Soft Cookies

I was early to the interview and that meant there was a chance for a nap.

I desperately needed some short burst of sleep.  I had a simulator evaluation at 1:00 pm and it was now 10:40 am and I only had a short drive from airport to hotel.  Perfect.  I’ll call and hope for early room entry.

“Happy Holidays from the Hampton Inn, this is Kayla.”

“Kayla… Hi…  I’m early for my check in time, but is there a chance that I can get into my room early?  The last name is Webster.”

“We’d be glad to do that for you Mr. Webster.”

As I pull into the nearly empty parking lot, I go as close to the lobby entrance as possible.

The one slot that is free near the entrance says something like, “Reserved for Hilton Uber Amazing Members.”  Crap.  I’m tired.  Being a mostly law abiding person, I slink away to a farther out spot and slide one spot away from a faded red paint Camry with the driver door open.  A leg sticks out below a cigarette waving hand.  A young woman, is chirping into her phone with sincerity and a touch of holiday sadness.  Smoker, on break, talking to boyfriend.  I bet you that’s Kayla.

I take a momentary small pleasure in being right.  No one to great me and my nap window is shrinking.  Kayla, I’m sure your call is important, but this pilot candidate needs a place to meditate and pretend to sleep before showing his best to the new prospective employer, which is now a mere 1:46 minutes away.

I also haven’t eaten since 5:30 am and I can see the desperation of hunger warping my interview, sim evaluation or whatever I’d be subject to.  Nothing is worse than not being aware of the hungry brain as it makes an ill timed meeting, empty stomach screaming, while you cave to any terms, conditions or limits you thought you had.  This won’t be the first time your brain and stomach act against your long term interests.

It’s always all about them.

Where Will You Sleep?

Like business travelers, airplane people know the world of the road.

Airline, corporate and charter pilots know the inside of a Homewood Suites, Hampton Inn, Courtyard, etc. from memory.  I’m not sure if this is good for us psychologically, but I’m betting no.  My best trips had overnights in an airbnb where I got to know a family, a host, and absorbed the town I was in.  Not so for the plastic facade of the Hilton-Hyatt-Starwood-Marriot juggernaut.

Welcome. Soft cookie is waiting.

Capitalism is a funny thing when it lets inferior big brand species control our experience of time and overnights on the road.  Like the curse of TV and the general exportation of first world culture, it is banal and free of risk. McDonalds did to the hamburger what these corporate drones have done to hotels.

Sure, I get it, from a planning, execution and mass reproduction perspective you want the same furniture, shower curtain, layout, “eating area” theme and cookie that you get as a Hilton Blabbidy Blah Member.

If you are like me, this eats your soul.  You’ll cry inside a bit, and begin to question… well everything. Starting with, “how the f–k am I doing this again?” You also realize, you can’t quit.  You are stuck in this Orwellian charade known as the chain hotel, where you will live out 50% of your remaining overnights of your high sodium life.  If you fly airline, corporate or charter in any airplane that doesn’t come back the same night, this is your fate.

As an aviation interloper who has resisted all attempts to enter the world of the tenure track of aviation (airline, security, seniority, etc.) I pay very close attention to how my body reacts when put into this petri dish.

When I say “tenure” let me be clear: I want it too.   An ostensible retirement plan, 50% or less work schedule, good to “ok” benefits, and global travel (in Part 121 cases) is something that every wanderlust dreamer like me seeks.

Yet here I am on the road again, staring at that cookie as the twenty something welcomes me.

“Oh and sir, as a Hilton Rewards member we have this special gift bag with a bottle of fancy water and a freshly baked chocolate chip cookie.”

I don’t qualify for the parking spot but I do get the slow introduction to diabetes and cancer via that cookie that your overlords purchased by the container load. Non-merci Kayla. Pas aujourd’hui.  No cookie for me today.

Despite compassion for Kayla’s need to peddle such gift bags and well trained warmth of the Hilton empire, the chemist in me bristles knowing that this cookie is not freshly baked.  It is laced with sodium and uses specially formulated agents to have it stay soft long after it left any oven.  If it ever saw one.

Beware the cookie – it is the sign of the end times.

The Power of Now

I’m upbeat and positive though.  Why shouldn’t I be? I have been lucky to taste nearly every corner of professional aviation and have done this without an incident or accident over three decades and five countries, all of which were a mish mash of dubious standards, high risk and build my own self preservation instinct. I am fortunate in that my visit to the card table, known as professional aviation, has worked out ok so far.

And so we return to tenure – the golden job. As one recent discussion with a colleague at American Airlines offered, “When I first got the call to come to American, the chief pilot said ‘congratulations’ you’ll never need to shop your resume again, you’ve made it.”

When I asked him if he told this to all the new hires, he offered: “Yeah, he lies.”

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Aviation, technology, trends, society and the economic drivers that make it all happen is what makes me tick.

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