Monday, August 29, 2011

Teacher of a Lifetime, An Open Letter

Dear Ms. Cushing,

My life changed forever the day I walked in to your 5th grade class at Boeblingen Elementary & Junior High School in suburban Stuttgart in 19-, well, never mind; it's been a while so we can both simply leave it at that. Like most other 10-year olds my reading material consisted mostly of comic books. The story had to have pictures for me to tap in to the narrative and engage in the action or I simply couldn't be bothered. Then I joined your class that Fall.

At first glance you were a story all to yourself, an embodiment of the California sun culture if ever there was one: shoulder length straw shaded blond hair, slightly frizzed but styled, sharp, piercing green eyes, an angled jaw line that bespoke both beauty and zero tolerance and a voice right out of the San Fernando Valley. All this and I was never sure you were actually from California but the yellow Volkswagen Beetle you drove only completed the package for me. You were quite simply visually arresting, your demeanor brooked no mischief and your personality commanded attention. I was hooked, turning in probably the best work of my elementary school life. Then you played your trump card.

Every day after lunch you read one chapter from a book geared towards young readers, many of them Newbery Award winners and included titles I still remember today, including "Island of the Blue Dolphins" by Scott O'Dell. You created a means to educate while settling excited children fresh from recess in one masterstroke. We didn't need pictures or have to read for ourselves; your vocal inflections and pacing in addition to the choice of material allowed us to drift away to far off lands simply by putting our heads down and listening. "Dolphins," though, was a poor second to the signature series you began the Fall term with, "The Chronicles of Prydain" fantasy series by Lloyd Alexander.

Through the five books of the series based on Welsh legends you held an entire classroom mesmerized, enchanted and enthralled, taking us to a different world and a different culture with each page. You taught us the art of the cliff-hanger at the end of each chapter despite bleating pleas to continue the story. The most astounding thing for me was your creation of completely different voices for each character. Just in changing your voice we knew who was center stage without the writer's tool of "Taran said," or "said Fflewddur." A substitute teacher filled in one day but had nothing in the way of your touch with a good story. We made you reread that chapter the very next day.

We were perhaps too young to see ourselves in Taran's maturation through the series - I remember us all heaving a collective "Ewww" when Taran announced his desire to marry Princess Eilonwy in "Taran Wanderer," the 4th book. I even saw Prince Ellidyr more as Taran's misunderstood best friend than arch rival in "The Black Cauldron," my favorite of the series. We were both exasperated and infatuated with Gurgi and instantly enamored of the all powerful father-figure in Lord Gwydion. We knew we all wanted to be Taran's friend, a character to which Harry Potter owes much, or at least be like him through his incredible adventures.

Because of you. I found a recent edition of the series with the original art work after years of repeatedly collecting paperbacks to read again and again from start to finish. I hear their voices, your voice, in my head with each reading, the "Tut tut," of old Dallben or the "MY BODY AND BONES," bellow of King Smoit. My love of reading was cemented in your classroom and remains with me to this day, no pictures required.

Lauren Cushing, I have tried over the years to find you to let you know the strength of your influence upon me over these many years. If no other student that year or since has ever tried to reach out and acknowledge who you are and what you meant I wanted to be at least one who tried. Teacher of the Year? You are my Teacher of a Lifetime. Wherever you are I remember, love and thank you.

Gotta go.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Language, Y'all, Language!

Every industry has its own language. The jargon and especially the acronyms that save time and syllables are some of the tools that keep conversations quick while trying to remain competitive in the marketplace. Some of the language and terms are entirely for internal consumption as the "BOH" (back of the house) employees devise new products and services to introduce or discuss industry trends and so on. Actually ALL of the language is for internal consumption but some of it can spill over in to the public arena through the simple means of being overheard by the customers being served.

Wanna learn how to speak "airline?" An "ASM" is an available seat mile while an "RPM" is revenue per (seat) mile. One airplane seat on a flight that travels 100 miles = 100 ASMs. Most airplanes don't hold just one seat so that is where the numbers can get mind boggling. One hundred seats flown one hundred miles = 10,000 ASMs; if Dallas to Oklahoma city is 100 miles you get the idea. It is "airline" for simply saying every seat on the flight is available, "open," unsold. The "RPM" comes in after the flight has left and the revenue is spread over those 100 seats whether or not all of them sold and regardless of the fare each seat collected. Almost like roulette every penny collected has to cover the table or in this case, the cabin. One bet (paying passenger) covering the table (the entire flight)? Odds of hitting (making money) are slim, right? More fares, more passengers, mo' money, mo' money, mo' money!

At the airport is where most of the jargon comes in to direct contact with the traveling public. "LOL" is not "laugh out loud" but airline-speak for Little Ol' Lady who is typically traveling alone and needs assistance. Likewise "UM" is short for Unaccompanied Minor who also needs assistance getting from A to B but unless you fall in to one of those special categories terms such as those won't mean much to you. It's the crew language that really gets almost poetic when you hear it, learn it and understand it.

When an airplane parks at the gate it must be physically turned around to point back out to the runway for its next flight. It is a "turnaround" or a "turn" for short. Gate agents, Flight attendants, pilots and ramp crews all have this term in common. For the air crews, working a "Miami Turn" means they're going to Miami and coming straight back. For the ramp an airplane may arrive from Kansas City and "turn" (as in "turn in to...") an outbound to Orange County. Or it could be a "thru" from Nashville to Denver. For the airport gang a "RON" is an aircraft remaining overnight at their facility while the "overnight" part for the pilots and flight attendants gets translated in to a "layover" as part of their 2-, 3- or 4-day "trip." For air crews, a "trip" might sound something like this:

"I picked up a 3-day, Atlanta Boston Turn, Raleigh layover, Detroit, LA, Salt Lake, Dropped the Atlanta - Miami on Day 3 to get in some skiing, picked up a Memphis turn back to Salt Lake, then home to Atlanta on Friday with the next three days off before a Honolulu 3-day and still kept all of my hours!"

We won't get in to the acronyms that make up the core of the business and those are the three-letter codes for each airport serving a given city but some, like LAX or most colorfully, "The ATL" are already part of the public vernacular. In this day of TSA and heightened security crews might be verboten from discussing their business and especially their trip itineraries but at least you may have more of a sense of what they're talking about if they are overheard. Outside of their families, their unions and the state of their airline there's nothing flight crews love to talk about more than the kinds of trips they work.

Gotta go.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Buying a TV

OMG, buying a TV, right? We had made the decision to switch from Time Warner to AT&T because of the sweet package they were offering in our area. Three TV hook-ups for the master bedroom, the living room and, finally, the kitchen. I mean, in one shot we were going to go from only the 32" in the living room to three independently tuned sets in the most important rooms of the house. Sweet!

We already had the 32" and there was a 19" high-def left over from a previous address so all we needed was to decide what size of television to get and then with what features. We set our budget at no more than $700 and then had to decide whether or not to get the biggest TV we could for the money or the best picture quality. Hoping for a decent compromise between the two we set out for Best Buy believing that something in the 40"-47" range would work. Anything bigger can come later but definitely a step up from the 32" in the living room, which will get moved to the bedroom in favor of the new TV we hoped to bring home.

As the cable guy was setting up the new network we verified a few simple things we needed to know before heading to the store. The refresh speed is measured in hertz and the higher the number the faster the speed. Ok. Nearly every TV on offer is "HD" (High-Definition) so did we want a plasma, an "LCD" or thin profile "LED." Plasma is supposedly better in darker rooms and for sports and action films but run hotter and at higher refresh speeds. Hello, electric bill. We agreed to stay away from the new 3D sets as being too faddy and annoying having to wear those glasses at home.

TVs in show rooms are set to the highest possible "brilliance" to grab your attention walking through the door. The brighter the better goes the trend but those brighter ones tend to be the cheaper models. At the same time all the different makes, models and sizes simply overwhelm the novice shopper with choices, images and other features. How to pick one TV from nearly 100 on the walls and shelves all around you? Does anyone remember going in, buying a Zenith, RCA or maybe a Curtis Mathes, taking it out of the box, plugging it in, pulling the on knob and then simply fiddling with the rabbit ears? Remote control? That's what the kids were for!

Heading in to the store we knew the size range we wanted and the features we were interested in. We started at a 42" Panasonic plasma, made it all the way up to a low-end 55" LCD made by Insignia, the house brand and then settled back down to three 46" (measured diagonally) options by Insignia at the low end, Samsung at the top and Westinghouse in the middle in terms of our perception of picture quality. The Westie and the Insignia were the same price but only offered a one-year manufacturer's warranty where the house brand offered two years. The Samsung was $300 higher than the other two and therefore out of budget and the running.

We settled on the Westinghouse and were ready to wrap up the deal in about 30 minutes of total time in the store until they threw the "calibration" curveball at us for an additional $200 to get the best picture. What? Why aren't the TV's set to optimum out of the box? Why so much over the cost of the TV? Why the scare tactic of voiding the warranty if the customer does something wrong? Why not just fiddle with the brightness and color balance options at home the way most of us have been doing these many years?

In truth we were "just looking" anyway and not expecting to make a purchase the same day we'd decided to go looking. Calibration, huh? Thanks for the "out." Time for some more homework.
Gotta go.