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A working pilot only flies when he is told and then only to the airport that his company designates. For much of my career, I seemed to only fly into and out of the world’s busiest airport hub. In all kinds of bad weather. And, seemingly, only on holidays, family birthdays and wedding anniversaries.

I’ve missed school plays, my kid’s games and untold family events. In the pilot world we reflectively look at those years the same way a major league ball player looks back at his time in the minors. Or the same way an actor looks at his time working as a waiter. Or, perhaps, the way a lifer recalls his first stolen car. As pilots grow more senior, better destinations eventually become available and all the drudgery and awful layovers of that earlier life begin to fade (they even take on a rosy glow and like an old girlfriend, you begin to forget how much trouble it (she) was).

Now, I only fly to nice places. One is even spelled N-i-c-e. On my layovers, I sometimes go to tourist haunts, but in general, I only do things that require a minimum amount of effort. It’s all about relaxing. I eat at the food court at the mall when it’s close by and stay out of the sun between the hours of 1030 and 1500 (too hot). I swim in the ocean for 45 minutes or so for exercise, but I don’t get up at 0530 to surf the morning low tide. I try to go to the places where the locals go because prices are better and the crowds smaller. I do enjoy the sunsets, but they’re just as pretty from the window of my Five Star hotel room as they are from the beach below where stressed-out vacationers vie for the best camera angles. Though it sounds like it, I am not on holiday; I’m on a mini, all expenses paid, Cliff Notes sort of working-vacation. And now when I head home, unlike 25 years ago, I am a bit more rested, refreshed and relaxed. (By contrast, returning vacationers boarding our return flights look like spawning salmon that are finishing a demanding journey, swimming up the final waterfall; financially drained, sun-red and wearing their last set of tattered, semi-clean clothes. And the worst part about it: most are sorry that they’re leaving so soon! Oh, the humanity.) Being a truly thoughtless person, I used to text my wife pictures of my feet in various vacation settings (“Bare Feet in Paradise”). From the perspective of lying on a chaise lounge, I would frame the pictures to include a crossword or Sudoku puzzle in the foreground and my feet and a gorgeous sunset, pool scene or a spectacular shoreline in the back. The photos included the caption, “Work, work, work.

While my “working” conditions have certainly improved over the years, the difficult jobs required to nurture and manage my family and maintain our family’s home have remained ever-challenging and constant. In my case, they are borne by one particular individual who, in addition to everything else, has acted as my stand-in for all of the family events and dramas that I missed because of work and whose own work could never be mistaken for a vacation.

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