The ATC Report

In Control Ė Vol. IX, No. 0

First off, you should all thank your lucky stars that this site’s management finally saw their way clear to coming up with the big bucks that we were demanding. About halfway through TAR8, we found it really difficult to even watch the show, let alone write about it. Only our consummate professionalism and lack of annual leave prevented us from bagging the column, heading for the beach, and taking a long vacation before we started again with TAR9. (That, plus the fact that Dave burns pretty easily while Steve always has some busybody Greenpeace-nic trying to push “that poor beached whale” back in.) We won’t discuss the actual dollar amount, but we will tell you that we will be making THREE TIMES what we made last season, plus some incentives for getting our column submitted prior to the next week’s episode. And folks laughed at us when we signed Jonathan on to be our agent (although he did mumble the words “seventy-five percent” somewhere in our negotiations).
We both eagerly awaited CBSís announcement of who the lucky Racers would be. Finally the big day arrived and the racersí bios were posted.
Anyhow, we planned on taking a look at the new teams before the return of the REAL Amazing Race. (Sorry TAR8ers, your race will now be officially known as “The Amazing Hey Kids, Do You Want To Go For A Ride With Dad? Don’t Worry We Won’t Go Far”.) We both eagerly awaited CBS’s announcement of who the lucky Racers would be. Finally the big day arrived and the racers’ bios were posted.

That’s when the trouble began. We found that TAR8 had drained us of all motivation. We tossed lines back and forth at each other, trying to describe the new teams - but none of them seemed up to our (already) deflated standards. See for yourselves:

“Come on, haven’t we already had enough fast-food managers in previous seasons?”

“Didn’t Daryl and his other brother Daryl get enough exposure on Newhart?”

“Anyone have trouble picking out the gay team?”

“Yawn, the Colorado 14’s. Let’s see them try the Illinois 2’s.

“I’ll tell you where the Asian folks are, they’re studying.”

“Do you really think the columnist from the Chicago Sun Times REALLY reads us?”

“Have you packed on a few pounds?”

“It hurts when I do this.”

“Then…do it again.”

“Want to hear a good pirate joke?”

“Now put the parts in a bag, wave them over your head and scream like a chicken!”

“Are you going to eat that?”

Of course, this left us with a problem. Five minutes into our pre-race column, and we had already run out of things to say. So, we packed it in and decided to blow off the first column. The next day at work we were smirking about how we’d be pulling one over on TARflies management after they had given us a big raise when inspiration hit.
So, if thatís the case, what do fans of TAR really care about, besides freakiní baby pandas?
Who really cares about any of the new teams before the Race begins anyhow? We don’t know them. We have nothing invested in any of them. All we know about them is that they all will start the Race. So, if that’s the case, what do fans of TAR really care about, besides freakin’ baby pandas? Former Racers, that’s who! And which former Racers do we know more about than any others? That’s right, Ray and Deana! Of course, we really didn’t want to have to talk about the whole “stalking” incident when explaining exactly how we knew so much about them. Anyhow, they were unavailable - some weak-ass excuse about contractions and water breaking. That left you a column about (The Emmy Award Winning) us!

It was perfect. We could say anything we wanted about ourselves (without fear of another messy lawsuit, ala the ‘Dick Brennan’ incident), and very few people would know whether we were making the stuff up or telling the truth. It was at this point that Steve contributed 4 of his 6 percent. He pointed out that we shouldn’t just talk about ourselves but should talk about our jobs as well. Brilliant! Now we could make stuff up indefinitely and pass it off as fact. Who else besides a few center controllers nationwide would know if we were on the level? With that, we began…

The most important thing we do is to ensure air safety. All aircraft under our control have to be separated by either 5 miles laterally, or 1000 feet vertically. Interesting fact: we can also use the converse of that (1000 feet laterally and 5 miles vertically) and still be legal! The most difficult part of our job is the fact that we are not allowed to make mistakes (see Figure 1). Truth be known, we never do.

Ray's Fault
366x343 Figure 1. Dave has to turn in his “get out of jail free” pin after United 478 and American 322 take evasive action to avoid midair collision.

Air Traffic Control is one of the most stressful jobs you can imagine. Every workday brings another eight tension-filled hours to the dedicated men and women who comprise this nation’s air traffic controller workforce. Controllers spend their shifts with their eyes glued to their radar scopes (see Figure 2), always on the alert for potential disasters. It takes two jets that are 50 miles apart traveling in opposite directions less than four minutes to meet in a fiery explosion, raining bits of aluminum, luggage, and body parts all over the countryside, just like a “Lost” episode. Pretty gruesome, huh? Well, deal with it – we have to. Aw, come on. Stop crying. We’re sorry. We won’t talk about it anymore. We promise.

Figure 2. Steve hard at work during an O’Hare inbound rush.

Our profession obviously requires that we be in top mental condition, so (as you can imagine) drinking and drugs are forbidden. In fact, controllers are even prohibited from working if they are taking some types of over-the-counter drugs (like antihistamines or cough drops). The FAA used to have a rule prohibiting controllers from drinking within eight hours of their next shift (see Figure 3)…or was it eight feet from the building? In either event, controllers are now subject to mandatory random drug and alcohol testing. Since most controllers can easily tell the difference between rum and scotch, passing the alcohol tests are easy. But having to learn all those generic names can make the drug tests very difficult.

Figure 3. Dave drinks another lunch.

Finally, since our job is a part of the U.S. Government, we are prohibited from accepting gratuities or other “freebies” from any of the flying public or the airlines. Occasionally these offers can be very hard to turn down (see Figure 4), but generally controllers are very good at rejecting blatant attempts by airlines or industries to “curry favor” or “gain an advantage”.

Figure 4. Steve throws out the first pitch before a White Sox game. Many felt he “threw like a girl”.

Turns out it’s harder to write about ourselves than we thought. So here you go – Steve and Dave’s nod to the Olympics and our pre-Race picks all rolled into one:

Bronze Medalists (i.e. – “Welcome to Loser Lodge”): Fran & Barry, David & Lori, Lisa & Joni, Danielle & Dani, and Wanda & Desiree.

Silver Medalists (i.e. – “Also Welcome to Loser Lodge, Just A Little Later”): John & Scott, Lake & Michelle, and BJ & Tyler.

Gold Medalists (i.e. – “65,000 miles; 4 continents…”): Ray & Yolanda, Joseph & Monica, and Eric & Jeremy.