* * * My Words, My World, My Way * * *

Please Write: ALewisPDX@gmail.com

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Stewardess School

Stewardess.  Air Hostess.  Flight Attendant.  Whatever you call it, it's my life.  18 years now.  I have the great opportunity to assist others along the path toward a professional career as a flight attendant about every five weeks or so.  I assist one day in each of our new FA classes.  It's called "Services Day," the one particular day where we learn how to set up carts, pour drinks, serve from a tray, sell food products from the Northern Bites cart, operate our point of sale devices.  We talk about which FA does what, which one stands where, who is responsible for what items, who picks up trash and recycling, how to mix drinks in First Class, how to avoid spilling, how to roll carts around safely and carefully in a skinny airplane aisle (a fully loaded beverage cart weighs 197 pounds), if we are permitted to serve First Class champagne in the main cabin or not, when we can offer a complimentary beverage and when we cannot, what to do with drunks, how to brew coffee on board, what kinds of wine we have, where the emergency water shut-off valve is in the galleys, how to ensure that all latches are locked for takeoff and landing, when and how to place a napkin on a tray table, when and how to make service announcements, how to properly offer and plate First Class meals, how to lift and move soda drawers (they are our single heaviest drawers and weight 19.5 pounds), what to do if they do spill on a customer, how many services are required on which flights, the extra things that are required to be done on flights to Hawaii and the East Coast, how to distribute our Inflight Entertainment Systems, which line on the cup to pour the wine up to, the differences between working with a 3-person versus a 4-person crew and and and and and and.  The learning never stops. 

It's a great day.  One of the most exciting and fun days of the entire five weeks of flight attendant training.  And yes, it is only one day.  That is far more services training than I had 18 years ago.  We like to say that we spend one day training for what we actually do 95% of our lives.  And 95% of the time training for what we may never have to do -- emergencies and such. 

I love the energy, the newness and freshness of those who have been through our very difficult selection process and have finally made it into training.  Some have big attitude and already "know it all," some have actually been FAs for other airlines in the past, but most are open to learning and ready for the challenge.  Tomorrow is that day again.  I will go up to Seattle this afternoon.  Then our team arrives at our Flight Operations building at 6:15am tomorrow, the carts (picture above) are delivered to us by our airport kitchen at 6:30am and class begins at 8am sharp.  We finish with the students at 5pm, clean up, return the carts for pickup, and then I am on the 7pm flight back to Portland.  It's an exhausting day.  But so much fun to be a part of ushering new Stewardesses into the next part of their lives in the Friendly Skies.  Be nice to your flight attendant next time you see one.  Take them a treat -- we love chocolates or other fun things and, oh, tell them I sent you.  

Monday, March 18, 2013

19 Years Ago Today

I've been thinking crazy thoughts lately.  I mean, nothing dark or horrible or wrong.  But about life.  And about death.  My own mortality, actually.  How at age 51 that my life is more than half over.  And about the fact that no men in my family have lived past 70.  And about my most recent health issues which I hope are under control.  And that brings me to my own amazing father.  My Dad.  Tomorrow will mark the 19th anniversary of his passing way back on March 19, 1994.  It wasn't pretty.  But he sure was.  You'll find this link to Part 3 (or you can simply read it below) of the three-part series I wrote about him a number of years ago.  In this particular link, you can find Part 1 and Part 2 links if you care to recount it along with me.  I will read through the whole series as I always do on March 19.  I've said it before, I think I miss him more now that I'm an adult than I did in my younger years.  Some days, you just need a father around. 

Part 3 -- It was March 19, 1994.…13 years ago today….and my alarm went off at 6:45am. I was in Liverpool, England, directly on the cold, dark Irish Sea, and beginning day three of our Rehearsal Camp for the British Continentals,a group that I was going to be directing on a musical tour through England, Scotland, The Netherlands, Denmark, and Germany. As I lay there trying to get every minute of sleep possible, there was a knock at my door. A telephone message had been received during the night by the camp operator. I was supposed to call my sister. My heart was broken already, I knew what message was waiting. I was exhausted. Physically but also turning like a butter churn internally. I knew I should be in a hurry to return the call but I wasn’t. I had left Boise only four days earlier after throwing myself across my father’s lap as he sat in his wheelchair at the airport -- his oxygen pumping away. And me on my hands and knees in the boarding area, bawling like a child, my luggage tossed aside. I got up from his lap and went around behind him. I put my face against his cool, old skin and bones and held him as he grunted, groaned, and tried to wave me toward the airplane. I knew the inevitable was soon coming. My god, it couldn’t be….could it? Never again would I see the life in his eyes.

As I made my way out into the early Sunday morning, I remember thinking how warm it felt especially being, literally, just across the road from the sea. I breathed deeply and heavily, trying as nearly as I could, to propel myself into calmness. The phone was ringing thousands of miles away. Her shaky, monotone, and dark voice said that “Dad passed away two hours ago.” The doctors had wanted him to stay in the Portland VA Hospital for his dehydration. But he wrote “Boise” on his notebook. He wanted to go home. A place of comfort, respite, if any were to be found. The doctor finally agreed to let my mom drive him the 450 miles to the VA Hospital in Boise and check him in. She drove through the drenching rain having to stop repeatedly to fix the windshield wipers. My amazing parents spent the last night of their 33 years together in an old roadside motel just west of Pendleton, Oregon. You just never know where the road you’re traveling is going to end up. Dad couldn’t breathe while laying down any longer so he slept in a recliner, upright. I still have the handwritten notes he wrote to the doctors and family that last afternoon. It is incredible to trace his journey by reading scribbled notes. That evening ,carbon dioxide began building up in his body. “Your husband is in critical condition and probably won’t live through the night” the nurse told my mom in the hallway outside his room. “Call your family together.” How could this be? Can’t we just put in a feeding tube…that should take care of it. Did he actually hear them saying that he wouldn’t make it through the night? His last words on paper: “I have to go to the bathroom….pee….it’s hot.” My brother and my mom were on either side of the recliner that my father was resting in. They sort of “looked at each other” at 10pm and their tired eyes told each other that he wasn’t breathing any longer. Lewis was gone. Damn that wretched Lou Gehrig’s Disease….it would never haunt him again. I walked back to my room in the warm wind just as the sun was making it’s way up over England. I’m glad it wasn’t raining that morning. I returned home the very next day. All of the way back across the globe to where I’d just come from a few days earlier.

He lay in his Navy uniform, glasses in place, and hands folded just so. You wouldn’t have believed the red, white, and blue flowers that were jam-packed into the small viewing room. The morning of his funeral, I took the car to get it washed….well, at least that’s what I used as my excuse to go, by myself, for one last visit with my father. I slipped into the Alden-Waggoner Funeral Home, turned left, and down the hall where he and I had a chat. I kissed his cold hands that had worked so hard for 62 years. And I leaned into the wooden box as far as I dared and hugged his face as tightly as I could. I thought it may break….no, wait, that’s my heart. That blip in history, my friends, will wring water from my eyes forever. The rest of the day was spent with 500 of his dearest friends at his completely overwhelming funeral--45 minutes for their long, wan faces to file past his casket. The moment or two before the lid was closed permanently is one moment of time that etches itself in my memory. “Wait,“ I wanted to shout. I would never see him again. Never. And, that was it. The lid closed and locked. His essential life lessons to me were over. Class was dismissed. There were so many of his fellow Navy men and women who volunteered to salute him that day that they had to turn them down. His impact on the people of this earth was dramatic in a horribly simplistic way. As the seven rifles cracked three times with their 21-gun salute, we jumped…but in silence…on the hillside above Boise that spring afternoon with the wind blowing. It still blows there today. The flag was folded with precision by the Navy and rested gently on my mother’s lap. As we drove away, my determined and self-assured mom staring, almost glaring, in silence--her voice broke, the wind seemingly sucked out of her lungs, and she sobbed. “I told him to wait for me but he couldn’t.”

My father never met a stranger. His infectious smile broke across the deepest of divides. I have no idea whether he knew about my sexuality or not. I have no regrets. None. I do wish that I’d done more to open myself up to him…not only in the last few short years…but throughout my whole fleeting lifetime. I wish I’d allowed him to see me for who I truly am. Time is short, my friends. Very. Don’t waste it. I wish that he’d been able to know me as a gay man….his gay son. The man that I know I am today. His spirit lives on in me, that I know. I find myself thinking like him, acting like him, even, possibly, looking like him. And, in the greatest of honors, I now use his name for my own when I can. He would be proud, I know he would. I can see his smile, his crooked teeth, hear his bright laughing voice, and feel his positive energy even today. I loved him dearly. My world isn’t the same without him in it. But in some crazy, unexplainable way, it is. He lives on in me….and that, my dear comrades, makes my journey on this earth complete.

Saturday, March 09, 2013

On The Road

CHICAGO O'HARE AIRPORT HOTEL -- The workout room here is quite nice.  Pool, hot tub, weights, yoga mats with lots of floor space for poses, machines, treadmills, and water!  I'm working away quietly,  no one else around, doing my best to embrace the sweat when Little Missy arrives on the treadmill right next to mine.  I will never understand why someone would bypass every other machine to be right next to mine when there is no one else around.  It's like taking a leak at a urinal.  If someone else is there, proper etiquette calls for at least one urinal's distance from the other guy.  Unless of course, there are ulterior objectives.  In her most Paula Deen southern drawl she begins the following:

ME:  Saying absolutely nothing, eyes straight ahead, walking vigorously.
Little Missy:  Mornin'.  Does the TV work on yours?
ME:  I don't think it has TV. 
Little Missy:  I can't stand this cold.  I'm headed back to the Big D today.
ME:  Oh.
Little Missy:  My husband is from Michigan.  He calls Texas God's Country.
ME:  Oh it's not that cold out.  It's actually warmed up from last night.

At this point she turns on her iTunes and lays it on her treadmill without using ear buds.  I tell myself that this is yet another of life's weird and wonderful moments in spite of the fact that I've never heard anyone in the gym using their music without a headset.

Little Missy:  Will this music bother you?
ME:  Nope.
Little Missy:  The ear buds I have just fall out.
ME:  Oh.
Little Missy:  What kind of music do you like?
ME:  Oh, anything is fine.
Little Missy (Her phone is now ringing and she answers):  Hey girl!
ME:  Silent as a church mouse.
Little Missy:  I'm doin' my three miles yoo-hoo!  I'll call you back.

The remainder of our 30 minutes was silent.  The wild.  The wonderful.  The funny things that happen to one in our lives.