Thursday, August 26, 2010

What a ride!!! - part One: History

Alright, welcome to August.  I know, I know ... "What happened?" you may ask. Well, I am just about to explain it ... to come clean, as it were.

I've been avoiding the blog, actually. It hasn't been about just 'not getting around to it';. I believe I could've carved out some time, I believe I could've prioritized things differently and I believe I simply have to accept that I just had a period of a few months where I had pretty much no interest whatsoever in sharing what was happening. It's been quite a ride, and Robin and I have been hanging on as best we can.

So, ... where to begin?  I suppose it would be best to begin at, well, the beginning (of this particulat chapter, anyway). If I had to pick a staring point I'd pin it at April, 2008. That's when Robin and I were told that we were being picked up as a 'package deal' at the Miami Center. There's a lot of news and history in previous writings about what that process involved, and tons of details about making the move down here ... well ..  there.
What I did NOT throw in the mix were details of an approaching life-event that would mean a great deal of change for our life plan. That life event is turning 56 years old.
It is a Public Law that entitles Air Traffic Controllers to a 'special' and 'early' retirement. This (like with  firefighters and some law enforcement people) is a deal struck by Congress due to the stress levels and the intensity of the jobs. It provides for a retirement as early as age 50 if you meet time-in-service requirements (20 years on the boards) or even earlier with 25 years on the boards. Coupled with that are two other 'clauses': 1) they don't hire anyone past their 31st birthday (37th in some jobs) and 2) they won't let you work the boards past 56 years of age.
As with any law there are caveats and exceptions, but by-in-large, that's the rules and the rules are the rules.
Now, as Robin and I considered our move to Florida, this upcoming 'age barrier' was discussed in detail with the receiving management at Miami. I was told by more than one manager that it would not be a problem since Miami Center had been designated as 'critically staffed' and that there was a 'waiver' to be had to go past the age-56 requirement. As a matter of fact, there were several people over the age of 56 being retained to keep the facility staffing levels survivable.
"OK", we said, "that's covered". We proceeded to sell off things, buy the fifth-wheel and put houses on the market.  We arrived in our new jobs and new city at the end of October, 2008.
The year of 2008 proceeded and expired, and 2009 took over. All things pointed toward staying in Miami for about 4 years in order to accomplish the goals of finishing Robin's "covered time" requirement (that 20 years-on-the-boards thing mentioned above) and attaining the financial freedom we sought by selling the properties we left behind in Colorado. Those properties are not yet sold and apparently WON'T sell for a while unless a seriously better economic upturn occurs. When we left Colorado, it was right at the biginning of the crash .. er, downturn .. umm ... recession ... .  Whatever you want to call it, property values took a nose dive and so did our retirement accounts. So, it became all that more fiscally prudent to stay on board with our jobs until at least the end of 2012 in order to set up or sailing dream in a not-so-stressful style.
Then came December 2009 ...
In a huge gathering of FAA managers in Atlanta (one that the media had a field day with; calling it a 'Christmas Party') we were trained on the new Collective Bargaining Agreement between managers and the Controller's Union. During that session, we were also told that Congress was looking hard at the number of Air Traffic Controllers being retained on Post Age-56 waivers and that they (the waivers) would be harder to come by in the future.  Having already completed my request for one of those waivers, I became concerned that they could turn around the situation as I'd had it explained so I began regular meetings with my managers to assess the status of the waiver request. I kept getting good feedback that it was likely that I'd be retained, at least for one more year, because our supervisory complement was pretty tight and because we were trying to split off a new area of operations thereby requiring a bolstering of supervisory staffing. So... I was moderately confident that the staff and management at Miami were doing everything they could to retain me in my supervisory capacity.
You see, the situation is simply that if I hit the age-56 limit, I will no longer be able to work in a position that involves ~or directly supervises~ Air Traffic Control. It means that if I want to stay employed with the F.A.A. past 56 I must find a position that is 'Administrative' in nature and basically hang up my headset ... or be granted that waiver. To find these 'administrative' positions, I would need to seek out and bid on jobs either in a "support" or 'management' capacity (to be clear, I am a "Front Line Manager" but that is different than most 'management' duties).
In March, after much deep and hearftelt discussion with Robin, I began the process of looking for a new job just in case the waiver should not come through. Each application invloves some 20 pages of forms and narratives. This took several hours to put together in most cases, because each job application requires you to fill out a series of essay-type questions called "KSAs" (Knowledge, Skill and Abilities). These KSAs are necessarily tailored to the position you are seeking, so it requires a pretty thorough re-write of your resume with each application. While some of the applicaions go out with a 'standard' set of KSAs, some go out having answered very diverse and in-depth quesitioning. Kind of like an interview on paper.

The days went by, I got no news. March and April passed and I kept putting out bids. May, then June happened ... I kept throwing out bids for jobs, I kept visiting with my bosses who kept letting me know that no one knew anything one way or the other yet. (I might throw in that there were a couple of changes of leadership at the facility during this time frame, so there was little continuity in the process).
By the end of June I had placed 24 bids for jobs out into the ether that is the FAA Human Resources / Workforce Planning world. I applied for staff specialist positions, staff manager positions, operations manager positions and even facility manager positions at smaller towers (ones that didn't require previous second-level management experience (which is precisely what I was now trying to find)). I put out bids that spanned the country from Anchorage to Puerto Rico. And I heard nothing ...
On June 30th I received paperwork, initiated in April, which finally provided the answer on the waiver. It had been denied at all levels, clear up to the administrator and down to the Miami facility manager. Now to be fair, they (the top-level FAA managers, as directed by some aviation sub-commitee) are doing away with these waivers agency wide. I imagine that there will be precious few left in 6 more months and just about everyone who was on a waiver will be gone, or working elsewhere. I only wish I'd've been informed with a little more than 30 days' notice.
Now, I know there are a ton of people that could only dream of getting a whole 30 days' notice when they got laid off, but trying to find another job within the agency, or within the government, takes a long, long time. Six weeks to six months is not unreasonable to get the wheels to move because there are so many layers to process through. It was looking like the end of July would be "it" for my time with the FAA. I began looking for jobs outside the FAA and outside the government.
So .. you ask; "why didn't you just retire?" Ahhh ... another story, so ... OK .. I'll tell you.

In the big scheme of things, the air traffic controller gets a pretty nice retirement package. My package will come with a reduction as was agreed upon during a previous divorce settlement so I was kind of hoping to stay on board for a couple more years for financial reasons. The savings plan took a huge hit (along with most folks' IRA accounts) and it has yet to recover (not even close). The properties in Colorado and New York still  haven't sold, although it appears that their values have at least bottomed out and aren't sinking for now. We've had very limited success with renting the properties, as it seems it costs more to rent the property out (with the tax penalties, sporadic cash flow and repairs after the fact) than it does to just pay the mortgages dead loss. We'd like to sell them outright, but since the big housing cash they are not worth much, if anything, over the loan obligations. It's a tough situation, and Robin and I are both so very thankful to be blessed with an income that can stand that kind of stress and still let us survive and even play a bit. That would suddenly evaporate with a pay cut that would effectively be around 70% (ugh).
I never wanted to be a slave to the job because of money, (and I never have been because I genuinely like my job) but it would indeed put a lot of hardship on us both if I were to lose my income and have to retire right away.  There is also an issue of accrued leave.... another little sore spot in this project.

I've been with the FAA for alost 26 years. I never have played games with my annual or sick leave benefits and that leaves with a goodly amount of accrued sick time available should I need it. I feel as though it's one of the best insurance policies you can own, because after this much time on the job I would be afforded some 5 months of full pay should I become really, really sick, or injured or disabled. I didn't have to pay anything for this insurance, I just came to work faithfully and let the benefit build up at 2 hours a week. In a perfect world, I won't ever need to use it. In a perfect world it would hold some value toward a cash-out at retirement or as a credit toward my time-in-service. But, it's not a perfect world ,,, it FERS (Federal Employees Retirement System).
Up until a year or so ago, the sick leave accrued was worth nothing; nada, sip, silch. If one retired, it just vanished whether it was twelve hours or twelve-hundred. Now this represents a very serious dilemma on two fronts: First, the government is facing a problem with some, if not most, employees burning of their sick leave at the end of their careers. They are carrying positions for them, going shorthanded without them, and paying a salary for a terminally absent employee. Second (and personal), is about that exact ethic. I don't really believe in taking sick leave if you're not sick (I know, there's a whole new debate someday), and mean too sick to function effectively. But this situation is about a dead loss of thousands and thousands of revenue dollars. Time that I would get paid for if I took, or that will just be sacrificed if it is still on the books at retirement.

Well, last year (ish) they (congress) enacted a modification that allows 40% of ones accrued sick leave to be used as creditale service. That means something like; if I have this 5 months of sick leave on the books and I retire with 25 years of service, the my service time will be increased to 25 years and 2 months (40% of 5 months).  That's better, but it still means 3 months worth of leave evaporates.  More ugh-ishness. the year 2014 the credit goes to 100%, meaning that if I were to stay aboard until then I would recive 5 months for 5 months.  Fair enough, but farther away than I wanted ... but I'd do it, Robin would do it and we would have to push our sailing date back by about 16 months or so. Not too tough a price to pay for the benefit, and it seems it may be necessary anyway given the housing market.

All that being said, it's only one reason that retiring from the F.A.A. was extremely unpalatable just yet. Another big piece was a provision in the divorce agreement from my previous marriage that stipulated maintenance and retirement benefits and timelines and all. I can't grieve that, as I signed up for it, but I sure never figured that the FAA wouldn't keep me, or that I wouldn't have been moved to another position, or something, by now. The provisions contained in that decree were about to become very, very challenging if I couldn't stay in a pay status within the current retirement plan.  All the more incentive to keep cranking paper and putting out those job applications. It got frustrating, and it was disheartening to watch the days and weeks click down with no responses or successes. I fought with the desire to bag it, to just call it good and let it fall where it may (who needs a credit score anyway?) but I kept on cranking out the paper and going through ink cartridges in the process. I fased them, emailed them, express mailed them and hand carried one. I flew to Puerto Rico to 'visit' (not interview) the managers and talk to the controllers. That opening eventually got cancelled due to funding issues. A few other openings were either filled, closed, or are still in process to this day. Like I said, it's a slow process.

On June 30th I received a phone call from Washington D.C. asking to set up a phone interview. I asked back if I could do the interview in person and it was set up for one week later. I bought the airfare and arrived a day early in order to find my way to the office (not where I assumed it was .. and thanks for the directions, coaching and ultimate on-foot rescue, Glenda!). My intention was to come to Washington DC, interview and then go to the Headquarted building and try to cold-call as many managers as would see me to try to find anything at all. I also had arranged (thanks, Jeff) to meet with a manager from a private contractor for an impromptu visit about the possibilities of a job outside of the FAA should I be unsuccessful. It was a very nice lunch (again, after I eventually found the place) and it sounds like a great company doing cutting edge work .. in other words, fun :). 
I caught a cold.
Stopping by the drug store on your way to an interview is not the best practice I can think of. Maybe it was just all the stress, or maybe the hotel room, or maybe some germ on an airplane but I was pretty sneezy and didn't exactly want to make that impresison at the meeting so I got some minor league drugs and the interview went well. As a matter of fact, by the time it was over I was genuinely (and I mean deeply) excited and interested in this particular job opening. Notwithstanding the need to stay employed, this particular job was one I'd've been very interested in anyway. I walked out of the interview with hopes based on both aspects. First, I wanted a job and second, I wanted this one. That happened on July 8th.
I had to be hired soon or I would be gone on July 31st. Usually takes around 8 weeks to process a hire/transfer scenario. Hmmm... oh well, no worries.

During the next week I received one more call for an interview, this one for a position in Atlanta, GA. I asked about flying there to interview in person and was denied, because the people conducting the interview would be a panel of managers from three different states on a telcon. I set up the appointment for July 21st knowing full well, that there was no way that I could get the nod (if I were even the successful bidder) in time to avoid separating from service, but hoping nonetheless that perhaps I could be selected and then be reinstated (I didn't know how that might work, and it presented expecially difficult questions in the divorce-decree-retirement-entitlement section of this project). "Wait and see", I kept telling myself, "God's got this one under control, not me". I tried to be patient.

On July 18th, the final pay-period (2 weeks at a crack) of my career began. The next day (Monday 7/19) I decided I would call Washington D.C. just to ask if a selection had been made. I spoke to the manager that had the position open and explained what kind of wall I was up against (I did not play that up during the interview; bad form in my opinion). He was very gracious, and even violated a bit of protocol (it is customary to notify all those not selected before notifying the selectee) to let me know that I was the successful bidder and that my name had been 'flagged' and sent up to the first level of H.R. We talked a boit about what might be done to 'expedite' the process, but was honestly not thinking that it could get done in such a short time.

During the next 7 business days I contacted 11 different Personnel, Human Resources, and workforce planning specialists and their supervisors. Without exception, each one of them (in Miami, Atlanta, New JErsey, and Washington DC) were cordial, patient with my explanation, and hopeful-yet-cautious in their advice and responses. The week progressed and by Friday I had no further indication except that I was confident I had talked to just about every one in the chain.

Monday the 26th... I placed a couple more calls, and contacted a couple more key players. I started getting feedback that with 4 days left it would be pretty amazing if it could be done. It was a change of jobs, a change of pay status, a change of pay centers and a change of location. There were people that had to create and authorize the actual position, fund the job, and so on, along with getting the actual payroll programming done, get a job offer to me, get it returned and plugged in to the system and get the managers to approve it all. I understand why it takes months...

On Thursday I got an email from yet another player. One I didn;t know about, and one that was asking about retirement papers. My heart sunk as I thought about this added layer that was put in the mix so late, but Robin took the opposite tack and was encouraged that this meant people were actively pursuing it.
I exchanged emails, and was asking about whether it could all work. I received the response "it will work, Mr. Wells" at about 2:30 Thursday, I received a firm offer at 4:20 P.M. Thursday and signed it, scanned it, and faxed it back immediately.
Friday was a good day! The pay period ended Saturday, but not my career.

Now; I can tell you that the Government moves slowly, and I understand why, but I can also tell you that it can get things done! There are compassionate, caring people out there that know their jobs and do them well.  I had lots of high hopes, but very guarded ones. I didn't realize what effort was being put into my 'case' until I got that offer, probably an hour and a half past the time the specialist whould've been at home. It was so exciting!

Please bear with me here. There are special people, most of whom I've met now, that I'd like to thank.

Theresa Goosby, Richelle Green, Colette Jones, Cyrus Tribue, Mark Marchese, Pat Omata, Michelle Wright, Frank Toner, Jim Trinka and Marylin Ragland. These are all people who helped. Not in any order because I don't really know the scope of everyone's jobs, but to these and most likely others I owe a HUGE debt of gratitude because they made it happen. I am still an FAA employee, and I have a great new job.

I appreciate that.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Passing Gas

May, 2010

One of our coworkers from a different area, I’ll call him “Dean” … because that’s his name  … had collaborated with the commander of an aerial refueling squadron at MacDill Air Force Base and had made arrangements for some of us to take a ride aboard a tanker while it was doing a training mission out over the ocean. Dean asked me the usual baiting question, “would you like to go along” and I replied emphatically, ”yes”. He then did the unexpected “switch” part of the “bait-and-switch” maneuver and put me in charge of getting the list of people organized and car pools set up. Alright, I guess that was coming.

Within a couple of days we had 24 folks desiring 20 spots and the coordination had all but been accomplished. There were some last minute changes and challenges, but Robin and I got going around 5 P. M. and headed west toward Tampa. A couple of months earlier we had headed to the west coast and took the longer, slower Tamiami Trail. This time we were in a hurry so opted on I-75. The highway is smooth and fast, and it was relatively empty as we made time across the southern end of the state. We took an absolutely beautiful alternate route once we got into the south part of Tampa, and just barely missed seeing the sunset over the Gulf of Mexico from a high bridge. As Maxwell Smart used to say, “Missed it by that much!”. We arrived at MacDill AFB just past 9:00 P.M. and found that our names were indeed on the list. We obtained directions to the guest hotel (“go four stoplights and turn right, signs will show you the way” … not even close, but we lucked in to it  ) and checked in. We went hunting for food and ended up back off-base at a “Five Guys” burgers place and enjoyed a late night meal (it was actually pretty good, but not the best on the planet) then returned to get a nap. Our bus was to pick us up at 5:30 A.M. so it was a short night’s rest. We all met in the hotel lobby and the bus took us to the NCO mess hall for breakfast. We were served cafeteria style and Robin and I ate full breakfasts for something on the order of $8.00. Not bad at all.

From the mess hall we traveled to the briefing room/passenger terminal where we were checked in for the flight and received our safety briefings. Next we climbed back aboard the bus and went to the flight line (no pictures allowed) where many tanker aircraft were parked. We boarded, got another short briefing and began the first part of the mission … waiting. Now a point of perspective must be that the KR-135 aircraft was built as a war machine and it serves a couple of purposes. Primarily it transports huge amounts of fuel into the sky to allow the cargo planes and fighters to refuel while airborne. It’s secondary capacity is as a cargo mover and as a last function it can carry passengers. Carrying tourists is not what the airplane does best; not at all. There is a row of straight-backed nylon webbed seats along either side of the fuselage. Harnesses hold you in place and there are no seat cushions, arm rests, tray tables, overhead lights or vents any kind. After the door the aircraft closed, we began to discover what the flight crews already know…the air conditioning is painfully inadequate. It began to heat up in the ‘cabin’ as soon as the doors were closed. The outside of aircraft is painted gray and the thing absorbed sunlight like a heat sponge. As soon as we taxied away from our parking area we were informed that the second aircraft would be delayed about 30 minutes, awaiting the rendezvous airplane. We were meant to go as a flight, so we waited also. It got hotter … I don’t think it got much past 100 degrees, but with little air movement, and the noise of the engines, it was pretty uncomfortable. One of our group became claustrophobic and was escorted up to the cockpit to be able to see out and get closer to some fans. The Boom Operator brought cold water around and felt a little better.

The aircraft finally took off and we were on our way. We were scheduled for a four hour training mission out over the Atlantic Ocean east of the Carolinas. Since we were late departing, the mission would be shortened as the next set of training flight would be arriving on station at their scheduled times.

The problem now became … you guessed it … cold. Moving along at 30,000 feet above sea level, it was pretty chilly outside and the cold quickly moved inside. Not quite ‘see-your-breath’ cold, but enough to again be uncomfortable, especially in some sweat-soaked clothes. Fortunately, Robin and I nad brought along some layers, so we did OK all in all.

Robin was blessed with being able to lay down in tone of the observation stations directly adjacent to the boom operator. She got a short lesson on how it works and was thrilled to see the looming C-7 cargo plane slip in several hundred yards behind us and gradually close the distance. The boom operator called the shots and with a very noticeable ‘thud’ the two aircraft became one as the refueling boom hit its mark and locked into place. Since this was only for training, no fuel was actually transferred. As a matter of fact, the pilots traveling in the C-7 were actually undergoing proficiency check rides.

Several more connects/disconnects were made with members of our entourage each getting their turn to climb down into the tail of the tanker and watch these huge cargo planes flying only yards away from us. I held off going until the very last, as I was privileged to ride on a KC-10 out of Buckley Air Force Base several years ago as we wanted those folks who’ve never seen this operation to be afforded an opportunity to go first. When I did get to climb down, it was just as the last check-ride was being attempted and the pilot of the C-7 was very timid about closing the gap to the boom. We did not get connected before we had to break off and start heading home. Time had run out.

The trip home was a temperature extreme ride in reverse, going from freezing to roasting and thankful for the opening of the hatch so we could escape into the relative cool of an 85 degree day. The tour would take us next to the Officers’ Club where a buffet lunch had been set out (well, for anyone actually but we came late so we had the place to ourselves) for only $10. Following lunch we were to go up to the MacDill AFB Control Tower (MCF) to visit with some folks and get a look at the operation. Robin and I declined on this part as our schedule (don’t you hate that) dictated that we get an early start on our return trip. Reports that we received indicated that we missed a great time and there were several networking opportunities with the Commanders and Quality Assurance Officers of the base.

While this was not an official F.A.A. function, it did offer bridge-building opportunities and it is always good to put faces to the name of people who work alongside you to accomplish the daily mission of protecting our homeland and providing air traffic services to the men and women who serve.

To the flight crew, Captain Andy, Sergeant Garcia, the Base Commander and Wing Commander, and to Dean and all the folks that I didn’t meet who helped orchestrate this great outing, I would like to offer my sincerest thanks and humble admiration. It’s been a long time since I’ve been on an Air Force Base and it brought back a lot of memories. I’m still proud to have served and I’m still proud of those who do.

Thank You. God Bless America.

Ohhhh Mexico!

We have a week off! It has been a considerable amount of time (perhaps around 2 years) since Robin and I have had an unfocused getaway. There have been plenty of ‘getaways’ but they have had, for the most part, some focus item that was the driving force for the time away from work.

Ah… work … remind me to talk about that in a little while; there are some major developments along that front.

We are currently spending a week at the resort timeshare Robin purchased some ten years ago located in Mazatlan Mexico. A few of you reading this have been there so you know what it is like to be a few steps into paradise at this resort. I will point to a few pictures from previous trips to give a feel for the place. What you can’t get a feel for is the staff, the sound of the surf, the relaxing time in the pool(s) or walking on the beach or just sitting typing on the laptop while the songbirds sing and the sea breeze comes in through the screens. Yep, this is good stuff. I can wholeheartedly recommend getaways like this to regain perspective and to truly escape for a short time.

Since it has been over two years since we’ve been here, we have been ‘wowed’ by some of the changes that have taken place. It’s obvious to me that the global economy has taken a downturn (the resort is only 45% full as I write this) and still there have been a few other resorts pop up in an area which was once fairly remote. It is still nothing like a crowded Miami strip of beach, but there are now several other big buildings and one large high-rise visible from the grounds here. The nearest one is a huge facility called the RIU, apparently an all-inclusive resort that just opened a few months ago. The result of all the new competition has been surprising to us. The company has thrown (I would guess) millions of dollars into expansion here.


They’ve built more units, fancy villas that could sleep 8 or 10 folks and each have their own swimming pool, and they have a new gym and spa that are absolutely amazing considering that it is a ‘perk’ for owners and guests.

There are two restaurants, two delis, a full service bar and a small grocery shopping provision. There is a brand new pool and one that is now adults only. Couple that with pool-side wait staff and swim up bars and there isn’t much reason to leave the immaculately maintained grounds anymore. I like this place!

So, I do have some time on my hands so I will do my best to catch up with the last few months. It has indeed been an adventurous time, busier than I would’ve ever imagined and full of challenges and changes. The good stuff is simply that Robin and I are still enjoying life, we still stop and smell the roses, we still count our blessings to be with each other and to be surrounded by great friends and family whether they are close by or on the far end of the country from us. We are still cozy in our 5th wheel and it is still functioning perfectly (no problems mechanically or electrically or otherwise) and we have made application the management of the park we are at to stay ‘long term’, which could grant us a permanent spot in the park along with a somewhat reduced monthly rate. We’ll know if we are approved in a couple of weeks. It’s been right at a year and a half now since we left behind brick and siding for the RV and it has proven to be a good call. One of the side benefits of living this life style is that we have come to know a great deal about south Florida. When we have pulled the coach from one park to the next, we have struck out to explore the areas and find our way around. We now have ‘favorite’ restaurants and hang-outs that we visit for a few months at a time, then we move and visit the other half of them, then we come back to the first bunch again. It’s pretty unique and we’ve claimed a lot of territory as ‘local’. I suppose that’s the nature of it in the ‘big city’ as we plan accordingly to drive 55 miles to visit the boat and have dinner out and it really isn’t such a big deal.

The down side is that everything takes longer because of the distances and the traffic here. We do spend a lot more of our time in the car; maybe that explains why (it seems) everyone owns a high-end car like Mercedes or Infinity or Cadillac or Lexus. If you have to live in your car, it might as well be a nice ride. Of course, upon closer examination you are unlikely to find one of these cars that aren’t dinged, scraped or scratched. We’ve been spared paint-to-paint contact so far, but it has been close a few times already. The world’s best drivers do not live in Miami-Dade County! 

It’s June in Florida again, and that’ll bring with it briefings from local and state agencies, as well as our work, about what happens if a hurricane hits. The forecast for this season is more active than last year, but a forecast is exactly that. We will prepare and train accordingly; the Hurricane Response Team (HRT) at work will put the schedules and lists together in case of an emergency, and Robin and I will keep a watchful eye on the National Hurricane Center’s website (NOAA texts us if a storm develops). We still plan to hook up and pull away to some (relatively) safe inland area should a strike be imminent but we’re certainly hoping to be spared that project. Truly, all we can do is what everyone else does: watch diligently and plan accordingly.

What I will do now is try to catch up, like on a month-to-month basis. I'll post them as I complete them, not in any order. Once I get them all done, I'll reorder them accordingly.
Sorry for being tardy, but I've been chasing my tail lately, doing a lot of typing but not necessarily the kind I like to do.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Moving day (repositioning part 2)

I am led to think that one of the things that I believed my whole life might not be so true. For me and almost everyone I know, setting down roots and getting established has meant a certain set of events and conditions. The primary change to this thinking has been to let go of the house/dwelling concept as we have adapted to the mobile and arguably less secure environment wherein "home is where we park it". It's been a fun adventure after all, and it seems as though we can 'come home' wherever we are. It's not that we don't still talk about 'settling down' and it's not that we don't miss what we left behind ... but we've had some pretty cool opportunities to see some pretty cool places and set ourselves up as 'visitors' while we're in our home. What I really like is the capacity to explore from new center points. This was a fairly frustrating aspect of the big move last year, mostly because we were constantly lost; having to search out and discover everything from Starbucks to groceries, doctors to gas stations and places to eat and shop. How bad is it when you don't know where the nearest Home Depot or (gulp) Best Buy is???  In a year, we've found only one quarter car wash :). All in all, the ordeal has been adventure. This is due to the spirit which we came here in and even though it's been tried a few times it has prevailed. We have so much to be thankful for.

So last week we hooked up from our nearly 6 month stay at Topeekeegee Yugnee County Park in Hollywood (just south of Fort Lauderdale) and pulled back down to the south side of Miami (Cutler Bay).  The trip was uneventful (except for nearly missing an exit and doing a tiny section of cross-country travel at 55 mph with the trailer in tow ... but we won't expound on that particular adrenaline event except to note that Fordzilla doesn't seem to care if there's a 14,000 pound trailer attached or not ... four-wheeling is fun!) with Robin driving the car and me driving the truck/fifth-wheel combo.
         *One of our ~favorite~ interchanges*
It was about an hour's worth of travel and we arrived at the Larry and Penny Thompson Park around noon.

Now this is something of a 'homecoming' for us, as this park was our very first parking spot when we arrived in Miami just over a year ago. It was actually very cool to come driving in to RV area and be in familiar territory. We had a lot of memories attached to this park, and this area of Miami; mostly surrounding relocation trauma mind you, but now that we have grown more comfortable with the lay of the land and now that we have had a year's experience living in the RV there was a different attitude prevailing as we pulled in, greeted the office staff (who remembered us!) and proceeded to set up the coach in our assigned space. 

We've done the 'prep for travel' and 'set up housekeeping' drills a few times now, and Robin is an excellent partner when it comes to helping her 'backing-a-fourty-foot-trailer-with-a-long-bed-truck' challenged husband to spot us in our parking slot. No trees or electrical posts were  harmed in the parking of the Fifth-Wheel (not this time, anyway). We got set up and were relaxing with lunch in an hour or so.
*Just for the record the procedure is to:
-Establish alignment in the parking spot.
-Establish left-to-right level in the parking spot. This involves placing a couple, or several, leveling blocks under the wheels and pulling/pushing the coach onto them and determining 'level'. Rinse and repeat if necessary.
-Chock the wheels and lower the front struts (landing gear).
-Using the landing gear, remove the weight from the hitch pin (about 2,400 pounds of it), release the hitch, uncouple the electrical and emergency brake connectors and drive the truck away.
-Check the chocks.
-Level the coach fore-to-aft.
-Check the chocks.
-Lower the rear stabilizers (usually onto cement blocks if they are over grass)
-Tighten the chocks .. they will loosen after stabilizers take some weight off the axles.
-Verify clearances around the coach to extend the sliders (no trees, no posts, etc.)
-Robin will extend the rooms while Gary connects up to shorepower, water, sewer and satellite receiver.
-Unhook the bikes from the rack on the car, drag out the lawn chairs unstrap the furniture, re connect the surround sound (the cables to the subwoofer have to bestowed before sliding the room closed) and voila! we have the afternoon to relax. Oh wait, maybe I'll check those chocks onemore time...

Larry and Penny Thompson park is a particularly popular destination for snowbirds. I think there is a measurable decease in the population of Canada from November to April, but am only judginfrom the number of license plates from Quebec. When we checked in, we were assigned a "pod" and "Spot" number. The park is laid out with a series of eyelet-style circular cul-de-sacs extended on both sides of the main drive. In each of these cul-de-sacs, RVs can park inside and outside of the circular drive like spokes on a wheel. There are 12 pods each accommodating around 18-24 RVs. That's a lot of Canadians :)

Moving in on November 1st, we were just hitting the first days if 'High Season" for tourism and there was a lot of activity already. During the next month or so the park will fill to capacity and each week will bring a turnover of tourists coming to visit for weeks or months at a time. There are preferences given to those campers who come back every year and since we were pretty sure we'd be back, we placed a deposit on a site when we left last spring. We had been promised availability, but since we were 'newcomers' to the system, we were only guaranteed a place during November and December. In January, it was up for grabs depending on whether or not a previously reserved spot might be cancelled. So we set up thinking that we'd be here for at least two months, and hopefully six, the maximum length allowable.  It was only two days later that we moved again...
We were notified that indeed there had been a cancellation, and that if we wanted to we could make the ove to a new spot and stay there for the whole six months. Yay! So ... follow the checklist backwards, then move 200 feet, then follow the checklist forward :)

We are "settled"! So ... what shall we do next?  

Saturday, May 1, 2010



Our anniversaries are many. Sometimes dates stick in our heads as indelible reminders of events that define our lives. Pretty powerful sentiment, but true nonetheless.

Robin and I share several imporant dates each year; reminders of the significant changes that we've been through both individually and as a couple. We remind ourselves of our early times together and remember our first kiss, the engagement and, of course, our wedding day. We also keep track of things like the passing of a parent because to recall them is to keep their memory alive with us. Robin and I remember this date (10/27) because it represents one of the biggest life changes we've ever made (and one of the bigger ones we've even heard of).

A year ago on this date we arrived at the Miami ARTCC for our first day of work at our new facility. It represented so much planning and hard work, a lot of sacrifice and a whole lot of insecurity. Most people don't just decide to pick up stakes after 25 years in one place, get rid of nearly every material possession that surrounded them, and move across the country in a 5th-wheel. True, there are much stranger stories but this was an absolutely huge step for us.

We planned this out, thought it through, talked endlessly about it, prayed about it and tried to reconcile the logic with the dream. It was a hard, hard time and things seemed to bounce back and forth between 'everything is working out fine' and 'nothing is going right'.

We fought hard to put houses on the market, sell big ticket items, donate most of our little stuff away and foist a lot of stuff, good and bad, onto the kids for their use. In the end it came together well enough for us to pull away on schedule and arrive in Miami on time and ready to go to work.
The year has been amazing; in every sense of the word. From the moment we set foot on the new job site it became apparent that it was a reality that was far separated from our visions. That we were 'not in Kansas anymore' is about as close as I can come to explaining how if felt to be on what could reasonanbly be considered foreign soil. The list of things that were different, challenging, nonsensical and hard to grasp was every bit as long as our list of what we expected, hoped for and understood about the world.
It was a complete change of culture, a total immersion into an eight-million person habitat replete with 20 distinct and different civilizations inhabiting the same sardine packed landscape. Languages, traffic jams, foods on the shelves of stores, traffic, bureaucracy and lines for literally everything slammed us with the insistent message of "what have we done?".
We've counted our expenses (although they still mount) and we've accounted for our gains. In summary we can not truthfully say whether this was exactly the right decision at the right time, but we cannot deny that we struck out in faith toward a dream that so many profess but so few actually pursue. We did what we said we were going to do and now we are a grand step closer to fulfilling our dream.
In the year since we pulled away in "Fordzilla" we have:
- Both been successful in training and certifying as Front Line Managers at a new and difficult facility.
- Lived in 5 different locations while sleeping in the same bed and learned more about our locale in one year than most of the residents have in 20 years.
- Purchased a sailboat.
- Made a noticeable difference to some other people, both inside and ouotside of the workplace.

So, we're here a year. Not so bad after all? .. well, there's the traffic....

The next year promises to be filled to the brim with more changes and challenges and opportunities. We will try to hold on while we race toward slowing down.  Here's to another one, not like the other one!