Change is in the Airlift

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In the mid-2000s (we really need a name for them … like the mid-aughts), my work computer was an early generation convertible tablet/laptop.  You could write directly on the screen with a stylist & it could convert your handwriting to typed words … theoretically.  In truth, you spent about half your time correcting what it came up with, until you realized it was just as easy to type everything or leave your handwritten notes handwritten.  Still, when I did go to a meeting and take notes with it, I would hit save and let the file be named whatever it thought I had on the top line.  There was one meeting, in particular, where this stood out for me.

We had a new VP of Quality who had a focus towards improvement.  He wanted to make some radical changes to the structure of the organization, and look for new means to drive new directions.  This meeting was where he set out what needed to be done, but moreso to motivate the team in the right direction.  It was one of those meetings that when you listened to the manager, you were either going to buy into what he had say or you would never buy into anything he had to say.  Well … at least in theory.  Some of my colleagues, especially my management, didn’t buy in.  I kinda didn’t … but the stuff that he had to stay stuck with me and focused me at times.  On occasion, I would look at my notes, read some of the things I wrote that day, and re-centered my thinking.  The main point he was making was to get us prepared for the changes that were coming — and kept saying ‘Change is in the Air’.  The whole purpose was to alert us that things would start changing, and rapidly.  We had a lot of work to do to make the change happen.  We also had a lot of emotional and mental issues associated with that change to deal with.  Not to mention that at that time, it wasn’t just change for change sake or change because a new manager was in place – some of it was going to be driven by things outside of our organization, things we can’t control, and things we just have to accept.  Because things were going to be changing everywhere, Change Was In The Air.

But of course my tablet said I wrote:
Change Is In The Airlift

To this day, when I see a lot of things in the air coming at me on the horizon, I seem to keep saying:  “Change is in the Airlift”.  And guess what folks … Change is definitely in the airlift.

I have a busy busy fall coming.  The previous mentioned band judging season has started, and sputtered a little bit.  Work is driving a lot of activities over the next month and a half as well.  I sat down and worked out my travel schedule — and I already have either booked or planned nine flight itineraries between now and the end of November (yeah, that means there should be more in December too).  Yet that schedule is left to a lot of things that are outside of my immediate control, and one just has to roll with it.

For instance, I was scheduled to be in Louisiana this weekend to judge a contest near New Orleans.  However, the massive amount of rain they are seeing caused the football stadiums to become unusable – so the show was cancelled a couple days ago.  On pure coincidence, I caught word that a show in Mississippi near Memphis needed someone to fill for a family loss by another judge  .. an airfare change later and I was booked in.  Some of these plans are going to be like that, subject to forces outside of my control – and some will result in other changes, like if I arrive at a plant and find that more help will be needed.

But that misses the whole point of ‘Change is in the Airlift’.

The point is, be aware that change is coming, and do what you can to prepare how you can.  Focus on what you can control and act on it.  Know what you can do, and keep doing it.  The worst mistake you can make is to let a change you know is coming surprise you at the last minute.  So needless to say, I got a lot of work to do.

… And don’t ask me what an ‘airlift’ is … I honestly don’t know, and don’t know why my spell checker even accepts it.

 

Dreading Pageantry Saturday Mornings

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Tomorrow kicks off the best time of year for me, Pageantry Season.

If you are out of the Bear Feed Loop – one of my main hobbies is that I judge competitive high school marching band competitions.  I’ve been doing it for nineteen years .. which let’s face it, is a pretty long time.  It’s strange that I keep any ‘hobby’ going for more than a couple months, let alone nearly two decades.  Judging Marching Bands is my last great connection to the marching arts activity that started for me back in 1985; and helps to feed that educator blood that seems to flow through my veins (no matter how much I try to bleed it out of me).  Because its an always developing artistic media somewhere during that time, people referenced the activity as ‘Pageantry Arts’ – and while it isn’t completely fitting, a few of us embraced that ‘Pageantry’ term .. for some of us to make ourselves feel fancy.

Tomorrow, I judge my first show of the season in a hot bed of great organizations in Bellbrooke, Ohio.  While early season, I am expecting a great evening of performances in the early infancy of their development.  With my role as adjudicator, I get to be a part of helping them develop those performance.  What’s not to love?

Well, the tomorrow morning, but stay with me here.

I work with a guild/fraternity of judges called Central States Judges Association (CSJA), whom not only were key in getting me work, they literally taught me all I know about marching band judging.  With the exception of a couple shows I did in Massachusetts last year, every show I have judged has been through CSJA.  In the time I have worked with CSJA, I’ve work around 5 or 6 weekends every fall across the Midwest & South.  I’ve judged in twelve different states from Nebraska to Florida, from Oklahoma to Georgia.  Along the way, I’ve done 15 different state and regional championships – and this year I get to do two more including a major regional championship held in Memphis’s Liberty Bowl and the Louisiana State Championships on my birthday no less (assuming no hurricane goes through there that day).  But because CSJA is a fraternial organization, I get to do all of this with people who have been good friends for years and years and years.  People I faced 9/11 with, people that stood by me when I escaped to Alaska, people who can tell as many stories about me as people I see every day of the week.

Yes this is a ‘job’ of sorts, and yes I call it a ‘hobby’.  But of all of this … I don’t have to do it … I GET to do it.

Well, I have to do tomorrow morning too.

See, Saturday mornings on a show day are usually the worst – the absolute worst.  Usually, I spend all day Friday traveling to get to the hotel at the show site.  We tend to grab dinner, maybe a drink, but the focus is on getting a good night rest before the show.  It’s usually hard to get a good nights rest because, for one, you are in a hotel – but also it’s a shared room, and for a guy that travels alone alot sharing a room is always weird.  So I tend not to sleep well Friday night, and wake early.  On the big championship days, we usually need to get going to the show by mid-morning; which moves smoothly enough.  But the other shows, like the one tomorrow, the show doesn’t begin until late afternoon.  My report time is 4PM.  So let’s say I crawl out of bed at 7AM, I have NINE HOURS to kill.

Don’t get me wrong, there are things I have to do to prepare.  Check to make sure my equipment works properly, review the judging criteria, going through my mind the proper techniques I need to use, clean-up and get into uniform.  But there is only so much time you can do to do all that, and even if I stretch it out – I still have seven hours to kill.

Since it is the first show of the year for me, the anticipation will be overwhelming.  I’ll want to leave for the show site hours and hours early.  I will be dressed and ready to go probably while they are still serving breakfast.  Heck, I am tempted to find a high school football game just so I can judge the half time show.

Usually Pageantry Sunday mornings are tough too – a long day of judging can be exhausting, and is usually combined with a long travel day home.  But at least I am in the afterglow of a great day/night of pageantry.  It’s the Saturdays that are killer.

So, I sit here on a Pageantry Friday Night, dreading a Pageantry Saturday Morning, but that Pageantry Saturday Night is going to be so worth it.

Good luck all you Pageantry kids out there, put on a good show, and can’t wait to see you give me what you got.

Hindsight

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I don’t know why, but I am a bit of a fanatic at looking at the ‘memories’ section of my Facebook page.  This is the area where when you click it, it tells you what you posted on this day over the last few years.  Sometimes they are posts that are as random as anything – like lyrics from songs that make me feel feelings (usually while drunk) – or about some hot topic commented on with a cynical attitude (usually while drunk) – or help to get through my day with a little inspiration language (usually while drunk).  What I do find is that there is moments of irony in the way the world lines up year in and year out – where some activities just match up on the same day.  But to be honest, there are times when you look at these specific memories and become reminded how far things have come in that time.

Today, as it happens, marks exactly 2 years since I spent my last day employed at BP Exploration – Alaska.  Put simply, with that 2 years experience in hindsight, that was a bad decision.

So … I don’t really talk about work much in this blog because, well … it’s boring.  It’s actually depressing, frustrating, and unprofessional too, but for serious, I write this for the entertainment value people … and do you really want to hear about the proper calibration periodicity of a field test instrument?  But for those who don’t know, I am the North American Quality Manager at Bodycote Thermal Processing, a metal heat treater with 25 plants in my division covering four time zones across the whole US (and one place in Mexico).  Two years ago, I had a different role as a Supplier Quality Specialist with BP.  Thing was, working for BP was a pretty big shift for me – out of the Aerospace field and into Oil & Gas.  It was a shift that I probably didn’t handle as well as I should have in hindsight.  Yet as I was coming up to the 2 year mark there, there was talk about layoffs and cutting our group – and the job I had just kinda fell into my lap.  So, what seemed like an obvious decision to make was made.

BP hasn’t done well since that time, and not because of the gulf spill – that impacted them well before my arrival (and probably did more for getting me there than anything).  The hard math of oil & gas is that if oil gets too cheap (on a price per barrel basis), you stop working to get the out of the ground, and without that oil coming up you can’t pay everyone – so you cut people.  By now, with hindsight as my guide, I would have been let go by now.  So, that would suggest my decision was the right one.

Truth is, leaving Alaska was way harder than I thought it would be.  Still to this day, I consider myself to be an Alaskan – and I have been a Massachusettesianonnoinan (or whatever they are) for longer.  I read the Alaska Dispatch weekly, which is far more often than the Boston Globe.  I constantly do the time zone game, where I look at the clock and put what is going into the Alaskan time zone.  And I when people ask me my hobbies, I still say curling.  If I would have gotten laid off in Alaska, I would probably have found a way to make it work.  More than anything, I had work-life balance back then.  At least, if it was off balance, I had more life than work.  I can honestly say, I have one person in Boston I consider to be a friend that I know … and that is only because he is a bartender where they show Packer games, and he remembered my name from the last time  I was there (11 months ago).

Truth is, from that point 2 years ago today, things have not gone my way.  Much of it resulted from bad decisions I made.  Some of it can be written off as  mistakes.  Yet some can just fall under bad luck.  I’ve had issues that involved lawyers … twice.  I’ve had to deal with insurance claims … twice.  I’ve had to do major HVAC repairs … twice.  My poor car has been run into the ground, my poor dog has had more than few bad days, and my poor bank account had run ins with paying for surgery unexpectedly (the paying for was unexpected, not the surgery) and unexpected IRS battles (at one point, I owed a 6 figure tax bill … like … nearly twice my annual pay).  Nearly all of this stuff were things I probably never blogged about (or will agin), mostly because it’s none of y’alls problems, just mine.  Maybe not something that has anything to do with my decision to leave Alaska – but it sure did feel like insult to injury.

The point of all this is — hindsight is a pain in the butt sometimes.  You spend all your time trying to do the right thing and make the right decisions, but then something comes along and reminds you that 2 years later you should have done something else.

But then again … hindsight comes with irony too.

But that’s for a later post.

The Half-Ass Century

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Milestone Reached … I’ve lost 100 lbs since November.  I was at 424.5 on November 20th, and at my weigh-in yesterday I hit 324.2.

It has been a while since I have updated y’all on the progress I’ve had since my gastric bypass surgery; and to be honest, it is this ‘century’ mark being the main reason for it.  I realized that it had been a while since I blogged about it about the time I breached the 90 lbs mark, and I promised the next post on the subject would come once the milestone was reached.  So, I just held out.  … and held out … and held out.  Three months later, here’s your blog post.

In a way, that should explain to you somewhat how things have been going.  I’ve joked many times over that I have been “Half-Assing my way to a Half Ass”.  Part of the reason I chose to do the surgery I did was that it would allow me to continue to do some of the things that normal people do … like eat regular food … and not not eat regular food.  What I can’t eat is pretty limited – and it actually drives a lot of healthy activities.  Like, processed sugars tear me to pieces – nothing seems to make me sick like a bag of gummy worms.  Then again, the other effects on my diet are similar to other diets that are quite normal – like I am generally lactose intolerant, so milks are out (but soy milk works for me).  Plus the hippie “gluten free” nonsense diet seems to be better for me than heavy breads.  Ultimately – what I “can’t have” is not based on anything someone tells me I can or cannot have, it’s about what my body says I can or cannot have.  I have something I “can’t” have, I don’t sit around the house and feel guilty – I sit around on the toilet and feel gassy.

In a way, the time it took me to reach this Century too should tell you how the summer has been for me.  In short … and in no way to fill in the gaps of the details … not good.  You kinda have to remember that I didn’t become overweight just because I ‘chose’ to become overweight – eating was a good way to avoid my problems (if I want to explain it at a level that so scratches the surface it sounds like an easy answer that is).  A big part of the issues with taking this long is that no matter how small of a stomach someone can have, liquids with heavy caloric counts don’t fill me up and still absorbs at a decent rate into my system.

Now, people in the know kept telling me to not get discouraged over the time it took me to get over this hump.  We all know that weight loss comes with plateaus and bumps.  I never really let that get to me actually, but this was a trend – and a trend supported by other things in my life.

Things needed to change.

I’m exercising almost regularly — not where I want to be, but better than I had the whole summer.  I am doing some things that lead to cleaner living.  I am taking steps to reduce the stress from my life.  So things are changing.  They just aren’t changing that fast, and they aren’t changing in ways I can always control.

But change isn’t something that happens as a big sweeping mass all the time.  It’s like planting a new lawn.  For a while it’s going to look like  big patch of dirt … and you have to keep doing the things you are supposed to do even though it still remains dirt.  Soon enough, it starts sprouting in patches, and spots.  Sometimes you need to change what you do to get a greater effort.  Sometimes you get huge areas come up at once.  Sometimes you have to start over with new seed, but you’ve learned what didn’t work before.  Change has to get time to show a difference.

So this week, I saw sprouts of change – some I can share some that I can’t.  But the one that I have to share is that I ticked over a number that now makes me pass a milestone.

Today the change I can see is a weight.

So today that I is what I will celebrate.  Just not with gummy worms.

Moving Day

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I use the term “Moving Day” probably as much as I make references to the Emperor’s New Clothes (see my last post) to reference that tipping point when whatever the result is will come true that day.  For work purposes, it most likely will be a Wednesday of a week long audit – the day when you either make or break the result.  Since today is a Wednesday, you could think I am writing exactly about that … but I am writing about something far more cynical.

In Boston, today is actually Moving Day in a very literal sense.

By that, I mean, today is the day that a very large percentage of Boston is moving from one residence to another.

This is not an exaggeration!

The City of Boston estimates that 70% of residential leases begin on September 1st, 2016.  That means nearly 3 of 4 people who rent their residence will have a new lease tomorrow.  For many, this means a new place to live, or leaving their old place to live.  The start of something new, or the end of something old.

For the rest of us, that just means there is a hell of a lot of moving trucks and new cars parked in our spots.  Below is a heat map created by the City of Boston showing ONLY the moving truck permit requests — not just those who rented moving trucks, or went full on Jed Clampet to strap their mattresses, couches, and grannies to someone’s truck.

moving truck

My street barely shows up as a color on this map, and we have at least three residents that asked for a moving truck permit … and at least three more moving trucks stuffing up the street.

It’s actually quite a popular time as well for the tow trucks.  Because there is no place ot park in Boston … like literally no place to park … the above mentioned mover permits are a means for moving companies to block off parts of the street where it is ‘temporarily’ illegal to park so they can get in to do the moving.  This means, tow trucks make a fortune off of all the people who try to cut those zones a little too close.  I woke up twice last night to the sound of trucks pulling in to haul off a car, at times JUST past midnight.  I haven’t seen that level of tow jackassary since the first day of ‘snow parking’ up in Houghton, MI where they hauled 150 cars off of a campus that only had 350 registered car parkers.

Just on that, you would think that I am not a fan of moving day … well, that’s no the half of it.  We are in the phase that can be considered the period where Douchery Rules.  When you move to a new place (if you have ever) there are things you have to get used to logistically — like where to park, where to best get out of your neighborhood, how to get to work, where to let your dog poop … you know, the usual.  In those situations, there are two types of people — those who are careful knowing that things may not be how they expect so they take things calmly are carefully figuring it all out.  Then there is the minority that assume everything will be perfect and overcome any issues by becoming a complete douche bag. You stomp on the gas to get through an intersection, you honk the horn because someone is following local traffic laws, you park in the middle of the street and block people in, you dump your garbage on the curb anywhere, you become genuinely obnoxious.  There maybe only 1 of you in 10, but that 1 rules … you are the one that screws things up for the rest of us.  You are the one that continues to be a douche bag until you figure out being an idiot doesn’t make things any better.  And the rest of us suffer.

Honestly … that’s why I hate moving day.  And this is only the second one I have seen.

Now you maybe still confused by this whole concept.  Thinking there is no way that one city has 70% of their leases start on the same day.  Well, Boston is a college town – not just Harvard, MIT, Boston College, & Boston University which you probably expected … but also UMass-Boston, Tuffs, Wesley, Berklee, offshoots of other major New England Schools, and so many close in surrounding communities that the area boasts 54 (that’s a fifty-four) institutes of higher education in the area  with over 235,000 students enrolled — which is 35% of the city’s population.  So no wonder the start of the school year begins with a new place.  Just think what it is like to have 1 out of 3 people surrounding you is an college idiot … and you will get what these days are like.

Soon enough it will all calm down.  Those who are moving to be students will have their classes to start failing, and the rest of the douche bags will get their stuff worked out at the local gym.

The rest of us, it’s just moving day, and it will go sooner or later.

The Emperor’s New Burger

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Shaking off the cobwebs of a grinder of a summer, I remembered that I hadn’t posted a new entry for a while.  So after contemplating a lunch I had with one of the few people I work with who has made active mention of the Bear Feed (I’m talking about you Ritchie), I thought that lunch could lead to a concept that I have been chewing over the last few days.

It starts with the story about The Emperor’s New Clothes.  This is a short tale by Hans Christian Andersen about two weavers who promise an emperor a new suit of clothes that is invisible to those who are unfit for their positions, stupid, or incompetent. When the Emperor parades before his subjects in his new clothes, no one dares to say that they don’t see any suit of clothes until a child cries out, “But he isn’t wearing anything at all!”

I cite this story a fair bit, at least in my own head, when trying to challenge things that are based on other’s opinions.  You get it a lot these days, probably as much in politics than anything, but I don’t come here to blog about politics.  I tend to challenge these concepts a lot because I’m not someone who likes taking anyone’s opinion on anything I can’t believe for myself.  I find myself saying something like “Is it that way because it is that way?  Or is it that way because someone told me it was that way?”  Proud of my own cynical mindset, I pat myself on the back, call myself smart, then solve all the world’s problems in my head.

Then there I was at lunch, and I caught myself on the other side of the issue.

We went to Ted’s – a famous burger joint in Meriden, CT.  It’s been on shows like “Man vs. Food” and been listed in the top 50 burger places in the country by the Food Network.  What makes it famous is the way they cook the food there.  Ground beef is placed into rectangular trays and placed into a steamer to cook.  When it’s ready, the meat is still juicy because none of the fat fries off.  Cheese gets the same treatment and is literally melted and poured directly onto the burger until is ooey gooey’s up on top.  I got mine with a side of home fries, which was baked and gently fried potato wedges.  Being a burger of such high proclaim, you expect it to be really good.  As I was having the burger I kept thinking how much the unique cooking method of everything added something special that put this burger up there with such high acclaim.  The cheese in all it’s gooeyness didn’t hide the flavor of the meat with it’s cheesy flavor.  The beef took to an extra bit of salt and a good bit of mustard really well.  The fries had that starchy potato taste like right after you give it a good cut.  I walked out of lunch today satisfied that I had such a well renowned burger.

That’s when it hit me …

The cheese didn’t hide the meat’s flavor because … well … it didn’t have much of a flavor.

Come to think of it, neither did the meat.  When you steam a burger like that, you can’t put any seasoning on it – so it really tasted bland.  Not in a bad way, just … not favorable.

And if I was making potatoes at home, and it tasted starchy like those home fries tasted, I would wonder if I actually cooked them thru.

That’s when it sunk in on me.  It wasn’t a bad meal.  It’s a reasonably priced lunch in a neat little joint, with a cool way of doing the old stuff in a good way.  If given the option to go back, I would go back to Ted’s.  It just wasn’t … I don’t know … not ‘Top 50 burgers in the USA’ good.

So why did, during lunch, I started thinking I had one of the best burgers in my life?

Come to think about it … what is the best burger I had in my life?

Then I really started thinking … does it really matter what is the best or not?

What the realization all came down to was that I was noticing how judgmental all of this can be.  It seems like, sometimes we get so caught up in what our opinions are, we want then to make it about how others opinions aren’t as important as ours.  We get angry, frustrated, over zealous.  Then we try to impress that on others in hopes that we will convince them to see things our way – but all it really does it creates more pushback, more anger, more hate.

Then I realized … It’s just a burger, and Ritchie paid for it anyway.

The Canadian Spin

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Co-Worker: “I don’t know why you are so positive all the time, all you ever seem to do is smile.”
Me: “Positive all the time? You should see my Facebook posts.”

I once had a on-line friend whom we shall call Frosty. and the only real important thing to know about her is that she is Canadian.  She had this crazy knack to take all the fun out of being miserable.  I remember one particular day this way:  Work sucked, some things I wanted didn’t go my way.  I wanted nothing more than to get home and forget about work.  Along the way, it seemed I hit every stop light and fell behind every slow driver.  I finally got home, and someone I wanted to talk to was no longer available.  I also vaguely remember I got some bills that were going to be tough to pay right away.  In short, there was a lot of things in my life I was pissed off about.

So Frosty reaches out to me and says:  “So, my boss and I went to lunch today, and as we were sitting in a restaurant, a car crashed through the front window.  Came within 5 feet of hitting me.  I almost died.  But … meh … no big deal.  How was your day?”

All I could respond with was … well … with nothing.  Cause as much as I wanted to hate my day, I didn’t get almost run over eating lunch.  But that was Frosty.  Granted, she wasn’t a ray of sunshine all the time, but she had this knack of putting my troubles in perspective.

Back in my early days at Cessna, we called that the Canadian Spin.  It was a term penned from my first Cessna boss, Jason Zagula, whom I put up there with the best bosses I ever had.  He was, of course, Canadian – and like my friend Frosty, had the great skill of looking at the most troubling of situations and ‘spin it’ to the positive.  The most obvious came when I was called into the first meeting to tell us that layoffs were coming.  As all of us were slowly moping our way out of that meeting with the cloud of losing our jobs over our head, he said “Well, they do say you should live in interesting times, and this will make our times interesting.”

These days, I can say those roles are now reversed.  Over the last five weeks, plants in my company went trough some of their most trying times – and my job was to get them through it, come hell or high water.  It’s that specific reason why I haven’t posted a meaty blog post for most of the last 5 weeks … key phrase is ‘posted’, I drafted some, but couldn’t be sure if that would turn into things that wouldn’t be use me in a court of law (no, seriously … I am saying —  court … of … law).   It has been a grind to say the least, a meat grinder of sorts.  But my role, more than anything, was to be that part that remains positive.

Granted, not always.  My duty was to define to my management the real situation, that many times meant being blunt about the problems and direct about the changes that needed to be made.  Also, I had to be realistic about what I was seeing; being the person who states facts as much as being the person who shows what needs to be done.

But I would be lying if I didn’t tell you the doom and gloom was everywhere.  A bad result anywhere could mean we would lose work, a lot of work – which would mean we lose people, and a very real risk an entire plant could be shut down.  Around me were the people who were sure that was going to happen.  Deep down, I knew that the possibility was there, but there is a difference in my mind between a ‘possibility’ and a ‘likelihood’.   So, in my own blunt honesty, I made sure it was known that those who saw no light at the end of tunnel that there was in deed a light.  After weeks of taking that attitude at different plants, that got me the reputation of an optimist.

Believe me, I am no optimist.

Though, sometimes that is all it takes to pull out the Canadian Spin.  I didn’t believe that layoffs were more promising because my life was more interesting; but I realized that my life was more than a layoff, or more than a plant shutdown.  Though it was a more realistic statement to those I was around.  I have a very demanding dog to come home to every day.  Those around me had wife and kids – had serious hobbies – had other important stuff around them – had real lives.  I found myself talking to them about those things, getting them to remember that was what was important.  Like Frosty when she reminded me that life wasn’t about getting a few bad stoplights, it was enjoying your lunch without someone running you over INSIDE a restaurant.  Life is not work.  Life is what work allows you to do.  That may have been my job to remind the rest of the people I work with about, but it was also my job to remind myself.

Call it Canadian Spin, but I am at least a few generations separated from those maple sucking bastards.