Not only to fly, but to bring the world's eyes...skyward.

Sunday, October 4, 2009


She seemed very outgoing and self-assured, and I was just a guy on the street waiting
for my nearest Starbucks to open late on a Sunday morning, so I really couldn't see a reason not to ask her about the endless parade of people pouring through the next door. I already knew it led to some kind of mortgage refinancing/renegotiation event being held inside, having already asked another total stranger who seemed to know why they were there.

"What are all these people doing out here before even Starbucks opens on a Sunday morning?" I was just curious to see how "Julie" (from The Love Boat, of whose station hers reminded me this bright morning) would answer.

"Saving their homes."

That sounded noble. I wondered who was trying to destroy them, and why anyone would destroy a perfectly habitable dwelling, rather than take up residence there themselves, or at least sell it to someone else.

"Saving them. From what?"

She answered me with a look. It said that I was obviously insane or just arrived via time machine from some bygone era of relatively well-enforced personal responsibility, the 1980's perhaps. We wouldn't want Julie to think me mad.

"I mean, I know what's going on, but I just don't understand why so many people could be so stupid as to sign on to adjustable-rate mortgages when rates were at historic lows."

"I did." Julie wasn't smiling anymore.

"Well, I don't mean to sound judgmental, but what were you thinking - that rates might go down some more, or just that they wouldn't go up as quickly as they did for a while there, or...?"

Julie refocused on her job for a few moments, cheerfully greeting a few more of Phoenix's surely finest citizens as if they were coming in to hear a time-share pitch to get a free Vegas vacation. Some of them were wearing identical "STOP LOAN SHARKS" T-shirts. I take it those were the employees of this pseudo-governmental agency empowered to change the indelible ink so ubiquitous in adult life into the erasable pencil lead of our childhoods.

"Well, I don't know everyone's story of course, and every one is different. Some of them lost their jobs, some lost a spouse, some got medical problems, some just got in over their heads, and some of us did what we did knowing full well the risks, but felt we had no other choice at the time. [Stuff] happens, you know? We felt we were just doing what we had to do for our families. There's two sides to every story."

Indeed. Must have been one hell of a tight rental market here for a while, I thought.

"Is this normal? I mean, I don't live here so I don't know. Does this happen every day down here, or is Sunday a heavier day?"

"It's a three-day event, and today's the last day. Where are you from? Are you here on a trip or something?" I thought about falling back to the time-machine idea, but I didn't see any point in antagonizing her further. She was cute when she smiled - which she now only did to the other people.

"I'm a pilot, I'm here on a layover."

"Oh, a pilot. Ok. That explains a lot. Are you always this positive?"

"Only until I get my first cup of coffee." Back to why we'd met. Starbucks wouldn't open for five more minutes, and Time was, for her, warping out of shape worse than the vision of a hippie running with a herd of zebras through a burning peyote patch.

"Well, I hope you're in a better mood when you're flying my plane."

Ah yes, the old "I sure hope those pilots are well-rested, well-fed, and well-taken-care-of when I get on board, but until then, squeeze those overpaid, underworked primadonnas for everything you can get out of them - does anyone actually believe it should cost $399 just to take little old me coast to coast and back with 99.9999% safety in six hours each way?"

I'm familiar with the sentiment. I hear it every day, in one form or another, from someone - sometimes on their way to paying $300 to watch a "professional" "sporting" event. Never have gotten over that oxymoron.

"Actually, this recession that's been going on for two years started for me with 9/11. I've been living with financial adversity for seven years now. And when things went bad for us in the airlines, nobody outside the business had any pity for any of us, so I just have a little trouble feeling sorry for those who haven't been laid off or taken pay cuts or had some other kind of change to their circumstances like I have, but who just didn't read the fine print in their mortgage and now want everyone else to take pity on them and allow them to renegotiate better terms. I can't renegotiate what I lost. Why should you be able to?"

At this point, luckily for her, someone asked her whether Starbucks would be open soon. I took the opportunity to answer for her.

"They open at eight. And believe me, she's counting down those minutes, because that's what I'm waiting for, too."

She didn't look at me, but said "Yes, I just don't need this. It's poison. Absolute poison." I'd become the rain-god, plagueing Julie's sunny New Day.

It's not poison. It's what I term for my eight-year old "being a big kid". And sadly, my country apparently no longer has any use for any of it.

I got up to get my coffee, and an asian man shorter and younger than me held the door for me. I walked in and politely offered him the opportunity to go ahead of me in line. I'd been waiting 45 minutes, what would another minute do to me?

But he, just as politely, declined, saying, "You were here first." I got my coffee first, he got his second, and we got on with our lives.

An aviation love story...

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