Delayed Satisfaction

I’m writing this at roughly 35,000 feet above sea level, somewhere above the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. I should be on the ground in Dallas, Texas, already, except my 5 am flight out of Seattle was delayed over two hours, due to some (obviously) unexpected mechanical problems. Even though I’m anxious to reach my final destination of Kansas City to see my 21 year old daughter and I have already missed my noon-departing connecting flight out of Dallas I am having perhaps the most enjoyable flight of my entire life. I’ve blogged recently about making a conscious effort to look at events through a different perspective and today’s flight offered me yet another opportunity to grow my grace muscles.
I left my house at about 2:20 am and drove north on an almost deserted I-5 to a hotel near the SeaTac airport to park my car and take the shuttle to the airport. I was delighted to see that there was no line to get through security. Granted, it was 3:20 in the morning, but, still, I’d expect a bit more activity in a big airport like SeaTac. I got to my gate and settled in to a comfy chair, spreading out my long legs for what I anticipated would be the last time until I disembarked in Dallas. I’m 6’8″ and too much of a cheapskate to pay for extra legroom on domestic flights. Once I got on board the plane I was happy to note that we were at about 60% capacity and, even better, there was no one in the exit row three aisles behind my assigned seat. Anyone who flies knows that exit row seating is the place to be if you’re looking for more leg room. I casually caught the attention of the nearest flight attendant and discreetly asked if I could switch to one of those coveted spots if no one sat there.
He told me to wait about five minutes more until everyone was on board, but that I was first on his list. My knees were silently praying for a miracle, while my eyes watched every single passenger slowly walk past the exit row seats. Much to my delight, I got one of the seats and, for the first time ever in my life, I had the luxury of being able to fully stretch out my legs while seated on an airplane. As a bonus, there was no one sitting next to me so I had the whole row to myself. Sometimes it’s just the little things in life that can make a 5 am Monday morning cross country flight just a little bit more enjoyable, even on less than three hours of sleep.
I even took to social media to thank American Airlines for the leg room surprise. It’s good to express gratitude. I was mentally prepared for an uneventful flight to Dallas and then on to Kansas City. I may or may not have hummed a few bars of a song I played in jazz band in high school as I stretched out my legs. Goin’ to Kansas City…Kansas City, here I come!
Then, just as our flight attendants were getting their yellow life jacket safety demonstration mojo on the captain interrupted with news that there was a mechanical problem of some sort so we would have a short delay while he powered down and restarted everything. Talk about a mood killer. After a few minutes the captain informed us that we were good to go. So, we taxied out a bit only to come to another stop. At this point the nearest flight attendant, Eric, (the same guy who switched my seats earlier) started talking to me, as his jetseat was a couple of feet away from mine. We talked about a variety of things and he couldn’t have been a nicer guy. 
Well, that short delay turned into something longer and before too long we were back at the gate while the mechanics worked their magic on the plane. As the delay stretched from 30 to 45 minutes many people worriedly started approaching the flight attendants, inquiring about their connecting flights. From my vantage point I was able to see and hear Eric and Deborah and Ana patiently address the concerns of each person, assuring them that American Airlines has a program in place that automatically rebooks passengers once a flight is delayed 45 minutes or longer. (I actually received a phone call from American while we were delayed to inform me that I had been rebooked on a later flight.) As the delay passed the hour mark and crept toward 90 minutes the flight crew continued to be as kind and compassionate as possible despite the increasing level of discontent among some passengers. I’ve been on dozens of flights over my life and have seen such professionalism among flight attendants. I decided to tweet about my positive experience and give a specific shout out to both Eric and Deborah as both of them had, at various points during the long delay, taken the time to ask me if I had a connecting flight to catch and to inform me that there would be multiple flights out of Dallas to Kansas City still to come this afternoon. Again, it only took a moment for me to intentionally show my gratitude.



Thankfully, just after our delay passed the two hour mark our pilot, Captain Stewart, announced that the needed paperwork had been completed and that the plane was good to go. I’m pretty sure an audible sigh of relief was heard aboard flight 1228. Eric returned to his safety seat and we resumed talking. He thanked me for being so patient and not complaining. I mentioned that I was actually quite grateful that the mechanical issues had been found while our plane was on the ground instead of while we were already airborne. He laughed a little and I mentioned something about the importance of perspective and that it wasn’t his fault, or the captain’s fault or the mechanic’s fault that there were issues. Besides, it’s a major inconvenience for the flight crew and various support staff as well. Several of the flight crew were returning home after a few days away from their loved ones and would also arriving later than expected. Some of them also had missed their connections (home), just like the rest of us. I’m sure that they were just as frustrated as the rest of us, yet there was no evidence of it based on their body language. They all were happy to assist passengers as quickly as possible and always with a smile. While we were still ascending to our cruising altitude I told Eric that I had tweeted American Airlines about the positive experience during the delay and he joked that I should mention him by name. What’s especially funny is that I had already sent a tweet that praised him specifically, even though he was only joking about me actually doing that. I told him that I’m trying to be more purposeful in expressing my gratitude and was particularly appreciative of his efforts that went above and beyond the call of duty. I hope American recognizes this entire flight crew for their outstanding efforts today. Disclosure: I was in no way compensated or even asked by American Airlines or any of the Flight Crew to write this post. I genuinely appreciate their fine work today in the face of intense customer dissatisfaction.

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Still Crazy After All These Years

A few weeks after I graduated from high school in June of 1991 I was on an airplane with 11 other people from my hometown to spend nearly a month in Europe. We went to Sweden, Denmark, England and Scotland, making new friends and memories along the way. That trip also marked the last time I saw my friend Andy who lived in the small town of Witham, a short train ride northeast of London. Andy and I had become friends a year before when he traveled to America with a Witham Boys Brigade group that was hosted by the Brigade in Neenah, Wisconsin, where I lived. We had hit it off immediately in 1990 as both of us were athletic and competitive, not to mention exceedingly good looking! We both looked forward to renewing our friendship the following summer when my Brigade group made the long trip across the pond. We shared many memorable moments over the course of just a few short weeks during the summers of 1990 and 1991. Since that was before widespread email and Facebook we were forced to keep in touch the old fashioned way…by writing letters. That worked for a while but, as we were both attending university, the frequency of our exchanges slowed until we lost touch completely.

Fast forward fifteen years to 2006. I received an email from someone at Brigade in my hometown that a guy by the name of Andy from England had contacted them, asking about me. That email included Andy’s contact information, so the ball was in my court to reestablish contact. A ton of memories flooded my mind. Camp Onaway (the week-long camp Andy attended with me in 1991), Six Flags Great America, Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame tour, jokes and pranks, touring London, and, of course, a little bit of guilt for falling out of touch with my friend. That evening I sent Andy an email. He invited me to check out this new thing called Facebook so that we could share pictures of our families with one another. I had heard of it, and, even though I didn’t know much about it, I thought I’d check it out. Well, you know what’s happened with that platform since then. I even invited Andy to participate in a Fantasy Football league that I run because I knew of his passion for American football. Even though his favorite team is the Miami Dolphins I figured he’d be a good addition to our league. Besides, who wouldn’t want to try to engage a British bloke in a bit of trans-Atlantic smack talk? It was bloody brilliant! I’m pretty sure he won the league title in only his second or third year in the league…defeating me in the playoffs along the way. Both of us talked of wanting to get together again but both of us were married and had young children, meaning that a trip would likely have to wait for some time.

That time just arrived with my trip with my daughter to Europe. We’re currently 38,000 feet above Canada on our way back to Seattle after three weeks on holiday. Andy and his wife, Melissa, graciously opened their home to my daughter, E, and me for our last weekend in Europe. While I certainly enjoyed my time with E seeing sights in Germany, Austria, Italy and France, I was always most looking forward to catching up with Andy and meeting his wife and three children. Andy had agreed to pick us up from the train station closest to his town after he finished work that Friday afternoon. Through the wonders of free wifi at a local fro-yo place we exchanged texts that pinpointed the location and time where he would get us. As we waited for him I began to wonder if we would be able to pick up our friendship after 23 years. Would it feel natural or forced? As it turned out, I had nothing to worry about.

Andy pulled up in his car and put out his hand which I ignored and gave him a hug. Not sure if the Brits hug much, but this American is a hugger. After a short drive we arrived at his house and were greeted by his family. While he had warned them that I’m tall, I guess seeing someone have to duck under the door elicits giggles of amazement just like in America. Once past the initial greetings we started in on our wonderful feast of pizza. The best part of the evening was just visiting with my friend and his family, who welcomed us warmly. Even better, Andy’s oldest daughter and my daughter seemed to click, just like he and I had 24 years ago. After the youngest two kids went to bed, the girls (mom included) watched a movie in another room while Andy and I kept on catching up. We talked about all sorts of things, silly stuff like sports (he taught me about cricket and I taught him about baseball) and serious stuff like the passing of our fathers (mine in 2007, his in 2010), how our moms were doing and the joys and challenges of being a father and husband. The conversation flowed naturally and easily as if we had been friends since childhood. And that was just the first evening.

We spent all of Saturday doing things as a large group. Touring an old English estate and taking in an outdoor performance of “La Boheme” opera. Our families continued to bond as Andy’s four year old daughter took a particular liking to E and spent much of the opera snuggled in her lap. Near the end of the performance she grew of being there and started to collect sticks from the ground. I decided to intervene and invented a game where she and I took turns lining the sticks up in a row. She took to it immediately and was no longer bored. Andy seemed bemused by my game and I was glad that my dad instinct was able to help entertain his four year old until the show was over. It was a similar “game” that I’d successfully used at restaurants using sugar packets. Score one for the SAHD bag of tricks.

After a delicious full English breakfast prepared (for the second day in a row, I might add) by Mel on Sunday morning, we left for a day of sight seeing in London. Andy and his daughter accompanied us as we saw many of the iconic London sights: Buckingham Palace, St. James Park, Horse Palace, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, Houses of Parliament and Trafalgar Square. Again, both the dads and the daughters got along splendidly. The girls had, without planning it, dressed almost identically. They laughed and posed for countless pictures together. They had fun teasing each other about their failed attempts to talk with an American or British accent. Finally, though, it was time to wrap up our wonderful time together. We took the Tube to the station nearest our hotel and walked up the stairs together. As we walked both Andy and I grew quiet. I know that I had a rush of emotions welling up inside of me. I stopped a couple of blocks short of our hotel and suggested that Andy and his daughter could head back to his wife and kids, that we would be able to get back easily. I wanted to say much more to my dear friend about how much his friendship over the years had meant to me, but I couldn’t get the words out. Instead, a heartfelt hug conveyed the message between two misty-eyed blokes. I choked out the sentiment that we shouldn’t let 23 years pass between our next visit. For the sake of our friendship and that of our daughters!

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The Hills are Alive…With the Sound of Munich

It’s Monday morning and we’re on the 8:12 train, heading for the Austrian Alps on our way from Salzburg, Austria to Venice, Italy. My 14 year old daughter (E) and I left Seattle, Washington, last Wednesday and still have over two weeks left on our European vacation. Here are a few of the highlights/lessons learned from our first five days.

  1. It’s always best to be patient and polite. Despite a multitude of travel problems getting out of Seattle (cancelled flight, missed connections, no electronic ticket, long wait on hold…) I was able to keep my cool and not get frustrated at the people or circumstances. It was a good opportunity to extend grace to others even when inside I felt like releasing a Walt Whitman-like “barbaric yawp”.
  2. #1 is easier said than done, especially when you’re really really tired and just want to sleep somewhere that is comfortable. But we did it.
  3. American “passion” for the World Cup is nothing compared to the “PASSION” of Europeans. Yikes. They’re simply mad about it here. Cup Crazy. And it doesn’t matter if their team is any good, as demonstrated by the large crowd of people in London-Heathrow who gathered in front of the TVs to watch the U.S.-Germany game on 26 June. We arrived at our hotel in Brussels just before the start of Belgium’s last game and could hear the cheers and groans of the fans from our room. The loud cheering and horns just after midnight were a little annoying but an indicator of the passion they have for their team. The fever is everywhere. We spent two days in Germany and one in Austria and saw signs, posters, shirts, hats and more all over the place. I guess the only thing I could compare it to is the fervor of NFL fans for their teams, but on a national scale. (Bears fans, think about how you would’ve felt if you’d beaten the Packers in the NFC title game in 2011. Or how you felt in 1985.)
  4. There are a lot of really nice people out there who are willing to talk and visit. We’ve met so many people in just five days of traveling. Thanks to the 10 1/2 hour delay in Seattle we chatted with several fellow passengers who we wouldn’t have known if our flight had been on schedule. A kind lady on the train to Munich sat next to me and helped translate the announcements and even helped us find a hotel upon our arrival. Turns out that she’s a Literature professor at Shenandoah University in northern Virginia, back in Germany for some research this summer. While in Germany I met some people from Australia and some from Bulgaria. I learned that I’m terrible at deciphering accents. Except for American accents. Which leads me to my next point.
  5. Americans are obnoxious tourists. Case in point: while at a small bakery/café in rural Austria on Sunday, the loudest group was a table of five Americans. Completely unaware that their obscenity-laced conversation was dominating the entire room. Come on, people. We can be better than that. I’d expect such self-absorbed behavior from middle schoolers, not from grown adults.
  6. I’m tall. No. REALLY TALL! So tall that lots of people feel the need to point it out to me. I’m not remotely bothered by it. More entertained. At the train station in Cologne a guy who came around begging for money proceeded to dramatically point out how tall I am. Yeah, I’m 5’20” and I wear clown shoes. Move on.
  7. I wore a Packers football shirt on our trip to see castles in Bavaria. It was fun to see so many people say “Go Packers” upon seeing my shirt. Met people from Madison, Waukesha, Waupaca and Appleton. One guy from Atlanta, older and retired, asked me where I was from in Wisconsin. He knew Neenah (the city where I grew up) and all the cities in the Fox Valley…even Little Chute, Kimberly, Kaukauna and Combined Locks. Apparently he did a lot of business up there back in his day. What a small world. Then there was the guy from the suburbs of Chicago who saw my shirt…but what could he say? Turns out he’s a really nice guy (despite his taste in football team) and we had a pleasant conversation on our hike to the bus stop from the castle.
  8. I can understand why a lot of Germans settled in the Midwest when they came to the United States years ago. The rolling countryside of Bavaria is just like what you see in Wisconsin and Minnesota. Seeing the green fields, cows and barns seemed just like “home”.
  9. The public transportation here in Europe is amazing. We’ve taken trains everywhere and it’s been terrific. No hassles about parking. I can read or blog (like I am now) or enjoy the scenery. There is always a nearby WC for when nature calls. And you can rest. E has discovered that sleeping on trains is a great way to fight jet-lag. You just can’t do that if you’re driving. Too bad we Americans are so obsessed with our cars. And I’m certainly guilty of that.
  10. Solar power. I wonder how much less reliance on fossil fuels we would have in America if we put solar panels on top of our buildings? It’s so common here. There were even solar farms with hundreds of panels in dozens of rows. The technology exists. Why don’t we use it?
  11. Europeans seem to get a lot of lifestyle exercise. Our legs are already sore from all of the walking we’ve been doing and we’ve only been here for four days. A ten to fifteen minute walk is not considered a big deal over here. Maybe I should try to implement some of that mentality in my own life. Build in extra time for walking. Or biking. There are also a lot of bikers, including parents pulling young children. Even in the rain.
  12. A good breakfast is a very good thing. We’ve enjoyed the fresh fruits, pastries, eggs and sausages every morning so far.
  13. I can understand more German than I thought I would. My Spanish minor from college isn’t helping me much, but there are quite a few words that I pick up from time to time when hearing German announcements or reading sign
  14. Rude cell phone users know no nationality. They’re everywhere. Trains. Cafes. Shops. Hotel lobbies. Sidewalks. Bus stops. Even castles and gardens. The lady in the train compartment with us is now on her third call. Seriously.
  15. Speaking of cell phones…it’s been nice not having cell coverage here. Unplugged vacation (at least during the day) is quite a throwback. While having a smart phone is nice it’s been pleasant to use it just as a camera during the day. I will admit that there have been multiple times that I would’ve googled something to find out more about where we were but couldn’t since I have no coverage here. Yet, we still managed.
  16. Don’t buy stinky cheese and then put it in your backpack. Even if it’s wrapped and double-bagged in Zip-Lock bags it’s still going to stink. It was going to be my lunch today but I don’t think my fellow passengers on the train would be very happy if I opened it up. Although, if that lady next to me starts on her cell phone again…
  17. I really love history. I knew that already but it’s being confirmed on this trip. And, it appears that E loves it as well. She impressed our tour guide (who happens to be a history professor in Switzerland) with her knowledge on our trip to the castles in Bavaria. While over half our tour group rudely talked during his short historical presentation (on the train to the castles), E was really into it and he was pleased. So much that on the way back after the tours he came over and spent a lot of extra time telling us more details and sharing interesting tidbits with us that the rest of the group didn’t hear. Which reminds me, history is fascinating when presented properly. It’s too bad that so many people hate history because of the boring way it’s often taught in schools. Hearing about how King Ludwig of Bavaria sold his kingdom to King Bismarck of Prussia for money to build his famous Neuschwanstein Castle was incredible. But, that’s not all to the story. It gets better. Yet, we only learned that information because our tour guide happens to love history and shared his passion with us. Without him, we wouldn’t have known that, to this day, King Ludwig is still despised and hated by the people of Bavaria. And that his castle, made famous by Walt Disney, is a symbol of greed and selfishness to the locals while a beautiful tourist spot for almost everyone else. Also, in the nearby small town of Füssen there is a statue of the uncle of King Ludwig who removed Ludwig from the throne. Every day a new wreath or crown of some sort is placed upon his head by the local people, as display of their affection for him, even though these events all took place over 125 years ago. Now, THAT is history coming alive.
  18. I miss my family. Don’t get me wrong. I’m loving this trip and the break from the daily responsibilities of being a Stay At Home Dad. But, seeing little kids with their parents makes me miss my own kids that are at back in the States. I especially miss the snuggling and cuddling of my little girls, ages 4 and 1. But, then I hear the same cute kids fussing, fighting or screaming and I don’t miss them quite as much. I really appreciate FaceTime. It’s nice to see my family for at least a few moments.
  19. Of course, visiting so many romantic spots here makes me miss my own true-love, but I doubt anyone wants me to go on about that. If they’re reading this, I’m sure my own kids are losing their appetites at the very thought. I love her and am thankful for her hard work at home to care for our kids (with the help of her mom – thanks!) and to fund this trip.
  20. Finally, I’m reminded of the importance of this one on one time with my daughter. She’s really a great person and I like being around her. The memories that we’re making on this trip are priceless and precious. I’m looking forward to what the next two weeks holds in store for us.

Check out many more photos of our trip on the Big Cheese Dad Facebook page. Watch for daily additions to the Europe Trip 2014 album. We’re going to be in Italy for the next week, followed by a few days in Paris before finishing our trip in London.