Houston, We Have a Solution!

May 19, 2011

Since my flight to Houston didn’t leave until 12:40 PM, I spent the morning packing, answering Emails, reviewing my keynote‚ and enjoying the peace of mind one derives from not being rushed. Traffic was light and I arrived at O’Hare in record time. It seemed the stars were in perfect alignment.

The flight took off on time and before long, we were preparing to land. Suddenly, the plane zigged, the storms zagged, adults screamed, and children cried. Our smooth sailing craft, at the hands of Mother Nature, had been transformed into a trackless roller coaster. People who had forgotten how to pray suddenly remembered.

The turbulence was so extreme the pilot bypassed Houston and landed in Austin where the plane was to be inspected for damage. My fellow travelers and I stood at the gate, mentally and physically disheveled, awaiting our fate. Some sent text messages, others called loved ones, and a few reached out to comfort one another. At times like this, it becomes apparent—we humans have far more in common than not. I called my wife, Anne, to see if she could find another flight into Houston. No luck.

Many passengers remained focused on the “problems” at hand. They provided each other with affirmations, complained to agents, and gathered evidence to support their beliefs. Within an hour, our flight had been rescheduled on another plane for later that evening… and then delayed once again for even later. My gut told me the third rescheduling was not going to be the charm.

“Has anyone checked on ground transportation?” I asked a group of passengers that were commiserating at the bar. “No, it’s too far to drive‚ about four hours. We’re just going to wait it out,” said one woman as she raised her glass to toast the decision. The others followed suit. As I thanked her, she wrinkled her nose in a peculiar way and said, “Find the tall woman in the white sweater; she’s thinking about renting a car.” I couldn’t tell if it was the alcohol talking, or if a suppressed memory had unexpectedly surfaced. In any case, it seemed surreal—like Alice’s encounter with the Cheshire Cat. I skeptically scanned the crowd and to my amazement, found my version of “The White Rabbit” standing less than 20 feet away, talking to some fellow passengers. This trip was becoming “curiouser and curiouser!” Perhaps I was in Wonderland? Read more

2011 Snowstorm

February 2, 2011

Based on the current snowstorm I decided to resurrect the Sleep-Deprived Samaritan post. The colloquial phrase “Good Samaritan,” means someone who helps a stranger… even those you don’t know but are willing to risk your life to save. Enjoy… and reach out to those in need.

Being a Good Samaritan

April 28, 2010

What ever happened to being a Good Samaritan? Last week in New York, Hugo Tale-Yax, a homeless Guatemalan immigrant, was stabbed repeatedly in the chest while saving a woman from a knife-wielding attacker. Then he fell to the sidewalk, bleeding to death as dozens of people walked past. While some turned their heads to catch a glimpse, others actually stopped to gawk and talk. One guy stopped, rolled Tale-Yax onto his side, saw the puddle of blood, and then kept walking. Another person actually took a photo before moving on!

“HOW CAN PEOPLE WALK BY A DYING PERSON AND NOT HELP?” outraged citizens ask in utter disbelief. “WHAT’S THE WORLD COMING TO?” dismayed talking TV heads ask… acting as if this were something new.

According to social psychologists, Mr. Tale-Yax was the victim of a psychological phenomenon called “the bystander effect.” I first learned about this in a college sociology class. Back then it was called the “Genovese syndrome” named after the infamous 1964 rape and murder of Kitty Genovese in Queens. Dozens of people witnessed her attack and heard her screams but did nothing to stop it… let alone report it.

It seems the greater the number of bystanders, the less likely it is that any one of them will help a person in need. Research shows that individual bystanders monitor fellow bystanders to try and determine if it’s necessary to intervene. When no one takes action, they all conclude their help isn’t needed. Some individuals assume that another bystander will intervene… and as a result, no one intervenes. Many individuals assume that another bystander is more qualified, so they don’t bother getting involved. Certain bystanders are concerned about “losing face” in the eyes of the others… while some fear legal consequences should they offer their assistance. Read more

Sleep-Deprived Samaritan

March 2, 2010

In 1977 I was working part time at an auto body shop while attending college. Since I was paying for my education, I jumped at the chance to drive the shop tow truck (wrecker) and make some extra cash. My employer had arrangements with the county police to have an operator available 24/7. So after hours and on weekends, I was on call. Depending on the situation, towing services typically cost between $20 to $40 dollars—and I received half. Considering my circumstances, the money was significant.

That winter was unprecedented. The number of consecutive freezing days and snowfall set an Illinois record and resulted in 62 deaths and more than 2,000 injuries. I was kept very busy.

One morning the shop received so many calls about stranded motorists, abandoned vehicles and accidents, I decided to skip class and keep working. The local radio station and newspaper warned residents to stay inside unless it was an emergency. They said if you absolutely had to travel be certain to carry a first-aid kit, flashlight (extra batteries), blankets, waterproof matches, a sack of sand, a shovel, tool kit, tow rope, booster cables, compass… the list was as extreme as the weather. Since cellular phones weren’t around back then, you had to think before venturing out.

By the end of the day I was beat. I arrived home and started taking off my boots when the phone rang. It was the county police: “This situation has gone from bad to worse… get back out there and start towing in any and every vehicle in sight.” Apparently the number of stranded vehicles was making it impossible to plow—not to mention dangerous.

I grabbed a sandwich and went back to work… and continued working for nearly 40 consecutive hours. Before long I had pulled in enough vehicles to pay for an entire semester of school. Financially, the blizzard seemed like a blessing to me.

At some point, as my boss was writing reports on all the frozen vehicles that had filled the parking lot, it hit him… “How long has McMillan been working?”

“Wrecker Boy, Wrecker Boy, do you copy?”

That was my “handle.” The older shop guys gave it to me. They found it funny. I didn’t mind. Even if I had, it wouldn’t have mattered—the police called me “Wrecker Boy,” too.

“I read you… over,” I responded.

“What’s your twenty?”

The radio was breaking up. I tried adjusting the squelch control but to no avail. “I’m not certain… out in the country… some place west of town,” I replied. I had strategically pulled in the vehicles closest to the shop first, then slowly worked my way further and further into the country… off the beaten path.

“It’s time you bring that damn wrecker in and get some rest.”

He was more right than he knew. I was exhausted and in desperate need of rest. Read more