The Shortest Distance

I’ve learned something:
I can go home now.

That used to be the joke (OK, the joke-let) when I was still working. Maybe even when I was still employed. Certainly when I was spending most of my day at places I would have been happy to go home from early. Somehow it never worked out that I did go home early, even though I learned some things: sudden insights into technical disciplines that were terra incognita to me. Insights that have either vanished completely for never being needed again or that have been integrated seamlessly into my understanding of the world. All to explain why I don’t have a handful of nifty examples.

Some things I learned were a little more diffuse and these, oddly, seem easier to recall.

As one example, I learned what a parade is, in a military context: An activity conducted on a parade square. Yes, I know that’s circular/tautological. Worse, it’s not always true: not ALL activities conducted on a parade square are parades, just some of them. Those, in fact, that are called “parades” and yes, this has been a sore point for a while. Note that a parade can be relocated from a parade square–say, to a hangar or an over-sized gymnasium if, say, it’s raining–and it will still be a parade, but it’s a one-way diode: Volleyball games don’t become parades by virtue of being held on the parade square.

As another example, I learned why some clients repeated instructions in several places in their documents: Because they wanted contractors to pay attention to them and thought that repetition was the best way of signalling their importance. As a bonus, I learned that humans cannot simply repeat instructions word-for-word to emphasize them: They inevitably introduce variations, even out-and-out inconsistencies. On a case-by-case basis did I learn whether those variations were meaningful? No. No one *ever* learned that.

Anyway. I learned something today, although, as noted above, I was not at work. I was also not at home, nor on my way there. I was in an airplane on my way to another city.

I asked the flight attendant (who *was* at work and who could not easily leave early) for a diet cola. She said she’d bring a Coke and I said I’d appreciate it she could convert it into a Pepsi. There was just the slightest pause before she turned to go. A minute later, though, she was back.

I mean, it’s not a thigh-slapping joke. It’s not a witticism for the anthologies. It’s not a story I’ll tell the grandchildren to make them laugh. (Well, maybe just once. Age hath its privileges.) I guess this, too, is just a joke-let. But that moment of playful connection made my flight. Made my day, really.

Laughter is the shortest distance
between two people.
Victor Borge

And I learned something: I know that flight attendant doesn’t yearn to go home early, even though by many standards her day is drudgery. Better, I know why: She’s too busy connecting with people.

This isn’t a learning I can apply narrowly to work any longer, but I can use it in the broader application: Wherever I am, instead of wishing for something different, I can make my day (and maybe someone else’s) by just connecting with people.


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10 Responses to The Shortest Distance

  1. barbara carlson says:

    Your response — which I assume was to laugh and appreciate her gesture — is probably going to make HER day. 😀

  2. Tom Watson says:

    Great article!

    Wasn’t there a book by that name? “All I Ever Needed to Know I Learned At Work?”

    By the way, I loved Victor Borge. Anybody could learn to laugh from him!

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Tom – 🙂 The one I remember was “Everything I need to know I learned at kindergarten.” Much the same, many days.

  3. I’ll bet there is a folklore category for this type of joke-let, which is usually based on a pun, such as the playground query, “How do you turn a pumpkin into squash?” To which the answer is, “Throw it up into the air and it comes down *squash(ed).* Seems to fit Coke-to-Pepsi in mid-air, as well.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Laurna – 🙂 Lots of little-kid jokes are puns — maybe because they’re new enough to language to reliably find surprises in it. And yet familiar enough with it to be able to reliably see the double meaning. And I bet you’re right – there must be a name for them.

  4. Lorna says:

    Made me laugh! Think of how far her humour has travelled.

  5. John L Whitman says:

    Isabel – more on parade squares. In the CF, soldiers who are not well go on ‘sick parade’ which takes place at the MIR (Medical Inspection Room), where there are medics and doctors. Sick parade definitely does not take place on a parade square. In civilian terms, that translates to; sick soldiers go to the on-base clinic to have their sore throat, or whatever, inspected/looked at and maybe treated.
    In the days before direct deposit banking, there was also a thing called a ‘pay parade’ which could take place on a parade square but usually took place at the Pay Clerk’s wicket where soldiers were actually paid in cash. ( I am young enough that I only had to go on one ‘pay parade.’)

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      John – Hahaha. Those examples seem to have more to do with lining up, whether literally (as in a pay parade) or figuratively (as in a sick parade). My civilian guess is that it started as a fairly defined/restricted term linked to the formations on parade squares and came to its broader meanings by that ability of humans to make metaphorical connections – and to have their listeners understand them. Interesting.

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