Friday, June 6, 2008

Field trip to the hangar

Eat your hearts out, Annie Leibowitz. With the exception of the fact there's nobody naked in this picture, there's something cover-photo about this picture. Or album-cover. Or late-night TV knife-salesman-like.

In any event, we've had a lot of bad news at the day job this week, the possibility of layoffs and all. So we're looking for ways to take our minds off things, even for a little while.

An invitation to the hangar where I'm building the RV-7A was extended. And these folks responded. The rest of the staff went on the layoff list. Who knew?

These are my colleagues at Minnesota Public Radio. There's two folks there from the news department and the rest from New Media.

If you're like most people in America, you have more than a passing thought about what would happen to your project if you were to lose your job. There are a lot of "wealthy" RV builders, to be sure. A glance around the RV corral at Oshkosh tells you that. But there are a lot of working stiffs building airplanes, too. These endeavors are not only leaps of faith in terms of one's ability to follow directions, stick to it, and, of course, pay for it. They're also leaps of faith that circumstances will not change significantly enough to dash a dream.

When you're 54 and in a dying business, it's impossible not to be be very careful about taking the large steps one needs to take along the way. As I am at the "spending big money stage," and since I'm aware I'm in a dying industry (Newspeople are the 2008 version of the 1960s steelworker), there is a fair amount of uncertainty over the project right now.

So it shouldn't have been a complete surprise when my employer announced earlier this week that by the beginning of the fiscal year on July 1, there will be few fewer of us working for it.

I wasn't surprised. What did surprise me is after 7 years of a combination of building an airplane and worrying about being an aging cog in a dying field, when it was announced that cutbacks were coming, I didn't much care. In fact, I didn't stay in the meeting long enough to hear most of it.

Instead, I headed downstairs to another department... where my son works, to try to let him know what was coming before he heard it from his own bosses. I know recessions; I've been through a few of them, lost my job in one of them, moved to Minnesota during another. But the younger generation has never been through this uncertainty before, and they're scared. I know that because several of them have been coming up to me this week asking me what I think will happen. What they're really asking is, "Will I lose my job?"

The answer I give them, of course, is "I don't know." In my son's case, he hasn't asked, but knowing him as I do, I'm guessing he's pretty concerned, and trying to hide it. As any father would, I hate that far more than any possibility my RV won't end up being finished. In short, as much as the RV project means to me in the big scheme of things, it's remarkably irrelevant in ... well... the big scheme of things.

I am not by nature an optimist, but I try to remind everyone of one reality: Even in the toughest times of recession, most people do not lose their jobs. Still, that doesn't stop the worrying or the uncertainty.

This is the new American economy and despite all the intellectual, pointyheaded analysis we see on TV, despite all the lying political nonsense on both side of the aisle we hear everyday, America is made up of people worried that they're next. And, for the most, their voices aren't being heard.

In our group of highly talented people, some are building airplanes, some are trying to hold onto houses, some are trying to send kids to college. None deserve to be the victims of the greed and thirst for power -- not to mention the stupidity -- that set in motion the chain of events that has led to their worry.

And so what can we do about it? We pile as many people in cars and we head to the airport, we throw open the hangar door and we give ye olde project one more role besides the many she's had: an opportunity to forget about work for awhile, and remind ourselves that there's simply more to our days than.... our days. The worst rarely comes true, and our jobs -- as much as we think they are our lives, are not our lives.

The RV project is, in many ways, a metaphor for coping with the uncertain times. Small projects rather than the big picture. You do the best you can. You ask for help when you know you need it. You stick to it even when you're sure it's not going to work.

It is our nature to take leaps of faith. There's never been a better time to jump.


  1. How about a left to right list of names so we know who is who?

  2. It was uber-fun, Bob! Oh man, just imagine what that thing will do when you attach the wings...

  3. Thanks, Bob. You delivered a message I needed to hear, right when I needed to hear it.

  4. Bob, thanks not only for the tour and the airplane mechanics 101 cliff-notes version, but for hosting us out there.

    Sitting in the plane I had a real sense of how well it is built by and for people. The seat structure and position made me feel like I was part of the plane.

    It was also a good time to talk like regular people and to step away from the navel-gazing. Thanks.