Sunday, April 25, 2010

Lessons from Amelia

I recently got a lesson in life from a woman named Amelia. No, not THAT Amelia, though I do find it a remarkable coincidence that this muse had the same name as the first president of the International Organization of Women Pilots. I was attending a section meeting of the Ninety Nines at the time. This Amelia served me breakfast.

The Amelia you most likely are familiar with is undoubtedly the most famous aviatrix in our collective consciousness. Though her pilot skills have been accused of being overstated - especially in light of her failed round the world flight - her numerous accomplishments have had an overwhelmingly positive effect on the efforts and subsequent achievements of women in aviation. My biggest criticism, btw, of the movie "Amelia" is that they glossed over so many of them to focus on her love life (!) instead of a few more of these:
  • Woman's world altitude record: 14,000 ft (1922)
  • First woman to fly the Atlantic (1928)
  • Speed records for 100 km (and with 500 lb (230 kg) cargo) (1931)
  • First woman to fly an autogyro (1931)
  • Altitude record for autogyros: 15,000 ft (1931)
  • First person to cross the U.S. in an autogyro (1932)
  • First woman to fly the Atlantic solo (1932)
  • First person to fly the Atlantic twice (1932)
  • First woman to receive the Distinguished Flying Cross (1932)
  • First woman to fly non-stop, coast-to-coast across the U.S. (1933)
  • Woman's speed transcontinental record (1933)
  • First person to fly solo between Honolulu, Hawaii and Oakland, California (1935)
  • First person to fly solo from Los Angeles, California to Mexico City, Mexico (1935)
  • First person to fly solo nonstop from Mexico City, Mexico to Newark, New Jersey (1935)
  • Speed record for east-to-west flight from Oakland, California to Honolulu, Hawaii (1937)
Wikipedia has a very thorough biographical entry on Amelia Earhart, and in the Legacy section calls Amelia a widely known international celebrity during her lifetime.

"Her shyly charismatic appeal, independence, persistence, coolness under pressure, courage and goal-oriented career along with the circumstances of her disappearance at a young age have driven her lasting fame in popular culture. Hundreds of articles and scores of books have been written about her life which is often cited as a motivational tale, especially for girls. Earhart is generally regarded as a feminist icon."

More important to me in the context of this blog entry is the impression she left on others. For example, C.B. Allen, the aviation editor of the New York Herald Tribune once said of Amelia, "Being men and being engaged in a highly essential phase of the serious business of air transportation, they [airline mechanics] all naturally had preconceived notions about a woman pilot bent on a 'stunt' flight - not very favorable notions either. It was, undoubtedly, something of a shock to discover that the 'gal' with whom they had to deal not only was an exceptionally pleasant human being who 'knew her stuff,' but that she knew exactly what she wanted done, and had sense enough to let them alone while they did it. There was an almost audible clatter of chips falling off skeptical masculine shoulders." From the official website of Amelia Earhart.

Trust me, I'm getting back to the breakfast. Stay with me.

So, I went down on Friday to attend the section meeting, spending that night at a hotel near the airport. As a fellow pilot friend and I were checking into our room, a man in line was complaining about the hour and half wait for their food at the restaurant as well as the inedible food, the inability to get their drinks refilled, and, once they decided to leave, the disappearance of the waitress making it impossible to get the check. My friend commented on his mention they had spent 10 hours on a bus and said she believed anything could seem bad after that.

But then WE went down next morning to get breakfast before we went back to the meeting. We sat down at one of the tables and waited more than twenty minutes without even a menu. Despite at least two waitresses on site, one of the other maybe six tables took that long to get coffee... and then juice... At that rate, we'd wait all day to wait for breakfast, so we got up and grabbed some granola bars from the sundry shop in the lobby. When we brought them to the front desk to pay for them we told the clerk it was because the wait was going to be too long in the restaurant. He sighed, as if this was not the first, and unlikely to be the last, time he had heard a complaint about the dining option within the hotel.

We still had enough time to go to the Waffle House right next to the hotel where the section meeting was being held, so we drove over there. As soon as we walked in the door one of the waitresses welcomed us and told us we could either have a seat or waited til she could bus one of the tables. We certainly hadn't been been spoken to at the last place, much less acknowledged with a smile. So my friend and I chose to sit down at one of the booths to wait since it was obvious they had just had a rush of people leave.

We had hardly settled in before the same waitress was there cleaning up the remnants of the last customers' meal. She came back with a wet rag and I had visions of other experiences where this procedure had resulted in a lap full of crumbs and a wet sloppy table. Nope, the waitress even took the time to go get a dry rag and go over it again.

When she came back with two glasses of ice water, our first request was for coffee, for which we were a bit desperate. We didn't get to drink any in our hotel room because the housekeeper had left TWO decaf coffee packets and of course we didn't wait long enough in their restaurant. Our waitress here, who had since identified herself as Amelia, let us know there might be a delay because they had just brewed some fresh coffee. We had to wait like, I dunno, two minutes? During which time she apologized again.

On a return trip she took our order and within ten minutes of hitting the Waffle House door we were digging into some pretty good eats. The whole time Amelia kept an eye on us. We didn't have time to think of something we needed before she was there. She offered us to-go cups of coffee, cleared our dishes, brought our check while engaging us in friendly conversation as well as her other tables. Always moving at mach speed.

Are you getting my point?

I should add at this point that in addition to Amelia there were five other people working at the WH. Two were working the grill and three other waitresses were behind the counter. Not once did I see any of the others speak to or help the few other tables. Amelia was working it all. She even was answering the phone. We were out of there in the twenty minutes we had left.

I made the comment to my friend that it would be so easy to imagine this woman being a single mom with kids at home trying to make ends meet - a la the "She Works Hard for the Money" woman from Donna Summer. Instead, this woman was taking a menial position some would consider beneath them doing a phenomenal job. She could have been bitter and sullen and probably no one would be too surprised, since many people convey an attitude of "my job sucks, my customers suck, ergo, my life sucks." I looked at her and thought she easily did the work of four (and I plan on sending this blog to Waffle House so they know what a valuable employee they have), all with a pleasant attitude and real attention to detail.

So to wrap up, I saw six waitresses that day doing basically the same job. Only one of them had decided she was going to CHOOSE to have a good day doing it - and be good at it. The others, well, I think about the many times I've been treated rudely by someone and had the thought, "Why don't you just quit and find something else to do? Life is too short to be this miserable."

So this was my life lesson from Amelia. If it's worth doing, it's worth doing right. Take pride in your work and find the enjoyment in it, whatever it may be. Maintain your professionalism and your positive attitude and that will be what you attract in your life. As Amelia (Earhart, this time) said, "The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity. The fears are paper tigers. You can do anything you decide to do. You can act to change and control your life; and the procedure , the process is its own reward. "

This is to be continued. See the next post, "your attitude determines your altitude."

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