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December 6, 2012

Ever been in an earthquake?  A real one?

I have, once.  Not cataclysmic by any stretch.  Just some dull shaking of the furniture and rattling of dishes and glasses in the cupboard.  3.6 on the Richter scale.  20 seconds worth.  Everything looked the same afterwards…no damage.  Which was a relief.

But it was ominous.  No warning.  No control.  Like it or not, I was along for the ride, whatever it was.  And there was no telling if the ground beneath our feet was finished shaking, or if there were to be aftershocks.

Now imagine if, metaphorically speaking, the life you have is struck by an earthquake.  Every aspect, too.  Your kids.  Your job.  Your spouse.  Your own health.  Your folks and theirs.  Or your in-laws.  Everything is rattling in your cupboard.  What’s going to topple to the ground?  How bad will the damage be?  Perhaps more importantly, when is the whole place gonna stop shaking?

Well, I’m about there.  Things have been shaking for over a month now.  Aftershocks occur suddenly, randomly, and in various intensities.  Like what?  Take work, for one.

About a month ago, news broke that my airline had finally brokered an agreement between management and our two separate, disparate pilot unions.  Not at all an easy task.  The proffered agreement is lengthy, byzantine in complexity and, well, rife with insufficiencies.  This after almost three years of work by union, company and independent mediators alike.  The agreement is tentative–it requires a simple majority by all “active” pilots to ratify.  Alas, given my “furloughed” status, I am not an active pilot.  So I do not have a direct say in its’ ratification.  I have to rely on my union “brothers” to vote Yea or Nay on my behalf.

I have nothing against my fellow union members.  In fact, I side with the union for all of the good reasons one is a member of a union–strength in numbers, professional standards of deportment, technical knowledge, fellowship.  When I was an active member, my dues were always paid on time.  For this I have always held modest–if altruistic expectations.  Namely, that the union would try to do the right thing by us as a pilot group–and for me personally.  Much to my exasperation, this tentative pilot contract does little more than offer me more money.

More money is fine, don’t get me wrong.  But the trade-offs are absolutely stunning.  In other words, this contract is a horrible disappointment.  It sucks.

Specifically, given that most pilot pay is based on how many years have passed since date of hire–I was hired in 2000–I should be paid at the 12th year pay rate.  Instead, I will be paid for approximately only the time I was actively flying–just over 4 years.  So, instead of 12th year pay, I will earn 5th year pay.

Listen if you haven’t heard this song yet–I was furloughed twice.  I’ve been exiled from the cockpit now for almost 9 years.  I have 1435 fellow furloughees with whom to share sad company.  Speaking of things that suck that have happened to me, this is another.  Most galling is that this contract uniquely excludes those of us hired from 1999 to 2001–approximately 1135 of us.  We are double furloughees.  We have been “hit by the bus” twice.  Although other major airlines provided for their poor bastard furloughees in this regard, our “union” did not.  Essentially, we are being hit by the bus a third time.  And I have no “official” say in this matter, because I am furloughed.  Have I told you how much this sucks yet?

Airline pilots have an image problem of sorts.  Most in the general public think they know us as coddled, skirt chasing, button pushing prima donnas who spend what must be weeks at a time flying for free to the beaches of Tahiti while sitting on our bloated wallets.  The reality is entirely different, not anywhere as glamorous, nor profitable.  I will leave stories describing this for another day.

My earth shook when my brain processed what my incredulous eyes took in.  My union sold us out for the equivalent of a few gold coins.  I feel betrayed.

Through different means, I have made my angst and dissatisfaction known.  Still, this contract is likely to be voted in by a narrow majority who have dollar signs in their eyes and not cold steel blades in their backs, like us double furloughees have.  the ground-shaking contract will be in effect for at least 5 years.  Likely much longer.  And this earthquake will leave permanent, irreparable damage.  I will never forget.

I couldn’t sleep.  I used to pride myself on the ability to visit Mr. Sandman anywhere as long as I was horizontal.  Not since that first temblor struck.  I’d wake up with a start only four hours after staring the clock to sleep.  I’d have bags beneath bloodshot eyes.  My visage in the mirror alarmed me.  My blood pressure rose.

Then the aftershocks started.  I guess I should have expected them.  My wife’s dad, recently clinging tenuously to fragile health, fell and was rushed to the hospital.  He remains in a rehab facility to this day.  That tugs brutally at my wife.  Both of her folks are barely hanging on.  My own dad, always seemingly a robust and hearty fellow, suffered a mild heart attack just 5 days ago.  Mild or not, it’s a heart attack.  His life will be different from here on out.  So will ours.  Even strong buildings can fall over if the needle on the Richter scale moves enough.

And our Alex, our Alex…  Don’t think for a minute that a 5-year-old cannot cause seismic activity just by his behaviors.  Startlingly, his unrest and self-injury have risen recently, and without any clear explanation.  He has also been unwell, but very mildly–colds, constipation, a rash.  We cannot be certain, of course, what’s driving him bananas because Alex doesn’t speak.  But he whines.  O how he whines.  And when these whines are punctuated with rock-hard fists to his skull, it’s awful.

Our team of therapists, teachers and doctors circle the wagons in what always seems to me a meager effort to explain why he might be acting–or reacting in this way.  No straight answers.  After the ground shakes, everything seems calm–for a while.  But there is no knowing what damage may have been done.

It reinforces another bald fact in my world–we have to do something to greater facilitate Alex’s ability to communicate with us.  Speech therapy will soon be increased.  Ipad usage will hopefully be pushed.  Something has to work.  Few things in my life I know with relative certainty–but on this point I know.  Alex will master some means of communication.  Eventually.

And we will repair what we can.  In the meantime, I brace for more aftershocks.

One Comment
  1. Brian permalink

    Winston Churchill – “Never, never, never give up.” and “Courage is the first of human qualities because it is the quality that guarantees all the others.”

    Hang in there Dave. This too, shall pass.

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