Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thanksgiving, 2011

I passed you, coming out of the morning meeting.  You weren’t supposed to be there. You were on your phone; still said “hi” as I went by.  I figured that you were just checking in. I wish you’d said something then, but that really wasn’t ever your way of doing things.  Later on, you were gone, with the message in my inbox that you’d resigned.  I know some of the whys and wherefores, and there’s a lot that I don’t know.  I do know that there are some things that I need to tell you. It’s part and parcel of what we talked about in terms of many other people and situations as I tried to help you as we worked together. We just never really talked about what you’ve done for me.

You took action on my behalf at a time when I was out of options. I was out of ideas; mostly I was out of hope. I was hope-less. Trapped from any of the thousand ways I tried to look at it, resigned to a crumbling future. I was beyond hating my job, hating those around me, beyond sick and tired. I was numb.  It was not “acceptance,” it was despair. What you gave me - and it was truly a gift – was an opportunity. We both know that it was also good for the company. What you did that others would not was to recognize this and do something about it. I would hope that you could consider this a success. As we discussed, many times, success in your particular position was often very difficult to measure. One of the things you understood was that success as a leader could be measured in human terms, usually ‘off the books’, even when others might not understand. I enjoyed those conversations very much. You most certainly achieved that with and for me. Thank you.

It didn’t mean that I liked my assignments. Not at first, and some of them I will never enjoy. You did, however, treat my attitude and frustrations with a compassion that amazes me, still.  These last few years have not been easy for anyone at our workplace, and you were often pretty near the end of that wagging dog’s tail. Though we (ok, me mostly) made fun of some of your statements (“It is what it is”), there was no mistaking that it was what it was, and it likely wasn’t getting any better. You encouraged, cajoled, moved stuff around, didn’t run certain reports at different times, and did your best to make it work. Often, you looked bad for our sake. Some of us recognized that.  Thank you.

The opportunities that you provided me have given me quite an education into an aspect of my career that I never thought I’d receive.  You have increased my value at least threefold; to Mercy, to myself, and hope-fully, to my future.  You’ve helped improved my home and family life – I’m a little easier to live with than I was in my six years in “The Pit.” I actually look forward to going to work, every now and then. Just don’t tell anyone – I have a reputation to maintain.  Thank you.

Thank you for looking me in the eye. Thank you for letting me rant when I needed to, to say the wrong thing, to accept my apologies for doing both. Thank you for valuing my opinions. For listening. For your confidences, which I keep. It meant that you valued the ‘working’ me, something that had been taken away.  You allowed me to do, to make a difference, to work through a new challenge to the other side, to make something better, not just fill time on the train to oblivion.

I don’t know what the future holds for either of us. I hope what you told me, the last time we talked about it, continues to be true. I know that you’ll be successful and make a difference, whatever happens, because that’s what you do. I’m just thinking about you on this Thanksgiving eve.

Thank you.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

“V-8, with a Detroit attitude”

- from “Livin’ Large in My Malibu”, Steve White


About three months ago, I purchased the above vee-hickle. Two and a half tons of Dearborn steel, an iconic hunk of Americana. This is not my first truck, but it’s been a while, and the last one I called a truck was really an SUV stuck on a small truck chassis. My first truck was a brief yet (nostalgically) satisfying encounter 20 years ago with an ex-forest service truck with a straight-six, three on the floor rattler that I frankly can’t remember what happened to it. This is my first V-8. I’m old enough that I had to do the conversion to be happy; it says 5.4 liter but that means 330 cubic inches, to me. Not quite the 350 of my ‘childhood’, and  what we Amurrcans call a “short block”, but it’s the biggest motor I’ve ever put my foot into. I haven’t actually done that, yet, and that’s going to be the point of this essay, eventually.

cropped orig side

I didn’t set out to buy this truck. I had smaller things in mind, really I did. I wanted a truck; consumer/homeowners that we are, we accumulate things (like IKEA furniture) that may come home in small packages but require disposal options not available at curbside.  We also needed transportation that could accommodate the four of us. Toyotas and Hondas were in my sights. I took Sam along to test back seats. The short story is that I saw this truck, liked it immediately for several reasons, negotiated a reasonable price, and took it home. And yes, I succumbed to its’ ‘bigness.’

So here’s the deal. It took me a good two months to come to the realization that I am rebelling. No, not like the middle-aged (and yes,  I am clutching at the outer edge of that precipice) guy who buys a Corvette and gets hair plugs.  I can’t say if it’s always been this way, but I suspect not – that I’m living in a society where everything I do is guilt-inducing or otherwise contra-indicated for some reason or another. I know that I consume more on a regular basis than most on this planet and, while I can and do conserve/recycle/etc., there are aspects of my living that I cannot change – right now.  Suburban life probably must change significantly if we are to ultimately sustain life on Earth; however, those changes are going to happen pretty slowly in comparison to my tenure. Having said that, there is so much noise around us about what’s “good” and “bad” that I fear none of us should truly enjoy much beyond camping in the woods, eating berries and missing toilet paper. We are made to feel guilty about where we shop, what we buy, how we cook it, what kind of pots and pans we use, what countries the spices come from, how we eat it, how we wash the dishes, and we really should be composting those coffee grounds and watermelon (I’m SURE it was union-picked) rinds. I have been wondering, lately, what ultimately costs more – sending food scraps through the garbage disposal, or putting them in the trash. Water is expensive here in Southern California; at the same time our landfill is pretty full. Yes, really, I can feel guilty about just about anything, anymore.  I was getting pretty self-righteous about that whiny, freeloading cat at our house until he reminded me of his worth yesterday by leaving mouse parts on the front porch. Alright, so he’s doing his part, he can stay.

With the truck, it’s gas. Let’s not mince words here, this As an impulse buy, I can claim that I was misled by a CARFAX® report that grossly overestimated the mileage – I later found out that it gets exactly what Ford Says it’s supposed to.  It is the heaviest truck in it’s class, and it just takes a lot to move it around. So I, good person that I am, immediately became guilt-ridden and obsessed with improving it. I got online and found lots of expert advice, including a modification to the air intake system that I performed myself with some drain pipe and a hose clamp.  Any further efforts will be costly, and must be placed pretty far down the list of things to do, if at all. I can report that the things I have done, which include driving (as one truck forum poster wrote) “like there’s a raw egg between my foot and the gas pedal”), I’ve increased my city mileage by 0.71 mpg.  This means a little over 21 more miles per tank of gas (It’s got a 30 gallon tank, fer pete’s sake), or about a gallon and a half savings  per tankful.  I now measure things/purchases/etc. by tankfuls of gas.  I’m also about ready to get over it.

I know it’s new and all (to me, it’s 4  years old. Pretty good lookin’ considering that, huh?), but I have just enjoyed the heck out of this truck. I had been driving the 20 year-old 4-door Honda Civic that the kids grew up in, complete with a back seat so encrusted with happy meal detritus. . . I need go no further. I had no fan, so no heat/defrost/AC action; it bore the scars of domestic bliss  and deferred maintenance (kinda like me, but I still have some trade-in value).  I enjoy everything about it – the space, the ride, the fact that it has airbags  and big ol’ bumpers.  I know that I will get used to it, over time. For now, the cost of operating it has turned to an appreciation for what it does for me. Not exactly a guilty pleasure, more like I’ve earned the right to have it and enjoy it. If I could afford it, I would buy one of those little electric cars and use the truck less.  I would take public transportation back and forth to work if it were practical, but, last time I checked, it was about an hour and a half each way vs. about 18 minutes by car. That is not a reasonable trade-off. 

There has to be a point where one stops bullying themselves about what they can’t do and do more than just make do. Yes, I said that in an obscure way just to over use the word ‘do.’ Must we always be willing to settle for less? Today, this suits me, and I will make the best use of it until such time as my circumstances and abilities change. One day, pretty soon, I think that I will get on a freeway onramp, put the pedal to the floor, and smile.