Thursday, November 04, 2004

up on the bridge with the captain

Ten thirty is a pretty crumby time to be leaving the office, but that's what happened last night. Actually it was the second time I had left the office that evening. The first time was about 1830 and I was literally just parking the car when my phone started jumping around inside my pocket.

Part of my job is to do 'standby' on occasion, which is where you get called in to work in the middle of the night to help out an airline in need. We usually get called for what is known in the aviation industry as an 'AOG' or Aircraft On Ground, i.e. your holiday not happening.

Resigned to being hungry for a few more hours, I pulled off my tie and turned the car around. Ten minutes later I was at the company gate, climbing over the passenger seat to flap my badge against the reader, which is always standing on duty on the inconvenient side of my English car.

The people who called me weren't the customers themselves. We have a special 24hr hotline number that they call. The engineers the clients speak to on that line then call me if it is anything to do with the hydraulics, the landing gear, the brakes, the braking system, or the steering. I hopped out of my car and went up to see these guys, grabbing a muesli bar out of the vending machine on the way.

I wasn't aware that they had been decorating up there, but when I arrived I found that their office had now sprung a security door. Flapping my badge again, I let myself in.

No sooner was in than I was transported 500 years into the future and a distance of 78.2 light years out into the galaxy Zog. The flashy bastards, not content with having their own rest and relaxation room, had done their AOG control centre up to resemble the bridge of the USS Enterprise.

As I stepped cautiously into the room, watching out for Klingons marauding around with phasers set to kill, I saw two steps rising from the floor to my left. I took the first and a set of electronic double doors opened in front of me with a shhhe-woosh (you know the one, you trekkies). I found myself in front of two parallel rows of wireless workstations, tiered so that the ones at the back overlook those in front, NASA Style.

All of them were facing the walls, and what walls! Directly in the centre of mission control there was a huge screen displaying an image of the world, its flattened representation covered in darkness or illuminated by the sun according to the location. All the major cities were marked, and also all the locations of the places which needed our help.

On the walls surrounding the world, we had displays of the email hotline - all the messages that were coming in crying for assistance, asking for answers about their misbehaving mating flanges and bleed nipples (you gotta love English technical vocabulary).

Now I won't bore you with the details of what I did, except to say that it was a Frenchman who handed me my mission, a German who gave me the answer, and a Philippino who was our customer. God knows what various tourists and businessmen from all sorts of nationalities were on the plane, but it gives me pleasure to live and work in a hub of this diverse and co-operating world.

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