[Name Redacted]

For the record, I really don’t like Hooters. Mediocre wings…Low-end beer…Just plain tacky. However, this is not to say I don’t appreciate tacky dive bars or smiling young women in revealing poly-blend outfits in shades of orange otherwise only used by Carnival Cruise Lines…. So in about 2004, I found myself exhibiting at a trade show right around the time 3M acquired CUNO, the company I formerly worked for. I’ve worked countless trade shows – most located in traditional destination venues such as Las Vegas, Chicago or Orlando and most supporting national events and customers. This time, however was different…..nay – special. Not just any event…this was The South Atlantic Well Drillers Jubilee And Trade Show…and the venue wasn’t just any venue. It was Myrtle Beach, SC and rather than taking place in the typical trade show seasons of early Spring or Fall – this “Jubilee” was right in the middle of June. Sweltering, humid South Carolina June.

Truth be told, I had never had the privilege or opportunity of participating in a Jubilee. But open-minded I was, setting up and tearing down our trade show exhibit in an old exhibit hall void of air conditioning and carpeting. In fairness, the organizers said they did switch on the AC during exhibition hours, so 90 degrees became more like 85 for a bit. Lynn and I had just moved to South Carolina from Western Massachusetts the year before and had not fully acclimated to Southern Summers. I had recently reduced my “Three Showers A Day In The Summer” routine to just two. Problem was – no showers here in Dirty Myrtle. The sights and sounds of the South Atlantic Well Drillers Jubilee were enough to make me question the sensibility of our exodus from New England to this strange new land of palm trees, humidity and palmetto cheese. Strange new accents, come-as-you-are grooming decisions and entire families sporting matching T Shirts proclaiming “Well Drillers Do It Deeper” allowed my mind to momentarily wander away from the fact that I was soaked in sweat from head to toe. But I digress. This isn’t a story about well drillers, clingy orange outfits or Daytona dry wings. It’s about a random encounter from someone very special who came into my life from the 336 area code.

Somehow, my manager at the time roped me into taking a few big customers out for a “Thank You lunch” after the “Jubilee” mercifully concluded. BTW, for those of you thinking I came up with the descriptor Jubilee as an attempt at humor…I appreciate your confidence…but truly it is actually and undeservingly called Jubilee. So where might you ask would heavy hitters in the well drilling industry choose for their free corporate lunch? A steak at Ruth’s Chris perhaps? No. How about a sushi place….BBQ, hell – even an all-you-can-eat crab leg shack. Nope, Nope and Nope. When only the best will do….We’re going to Hooters. Once seated at our high top, up sashayed the “Hooters Girl” who sat down and acted as if she thought we were the most interesting people in the world. I attempted a short-lived and failed mission of maintaining eye contact. Next came two pitchers of generic Budweiser / Dilly-Dilly Light. By the time the platter of one hundred…yes, one hundred chicken wings arrives, I’m already dreading submitting this orange and white paper receipt in my next expense report.

Somewhere in the middle of this enthralling conversation about industrial back flow preventers….or was it lower back tattoos…not sure…my BlackBerry starts to ring (yes, it was 2004) and I notice an unfamiliar 336 area code and number. [Disclaimer: I am not going to identify the airline or the caller by name as I sincerely adore this person and don’t wish for unnecessary blushing or discomfort on their part]. OK, the airline was USAirways.

Hello, is this Mr. James Zaik? Hi Mr. Zaik, this is [Name Redacted} from {Airline Redacted} and I’m the manager at our frequent flyer call center. Mr. Zaik, to improve customer service, I occasionally monitor customer calls and last week I listened to a call that you had with one of our customer service reps. Mr. Zaik, in my 20+ years working at {Airline Redacted], I don’t think that I have ever been more disappointed in what I heard. Would you have a few moments to speak to me about this call? Now…truth be told…doing 100 or so flight segments a year, I’m thinking…”is she referring to the reps disappointing conduct… or mine?” So, I have my window of opportunity and seize it. “Why yes, [Name Redacted] I do have a few minutes”….After a quick apology to my customers and after wiping Daytona seasoning off my hands…out to the rental car I go for my first conversation with someone special….someone that I frankly don’t think ever quite understood how much I admire and respect her.

As [Name Redacted] starts to explain what she heard on the call, I interrupted saying “Oh, I know. I was in DCA last Tuesday and the agent wouldn’t help moving me off of a cancelled flight!” No, Mr. Zaik, that wasn’t it. “OK, I know…it was Thursday. I was in MCO – at the gate and there was bad weather affecting my flight. The agent wouldn’t”….No, Mr. Zaik – that’s not it either. “OK, [Name Redacted] What did you hear?” As [Name Redacted] explains the egregious conduct she thinks I was subjected to, I start chuckling and said something to [Name Redacted] that fifteen years later I remember verbatim. “[Name Redacted], what you heard on the call absolutely pales in comparison to what I deal with almost each and every week with [USAirways Redacted].

Out of courtesy to [Name Redacted], there’s a number of professional courtesies she provided to me over the years that will remain known only to Lynn and I but I will share a few…

  1. An unexpected aircraft change on a flight we had to Hawaii reduced the number of first class seats and somehow Lynn and I were no longer seated next to each other. Having used frequent flyer miles and not wanting to sit apart from Lynn on a 5+ hour flight to PHX, I asked [Name Redacted] for guidance. A week later, Lynn and I were next to each other again. I learned through the grapevine that {Name Redacted] personally called others in the First Class section and found someone willing to change seats with us.
  2. [Name Redacted] invited me into the Pilot Program of what [USAirways Redacted] called their Executive Services Program. She explained that although even at my level of air travel I didn’t qualify for this program, but because she so appreciated my good-and-bad feedback, I was personally invited into this program at her bequest.
  3. Finally, the one I will never repay…My father had a serious health scare near the Grand Canyon and my parents had to immediately fly home to Boston with a travel nurse. In tears, I called [Name Redacted] and said that I needed help for my father in his connection at PHX. I learned from my mom after they got home that they were personally met on the tarmac at PHX, brought by vehicle to the connecting flight and that my father and the traveling nurse were upgraded to First Class on their flight to Boston. Although [Name Redacted] was dismissive of any personal involvement, I know better and will forever be grateful.

There are four ladies at USAirways / PSA Airlines / American Airlines employees that have each made an indelible professional and personal impact on me over fifteen years of frequent flying. Each has a place in my heart and each will have a future story here of our best moments together. Each is as beautiful as they are total professionals! About the only thing I miss about my former life on the road are the brief times we’d spend together smiling and laughing.

Sherri – Red Sox Lanyard and Pinstripes Pre Boarding

Mary – Dude, Who Are You? (May be the best blog I’ll ever write)

Stephanie – 2A, The story of my best flight ever (OK, other than the filet mignon and ice cream sundae flight)

Friday March 1, 2019 was my last day of employment. While celebrating on the back porch with Lynn and close friends Greg and Denise, my cell phone rang at 5:15PM…..336 Area Code. “This is Jim” I said on that phone’s last-ever business call. Jim, this is [Name Redacted] from [American Airlines]. Do you have a moment? I understand you are retiring and that today is your last day at work. She went on to chat with me for 10-15 minutes about retirement plans and we re-hashed some wonderful memories and war stories over the years. For many years [Name Redacted] was the glue that kept me loyal to USAirways. Knowing that she was out there is what made that sometimes dysfunctional airline MY airline. As much of a pain in the ass I was to an airline that tested anyones rational patience….I still loved USAirways.

K, I hope that you read….I’ll always remember you helping my father when he needed it….and I’ll always remember you taking the time to call me on my retirement day. You are the epitome of class and charm and I hope that you know how much that you have meant to me.

4 Comments on “[Name Redacted]

  1. Glad to see and hear that you and your wife are enjoying life!

    I am very touched by your comments and really enjoyed reading your story! Keep going and publish a book. You have a wonderful way of telling a story.


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