Monday, February 25, 2013
Post 500: Looking for my happy place
This was originally supposed to be yesterday's post, until I realized that giving you the photo quiz yesterday would make this post number 500. I never expected to attain such a milestone, and it seemed like I ought to mark it with something more auspicious than a mystery photo. And so here it is . . .
It's o'dark-thirty in the morning. The normally bustling LA freeways are quiet as I drive in for work. Ahead of me, the setting full moon glows above the western horizon. I luck out and garner an empty charger at Terminal One before making the hike over to the tower. Everything's right with the world.
After checking my ID, the guard tries to spoil the moment by casually mentioning that the elevator went out last night. I have flashbacks to my Boy Scout days as I start up the twenty-one flights of stairs. We would load our packs with phone books (remember those?) and climb flights of stairs to train for the mountain trails at Philmont Scout Ranch. It's not one of those things you expect to repeat later in life. The elevator outage is a common enough occurrence for us at LAX; sufficiently common in fact that there are rest stations established along the way, with chairs and water bottles. My personal record is three minutes and change, although not recently; I don't keep track anymore. I reflect with appreciation that it's not my turn to make the breakfast run. Somebody told me recently that our elevator is the second-worst in the nation for reliability. I don't know who's ahead of us, but I feel for them - and hope that their tower is shorter than ours.
Despite the hundreds of steps, I'm still a bit early when I report to the tower cab. The setting moon is now lower, and reflected in the waters of the Pacific. The immediate topic of conversation is of course the elevator - the funny noises it's been making lately, and how nobody got stuck in it this time (it has happened, and more than once). Then we move on to the squirrelly winds. They had to go east traffic for a few hours last night, but now the winds have calmed and we anticipate going west after sunrise. As expected, the bad weather that caused problems in Salt Lake yesterday is today doing more of the same in Denver.
I'm the first of the morning crew, and now the rest are trickling in. The overnight crew yawns as they head down the stairs; they'll be wide awake by the time they make it to the bottom. Meanwhile, the morning rush of departures make their way to the runway and we're opening up more positions. Soon we've got a full house, and things are humming along.
I start out on Local, then I come back from a break to work Clearance for a short while to give the trainee working it a break. He's a good guy, waiting his turn for Ground classroom. Upon his return, I slide over to be an Assist, which is followed by another break and then a stint on Ground. We normally alternate in this manner, from a control position to a non-control position. Most of us prefer working the control positions such as Local or Ground, but the other positions are just as necessary. The rotation keeps people fresh; we really try not to leave someone for more than two hours without a break. Working with trainees, I've found that concentration really begins to fall off after about an hour and a half; your brain just gets tired, and dealing with pilots that don't listen and other complexities only makes it worse.
Along the way, breakfast arrives. On top of that, somebody working overtime has brought in muffins. The smell of fresh coffee wafts through the cab while we wait for the next batch of arrivals. After the initial departure rush, Sunday mornings tend to be slow until well after sun up. Then the traffic heats up with the day as the far-east arrivals begin to appear on the scope. We settle into our roles, keeping airplanes moving with a minimum of fuss. This is when we're happiest; enough airplanes to keep you occupied and interested, but not so many that you're just trying to hold onto the picture.
And this is what I do, six days a week. I often tell people that I have a great job, because I get paid to look out the window. And I get to tell people where to go. How can you beat it? This is my happy place.