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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Catch-up number one.

So, just on the off chance you may not have noticed, it's been on the order of 6 months since the last official update to this document. While everyone who starts a blog likely has high hopes of keeping a running diary or open ended commentary going, I believe now that unless you're getting paid to contribute, or perhaps if you're writing a novel it's just downright tough to keep a living, breathing blog up to date.
So... it's stale stuff for the most part with this catch-up entry. Nonetheless, it's been a pretty amazing 6 months to say the least.
Today I want to try working backwards for a change. The last entry told of the absolutely miraculous event of not losing my job and thenheroics of those involved in making that happen.
Getting the job was a VERY good thing and today, as I sit writing, I still thank God for this one.
It's 6:20 A.M. in Virginia and I am seated on the second deck of the Virginia Railway Express car number 562. Leaving the "Broad Run/Airport" station with a couple hundred other commuters, I will spend the next 70 minutes traveling to work; about an hour on the train and a 10 minute walk to my office. It's a peaceful, low stress trip. I don't have to negotiate 5 lanes of 80mph traffic like we did in Miami and there are actually a few sights to see as we roll through Manassas and Alexandria, VA. It's pretty quiet and relatively smooth. Just...long.
When we first tried figuring out what we would do for living accommodations up here, we bantered about selling the 5th wheel and taking an apartment. We talked over a couple of options actually, but in the end the truth of the "bird in the hand" concept won out. We have the 5th wheel, the tow vehicle and the other car. It's already in our hands and we are familiar with the paradigm. So, pulling it all up to Virginia and setting up at an RV park on out as the most judicious decision given both the finances and the fairly tough time schedule we'd been dealt. Living separately (I'll get to that) also made it tougher to plan out of the box so we plotted the trip and started searching for a good spot to park and set up the household. Well, for as much tourism as the area demands, there are precious few RV parks and we found ourselves choosing between a couple of less-than-ideal options geographically speaking.
As it turns out, the park we chose and are settling into is nice if not a bit rustic, and it's very quiet compared to the Miami locales. There is a train track that the freight trains use regularly but it is far enough away to not wake us and there is no nearby crossing so they don't blow their horns in our back window. The staff is nice and they have been most accommodating. The RV park is nearly full already, as it has been through the winter. This is unusual, but there are huge road construction projects nearby (I-66) and a lot of the crews have chosen RV living while working on these improvements. We are glad to have found a fairly level spot, away from traffic and adjacent to a small pond. The geese come visit and it backs into a large wooded area which we are looking forward to exploring as the weather warms. So far, so good.

Robin was blessed as she was able to get transferred to Wasington ARTCC as a first level supervisor (Front Line Manager). Her first day on the job was Feb 28th and she is in training right now. After training she will start in on shift work and we will have to puzzle out our schedules to make sure we maximize our connecting time. As it is right now, we both leave for different shops every morning and come home to the same "house" every night. Can't be beat considering what the last few months have been like.
Robin commutes about 28 miles along winding, 2-lane country highways much like she did as a college student. Depending on the exact time of her trip, traffic is steady but it moves along at the speed limit for the most part and the trip takes 40 minutes or so. It will likely be less crowded when she moves to shift work, as her drive will be outside of 'normal' working hours and she'll miss some of the other commuters. Coming home late in the evening or going in very early may present the hazard of deer or other wildlife on the road much as it does in Colorado.

My commute involves driving about 7 miles to the train station to catch the VRE. The train makes about 6 stops to pick up more folks, but since I am at the beginning (or end) of the line, there are choice seats available when I board. It's still dark on the way in thanks to Daylight Savings time, but I get to stare out of the windows anyway.
I de-train at L'Enfant Plaza and hike about 3 blocks to enter my buiding and another couple of blocks through the underground plaza/mall then to the 4th floor and voila, work :)

Now, let's back up a bit...

August 2010 through February 2011 -

We will forever refer to this as the 'trial separation that failed' or maybe the 'blessing of our desert time' or who knows what else.
As was spelled out in the last post (what, you don't remember 7 month old posts?) I was able to quit work on a Saturday in Miami and start Monday in Headquarters Washington, DC. This was easy enough... just come home from work, pack up, and catch a plane to D.C. I showed up Monday morning and found my way to work, actually surprising my new boss wo'd figured I would be a couple of weeks transferring up there.
I got settled in to my 'space', 'cube', 'spot', 'office', or whatever you'd like to call it and started working on getting a phone, computer and network access. All went well for the first few days and I had to come to grips with the real spectre of not knowing what I was doing :)
The first couple of meetings I attended were mostly in a foreign language and I started to keep good notes about the who, how, when and why of developing and deploying training for the nation's Air Traffic Controllers.
So many acronyms, so little time...
I was just beginning to figure out the process and the roles and responsibilities of the different offices when my boss, whom I'll call Mark, called me after working hours on Thursday evening and had an idea to discuss.

I was asked to take a "temporary detail" in Oklahoma City. The purpose was general enough; to 'fill in' for a manager who was having 'difficulty'. "OK", I thought, I'm here in D.C. and Robin is still in Miami so why not? As it turned out, the situation was vastly more challenging than I'd expected, and it was the growth experience of a lifetime. Robin, still in Miami and facing her own challenges, rose to several new challenges and I believe became a much better leader through it. We both had to stand on our own through some pretty tough situations and while we had each other to lean on by phone and video chat, it simply does not suffice and does not compare to sitting together and working through life's little 'situations'.
Work is hard sometimes :) Politics are politics, work cultures and environments are just that. Situations that have been bred and fostered (or in some cases, festered) for years aren't easily correctable. People will be people, and the 90/10 rule is real (90% of your problems come from 10% of your people).

Robin was faced with leading a tough group in tough working conditions in a tough management environment. Yet... out of nowhere, three of her employees decided to try their hand at career advancement and stepped up under her supervision. That, my dear friends, is making a difference.

I walked into the office in Oklahoma City and spent my first couple of weeks trying to learn what we did, who did it, and why. Lovingly called "drinking from a fire hose" I spent a lot of long days learning the mission(s) and challenges of the 15 folks in the office. It was as diverse and talented a group of people that I have ever heard of, let alone worked with. A broad scope of skills, a large body of complex programs and projects and a hundred things to do; each one of them complex and often sorely in need of facilitation and advocacy. ummm....wow.
I can only do this as a summary because to try to capture my experiences there in Oklahoma would require a bit too much time for a casual read, or a casual writer (me). Just know that the team of folks that worked with me in OKC was without exception the finest and most honorable of people. I saw talent and dedication and persistence through some absurd hardships. In spite of some reallly rough times, they kept the priorities right and fought the good fight.
I will miss that office and that team. ... but I'm really glad to be back with Robin :) It's nice to have dinner together and not have airfare involved.

A couple of interesting notes about the changes of the last few months:
-My boss called me on a Thursday evening about the OKC detail. I was due to sign a lease the next day.
-No matter what you think about OKC, it is a nice town. Lots to do, friendly people and good food. The roads need work real bad though.
-Robin and I had a 'rendezvous' in the Big Apple for one of our get-together weekends. What a fun trip! Went to the top (waaay top) of the Empire State building just in time to catch the tail end of a beautiful sunset over the city. Took a bus tour and did a fair amount of hiking in Central Park. Picked up a couple of Geocaches too :)
-Robin came to OKC for Christmas and New Year's. Had a wonderful dinner at the Coach House and then toured the most amazing displays of Christmas lights in northeast OKC (at the power company's grounds) and at an entire city park in Chickasha.
-We found a movie theater (True Grit was good) in south OKC where you can watch your movie seated at a table, in a comfy chair and attended to by a waiter. Food, wine and a flick. Very nice indeed!
-I stayed at two separate places in OKC; the first was a very large complex catering to the students attanding the FAA Academy. Most students don't stay 6 months or more, so they are geared toward turnstyle, puppy mill occupancy. I found I did not like the long drive or rather rough condition of the property so I went exploring until I found an extended stay hotel. They gave me a very. nice suite for the same price and it shortened my drive by 15 minutes.
-Creating training courses for the FAA is complex and detailed work. It requires distinct sets of skills and the end products must stand up to scrutiny and validation from several aspects. Ultimately (and unfortunately) training must withstand litigation should something bad happen, thus the process of creating, vaildating and delivering training materials and regulations must pass a battery of reviews.
-This train ride, while long, isn't long enough to let me finish typing everything I wanted too. Rather than delay the post, I'll continue with more "catching up" next time. Still have to talk about the boat, the surgery and the Cherry Blossoms among other things.

Happy Spring!o