Monday, December 19, 2005

Ode To A Speed Bump

I wonder at a person who reaches adulthood, a person with children, no less (which fact would seem to give a person a sense of themselves relative to others), whose interface with the world requires everyone to get out of their way (or at least to go around them). Is this a self-esteem thing? Is a clod's way of being self-actualized, to think that people saluting makes you important? Hell, is that what importance is to most people? Is it that bad press is still press (and little people don't get any)? If we make demands of others (at home and at work), is this a reflection of personal attainment?

I'm thinking of a specific person I've worked with in the past, whom I'll call "Speed Bump," since his entire mission in life seems to be 1) to impede the normal functioning of anything not directly to his benefit (and some things that are), and 2) to contradict anything that is said to him, by almost anyone, and to do this first and then evaluate the sentiment in question relative to his actual convictions. (This latter characteristic makes conversation... difficult.) I was warned about Speed Bump in advance; I have no business being surprised. But really. How does one garner a reputation for being unpleasant and difficult and not know it? Or more likely: how do you know it and not care? Why is this an OK way to be?

Pilots are supposedly notorious for being cocky. Attempts have been made to celebrate / justify / explain it in movies like "Top Gun." And maybe in a single-seat combat environment the sense that "I can't be beaten" has tactical advantages. But in the real world it just makes you seem like a hairy horse's ass (like from Lizzie's new favorite movie: "No, really. I'm kind of a big deal!").

It's dangerous to speak in generalities, and there are always notable exceptions. But there do seem to be patterns. I'm reminded again and again that the job of piloting requires not a broad education, but rather a great deal of technical training. So maybe it's not surprising then that pilots often confuse training and education. In my experience they dismiss most liberal arts education as being politically liberal (that is, either soft and unnecessary or overtly harmful), and have only little more reverence for science. Interestingly, most airlines require pilot applicants to have a college degree, but they require this because they can and not because it's needed in any way to do the job (any more than education in the liberal arts is needed to drill on someone's teeth). But many pilots get their degrees thru aviation colleges or military academies, and emerge from these institutions well-trained but maybe not with what the rest of the world would consider a balanced education. Don't get me wrong: I have met some brilliant pilots over the years (and also some brilliant and exquisitely educated military folks), many of whom have twice the intellect and education that I have--and god knows I'm not the standard bearer for intelligence or education or anything else (well, M&M and Diet Coke consumption, maybe); but as a general rule, pilots do not impress me as a group which reads recreationally or which respects education generally.

Anyway, one of the byproducts of this whole setup seems to be an exaggerated self-assessment. Pilots tend to pass immediate and harsh summary judgment on any issue laid before them, often pontificating on subjects about which neither they nor I know jack shit. But that doesn't temper the oratory. Whatever the subject under discussion--welfare and poverty; tax policy; anything political; economics; the running of our or any other company, to include all and sundry job descriptions therein; education; church / state issues; adoption; inflation; finances; single parenting; whatever--they know the answers to everyone else's questions better than these people know themselves. Nay, far better.

Now, far be it from me, left-footed fool that I am, to turn away wisdom and insight from a sage source. But these are the same guys who tell spousal abuse and race jokes. The same guys who angrily support W and his very religious agenda, yet also talk admiringly about all the "action" married pilot guys get from the American-loving hookers (oh yeah, it's love all right) in South America and parts of Europe--to include strategies for keeping wives in the dark. I listened to a conversation a while back between Speed Bump and Friend about so-and-so's wife who, in spite of the husband treating her like dog shit, keeps on serving him obsequiously and treating him like a king. (This was spoken with an air of awe and a grim sense of justice being done.) I finally blurted out "Why the fuck doesn't he just hire a servant?!" which resulted in a very quiet cockpit for half an hour. (I could feel the nonverbal communication between them: "Hold your tongue, Friend... He's not one... of... us!")

I think something quite opposite to what afflicts Speed Bump got ingrained in me long ago, how I'm not sure. But it's kind of my mission in life now not to put others out in any way. I strive to be invisible and as self-sustaining as possible. I'm conscious that I'm not always an active part of The Solution, and I'm not necessarily the most helpful person in any scenario. But I strive to be on that side of the equation. And I try as a rule to remind myself that however much I think I understand about any given issue, there is almost always something more than I have not taken into account. God knows I have pontificated enough on this blog, so my reserve hasn't beaten ALL the pilot out of me. But I hope I am always ready to be corrected.

I don't know. Maybe I place considerably too high a value on courtesy; maybe having others take notice of one is not so bad a characteristic. Maybe it's what gets stuff done in the end. But after a recent encounter with Speed Bump, all I can think of is how much I want never to be like him.


Anonymous said...

I think its the type a personallities...maybe the hours spent at cruse...that lead to conversations and the quick judgement/harsh opinions that pilot folk have. Many a time I have gone to cold mike to avoid making a remark during a less than intelligent conversation about politics, etc that was going on amongst the crew.

I also agree that the technical school (Embry-Ridicuolous) or academies...or even those with engineering degrees...those people often lack the worldview that a liberal arts education helps to breed...or the intrest to explore, read, etc.

I too bite the tounge in order to avoid the silent cockpit and/or the reputation. There's got to be a club out there for people like us.

BTW, do you hit up ExecAir when going through SYR? My early days of aviation began there.

Lizzie said...

I've known a couple of Speed Bumps in my time too, not pilots but Speed Bumps nonetheless. I think it just comes down to tremendous insecurity with those types. It seems that usually the guy making the most noise being the biggest jerk is compensating for something. Plus, they serve as reminders to the rest of us as how not to act. That's their one value to society I suppose. I'm sorry it sounds like you have to spend so much time with them. A cockpit sounds like it could be a very unpleasant place to be at times.

p.s. I love that you quoted that movie!

Heather B. said...

You know, reading this post, I wasn't sure if I know a few speed bumps or if I am one myself.

Either way, nothing that a few M &M's can't cure...good post.

Chairborne Stranger said...

well, speed bumps-two things come to mind.
1) everyone loves to throw speed bumps up around here. it's the only thing they can really control in iraq! so when they feel bad about the current sit in iraq, look for more speed bumps

2) Speed Bumps-these guys are everyhwere in iraq. I personally work with more than a handful of these guys. I try to pit them against each other at every opportunity.

wunelle said...

Anon--I think there is something to the Type-A personality thing, though I don't know which in a chicken / egg kinda way. I've had to deal a number of times in my career as a left-seater with Type-A's in the right seat who mistake my laid-back nature for incompetence or not caring. That's REALLY irritating, to have to try and maneuver the Type A out of someone. I've had varying degrees of success (probably correlating to the varying degrees of Type A initially and not to any kind of success in my methods!)

My history is one of invoking the wrath of the incurable, and gradually being embraced as something of a mascot (that is, someone lovable and eccentric and not to be taken too seriously) by the rest.

Lizzie--I fear where these comments will lead with any discussion of "compensating." I just mustn't go there ;-)

And yes, an uncomfortable cockpit is not a pleasant place. But one can always immerse one's self in one's duties and let the time pass. But if you're assigned the same guy for a couple of months... Ugh. (And let the record show that I'm aware that they say the same thing about being paired with me, though I cannot see my own toxicity.)

HB, you are definitely not a speed bump! At least not on my blog!

And it sounds like CS is getting hit from both sides: you have to deal with speed bumps and Speed Bumps. And war to boot. Like I said, you do a service in helping me to tolerate what is not, after all, a very bad situation.