Tuesday, July 14, 2009

First class shame…and envy…

I find it hard to believe that folks actually still pay for first class seats – but today in the airport, I actually stood in line behind a guy who had bounced from counter to counter looking for any available first class seat to Southern California – he was your typical corporate cheese type – probably a CEO or CFO of some successful bank with a large office in Jacksonville (I tried to catch the title on the business card, it had letters after the name, but hell, nowadays, you can letters with $30 and high speed internet connections) – and had to fly (supposedly last minute) to the West Coast for one of those urgent meetings – I sat behind him for thirty minutes and listened to him bitch about his inability to fly first class on the Minneapolis leg, but they could accommodate him on the other half (I never quite heard where he was going, but I am pretty sure it was not any small town – otherwise, he would have bitched about having to fly on a regional jet that only had seats available next to the shitter all the way in the back) – my favorite line from him was “Why don’t you just bounce one of those free upgrade passengers, and give me a seat – hell, they don’t DESERVE to be up there – my company is willing to pay!” – that just about floored me, and I think the lady behind the counter at the Delta desk was disappointed that she could not reach across the counter and kick that corporate prick square in the nuts – she did not have to worry, I, in my infinite wisdom, was next in line, and went to the lady next to the one helping him, and proudly and with a heavy southern gas station attendant drawl proclaimed, “Yall are damn near the nicest airplanes I have EVER flown, I got a seat in first class for both of my flights, and I didn’t even have to give you an extra nickel!” – I think that comment was not lost on the prick next to me – he gave me the look of Dick Cheney after he was asked why he blew his friends face to hell…what was even more appealing to me was the guy got seat 41-E – right next to the shitter. The topping on that cake was when he had to walk by me in a formerly white t-shirt, baggy shorts, and flip flops to go sit his Hickey Freeman ass in the seat way in the back. Foregoing the usually downward glance of guilt as folks stream by you in first class, I made sure we made eye contact, and made sure to give him a nice warm smile, welcoming him to the life that most of us outside of the boardroom live.
Granted, I am a decent wage earner, somewhere in some bracket that places me firmly in the middle class – I mean I can still afford a mortgage, an apartment, food, two cars, two kids – and can at least keep up the minimum payments on my maxed out credit cards – but that’s about it – as I dig a deeper hole to keep up with alimony and child support, and try to have a few things planned, I cant imagine ever demanding my company paying for first class – or for that matter – ever actually paying for first class – for all intents and purposes, unless you are on a 9 hour flight – you are going to get stuck next to someone you don’t know, who does something you don’t like, and has no intention of worrying about your comfort. I get first class because I gave my life to my job and that career ladder – I spend every Sunday or Monday and Thursday or Friday on an airplane somewhere – and some weeks, every Wednesday as well. I still feel guilty about sitting here – I get pissed off when folks don’t give up their seats to military men and women, (with some guilt, I did forego giving up my seat to a young soldier on a long flight to Seattle – and had to drink a lot to deal with that one), those are the folks who are about to go into a shit storm, or are coming back from a life altering experience – me, I am just flying to talk about project performance, or do some training, or provide some guidance – they are or have just had their lives dramatically altered.
I think the price I paid for very little job security, less work life balance, and more sky miles than I can use (hell, no one has that anymore accept folks high enough in any organization to demand an employment agreement, and even then they are still subject to being humiliated by their golf club colleagues for the paltry multi-million dollar severance package they received as they tee off on their second eighteen for the day…but enough bitching about that – the work is good, and if I had a choice, I will still probably do this) to get the occasional upgrade to first class, and enjoy a very expensive (free price wise, but expensive personally) glass of cheap red wine and some sort of meat slice (note slice) squeezed in between biscotti like “artisan bread”.
I guess what astonished me the most, and what prompted me to write this was the price tag that this officer of a company was willing to dole out to get a first class seat on his second leg – I am not a nosy person, nor am I ashamed that I overheard the conversation – but his whining and whipping out the corporate card led to a $2,400 ticket. That’s six months of health insurance benefits at $400 per month for an employee, ten weeks of salary for a call desk or administrative employee, or better yet, a pretty nice bonus for a hard worker who is going through some rough patches, but still shows up for work on-time, leaves late, and no matter what the overtime policy says – always only puts forty hours a week on the timecard. I guess that arrogance prompted me to throw in the southern shtick just to somehow see if it would get a reaction. Unfortunately, it probably prompted the wrong reaction, and some poor airline reservation attendant had to deal with any earful of disdain through the guys titanium blue tooth earpiece. In this day and age of layoffs and let downs for us middle classers and those who are just about three steps from the poorhouse who bust our asses to make a difference – and sometimes really feel like we do – the startling reality is that those who are so far removed from where we are – and how we survive – really have no idea what they might consider small decisions have on the rest of us. Look at the pay of your CEO, of your Officers – have they changed their behavior patterns? I don’t ask these questions cynically, I really ask them objectively – Capitalism is a great system – it is not a generous system, it is not a friendly system, but it is a system that allows the market (sometimes) to make decisions (sometimes) about what is right and is wrong – the beauty is that we just don’t ask those questions anymore –
We all do what we have to do to survive – and we all want better for those we love, and those around us – but at what point does that selfish need to meet the needs of ours and ourselves become blatant abuse of the folk in the wheel. That’s what perked my interest – I can honestly say that I believe I work for a different sort of company – granted the work is tough and hard and long – but it is rewarding and fulfilling – and there are more than enough opportunities for us guys and gals to move ahead and be rewarded – but with that said, I am not that close to the boardroom to ever pretend to know what hits their expense reports.
That’s all I have for now, I am being vibrated by the guy in the size eleven shoes behind me who thinks that you have to wear dress shoes on Sundays and tap your feet as hard as you can against the airplane floor to the music you are listening to – at least it is massaging my numb ass from three hours of flying…

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