What is life?

“What is life?”

That’s a phrase I often use to describe situations in which I find myself unable to comprehend how lucky I am.

There is so much bad in the world — bad people, bad places, bad situations — but in my 32 years of life, I’ve somehow managed to avoid most all of it. I don’t know how or why, but I’ve experienced so much of the good… so much that it sometimes feels unfair.

And today… today was yet another really good day.

It all starts with Chicago… a blustery, midwestern city that reeled me in a couple years back and helped me to blossom into the happiest “me” I’ve ever been. It was there that I began working for The Boeing Company, and it was there that I met some truly incredible people, two of whom I had the pleasure of traveling with today.

While I was living in The Windy City, I met a fellow Chicagoan named Stathis. He’s the founder and president of branding.aero — a brand experience management agency — and a marketing professor at SUNY Oswego. He’s good people, and he’s a fellow AV geek.

Through Stathis, I was introduced to Elliot, who had interned with United Airlines and now works for the company at its Chicago headquarters. He too, is good people, and (of course) a fellow AV geek.

A few weeks back, I had posted a photo of the new United CRJ-550 on Instagram — the first regional jet with a three-class configuration. I spotted the 50-seater out at STL, an airport that doesn’t typically offer much in the way of new, exciting airplanes (at least not compared to Chicago). And in the caption, I mentioned how much I’d like to try out first class on the 550 some day…

Shortly after posting the photo, Elliot reached out to me and asked if I’d be interested in coming out to Chicago to fly first class on the newly-configured airplane. My heart rate skyrocketed and I said to Scott, “Oh. My. Gosh.” I was so, so excited.

Before I knew it, Elliot and I were working out the details for what was sure to be an incredible day. Shortly thereafter, he had even more good news for me — Stathis would be joining us!

I waited and waited in anticipation. And before I knew it, the day had arrived. I awoke at 5:30 a.m. with a spring in my step, and headed to the airport for my first flight, which was to depart at 7:45. I flew from St. Louis to Chicago where the three of us met and boarded our first flight on United’s new jet. Next stop: Sioux Falls!

The three of us sat near one another in first class, and let me tell you… there was SO. MUCH. SPACE. Aside from my fluke-of-an-experience flying business class on Turkish Airlines, I’ve always flown economy, so this was quite a treat. After the initial cabin service, we were able to grab additional drinks and snacks from a self-serve bar area, which was super fun and unlike anything I had experienced before.

After landing in Sioux Falls, we had the chance to visit the flight deck, before stepping off the plane for just a few minutes, then getting right back on. Both flights were so smooth and so quiet. What made the trip so special, though, was the fact that I could enjoy it with two awesome people.

After we returned to O’Hare, we spent a bit of time in the United lounge, before Elliot and Stathis saw me off as I boarded my last flight of the day, back home to St. Louis.

Before today, I had never flown standby, and let me tell you… it’s really fun, albeit a little nerve-racking at times. Lucky for me, I live for this stuff and would have been perfectly content if I was “stranded” in Chicago. Alas, I was the very last passenger called to board the flight. I even got seat 1A — go figure!

So, there you have it… in exactly nine hours’ time I flew from St. Louis to Chicago, Chicago to Sioux Falls, Sioux Falls to Chicago, and Chicago back to St. Louis. Spending all day in airports and in the sky isn’t for everyone, but it IS for some folks… like me, Elliot and Stathis. And lucky for us, every now and again the stars align and we have the chance to take to the skies together… the three amigos!

Thank you, Elliot, for making today possible. It was an incredible adventure and I am so grateful for your generosity and thankful to have you as a friend.

And thank you Stathis, for being such a kind, selfless person. It was so great to be able to share in this experience with you!

So, what is life?

Well… simply put, life is good.

Here’s to friends, blue skies and tailwinds.

Just plane thanks…

Earlier this week, I realized I hadn’t blogged for awhile. And with that realization came a bit of stress, because I couldn’t think of what to write about. Thursday morning, however, whilst driving to work… it came to me.

For reference, my commute is roughly 20 minutes. And, as many of you know, my office is just across the street from St. Louis Lambert International Airport. Naturally, I see a lot of airplanes on my drive in, a lot of them throughout the work day, and a lot on my drive home.

And I loooooooooove airplanes.

OK, back to Thursday morning.

Shortly after getting onto I-70, I saw a Southwest 737 coming in from the north. It was flying straight toward me before it banked sharply to the right to line up for a 30R landing. Just a few minutes later, another one crossed overhead, and then another — it was plane after plane on the same approach.

In that moment, I just smiled and let out a big sigh — I was so happy. And that moment wasn’t even out of the ordinary. These simple realizations of how lucky I am come quite often… and for that, I’m incredibly grateful.

With Thanksgiving just around the corner — I thought it’d be fitting to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to the many people who have inspired and supported me over the last several years as I blossomed into the person I am today.

To those who have loved, supported and helped guide me — thank you. Y’all definitely know who you are… and if you’re wondering, “Is she talking to me…?”

YES. I am talking to YOU.

Roughly a decade ago, I had no idea what my future would hold. And — believe it or not — I was deathly afraid of flying. I was also a job hopper. From TV news to communications in the nonprofit, private and government sectors… you name it, I did it. I couldn’t find my place in the sun.

Little did I know that a chance encounter with a big metal bird was about to completely change my life.

It was a cold, cloudy fall day and I was out on a long run in Minneapolis. Unbeknownst to me, I had ventured all the way out to MSP Airport. I was near the south end of runway 17/35 when an airplane took off right over my head.

I was forever changed.

I was fascinated, intrigued and full of emotion. But why?

Then, it hit me: I love airplanes. I’ve always loved airplanes. I will always love airplanes.

Aviation is in my blood, and it took me 20 some years to realize it. My parents were flight attendants on Eastern Airlines (that’s how they met in the ‘80s) and my dad served in the U.S. Air Force for three decades! DUH!

I’ve also always loved things that felt “magical” to me… and this, my friends, was (and still is) the epitome of magic. This epiphany coupled with my long-standing (but completely independent) fascination with space, helped me to identify and realize a dream: to work for The Boeing Company.

Through mentorship, counseling, and unconditional love and support from family and friends, I grew into the aviation nerd / storyteller / history buff / turbulence-loving girl I am today.

So, to all of you, who helped me to look up — literally and metaphorically — thank you.

Happy 100, Big Blue

Koninklijke Luchtvaart Maatschaapij — Dutch for Royal Aviation Company — is the world’s oldest airline operating under its original name. Known to most simply as KLM, the Netherlands’ flag carrier will forever hold a special place in my heart.

It all started with the 747-400…

I was born June 16, 1987 in the great city of Atlanta, Georgia. Roughly two years later, on May 18, 1989, KLM received its first 747-400. They called it “City of Atlanta” — naturally.

Fast forward to November 2017.

I’m a die hard AV geek. Inked on my left forearm is the outline of a Boeing 747-400. While my day job is doing communications for the State of Minnesota, I spend nearly all my free time at MSP taking photos of airplanes, or in front of my computer writing articles for Airways Magazine or blogging on The Great Planes.

My dad and I are about to fly back home to the U.S. from Amsterdam after a weeklong cruise on the Rhine.

The plane? A 747-400 Combi.

The airline? KLM.

The destination? Chicago.

This is a particularly exciting flight, not just because it’ll be my first time flying aboard the beautiful Queen of the Skies, but because in just a few weeks I’ll move from Minnesota — the state I’ve called home for nearly three decades — to Chicago, where I’ll start a new job working in executive communications for Boeing at the aerospace giant’s world headquarters.

Fast forward even further to today, October 7, 2019. I still work for Boeing, but earlier this year I relocated to St. Louis where I now work in Historical Services as both a historian and a digital communications specialist. To say I’m in my dream job would be an understatement. I’m putting my skills and passion to good use on a daily basis — and no two days are the same. It’s incredible.

Most recently I got to do some research on — and writing about — you guessed it… KLM. And let me tell you… it’s been one heck of a fun project to work on. Learning more about the airline’s rich history and discovering so many unique, fun facts — for instance, did you know KLM is the only airline to have operated every airplane in the Douglas DC series? — has been awesome. As I think back on my own “coming of age” story in the world of aviation, KLM has been there every step of the way.

When I was still living in Minneapolis, Air France and KLM were the “biggies” that all of us AV geeks would get excited about. Even after moving to Chicago, I’d go nuts for those big blue 747s out at O’Hare. When my dad and I took that river cruise in 2017, we flew into Amsterdam and were fortunate to spend an entire day touring Schiphol inside and out. And, of course, there’s the 747-400… the whole “City of Atlanta” thing, my tattoo, my first (and still only) flight on the classic jumbo jet… this love of mine for the Flying Dutchman just keeps growing stronger.

So, here’s to you, KLM, on your 100th birthday. Your legacy is incredible and I’m so humbled to be able to help celebrate this amazing milestone with you, both personally and professionally.

Planes, Trains & Automobiles: Our African Adventure

Sunday night, I snuggled into my own bed for the first time in 10 days. It was 9:30 p.m. CT when my head hit the pillow, which oddly enough marked exactly 24 hours since I had woken up across the pond. That early wakeup (3:30 a.m. West Africa Time) was followed by 18 hours of traveling from Casablanca, Morocco to both JFK and LaGuardia airports in New York, and ultimately back home to St. Louis.

This trip came to be when my husband Scott and I decided to celebrate our fifth wedding anniversary in Morocco. The itinerary we planned for ourselves — which I’m quite proud of, I might add — took us up the beautiful Atlantic coast to the country’s northwestern most region, across the Strait of Gibraltar to Spain, back into Morocco and on to a picturesque village in which nearly all the buildings are painted blue, farther south to the country’s “cultural” capital before venturing even farther south into the world’s largest hot desert, a mere 30 miles from the Algerian border.

Our 9-day adventure exceeded my expectations… the people were so kind and selfless, the scenery was simply breathtaking and every city had such rich culture and history. Of course, our JFK-CMN flight on Royal Air Maroc’s 787-9 and the return on the 787-8 were reason enough to take this trip (my first Dreamliner!), but throw in a full week of exploring North Africa and all its beauty… what could be better?

I hope you enjoy these photos… I sure enjoyed taking them.

Day 1: Friday, overnight from JFK to CMN on AT201 / Saturday, exploring Casablanca

Day 2: Sunday, bullet train from Casablanca to Tangier

Day 3: Monday, ferry from Tangier to Tarifa, Spain

Day 4: Tuesday, car ride from Tangier to Chefchaouen (the “Blue City”)

Day 5: Wednesday, car ride from Chefchaouen to Fes

Day 6 (1): Thursday, car ride (8.5 hours!) to Sahara

Day 6 (2): Thursday, sunset camel ride through Sahara’s sand dunes

Day 7 (1): Friday, sunrise hike and morning camel ride

Day 7 (2): Friday, car ride from Sahara back to Fes (w/ stops in Rissani and Midelt)

Day 8: Saturday, train from Fes to Casablanca

Day 9: Sunday, racing the sun from CMN to JFK on AT200

Oh yeah, the cats…

Until next time, Morocco…

Chicago, I love you…

Nearly eight months ago, I left my South Loop apartment for the last time. As the door closed, my heart grew hollow… I felt as empty as the space I was leaving. It was a dreary day, as is often the case when you’re dealing with a long, tough goodbye.

For me, Chicago was both a blessing and a curse… there were some incredibly high highs, and some awfully low lows. I moved there to follow my passion and to fulfill my dream of working for the world’s greatest aerospace company — I knew the job itself might not be perfect, but I knew it was a step in the right direction.

It was tough… tougher than I thought.

Scott still had a year-and-a-half left of school up in Minnesota, so I was living alone with our two cats. I was acclimating to my new surroundings while trying to master an incredibly challenging, stressful and demanding job. Don’t get me wrong, I will never regret having taken that job, as it shaped me into a better person and a more valuable employee.

I couldn’t have made it through, though, without the love, support and encouragement of the amazing people I surrounded myself with. These friends, family and colleagues encouraged me to do my best, look on the bright side and persevere. At times, they saw a lot more in me than I ever saw in myself… and I’m so grateful for each one of them.

Today, I’m living in St. Louis, Missouri… and let me tell you, it’s NO Chicago. In fact, in the last eight months I’ve probably complained more about this city and everything it lacks than I’ve complained about any other city in my life. But… it’s home (for now). And more importantly, it’s where I’m writing my next chapter.

I’m in my element here. I’m learning, I’m growing and somehow I’m becoming an even bigger AV geek (I know, right?).

I still owe so much to Chicago though… to every neighborhood I didn’t have time to explore and to all the friends and colleagues I didn’t spend enough time with. That’s why I went back there this past weekend — it was my third return visit since having left. I got together with friends, I worked out of my old office and I went to see the planes… all the planes.

Yet somehow… it just wasn’t enough, which means I will be back. That city and everything about it tugs at my heart on a daily basis. And even though I miss it, even I can’t deny that I’m a better “me” here in St. Louis. I’m finally with my husband, I literally cannot WAIT to get to work every day and my overall quality of life is just so much better. I feel healthier, happier and more balanced. This is where I’m supposed to be… and being able to not just recognize that but embrace it is a pretty neat feeling.

Fifty Years Later: Celebrating Apollo 11

This past spring, in anticipation of the big Apollo 11 50th anniversary, I began looking for opportunities to attend one of Gene Kranz’s presentations. Gene is my hero… he’s smart as heck, passionate and kind — an all around incredible person.

He studied aeronautical engineering at St. Louis University — which is a mile or so from where I now live — and even worked at McDonnell Aircraft Corporation, which is now, of course, Boeing (the same campus at which I work I today). He also served in the U.S. Air Force between his time in school and at McDonnell.

Gene ultimately went on to work in Mission Control for NASA. He worked on both Project Mercury and Project Gemini before serving as Flight Director for the Apollo 11 and Apollo 13 missions. For those who’ve seen the 1995 Tom Hanks flick, “Apollo 13,” Kranz’s character is played by Ed Harris… you know, the guy with the buzz cut who always wore the vest.

To this day, I’ve watched just about every documentary and read practically every story about Gene… essentially every anecdote that touches on his incredible life and legacy — I’ve read or heard. In May, when I caught wind of his upcoming presentation at Purdue, I knew I had to at least try to attend. Tickets became available online in early June on a first come, first served basis — and while admission was free, it was still a competitive process. I consider myself very, very lucky to have secured a seat.

Wednesday night, I excitedly loaded up my new Boeing tote bag (thanks Jiho!), crawled into bed and couldn’t seem to fall asleep — I was so anxious to see what Thursday would bring. I woke up with a spring in my step, ready to make the 4-hour drive to West Lafayette.

I thought I had built sufficient pad time into my schedule… and it would have been sufficient had there not been a time change. News flash: Purdue is located within the EASTERN time zone. Even though it was tight, I did make it in time.

After checking into my hotel, I drove to the college campus — a mere mile from where I was staying. I slowly wound my way up to level four of the Grant Street parking garage, got out of my car and hurriedly shuffled over to the elevator. I had a five-minute walk ahead of me and approximately five minutes before the doors opened.

Lucky for me, just after exiting the elevator I happened to run into a very nice guy named Adam. Lo and behold, Adam is the director of the Purdue University Airport. He helped me to quickly navigate to the Loeb Playhouse, as that’s where he was headed too.

I found a seat, and anxiously waited for Gene to take the stage. Before I knew it, 3 o’clock (EASTERN TIME!) had rolled around. The lights dimmed, and a young PhD student took the stage to introduce the man all 1,000 of us were waiting to see. The audience erupted in applause when Gene — white vest and all — took the stage.

I shed a couple tears (OK, more than a couple) during the first 5-10 minutes of Gene’s talk. I simply couldn’t believe I was finally seeing my hero, Gene Kranz — I was just feet from him, listening to him tell these remarkable stories of the early years of American space exploration. He covered all the highs, and all the lows before engaging in Q & A with the audience.

Afterwards, I was determined to try to meet him. I waited patiently against a wall in the auditorium, as the crowd of 1,000 turned to 500… then 100… then 50… then five — I was one of a mere five people left in the suddenly lifeless Loeb Playhouse. I held my copy of “Failure is Not an Option” tightly against my chest. Every so often I would ask a passerby if they knew whether or not Gene would be coming out to sign books. They each said, “No, he won’t.”

After about 30 minutes I was nearly ready to give up. I casually peered around a corner into a hallway outside the theater where I saw a queue of 15-20 people, all holding a copy of Gene’s book.

“Excuse me,” I quietly said to the last person in line — it was a gentleman who appeared to be in his 60s or 70s with a Nikon camera hanging from his neck.

“Do you know if Gene will be coming out to sign books?” I asked.

He came closer to me and motioned for us to turn our backs toward the others in line and said quietly, “This is the line for a special ‘meet and greet’ event, and as I understand it, you need to have a special ticket, or have your name on a list of some sort.”

My eager smile quickly turned into a hopeless frown. “Oh…” I replied.

“I don’t have a ticket but I figure, I may as well try, right?” the gentleman replied.

“You’re right,” I said. “I’m Annie, nice to meet you.”

“I’m Ted,” he said as he reached out to shake my hand.

Ted and I began talking about our lives and what had brought us to Purdue to see Gene. A father and son were standing in front of us — obviously ticket holders — and the dad turned toward us and said, “What’s two more people, right?”

Ted and I nodded and smiled. Through our conversation, I learned that he served in the U.S. Army in the 1960s, and went to school right there at Purdue. He was now retired from Verizon.

Ted was impressed by the fact that I drove the whole way from St. Louis that very morning. He also enjoyed learning that even though my career took some strange turns out of college, I finally found my passion, and with a lot of patience and hard work, landed my dream job as a historian and communicator for Boeing. Along with its heritage companies, Boeing built nearly every component of the Apollo spacecraft and the massive Saturn V rocket — I think that’s pretty remarkable.

After about 15 minutes, a woman waved at all of us to follow her through a doorway. We went down two flights of stairs and through a hallway before stopping — just out of sight around the corner, sat my hero, Gene Kranz.

Two people who obviously had some sort of authority approached me and Ted and asked, “And what are your names?” Ted introduced himself, and we were quickly told that our names weren’t on the list… well, we already knew that. A gentleman offered to escort us back upstairs, and Ted said to him, “What about Annie? Could you please let her meet him? She just drove all the way here from St. Louis.”

“I’m sorry,” the man said.

Ted and I quietly made our way back upstairs — closely followed by the man who had instructed us to do so. We exited the building, before being rudely awakened by the steamy, 95-degree, early evening air. We walked together, weaving in and around campus buildings.

“You know, not a lot of people got to attend this. They had to open up the other viewing areas because of the demand — each of the auditoriums holds thousands,” Ted told me (obviously trying to lift my spirits).

It worked — sort of.

“We’re lucky to have seen him in person,” he added.

I smiled. “You’re right, I do feel very, very lucky,” I said.

Before I knew it, it was time to part ways. Ted was headed into the campus store, but he kindly saw me all the way to the garage where I had parked.

We shook hands, and he wished me safe travels.

I made my way back to my car, picked up dinner and headed back to the hotel. When I got back to my room, I unpacked my purse, which of course included my unsigned copy of Gene’s book.

I immediately lost it.

I sat on the bed and just cried. I couldn’t keep it together and I didn’t know why. I’m 32 years old for goodness sake — I shouldn’t be this sad, should I? I felt like a sad, helpless little kid… just so upset over not getting what I wanted.

I finally pulled it together, ate my dinner and called it a night.

Early the next morning, I gathered my stuff and hit the road. Just as it was on the way to Purdue, the drive back home was beautiful — blue skies, sunshine and seemingly endless fields on either side of the road. It’s not often that I drive for hours on end all by myself, but I found it to be quite relaxing and a good way to gather my thoughts.

I didn’t meet Gene, but I did see him… I did hear him. I got to hear his firsthand account of what happened before, during and after the historic Apollo 11 mission. Through his words, I could feel every emotion he felt 50 years ago — the tension, the joy, the worry and the pride. It was an incredible afternoon and I feel so very lucky to have been there.

So, on this, the 50th anniversary of the historic lunar landing, I’d like to thank everyone whose hard work and selflessness made the Apollo program possible. To Gene, the others in Mission Control, the brave astronauts and the countless NASA employees; to the engineers and other contributors at companies like Boeing, North American and McDonnell Douglas — among others; and of course to the families of all the folks whose dedication kept them away from home for long periods of time… thank you.

I can’t wait to see what the next era of space exploration will hold.

P.S. Earlier in the week, my husband Scott and I were driving through downtown on our way to dinner, and he said we needed to make a quick stop. He pulled over, turned on the hazard lights and left. I saw him rent one of the nearby motorized scooters and he was out of sight before I knew it.

About 20 minutes later he finally returned, and handed me this guy.

I had no idea they were even doing this giveaway to celebrate the Moon landing, but he caught wind of it, bought a special “theme night” ticket and went in just to pick it up to surprise me. Thank you, Scott, for loving me and supporting me in all my pursuits, as nerdy as they might be.

Making Connections in ATL

Last week I was fortunate to spend several days in Atlanta — the city in which I was born 32 years ago. Originally, I’d planned to be there only Tuesday through Thursday for a work conference, but after pondering the idea of heading down a few days early to potentially meet my dad for the weekend (my birthday fell on Father’s Day this year, as it does every so often), I knew I had to at least pitch the idea to him.

He was sold.

I flew into ATL very early on Saturday, June 15 and immediately upon landing, headed toward my favorite place in the entire city — that’s right, the roof of the south economy parking lot right smack-dab in the middle of the airfield. At 8 a.m. the weather was lovely… upper 60s with a moderate breeze. It only took a couple hours, though, for the temperature to sky-rocket and the sun to reach its peak directly above my head. And let me tell you, had that moderate breeze not picked up in strength and frequency, I probably wouldn’t have endured the scorching Georgia heat for as long as I did (six hours). And of course, being able to watch the constant stream of action at the world’s busiest airport made 90 degrees a heck of a lot more bearable.

Around 2:30 that afternoon, my dad arrived to pick me up after driving from his home in Melbourne, Florida over the course of two days. We checked into our hotel, grabbed a bite to eat and turned in pretty early — it had been a long day for us both.

Sunday was a special day… it was my 32nd birthday, it was Father’s Day, and my dad and I were together in the city in which I was born, on the very anniversary that I entered the world and that he had become a father. We went to a baseball game, and despite the blistering sun and intense humidity, we had a great time and were able to see the Braves absolutely crush the Phillies to clinch the three-game series. We enjoyed a special dinner at a restaurant that I had chosen because of its tasty-sounding burgers (and veggie burgers!) and the fact that they had onion rings — the type of greasy grub we’ve been enjoying together (in moderation, of course) for as long as I can remember. Little did I know, however, that this very restaurant I had chosen, was just a hop, skip and a jump away from the house we lived in back in 1987. Even though we moved to Minneapolis shortly after I was born, it really was something to see that place, knowing that so many memories had been made within those walls.

On Monday, my dad hit the road decently early, as he would be driving all the way back home to Melbourne that day, which would take him about nine hours. I worked a half-day from my hotel, before sneaking back over to the airport for another six hours of plane spotting.

Tuesday, I again worked remotely — this time a full-day — before catching a shuttle to the airport where I planned to hop aboard a second shuttle to my new hotel, which was closer to the conference site. Of course, I couldn’t be at the airport without snapping just a few more photos — and by that I mean, I spent a few more hours taking hundreds of photos.

After I had my fill, I headed to my home for the next two nights: the Renaissance Concourse. Those familiar with the area — and especially AV geeks familiar with the area — are likely aware that this particular hotel is a prime location for viewing the runways on the north side of the airport. It’s also situated just a half-mile or so from the Delta Flight Museum, where this year’s Airline Archivists and Historians Association conference was being held. That evening, I attended a meet-and-greet with other conference-goers, before turning in early, knowing I had a jam-packed day ahead of myself.

Wednesday morning I met with a few other conference attendees in the hotel lobby, and we caught the shuttle over to the museum where we enjoyed breakfast, before engaging in several activities throughout the day. Between touring the DC-3 and 747, visiting the Delta Archives and watching presentations by reps from The MediaPreserve, Airways Magazine, Airline Guys and Georgia State University (where they’re preserving a lot of Eastern Airlines artifacts), it was by and large one of the best days of my life — at least in recent memory. That evening, we all shuttled over to a local restaurant for dinner, which served as a great end to a great day.

Thursday morning, we wrapped up the conference by boarding a bus bound for The Coca-Cola Company world headquarters in midtown Atlanta. There, we were fortunate to tour the company’s archives — a well-hidden treasure trove housing artifacts that date back to pre-1900. It was a fascinating experience and one we were all very fortunate to be part of, as the archives are closed to the public… in fact, only staff and their friends and family are permitted. After a great morning, we boarded our bus back to the museum where we were granted early admission to Airliners International 2019 — the world’s largest airline collectibles show. Believe it or not, I didn’t buy a THING!

Several of us were flying out that afternoon, so we caught a shuttle over to the airport, where we hugged and said our goodbyes. In fewer than 48 hours, I made some incredible friends… it was a great group of people with a shared passion for flight, representing nearly all the major U.S. airlines, in addition to a handful of aviation museums — both big and small — throughout the country.

The theme of this year’s conference was “Making Connections,” and the more I think about it… I think that was my favorite thing about my week in Atlanta: the many connections I made.

I connected with my dad on a special day, in a special place… I have memories from our weekend together that I’ll cherish forever.

I connected with — and learned from — museum curators, archivists and historians, most of whom are current or former airline employees, from flight attendants to pilots… HR reps to mechanics, we were certainly a diverse bunch!

I “connected the dots” so to speak, through several — sometimes quite obscure — “Aha!” moments. An example: the syrup urns that Coca-Cola made available to soda fountains in 1896 were produced by a pottery company in Wheeling, West Virginia. Well, just a year earlier in that very city, one of The Boeing Company’s four main “founders” — James “Dutch” Kindelberger — was born. Now I think that’s pretty neat!

Most importantly, I connected with my passion and with my roots… simply put, I connected with myself. At my core, I’m a storyteller who loves airplanes. It took awhile, but I found a way to build a life around that — coupling what I love with what I’m good at. You can do the same… in fact, anyone can.

Often times when I tell folks I work for Boeing, they ask, “Oh, you’re an engineer?” I of course respond that no, I’m not an engineer, I work in communications for our Historical Services department where I wear several different hats: historian, archivist, tour guide, writer and digital strategist. At a high level, my job is to keep the history of Boeing and its heritage companies alive — a pretty sweet gig, eh? And, AND… there are tens of thousands of other sweet gigs throughout the company… and no, they don’t all center around engineering.

Our company, the airlines and really the majority of companies in this (or any) industry require a broad pool of talent and a diverse set of skills to function properly. Yes, the aerospace industry heavily relies on all different types of engineers, but it also needs marketing specialists, financial analysts, customer service representatives, salespeople, accountants and yes… storytellers. That’s all to say that if you work hard to make a connection between what you love and what you’re good at, you too can land your “dream job” just like I did.

Persistence pays off, and positivity and kindness can work wonders. So keep following your dreams, working hard and making those connections… they’ll take you far, both literally and figuratively.

P.S. Thanks to everyone, near and far, who helped me surpass my goal of reaching the 10K mark on my Instagram account. Here’s to new friends — near and far!