Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Living with a Pilot: Coming Undone

It's been a hard week and I've come a bit undone. Getting lost in looking down the road.  Anytime I start counting the time that we are apart: 8 months a year, 20 years over a 30 year career.  It devastates me.  I honestly cannot understand how anything, any amount of optimism or putting a positive spin on things can ameliorate the effect of those numbers.  What they mean.  Living our lives apart.  I can't comprehend how he can hear those numbers and not pause.

He just left today around noon, after getting home the night before last around midnight.  In his book, that's three days at home.  Feels more like a day and a half to me.  But I can't say that.  That is being negative.  Five more days away, then two more home.

I'm just really struggling.

So, I haven't been writing. Not even fluffy cooking pieces.  Though I have been cooking.

I've been cooking fall food: soup, chili, roasts, root vegetables.  I made a yummy roasted eggplant salad the other day that I'd never tried before and was quite fond of it. Then there was the Green Chili Pork Stew with lots of fresh jalapenos, cilantro and lime. Even the 12 year-old boy with the "hot" aversion liked it.

I've been cooking pear crisp and giving away pears, and snacking on pears and I still have bags of pears in the garage.  My trees fruited abundantly this year. And I can see I must learn how to prune, for they damaged themselves with the weight of the fruit.

I've been talking about training for a half in early November.  I put together a catch-up training schedule.  I've been seeing a new chiropractor to help with my hip issues but I've only half-heartedly been running.

And I've been trying to live on a budget.  Money freaks me out.  There.  I said it.  I suck at money. So, this budget thing....yeah, we aren't really friends, yet.

I've been going to cross country meets and soccer games.  I've been letting the grass grow way too long in my yard and then, today, I finally cut it.

But, all along, as I go through my days without my partner by my side, I've been feeling low.

Knew this Newark thing was gonna be hard.  But, yep, I'm struggling.  It's a glamorous life this:  living "with" a pilot.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Tulsa, Oklahoma in 4 Hours

Date night started when Rob and his crew arrived.  We caught the shuttle van to the hotel, arriving in downtown Tulsa at around 5pm. Captain Bobbie is a runner, so Rob had already planned that the four of us, would go for a run along the Arkansas River.  Their flight attendant, Ruth, was game, though about as much of a runner as Rob.  We all changed quickly and met back in the lobby.
It's about a ten minute walk to the riverfront bike/running path through some sketchy downtown areas and some nicer old neighborhoods.

The path was shaded in parts, but afforded a nice view of the river.  We passed several park and seating areas, and a riverfront bar as we made our way past one bridge, and turned around at the second. Ruth and Rob walked back while Bobbie and I ran the three mile river path. By the time we made it back to the hotel we were ravenous.

Bobbie led our freshly showered  group on about a mile walk through the blue dome district to the iconic Joe Mommas restaurant. On our way we saw numerous cowboy boot shod folks, and it was hard to discern whether that was simply Oklahoma on display or a result of the Luke Bryan, Florida Georgia Line concert that was in town.  But, it is clearly not JUST a cowboy town, we also passed this: 

And this:

And of course, the historic blue dome. Built originally as a gas station on Route 66, the building is oddly out of place, something you'd be more likely to encounter on a hillside city in Greece. 

Joe Mommas is famous for its ghost pepper pizza (The Incinerator) and wings. 
Here we area waiting about 15 minutes for a table.

Rob tried the ghost pepper sauce and was seemingly nonplussed. 
Many of the wood-fired pizzas, which are hand-tossed for your viewing pleasure, feature peppers. We tried Nathan's Unlikely Marriage, an interesting combination of buffalo ranch sauce, buffalo chicken, bacon, roma tomatoes, jalapenos and cheddar cheese.  Our second pizza was called Sweat Heat: Alfredo sauce, bacon, ham, jalapenos and pineapple.   

After dinner, we strolled home through the downtown area that earlier in the evening had hosted a street festival.  We had been so hungry on our way to Joe Mammas that we did not stop to enjoy it.  However, we were able to enjoy the street art undisturbed as we walked home.  Here are a few of my favorites.
Love this little frog!  If I ever get talked into a tattoo, this guy will be part of it.

Morning came early, as the crew had a show time of 8am.  I went along to the airport, to work on my airport loitering PR, though the first flight I had any likelihood of getting on did not leave until noon.  But, I got to watch Rob take off.  Here is his plane, preparing to leave.
And here he is taking off for Denver:
And me, watching him fly away:
Between yesterday's travels to get there, and today's to get home, I spent 20 hours in an airport or on a plane.  For 4 hours in Tulsa.  But, you know what?  These crazy date nights that the girls at the office tease me about, they are what make this life just a little easier to handle.  I would do it again, and I probably will.  Wouldn't you?

Saturday, September 14, 2013

So Far Away From Me

Rob's shot of Times Square taken at about the same time as my shot below
My blurry photo of the Golden Gate taken concurrent with Rob's above.

I think the first question should be: why is his camera so much better than mine?

On Tuesday of this week, I left for a conference in Napa Valley with one of my fellow midwives.  Rob was between trips in Newark and had so little time off, he did not go home but went into the city instead.  Just after I landed, I texted him this:

Could we be any further apart geographically and still be in the continental U.S.?

His response: (of course he took it as a literal question!) Yes, if you were in San Diego and I was in Portland, Maine. 
Love him! 

But, man this has been a long, tough week.   Challenging and inspiring to be at a conference on Integrative Women's Health.  But, today, as I sit at the airport in Tulsa, OK, finally looking forward to seeing my sweet love after a whole week apart, I feel like I am setting a personal record for time spent loitering in airports.  

Yesterday, I flew as a ticketed passenger, so my travel woes were no different than anyone else's.  I had to leave the conference by shuttle bus at 8am to guarantee I made it to SFO in time for my noon flight.  Long, uncomfortable flight from west to east.  Then I sat in ORD for hours waiting for my 9:20 flight home, which was delayed due to maintenance issues for 2 hours.  As we were finally boarding, I asked the captain if his crew was flying the plane back to ORD in the morning, since I'd be on it.  I was scheduled as a standby passenger at 9:30.  He said yes, but that the flight would very likely have a two hour delay to accommodate the minimum rest requirements of the crew. 

Knowing that a two hour delay would cause me to miss my connection, I decided to play it safe and book myself on the 6:00am  flight.  That meant driving home, unpacking and repacking, climbing into bed for two hours and leaving for the airport again.  Ouch!  I skipped coffee to maximize my sleep time this morning, had a glass of kefir for breakfast, slept on the plane to Chicago, and then found a nice, comfy (Ha!), bench to sleep on for a couple of hours there.  Now, having arrived in Tulsa about 2 hours ahead of Rob, I'm nursing a mild migraine brought on by this airport lifestyle I've been engaging in for the past two days.  He offered to call ahead to the hotel to see if they'd let me check in ahead of him, but there's my airport loitering record to think of.  Once I get through the "getting home" dilemma of tomorrow, I'm sure I will have logged some serious time.

But, soon, he will be here.  And tonight is date night!  Sometimes, when it gets desperate, and Rob has a long overnight somewhere, I will fly to join him for the evening.  This makes those long stretches when we are so far apart, just a little more bearable. 

Monday, September 9, 2013

That's My Pilot

Last month I wrote about how Rob has lost weight over the last 6 months, by eating pre-made meals out of his meal bag when he is on a trip.  

Read about it here:The Airline Diet: Packing His Lunch

I posted some before and after pictures that really did not do him justice.  What I really wanted was a shot of him in uniform.  And I finally got it!

This is my pilot, standing in our kitchen, ready to walk out the door, climb into his truck and head to the airport for a 4 day trip.  Isn't he fine?

Last thing we do before he leaves is a mandatory hug.  Somehow a kiss is just not enough.  But, when he wraps me in his arms and I snuggle into his neck, I'm imprinting that memory of him, the feel of him, the smell of him.  That hug has to last me for 4 or 5 days....Shucks!  I'm blushing now, but that's love for ya!

I'm curious what other people do to make saying goodbye to their loved one just a little easier, when leaving is something they have to do every week.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Voices From Abroad

Rob is off on a four-day trip.

I shouldn't whine, because we are coming off a vacation-like six days together, where we didn't fly anywhere, didn't do anything exotic, just spent time together in our home.  It was wonderful!  More on that later.

But, after having him here for six days, I feel like I'm rattling around this empty house, at loose ends.  To make it worse, I have MY days off this week, right in the middle of HIS trip.  So, I'm off, trying to fill my time so I won't miss him too much.  These kinds of days are the worst possible days for him to be flying out of the country.  He doesn't have an international calling plan.  So, when he flies to Canada or Mexico...we are stuck with texting apps like Google Talk or What's App.

Yesterday, I discovered that What's App's latest version has a voice function.  Not a voice-to-text function.  I hate those.  This is like using voice-mail.

Please don't mention Skype or Face-time.  Zoikes!  I've been leery of that technology since The Jetsons!  No, Thanks!  Rob has a pleasant image of me in his memory, and a few decent snapshots on his phone, let's not subject him to the scary, harsh-lighting, bad-angle close-up that Skype delivers.

So, I was thrilled with the voice capability.  It is better than talking on the phone in terms of clarity.  And there's something about knowing your voice is being recorded, that makes you take time with your words.  I was not even horribly chagrined to listen to my own recorded voice playing back to me, a prospect that is usually too awful to entertain.  But, to hear Rob's voice, crisply and clearly telling me that he loved me, wishing me sweet dreams, and saying goodnight, this was pure joy.  We only played around with it for a few minutes.  Though we were both so excited about it, he needed to get to bed.  His alarm was set for 2:30 a.m. for a painfully early show-time.

Tomorrow, he will be home.  I will hear his dear voice in person.  But, yesterday, when he was so far away that we could not even talk on the phone, I was so very grateful to this simple, free phone app, for making it more bearable.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Base Changes: Unsure what the Future Holds

Rob's company is opening several new airline bases.  This is a good thing, I'm sure, but it opens up a great deal of instability in the short term.  The company must staff the new bases, and they don't have a ready source of new hires, so that staff will come from current pilots who are based elsewhere.

We have been lucky so far.  Rob spent a month based in Newark when he started. He immediately put in a trade request and was able to transfer to Chicago.  This makes our lives so much more liveable.  His commute to work is just one 40 minute flight.  I almost don't remember what Newark was like.  But, I am about to find out:  with the new base openings, he got a transfer to Newark.

Starting next month, Rob will have to have a "crash pad".  Sounds fun, right?  Not so much.  For a fair price, he will rent a bed and use of a kitchen essentially. The official crash pads are run like dorms with strict rules and regs regarding visitors, drinking and cleanliness.  It is my hope that he won't be spending any time there at all, but since he is still flying on reserve, chances are good that he will spend some nights there.  Here's the way it will likely work:  he will fly to Newark the night before he has to work, and sleep at the crash pad.  The next morning, hopefully he will have an assignment and will spend the next 4 days flying, on the last of which he will make his way home...if he gets done early enough to make a flight home.  If he doesn't, that means another night in Newark and flying home on his day off.

We are both hopeful that he will have enough seniority to hold a line in Newark very soon.  This may make the cross-country commute more doable.  He will know what he is flying, and when, instead of being on-call for his work days. He will also be able to drop trips that don't work well with his commuting schedule.  If he's a line holder, he may not have to do as much commuting on his days off.  This means more time at home: something commercial airline pilots hold dear.

I found another great blog about life with a pilot. This woman has many more years of experience at this than I do and I'm sure she and her pilot have rolled with lots of major job changes.  Enjoy!

Anyway, I am trying to be optimistic.  We will get through it.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Pass Travel Fail

It's not the first time I've had to resort to this.  But, it always feels like a fail.

We just got back from a sweet little dive trip to the Keys.  Took our newly certified diving youngsters, R & A, for their first real ocean diving experience.

From a week out of our planned excursion, the flights looked WIDE open.  Rob was hugely optimistic.  Things hadn't looked this good for pass travel in a long time.  And we knew it would be tricky traveling with 5 people; we never even entertained the idea that we would all take the same flights.

As our travel dates drew nearer, we realized we had a small problem.  Rob had only recently undertaken to add R to his travel benefits as an approved "friend", and the paperwork had not yet cleared.  Not good!

It came down to the day before we were to leave.  I was on call, Rob at the end of a 4-day trip and it was decision time.  The kids were psyched to go; Rob's dad had taken off work, Rob and I had finagled our schedules to get the time off as well, and our dives and hotel were already reserved.  We decided we would go whether R was flying free or not.  We would book him on Delta and Rob would fly with him while the rest of us played the standby game. Gulp.

When I got home from work, at the end of a long shift, with only 2 hours of sleep the night before, Rob and I sat down and looked at the flight loads again.  He showed me what the bad weather had done to flight loads:  everything was now overbooked.  Not good!  With a good imagination and endless optimism, you could possibly envision the 5 of us getting to the Keys at some point the next day, but it sounded exhausting.  I knew my day would be starting at 3am, whether I made it to Miami by noon or by midnight.  With that information, we gave in and booked a full-price ticket for me as well.  Rob, his dad and A, as immediate family members, got discounted fares. Sigh...

Of course we love Delta, for the Biscoff and peanuts, but mostly we enjoyed the ease of traveling as a group with guaranteed seats!

That's the caveat with pass travel.  You always have to have a plan B and plan C.  Buying full-price tickets is usually plan D (desperate), but it is always a possibility.  In the past, I've only done it when I needed to get home to cover my call shift.  Doing it because we had not planned fully in advance to get R's paperwork approved, and being too exhausted to play the game, it felt like a pass travel FAIL.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

The Airline Diet: Packing His Lunch

When Rob and I first met, he was about 40 pounds heavier.  I thought he was hot of course and would never have guessed that he had 40 pounds to lose.  About 9 months ago, he started losing weight.  It was a conscious decision and has been the result of mostly dietary changes, some changes in his exercise habits.

When Rob decided he wanted to lose weight, he started using a calorie tracker.  We both really like, which allows you to enter your profile and then track your daily caloric intake and caloric burn (a combination of resting metabolic rate and exercise).  You can set a weight loss goal and track your progress. It's free and has a smart phone app that allows you to scan food labels to easily enter the nutritional content of your meals. Using the calorie tracker, allowed Rob to see how much in excess his typical diet was.  For a couple of weeks, he used tracking alone to reduce his intake.  He felt hungry alot, but he dropped about 5 pounds.

Then we looked into some of the more common diets.  The research doesn't really show a major difference in efficacy among the most popular diet plans:  atkins, south beach, weight watchers, the mediterranean diet. Any diet that reduces caloric intake will help you lose weight.  What the research does show is that for long term results, the diet needs to be more than just a diet.  You need to actually change, permanently, the way that you eat.

However; I often recommend a low-carb diet to my patients.  Carbohydrates tend to be the biggest culprit in the typical American diet: highly processed, loaded with fats, addictive.  If you can break the grip that carbs have on you, you can win the weight battle.  And, when you take simple, refined carbohydrates out of the picture, what you have left, looks like real food.

Rob was drawn to the P90X diet plan, because he wanted to build muscle while losing weight.  For that, he knew he would need protein.  So, we ordered a special insulated meal bag that would fit enough food for a 4-day trip and began packing his protein rich meals.  9 months later, he is still eating this way.  If you had asked him a year ago, he would have sworn that giving up bread and pasta would NEVER happen.  Now, he's the guy who orders a hamburger and asks the waitress to hold the bun, but bring extra lettuce.

Here's his full flight kit with meal bag attached.  It's pretty heavy at the front end of his trips.

That's the meal bag on top

The night before he leaves, I cook chicken breasts: either grilled, or flattened and sauteed with olive oil and seasoning.  I also usually do the same with some lean pork chops.  I pack sugar snap peas, carrots, grape tomatoes and a variety of fruit.  He takes at least 4 protein bars and some trail mix or nuts. Sometimes, there will be leftovers from a recent meal and if so, I always send that so he will have some variety.  But, mostly, his meals consist of this:  a chicken breast and a handful of carrots, or a pork chop and a handful of grape tomatoes.  

We pack freezer bags in around his food.  He refrigerates everything if his hotel room has a refrigerator and will sometimes have the luxury of a microwave to warm up his meal.  Otherwise, he is eating his chicken breast cold, and right out of the ziploc bag. Yum.  

He will occasionally eat a meal with the crew if they have a long overnight.  His weakness is chicken wings but he mitigates the damage by never ordering fries with them. When he is home, our meals are not quite so austere, but I don't make pasta, and we never do sandwiches anymore.  He will have an omelet for breakfast most days: with mostly egg whites and one full egg.  I usually fill it with veggies, but I don't skip the cheese. We rarely miss Wing Tuesday at Buffalo Wild Wings and he has not given up beer.  But it seems to be working.  Eating this way, out of his high protein meal bag roughly 2/3 of the time, and a clean/semi paleo diet at home, has resulted in 40 pounds of weight loss over 9 months.

I wish I could get him to run.  He says he does run...between gates sometimes, but only if it's to catch a flight home.  His exercise consists of a once a week P90X work-out supplemented by push-ups and pull-ups. But, it works for him.  He looks good, and he feels good.  

When 2/3 of your time is spent in airports and hotels, eating right can be challenging.  The lunch bag has been our solution.

He agreed to let me post before and after pics.  These are just snapshots, so they may not do the transformation justice. Here goes!

Before:                                                                                                     After:

Monday, July 1, 2013

Mile-High Book Club

I've lost things in airports and on airplanes.  Everyone does.  I've lost some good books!  Now I have a rule: if it's a Really Good Book, it doesn't go with me on the trip.  I buy a cheap paperback, mass-market, that I won't care about losing.

Rob has lost some things.  Yep.  He sure has.  Some expensive things, like IPads and Kindles.  He doesn't get to carry expensive electronics anymore.  I applied the cheap, paperback rule to him as well.

Good news is, there's a secret, airline industry book club.  I've read some really good books this year that Rob has brought home from work.  Books left behind on airplanes and found by the flight attendant, read first or immediately passed on to someone else on the crew.

Most recently, Lisa Gardner's Live to Tell, made it home with Rob.  He read it first and passed it on to me.  I'm a little embarrassed to admit I've never read her work before, but I will definitely pick up another of her books next time I need one for traveling.

So, to those of you who have left beloved books on airplanes, or like A did on our last trip, in the bathroom at the airport, don't worry!  Your book has surely found its way into the hands of a reader, maybe even the pilot who flew your plane home.  It will be passed along, making its way through the Mile-High Book Club, hand to hand, accompanied by the same passionate hand-sell pitch the book-seller might have used, if book-sellers still existed.  "I loved it!  Stayed up all night reading!"

Thanks for your donation to the Mile-High Book Club, and if you find that lovely story by Sue Monk Kidd, the one about the bees?  You're welcome.

Lost or found a good book in the airport recently? What do you read when you are traveling?

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Going Out On A Wing

I've been thinking about risk taking.

What is an acceptable level of risk? How do you decide?  These are questions we ask in the healthcare field every day.  They come up in all areas of life, however.

When I was a kid, I was a tomboy.  My options were limited, but I did what I could: tree climbing, bike riding, water-skiing.  In high school, I once climbed to the top of a water tower.  It was foolish, probably illegal if not actually dangerous, but thrilling just the same.  As a young mom, my risk taking aptitude went way down. The idea of doing anything that might leave my young children motherless was painful to me. As they have grown, my natural tendency to be a bit of a risk taker has returned.

I enjoy things like roller coasters and white water rafting.  I love flying small planes, scuba dive whenever I get the chance and just recently took up rock climbing.  On my bucket list: skydiving.

But that guy, Felix Baumgartner, who took a free dive from space last year?  The fellow (Nik Wallenda) tight-rope walking across the Grand Canyon?  The young kid, Alex Honnold, who free solo climbs (that's without ropes, my friends) sheer mountain faces? And the famed wing walker, Jane Wicker, who died just yesterday in a fiery crash during an air-show, these folks have a risk taking appetite that perplexes me.

I revisit these thoughts occasionally and yesterday was such an occasion.

Flying into Dayton to meet Rob for a date night:  This was mid-trip for him; he was coming from Newark and had a long layover.  I was off for the weekend.  The planets were in alignment.  And the Pass-Travel Gods were with me.  I had easily gotten seats onto both flights and we were circling Dayton after a short, uneventful flight from Chicago.  Lost in my novel, I hadn't really noticed that we were in a holding pattern until our captain's voice suddenly filled the cabin.   In somber tones, filled with the characteristic pauses and long vowels of a pilot, he shared with us the news that "an incident" had occurred at the Dayton airshow.  The airport was closed.  We were running low on fuel and would have to reroute to Columbus.

I have never been more proud of my fellow travelers.  Generally news of any delay, much less, being rerouted to a different airport, would have been the source of much grumbling.  But that was not the case.  There were questions called up to the flight attendant regarding logistics, but overall the mood was reverent and calm. "An incident".  We had no other news at that time, but we all expected it would be bad.  Once we had landed in Columbus and our captain had more news to share, we'd all fired up our phones to get the news ourselves.

I had a text waiting for me from Rob whose flight from Newark to Dayton had been delayed for the same reason.  "Jane Wicker crashed. F_ _ _".  He'd seen Jane perform, had met and talked with her before. His reaction was not dissimilar from the crew flying my plane.  Sadness and dismay.  A sobering reminder that flying is not risk free.

So, these were the conversations that dominated our time together.  Why? Why do people pursue these extreme sports where one small error means certain death?  Pilots of commercial jets are not risk-averse individuals generally, but they appreciate the value of back-up systems, of having a second set of eyes in the cockpit.  When you are flying a stunt plane upside down, at low-altitude, one miscalculation, one wrong gust of wind and nobody walks away from it. There's no margin of error. The same can be said of the free solo rock climbing.  No ropes. No harness.  2,000 feet up on sheer rock.  I just don't get it.

I love the thrill of adventure sports, but I would never climb without a harness.  There must be something different about someone who can.  Someone who undertakes the extreme, unprotected sport.  Maybe these are the explorers and adventurers of the modern day.  Maybe they are all similar to Alex Honnolt who speaks of the sense of peace that overcomes him when he's on the rock.  But, I can't help but wonder if we are not culpable in some way, just by watching.  Are we no better than those who filled the coliseum to watch the bloodsports?

Maybe it's too many years of working in healthcare, where risk mitigation is always forefront in our minds.  Some things, like healthcare, flying, scuba diving and rock climbing have inherent risk.  If we are going to practice those things, we use our protocols, our checklists, our buddy system, our harness and ropes.  We expect good outcomes because we practice safely.  We don't go out on a wing and just hope that everything works out.

Today, the sadness of yesterday's events lingers.  I never met Jane.  It sounds like she had a very full and vibrant life.  I sure hope that somewhere along the way she had a conversation like the one I had with Rob yesterday.  "I hope I die doing what I love," he told me.  "But not until I'm really old and feeble."  I think of Jane's family, and the family of her pilot, and hope that they know with certainty that their loved ones died doing something that they loved.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

How Our Lives Look

Yesterday we stood on the wide beach of a western shore.
I leaned against you and you wrapped your arms around me.
We listened to the crashing waves and watched the rays surfing in the clear blue.
We talked about sea-breezes and land- breezes and made love one last time in the hotel.
Then we boarded one plane and then another, winging our way home.

Today we sang together an old Bette Midlar song
And you played your guitar
We ate oatmeal and I pounded chicken breasts and cooked them for your trip.
We went belt shopping and found leather gloves and a beanie to keep you warm.
And then you left for Quebec.
And I came here to catch babies.

Tomorrow you will fly home to me
And we will sleep together, my head on your shoulder for awhile, in OUR bed.
And we will wake up the next day and eat eggs.
And there will be music, and errands, and lunch with your dad
And then our children will come home and fill our house.

Every once in awhile I catch myself-
I remember the days of anxiety when I couldn't imagine what our lives would be like and when I would ask you to tell me how our lives would look.
Now, when I remember those days, I think: like this. This is how our lives look.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Surprise Trip to Cabo: on Standby

Pass travel has its known hassles, but sometimes, the delays and inconveniences have nothing to do with flying standby and everything to do with WEATHER.

It was a work day for me and for Rob.  He was at the end of a 5-day, waking up in Houston.  I was scheduled to see patients until 5pm.  The plan was for me to leave work and head straight to the airport.  Rob and I would meet in Chicago if he didn't make it home.  What complicated things, was a late February snow-storm heading our way.  I kept checking the weather report, watching as flights in and out were delayed, and then cancelled.  I got good news when he managed to make it home late morning.  I drove to the airport on my lunch hour, picked him up and we had HyVee Chinese for lunch, all the while watching the snow pile up and discussing our Plan B and even Plan C options.  I kept throwing out my best guesses as to where we were going.  He was clearly thrilled to keep me in suspense.

When I returned to work, I had more good news and was really feeling optimistic that we would make it out of town at least.  The office was closing early due to weather.  I called Rob and he planned to pick me up at 3:00.

Our original flight to Chicago had been scheduled to leave at 6:30, but it had, alas, been cancelled.  Since the office had let me out early, we would try to get on an earlier flight, probably the last flight out.
But upon our arrival, we found the 4:20 had a 4 hour delay!  Oh my!  That would mean we'd miss our flight out of Chicago.  Our only option was to drive.

It's about 2 1/2 hours and despite the weather, we made decent time.  Rob dropped me off at the terminal and went to park in the employee lot.  After checking in and making it through security, the first thing I noticed were the long lines of travelers stretching from the customer service counter, down the length of the terminal.  Uh oh...Turns out that not just our flight, but just about every flight out of Chicago, was cancelled that night. Here's how the boards looked:
And there's our 8:26 flight to Houston. Cancelled.  Oh, Look!  We could go to London instead.  ;)

Rob eventually met me back at the terminal.  He immediately set to work on the laptop looking at our options.  I suggested that we might not want to delay finding a room for the night, as that long line of delayed travelers was fresh in my memory.  After reassuring himself that he could still get us where we needed to be the next morning, with any luck that is, we set off to meet the hotel shuttle to our luxurious  accommodations for the night.

A budget hotel in any city is still a budget hotel.  I didn't care.  This felt like an adventure.  At the La Quinta,  we ordered in some pasta from a pizza place that delivered and both enjoyed the first real carbs we had eaten for weeks.

3am came so early this morning!  Ouch! But we got through security and set off for our gates.  Yes. Gates.  Now the standby game gets real.  We have several options, Newark, which leaves first, San Francisco, or Houston.  Any of those can potentially get us to our destination, but we not only have to make it onto the flight out of Chicago, we also have to make it onto the flight from any of those cities.  Rob was furiously working the numbers, trying to figure odds of success.  We let the Newark flight leave without departed from the furthest gate and running to try to make it would put us in danger of not being able to try for the two others.

We were standing in line to get on the Houston flight.  Getting seats was easy, a nice surprise, (where are all those folks who were trying to leave Chicago last night?  Did we beat them to the starting line this morning?) but Rob was uncertain.  He asked the gate attendant if she could look at the San Fran flight to let us know if it looked as 'wide open' as this one was.  She was NO help! She tried to tell us that the flight we had so easily gotten seats on was not wide open at all.  The risk is that we take the flight to Houston and then cannot get on our flight to the beach.  Rob was so uneasy, I told him we should just not board this flight.  Obviously he had a hunch of some kind.  I thought we should listen to that.  Of course, the risk of listening to that hunch, giving up our seats on this flight (breaking the cardinal rule of pass-travel) was that we would not be able to get on the San Fran flight.  We reasoned that if we could not get to our destination, it would be better to find that out when we were still fairly close to home....just a short car trip away, rather than to get all the way across the country and get stuck.   If we couldn't make it out of Chicago this morning, we decided, we would just head home and spend a few days with his daughter instead.

So, we did it.  We gave up our seats on the Houston flight.  We now had about an hour.  So we had breakfast.  Honestly, if you have to eat airport food, breakfast is the way to go!  The first coffee of the day (yes, seriously, we made all those harried decisions without the benefit of caffeine!) and some delicious omelets.

Here is our view of the snow plows clearing the runways as we ate breakfast:

Well, the good news is: We got on the San Francisco flight.  I am not sure what kind of deal-making went on.  I know that Rob asked for my passport and told me I should take a bathroom break.  When I returned there was a bit of nodding and winking going on.  He had told the gate agent about how he was surprising me with this trip.  She loved the idea and was happy to help out.  It was tight.  We did not get on easily, but we made it. He assured me that no travelers were left behind for our sake.

We met a lovely older couple en route.  Turns out, they were heading to Cabo San Lucas. Oh?  You can get to Cabo from San Francisco, eh?  Hmmmm.  They had been many times before and though they knew the chance of making their connection was slim; (we were delayed out of Chicago) they were happy to stay in the city for the night if they missed it.

Turns out, after a sweaty all-out run for our gate, we made the connection to Cabo and our friends did not.  Did we take their seats?  I hope not, but I thought of them enjoying some fresh sushi in downtown San Francisco and didn't feel too bad about it.

This was our two-day travel adventure.  Some weather issues, some pass-travel stress, but in the end, we made it!  Cabo is beautiful.  What a great Valentine's Day gift.  I loved being surprised, loved trying to guess, loved that he kept it a secret until we arrived, panting, at our gate.

Turns out, I just love being the girlfriend of a pilot!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Bitter Beginning of This Blog

"Girlfriend of Pilot"  

HA!  Warning.  If you start reading, please follow it through to the end.  There are some rather bitter and angry parts...hopefully I come full circle by the end. 

There are a multitude of blogs written by "wives of pilots" describing what it's like to live with someone who's job has them in the skies 2/3 of the month.  I had looked at a couple of these about a year ago, just as Rob was interviewing with airlines for his first job in the commercial airline industry.  This was very early in our relationship.   It didn't look good to me at the time.  The advice ran in the direction of: You  must be a strong and independent woman to live with a pilot, not afraid to hire home maintenance jobs on your own, shovel snow, and sleep alone most nights.  You must have a life of your own with strong social connections, friends and family to rely on when those 4 and 5 day trips fall on special occasions and holidays.  You must remember that his job is stressful and when he comes home, he doesn't need a to-do list, or to hear about how stressful your week has been, he needs you to nurture him, to greet him with a warm embrace and a warm meal waiting.  He's out there sleeping in lonely, sterile hotel rooms, sharing meals with people he only just met, flying through storms, missing Christmas, dealing with unruly rampers and gate agents, sometimes hostile passengers and he's doing it all to put food on your table. He's underpaid and overstressed.  Your job is to make his life easier. 

Yeah.  I call bullshit. 

Pilots are adrenaline junkies.  They do what they do because they love it.  They love the thrill and the drama of it.  They love the speed and the danger.  How nice for them, really, to have a live-in property manager, maid and cook to keep the home-fires burning so when they are done flying their big airplanes they can come home and have someone hand them a cold beer. How nice that you have to take into account how stressful and lonely their lives are but they don't have to take that into account about your life, the life that you live alone, 2 frickin' thirds of the time.  Do the math on that one:  a twenty year career. How many years away from home? 13.3.  Yep. That's more time away than if you were serving a prison sentence.  I know. I KNOW.  Couples struggle with careers that keep them apart all the time.  Think of military spouses.  I do think of them.  I think of how nice it would be to know that when your loved one made it home, you'd have him there with you for more than 2 or 3 days at a time. 

I also think that you cannot compare the two.  Military men and women are making a huge sacrifice, in service of something that they value strongly. Airline pilots have a lot of responsibility, sure, much like bus drivers do. In fact, not sure there's a whole lot of difference.  Glorified bus-drivers. 

This is me being negative.  I haven't come around yet.  All the blogs say that I will; that is, if this relationship is going to survive. They say that I will, in time, be able to see the positive aspects of his career and how it will shape our relationship in many good ways.  They say that the first year is the hardest.  I've told Rob that too. First holidays alone, first time having to deal with the mechanic alone, first time having to shovel this huge driveway alone.  Really, just the "being alone."  The "airline wives" blogs say that I will even begin to appreciate being alone.  Hmmmm.  I just don't see that yet.

My life is just a holding pattern when he is gone.  I go through the motions.  I count down the days.  I go to work.  Yes, I am blessed to share some of that time with my children. They make it better.  They make it possible. But the long days alone, when they are with their dad and Rob is off flying.  Oh, those days are hard.  
He is impatient with my progress.  He anticipates my low mood everytime he gets a 3 or 4 day trip.  And, mostly he's right.  It hits me every time.  Not just that he's not around right now, but that this is how my life looks now.  He says that I make it all about me, that I don't take into consideration that he is just as upset as I am when his last flight of the day is delayed and he can't make it home, that I don't consider that he is stuck in the crew room sleeping in a recliner because we can't afford a hotel room this month. Well.  I do consider that.  But, I also consider that he knew it would be like this; he knows it will continue to be like this.  And yet, he is willing to put up with it so that he can live his dream.  

His dream.  That's why I am still struggling with this.  He loves to fly.  He is good at it.  I actually believe that this is what he should be doing.  So, when he says, "forget it, I can't do this.  I can't risk our relationship.  I will quit and go back to selling insurance."  I say, "No."  I won't be that girl.  I won't be the one that grounds him. I really and truly want him to be happy.  I really and truly wish I was the kind of woman that those blogs describe: independent, a social butterfly, someone with a large circle of friends and family.  Can I become her? Well, I cannot invent family I don't have. I cannot change certain circumstances of my life: the shared custody that means I only get my kids half the time.  But, I can and I must be proactive about creating a life on my own.  Even just typing that brings tears to my eyes.  I don't WANT a life "on my own". When you finally meet that one person that truly completes you, that brings you so much joy you can't imagine you lived without it all your life, the person that you hunger just want to BE WITH them. Who would choose a life that looks like this?

This is how I am.  A little bit crazy. I go back and forth.  Back and forth.  Truth is, I have to make some changes because I'm not going to let him give up his dream and I don't want to live my life feeling like a martyr.  This is where I am. One year in.  Just cannot see the positive in this yet.  I believe those other women when they say it was hard for them in the beginning.  That does give me a sense of hope...somewhat. So, I ask myself, what can I do in the coming year to see some improvement? How can we make his crazy career work with our lives? I don't know the answers yet.  But, I am willing to look for them.