I left San Diego for a long overdue getaway at just the right time. Around nine in the morning on Thursday last week, I headed for the Eastern Sierras. I decided it was time to get away. My trailer hooked to the back of my truck, fishing gear stowed in the bed and off I go after a brief stop for coffee. The traffic was light and after hitting the high desert, it was time for cruise control and a relaxing jaunt through the Mojave. Driving along these desolate stretches of road gives one time to think or better said, ponder life's experiences. These last few weeks have been some of the most painful and frustrating of my life. With the death of my father-in-law and everything that comes with a loved one's passing, to the frustration of being passed over for promotion and then watching the transfers and selections for special assignments; it gives the mind a playground for the cynical gymnastics of the brain. I thought I had adjusted to the snubbing and settled in to finish my last 29 months. Several events brought back to the front of this playground within my mind; pain, anger and frustration. This time away could not have come at a better space in my life.
I know some of you can relate to the experiences I am going to share. Some who know me will question if I really handled these as I am going to share, but rest assured, I did. I kicked myself after each of them for not speaking up, but have learned over the years of chewing my own shoe leather, there is nothing to be gained from a release of anger and saying what is on your mind. I so wanted to say something to each of these individuals, but didn't. I am actually proud of the fact I bit my tongue, saved the caustic comments and swore later when alone and in a place safe from any ears. I decided long ago to think before I opened my mouth as I have found over the years around here; being right means little to those with simple minds, a little power and the ability to carry out a grudge.
As I cruised along at 65 mph on the desolate two lane highway, my mind bounced from one topic to another. I thought of the upcoming POA elections and what the faces will look like in December. One new face for sure and the ever possibility of another. To be sure, MY FACE WILL NOT BE ONE OF THEM. I have no desire, at all, to enter into that arena again. Three times is enough for anyone and after the last go around I learned more about this city and department than I care to know. I thought of my father-in-laws last year and the struggles he endured after we were told he was not expected to survive another 72 hours. One year and 18 days later, his body gave out and he succumbed to old age and a myriad of diseases that would have taken a lesser man much sooner. I thought of the extra year we were given with him, the family bonding that takes places during these times and the outpouring of support from a Fire Department Family that was beyond amazing. NOTE; Police Associations can learn a lot from Fire Relief Associations and how they take care of one another.
When the drive to your destination takes seven hours, you have lots of free, uninterrupted time to think. Alone in a vehicle, simply guiding its travel, is a thoughtless proposition when cruise control keeps a steady pace and the roads are straight. I listened to an assortment of soft classical music supplied from my XM Radio and allowed the thoughts in my mind to bounce around that cynical playground. I began to look back on the past two months. A short period of time comparatively speaking that seemed to drag on and on with no end in sight. Maybe it was the thought of nearly four weeks off and two separate vacations that caused time to slow down. Maybe it was my mind beginning to dwell on issues being thrown into my playground one by one, over and over again. Whatever the reason, it is a good thing I have finally hit the road and taken a break from work.
As I drove along 395 toward my destination, I began to think of these events that have come to trouble me. I played each one over and over in my head; each after they occurred and each as I drove along desolate stretches of desert. On August 20th as I walked through the parking structure on P-1, I was walking with my head down as I was still stinging from the pain of being passed over for promotion. I was not in the mood for pleasantries or happy talk and my way of avoiding, was to walk with my head down and pay attention to nothing but the path I was walking. I noticed a car pass and swing into a parking spot rather abruptly. The door flings open and an individual jumps out. He bounds to the rear of his car and immediately says a newly promoted lieutenant's name and then says, "You've got to be fucking kidding me." This individual repeats the name and says, "My god, what are they thinking?" I quickly said, "Don't go there; that's not fair to that person. Don't even go there." I turned back around and continued walking to my car and got in. I was so pissed at this moment in time all I really wanted to do was knock this idiot out. I was so angered by the comments made by this pathetic excuse for a person and was caught so off guard, I did not respond with the thoughts that came later. Thoughts that; "The same thing was said about you when you got promoted. They are actually still saying it." Thankfully for me and this ass clown, I just walked away and those words were spoken as I drove from headquarters, as I replayed the conversation in my head. So much for trying to put behind me, being passed over for promotion to Lieutenant.
Several days later another event took place as I was riding the elevator to the 7th floor. I am on the third floor and the door opens. I am still walking with my head down so as to avoid conversation, when I step onto the elevator. In the elevator stands an individual who is immediately uneasy and appears to be uncomfortable with my presence. The obligatory, "Hi Steve" is spoken and I nod my head and say hello. This individual immediately looks at the floor and shifts from one foot to the next as the elevator door closed and we begin our assent to the 7th floor. Without looking up, I can see the fidgeting and uneasiness as we ride alone to the 7th floor. After what seemed like an eternity, we reach the 7th floor and the door opens; without a word, the individual darts from the elevator and quickly walks toward their office. As I walked to my office I began to shake my head and the thoughts of what I should have said or wanted to say raced around in that playground of cynicism and anger within my brain. I bit my tongue and allowed the frustration to wane as I plugged my headphones into my ears and began to transcribe yet another interview. Why the uneasiness? What have I done to cause this type of reaction?
Then the third event takes place Tuesday, September 1. I walked into the cafeteria at HQ to grab lunch. I had office duty this day and getting out is almost impossible on these days. So I decided to grab a sandwich with another member of the office. We walk in the cafeteria and there is the Chief, waiting for his daily cup of soup. Many of you know the Chief to be a cheerleader and cup half full type of guy. He has always been a gregarious, friendly person when I have encountered him or when saying hello to me. Not this day. The Chief turns to see who is behind him in line and it was clearly obvious he was uncomfortable and wanted not to be where he was standing. With a quick "hello" he turned back toward the counter, leaned in with his hand out, waiting for the cup of soup to be handed to him. He could not get that soup in hand fast enough and off he went. The person standing with me looked at me with a puzzled look and said, "Was it me or you?" I laughed and said, "Maybe both of us or maybe just me, but you noticed that too?" We walked back to the office not saying anything. Lunch was odd in that neither one of us said much. We often chatted about stuff and laughed and cajoled one another, but not this day. This day was different. I think if I had been alone I would not have given this reaction much thought. But I go back to the elevator ride and the awkward feeling and now this. Why the uneasiness?
Now I am sure I am not the most popular guy on the 7th floor these days. My blog post "The Message is Clear" no doubt has gotten some peoples dander up. Maybe not so much my words but some of the replies to the post and the anger and disdain expressed. I thought about deleting the replies to this post because of the content of a couple of them. But after conversations with several people who had read them and deciding what reason I could give for such an action, I decided to leave them. I could not logically defend removing the replies of some and not others and could not justify removing all of them, so I punted and left them all. Good or bad, it is what it is. People's frustration and anger are real and their perceptions are their realities. Who am I to judge what is right or wrong? Some have criticized the "Anonymous" posters as being gutless and refuse to acknowledge anything posted without a name. I understand the fear of using one's own name. I am a poster child for why being "Anonymous" is better if you have aspirations for promotion or transfer to a preferred assignment. The comments posted by someone who desires to be "Anonymous" should not be dismissed out of hand. All comments should be considered and at the very least bantered over a net a few times to see if there is any validity to what is said. Dismissing these comments out of hand is akin to putting your head in the sand and refusing to acknowledge just maybe there is a problem. God knows we have a few problems.
The final event that made me glad I was heading off for vacation occurred my last day at work. I was headed home and was walking toward the elevator. As I rounded the corner the elevator door was just beginning to close. An individual was on the elevator and saw me coming. He hit the button to stop the closing of the door. He stood there holding uniforms in one hand and the other pressing the open button. I step on the elevator and the door begins to close. The person looks at me with a smile and says, "How are you doing Steve?" I nod and say simply, "I'm doing fine, thank you." He follows this up with, "You doing OK?" I am struggling as the thoughts in my mind are doing gymnastics and bouncing off the wall in the large vacant space of my skull. I choose to simply say, "I'm doing well." OK, I know what you are thinking; "This person is just being a nice guy." Perception is a man's reality; I did not perceive it that way. The elevator stops at the 3rd floor and the door opens. He raises his hand to almost shoulder level, palm down; begins to thrust his hand forward palm down and lowers his hand, still palm down, as if he wishes to shake my hand. Without thinking, I instinctively reach out (keep in mind my hand must be palm up to accept his) and shake his hand. He begins to exit the elevator and says, "Take care Steve."
I can't begin to describe the feelings that went through my body at that moment. This is not the first time this type of handshake has been presented of late. I can't put to words what I was thinking at that very moment without getting myself into trouble. If I wrote what I felt or thought at the time and even now as I write this, I most assuredly would see some sort of repercussion. When did it become acceptable to put ones hand out to shake hands as if you are coming over the top? Hand thrust from the shoulder, palm down? I was taught to extend the hand straight out, thumb up and to interlock the thumbs and grasp firmly, not hard, and shake hands. This movement of coming over the top with the palm down in my opinion is an attempt to show dominance or superiority and to be on top, to in some way convey control and superiority. I find it offensive and degrading and it takes every ounce of energy not to grab a hold of a hand presented in such a fashion and twist the arm in an arc, jerk toward me and say; never mind what I would say, you get my point.
What has occurred that creates an uneasy feeling when I am present? I have pondered this for some time now. Floating on a lake in my float tube, all alone in my thoughts, I have reflected on these events. I have tried to identify the reason my presence has caused certain individuals to become so visibly uneasy that even others have taken notice. Then reality pulls the protective mat from under the bars and I hit my head on the cement. It does not take a rocket scientist to figure this one out.
I have spent the last six days enjoying the beautiful scenery of the Eastern Sierra Mountains. I have enjoyed hiking, sometimes rugged mountain trails, to breath taking views and sights. The hikes have been slow since I broke a toe a few days before heading off. I have lounged under the sun and pines and taken in the latest Patricia Cornwell book. I have floated alone in a float tube, fishing and enjoying the quiet solitude of a day on the lake all alone. I have sat by a perfect camp fire telling stories and laughing and sat alone on the shore of several lakes taking it all in and have come to this conclusion; Who cares why they are uneasy? It is THEIR issue; THEIR doing; THEIR problem. I did NOTHING to give them cause to feel uneasy; it is they, whose actions have caused them to be uneasy.
Tomorrow I am going to find another lake to launch my float tube and enjoy the day. I am going to soak up the sun and peace and tranquility of bobbing alone on a mountain lake, fishing for small trout and just take in the peace of what this part of earth has to offer. I will head home for the weekend to clean the trailer, re-pack and head then off to Hawaii. I will spend a week relaxing and taking in what that part of earth has to offer. While I am away, I may or may not write again. I posted yesterday about the mayors diatribe in front of the San Diego Taxpayers Association. If you missed his speech you should take a peek. See if you can identify a kind word for employees of the City of San Diego. Take note of his sideways promise of more cuts to wages and benefits as well as elimination of positions. Take a gander at the Voice of San Diego and their view of the speech. Then make your own conclusions at to what is in store for us next year.
Enjoy family, friends and loved ones; cherish every moment you have with them; it could be your last. Live life for today and make every moment a memory you want to share with the world.