Friday, December 31, 2004

Flying Home From Home on New Year's Eve

As I write this, it’s New Year's Eve, and I'm on United flight 135 from Chicago to San Francisco. After what seems an eternity of travel on Airbus A319's, I’m finally on a real widebody, the Boeing 777.

I have to explain that an A319 is a narrow body tube of an airplane made by Airbus Industries of the European Union. I think it was developed to challenge the Boeing 757, because United used to fly them on a number of routes; now I see A319s. Delta has the 757s.

Whatever the case, the Boeing 777 is a real nice plane. I’m also glad to be off the 737-500 from Atlanta to Chicago. The plane was fine, but there was this African dude sitting next to me who seemed to think it was ok for him to 1) constantly look at me, even as he was pretending to sleep (I’m not kidding), 2) almost place his head on my shoulder to sleep, and 3) move his legs into my space. I finally had to ask him to stop and give me some space. I got up and spent most of the flight talking to the attendants at the rear of the cabin. I started the conversation by telling them about a Wall Street Journal article I saw regarding United Airlines pensions. We had a great talk. I’ll get back to the subject of aircraft in a bit. Right now, I want to tell you about my trip.

I was visiting my Mom and Stepfather for the third time in a little over two-and-a-half months. The reasons are the fall of the holidays, my Stepfather’s battle with cancer, and my Mom and Stepdad's need for help and company.

About two years ago, now, they sold their home in the hills of Oakland, California and moved to a large six-bedroom home on six acres outside of Atlanta, Georgia. They left Oakland because they wanted to have enough money to be appropriately retired. My Godmother lives about five minutes away from them and moved their from Chicago about seven years ago, I think. Anyway, my folks went down to visit them several times. My stepfather fell in love with the area, and convinced my Mom that they should move down there.

From the start I had mixed feelings about their decision. My feelings centered around the fact that I like to have family close by. I don't care what you call it, it's important to me. Look, I'm an only child. And like most only children, I’m close to my folks. In fact, I don’t know of an only child that's not close to their family.

So, moves like the one they made hit me harder than it would a person with sisters and brothers. It took me a full year to get over it. What helped me do so was (1) the establishment of my company, Sports Business Simulations, and (2) the realization that they had to do what made them happy.

I must offer that my Stepfather’s family: his brother and my stepfather’s daughters, don't make me feel as if I have family in California. They don't call even to say hello. By contrast, I have made an effort to contact them once in a while. I visited my Stepfather’s brother when I learned from my Mother that he was in the hospital after a heart attack (which he got while watching the Tom Cruise movie "The Last Samurai"). And I called my Stepfather's daughter's husband Ralph to tell them simply to check in with him more often than they do.

But, I've yet to get a call from them. I even ran into my Stepfather’s brother, Ben and his wife Charlene, and their friends at a place called The Alley and not far from where I live. The Alley's a cool place in Oakland, known for about 10,000 business cards posted on the walls and for Rod Dibble, who plays the piano there and has since 1963. People can go and sing their favorite song, as long as its a show tune or Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Ray Charles, Cab Calloway, Bobby Derin, or almost any theater tune between, oh, 1936 and 1971.

Anyway, I saw them there, went over to say hi, and then went back to sing. Still, even though I’ve presented them with my business card twice, they’ve never called me.

See, the way I look at it, there’s more of them than me. So, if they want me into their fold, they have to invite me. It’s that simple. I don't ask to be in a social group if I don't get an invitation. I don't like crashing parties. And if the people are supposed to be family, I should not have to.

Well, they don't call, so I don't feel welcome to call them. But the something else they don't do much of if at all, is visit my folks in Georgia. This is what upsets me. There's no good excuse for such behavior. In the case of Ben, my Stepfather, Chester, is his brother, so he should have his rear end down there. Chester seems to think that they don't want to come down their because Ben's black and Charlene's white, and my folks are in Georgia, which is The South. And the South's racist.

Well, that was my stereotype, too. But I have to admit that it's a less-than-accurate view. I think blacks and white get along better in Georgia than in the Bay Area. In Georgia it’s very common to see black and white parents and children shopping or just doing about anything. I remember seeing two girls, one black and the other white, but dressed exactly the same, as if they were going to some kind of school play. The mother was walking right behind them.

That’s something you don't see a lot of in the San Francisco Bay Area. I think it's more common in some Bay Area suburbs, but not much. Part of it is that African Americans are only about 10 percent of the population or less by some estimates. Remember, that includes kids. So the adult population is about five percent of that for the whole Bay Area . Not a lot.

That’s not true for the Atlanta metro area. I don't know the exact percentage, but it's vastly more than in the Bay Area. It's common to see local commercials by and featuring blacks. I think KGO Radio Show Talk Guy Ronn Owens is wrong about Atlanta. He said it's more racist than the Bay Area. Well, it's not. It’s common to see black and white couples, there. I'm not saying it's as faux carefree as the Bay Area, but it's a lot closer than I would have expected. Ben and Charlene should come and visit my folks.

Even though I'm happy that I’m headed back to my home in Oakland, I already miss my folks. I love them and I love my Mom so much. I think I completely understand her now. She wants things – everything – to be perfect and gets upset when perfection is not achieved. Yes, I know perfection is hard to reach, and that's the point. I think she's starting to relax to that fact, but she's always going to be a perfectionist. Plus, she’s 70 so she’s not going to change at this point.

I know my real Dad will never be perfect, but he too could call at least once. The last time I physically saw him was 1999, and it was about 18 years then. I called him after the Chicago Cubs one the National League Central Division title in 2003. We kept up with each other – for a solid week. Then he stopped returning my phone calls.

Why? Beats me. I think he thinks I'm very much a product of my mother. He said that my mother put me up to not calling as much as I should. But that's crap. The simple fact is that he didn't call enough. Remember the rule: I’ve got to be invited. Mom says that I'm too sensitive, and she's right, but I can't help it much. Being sensitive is just being aware of masked feelings communicated by others. Hey, I'm wrong at times, but I'm correct more often.

In fact, I tried to call him while on a short layover at O'Hare. I didn't have his number plugged into my cell, so I called 411. I did this two weeks ago and left a message. I heard a unfamiliar woman's voice on the answering machine. It started "This is the Abraham residence.." I figured Dad had a new lady in his life. I just didn’t know who. Anyway, this time I called from the airport, I got a recording that his phone number is “not listed at the person’s request.” Or words to that effect. Call me sensitive, but something’s wrong.

Is this an example of how families are disconnected in today’s America? Let me know. People talk about this, so I wonder.

So, I’m flying back to Oakland for New Year’s Eve. I'm going out somewhere. My lady friend is going to be with her sister, who's suffering a losing battle with cancer. So, maybe I’ll just go to The Alley and sing. Or, maybe I should have stayed in Atlanta. Come what may, I'm looking forward to the New Year.