Friday, October 26, 2007

Remembering 1965 and Mike Lynch

I was flipping through stations on the radio while driving to work a couple weeks ago. I paused on WCCO and listened as they filled some time chatting while leading up to the weather. Mike Lynch, the weather guy, was talking about his old neighborhood where he grew up in Richfield and about one of his neighbors there -- a beautiful girl several years older with the last name of Falen. The neighborhood he was talking about was my neighborhood, too, for one year in 1965. We lived next-door to Falens', and Mike lived on the other side of them and yes, the neighbor girl he was referring to was very pretty and I suppose in high school at the time.

We rented a home there as my dad's job had our family moving back and forth between Minneapolis and Detroit several times in the span of as many years. We never seemed to stay anywhere very long and when we'd move back it would always be to a different neighborhood and school district. It was never fun being the new kid in class but after a couple weeks, it really didn't matter I suppose.

I always thought the house on Lakeshore Drive in Richfield was haunted. I'm not sure if I ever shared that with the rest of my family; I most likely didn't for fear they wouldn't believe me but I can vividly recall laying in bed at night and just before I'd fall asleep I'd hear the sound of creaking metal. I heard the sound many nights. I used to think it was the garage door opening but it wasn't. It was very unnerving and I would try to assure myself that I was imagining it but I really was hearing something.

I learned a few lessons in our home across from Woodlake Nature Center but the one that I had to relearn and relive over and over again was that because I was older, I should know better. My younger brother Keith and I were doing what brothers do and at some point in our screwing around, he picked up a D size battery and threw it at me. It flew over my right shoulder and crashed through the window behind me. Keith, being only 5 and me being 8 made this a no-brainer for my folks. I should have known better. But how was I to know he'd throw a battery at me and how could I have stopped it? It didn't matter. I was older and I should know better. It would be the first of many times I'd hear that admonishment.

I remember once riding my bike down Lakeshore Dr on the wrong side of the street. It was a gradual descent where you could build up speed, especially on the tank which was my bike. I was looking across the street at whoever was with me and I wasn't paying attention to what was coming my way. I looked up just in time to see a car, head-on, and probably 100 feet in front of me. I was able to move to the side to avoid it but the experience rattled me. I think the car was actually stopped and the driver really couldn't do much else but pray that I'd look up in time.

There were four of us guys who used to hang out together: Mike Lynch; Steve Casperson, and Don Falen. Don's older brother Bob played in a band, the Delcounts, and they'd practice out of his garage. The band stayed together for years and achieved local success with some of their music getting airplay. Between the wildlife refuge across the street, the alley behind our homes and all of the shops along Lyndale Ave and 66th street we had plenty to keep us busy.

Don's dad was a pilot, and I think he flew for Northwest Orient (as it was known at the time). One of us four had the idea to build an airplane of our own. I'm not talking about a model airplane but rather, one that we could sit in and fly around the neighborhood. We spent probably the better part of two days cobbling together our plane with whatever wood and spare parts we could dig out of our garages. Don's driveway would serve as our hangar. How I wish somebody had taken a photo of our work but none exists that I'm aware of.

With the project completed, we rolled our plane across Lakeshore Dr and positioned it atop a hill overlooking the nature center (the hill has since been overgrown with brush and trees). Don was our pilot and he climbed in while the rest of us looked on in excited anticipation that our two days of effort were about to pay off in a very big way. I never once doubted our engineering abilities. Don was about to soar off out over the marsh and I suppose I imagined him circling back overhead while rocking his wings at us. His pretty sister was there to help us send him off. Don began his takeoff roll down the hill and to be honest, what happened next is all a blank to me. I'm not sure our plane even made it to the bottom of the hill. Our dreams of flying met with unforgiving failure as Don climbed out of the cockpit. And that was that. Within the hour we were no doubt off to other adventures, just maybe not so grandiose. Mike emailed me that Don is, in fact, a real pilot today flying for Southwest Airlines.

Our family moved again a few months later and although I came back a couple times to visit the guys, we eventually lost touch. I believe Steve became a police officer and Mike went on to become a local celebrity on WCCO radio (830) as their lead meteorologist. He's very good at what he does and has a great radio voice and personality. He's also very involved in astronomy, teaching several classes a month at various places around the area. Check out his website, and also this video (produced several years after this initial blog entry).

I emailed Mike this past week to say hello and to take a trip down memory lane with him. I showed him this photo of us from 1965 (Mike is the one on the right) and I reminded him of the airplane story. He wrote back, thankful for the memories and to say that "You're one of the only people who remembers the airplane fiasco." He also sent along the photo of himself published in the Minneapolis Star in 1971.

The old neighborhood is gone now, replaced by high rise apartments. All that remains from our time there are some trees. I rode by on my bike a couple months ago and got off and sat under one of the trees, reminiscing about my time growing up there. I tried to imagine where our home was situated and if the tree I was sitting under was the same, much smaller tree I remembered from 42 years earlier. It was only one year that we spent there but I came away with some very good memories which have faded little over the years.

There was a time a few years ago when Rachel was interested in astronomy. I bought her a telescope and she was so excited to see what she could see with it but it was so poor that we ended up returning it to the store. I'll have to make a point of going to one of Mike's astronomy classes and maybe Rachel and Tammy will come along and we can see what it's like to look through a real telescope. Plus it would be nice to say hello to Mike again after all those years.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Tammy's Project, Various Stuff and FAA Frivolity

Tammy spent a good part of the last month reupholstering our sofa, love seat, and ottoman. I didn't realize how badly they needed to be redone but the sun had definitely taken its toll on them. She'd mentioned a while back that she'd like to do it and I know she's done that sort of thing before but to be honest, I wasn't sure she could pull it off. Was I wrong!

We've got a microfiber material on our sofa in the basement and we're really impressed with its resilience. Tammy was able to find the same fabric in a different shade for this job.

She did the ottoman first to practice her skills and make sure she wasn't getting in over her head. She had it done in a day. She began work on the love seat next and was careful to note how the fabric was spread across it. She took photos in case she got lost during the reupholstering phase. She never had to refer to them. She's a natural at this sort of thing. I joked with her that when we retire and open our stained glass business we'll have to advertise ourselves as not just Grapevine Art Glass but rather, Grapevine Art Glass and Upholstery. I like the way it flows; try it again, Grapevine Art Glass and Upholstery. See what I mean? Yes, I'm joking.

Anyway, I'm so impressed that Tammy would take the job on and how quickly she got it done considering she worked on it sporadically fitting it into her schedule where she could. We couldn't have sent it out to have it professionally done and expect it would be done any better.

I've spent the last couple of weeks working on the photo pages for our website. I'm still in the process of replacing all the photos with larger, heavier weight files to give the photos much better resolution. I used to worry that there were too many dial-up users who wouldn't be able to download the larger files so I kept them small—too small. They're actually worth looking at now if you're family and want to revisit some long-ago times in addition to some current stuff. Most of the photos are 700px wide and around 100k. Here's a few quick links to what I've been working on: Rachel's photos, Tammy's family and my family.

Keith's lady friend, Tracee, is the manager for a few stores which go by the name The Afternoon. Her store has always been a place I make a point of stopping by whenever I'm at the Mall of America. I don't often buy much there—I just mostly browse. Tracee has been trying to sell her home for the better part of a year but not much is moving around here, so much so that she's dropped the price by around $140k and also dropped her Realtor. I stopped by last Sunday on my way to work to see her home and the deck Keith built. It's a beautiful home and if I were in the market I'd be all over it. Keith's handiwork on the deck is typical for him. Here are a couple of opposing views of the deck. View 1 and View 2. I told them that I can't imagine them going much lower on the price but the forecast for home prices in this area is to continue to drop so they may not have a lot of choices. It's a tough market to be selling in.

I don't suppose I could post this blog entry without saying something about my employer, the FAA, as I've been prone to do in many of my previous entries of late. I came into work on Sunday afternoon and noticed a large 60" plasma screen mounted for all to see as you enter the control room. For you to understand where I'm going with this you have to first know that FAA management has slashed salaries for newer Controllers and instituted a 5-year pay cap for the rest of us while continuing to allow raises for all of management. They call it a contract but there's no such contract/agreement at all. If there is such a thing as an imposed contract then that's what we have.

This shiny new 60" plasma screen for the purpose it serves is so over-the-top and unnecessary. Frivolous. It's got about a dozen messages which cycle through it and we'll maybe get a glance at a couple as we walk past it. Messages congratulating so and so for whatever it is they've done, birthday wishes and some motivational messages to make us all feel good about our employer.

I asked my former supe if he'd thanked my trainee and the other new hires for the new plasma screen. He didn't get it. "Where do you suppose we got the extra money for such a frivolous expense?" I asked. He said, "the agency is flush with cash". "Really? And why is that? Do you suppose it has anything to do with the pay caps they instituted and the low pay they're forcing on new hires?" He commented that "nobody is forcing them to work here." He went on to tell me that there's no lack of people waiting in the wings to be hired as Controllers. I asked him if that was why they're no longer requiring a college degree to be hired. I also mentioned that it's a bit of a kick in the teeth to people such as my trainee who have $70,000 or more in college debt which apparently wasn't needed after all. He told me that my trainee could find a different job if he didn't like it here. Great. I'll be sure and not tell him that. I don't want to diminish his hopes any more than they already are.

I went on to tell him that there's a lot of resentment toward management with just about all of us. We'll smile at you and be cordial but just below the surface, we're not so warm and fuzzy. We resent what is happening to the agency. He told me that he didn't get wrapped up in the politics of it all. I told him he didn't need to but that he should at least open his eyes to what's happening and not claim ignorance.

I told him that I enjoy my job but I'm troubled that because I didn't do the 'traffic dodge' years ago and get into management I'm going to be punished for that. I'm the one in the sector day in and day out who is only one clearance away from losing it all but that those in management who watch from a safe distance are the ones who continue to see increasing rewards.

He went on to tell me that I'm paid a lot to do what I do. I agreed but I told him I'm a big believer in leading by example and asked if they ever taught that approach in any of the management classes he's been to. He said they did but reiterated that I'm paid a lot. I understand that but I'd just like to know that we're in this together and that you'll lead and show me the way to go. Funny how management could hitch their wagon to Pay Re-class in '98 which Natca negotiated and from which they as well benefited substantially. No way are they going anywhere near this new pay idea. They protect their own.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

A Phone Call from DC

I cut my ride short today as my legs were feeling tired. I was in the shower when I heard the phone ring. I figured it was Tammy on her way home from work but she'd have to wait as I was all soaped up. A few seconds later Tammy is in the bathroom telling me that John Kline (our Congressman and neighbor) is on the phone. The soap will have to wait. I'd written John a few nights ago to express my frustration with FAA management and apparently he'd read my email. I routinely see him when I'm out walking Toby and Allie as he lives just down the street. I suppose I could have approached him and introduced myself then gone into the laundry list of complaints I have but that's not me. I outlined a brief description of my concerns then gave him a link to a recent post in my blog hoping he'd follow the link to learn more. He did.

He said he supported Natca's (Air Traffic Controllers' union) attempts to require the FAA to enter into binding arbitration but that he couldn't support HR2881 as it was too overreaching in its attempt to restore lost wages due to the imposed contract. He would like to see us given a chance at binding arbitration rather than have the FAA impose a contract upon us. I told him that at this point I'd be happy with binding arbitration and that I wasn't looking to be made whole through back pay if that's what it would take to have his support. We spoke for 5 minutes and there was so much more I'd love to have bent his ear about but I wasn't prepared for his call.

I intend to stop and introduce myself next time I see him. Until then I'll let this email I just wrote him fill in the blanks of what I wished I'd said in our talk today.

Mr. Kline,

We spoke on the phone early this afternoon. I'm Kevin Gilmore, the Air Traffic Controller who lives up the street from you. I must admit that your phone call caught me by surprise. I want to thank you for taking the time to listen to my concerns for the FAA. I'm not a polished union representative and I don't have a full understanding of all that's occurring within management or Natca. I'm just an average guy with some thoughts about the government agency I work for.

I'd like to give you a few observations from one who works the traffic and my understanding of the dynamics at play between labor and management. The FAA has never been known as an agency with strong leadership or I should say, leadership which is respected. Being a controller isn't an occupation for everyone; in fact, a large percentage of new hires aren't successful. There are also those who make it through training and become certified controllers but they're not comfortable in the job. These people typically spend a minimum amount of time actually doing the job, oftentimes less than one year before moving out of controlling and into desk work which eventually leads to management. You can see where respect would be hard to come by for a person who puts themselves in that sort of position. Sadly, it's this person who makes up the majority of our supervisor ranks.

Ideally, we'd have our management ranks staffed with controllers who have been in the trenches actually doing the work and earning the respect of their fellow controllers over the years before becoming supervisors but that's seldom the case. Our management ranks have very few veteran controllers. I want to respect those in authority but I have a difficult time knowing that the person sitting in judgment of my performance was unable or unwilling to do what I do.

So, rather than cutting a person loose who is unable to continue in the position they were hired to do the FAA promotes them into supervisory positions and pays them even more. Not exactly a good recipe for creating a management team respected by the troops. And so the resentment is built into the system. It's been this way my entire career...going on 26 years. No doubt management would discount what I've just stated but believe me that it is true. Management isn't respected and they're resentful of that. It's a large part of what fuels much of the smackdown Natca is experiencing today. The resentment works both ways and has never been higher.

For nearly all controllers their pay has been capped for the 5-year life of the contract (for lack of a better word). Management has made no mention this time of following in our footsteps, say nothing of leading by example. I've spoken with my facility manager about this hypocrisy and he says there's a lot of red tape involved with reaching an agreement as to who within management should be included. I've written to acting FAA administrator Bobby Sturgell and expressed my frustration and concerns to him but I received no reply. I didn't want to bother you with this for fear that I would come off as sounding childish but what is happening in the FAA is wrong in so many ways.

Natca negotiated Pay Re-class back in '98 for which both controllers and management benefited. Actually, management simply hitched their wagon to what Natca negotiated. Part of this negotiation was Controller Incentive Pay (CIP). It was designed to attract controllers to higher cost of living areas. With the new contract CIP for controllers is being phased out while management continues to keep it for themselves. I personally never received CIP but this is but one example of the disingenuousness being displayed by management.

Another example happened two weeks ago when Rick Day, head of Enroute Operations flew to Los Angeles Center to congratulate them on their upgrade from ATC11 to ATC12. Los Angeles Center actually qualified for the upgrade 3 years ago but Rick Day personally halted the upgrade saying that he didn't trust the data. It turns out that the data was correct and Rick Day allowed the upgrade, however, the controllers who did the heavy lifting to make the upgrade possible won't be receiving the 6.7% pay raise but management will, in addition to the Presidential raise they received back in January which again, the controllers did not receive. Do you get a feel for what's happening out here? Can you understand my frustration?

John, this email to you is more than just me venting. I feel it's necessary for you to have an understanding of what is occurring aside from just what the FAA administrator will tell you—that we're a bunch of overpaid malcontents or words to that effect.

John, one last thing. New hires at the academy are being paid less than I was when I started in early 1982. Back then I was making a little over $16,000 per year plus per diem of around $35 daily while at the academy in Oklahoma City. The kids being hired today are making just a bit less than the 16K I was making and they're receiving no per diem. In addition to that, they're saddled with 70-100K in college debt for a degree the FAA required of them. The real kicker though is that because the FAA is struggling to find new people to take the job they've waived the college degree requirement for most.

It's not good what's happening to the FAA. I could go on about the conflict of interest surrounding Marion Blakey and her new position but I'll save that for later.

Again, thank you for the phone call today and your taking the time to read this. I look forward to introducing myself the next time I see you when I'm out walking my pups.


Kevin Gilmore