October 13th, 2021

"You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take."

Shortly before sunset, September 18. I’m standing on the turf of Cornell’s Schoellkopf Field, at the postgame concert following the Big Red Marching Band’s first performance in twenty-two months. As I’m enjoying the music and letting the emotions of the occasion wash over me, I feel vibration in my pocket and hear the two-note tone played when the Final Jeopardy! category and clue are revealed.

I pull out the phone and it’s a text from my friend Kathryn. On account of some RSVPs in the negative from invitees on her side, she and her fiancé drew up a second round of invites, and my name was on that list. I filed the thought away that evening, as the combined effects of advancing years, lack of hydration, and an (unusually for Ithaca) clear, sunny day were catching up with me. After I got home the following evening, I thought about it — and thought, "there's no way." Without even looking at my work schedule, I was able to parse out that this coming weekend would be one of the the two out of each five that my crew is on shift. And with the wedding just under four weeks away, the vacation request would have to be approved a couple of levels higher than it would if made further in advance. I was skeptical of these things happening.

But at some point, I went to the couple's wedding website and looked at the "starting lineups," if you will — that is, who was in the wedding party. And I saw on those lists a couple of names of people I especially wanted to see in person; one I haven't seen in two years, the other in five. And I realized that I was looking at the situation in the wrong way. Over the last year and a half, various developments at work had put me back in a mentality that I employed during not-insignificant stretches of my tour of duty on the Submersible Death Trap. (Been a while since I used that term…) Said mentality: expect the worst, and be pleasantly surprised when it doesn't come to pass. But I broke through that, and reminded myself that the worst thing that work could say was no, and if that was their response, I'd be no worse off than previously. (The Wayne Gretzky quote in the title came to me some time later.) So I asked for the vacation, with an explanation of the circumstances. It was approved, and so I told Kathryn I'd be coming and booked a room in downtown Rochester.

What I thought would be a formality – getting my shifts covered – turned out to be anything but. A Saturday afternoon ceremony and reception that evening, six hours away from home, would mean I'd need the entire set of day shifts (Friday, Saturday, and Sunday) off. When the first round of requests went out, Friday was covered, but the other two were not. We do have a few reactor operators (RO's) who are out for various reasons through October. I put out a feeler to a co-worker who is no longer on our rotating shift schedule, but could cover one of the two days, and he agreed to take Sunday. But this puts me in a crunch position. Saturday is the keystone day; it doesn't do me much good to have the other two covered without the middle day. And as I prepared to start this weekend's set of four night shifts (Friday through Monday), I faced an approaching milestone; at 6 pm this past Friday, the cost of the first of the two nights in Rochester would lock in and become non-refundable. I decide that if things don't work out, I can eat that cost. I really did NOT want to have to renege on Kathryn this close to her and Age's big day. That evening, one of the reactor operators from my previous crew is in with us working overtime. He'd previously mentioned possibly working Saturday, but hadn't committed to it; he said he'd speak to his wife and see if he could swing it. Not long after we left this past Saturday morning, he told me he could. WOOHOO! All the pieces have fallen into place!

Now I get to turn my attention to much better questions and problems to have…
  • I got some help on some of them from another RO from my previous crew who was in with us on Saturday night. He went to college in Rochester, and is an amateur pilot with his own plane. He also particularly enjoys a particular hot dog from a particular place in the Rochester Public Market. (As that frankfurter is to him, the Pinesburger is to me.) He said he might make a trip up there on Saturday to enjoy said dog, as well as hang with friends there. When I mentioned these plans and that they were finally fully confirmed, Russ dropped LOTS of knowledge, mostly food and drink related — and he said that if he did fly up there this weekend, he'd give me a call.

  • I settled on which of my suits will best fit; I'm now starting to work on the challenge of making sure I'm not underdressed for either Friday evening's pre-event or Sunday morning's brunch. (Though I wear a button-down collared shirt and khaki slacks all the time as my work uniform, I rarely dress up otherwise.)

  • As I am a bone and not a trumpet, by definition, I do not suck. But I haven't picked up the trombone in three years. This is important because Kathryn asked those of us of the sackbut and euphonium persuasion to bring our instruments and play some of our section's arrangements (like the theme from "Cheers," "The Longest Time," "Hawaii Five-O," and Cornell's fight song and alma mater). It having been three decades this fall since I first picked up the trombone, the knowledge of which note corresponds to which position is permanently inscribed on my cerebrum. And so are where those notes fall on the staff — as long as that staff has a bass clef at the start of it. Not sounding like total [fecal matter] is the bar I'm setting for myself here.
One other matter, I've already settled; split the driving by heading to Ithaca on Thursday, doing the remaining two hours to Rochester on Friday morning. I'd re-accumulated enough credit card points since June to book a room for Thursday night there.

Last month, I nearly pulled the plug on the Bonecoming 2021 travel, after Cornell went to COVID yellow alert and BRBAA canceled all its official activities. However, the decision to pull the trigger was justified by several particularly lovely moments over the course of that weekend. So too with this, there were multiple chances for me to pull the plug, and it might have been the conservative choice in each of them. Indeed, small-c "conservatism" is one of the five key fundamentals of nuclear plant operations (in the sense of "fail conservatively," not in any political context). But in the end, I don't have to run my life outside work as I do when I'm there. I can assess the risks for myself, since here at home, they only accrue to and affect me, and not to everyone within a 10 or 50 mile radius of the power plant.

Each of the choices I've made in this evolution so far – each of the risks I've taken – has paid off. There will be further points this weekend where I will have to make choices, and I intend to make them responsibly. Hopefully, as time continues to efflux, I'll keep that going — or to put it another way, I'll get better with age too.