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 happily 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.  I don’t blame Kayla though – no way I’d have the discipline and restraint to face what she does daily at the Hampton Inn.

And yet I seek that nap so badly.  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 have also somewhat stupidly embarked on this “fasting” idea.  So my neurotic, obsessive and somewhat jumpy behavior is exacerbated by every survival hormone that has been optimized over the past 6 million years.  Hominids though, are meant to hunt, not since in simulators or prattle their way through HR screens while the mind screams for a walnut, an apple… anything!   Anyway… note to self: Skip the fasting when not appearing insane matters.

While the desperation of hunger can warp an interview, sim evaluation or whatever I’d be subject to, I tell myself – “well at least you know you look crazy … so focus on bottling that up… and you’ll be fine.”

Few things are more embarrassing than the “hangry” decision making.  You’ll make bad hiring, business and negotiation decisions when the hungry brain forces you to cave to any terms, conditions or limits you thought you had.

I should know better: This isn’t 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.  Give me an AirBnB any day.  Extra points if they leave the dog and cat behind for extra emotional therapy.

My best trips had overnights in an AirBnB where I get to know a family, a host, and absorbed the town I am in.

Not so for the plastic facade of the Hilton-Hyatt-Starwood-Marriot juggernaut.

Welcome. Soft cookie is waiting.

Large corporations never saw AirBnB coming.   This is not a fluff piece on the amazing value of marketplace businesses, rather a warming to what happens we let 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, “why am I on the road 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 the siren song of private equity, consulting or the tenure track of aviation, 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 seeks.

Yet here I am on the road again, staring at that cookie.

I don’t qualify for the parking spot but I do get the slow introduction to diabetes and cancer via that cookie

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.

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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