The jet hold | Field notes from the Pacific coast

I climbed the webby trail to the established sites at Mosquito Creek in search of the pit toilet. I asked two guys I’d seen at the big rock, by the overland trail: they said it’s easy to find, there’s a fallen tree on it.

Afterwards I went back to the main camping area which isn’t much of a camping area, it’s meant to look natural. I looked at the spot where I imagined Dawn and I camped, back in 2002. Hadn’t been there since, didn’t look the same. Travis and Mike would have been in the other one, and Brad with his blue tarp, no tent. The guys openly envied Brad, his minimalist style: his straw hat and eagle’s feather, his tree branch as trekking pole.

It was Brad I think who hung back with Dawn and helped her with her pack. She kept complaining it bothered her shoulders but I probably acted disgusted by that: I think it was Brad who stopped to check the fitting on her pack, who discovered the aluminum staves inside (that give the straps their support) were actually inverted for some reason and cutting into her flesh and muscle. So that would explain the pain.

Dawn and I had been there a couple times before; it was my favorite place. There was the one time with our friends Anthony and Alison, before we had kids: we camped by Oil City on the beach but it was cloudy all weekend until the morning we had to leave. It looked to be burning off, and A&A were going to stay another night, they had the week off…and how badly I wanted to call in sick for work and just stay another day, but didn’t…and Monday back at work, the Starbucks corporate office, sunny and warm, mid-May, I really resented being there: I decided I’d make up for it by taking a long lunch and working out, go home early.

But then my boss said Gregg wanted to see me in his office, which was strange. Gregg was our VP and rarely needed to talk to me, especially in his office. I did low-level communications work. Gregg explained the situation, he was flying to New York, asked if I could come too. They needed help with a union activist thing that was getting out of control. His flight was leaving in a couple hours, said I should get on the same one. Just buy some clothes when we get there, don’t worry about packing.

I don’t think I’d been on any business trips up until that point. I was alit with possibilities. We arrived at the Starbucks regional office in Midtown the following morning and I said to the Marketing Manager, I said: I want to see everything you’ve communicated on this and ask that you please hold on communicating anything further until we’ve talked. 

The union activist thing was a big deal because Starbucks employees were organizing at a NYC store and attracting media, and that was a sore spot on a number of levels for the company, mainly Howard Schultz, the chairman at the time.

It was such a sore spot, a number of head HR and legal executives were assembled in the same, small conference room as me and Gregg—and we learned Howard would also be stopping by the following day. The office vibe was “harried.”

I wasn’t sure exactly what to do, but there were a number of us in that meeting all thinking the same thing (what to do). I offered to lead a roles and responsibilities discussion that seemed apt, my first time white-boarding.

It probably didn’t lead to much, but it broke the ice. And I didn’t understand nuance yet—I asked things too bluntly I think, judging by some of the looks exchanged.

I also didn’t understand that there’s a symbolic value to corporate people being in the field, physically there, to help on-the-ground people through situations like that. And there was maybe a residual feeling that there hadn’t been enough of that through 9/11, and Gregg wasn’t going to let that happen again.

It was my first time in the room with Howard Schultz, and I was impressed by the simplicity of his questions; they were all “root cause” in nature, direct. There were a number of baristas there for training courses too, and when they heard Howard was coming, there was a lot of shouting and cheering, autographs and photos. Refreshing and real, how the baristas saw things.

At the end of the meeting Gregg shook Howard’s hand and asked if he could give me a ride back to Seattle. I didn’t understand, but Gregg was setting me up to fly back with Howard on the private jet. Howard said of course, just call Carol, and that was fun because I knew Carol, and knew she’d freak out when she heard I was going to fly on the jet.

Carol told me where to be but made it clear, don’t be late…they won’t wait for you.

It was on some Manhattan street corner and sure enough, the three of them emerged and I pretended I was just hanging out on the street, happened to bump into the one guy, who was running the Hear Music department, Don MacKinnon. It was Don and Howard and Don’s new boss, Ken: Ken was a big African American from the entertainment industry. We came to the Town Car, and with Howard riding shotgun and the three of us grown men in the back, Ken made it clear I’d be in the middle.

Howard had a migraine and couldn’t stop rubbing his head, said his phone was out of juice, could he borrow mine? And how happy I was, to let him use it. And to think afterwards, he had.

We stopped in the Manhattan rush-hour traffic so Don could run into a Bartell’s and buy aspirin for Howard and then we drove right onto the tarmac, got on the plane…and not long after, a pretty blonde stewardess offered me a glass of wine, but didn’t offer me another after my second, and that’s probably best.

I was so nervous about things, I’d written notes for myself. I was afraid he’d ask specifics about what I was doing or what was going on with the union, so I wrote it down, to help me remember. He had a private cabin, and spent most of his time in there, watching basketball. Don and Ken were on their laptops in spreadsheets, trying to hide.

There were spots on the trail with rope you had to climb and spots where you could use natural holds, like mossy knobs or roots in the ground: they were just right there, in the perfect spot. It made me think that people can be like that too, they can be like holds: they’re there when you need them, you just reach down and prop yourself up, and you’re OK. I was indebted to Gregg for that, for being a kind of “hold” for me, because he gave me newfound confidence in myself. When I saw him afterwards in Seattle he gave me a look of pride, I imagined a tear in his eye, and really connected with him then. And now he’s our neighbor, lives right around the corner.

At my 15-year work anniversary at Starbucks they threw a party in the afternoon and someone in the back row, a friend of mine, raised her hand and asked me to tell that story. It was short, but I enjoyed the telling…while Howard was good about inviting all kinds of people onto the company jet, I may have been the only one there who had a story like that. It was viewed as cool on one level, but I imagined it wouldn’t always be so cool, being trapped above the earth with your CEO in a small container like that.

A colleague shook my hand and said he thought I had a real talent for storytelling, for public speaking. There was a glint in his eye when he said it. It didn’t take much for them to figure me out, to see right through. I wasn’t either cut out for the group as I got to the end, or my heart wasn’t it, or both.

At the end of my stay in New York they asked if I’d be willing to come back, and what could entice me, they joked? I’d just gotten married I said, so if I could bring my new wife, that would be great.

And though it wasn’t company policy I bet, they flew Dawn out with me on my second visit and it was in some boutique hotel in Midtown by the Empire State Building where we conceived Lily that trip, though the hotel is likely not there anymore, has changed its name, or doesn’t look the same now as it did, then.



Categories: Memoir

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17 replies

  1. Sounds like one of those experiences – meeting Howard Shultz – that with hindsight feel a little surreal, as if they never really happened to you but to someone else. I went to the Baftas once with my other half – sort of Brit Academy Awards – and it was the year of Gladiator so we saw Joaquin Phoenix and Ridley Scott and all sorts of other famous actors and it was wonderful and glamorous (especially for people who are really NOT glamorous at all) but now I think it must have happened to other people.
    Love the story about the outside loo – very ‘in nature’, with that branch right behind your back!


    • The “it-didn’t-happen-to-me-but-someone-else” phenomenon, I like that. Cool. God, I loved the savagery of that Gladiator film, I really did. Dawn has a crush on Russell Crowe, has likely married the asshole-ego-drinker side of Russell Crowe in me, and not the other, likely better side of the Russell Crowe. Like the money, perhaps. Yes, the outside loo. The branch like that, forces you to side-saddle it. I should go to bed. Heck, it’s morning for you there right about now! Enjoy the week, Lynn Love. Bill


  2. Trapped above the earth with your CEO. So great! Have you ever recorded your voice reading one of your posts as a post? Hope that makes sense…


  3. That is an amazing story. Surreal, in a kind of David Lynch way, the scene on that jet. And I have to agree that going back to places that mean something to you is tricky because the places have changed and you have changed. And sometimes the places aren’t even there anymore.


    • Ah, that fills me with joy. Glad to hear Kevin, thanks. Spent the weekend out with buddy Brad and god, life just couldn’t be better. So good, I think I’ll take the last belt of my rye whiskey and go to bed, put on some classical music, slip off into Never Ever Land. The Land of Nod. Bill


  4. Love this story….and remember that trip so clearly! Thanks for telling it so well. best,


    gregg s johnson cell: 206.399.3066 email:



    • So happy you got to see that! It feels intensely impersonal to interact via blog with you when you’re right around the corner, but was really happy to see this. Showed it to my friend Brad when we got cell coverage this morning, coming off the pass. Will pop by soon and say hi…good life we have, when it’s hard to do justice to our great memories. Bill


  5. Name dropper.

    I’m not sure what’s cooler, having legit face time with a Titan of Industry or riding a corporate jet. I once rode the Georgia Pacific corporate jet, when they still had one back in 1981 or so. I was just a young programmer flunky writing a sales order/invoicing system riding along with the local managers for a meeting in Southern California. It was Halloween, and when we taxied up to our private spot at John Wayne airport the ground attendant waving us in with the batons turned out to be an attractive young lady wearing a red devil’s outfit. The plane was pretty sweet too,


    • I like, truly, how my stories trigger other people’s, like yours here Dave…so thanks for sharing. That’s a lot of what I groove on here, is triggering something in other people’s pasts they want to share. Thanks for taking the bait man: catch and release, here. Bill


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