backdrop for a place born and bred of night. Only dazzling when not competing with the sun, when the absence of light takes away the blemishes and without shadows, grounding everything as if there were no tomorrow, as if it weren’t hopelessly locked between nightfall and dawn like the underworld.

Sometimes, it’s just a nameless town, a place marked by the headlights like strung jewels inching through arteries that map the topography.

And then I always wonder, looking down, who are all these people, and where are they going? What are they doing under their artificial light, earthbound and not noticing the night?

Or maybe they are looking at the sky, seeing our twin strobes as a satellite whizzing soundlessly by miles overhead. Maybe they wonder where we’re headed, who we are way above and so soon, at our jet speed, far beyond the horizon and into the dark unknown.

Either way, we’re all headed traveling the same road. Sunrise, sunset; flash and fury; darkness, dawn, darkness, dawn, the parade goes on and on.

Same show every day: evening’s about darkness, morning–light. Despite the crushing certainty of night, everyone bets on the dawn and no one’s leaving before the last encore.

And so, life goes on; day to day and always. Crafty, that sun is.

The Sky’s On Fire

Posted in air travel, airliner, airlines, airport, blind faith, elderly traveller, faith, flight, flight attendant, flight crew, jet, life, night, parenthood, passenger, pilot, travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , on August 5, 2010 by Chris Manno

To add audio to your experience, click here, start “Waltz in Blue,” adjust to a comfortable volume, then return here to read. Enjoy.

 

 

You can see this, right? I mean if you look:

That’s plain as day–well, late day–when it’s stuck in your face and you open your eyes. In fact I’m half blind squinting  straight into the arc weld shrinking into itself on the fringe of night, folding up the day and running off to the west. But that’s not all that sunset is nor all that’s whisked to the west and away.

Comes up like that too, doesn’t it? It’s the early time, bright golden light warming wings for flight, leaving the dew but taking the chill.

Fresh painted colors so blazing vivid because they’re new, and not just to the day, but also the season: it’s early summer. What a down-to-earth thing, this whole waking up to simple flight in every furious color of the rainbow. The hive’s alive, isn’t it? Launch to the four winds.

And worker bees don’t care about duration. Rather, it’s all about the flight; the getting and carrying and going then putting down. To get and carry some more, crisscrossing the landscape with studious intent. The sky’s full, abuzz, worker bees everywhere.

That’s the engine driven by daylight, roused by the sunrise–alarm clock!–always moving once warm and awake the swarm spreads east to west in the sky. Later is better, to me: I’m senior in the air, which means I don’t get up early any more to fly.

Sure, I vaguely remember “back in the day” when I did, when the coolest thing was dawn on the flight ramp, among the flock of big metal birds fueled and ready to split the air with the roar of jet engines. But this is now and I sleep later since I can; so yeah with the relentless hands of the clock, the dawn is behind me now and almost a piece of nostalgia anymore.

Guess folks leave the nest less wide-eyed the more wake-ups you stack end to end. Slower? Less color? The more comfy chair for you then?

Early, late–whatever the time, you HAVE to fly, to leave the hive eventually and take to the air. That’s what the day brings with the arc of the sun from the first sliver in the east that vanquishes the night. Those were the days, when dawn meant a new day of discovery, not just covering ground. Whatever happened was almost incidental, choreographed by others bigger and further along in their sunlight arc.

And when the light is brightest, the world at it’s hottest brightest best, it seems like moving is all anyone does, and so you fly too, making your rounds in the sky.

Follow them! Move, and move fast, from flower to flower; it’s what you have to do, what everyone does: noon is no time to rest. So we fly, like everyone else. Yeah we do.

So back to my original question: you can see all this unfolding, right? The greater significance of the flight, the ground crossed, the sun chase we never will win? Or am I seeing it because it’s in my face, but for you, only a sidelong glance.

You’re flying too but even though you’re going straight ahead, your only view is from side to side. You aren’t beak-to-beak, chasing the sun, tending the fires and logging the run.

The sun goes down slowly sidelong when you can’t see it slip lower, measuring it not only with the horizon–

–but also with the colors as they fade in the sun’s march with which we can’t keep up. It’s the subtle consolation prize from the lateness of the day: gold, goldeness as if lovely parting gifts: thanks for playing.

You can hardly remember the boldness of late spring cardinal colors–who gets up at dawn anyway, if you don’t have to–in the expiring light of day that slants and shrinks away.

Then you can almost do the geometry and see the arc quietly closing in on the horizon. Or maybe you don’t. Maybe you don’t have the pointy end horizon view, or don’t want to.

You have faith in where you’re going and on the way there, a glance outside is enough to see that we’re upright, that you’re still moving blossom to blossom, at least forward. And that’s enough for now anyway, right? Always that “now,” did you notice that?

But sunset’s about “then,” not now; “there,” not here. How many times enmeshed in our busy-bee flight of right now do we really think about “then?” About where that fireball’s headed, taking with it the warmth and the color and the day? Not just the end of flight, but the end of flying?

Colors fade, motion ceases, eventually. Not everyone flies past the golden sunset, you’d have to suppose but who really knows? I just fly the jet for you and though I often wonder what everyone does when they get “there,” I’m too soon taking off again, taking others wherever “there” is for them.

Look, it’s not my place to tell you how to bee–I’m still trying to figure that out myself. I just wanted to give you a heads-up on the revelation that you can only get from the front.

Yeah, the sky’s on fire. But that ain’t all that’s burning.

“Waltz in Blue” is original music by Chris Manno.

Copyright, Cyber-Sonic Music 2010

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Bees and Flight, Darkness and Light.

Posted in air travel, airliner, airlines, airport, blind faith, faith, flight, flight attendant, flight crew, jet, life, night, parenthood, passenger, pilot, travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 23, 2010 by Chris Manno

Special Note: here’s a soundtrack designed for this essay–you can click on it to play it, then return to this window to read for “the full Monty” if you like.

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Daylight is the fountain of youth, and there’s no shortage of seeming noonday above it all westbound.

That’s the way we go, backs to the east and the dawn that’s gone, west to the sun as fast as we can.

We’re younger back there and some of it’s hard to remember: dawn is the time of half awake, of coffee poured and routines started by rote and necessity that give way later to more elaborate undertakings.

Takes time to get your eyes open, to acclimate to the world in general and flight in particular. We’re younger, earlier, closer to the dawn; smaller than now but taking flight nonetheless. Doesn’t seem so long ago until you look back, and then the earlier flights are clearly a different time with different people.

The shine of everything, the newness before a thousand times over makes each seem more like an extra lash of the minute hand rather than a special moment. That was an era of firsts, of an undercurrent of discovery and faith that the cycle would be ever more new and larger ways to fly.

And all of them would last forever. Of course they would, it’s just from that particular momentous “now” that races behind us, linked inextricably to the dawn from which we’re always outbound, they did last forever–it’s just that we didn’t.

Inch by inch, our westbound flight does what we hardly notice as we follow the sun: things change, even as they stay the same. And there’s the conundrum of westbound flight.

The more we repeat the things that were “new” and exciting “firsts,” the less they are that and from the standpoint of time, the less room there is for truly new and exciting as we do diligence to the process. Family. Income. Lifestyle.

Running the machine composed of the endless gears of all that shiny pioneering, they require time and effort that limits the discovery that brought them into our time in the first place.

Still it’s ever westward, tailwind, headwind, bumpy or smooth–we’re on our way, keeping the sun as high as possible over that world of rare, short shelf life newness.

Yet there are those who fly who care little for the clock and the sun that at its highest arc warmed wings best for flight; even the key to navigation in relation to the westbound sun matters little though the routine flight is spectacular and with great purpose.

There’s no fear in this flight, oriented by the sun yet oblivious of the fireball’s second by second dip from the top of the sky, slinking to the west. No thought for the hazards that also awaken with the new day, disguised with jewel-like adornment that is night’s mourning of dawn’s heat, promising nothing but doom.

Relentless, westbound just the same, with lessening notice of the good or bad as the remarkable is subsumed into routine by repetition, blossom to blossom, noon till sundown and onward we fly.

Takes a herculean effort to not give in to the opiate of monotony. Almost have to pinch yourself, remind yourself exactly where you are. To acknowledge that the flight itself is as significant as the destination, maybe even more important: this is the now that’s fleeting, that is relegated over the shoulder toward the vanished forever dawn.

Face it: the cloud swing is moving, just as the sun is, ever west. Looking ahead, it may not seem so but looking down, the illusion is clear.  The gears turn now, but not forever and never the same as “back then.”

Because like the bee’s wings, they cool and move more sluggishly in the diminishing light. Not such a ready flex or easy reach as the day fades, but it’s still easy to underestimate the power of light and loss in the creeping of darkness. As time goes on, that requires more deliberate effort for any creature transcending the automaton-ish, hive-centric bee’s life.

If you do, you won’t be fooled by seemingly carefree flight that is borne more of indifference than courage.  Because what he doesn’t know–but you do–is this: the sun will win this race, fleeing westbound and eventually, leaving you without a shadow. The molten gold near the end is beautiful,

but darkness waits just beyond and as Swinburne warned, “. . . in the end it is not well.”  Bees go somewhere at night and eventually, don’t fly any more. If the sun shines brightest on the liveliest, then this is truly “the rest” of life.

To know or not know that ending won’t matter as much then as it does now while there’s still daytime left. Never mind the bees buzzing unconcerned around the fountain of youth, that’s the promise of light.

Soundtrack: “Stormy,” Chris Manno–Lead, Bass,  Drums.

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The bee’s story: I was heading to breakfast in Nashville yesterday, getting ready for another day in the sky. Looked like he was doing the same, which got me to thinking. I’m lucky he didn’t sting me for sticking the camera in his face, but he seemed more interested in his collection business than in me. Or maybe he wanted to be part of this story . . .

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Flight Lessons for Real Life

Posted in air travel, airline delays, airliner, airlines, airport, blind faith, elderly traveller, faith, flight, flight attendant, flight crew, flight delays, jet, life, parenthood, passenger, pilot, travel, travel tips with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 6, 2010 by Chris Manno

Most of what I’ve learned in over 17,000 flight hours–usually the hard way–applies on the ground in the big picture of life as well. Here are two primary lessons you can rely on whether you’re in either place:

1. There’s nothing more useless than runway behind you. The concrete behind you can do little good for you when things “change” and suddenly you have less space than you planned on to get up to speed. In real life? Forget shortcuts=start at the beginning: don’t waste any parts of the runway. Sure, First Officers tell me all the time, “we don’t need all of the runway–we’re light.” Yes, jet is lighter than planned so we don’t “need” it mathematically–until an engine ingests a bird at 35,000 rpm and destroys itself.

Then suddenly those mountains seem higher and like the end of the runway, not so far away. What does that mean in real life?

What did you take for granted? What precaution did you skip for convenience or because on paper, it didn’t seem necessary?

Personal decision? Nobody else’s business what you do as far as “precautions” because it’s your life? Well, does that apply to me too?

I’ve had passengers tell me they “don’t worry” about flying because “when your number’s up, it’s up.” I remind them that when my number’s up–theirs is too.  Because whatever applies to me applies to you when you’re on the jet I’m flying. And so it’s really not about me–rather, it’s about the hundreds a day who pay me to do what I do perfectly and in their best interest. Never mind what’s easy or convenient for me.

You?  Think there’s anyone depending on you and the decisions you make in the course of your life? Family? Business?

Okay, even if you don’t have the classic four piece set yet–when do you think is the time to do the preparation they’re counting on in order to have a smooth journey when they come on board with you?

What monumental yet tedious preparation would be nice to have behind you–rather than empty runway–when the challenges ahead demand every iota of advance preparation? Does it really matter down the runway what you might have skipped out of convenience a couple miles back?

So you tell me: do we really need all of that runway? Wouldn’t the mathematical minimum be sufficient? Can’t we deal with things later or if it’s easier now, not at all?

2. Don’t trust the weatherman. Why? Because he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Specifically, he’s looking to the past, predicting future outcomes based on historically similar circumstances. Two problems with that: first, you’re going to be dealing with the weather in the future, not the present and certainly not the past. And the weather guy will be the first to say, “things change.”

Second, no one has succeeded yet in crossing any bridge before they come to it–and the weatherman ain’t going to be with you when you do. Those who depend upon “experts” making predictions of future  outcomes based on past events will find themselves ill-served and alone if they base crucial decisions on a forecast–of weather forecast, financial, political or any critical issue. I prefer the simple way: assume the weather is going to be awful and prepare accordingly. What’s the worst case scenario, and how to I bail myself out when it comes to pass? Then, if the weather’s nice–oh well, we’re safe, happy, secure.

But if the weather’s awful: you’re a prepared. No one rewards you for fortune-telling; being ready for everything makes you the genius everyone was counting on you to be. As with number one above–it really isn’t about only you.

Experts can predict a forecast that suggests that umbrellas aren’t really necessary. We know how that goes . . .

If you rely solely on the predictions of those outlining the future by peering into the past, you could be in for an interesting fight for your life well down the road.

Okay, that’s it for me nagging. The point is, most of what has become a culturally normative standard of individuality is completely irrelevant in the life or death business of flight. Looking for motivation? Or, have someone who needs a little push in their life because of the way the life plan affects others? Feel free to forward this post to them:

Diligence is dull stuff, on the ground or in the air. People count on their pilot to do what is prudent and safe no matter what effect that has on the “free choice” or convenience of the pilot. I affirm the commitment passengers expect when they strap in behind me. It’s all a part of the duty that comes hand in hand with the privileges inherent in the position at the controls. Anything less is simply unworthy of the trust others who count on you have placed in you–in flight, and in life.

. . . and okay, here’s the rest of the Chris Farley “motivational speech:”

H20: Above and Below

Posted in air travel, airline delays, airline ticket prices, airliner, airlines, airport, airport security, blind faith, elderly traveller, faith, fart, flight, flight crew, flight delays, jet, life, passenger, travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on July 4, 2010 by Chris Manno

H20: Above and Below.

Flight Time: Soothsayers, Stooges, Sages and Thunder.

Posted in air travel, airline delays, airliner, airlines, airport, airport security, blind faith, faith, flight, flight attendant, flight crew, jet, passenger, pilot, travel, travel tips, weather with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 26, 2010 by Chris Manno

Time is pretty sneaky when hooked up with his silent partner, motion. You think you’ve got all the time in the world–and relatively speaking, maybe you do–but where you’re headed will force your hand nonetheless.

Can I get by everything in my way? Am I above it all? Or do I need to change course? Ah, the curse of forethought and the knowledge of a future rushing your way.

Can you really look too far ahead, and if you do, can you get an accurate picture of what’s in your way? Can we trust the seers and soothsayers we look to for their view of the future?

Do they really know, or are they just telling you what they see, rather than what’s real?

There’s no shortage of people with answers to sell but that all depends on your buy-in: do they really have the answer you need? Can they see the path ahead of you? Even if they can, what will change between the time they give their view and when the picture ahead becomes near and real?

Can you really have faith in either art or science claiming to transcend the barriers of time and space and help you understand the future? I guess some people do, because they continue to ask the experts for a vision or at least a forecast.

Always good to have options, right? And a backup plan.

And information is always good, with a catch: predictions, visions and forecasts are all helpful, but nothing beats realtime information. What’s happening right now? What’s happening on the path ahead this minute, this second?

That’s where time and place coincide: worry is because there’s nothing you can do until they meet.

Now the picture is clear–not a prediction, not a forecast, but at last, square in your face. Now you can take action: evaluate your options. You could wait:

Fine a place to hold off to the side until the storm passes. Of course, that presumes we’re talking about a “passing storm,” not anything permanent.

Another option would be to plow right on through and hope it’s just a temporarily bumpy ride:

Some folks choose to plunge headlong into the storm. Maybe they’re mislead by the earliest look at things–where maybe from afar there seems to be a safe passage through the ugliness, based on a forecast or an earlier report. “Look–a sucker hole. Can we make it before it closes up?” That puts YOU in the business of predicting the future.

And the only thing predictable with perfect reliability is that things will continue to change. Opportunities for safe passage vanish in an instant and there you are, nose to nose with big trouble. With the escape path blocked. With no options but straight ahead.

Oops! The sucker hole is closing fast . . .

Where are the soothsayers now? Where’s the clear path, based on a few minutes ago? That’s why I’m a confirmed pessimist, at least at work. Expect the worst. Count on it. Plan for it.

I knew this was going to happen. So we have a couple tons of fuel to spare–we can outlast the storm. We can go the extra miles around the tumult and so just not care what it does in the near term–or ever.

Well folks, slight delay here as we give trouble a wide berth. We didn’t worry too much in our flight planning as to whether there’d be problems along the way–rather, we just planned on it. And so we have the range we need to keep life smooth for all of us.

Don’t really need soothsayers or good luck charms–just tons of fuel and patience.

Like mayhem in life, lightning in flight is best enjoyed as a spectator:

That’s life. Craziness is fine, as long as you’re just a casual observer and can step around the insanity. Forget the soothsayers and stooges telling you what they think you want to hear. You already know what you need to dodge the thunder.

Here’s how that looks from the flight deck. You can relax in back and enjoy the view–we’ve got time and distance all under control for you.

There’s always a way around, if you’re ready now, never mind “then” or whatever “they” predict. It’s a big sky, thankfully. Plan accordingly.

You and Zeus and a Bug’s Eye View

Posted in air travel, airliner, airlines, blind faith, faith, flight, flight attendant, flight crew, jet, life, night, passenger, travel with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 20, 2010 by Chris Manno

If the devil’s in the details, a birds-eye view is a double edged sword in what you can see. Take a look.

Picture this world through a bug’s eye, crawling across a massive green waxy leaf on his way to wherever bugs go in their daily business: sun warming spindly limbs, a day ahead, a day behind this one no different than the last; on we go . . . wait. How the hell did I get stuck here?

Too late. Missed the details obvious from above: the fat dew drops refracting the sunrise into a thousand jewels suspended in a gossamer web. Web, get it? Spider web, certain death–wandered right into it with your head down. Crawling across the ground can be like that: no big picture, connect the dots beyond the here and now; creep along and don’t look up. From the God’s-eye view, far above and really aware? The double-edged sword: you can see things but do little to warn anyone.

Look down. Cowtown! That’s home. Jewels of golden light suspended in an urban web–see the Cat’s stadium lights blazing away in the bottom right corner? A thousand little cheering voices unheard but you know they’re raising a ruckus you’d enjoy if you weren’t a few miles above. You get the view like Zeus’s Daemons, but no voice to warn of the spider.

Which you get to see from where you are.

This giant storm anvil is sailing east to hammer the city and rain out the Cats, sending a thousand ant-like creatures scattering to their cars. They could see the shadows towering and blotting the setting sun–if they looked up and west. If they could see beyond the Klieg lights ringing the field like dew drops on a spider’s web.

If you look carefully from above sometimes you can deduce the story line below.

See the red emergency lights on the northbound freeway lane in the bottom right? Trouble in the ant pile: someone missed the dew drops or the anvil above and came face to face with the spider. Somebody’s not getting home when or how they envisioned and if you look miles north on the road you can almost picture an empty driveway and a phone about to ring.

Typhon, a Greek vision of a Daemon.

Ancient Greeks claimed Daemons were sent to earth to warn mortals of danger, yet we’re anything but earthly, cruising above and right on by at unearthly speed, more like Plato’s darker version of Zeus’s guardian spirits. We’re granted the magic carpet view from above, but altitude and speed come with a vow of silence as the rolling tapestry scrolls away the past in seconds flat. We look ahead, and down.

Somebody’s today was painted with a rusty brush.

Looks hot and dry and rugged; hard to imagine but you know someone did creep right across that rock pile foot by dusty foot not even that many years ago. They took on faith or word of mouth what we can see miles ahead: water.

It had to be there or that would be pretty much it for those creeping bugs, right? You can see that joyous revelation flying east to west: notice how many mountains hide water on their western flank and when they do, how many cities pop up between the mountains and the water. You can see in your mind a raggedy knot of pioneers pausing atop the mountain saying, “Thank god! Water. We’re staying.”

Albuquerque tucked between the mountains and the Rio Grande.

Just nod your heads, fellow Platonic Daemons. We have miles to go and more to see in the silence of our Zeus-like jet flight above the rolling story board of time and place. Time only to notice individual leaves and dew drops and mountains but not a moment to linger on any.

Because here’s my clock, and it rules our ride:

Fuel flow is Godlike in the sky world. I keep the fires burning that shove us through the air high above the world even Plato would have trouble envisioning. And two jet engines are burning like a glass furnace, spinning the turbines at over 32,000 revolutions per minutes and sling-shotting us through air so thin we barely make a sound to those miles below.

You can tell them about it later. Our view, like our ride, is fast but temporary. I know, you weren’t here to look, but rather, just to ride from a certain here to a particular there.

And maybe the view is a sideshow, but the truth isn’t.

Beyond the magic of flight is the genie that is scale: how much more can you see if you can claim the Zeus-view? What’s the mountaintop-valley-river reality in life waiting to be noticed, to be brought down to Earth in a bug’s life? What don’t we see when we’re crawling across a Manzanita leaf or an asphalt spaghetti bowl that would just make all the difference?

I could be Zeus’s good Daemon with the P.A. in the air and point out the view and the viewpoint. But I’d tend more toward the Platonic evolution: what you discover yourself, you own. So I won’t say much.

But the sky-high Daemon view is full of devilish details just for you–for now, for as long as our fuel burn permits. But after you think about it for a while, from now on.

Because when you look with a wider, higher viewpoint, there’s a whole new world buried in the details, right? Might look beyond the bright lights and dew drops and save yourself from being stuck nose to nose with the spider.


Between Flights: Faith and Blood Among Strangers.

Posted in air travel, blind faith, faith, flight, flight attendant, flight crew, hotels, layover with tags , , , , , , , on May 16, 2010 by Chris Manno

After landing late and schlepping downtown to Kansas City Westin, woke up to a beautiful Saturday. A green fountain was my first clue that the huge courtyard between the hotel and the Hallmark Center had been transformed.

Whoa. We’d landed in the middle of Kansas City’s Irish Fest. Not in March–say, St. Patrick’s Day. Rather, in early September. You just never know what opportunity you’re going to find when you travel for the sake of the flight–or in my case, my job–instead of for the destination. Who knew there’d happen to be a huge and seemingly cool event at our doorstep.

My First Officer and I sized up the roped-off plaza: food, beer, bands, and a growing crowd. Way cool. But a $9 entrance fee?

Darn. We only had a few hours till we had to be back in the air. Definitely no beer tasting, and nine bucks for a few hours? My F/O shook his head. Not worth it.

Then I noticed the opportunity tent.

“C’mon,” I said. “We’re volunteers.” He looked at me dubiously. “Let’s go sign in. We can volunteer as well as anyone.” Scam, I’m sure he  was thinking. Well, maybe a little.

“You go ahead,” he said, heading back inside. Shrug. I walked up to the volunteer sign-in table. “Jones,” I said, then waited.

A woman with a huge computer print-out didn’t even look at me, but scanned her list. “Are you the Jones with, uh, with, uh . . .”

“Yes I am.”

Still not looking up, she put a check mark by one of a dozen or so “Joneses” on her list. She handed me an extra large T-Shirt emblazoned with “Volunteer,” and said “Go over there and get your admission wristband.”

In a matter of minutes, I was inside the Irish Fest with a small guidebook (“Where’s the face painting?” Check the book–“Make a left by the stage”) and a couple of hours to browse around.

Although I had volunteer “coupons” for free pizza, I just had to buy one of the steaming brats grilling at various booths. Good music, good food, give a few directions here and there but largely, just enjoy the sunshine in the ever-growing crowd. So what’s the big deal? Opportunity taps you on the shoulder, give a little help, enjoy the big picture.

When I related this all to my F/O at altitude that evening, he seemed a little wistful. “Should’a joined you,” he concluded. And being the smartass that I am, I recall telling him, “That’s the problem with volunteerism these days: nobody wants to help. And you really miss out on a rewarding experience.”

He rolled his eyes. Yeah, quite a stretch. But you take the good and the bad as it comes–this was a windfall.

Fast forward to last Friday, May 14th. This time, fate had plopped us down in Norfolk on a beautiful sunshiny Spring day. We had fourteen hours scheduled off-duty, then would fly one leg back to DFW. Home for Friday night and for me, Saturday morning with Darling Bride and youngest daughter’s academic competition, plus a band session with Night Flight in the afternoon. Perfect plan.

Until fate stepped in to trash everything. Crew Tracking called me a couple hours prior to our departure time: “Sorry captain, but thunderstorms at DFW have forced us to cancel your inbound flight.” Great. Home tomorrow early, maybe?

Catch the tail end of my daughter’s academic competition, and maybe most of the band session? “And I know it sucks,” the Tracker said cautiously, “but we’re going to need your crew to stay there and fly home tomorrow night.”

Thank you, cruel fate. Everyone on the crew had plans and people counting on their arrival home that night, but it is what it is, and you do what you know you have to do.

Now with forty rather than fourteen hours off duty, we developed a contingency plan: free concert at the fountain on the harbor that evening; dinner afterward. Vendors were selling adult beverages in the park. After the first two at five bucks each, we modified the plan: F/O would go for his run then meet us there (great band playing), #2 flight attendant and I would walk a few blocks to a deli and pick up crew beverages to enjoy at the park. Others had brought coolers with drinks; no one seemed to mind.

Heavy get-out-of-town Friday rush hour was shaping up downtown as we walked the two blocks past the battleship Wisconsin moored near the heart of Norfolk. I heard the unmistakable boom of a traffic accident not ten yards from where we walked.

Under a green light, one car had stopped, and the car behind him had plowed into him from behind. The rear car stood with a crumpled front end in the middle of the intersection. Not a safe place.

I dodged across the traffic and approached the driver’s open window. Probably stunned; let’s get you out of this intersection.

“You okay?”

She was not okay. Maybe no seat belt? Regardless, her forehead was gashed wide open and blood was everywhere. I actually didn’t know anyone could bleed so fast and so much. Open the door.

“Let’s get you out of here,” I said, pressing a cloth she’d found onto her forehead. “Walk with me–I’ll help you.” Through traffic, to the curb. Elizabeth, my #2 flight attendant directed passersby “Call 911.” Several dialed. I laid the woman down on a short brick wall, cradling her head with my arm, holding pressure on her gaping laceration. Not a good thing, I thought silently, to be drenched in the blood of a stranger, but you do what you have to do.

“Help is on the way,” I told her. “You’re going to be okay. We’re going to stay with you till help gets here.”

Elizabeth moved her wrecked car out of the intersection. The wall was near a bus stop and to be frank, a crowd of people waiting for the bus that were of the type who’d make me walk fast and not make eye contact. But not today. “Can someone find a first aid kit?” A man rushed off toward a store.

A tranny-looking woman dialed the victim’s husband’s number on her own phone. A man offered his rolled up shirt as a pad.

An Army nurse walked up and began to take vital signs. I shady-looking guy produced a scrap of paper and I told her, “Push the top button on my watch”–my hands were busy–and she took down the heart rate, her medical history, setting up the ambulance’s arrival.

It seemed like forever crouched on the hot pavement, holding her head, telling her by name that she’d be okay. One police car, then eventually three more arrived.  Don’t move her head. A look at the gash–looked clean to the bone–more pressure. Have to stay this way till the ambulance gets here.

“You’re doing good, Jennifer. Deep breaths.”

At long last–maybe five minutes, but it seemed longer–the ambulance arrived. “You’re not going to like this,” an EMT said, “but we’re going to put a brace on your neck to immobilize it.” On cue, I slid my now red arm out from under her head and let the EMT crew hold pressure.

Jeez–stiff back. Hot pavement. Elizabeth put the woman’s purse on the gurney. “These guys are going to take good care of you,” I told her, squeezing her hand. “You’re going to be fine.”

Off she went; we waited while the police, who’d taken both of our driver’s licenses, finished their reports. Buzzkill.

Finally, the police thanked us and sent us on our way. I used the deli restroom to wash now dried blood off my arm.

“Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon blanc?” I asked. Didn’t really matter to me.

We made our way back to the park. Hooked up with the First Officer. Great band, beautiful night, lots of families and children, many running around in the fountain.

My daughter got third place in her competition; the band played without me. Fate? Opportunity?

You just have to take it as it comes, good or bad. But what I got out of it was twofold. First, the kindness of strangers in that moment of suspense between disaster and official response renews my faith in humanity. And second, I have the knowledge that in a stranger’s moment of hell, there was a calm voice and an arm to rest her head on.

Unlike my Irish Fest volunteer T-shirt, the reality won’t fade with time. And that’s what really matters.

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