Sadie: I still wish we would have gone to that nice woman psychiatrist in Wallingford. The one in the cute Craftsman bungalow, with the cat and the Persian rug.
Bill: I don't have time to go into Seattle anymore. Too much traffic. Besides, I didn't like her and all her questions about feelings. Beanbag chairs and overstuffed sofas? Tiffany lamps? The whole place smelled like marijuana.
Bill: You put millions of people in pressurized tubes going 600 miles an hour at 30,000 feet and you'd better be conservative. You defend the free world and you'd better...
(Sadie rolls her eyes.)
Bill: Forget it. You're just lucky I came here. I don't want to be with this quack at all, you know, but I feel a little more at home in Renton or Kent or Everett...
(Enter Doctor Dietrich, a counselor who practices with a wise and yet strikingly attractive manner a cross between Sigmund Freud, Yoda and Brad Pitt.)
Guten morgen! Now, vat seems to be the problem here?
Sadie: Oh, doctor, our marriage isn't what it used to be.
The Doctor: Neither ist the quality of small consumer appliances, but let's not get into that. Let me see here ... (consulting papers) you've been married, uhm, 87 years? Yikes.
Bill: I'll say.
Sadie: He doesn't like to communicate, doctor. He's an engineer, you know, very repressed. Taciturn Midwest by way of northern Europe, earnest, shy, a little humorless.
The Doctor: Makes you wonder why you married him, no? Ho! Dis ist a little joke.
Bill: Can we move this along at more than biplane speed?
Sadie: Back in those days, he was so sweet and loyal. The company might have folded that first decade if he hadn't pumped his own money in. Some of the University of Washington engineers who helped him get started rose right to the top, and employees encouraged their children to work there. Did you know his first lead engineer was Chinese? Bill was so progressive! Did you know Bill himself flew the first test flight? He was so brave! They had employee Christmas parties and bonuses starting in 1922. They hired females not just to stitch the wings but to help design them. Boeing set the region's standard for pay, benefits and fair hiring. Bill was the one who first developed places like Blue Ridge and Innis Arden and the Highlands...
Sadie (breaking into tears): But now he's seeing other women!
Bill: She's exaggerating.
Sadie: First he took up with Chicago, a Midwest floozie with hips the size of a Flying Clipper and the hot-and-cold flashes of a menopausal hippo. I couldn't believe it! Once that happened, then other girls like Alabama and Carolina and Savannah started flirting as well, knowing a midlife crisis when they saw it. He started mooning about Wichita, drooling over Texas...
Bill: I was just looking. (Leaning toward the doctor and shielding his mouth to whisper confidentially) Pretty names, though, compared to Wa-a-a-sh-ing-ton. (He smirks.)
Sadie (sobbing): It cost me $3.2 billion in tax breaks to get any recommitment at all!
Bill (in protest): She's got it all wrong, doc. I'm not going anywhere. It wasn't betrayal. It was business.
Sadie: Business! That's what they say in "The Godfather," you creep, just before shooting them in the head! Business! My heavens, it's extortion! It's emotional blackmail! It's...
Bill (looking grumpy): You want to talk extortion, how about the $50 million Everett and the state demanded in the late 1980s to expand the Paine Field building for the 777? Money for the homeless? Gimme a break. And how about Seattle regulators sticking my permit applications in a desk drawer and going on vacation costing me a million dollars in delays? Come on, I'm a business, not a welfare agency.
Bill: Exactly. She's emotional, and I'm rational.
The Doctor (nodding sagely): Boeing ist from Mars, Seattle ist from Venus, no?
Sadie: Rational? You invest billions of dollars in some of the finest airplane factories in the world, train the best workforce on the planet, tie our traffic into knots by putting factories at either end of the metropolitan corridor, build up decades of political goodwill and then say, oh, by the way, I'm thinking of moving out? After I've been building your roads, giving you cheap land, burying your waste and schooling your kids?
Bill (sighing): I'm staying in Everett, aren't I? You should be more appreciative.
The Doctor (handing Sadie a Kleenex): Yes, yes, this is maybe a one-time problem, I think? You cry, you kiss, you make up...
Sadie: I feel so used! (She sniffs, and peeks a look at her husband.) Are you going to tell him, or am I?
The Doctor (looking worried): Uh-oh. Tell me what?
Bill (trying, unsuccessfully, to slump in his straight-backed Ikea chair): It's not the first time, doc.
Sadie: It started in 1921, just five years into our marriage, when he considered leaving me for California. Better weather, he said. Well, duh!
Bill: Did you know that when we built the biggest building in the world at Everett to house the 747 program, it rained 67 days in a row? We had a landslide that cost us $5 million! We had to build a railroad spur with the second-steepest grade in the world...
Sadie: By 1928 Bill was already Seattle's largest employer, but it was California again in the 1930s, offering land rent-free for 10 years. I kept him only because a farmer named Guiseppe Desimone, out of civic loyalty, sold him vegetable fields for $1 to build a B-17 plant at Boeing Field.
The Doctor: Ja, those Boeing boys are plenty sharp, no?
Sadie: In 1940 he was at it again, complaining shipyard wages here were so high he couldn't hold onto employees. Thank God the war distracted him. In 1948 he wanted to leave over a bitter machinists strike, and the Air Force was pushing us to relocate to Wichita so the plants would be farther from Soviet bombers.
Sadie (sniffing): In 1968 it was California again, with Oakland at the top of the list for the 747 plant. Poor Everett was in fifth place! It was only Mr. Allen who kept us on Puget Sound. But now he and presidents T.A. Wilson and Mal Stamper and all their breed are gone, and it's all efficiency and bean counting and headquarters to Chicago. Boeing's changed!
The Doctor (nodding): This happens to husbands at a certain age.
Bill: I had to change, doc. We're not a Seattle company anymore; we've gone global, with employees in 38 states and 70 countries. We sell 70 percent of our airplanes to foreign buyers. Half our business is defense and space. And Sadie's forgotten most of our long history. You know, from 1920 to 1940, we built almost six military planes for every commercial one. In the '40s and '50s we were so identified with bombers that people claimed SAC stood for Seattle Air Command. This commercial-airline focus really only dates from the 1960s. Besides, it was just happenstance we were in Seattle at all. Bill Boeing is a geographic piece of luck, just like Bill Gates.
The Doctor (guessing): Airplanes?
Sadie: Wood! Airplanes were made of wood, and that's what Bill knew. He was a timber baron! Their slogan was "Built where the spruce grows." At a time when there were few airfields, Boeing led the way with superb floats for seaplanes. One of his first employees was George Pocock, who went on to fame building racing shells.
Bill: That era lasted less than a decade. The industry turned to aluminum.
Sadie: Which was made where? Here, in Washington, because the smelters needed the cheap electricity from the new Columbia River dams! And don't tell me our scenery hasn't made a difference. You took so many publicity pictures with Mount Rainier in the background that some joked it was Mount Boeing. When you recruited Stamper from Detroit, he was so stunned by its beauty when driving here that he almost ran off the road. The Northwest was the best recruiting tool you ever had. Not only did it draw top engineers from all over the world, but it was far enough away from competing businesses that they stayed instead of job-swapping the way they did in Southern California. You had a captive workforce of tree-hugging geniuses.
Bill: It was a great place to grow up, I'll admit. But now it's time to leave home.
Sadie: Recruitment built on recruitment, science on science. The University of Washington became the nation's top public research school in part because of its early relationship with Boeing. It made a hick town high-tech, way back in the 1920s, and it's stayed that way. Don't tell me Boeing or Gates is mere luck. We've got one of the most highly educated and creative populations in the nation. Boeing made us what we are, but we made Boeing, too. And then he goes and flirts with the Deep South!
Sadie: Competence means nothing? Loyalty means nothing? For all your complaining, you've boosted commercial-division profits in the worst downturn since the Boeing bust of 1970...
Bill: By laying off half our workers, changing the way we assemble airplanes and goosing productivity. The only reason we've survived is because we've been willing to change. Look, we're making half as many airplanes as six years ago, and we've gone from a loss to a profit. What is there about the math that you don't understand, Sadie? We've had to get lean, had to get mean, and we've had to share with other countries pieces of the machine. I'm not flirting. I'm schmoozing.
Sadie: Ever since the merger with McDonnell Douglas he looks at things a whole different way, doctor. That Mr. Stonecipher came from General Electric, where he learned from that scary boss Jack Welch. He was called "Neutron Jack," you know, because he fired all the people but left the buildings standing.
The Doctor: Ho! Like the neutron bomb! Dat ist very funny.
Bill: There's not a big-time CEO in America who doesn't know the Jack Welch story, doc. Comes to GE in 1981, cuts 118,000 jobs, sheds unprofitable lines, buys RCA and NBC, boosts company revenue to $494 billion, and gets a $10 million advance to write a book about it. Which becomes a best-seller. Now what am I supposed to learn from that?
Sadie: And GE moved its headquarters away from its plants just like Boeing did. I swear, Boeing was like the innocent little Beaver and then those GE and McDonnell Douglas people come in like Eddie Haskell. "Hello, Mrs. Cleaver, how are you today?" Sweet and nice, just before they do something horrid.
Bill: Nonsense! We moved our headquarters to be fair so all our other divisions would stop feeling like second fiddle to Seattle.
Bill (getting angry now): Oh yeah? Well, welcome to century 21, Sadie. Not quite like the Spacerium we built at the 1962 Seattle World's Fair, is it? That Brave New World died when the moon rocks turned out to be just rocks and Congress killed the Supersonic Transport. Anyone who grew up in the 1950s and '60s remembers all our science dreams and knows that most of them turned out to be so much fiction. "2001: A Space Odyssey"? Heck, we can barely get to the half-finished space station we have. Sonic Cruiser? Going faster has gone from aviation's mantra to the customer's big yawn. Boeing didn't stop dreaming, the world did. It's all about costs today, and you know why? Because the last time you logged onto Expedia.com, you didn't give a rip about leg room or meal service or cocktail lounges in the sky, which Boeing airliners once had. You looked for the cheapest ticket.
The Doctor (looking uncomfortable): The hub-and-spoke flights are so short, I do just eat at the airport Pizza Hut...
Sadie: But ours was a company that gambled on investment. We once took the world's breath away with our boldness. We bet the company on the B-17 bomber, bet it on the swept-back wing an executive brought back in documents captured from the Germans, bet it on the Dash-8 that became the 707, and bet it on the 747 jumbo jet. Boeing endured repeated severe layoffs in 1918, 1929, 1935, 1945, 1970 and 2001, and it always came back because we had such great ideas. We designed the basic B-52 bomber, still in service, in a marathon session in a hotel room over a single weekend to meet a crazy Air Force deadline. But the last 10 years...
Sadie: I just mean the lack of innovation and investment is part of your trouble with Airbus...
Bill: There's not a company in America that has done more to change America than mine, doc. We pioneered the use of air-cooled engines, the enclosed cockpit, the introduction of flight attendants, the entire concept of a national airline, the retractable landing gear, the metal fuselage, the stress-skin wing, the strategic missile, the planes that dropped the atomic bomb, the first stage of the Saturn 5 moon rocket, the lunar rover, the cruise missile, Air Force One, computer-aided design, the pressurized cabin ... What recognition of any of this do you find in Seattle?
The Doctor (trying to think of something): Now zat you mention it...
Bill: You know why I'm looking at other women? Because I'm taken for granted at home. Do you know that Boeing historian Paul Spitzer wanted to get a marker put up on Lake Union at the foot of Roanoke Street to mark where Boeing started and gave up because of the city bureaucracy? This is a town with a statue of mass-murdering Vladimir freakin' Lenin, and yet it hasn't done a thing to acknowledge the most successful aerospace company in world history. We helped beat fascism. We helped beat communism. We went to the moon. And all we're ever treated like is dull old Dad with a wallet the teen can hit before his date on Friday night.
Sadie: That is completely unfair, doctor. Mayor Charles Royer, like all the mayors before him, tried to get Boeing to put headquarters downtown. He tried to persuade Boeing to build a museum of flight downtown. Boeing is the one that always kept to himself, would never toot his own horn Boeing who ran to the Legislature to get property annexed to Tukwila instead of Seattle. You never talk to me!
The Doctor (trying to interrupt): Actually, it seems to me the two of you are kind of agreeing, no? I think there's some real hope here...
Bill: You want the history of our relationship? All right, here's the history.
Why doesn't Seattle have slums? Because Boeing set the standard of middle-class wages for high-tech craftsmanship that other companies had to follow, creating a city of the middle class. Why didn't Seattle, until recently, have much ostentatious wealth? Long before ex-CEO Phil Condit had his Boeing jet with leather armchairs, Bill Allen was flying commercial and getting picked up at the airport by Mal Stamper's son driving his rattle-trap Toyota. When the bosses built nice homes they tucked them away in the trees, and they were down at the plant before anyone else. Why does Seattle, stuck up here a long ways from anything, have professional sports teams? Because Boeing invented the jetliner that made it possible to travel for games in reasonable time. Forget the fact we gave a name to the basketball team based on our dream of the Supersonic Transport, we made an NBA team here possible! Why does Seattle have a thriving arts community and a terrific social-service network? In part because Boeing and its workers pump nearly $40 million a year into local charity, not to mention hundreds of thousands of volunteer hours, many of them at company expense. Why is Washington in better shape than Mississippi? In part because Boeing drops about $1.3 billion a year into tax coffers. Why are local government and charitable organizations fairly well-run and ethically clean? In part because Boeing loaned out its own executives to serve on their boards. You want to know if Boeing cares? Go see what the automobile industry did for Detroit. What Anaconda Copper did for Montana. Then come and look at what we did here.
Sadie: Finally you're beginning to open up, darling.
Bill: You ever go to the movies? "Air Force One": Boeing plane. "Airport": Boeing plane. "Dr. Strangelove"? Boeing plane. "Twelve O'Clock High" and "Memphis Belle"? Boeing planes. I'm a celebrity all over the world. But back home in the bedroom it's, "Oh, it's you."
Sadie: I thought it was you who lost interest. I know I'm not the pretty girl I once was, what with putting on the weight of traffic, taxes, regulations and sprawl.
Bill: I also don't get this town's dang newspapers. They used to understand that what was good for Boeing was good for Seattle. They heralded every rollout and bannered every sale. Heck, it was The Seattle Times rewrite man Richard Williams who gave the "Flying Fortress" nickname to the B-17. Then overnight it seemed like we went from never doing anything wrong to never doing anything right. We made flying the safest form of transportation in human history, so smooth that people complain about the monotony of cruising in air thinner than on Everest! Yet the papers started making us sound like a bunch of corner-cutting, memo-hiding, ethics-bending tin-crimpers. When we went to Chicago, the publisher there met me at the airport.
Sadie: I know you've helped me, sweetie. But don't pretend you haven't always looked out for No. 1. Boeing is famous for getting its way in Olympia, and since the merger, Boeing's state political contributions have more than doubled, to $628,450 in 2002. That was bigger than any other player in the state.
Bill: Not that much bigger. Besides, we have to look after our interests.
Sadie: Which are what? You know, I asked former governors and they said that for all your griping, it was never clear what political philosophy or statewide vision Boeing stood for. You'd blow hot and cold on tax reform, support this and oppose that...
Bill: That's because I'm not an ideologue. I'm practical, taking problems as they come. I've given generously to both parties. There'd be no quicker way to kill a vision than to label it a Boeing vision. When you're the biggest bull, you have to be that much more careful in the china shop.
Sadie: You're not shy at the federal level, either. The Boeing PAC gave more than $900,000 to federal candidates in the last election cycle, and more than half a million so far this year. You spend $8 to $10 million on D.C. lobbyists each year.
Bill: This is what I'm saying, doc. We're a big company with national and international interests.
Sadie: Well, remember where you came from. I've influenced you, too, you know. Tacoma got the railroad first. Port Townsend was closer to the sea. But Seattle was where the entrepreneurs and hustlers went, Seattle that cashed in on the Yukon gold rush, and Seattle that has the climate for a Boeing or Microsoft or Starbucks to take off. It looked across the ocean for its future from the very beginning. It took risks. And people here worked hard, prided themselves on craftsmanship and perfectionism. I think all that showed up in the airplanes. Maybe the quality of their design and construction came from the Northwest work ethic and pioneer spirit.
Bill: It's because it rains so damn much there's nothing else to do.
The Doctor: Ach, you pretend to be gruff, but I am hearing sensitivity. You care about this marriage, I think.
Bill: I'm not sensitive. I'm an engineer.
Sadie: But you are sensitive, Bill. When FDR and his trust-busters held hearings and alleged the airline industry had become too concentrated, you left the company in disgust too proud to have those bureaucrats second-guess you. Later, Mr. Allen was such an icon of integrity that when he testified once about military contracts, he so impressed his audience that the congressmen gave him a standing ovation. Boeing wasn't just a company to its employees. It was a cause, a life, a religion. It was a company out to change the world. Now, what Redmond-based software giant does that remind you of?
Bill (proudly): I still have the biggest footprint. More than 20 million square feet of space in the Puget Sound area alone. We've got 19 major facilities here, from Everett to Frederickson and the Duwamish to Issaquah.
Sadie (a little thrilled): My, that sounds so big.
Bill (getting enthused as he takes out his calculator): Try to imagine it in shag carpet, baby. Say you're vacuuming, and you vacuum a thousand square feet a small house per hour, every hour, 40 hours a week. It would take you nearly 10 years to vacuum it all, Sadie. By then, time to start over!
Sadie (in disbelief): That's the most annoying analogy I've ever...
The Doctor (interrupting): And you do care about the community, right?
Bill: Look at the facts. The Boeing Community Fund has disbursed $440 million to charity since starting in 1952. Recently, Boeing employees gave more to charity after their workforce was cut in half than before. Retirees have an organization called the Bluebills, after Boeing's first plane, that has given $2.5 million in school supplies to 106 schools. We helped fund things like Medic 1 and the Mountain-to-Sound Greenway, gave away hundreds of thousands of books, donated 204,000 pounds of food this past year, helped airlines participate in mercy flights around the world...
Sadie: Now this is what a girl likes to hear...
Bill: Listen, this is a marriage we care about, and it has touched a lot of lives. Did you know poet Richard Hugo worked as a technical writer at Boeing? That William Bain, a founder of the NBBJ architecture firm, was the one who designed a fake suburban neighborhood on top of Boeing's World War II Plant 2 to camouflage it? That the man who built the first mosque with a Middle Eastern design west of the Mississippi Jamil Abdul Razzak Hajoo of Northgate came here as a mechanic for Boeing? We've brought talent from around the world to Seattle. Isn't that enough?
The Doctor: You know, the more the two of you talk, the less of a problem I see here, no? Vhat ist it you vant, Sadie?
Sadie (breaking into tears): Monogamy!
The Doctor (nodding glumly as if he's heard it before): And you, Bill?
Bill (sighing): Freedom. From guilt, from outdated employee expectations, from the past. We didn't conquer McDonnell Douglas, we merged with it, and when that happened the old Boeing disappeared had to. We can't compete with a rival as heavily subsidized as Airbus unless we have advantages of our own. Our advantage is the Pentagon and the American defense budget, which balances the business cycle. Sadie Seattle has to understand that. We'll be here a long time, but the fat-and-happy days of a job for life at an above-average wage without much pressure that's gone. The riveter in Everett is competing with one in Japan, in China, in Malaysia. Our lead customer isn't Juan Trippe at Pan American anymore but people in Dubai and Frankfurt and Rio de Janeiro. Our business isn't commercial jets, but every conceivable product related to aerospace, in a constantly changing mix. Our future isn't conquering the air, but doing so with more efficiency, comfort and reliability. The pioneering rush from Kittyhawk to the moon will never be repeated, any more than Microsoft will ever have the high again of helping turn the computer from exotic oddity to household appliance. We have to move on.
Sadie (drying her tears): As former Gov. John Spellman commented, I just think that $3.2 billion tax break would have been better spent better for Boeing, even, in the long run on education, on encouraging innovation, diversity and the best and the brightest. I don't care about quarterly reports. I want to be the city that gets us to Mars.
Bill: I want that, too! But my stock is stagnant, there's a war on terrorism, and we've had a world-wide recession. The future is bright 14,000 Boeing jetliners out there sooner or later need replacing, let alone adding to the fleet. Look, I admit I've strayed. But I'm designing and assembling the 7E7 here, aren't I?
Sadie: You do care, I know. Even Mr. Condit is coming back from Chicago to retire here.
The Doctor: Every marriage gets stale and needs some spice. Let me suggest some marital aids for you two. Here, I haft massage oil, dis educational video.
Bill and Sadie (ignoring him, finally embrace): If it's not Boeing I'm not going! (she promises in an endearing whisper). Unless, of course, the cheapest flight is on Airbus...
Bill: And I'm here to stay, sweetie. Unless of course I get a better deal elsewhere.
The Doctor (beaming): Very goot! That will be $100, please.
Dr. William Dietrich is a Pacific Northwest magazine staff writer.
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