Coronacation 2020

My older son Brenden says I need to blog more, so…

As you probably know, COVID-19 has decimated the airline industry, among all the other havoc it’s wrought. Compared to last year, the TSA is screening about 95 percent fewer passengers each day, sometimes under 100,000 people nationwide. Southwest is hemorrhaging cash. Instead of our normal 4000-ish daily flights, we’re operating around 1000 and have parked a couple hundred aircraft. Even with the drastically reduced scheduled, our flights are still mostly empty. Currently the dispatch department is paying everyone their full salary but only staffing about half the desks to aid in social distancing.

Needless to say, this isn’t sustainable.

Fortunately, the changes at work have limited the spread. We’ve only had one confirmed case in our office, and it happened in March. However, it’s still strange and sad to see our headquarters look like a ghost town as the non-operational employees work from home and only half the operational ones are there. I dispatched an Oakland to Honolulu flight last week that had two passengers. That works out to two flight attendants for each passenger.

To preserve cash during this jaw-dropping downturn in travel, Southwest is offering its employees the chance to stay home for a month at a time with full benefits and a fraction of their salary. They’re calling it Emergency Time Off (ETO). After doing the math and discussing it with Jenny, I volunteered for May. As of April 26, I am on coronacation™ for six weeks. I return to work June 8.

Yes, this is going to sting, but we’ll be okay. I’m grateful to still have a job. Over 26 million people have lost theirs over the last few weeks.

Southwest in Crisis Mode

I started at Southwest in June 2001, fresh out of college as a rookie technical writer in the IT department. A few months later, another event shocked the industry and evaporated demand for air travel: September 11. All commercial flights were grounded for two days. Nobody knew whether people would want to fly again after that. Millions of people canceled their flight reservations. At any other airline, I would have been laid off immediately. But Southwest doesn’t believe in layoffs. Our leaders let me and every other employee keep our jobs, even though they knew the risk. By taking care of their people, they won my loyalty for life. And over time, people starting flying again.

This year, Southwest is facing the biggest challenge in our history. My coronacation is a little way for me to give back to the company that saved my career and has been so good to my family over the last 18+ years.

Life Before and After COVID-19

So…now what?

My pre-rona life was a lot more hectic. I worked a lot of overtime trying to chip away at the mortgage, save up for travel, pay down one car or save up for the next one, fund house projects, and save for the boys’ college. When I wasn’t at work, I drove the boys to and from the pool, watched their meets, stayed in shape by running and cycling, helped out around the house, and tried to get enough sleep. It was a nice life but very busy. When I had a day off that didn’t involve a meet or a family event, I felt a little guilty and disappointed that I wasn’t working overtime to get ahead. I’m supposed to be productive, dangit!

Enter COVID-19.

Only half of the scheduled dispatchers actually come in to work so we can have an empty desk in between each of us. Open shifts are covered not by overtime, but by the on-call people, so overtime is all but gone until this passes. I only worked 8 shifts in April. I was on-call for several other shifts but only got activated once.

The virus has impacted each person in their own way. It forced me to slow down, to breathe, to relax, to reevaluate my life and how I spend my time and what my priorities are.

Despite the stay-at-home order and various nagging questions, this has actually been nice. Our kids have a weekday routine – breakfast, workout, school, lunch, clean something, free time / family time, dinner. The boys no longer have swim/dive practice in the evening, so we can relax and hang out instead of driving back and forth to the pool three times each evening. I run or ride three times a week but don’t have to squeeze them after work or on a rare day off. I sleep more and am less irritable as a result. Jenny and I go on walks and talk and catch Pokemon. We taught the boys how to play spades and got smoked by them in Super Smash Bros. I introduced them to a couple of my favorite movies. We might do a Lord of the Rings movie marathon like Jenny and I did before the boys came along. I cleaned out and reorganized the garage and linen closet, knocked out the huge pile of filing I’d put off for far too long, and diagnosed and replaced a bad circuit breaker that was turning off our fridge. I’ve FaceTimed with my mom and my 93-year-old grandfather. I finished a fascinating book called A Woman of No Importance, which is about an American woman with one leg that served as an amazingly effective spy in France during World War II. My next goal is to finally finish reading the novel version of Les Miserables (too many words, Victor Hugo!!!), the basis of my favorite musical. I also hope to dust off my guitar and see if my fingers still work.

The other day I ate lunch alone on the porch – no electronics reminding me that society is collapsing, no one to talk to, just me and a gorgeous spring day. The sun was out. A healthy breeze rustled the trees, shimmering in various shades of green and full of life. A pair of beautiful red-shouldered hawks swooped in and perched on our fence. That brief half-hour of quiet reminded me that life is indeed going on, even with the deadly virus, and that I get to choose what to focus on.

This feels a bit like retirement, except that my kids are still young and my body still works. So although it won’t be much fun financially, I am grateful for the opportunity to help Southwest and to spend so much time relaxing and enjoying life with my family as we try to stay healthy and sane.

On the bright side, it’s easier to save money when you aren’t supposed to do anything. We had booked and largely paid for a summer camp for the boys and a trip to San Francisco for us in early June. COVID-19 has canceled both of them, which (sadly) freed up some funds. Their swim and dive clubs are on hiatus, which saves cash. We’re deferring expenses, canceling extra mortgage payments, eating out much less, reducing our contributions to the boys’ college funds, and burning some of our savings that we can use to get through May.

I’m also well aware that we’re in an extraordinarily privileged position just to have the option to help my employer survive by taking a month off.

The boys are taking it pretty well. Jonathan, our social butterfly, really misses people. Jenny and I are trying to accommodate him by spending time with him each day – cards, chess, video games, bike rides, trampoline time, art projects. Brenden, our introvert, doesn’t feel as lonely but laments that he hasn’t been inside another building besides our house in over a month. Both miss being in the pool. In a pleasant surprise, they’re spending more time playing with each other. Sometimes it’s Minecraft or Super Smash Bros. Sometimes they just hang out on the trampoline, talking and batting a ball around. They’re having little trouble with online learning except for occasionally overlooking an assignment, which Jenny and I try to catch.

Jenny is a little stir-crazy. She’s reading a lot (thank you, Kindle Unlimited!), working on some art, and trying to keep the boys on track. She hits the grocery store every 7-10 days, trying to make each visit count. She and her family send each other short video updates via the Marco Polo app to stay in touch. Since her hospital has banned in-person classes, she and her partner are converting most of her classes to online format via Zoom. Her first one was the full-day childbirth class earlier this month, and it actually worked fairly well.

So in a nutshell, we’re doing okay.

Questions That Make Me Squirm

Although this time isn’t all bad by any means, some dark and uncomfortable questions bubble up throughout the day. Questions like:

  • The big one that few want to consider: what if we never find a way to become immune? What if there is no protective immunity after one gets the disease? Despite our hopes and assumptions, so far there’s little evidence of it in people who have recovered. What if herd immunity isn’t possible? What if we never develop a vaccine? Some viruses still don’t have a vaccine despite years of effort, including norovirus, RSV, MERS, the Epstein-Barr virus, and HIV. Flu has one, but since the virus mutates so much, we have to keep getting flu vaccines annually, and each year’s formula never works 100 percent effectively.
  • How and when will the economy recover from this? How many jobs will never return, particularly in small business, brick-and-mortar retail, restaurants, bars, clubs, live sporting events, concerts, and other sectors that bring together large groups of people?
  • Will people ever want to fly again at the same level they did before? What would make them feel safe enough and confident enough to get back on an airplane? Will Southwest need to shrink permanently? If so, how many of my friends, including people I’ve trained, will lose their jobs? That will be the last resort, but Southwest can’t go on like this forever. For many of us, dispatching for Southwest is our dream job, and I want every one of our new folks to stay if possible.
  • Will it ever be safe to hug my grandparents again?

Reasons to Hope

Despite these worries about things I can’t control, all is not lost. People have come together to fight this disease like I’ve never seen. Healthy people are choosing to stay home, keeping their distance, and wearing masks to protect others. Essential employees put their lives at risk every day to treat the sick, keep the lights on, fly vital supplies and workers to the people that need them, and keep food in everyone’s bellies. We’re learning about who we are, what’s important, and where we are vulnerable. And a lot of really smart people are working hard to end this crisis with the least possible damage. We are a strong species. We learn, adapt, and persevere. And we’re not giving up.

Stay safe, everyone. And wash your hands.

I’m Back

As you might (or might not!) have noticed, I’ve taken a break from blogging – about an 18 month break, leaving your Facebook news feed more room for funny cat videos, Trump memes, selfies, and whatever else brews your coffee. From time to time I thought, “I should probably blog about something,” but there was always something else to do or think about. Perhaps it’s time to fill you in on some of the highlights of the last year and a half. Think of this as our Christmas letter…in October. Just go with it.

Jenny

Jenny, after five years and countless hours of work, has finished UTA nursing school and now works as a full-time RN. She’s a labor and delivery nurse at a local hospital and works with my sister in the same unit. Lisa even trained her for one shift, but I don’t think they had time to cover Lisa’s patented “Jive Talking” dance. Labor and delivery is a lot to learn, especially as her first nursing job, but she’s working hard and doing great. In about a month, she’ll get signed off to handle patients on her own. All hail Nurse Jenny!

House News

After 6 years in our house in Euless, we sold it in March to a nice couple with a little girl who wanted to put her in a good school. For five months, we downsized into a small two-bedroom apartment nearby while the boys finished their school year and M/I Homes built our new home in Grand Prairie. The building process might earn a separate post someday, as it was fascinating but quite stressful. Finally we closed and moved in August. We love how the house turned out. It has all the space we need and more, and it’s right by Joe Pool Lake with untouchable Corps of Engineers forest to our north and west. I’ve already spent many happy hours watching sports and playing games in the media room. Plus we finally have space to host events again.

pescadero

Me

Things are great with me. I’m still dispatching for SWA on the night shift and helping out with on-the-job training and overseeing the midnight workload. We’re getting several new midnight desks this year and next, which will help spread out the work better. I’m still thankful to have a wonderful wife and sons and extended family and good health. I’m still trying to run three times a week to stay in shape, only now in our new neighborhood instead of the park I ran through for years. It’s been fun to figure out new routes to cover the mileage I need for each run.

Sleep, I’ve found, is severely underrated. I didn’t fully appreciate sleep as a younger man. Being well rested makes it so much easier to deal with the stresses of parenthood, work, and people who make you mad. So I’m trying to be more intentional about getting enough sleep. Sometimes that means missing out on some things, but it’s better than being irritable all the time and falling asleep on the way home from work in the morning.

The Boys

The boys are also doing great. They love the new house and being closer to Jenny’s family and Lisa’s family. Cousins Reagan and Reid are half a mile away, so we see them often. The boys both have excellent teachers and enjoy their school. Brenden has started tumbling lessons as of a month ago, which teach him some body control and also give him a solid workout. Brenden is in second grade. Jonathan is now a kindergartener. (!) In a decade they’ll be driving and chasing girls. Ok, Jonathan might be chasing girls before then, but still.

That’s all for now. I’ve given up on using this blog to deeply analyze the world’s problems, convince all of you to change your minds on some crazy topic, or solve the mysteries of the universe. Those things can be nice, but they wheeze on my Zen, and these days I’m more into Zen than crusading. If I keep blogging, it’ll be more about just us and what we’re doing. If we interest you, stay in touch!

February News

YES, I am still around, just haven’t felt as talkative lately. Here are some updates.

The Boys

Brenden has become conscious of the fact that school, home, and other venues have a power structure and that he is generally at the bottom. Like his father, he doesn’t really like this arrangement. So for a while he kept butting heads with his teacher (refusing to work, playing around and acting silly) and with us (refusing to follow directions, threatening to move out, etc). Our initial hard-line approach didn’t work and seemed to make things worse. I became overly harsh and critical. I didn’t really like who I became when he decided to act up. Something had to change.

We switched back to more of a Love and Logic approach, which takes more thought but works better for him. We’re trying to give him more choices so he feels like he has some control over his life. We’re trying to be more loving and positive, which really seems to make a difference in whether he wants to cooperate with us. We’re rewarding him and Jonathan for good behavior at school. Good news from their teachers earns them marbles, and we take them to do something fun each time they fill their marble jar. So far, these changes have made a big difference in his behavior and his attitude.

Work

Life in Dispatch is going well. We are scheduled to move into our beautiful new office across the street in May, giving us a tornado-resistant facility with lots more space, better equipment and support, and a slightly shorter commute for me. During a long stretch of time off, I set a personal record with eight overtime shifts in a row this month in between all my Olympics watching and facility activities. I also passed my ninth anniversary in the Dispatch office.

Jenny

Jenny is now in her second semester of UTA nursing school and continues to do well thanks to her intelligence and hard work. She has two clinicals this semester, psych in Bedford and med-surg in Mansfield. Like last semester, she is really busy but keeps pushing through. Two weeks until Spring Break!

House

We replaced our bathroom countertops and sinks in November with solid surface, sand-colored counters and white sinks from Lowe’s. I am very pleased with the results. Our next project is scheduled for Monday and Tuesday of next week: refinishing the boys’ tub and surround. The tub is chipped, the tile is white with weird brown speckles, and the caulk is terrible. Miracle Method, the company that refinished our kitchen countertops, will redo the tub and tile in solid white. Except for replacing the carpet after we move out next summer, this should be our last major project for the interior. We are thinking about having a few trees removed or trimmed in the front yard, and we’ll replace the side fences at some point as well. I feel good about leaving the house better than we found it.

Ten Things I’ve Learned From Parenting

Brenden turned five this week, so it’s not a bad time to reflect on some lessons I’ve learned from being a dad. It’s hard to say whether fatherhood matched my expectations. When Jenny was pregnant with Brenden, I focused on preparing for life with a baby, which is MUCH different from life with two preschoolers. We still make plans for the future with them, but so much of fatherhood now seems to be able surviving each day without having to visit the hospital or the liquor store.

Here are a few things I’ve learned, or at least reinforced:

  1. Nothing in my life has driven me insane like my children have. When they are being difficult, they seem to bring out the worst in me, and I hate that.
  2. Few things in life have made me prouder than my children. Watching them make progress in the pool, seeing them treat their friends and cousins kindly without being prompted, hearing them say they love me, and getting enthusiastic hugs when I come home fill my heart with pride and wonder.
  3. It’s fascinating to see reflections of me and Jenny in them. Brenden got my stubbornness, love of data, comfort with routine, distaste of last-minute changes, and affinity for video games. Jonathan got Jenny’s gentle and kind spirit, creativity, and love of people.
  4. No matter what I do as a parent, many people are going to disagree with it. Maybe I’m doing things differently from the way they were raised. Maybe I’m not following their favorite parenting book or guru. Maybe they are afraid I’m going to horribly corrupt my kid or give him autism or spoil him or send him straight to hell or jail or dozens of counseling sessions later in life. But there are only two people who get a vote in how we raise our kids: me and Jenny. All other opinions are advisory only.
  5. Spending money on your kids is much more fun than I expected.
  6. It can be difficult to know how far to push your kids and when to step in and help. One good example is video games. Brenden loves to play, but many of the games he likes are challenging, and he often gets frustrated or intimidated after dying just once or twice. Then he comes to me or Jenny begging for us to take over and get him through the level or past the boss. On one hand, I want to say no because the only way to get better at something is to keep trying and thinking when things get tough. On the other hand, he’s five years old, and it isn’t realistic to expect him to be able to ace a game that challenges even a lifelong gamer like me.
  7. From time to time a vision pops up in my head. Jenny and I are around 50 years old. The boys are away at college, making the house ours once more. We share a bottle of wine and quietly ponder whether we did the best job we could with them, whether they turned out okay. We relax a bit once we decide the answer is yes.
  8. It wasn’t until I became a parent that I realized how embarrassing it could be when your kid acts up in public. (Sorry, Mom!)
  9. Even though I knew parenthood would significantly affect most parts of my life, thinking about all the different ways still amazes me. Without kids, we would drive different cars, live in a different house, travel a lot more, spend more time with friends, have more toys, spend our free time differently, and make numerous other changes. Although we make many sacrifices for them, I don’t begrudge those sacrifices. They are part of my new mission in life, the mission to give these two crazy boys everything I can give them to help them become men. As difficult as fatherhood can be, I derive great satisfaction from being their dad.
  10. I knew fatherhood would be a lot of work. I don’t think I realized how much fun it would be, how they would make me chuckle almost every day, and how much Jenny and I would enjoy laughing about them together.

I was apprehensive about becoming a parent for a while. If I could have learned some of these lessons in advance before the boys arrived, the prospect would have been more appealing and less scary. But that’s not how life works. Instead, I got to earn these lessons the hard way, and I’m glad I’ve had the opportunity.

South Padre Trip

Over the weekend, to celebrate the end of the spring semester (sure, it was actually before Jenny’s finals, but who’s counting?), we flew the boys down to South Padre Island for a couple of days on the beach. Here are some of the highlights:

New Love Field Terminal

As I’d hoped, our flights used the beautiful new terminal at Love Field. It is truly a great improvement over the old terminal – much brighter, more open and spacious, and many more choices for dining and shopping. Once most of the Wright restrictions disappear in October 2014, Love will become busier and more important for connections, and I really think travelers will enjoy the new facility.

Civic

Although Brenden wanted to get the orange and black Dodge Challenger, we rented a Honda Civic instead. (Sorry, buddy) As expected, it was a great car. It drove well, handled our two huge suitcases, provided a comfortable ride, and got great mileage, probably 30-40 mpg. My favorite feature was its real-time MPG indicator that gave me instant feedback on how much fuel I was burning. If all vehicles had that feature, I think most many of us would drive more efficiently.

Black Dragon Pirate Cruise

On Saturday, which coincidentally turned out to be Pirate Day, we took the Black Dragon Pirate Cruise from Port Isabel. It’s a 75-foot replica pirate ship complete with a crew of pirates who put on a show as they sail guests around the bay. The boys enjoyed it, especially Brenden, who had a nice sword fight with the first mate and won a pirate water pistol in the end-of-cruise dance contest. Much of the pirate banter went over their heads, and Jonathan got restless from time to time, but we thought it was fun. The water gun fight and sword fighting lessons were probably their favorite part.

Sea Turtle, Inc.

Sea Turtle, Inc. is a small rescue and rehab organization based on South Padre Island. We toured the site and saw numerous sea turtles ranging from youngsters smaller than a salad plate to five-foot, 180 lb. beasts. All of the permanent residents have been injured or deformed somehow and are unfit to live in the wild, but the organization also works to nurse injured turtles back to health and then release them.

Beach Time

We went to the beach a total of three times during our brief stay. Our hotel had some noisy guests and other issues, but it was cheap and within walking distance of the beach. The early-season cold water limited our time in the ocean, especially for “I’m ccooooowd!!” Jonathan. So they spent more time playing on the beach, running buckets of water from the ocean to the sand, digging holes, making sand angels, and burying their feet. We stayed off the beach when the sun was high and used rash guards and plenty of sunscreen, so the boys escaped without getting burned.

Zoo

Before flying home, we stopped at Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville. Despite Brownsville’s small population, its zoo offered a surprising selection of animals, including a Komodo dragon, at least ten giraffes, a rhino, a bald eagle, numerous snakes and lizards, a pygmy hippo, tigers, several primates, and free-roaming peacocks. The boys’ favorite part was probably the playground, which gave them the chance to burn off some energy and run around freely. They get frustrated on our vacations because we have to manage their activities so closely in many locations (don’t jump in with the endangered sea turtles, don’t jump off the pirate ship, don’t ride on the baggage carousel, etc.). They love being able to do as they please for a bit.

We had our share of challenges, including a highly inconvenient poop accident, hotel guests who chatted loudly outside their room for hours every night, a mattress that creaked like the sinking Titanic any time we moved, random meltdowns over silly things, bedtime drama, and the typical battles that occur any time we take them to a sit-down restaurant. But the boys had a blast overall, and we loved seeing them have such a good time. We have no current plans for our next trip. We might try something quick late this summer, but Jenny will be very busy with school this fall, so we’ll have to see what her schedule is like.

Here is our photo album from the trip: South Padre Island May 2013 Photos

Happenings from the Week

It’s been a pretty good week. Here are some items of note.

First Taste of Caribbean Dispatching

In the lower right, you can see the first first I’ve ever gotten to flight follow to a destination outside the continental US, SWA 742 from Orlando to San Juan, Puerto Rico. Honestly, someone else had planned it and followed it most of the way. I took over maybe 10 minutes before it landed. But that still counts, right? I got to plan my first two SJU flights Monday morning. Since Puerto Rico is a US territory, flights to and from there aren’t much different from an operational perspective. We just try not to divert to Cuba.

Uncle Charlie

The saddest part of the week came toward the end. After a long and debilitating battle with Alzheimer’s, my great uncle Charlie passed away on Thursday morning. Nearly all his family and many friends got to gather on Saturday in Wichita Falls to say goodbye and celebrate his life. Although we are certainly sad that he’s no longer with us and will miss him, it’s a relief when long-term suffering ends for someone you love. He was a good man. Several family members shared moving stories about him that gave me a clearer picture of his high character, sense of responsibility, and devotion to his family. Rest in peace, Uncle Charlie.

NBA Player Jason Collins Comes Out

This article from USA Today has more details, but this week Washington Wizards center Jason Collins became the first openly gay player in any of the big four American sports. Other pro athletes have been out for many years, such as tennis stars Martina Navratilova and Billie Jean King and sprinter Carl Lewis. Perhaps competing in individual sports rather than team sports made coming out easier. Until now, gay NFL, MLB, NBA, and NHL players have always stayed in the closet. But it was only a matter of time, as statistically about 3 percent of people are gay or lesbian. Overall, the public response to Collins’ admission from other players has been very supportive and positive, which is very encouraging. Bravo to Collins for having the courage to take a huge risk and go first by being honest about who he is. Others will follow. You can count on it.

South Padre, Baby!

Soon we plan to take the boys to South Padre Island for a couple of days. In addition to lots of beach time, we also want to visit a rescue facility called Sea Turtle, Inc., take the boys sailing on a replica pirate ship complete with a pirate show, and enjoy some tasty seafood.

Helping West

I decided not to attend the West memorial at Baylor to counter-protest Westboro. My firefighter friend Jeremy did, though, and said it was very moving and well-done. I made a donation to the Salvation Army’s West fund, which is probably more useful than picking a fight with ignorant hatemongers, anyway. My sister and her husband went down and volunteered in West on Sunday, bringing an amazing number of cookies to the displaced residents and helping with the food efforts in person. They were nice enough to bring me some kolaches from Czech Stop, which helps West and me both.