Sunday, April 28, 2019

Hope Springs

Captain Chad Vender Kooy

Our burly captain stepped out of the cockpit sporting a wide red white and blue flag tie which hung over his substantial self. He stood in the cockpit door for a moment and appeared to be talking to the cabin crew who were obscured by the bulkhead. Then he stepped forward. With a bemused smile he began to speak to the passengers in the cabin.

“This is your first officer. My name is Chad and I’m doing do something that’s hard for me, public speaking. So, bear with me. I appreciate your understanding.

I just want to say that we need more love and acceptance right now. There’s so much division in our country and it really troubles me. So, let’s reach out and show our love for the other person. I’m asking you to join me in reaching out to your brothers and sisters no matter where they come from. I’m talking about loving our neighbors. And by neighbors, I mean neighbors in the broadest sense. We live in a global community and the hate that is festering in our own country and around the world is eating us up.

I love this country and part of what this country is supposed to be about is friendship, caring and loving each other. I want to enlist you all to demonstrate those feelings. If everybody showed compassion and love for his fellow man imagine how wonderful our country and the whole world, for the matter, would be.

I hope you’ll do your part to reach out to the people in your neighborhood, in your town, in your state, across the United States and around the world. The world will be a better place if you do.

Thanks for listening to me. Have a great flight to San Francisco. It’s going to sunny and in the low seventies. Enjoy the heck out of it.”

My seatmate who appeared to be of Indian extraction turned to me and asked, “I’ve never heard a pilot talk like that. I’m from the UK and I’ve never heard anything like it. Is this normal in the States? This wouldn’t happen in where I come from.”

I told him that I’d never heard anything like it either and that I found the message to be very moving and especially pertinent right now. I said that I thought it might be specific to Southwest Airlines and I had the impression that the airline encouraged this kind of engagement and spontaneity.

To illustrate that premise I told him I’d recently heard the story about the four-year-old granddaughter of a friend of Peggy’s. The friend, we’ll call her Ann, told Peggy that the child had just completed two years of chemotherapy at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston and that the institution rang bells for “graduating” children. Because Ann was flying from Denver to Los Angeles and couldn’t be at the hospital for the celebration, she approached the Southwest gate agent to ask about ringing a bell for the child in midflight. Ann wanted to make the arrangements if Southwest was willing. The gate agent asked her if she needed extra time to board. Ann initially said she didn’t so the gate agent repeated, “So do you need early boarding?” Being no fool, Ann said that she did, in fact, need the extra time.

Once on the aircraft she asked the pilot and crew if they would be willing to ring a bell for the child at precisely 10am, the time the bells would be rung at the hospital.  A few seconds before 10 the pilot got on the loudspeaker and asked that every passenger press their flight attendant call button to recognize a brave little girl who had completed her cancer treatment that very day. At ten AM sharp 237 passengers rang their bells for the courageous youngster.

So, it really might be a Southwest phenomenon. And it's certain I'll choose Southwest every time it's an option. 

Later I asked my seatmate, “Where are you from?”

“From the UK.”

“Where exactly.” I followed up.

“Birmingham, the Midlands,” he answered.

“What is your itinerary? Where have you visited?

He told me. “We visited the Grand Canyon then Las Vegas but we didn’t like Las Vegas so we came to San Diego a day early and now we’re going to visit San Francisco for two nights.”

He told me they were staying on Lombard Street in the Marina District and I said that the marina was my stomping ground from the early eighties when I opened a restaurant at Lombard and Steiner. I told him the Pizzeria Uno wasn’t there anymore though it was still a pizza restaurant. Scott's, my favorite seafood restaurant in the neighborhood at left this earth and with it the best Petrale Sole in the known universe.

He asked if I had any restaurant suggestions and I told him that I really had no idea since it had been so long, but Fisherman’s Wharf was close and he’d probably find something family friendly there.

When I asked how he and his family were enjoying the their holiday he told me, “The Americans we’ve met have been very warm and remarkably engaged. Much more so than the English.”

That gave me a flush of pride and gave me just a whisper of hope that the tribal hatred we’re suffering isn’t a terminal affliction.

I asked the Captain his name as I exited the plane. I'm Chad Vander Kooy. "I'm Dutch." 

Hell of a guy. And I am after all one-quarter Dutch.


Blacks Crossing said...

Hope Springs, indeed! What an uplifting blog and what a pilot! Southwest Airlines has always encouraged humor as well as goodness during in-flight announcements and general messaging. So Captain Vender Kooy's statement was not only thrilling, but not uncommon, as opposed to those from Fred's old alma mater. He says he would have been fired for saying that. But America absolutely needs to hear more of this, whether it is from a Southwest Airlines captain, the sheriff of Poway, or a rabbi. If we could hear these words over and over and over again, they might be able to counter the hate and vitriol that so often emerges from Washington and winds its way onto talk radio and into the heartland. Thanks so much, Steve, for this post! Obviously, your one-quarter Dutchness is shining through.

John Ellsworth said...

I love this blog. It always makes my Monday mornings. Thanks for sharing, my friend.

Terry T. said...

Good story Steve. Thanks for the post and hope you are having a good time in the city of my birth...

Steve Immel said...

Thanks, Daryl. I found it quite moving and teared up a bit.

Steve Immel said...

Thanks amigo. A pretty terrific moment that’s for sure. It turned me into a quivering mess.

Steve Immel said...

Thanks Terry. We had a marvelous time and are back in Taos after a 6am flight and three hours of sleep.