In God we trust (all others pay cash)

I flew into Los Angeles from Indianapolis yesterday. You guys must think I’m on a plane all the time, and to some extent that’s true. In general, I’m not complaining as long as things go smoothly, which most of the time they do. In this case, it was a little bumpy during our layover in Dallas. American Airlines, which is hubbed there, couldn’t find a crew to clean the “new equipment” that had been assigned to our flight. That’s really frustrating. “We’d be ready to board,” said the announcement, “But we have a 767  instead of a 757 and they haven’t assigned a cleaning crew yet and so we’re not authorized to let you on the plane.” Several hundred people groaned.

My phone rang. It was the Executive Platinum desk giving me a courtesy call to inform me of what I already knew. “You want to provide a real service here?” I politely asked the nice lady at the other end of the line. She seemed flummoxed. Her perception of her job, I could tell, was limited to calling people to tell them information that they probably already knew, end of story. “Okay?” she replied. I could tell that she was nervous. Suppose I asked her to come over and tie my shoe?

“Why don’t you call your supervisors and tell them to send somebody to clean our plane?” I said with tremendous gentleness. “Then we could leave and you wouldn’t have to make any more phone calls.” I’m not claiming any credit here, but I will note that the cleaning crew showed up five minutes later and we left only 20 minutes late.

While we were circling LA, the pilot got on to make a TMI Announcement. You know what that is. Sam Elliot’s voice gets on the horn to tell you something you really don’t want to know, thus providing Too Much Information. In this case, it was sort of disquieting. “There was some kind of earthquake in LA and we’re going to circle for a while to make sure that the runways are okay to land on,” he said in his upbeat Texas twang. After a while he came back. “Flight attendants prepare for landing,” he said.

And so we landed. Later it turned out that there was a 6.3 level earthquake in the area, an echo of a larger quake that had taken place in nearby Mexico.  So the runways didn’t melt or explode, and everything was basically okay.

It occurs to me this morning how many assumptions we make that enable us to keep on going without, you know, screaming, or drinking at breakfast.

  • We assume, in spite of all evidence to the contrary, that California will not slide into the ocean, as the mystics and statistics say it will.
  • We assume that the planes, trains and rented automobiles that we enter will be relatively clean, and that we will not find somebody’s half-eaten peanut butter and jelly sandwich tucked into a seat pocket.
  • We assume that certain efforts to stabilize the world will make it possible for our buildings to remain standing.
  • We assume that hedge fund managers who make $4 billion a year in personal income are not a symptom of a horrendous bubbling tumor eating away at the cell structure of our economy.
  • We assume that because the economy is coming back a bit that it will continue to do so.  At least I do.
  • Some of us assume that the market has sufficient brains and mechanisms to correct itself. Of course, I don’t.
  • And we assume that debt is still a really good way to buy things we can’t afford.

We need our assumptions. Without them, we might have consider the possibility that one day, while we’re up in the air, we won’t have a place to land, and might have to be diverted to hell, or Bakersfield, whichever is closer.

Follow Stanley Bing on Twitter at

Subscribe to Well Adjusted, our newsletter full of simple strategies to work smarter and live better, from the Fortune Well team. Sign up today.