Saturday, October 25, 2008

A 2nd Chance at a Missed Opportunity

I waited for the temps to warm up a bit before heading out on my bike today. I didn't want to wear any more than was necessary because I knew I'd be out there a while and I hate being over-dressed when I ride. The temp was just under 50 when I got away at 11:45.

I started down the hill just off Jalisco with my cellphone camera in my hand to grab a photo of the police car which has been sitting across the street from Congressman John Kline's home. He and several other members of Congress and the Senate had their homes vandalized with spray paint a few nights ago. It's a slow day in my blog world so I'd intended to write about the police presence.

Just after shooting the photo I noticed that John was out painting over the graffiti on his garage door. We'd corresponded a few times last winter and we closed with him inviting me to stop by and introduce myself the next time I saw him out and about. Today was that day. I doubled back and cycled up his driveway. I introduced myself as "Kevin, the air traffic controller who lives up the street". I wasn't sure if he connected me with the guy he'd talked with on the phone or the guy who'd left a manila envelope in his front door asking if he'd kindly do what he could to get the words I'd written to the President's desk. He no doubt talks to a lot of people with a ton of requests and I don't expect that he's able to remember the specifics of any more than a small percentage of those of us who seek his help.

We spoke about what sort of person would do something like this to a person's home. I mentioned that it's the world we live in and fortunately it's a very small percentage of people who would ever act out in such a way. True, he said but then he turned the conversation to the 1 to 2 percent of Muslims who are Islamic radicals and how even though it seems a small percentage, when you're talking 1 to 2 percent of billions of people you're talking about a lot of people who wish us harm to have to contend with. He went on to say that the only real answer is to work with countries where these people reside and ensure that they have no safe haven from which to operate. I couldn't disagree.

We don't condone acts of violence in our cities/country but yet violence still happens. Vandalism to John's home comes to mind. That's probably a weak argument though as I'd say John was referring to countries turning a blind eye toward organized terrorism.

I recounted for John a television show I'd seen on A&E, Justice Files or some such program where there was a search for a serial killer. They were able to catch him by finding the IP address of the computer which had queried the address of one of the killer's victims. I wondered if it was possible to do the same thing to catch whoever it was that defaced his and the other homes? I can't believe there would be too many people out there who would do a search for the six whose homes were vandalized. He thought it was a good idea and said he was going to suggest it to those doing the investigation.

He put the finishing touches on his garage door as we spoke then said he was off to Gander Mountain to do some shopping. I told him it was nice to finally get to meet him and we shook hands. I wished him luck in the coming election and pedaled away. I was less than a quarter-mile down the road when I thought to myself that I should have gotten a photo of him painting his door. It would've been a nice touch for my blog. I also thought about how I'd love to have bent his ear just a bit about the goings-on in the FAA but it didn't seem appropriate at the time. My issues barely register on his radar with all the other more important matters facing our country.

My legs felt good and I could tell this was going to be a good day on my bike but I couldn't get out of my head the fact that I'd missed a good photo op and how I'd have to learn to be a bit more forceful in getting my thoughts out there when the opportunity presented itself. But do I want to be just another person who is a drain on his time? I know that's what he signed up for when he was elected but there's a part of me that's hesitant to be one of so many others.

As I biked I thought about some points I'd maybe make with him if I ever got the chance again. The last time we spoke he'd called me on the phone while I was in the shower. I was totally unprepared as Tammy handed me the phone while I tried to towel off and listen to what he was saying. I needed to do a better job than I was of getting my points across.

I took the back way to Belle Plaine (county road 40) and struggled into a headwind which was gusting to 30mph at times. It would be a fun ride home as I turned out of the wind after finally getting there. My legs were feeling good and I was toying with the idea of doing 100 miles but the thought of getting back in time for the 5:00 service at Hosanna was winning out. So was the idea of possibly catching John out in his yard on my way back.

I was still feeling strong as I left Jordan but my two water bottles of Cytomax would soon be empty and I wasn't sure if I could make it home without having to stop to refuel. I blew past my last chance to do anything about my energy needs when I passed the Holiday gas station in Prior Lake. It wasn't long after that when I could feel the bonk wasn't far off. I'd gone 70 miles at this point without stopping. Only 10 miles to go so I'd have to tough it out.

My thoughts continued to turn to my few minutes with John Kline at the start of my ride and I said a small prayer that he'd be out there when I came home. God answers prayer—not that it's always the answer we're looking for.

John was in his garage when I came by and I pedaled back up his drive once more. I asked him if he had any extra lawn signs. He said he was all out but would likely have more tomorrow. I told him that I wasn't sure if he made the connection that I was the one who'd dropped the manila envelope in his front door last winter asking for his help in getting my letter some attention and that I wanted to thank him for doing that for me. I said I'd heard back from the powers-that-be in the FAA but it wasn't what I was hoping for.

I went on to say that I'm being put down for simply wanting to remain a controller and not seek a management position. I said that I love what I do and I do it well. Why would the FAA not see value in that?

I mentioned that the workforce in the FAA was told that we needed to get costs under control. I was fine with that I said but I'm going on my third year of a pay freeze while management continues to receive raises and making no sacrifice whatsoever toward reigning in costs.

We walked out to the street and chatted while he screwed some screws into his mailbox to secure it to its post as it looks like it's been beaten with a baseball bat.

He replied that Controllers are getting "hosed" in the current situation. I couldn't agree more. He said that he's taken some heat from those in his party for supporting legislation to try and work toward a fix of our problems. I thanked him and assured him that he'd have my vote in the coming election and I was certain that Tammy would be voting for him as well. I told him that I admired that he didn't always do what was politically expedient for himself with respect to winning over his constituents; i.e., his unwillingness to try and secure earmarks for his district as a way of winning votes and the above-mentioned vote to work with our union, Natca.

I told him that I'm forced to retire at age 56 and that it's important for me to do what I can to pay off my debts before being forced into early retirement. It's not as though I can take my air traffic control skills and market them to many places once my career is over. I mentioned that while my pay is capped, I do receive a small bonus each year but I'm not allowed to count that toward my base pay which would help my retirement. The FAA doesn't pay my retirement so why should it matter to them if it goes toward my base pay? It didn't appear that he was aware of that. I stressed that all the while management has been receiving their raises which will enhance their retirement.

I told him that while I'll be voting for him I won't be voting for John McCain and that I'd be supporting Obama. I said that there are many people I work with who hold conservative values but it makes no sense for us to support those who are working against our interests in such a mean-spirited, nonsensical way. I mentioned that I'd recently decided I was no longer going to be used by the party for my pro-life vote. The message I was trying to send was that the Republican party needs to retool their focus and not have such a tin ear toward those who support them. He responded that "tin ear" were the exact words he's been using to describe the Bush administration. He said he understood the reasons for my decisions to vote for Obama. He didn't try to sway me and I respected him for that.

I said to John that whatever help he could give us in helping others to understand what's happening within the FAA would be appreciated.

I thanked him again for his time. He headed back into his garage and I stopped next door to chat with Dan. I've recently gotten to know Dan since he's been walking his dog by our house while I've been out there with Toby and Allie. He retired a couple years ago as a Biologist working for (I think) the federal government. He's enjoying his retirement as is his wife who recently retired from her career as a Registered Nurse.

While we were talking I noticed a bike in his garage. It's an old Peugeot that he bought in 1973 and still uses on occasion when he and his wife hit the Cannon Valley Trail. I mentioned that I got my start in biking over 30 years ago on the same make and model bike. Mine was white.

He said that John is a good guy and a great neighbor to have. He said they go hunting together and seldom if ever do they discuss politics. They were going to get together a little later for a beer. Isn't that the way our political process is supposed to work? You take a common man from the community and he gets elected to represent the people he lives among. He gets elected not because he comes from money but because he listens and has struggled the same struggles many of us have.

I said goodbye to Dan and finished my ride feeling complete knowing that I had a good day on the bike and that my prayer to be able to have just a bit more time with John was answered.

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