July 6, 2020

Put On Your Belt and Ride!

In the middle of crises, and often in everyday life, we need to remember that we're all in this together. We can’t control all of our circumstances and we can’t expect to live a life of continuous ease and convenience.

Life and leadership sometimes require both creativity and patience.

In 1960, most automobiles had pretty limited options. Things that we consider standard today were often either non-existent, hard to find, or high priced add-ons. No GPS. No power windows or door locks. An AM radio was pretty common but not a guaranteed feature. Even air conditioning was a luxury.

Then there were seatbelts.

Today, seatbelts are standard on every car, along with other safety related crash restraints, such as shoulder belts, air bags and even computerized radar collision avoidance. Not so in a 1960 white Chevrolet station wagon.

I was number 3 out of 4 kids. It was challenging being a young boy, outnumbered by 3 sisters. Especially during the trips when all four of us sat in the back of that station wagon.

For Navy kids, long trips in the car were part of the deal. Later this included little jaunts from east coast to west coast or vice versa. We'd load up and ride, sometimes for a week at a time, taking in the sights along the way. In addition to the kids, we usually traveled with a dog (or 3!).

Dad was a Naval Aviator, but not just ANY Naval Aviator. He was an Experimental Test Pilot.

To this little boy, he was my hero. The World’s Greatest Living Naval Aviator. (This was a title which I jokingly co-opted for myself years later, substituting “Army” for “Naval.”)

Some of my earliest memories were at the Naval Air Test Center at Patuxent River Maryland. After working to extract himself from the boredom of P-3 Orion submarine patrols, Dad, an engineer, went to the Naval Test Pilot School (TPS). There he entered the "high speed, low drag" world of test and evaluation.

This was a heady world of fast movers, high flyers, the latest and greatest airplanes and systems. Those Pax River TPS circles even included some of the early astronauts from the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs. In the 1960s, this was the highest tech of high tech.

Why should it be any different at home?

When we got the station wagon, it did not come equipped with seat belts or air conditioning.

Chevrolet didn’t have seatbelts as standard equipment until the 1964 model year, and even then it was only in the front, outboard seats. They didn’t become standard in rear outboard seats until 1967, and in all forward facing seats in 1968.

Dad, being concerned about the safety of his "crew," realized that something had to be done.

In considering how to deal with this, he undoubtedly looked at a number of options, none of which included 4 unbuckled Navy Juniors in the back. As it turned out, the best solution was to talk to the riggers in the parachute loft and get the materials to fabricate the necessary restraints.

His first task was making two front seat belts.

Then he made a seatbelt for the back.

Notice I said "A seatbelt."

Not four seatbelts.

One seatbelt.

One seatbelt that stretched all the way across the back seat.

One seatbelt that strapped in all four kids.

One seatbelt that trapped me with 3 sisters.

What could possibly go wrong?

Then there was "the hump.”

In the days before front wheel drive, most cars had a hump that ran from front to back to accommodate the driveshaft. Sitting on the hump was the least desirable position. For one thing, it didn't provide much legroom. Being relatively small of stature helped but, given the choice, the hump was not preferred.

For short trips, with all of these issues, it was easy to grin and bear it. Even without modern distractions such as headphones, video games, cell phones, we managed to do just fine. We didn't know any better and had little choice.

Military family moves often take place in the summer to ensure not too much school is missed. So, crossing through superheated places like the southwestern deserts, mid-summer, was not uncommon and sometimes a real “adventure.”

Still, nerves might start to get worn during multiple days cross country, with sisters, a large dog, no A/C, the hump - and ONE seatbelt.

Memories of Irritations Fade

I guess there’s a limit to how many verses of “The Bear Went Over the Mountain” you can sing or license plate games you can play before the frazzle becomes real. But my strongest memories are of the songs, the games and the sights - not the frazzle.

I don’t remember any arguments amongst my siblings and me related to either the hump or the seatbelt.

Faded memories may be a function of my age. My dad doesn't remember any arguments either. I haven’t talked to my sisters to ask what they remember.

I suspect we had some tiffs, but such irritants just went with the territory and were likely transitory for me. I guess that's true for my sisters too. They all still talk to me, so I assume all has been forgiven.

For me, those memories have been replaced by all of the other experiences our family had on these epic trips. And we saw some pretty cool things.

As far as any irritation of being strapped together in the back seat, it doesn't seem so bad in retrospect. We had nothing to compare it to. We certainly couldn’t measure our situation against the technological conveniences of 2020, nor against the modern penchant for complaining about the slightest inconvenience. We also didn't measure it against what our friends might experience in their family transportation.

We realized (maybe sub-consciously) that we had to make the best of our situation, and that complaining about minor discomfort or lack of control was pointless. And the fact is that (at least for me) the memories of those irritants are so fuzzy as to be almost non-existent.

There’s a lot to be said for patience and not sweating the small stuff.

As leaders or members of teams, how often to we get so wrapped up in the small stuff of life that we miss the fabulous sights along the way?

How many opportunities do we miss because our focus in on how much we’re inconvenienced by lack of resources or by a system that doesn’t do things “my way?”

How often do we become dysfunctional because we can’t figure out how to work together while strapped in with people who sometimes irritate us?

How often now do our trivial complaints and hyper-sensitivity turn into viral Facebook posts or videos shared with the entire world? Do those rants really solve anything?

What can you do to help your team get over the hump of comparison and entitlement?

How can you help shift the focus from personal inconvenience (and sometimes irritation at each other) to grabbing the opportunities afforded in the view out the window?

We all have places to go. How can we make it a more pleasant trip?

Please comment below on YOUR experience handling irritation or frustration.

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