Clouds and Bicycle Horns

American Airlines had a pesky little nepotism policy stating that husband and wife shall not work in the same department. This was a bit of concern with inter-company transfers on hold because the company was undergoing a “restructure.” This venture was orchestrated by an outside consulting firm. Perfect strangers with New York accents gathered 25 employees at a time to describe the reasons for and approach to the “new vision.” In stern shirts and ties and with an air of great importance, they placed an easel at the front of the room and flipped through picture boards showing little stick figures boarding a plane. They explained that, at the present time, we were all riding in a plane and that management was developing a flight plan, which would be the new vision of the company. They went on to say, as they flipped to a picture of a big cloud with the tail of a plane protruding from its right side, that until the flight plan was finished, the plane would be in the cloud. “You are now in the cloud” they said. I didn’t see any fog but kept listening hearing the theme to Mr. Rogers Neighborhood playing in my head. They said that, after interviewing each employee and analyzing pertinent information, the plane would emerge from the cloud and land in the new vision. They displayed the next picture showing the plane on the left side of the cloud and little stick figures falling out of the cloud into space. They then explained that not all employees would be on board the plane when it landed, some would rain out of the cloud into new opportunities. The woman next to me said “I don’t understand.” I replied “They are telling us that they are downsizing and a bunch of us will get laid off.” She muttered “I wonder how much money they are making to be so confusing.” My thoughts exactly.

As it happened, the new vision moved the internet/intranet function to the Documentation Department in another division. I rained into that area instead of splashing down on the street. That solved the nepotism issue and kept my job. Jon remained on the plane and kept his job so we were happy. My new boss was a lovely woman named Molly who saw me as one with leadership qualities. Thus I was “loaned” to a special project tasked with creating a means for the CEO of our division to have readily available the latest details on company issues. The need for this task developed when a reporter rang through to the desk of “Bob” and asked a question about something that placed American Airlines in the news. Bob had was not aware of the issue, could offer no clear statement, and stated that he did not want to be embarrassed by getting caught off-guard again. The task team met two days a week in a special, closed-wall conference room. We were led by the same two shirts that showed the plane story. We were each given a bicycle horn and a tennis ball bearing our name. One wall of the room was covered with a velcro-type substance. After discussing an aspect, we conducted a “storm” during which, if one harbored an idea, they threw their tennis ball to stick on the wall and shouted out the idea. One of the shirts then high-knee jogged to pull the ball off the wall and throw it back while the other wrote the suggestion on the “we like it” board. Why the bicycle horns? Well that was the most fun. Disagreement with a shout-out was indicated by delivering three quick blasts with the horn. If that happened, the suggestion was written on the “maybe not” board. After much ball throwing and horn honking, we arrived at the novel decision to create a tabbed binder to be updated each morning and returned to Bob’s desk. The shirts whooped and high-fived each other. We had a solution. Next challenge – what would we call the binder, it must have a name. I threw my tennis ball and shouted “How about THE BINDER, it worked for THE BALLPARK in Arlington.” No one honked and the project came to a close.

Our new family navigated the new developments of the 90s with relative ease although we certainly had our growing pains. I wished that I had more time with my children. My dream of becoming a teacher to allow more family time died with my first marriage. Our first year went by in a blur of soccer games and weekend trips using our flight benefits. There were no future children planned because of my age and a diagnosis Jon had received years before we met. Regardless of those details, I was fearful of becoming pregnant and considered preventative surgery. Jon suggested that he undergo retesting to put my mind at ease. With a sad face, the doctor delivered the news that my age, 43, coupled with the test results meant that conception was near impossible. I explained that we did not plan to have a child and asked “So, if it were your wife, you would go forward confident of no surprises?” “Oh yes!” he replied “You guys have a better chance of winning the lottery than conceiving a child.” I still had concerns. I had a way of beating odds and some people do win the lottery. I scheduled the surgery for early November. Circumstances at work caused me to cancel that appointment. I then decided to wait until after the holidays. After all, what difference could a few weeks make. Our new family celebrated our second Thanksgiving together and happily looked forward to Christmas. Then, in early December, I had a dream.

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