Most of my Google Reader and Twitter has been filled with Comic-Con International at San Diego this week. Honestly, I’ve been skipping the news. I caught the Eisner winners — congratulations to Matt Fraction! — but that’s about it. My week and weekend were occupied by other locations, ones that don’t ring so resoundingly in the geek community.
Last week, on my days off, my family drove down to Knoxville, Iowa, to meet up with the rest of my family. My mom, sister, brother-in-law, brother, sister-in-law, three infants under eight months old, my aunt and uncle, my cousins, and the familial dogs all gathered to celebrate my mom’s birthday. It was a good time, lots of swimming and talking and dandling babies. My kids love babies, they gush and fawn over infants, talking to them and watching them. I was reminded of the fact that, all over the world, six-year-olds are frequently left in charge of their younger siblings. I think my kids would have loved taking care of their cousins.
On the drive home we stopped at Altoona, Iowa, just outside of Des Moines, at the Adventureland amusement park. Now, one of the things we have discovered is that our hometown amusement park, Valleyfair, has more restrictive height requirements for rides than anywhere else we’ve been. Adventureland was no exception to this — M and K could ride everything in the park except two rides. They could rides all three roller coasters, and immediately set out to do so.
I love how adventurous my kids are. They tackled the upside-down loops with a seriousness appropriate to the scariness of the endeavor, but were game. Both kids loved the coasters, just loved them.
While J and N took the kiddos on coasters, I people-watched. Adventureland was a great place for this — the park is physically just a pleasant place. Shady and cool, with lots of trees and water features, it was a nice spot to spend a hot Midwestern summer’s day. The park is done up in the manner of Small Town Iowa, with a town square, antique windmills, old-fashioned drinking fountains, and lots of vaguely barn-like features. The people at the park reflected this as well. About one out of every two hundred people was not-white. Most people were tall, the men in particular. I saw a lot of red hair, a lot of blond, and a ton of that indeterminate blond-brown color that is called blond everywhere else in the world except here. (In the upper Midwest it’s not really considered blond, because there are so many blond people about.)
I love people watching. I could do it for hours.
When groups of teenagers walked by, I tried to determine who was the group leader. Who was the wild one in that group? Who was the good kid? When the retirees walked by I tried to figure out what form their youthful rebellion had taken. Motorcycles? Beatniks? Tuning in and dropping out? Drunken tractor-races? I loved spotting the t-shirt trends. Aeropostale is a very popular brand in Des Moines, it seems. Lots of sports t-shirts, lots of band t-shirts. A fair amount of tattoos on folks, especially the 25-30 year-old parents of infants and toddlers. I always grin at that, seeing as how I AM one of Those People. The tattooed parent people.
It’s impossible for me to not make up things about people I see passing by. The fourteen year old kid with the twenty-something couple — younger brother wearing a Guitar Hero shirt from Target while his older brother and and brother’s girlfriend had Slipknot and Green Day shirts, respectively. Hero worship? Emulation? Or the sixty-year-old guy with the grandkids, the ostrich-leather cowboy boots, and the U.S. Marine tattoos — Rodeo rider? Motorcyclist? Is he a tough-guy bastard, a warm-hearted curmudgeon?
Anyway. We drove home from Adventureland with some very happy kids.
Friday I went to work only to find that Airventure Oshkosh starts Monday. For those of you who don’t know, “Oshkosh” is a word that is meaningful to aviation in the same way “San Diego” is meaningful to comic geeks. It’s a location, an event, a massive hullaballoo of a thing. And it mucks up air traffic control for two weeks.
Why two weeks, you might ask? When the event is only a week long? Because all the many thousands of planes, puddle-jumpers, home-builts, kit-planes, ultralights, UAVs, demonstration jets, helicopters, and people have to get to Oshkosh. And most of them get there by flying.
Since Friday we in ATC have been coaching, guiding, and hand-holding many dozens of extra aircraft in our sectors as they work their way across the country to get to Wisconsin. There’s nothing particularly wrong with these aircraft or their pilots. They’re perfectly nice people, I’m sure. But they are flying huge distances over many days through unfamiliar territory, and they need a bit of extra help. This is my job, the extra help. I make sure they have current weather and NOTAM information, I make sure they know where they are and where they are going, I advise them of any factors that may impact this leg of their flight, I suggest alternate plans if they need it. Doing this for one plane is no problem. For and extra three planes isn’t that bad. But in eastern South Dakota yesterday there were an additional twelve planes at one point, all working their way east.
It’s a lot of work. There are people in my area who are deliberately avoiding all the low-altitude sectors as much as feasible, avoiding the little guys in their little planes and their high needs. But I don’t really mind it. These people are, after all, on vacation. Going somewhere they want to go to have a lot of fun.
I read the reports and tweets of people at San Diego this weekend. There’s a lot of mention of The Little Things — grumpy waiters, or long lines at the airports, or surly security guards on the convention floor. I’m not saying I think most folks are having a bad time at SDCC, though. Far from it! I’m saying that . . . that as humans, our experience of an event is constructed of the myriad small human interactions which comprise that event. Waiting in line at SDCC is made memorable by the people around you in the line. Getting through airport security is made worse or a lot worse by the interactions with Homeland Security. One is unlikely to report that everything went smoothly, but one often mentions when things go awry. You remember that crappy waiter or the ticket agent who sneered.
It’s the same things with Oshkosh. These people flying across the country won’t remember me — unless I piss them off. They won’t remember most of the details of their flight time unless it’s miserable. It’s their vacation, one in which they have invested a vast amount of time and money. It’s something they are looking forward to with high hopes. As ATC, I can’t make their vacation great — but I can surely sour an afternoon for them.
Why would I want to do that? Why would I want to piss off somebody, make a good two hours of their vacation sucky? Why would I do that, when I have the power to avoid it merely by maintaining a pleasant attitude? Travel, and vacation, can be pretty wearing no matter how good a trip one is having. My kids got desperately whiny about two hours away from Adventureland, right before they fell asleep. Not for any cause, save that we’d been in the car for two hours and they were tired of it. If somebody’s been flying their home-built for three hours, I’m not going to add to their storehouse of tired-and-cranky if I can avoid it.
Today is the big push to get to Oshkosh. The skies are swarming with little planes. And I have to stop typing this, post it, and head back to the sector to help all those people out.
Save travels home, all of you at San Diego. I hope your trip was a good one.
Filed under: Autobiography, Conventions, Parenting, Work | Tagged: amusement parks, Conventions, family, iowa, oshkosh, sdcc | Leave a Comment »