Dear Blog Readers,
Thanks for reading. A few months ago I had an idea for a magazine column that could answer questions about flying. I posted something on Facebook and asked what you would ask your Captain. With that feedback, I developed the voice and style of the column. I wrote three articles and had them reviewed by my writing coach. Of course, as soon as I got feedback, I found out that USA Today had just started a similar column.
I haven’t given up, and I am actively seeking a magazine, but in the meantime, I wanted feedback from my blog audience. So, here is the first article.
Since the days of Icarus, we mere mortals have dreamed of flying. Today, thanks to modern technology, that dream is a reality. We streak across the sky in marvelous flying machines cocooned in modern comfort. Uncommon men and women deftly manipulate the controls to carry us up into the blue yonder, and return us safely to earth.
Do cell phones really interfere with the airplane’s systems, or is it simply a big hoax intended to keep people from loudly discussing their personal problems among total strangers at 35,000 feet?
Curious in Columbus
It is true that nothing is more annoying than listening to would-be Casanova loudly ramble on about his love life in the overcrowded line at Starbucks, but the ban on cell phone usage in flight does serve a higher purpose.
The Boeing 737 is equipped with several radios for communication and navigation that operate at bandwidths similar to cell phones. Communication devices, such as cell phones and radios, are susceptible to electromagnetic interference – when the signals compete or interrupt each other. Because of concerns over electromagnetic interference with aircraft communication and navigation radios, the FCC placed the ban on in-flight cell phone use in 1991.
In addition to the FCC, the FAA also requires that any communication equipment used on a commercial airplane be tested before use. That isn’t a blanket application. That means that each time a new phone is released, the testing for that individual cell phone model would have to be completed all over again, a cost prohibitive venture. (As usual it comes down to money.) Simply put, restricting cell phone usage is the safest course of action, and it costs too much money to prove that it isn’t the safest course of action.
Several airlines have begun equipping their airplanes with WiFi, and you will soon be able to Google and Facebook as we slip the surly bonds over Kansas. That equipment has been tested. Just to keep the flight friendlier, we have restricted the use of VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol).
So, to ensure the safest possible flight, since your particular new smart phone has never been proven not to interfere, turn off your cell phone. It is still the safest course of action. Besides, nobody wants to hear you blabber on about your trip to the dentist. Turn to the person next to you and start a conversation. Heaven forbid you make a new friend by talking to someone face-to-face.
Sit back and enjoy the ride.
Dear Blog Readers,
Here's a recent short story. Enjoy.
I had no idea how much running across the street would change my life. The accident happened so fast. One moment I was rushing to beat the traffic light, and then, suddenly, I was in the back of an ambulance on my way to the hospital - antiseptic smell, rushing medical personnel, anesthesia-induced sleep. I awoke with a pounding head, and a cast on my left leg from heel to hip.
After a few days in the hospital, they sent me home to recover, but after working on the road for most of my seventeen-year marriage, my hospital room felt more inviting. I guess all the nights of separation had subdued the signs of trouble in my marriage, but now that I was home everyday, and depressingly dependent, they lit up like neon.
Cynthia, my wife of seventeen years, feigned a smile as she set the lunch tray on my lap. “Don’t forget to take your medication,” she insisted with a cheerful, yet condescending voice.
“I’m feeling better. I don’t want to take it today. It makes me dizzy,” I complained. “Besides, I thought we could play a game or something.” I tried to sound inviting, but came across more like a pouting child.
“Now Dom, you know the pain makes you irritable. Take the medication so you can sleep the afternoon away, and be in a good mood when Caleb and Ceci get home from school.” She waved her hand as she sauntered out of the den.
I grumbled and picked at my food. I did want to be in good mood when my teenage kids got home, but her dismissive and dodgy attitude annoyed me. I slipped the pain medication into the half-eaten salad and covered it with wilted lettuce. Probably out of habit, I fell asleep in the wheelchair, but instead of sleeping the deep chemical sleep of a drugged patient, an itch under the cast roused me from my slumber.
As I came to, I heard the shower running in the master bathroom – a little odd for two in the afternoon. Since I couldn’t find the coat hanger I had been using to scratch beneath the cast, I wheeled myself to the master bathroom, but instead of finding a way to relieve an itch, I found my wife in the shower - with another woman.
The painful process of the divorce took less than three months to finalize. In those three months, my physical wounds healed nicely, but my emotional wounds deepened and spread. The pain in my left leg was replaced by a dull ache that seemed to pulse in my bones. My casual belief in God evaporated into hopelessness. I ambled listlessly through each day shrouded in a thick haze of guilt, insecurity, and anger. Thoughts of failure ran circles in my head until dark depression overcame me. One night I found myself curled up on my bathroom floor with a gun in my mouth.
I never knew how bitter gun oil tasted until I stuck the barrel of my snub-nosed Glock against the roof of my mouth. The bitterness drenched my taste buds, and lingered like the aftertaste of stale coffee. I gingerly slipped my finger over the trigger.
As my finger warmed the cool black metal, an image flooded my mind. I saw Caleb and Ceci standing at my grave. I witnessed their somber, anguished faces as they watched my casket lowered into the darkness of the earth. I felt their inquisitive teenage hearts cry out and ask me – why?
I pulled the gun away from my mouth, and spat the bitterness onto the bathroom floor. I decided that in spite of my own personal misery, I would not burden my children’s journey through life with the millstone of my suicide.
The next day at breakfast, they threw me a lifeline.
“The school is sponsoring a fun run to raise money for its sports programs, and we are all going to participate,” said Ceci. It wasn’t a request. Caleb gave a forceful glare and nodded in agreement. “It’s only a 5K, but we need to train,” said Caleb. He handed me a piece of paper. “I have a training schedule right here. We start tomorrow morning.” I took the schedule and complied with a quiet nod.
At 6 AM the next morning I heard a loud knock at my bedroom door. Ceci and Caleb were dressed, and ready for the run. I rolled reluctantly out of my bed, stumbled to my closet for my running gear, and shuffled to the living room. They quietly waited as I tied my shoes.
After the accident, I thought I would never run again, but my injuries had healed, and I found myself plodding along the trail, grinning with each step. I was out of shape, but an odd sense of euphoria enveloped me as I struggled to keep up with my kids. The early morning sun, the silent togetherness, the protective green trees that hovered over us along the trail, the daily new beginning transformed our running into therapy. Each day we traveled a little further. Each day we traveled a little faster. Each day I finished the run feeling a little more whole.
As the day of the race drew near, my muscles felt strong, tight, and ready to run. Thanks to our daily time together, my relationship with my kids was on sure footing. Hope had become my running partner, and I was ready to continue life’s race, but I was still avoiding any trail that would lead to companionship. That emotional trail was still grown over with weeds of bitterness, tall grass of anger, and prickly bushes of self-doubt.
The race scene was like a carnival - lines for T-shirts, various booths advertising their running wares, and loud upbeat music blaring out over the crowd of energetic runners and spectators. As I milled about at the starting line, a woman about my age caught my eye. It wasn’t her long brown hair in a ponytail, or her lean legs exposed by the running shorts that captured my gaze. It was the look of private pain I discerned on her face. I knew that look. I saw it every day in the mirror. She glanced at me and saw me staring. I gave her a weak smile, and a manly nod.
The gun went off. I started fast, but then settled into my pace. Caleb pulled ahead, and Ceci fell behind. Spectators cheered and encouraged along the course. At the end of the first mile I was ahead of schedule, and began to slow down, but then I saw her out of the corner of my eye - she was passing me. Our private race began. She pulled ahead at first, and I fell in behind her. When she slowed down, I passed her, but I could feel her on my heels. As we approached the last half mile, she pulled up beside me. I gave her a sideways grin and sped up. She matched my speed and grinned back.
About 100 yards from the finish line we were neck and neck. The crowd of cheering spectators grew thick along the sides of the course. It felt like everyone was now focused on our private race. She pulled a few steps ahead as I sucked air over my teeth and fought for more speed.
A bright pink ball bounced out of the crowd and on to the racecourse in front of us. She must have been so focused on the finish line that she didn’t see it. Her churning feet hit the bouncing ball. She tumbled, and frantically tried to catch herself, but sprawled across the grassy course on her stomach. I heard the air rush out of her lungs even over my own breathing. I stopped.
“Are you all right?” I asked between gasps. She moaned and rolled over onto her back. “I think I’m okay. Nothing hurt but my pride.” I extended her my hand. “Let’s finish this race.”
She grabbed my hand and pulled herself up. She winked. “Race you to the finish line!”
The crowd let out a roar as we crossed the finish line together. We both laughed. For just a moment self-doubt, bitterness, and anger melted away, and I extended my hand to her again. “I’m Dom, short for Dominick.”
Her pale green eyes sparkled as she extended her hand for the second time that day, and I knew that I was ready for another race.
I saw someone get threatened last week. It wasn’t pretty. When I cam to their defense, I was also targeted. It all happened on Facebook.
A Facebook friend of mine had vented his feelings on a particular political issue and drew the ire of one of his friends. His friend called his post “hateful” and “factually incorrect”, threatening to defriend him. When I came to the defense of my friend and to the defense of healthy debate, I was told, “I don’t know you and I don’t want to.” Ouch!
Years ago I fought against a particular proposition that had been placed on the ballot. It did not seem like good policy to me, and I spoke out against it. In the end, I was in the minority, and the proposition passed. In my angst over the loss, I wrote a clever letter to the editor expressing my disappointment in the outcome of the vote. To my surprise, they published it. A few weeks later a letter arrived. It was in a business-size envelope and had been addressed by hand. It carried no return address.
When I opened the envelope, I found a hateful and ridiculing form letter. It basically called me an imbecile and a jackass for my position. It made no argument to counter mine. It carried no facts to support another position. It did not appeal to any higher logic, or sense of justice. It was simply a venom-filled, one-way correspondence meant to make me feel small and stupid. It was anonymous. It might as well have been a rock thrown through my front window with some sort of threatening message because it displayed the same level of vitriol and cowardice.
At first the letter stung, kind of like a slap across the face, but as I pondered the letter, the slap lost its sting and I felt pride instead of pain. I had lost the vote, but in the battle of wits with faceless smear-letter writer, I had won the fight. I kept the letter as a reminder that at least once in my life, I had bested a mudslinging coward.
A few years ago, a friend of mine was elected to the local school board. She diligently went about her duties, and soon found herself in the middle of several controversial issues. I openly disagreed with her on one of the issues, and argued against her position. During that open disagreement, she visited our home on several occasions in a different capacity. Neither of us raised the issue of our disagreement. She never called me names or tried to belittle me personally for my difference of opinion. I followed her lead. In the end we never came to an agreement on the issue, and she proceeded with the course of action that I had openly disagreed with. She voted her conscience, and I lost. To this day, she commands my utmost respect because she courageously stood her ground and disagreed without being disagreeable. It was a lesson I will never forget.
It is seldom that we humans agree on anything. Disagreement is more likely the norm in our daily life. We all believe that we are right on certain issues, and it is impossible for all of us to be right. It behooves us all to learn to disagree agreeably, and not let our differences of opinion degenerate into cowardly personal attacks, or petty name-calling. We should counter arguments with facts and logic. Give our opinion politely and without rancor. Engage in civil debate. For heaven sakes, don’t threaten others with defriending because you disagree with their position. You might need that friend someday to help you repair a window.