16/09/2021

Pan-handling

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Villeneuve-Loubet was one thing, but Lubbock was at quite another level.

The personal computer division had been placed out in the heart of the panhandle of Texas. This area had been founded by the Compromise of 1850 following the Mexican War and this had expanded Texas along the Rio Grande.

TI had come here because of the allure of ready recruits and low salaries, but it was no Silicon Valley. Others on the team had not given it much of a recommendation, the usual comment was that ‘Lubbock was not the end of the world, but you could see it from there’ or that ‘happiness was seeing Lubbock disappearing in your rear-view mirror’.

If I set off with negative thoughts, then my journey rather confused them. I flew the Big Orange, Braniff, and the main movie they showed was The Buddy Holly Story which was how I learned Buddy came from Lubbock TX. While hanging around in Dallas airport the buzz was that the Shah of Iran had just been deposed and was headed for Lubbock Texas, his son served at a USAF base near there. So, from being the end of the world, it was suddenly at its cultural-political centre.

The Big Orange

The reason I was hanging around Dallas airport was Braniff’s fault, they got me in so late that I missed my connection – albeit by the smallest of margins. The crew aboard assured us that international passengers with connections were monitored and they would hold the plane for a late incoming international flight.

We landed, I got my luggage surprisingly promptly, and ran the whole way to my gate, I was younger then. I found the flight still there, the steps still in place and the door open, but the ground staff would not let me through. I could only watch it depart, then demanded to see their Customer Services Manager.

He was a piece of work. I patiently explained that with a little bit of extra care his team could have ensured that I caught the connection. His first gambit was ‘We’re the on-time airline and it had to get away on time’. I gently pointed out that my two experiences, the incoming flight and the connection, were both late so his claim from my perspective sounded a little hollow. He then asked, ‘What do you want me to do, cry on your shoulder?’ I was stunned. He continued ‘Have you read the ticket T&Cs, we don’t guarantee anything’, I stammered ‘Sorry, are you really the Customer Services Manager?’

Braniff aircraft, presumably late this time too!

He shrugged and played his trump card, ‘Look some people don’t appreciate my style, as a Texan I shoot straight from the hip, say it how it is, if you want, I can get someone else to help you?’ I don’t know where my inner Englishman sprang from, but I heard myself saying ‘No, I was content to deal with him’, when inside I wanted to strangle him. You just have to admire his technique!

When I finally got to Lubbock there was an unpleasant smell as we exited the aircraft, and I asked someone what it was. He said, ‘that’s the smell of greenbacks on the hoof, boy’. The stockyards were nearby, the stock knew what was coming and dropped their load.

ASIDE: This reminds me that, while there, I bought an aerosol can promoted as a ‘Bullshit repellent’, for spraying purveyors of claptrap, perhaps I should have tried it on the ambient smell. On that trip I also acquired several pads of illustrated Post-its, sort of mini Impakt stationery. My favourite said, ‘From the desk of the Memo Monster’.

The PC team was surprised to find the prospectus for the Lubbock plant, produced to lure individuals from Santa Clara in California to work in the panhandle. In it there was a picture of a tree. In our time off we sought it out and failed to discover one, we were reliably advised that it was about one hundred miles out of town.

While there I also met my first working robot. The site was all on one level which helped the robot’s cause. It was a mail-bot, a little box-like device into which senders could insert internal and external mail and key in a simple destination code. The bot followed a UV spray in the carpet along a fixed route and passed through a series of nodes, if one of these was a keyed destination it would sit there beeping until someone nearby fetched the envelope. If someone wanted to despatch something, I believe they just had to look out for the bot and step in front of it to stop it. For 1978 this was quite significant.

Braniff’s return flight was no better. We landed at Gatwick and the plane stopped rather quickly while still on the runway. The announcements began to tell us that we were being evacuated, we had to leave our luggage, females should remove high-heels and so on.

The thing I recall most clearly is the conga line of emergency vehicles that turned up for us and formed a circle. They were such a long way off, I pondered whether that was where safe was judged to be? It would take (even the younger me) an appreciable time to get off and run to that point.

In the event we were stood down because it was merely a hydraulic lead that had fractured and spilt its oil onto our hot engine, the whole airport thought we were on fire. We were towed into our gate – arriving late!

ASIDE: Many years later Jane and I were on a flight when an announcement said that oxygen masks would fall, and the usual we should fit our own, then help others, etc. But no masks fell, momentary panic until we learned that a member of the crew had used an oxygen cylinder for an unwell passenger, and this had triggered the announcement.

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