Saturday, June 11, 2011
In the Land of the Emerald Giants
There are two places in the world where twin-aisle commercial air transports are assembled. One is in Toulouse, just north of the Pyrenees and halfway between the Bay of Biscay and the Mediterranean Sea. The other is two miles from my apartment in Everett, north of Seattle, the Emerald City. This afternoon I took my exercise walking through the second place after picking up my Boeing employee badge at orientation.
This summer I will work at Boeing's Everett site just south of the main plant. The final assembly building is the largest building by volume ever constructed by humans, but that's actually hard to realize from the inside. The eyes and the brain only comprehend so much horizontal distance before the numbers cease to mean anything and that airplane in the same building as me is just "over there" and not "a quarter of a mile away." Vertical distance is always more impressive, though not even the Burj Khalifa on its side would cover the distance east to west at the Everett plant.
So I roamed through the halls of the giant airplanes, their fuselages gleaming anti-corrosion green, their wings swept in repose, ready for a dash to the top of the troposphere. Each of these airplanes will carry millions of people more millions of miles before they finally slumber in a desert boneyard far south toward Mexico. Each will fly for decades in a terrifyingly hostile environment, frigidly cold, starved of oxygen, and miles above the solid comfort of Earth. Each will carry hundreds of people through this gauntlet every day so stoically the passengers will complain about legroom and cheap coffee while the neglected lethal world rages outside the fuselage. This is the drama of technology written in its boldest font.
I struggled to develop a sense of ownership of what I saw. I work here, I kept repeating over and over in my head, feeling like an intruder in a land of giants. My eyes ran back and forth along the beautiful curves of the unborn airliners and I tried to comprehend what contribution I might make here. It's a big place, Boeing Everett, with nearly 40,000 employees. Each new 777 that rolls off the assembly line has 40,000 mothers and fathers, and as of today I'm one of them. Incredible.
There is pride in this ownership, to be sure, but more than that I feel the correct response is gratitude. I needn't be working in Everett, for Boeing this summer. It's just a partnership that we both agreed would be good to try out. So no I'm here, in this incredible place, watching the gears that mesh all of global commerce together taking shape, and even helping to define that shape myself. Like David so many years ago, my cup runneth over. Sometimes it just takes a little walk to see.