Monday, December 12, 2005

Going Dutch

Hi folks! I'm checking in with you tonight from the lovely city of

Amsterdam. Well, maybe 'lovely' is a debatable description for Amsterdam -- there's lots of lovely here, lots of charm, lots of the absurd here though! I'm in Europe for 10 days ... mostly business, but of course with a little sightseeing thrown in.

Where do I start? Oh, without a doubt ... I know exactly where to start: Bicycles, bicycles, bicycles! As you can imagine, I fell in love with this city five minutes after sitting down for an espresso at a cafe on a cold Sunday morning and watching dozens and dozens of cyclists ride by. Old style bikes, no gears, no high tech clothes, no helmets, just an entire culture going about their daily lives via the art of pedaling. Biking to work. Biking to the store. Bike baskets full of bread, of flowers, of gifts. Couples biking side by side. Young kids on bikes -- people in their 70s on bikes. People in suits on bikes -- in dresses -- in uniforms. Bike racks everywhere. Bikes as far as the eye can see -- against buildings, against benches, all along the canals (which are everywhere in Amsterdam). Wonderful bike lanes have overtaken the city. It's so easy to fall victim to the intoxicating charm of an old European city -- throw in the fact that Amsterdam is THE city of bikes -- and well, you can see why the temptation to hop on a bike and pedal along endless canals for days on end is almost more than I can resist.

I spent the weekend roaming the city ... I took it all in: the quaint and the chaotic; the conservative residential areas and the liberal -- well, liberal everything!; high tech and centuries old; up-scale and "wouldn't step foot in after dark!" Off to a great start in the Netherlands ... but, back to work now! I'll check in later once I've explored the city more. Ciao for now!


Thursday, December 8, 2005

Alas, the mega, year-end, getting caught up with you blog!

In the past 10 months, I've had the fortune of being immersed in a great job - which has been outstanding for new multinational friendships, an intense intellectual challenge, and some great perks (such as international travel), but so time-consuming that my blog has fallen by the wayside. A boon to adventures and blog fodder, but a bust to my after-hours "typing at a computer" motivation, I've been on the road (and in the sky) more than I've been at my home in Atlanta this year!

Here's a quick attempt at catching up:

This year, I've spent a total of five weeks in the wonderful country of Chile (over four visits and a mix of work and play), celebrated a friend's 70th birthday near the Mojave Desert, learned about world class tequila while working and 'bonding' in Mexico, went SCUBA diving with a long, long-time friend in the unbelievably clear springs in northern Florida, sailed by Bill Gates' house on Lake Washington in Seattle, built a website for a middle school math tutoring program, cycled with Becky through the coast range and Sierras in California, stood inches from Lance Armstrong in one of his final races in a Tour de France-like sea of cycling fans on the steeps of Brasstown Bald in the Tour de Georgia, drove an exotic sports car with another great friend through the mountains in up-state New York while making a mini-documentary, visited with close, old friends and our godchildren in Hartford, watched the sun rise over the St. Lawrence on an early morning run in Montreal, saw hurricane damage firsthand in southern Florida while catching up with an old friend a day after Katrina hit land for the first time, helped motivate a college friend to finish her first Ironman, snuck in a day of southern hemisphere spring snowboarding at Valle Nevado (Chile), saw U2 live and at times 5 feet from Bono, gushed with pride after seeing my sister return to college and instantly improve her career with a new job, enjoyed a top-notch Italian meal at a sidewalk cafe in Little Italy with a climbing partner from my 2001 expedition to Aconcagua, visited Ireland in my mind as I enjoyed Scotch and camaraderie with old and new friends at the best Irish pub I've been to ... in of all places, Seattle, experienced mind-numbing sensory overload while backpacking in Patagonia, cheered Becky on to her first Half Ironman finish, and danced until 2am after finishing the New York Marathon. Throw in some outstanding weekend excursions, typically cycling themed, helping my parents select road bikes, seeing live shows from Green Day, U2, Ozomatli, and others, and visits with our families, and it has been quite the year! A final work trip to Europe and Christmas back home should bring quite a year to a close.

At the end of 2004, I declared it a year of friendship - of making many, many new friends and of rekindling old friendships.

Nearing the end of 2005, I think that I'll extend the title to this year as well. Traveling the world, experiencing the people, cultures, and landscape is a strong passion of mine; however, it always comes back to the people you are with -- the people you meet and the people with whom you share adventures, from exotic travel to the everyday adventure of life. Last year's new friendships have turned into old friendships and I now greet many of these friends as if we've known each other for a decade. In addition, this year I've made some many great friends outside of the US, drawing me ever further away from nationalism, to that of being a citizen of the world. To that end, I really feel a strong connection to my new friends in Chile, Mexico, Peru, Brazil, Canada, and the Netherlands and I'm happy to see that the world is flattening a bit to make global friendships as easy to foster as those next door.

In closing, and transitioning away from this year-end reflection oriented posting, I'll offer that I documented our recent Patagonia backpacking adventure with some interesting daily podcasts, which I'll be uploading very soon (along with some amazing photos from Patagonia!). Before the year ends, I'll also plan to blog from Amsterdam and perhaps throw in a cooking update.

Anyway, thanks much for reading. Moving into next year, I'll try to post my short write-ups from my travels, as I anticipate another year of work trips to various international locales and hopefully some fun personal travel as well.

As always, thanks for stopping by!


Friday, June 17, 2005

What a ride!

Top down, backroads cruising in an exotic sports car, only inches from the ground. My legs reach out to the pedals with only the slightest bend. The sun warms my face as the wind blasts through my hair.

Adrenaline races through my body as the g-forces push me to the side of a sleek bucket seat that is just as stubborn in releasing its grip as the low profile tires. The tiny steering wheel surrounding the Lotus emblem bounces and twitches in my hands as I accelerate through a corner. 80, 90 mph ... smooth acceleration, don't lift, stay on it. With no power steering and phenomenal suspension, I feel every bump, every seam in the pavement.

The revs hit 6200, the cams change, bringing a growl to the motor and throwing me back in the seat. 95, 100, 105. I feel the road through the steering wheel -- the feedback is instant. I experience a new sense -- as my hands have a front-row seat in the fight between the tire rubber and asphalt. The steering wheel is alive -- energy races through the wheel into my body. The corner opens as redline approaches. I instinctively drop my hand to the shift knob. Clutch in, a quick shift right back to the power band, clutch out ... no hesitation ... throttle to the floor. The growl returns, as I'm no longer being thrown to the side of the seat, but to the back of it. I take a deep breath. A smile washes across my face. I notice a beautiful lake to the left -- purple and yellow wildflowers to the right. What a great day. A sign comes into view. It's a black arrow on a yellow background. The arrow points to the right. Under the arrow reads 25MPH. My heart races. Heel/toe brake, blip the throttle, downshift, blip, downshift again. Enter the turn at 50. Lean into the throttle. 60 ... 70. My concentration is intense as I focus on a point near the exit of the turn. Check the revs, check the road, 75MPH -- this is fast. The tires stick, without a hint of losing grip. The wheel continues to bounce and pull in my hands, offering incredible feedback Accelerate, accelerate, fly out of the corner. I'm now on a long straightaway flanked by farmland on both sides. Mountains appear in every direction. It's a beautiful setting -- and no other cars, houses, or people are around to spoil it. I downshift and ease off the throttle ... slowing to a crawl. I smile as the wind changes from a blast to a warm breeze. Happy chemicals are racing through my system -- the natural high is profound. After a few minutes of crawling down the straight, another yellow sign with a black arrow appears. Oh, what joy! As the shampoo bottle says, "repeat".

Tuesday, April 5, 2005

Who are these people?

I write to you tonight from Hartford, Connecticut (ok, how many of you can spell
Connecticut without the use of a spell checker? Not me!)

Anyway, the topic of today's blog is "Local people who hang out at a hotel bar".

So (in my best Jerry Seinfeld voice ... which is actually ... well, not so good), "what's the deal with people who hang out in hotel bars when they're not staying at the hotel?).

Ok, so I'm stuck in Hartford, Conn ... ect ... i ... cut .. for what started as a four day trip and has now morphed into a 9-day trip. I've been working like a dog -- well, working quite unlike a dog to be honest. Let's just say that I've been working a lot, as in nearly every hour that I've been awake, including the weekend. Anyway, when I can't stand my room or our offices no longer, I venture down to the hotel bar and grill which fortunately has wireless Internet access and a livelier atmosphere for people watching than Room 510 at the Hartford Crowne Plaza.

So, let's just jump to the present and broadcast live from the Crowne Plaza Hartford pub ... on Monday night, April 4 around 10:30 PM.

The guy at the table next to me is talking "business executive talk", while hitting on some girl who is accompanying him. I can't tell if she's a working girl or not, but something seems fishy here. He's way too much into the business talk -- and she's obviously not into it at all, but playing along. "You see, we're presenting to the Board of Directors tomorrow an option for leveraging the ... blah blah blah." Her response: "Really, wow, that's very interesting." I'm actually shocked at how much he's going on and on about work and how much she's feigning interest. Good grief, it's obvious that she doesn't care about this and quite obvious that they don't really know each other. Brass tacks, anyone?

Ok ... here we go, the night is picking up pace ... there's the group of what has grown to be 20 people to my left. They're all locals -- I can tell from the conversations (which, yes, I've been eavesdropping on). I just don't know what to say about his group. I mean, they're hanging out a hotel bar in downtown Hartford -- not even a stylish, hip bar. Come on, Hartford isn't New York or DC. It's not really an interesting downtown city to hang out in ... well, based on my one week of residency here!

Why are these locals hanging out at this hotel bar? I just don't get this. They're the loudest group in the bar though. This must be THE PLACE for this group of 20 or so. Well, to their credit, they seem to be having a great time.

In walks an airline pilot -- looking like he just stepped out of the 1960s, replete with a pilot's cap and dated overcoat. He grabs a drink and departs - hopefully to his room and not the cockpit of a 757.

There are at least 100 people in here now -- many of them standing. I'm fairly confident that I'm the only one blogging though!

Ok ... more to report on ... now, all I can hear over this crowd is the "I mean, seriously" girl.

"I mean, seriously, I'm working so hard now."

"I mean, seriously, he really said that."

"I mean, seriously, that's not what happened."

"I mean , seriously, I want a baby so bad."

Stop the presses!!! Errrkkkkk!!!!!!

I promise you that I quoted her words verbatim. Absolutely verbatim. That's the fourth sentence that I heard from her -- from nearly 50 feet away -- over the sounds of 100 people and basketball games on four TVs.

"I mean, seriously, I want a baby so bad." That's precisely what she voiced loudly -- while holding a bottle of Bud Light and leaning in oh so closely to this guy she seemed to have met only 10 minutes ago.

The bizarreness at this place astounds me.

Moving on ... lots of guys here -- who are way into "the game". To me, basketballs are being tossed around -- I'll look up during the last 30 seconds and enjoy my involvement in the final decision.

Only a few of us are still punching away at our keyboards.

What are the others typing? Work emails? Messages to loved ones? Blogs? Who knows!

Me? Well, I'm sitting here feigning interest in the UNC-IL game, which I honestly don't know what significance it has to March Madness. Since it's April now, I assume that we're in serenity and cooperation month, but as far as this yogi knows, madness still prevails.

Ok ... another interruption, a woman just appeared in front of the locals group -- they clapped and her response was that she was hoping the guys from last night didn't remember her. Yes, she said "guys".

UNC won -- this is exciting it seems ... many guys clapped. I, uh ... well, I kept typing this blog ... not really knowing if it would be more cool to clap and yell for UNC or finish my blog! I'll err to my readers -- even though I'm quite confident you are out-numbered by UNC fans.

And so it ends ... UNC wins, locals continue to party, loud baby-wantin' girl continues to work the crowd, business exec leaves with feigning-interest girl, and blog guy hits the submit button and goes to bed.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Folded notes ... a lost art, a teenage hallmark, or a feather that tips the scales of fragility? aka "The Yellow Shoe Box"

Remember those cute folded notes we used to get in school? The ones with the little tab that said "Pull here" ... the ones that were covered with TLF, TLA, and lipstick .. the ones sprayed with half a bottle of perfume or cologne? The ones that the girls threw together in seconds with the perfection and attention to detail of a fine origami hummingbird ... the ones that guys gave up on folding once the note started to look like paper mache? The ones that included checkboxes to convey whether you liked someone a little, a lot, or not at all? The ones that carried messages of love, of jealousy, of rumors, of break-ups, of things that meant the world at any given moment in our childhood? Remember those notes?

If so, keep those memories floating just above your gaze while you take a stroll through this story ...

Last weekend, I took a trip down memory lane ... back to 1986, which for me was 8th grade. After my trip to Mexico City, I flew back to Atlanta via her not-so-close neighbor, Los Angeles. I put this layover together to drop by a good friend's 70th birthday party, and to make my cameo in Sean's mega road trip. I decided to look up a friend while I was in LA ... well, to be honest, an old girlfriend. Ok, ok ... I'm not in trouble. Becky knew about the visit -- she actually knew Kristin (oops, I used her name ... well, no harm done, I hope!). I had only seen the love of 14-year-old Jeff's life once in the past 15 years, but I knew that she lived in Los Angeles ... well, at least as a few years ago. A few days before the trip, I started my attempts to locate Kristin's number or email by searching Google. When that failed, I tried --- and finally, I tried ... you guessed it (well, maybe you didn't) her phone number from 1986. Sure enough -- I reached her mother, whom I hadn't spoken to since my voice sounded a good bit different and my pants looked quite a bit like leftover parachute material. I was surprised that her mom remembered me, shocked that she still had the same phone number that was scrolled in a bubbly font on notes I received in the mid-80s, and happy that she didn't hesitate to give me Kristin's phone number.

With Kristin's number in hand, I took a deep breath and made the first phone call of my adult life to a girl that I dated (I think we called it "went with", didn't we?) well before cell phones, voice mail, email, IM, Blackberries, Bluetooth, and myriad other communications gadgets that we have now were invented. I was still a little nervous when her voice mail picked up -- thinking that she'd find it too bizarre to hear from an old boyfriend asking to hang out with her for a day. Nervous? Yeah, kind of goofy, but thinking back to 8th grade brings pretty much nothing but goofiness, so I suppose it's not too surprising.

After a couple days of playing phone tag, we finally connected and set up plans to meet up with Sean in LA.

Following my short Mexico City trip, I landed in Los Angeles, where I was happy to see Sean and Kristin waiting at the airport for me. Twenty minutes later, I was hanging out with both my junior high best friend and junior high girlfriend -- trying to catch up on two decades of our lives. We chatted about the past, present, and future well into the night as she showed Sean and me a glimpse of her life in Venice Beach. We laughed, we celebrated, and we shared the high points and low points of our later teenage years, our 20s, and the present. Connecting with old friends is always such a treat, and more often than not, it feels that no time has passed. This was certainly the feeling as the three of us hopped around the pubs in Venice.

Kristin was a great host, showing us a great time in Venice Beach and introducing us to an outanding group of her closest friends. We crashed at 4 AM on Saturday, and somehow I found myself energized enough with a few hours of sleep to blog about my Mexico trip, eat breakfast graciously prepared by a surfer guy who was wearing only a sarong as a skirt, a t-shirt, a knit hat, and a scarf (of course, this only hints at a future blog of its own), and grab a beach run up to Santa Monica pier with Sean.

Mid-afternoon, I kicked up the reminiscing fun by surprising Kristin with the notes that she wrote me nearly 20 years ago. I can't say that I'm a pack rat, but I do value personal memorabilia, and Becky and I have a semi well-organized collection of artifacts and souvies set aside in trunks -- from images we colored as kids to bar coasters from last year's trip to Asia.

Before this trip, I dug through our collection of memorabilia, and pulled out a yellow shoe box full of notes that I had saved throughout junior high and high school. I can't remember why I started saving notes -- but for some reason, back in 7th grade, I started dropping any note I received into this yellow shoe box. Through my moves to college in Athens, to Atlanta, to Colorado, and back to Atlanta, that yellow shoe box managed to catch a ride. A few times, when old friends have visited, I've opened it and read through some of the notes. It had been quite some time though since I had read any, much less all of the notes in this box. The night before my Mexico/LA trip, I opened the box and pulled out all of my Kristin notes. I stuffed them in a folder and then laughed thinking of what a customs agent in the US or Mexico would think about my collection of teenage love notes if they searched my bags!

Saturday afternoon, Kris and I read through the notes -- laughing at how serious we took our love at the time, how silly we communicated, how flirty we were, how often we criticized our parents, teachers, and classes, and more. Remembering the days when your girlfriend wouldn't sit by you at lunch because your best friends were throwing food brought huge laughs -- especially since my best friend from back then was in the room with us and had just visited the other best friend a few days earlier in Texas!

As we opened dozens of love notes with "pull here" tabs and SWAK seals, I started thinking that this little ole 8th grade relationship actually brought me quite a bit of happiness and a huge amount of confidence during a time when a newly minted teenager needs it the most. And that got me to thinking how fragile we were back then -- how a series of nice notes boosted my confidence and set me off in a direction that led to success in school and building the foundation to a wonderful relationship with my wife. That also got me to thinking how those little notes could have just as easily set someone down the opposite path -- to insecurity and sadness during those critical teenage years. How easily the scales can tip at that age.

I'll walk this story to the door before it gets too caught up in ponderances and reflections, and simply say that I'm pretty darn grateful that I lucked into a great little ole 8th grade relationship -- a cute teenage coupling that played a fairly important role in the path I charted for myself in the coming years. Of course, I left out a few things in this story, namely that for all these years I had remembered the break-up as something she instigated -- only to be proven wrong last weekend by Kristin's memory and by the notes themselves. Well, what can you say? Could I possibly spin this in such a way that it's her fault I remembered it wrong -- because she's the one who boosted my confidence so much back then? Nah. I'm just a guy with a yellow shoe box, a fuzzy memory, and the fortune to have sat by the right girl in 8th grade Civics class.
Thanks Kris! And Sean and Chris, if your food throwing ever again costs me a chance to sit by a pretty girl at lunch, I'm coming after you!

Saturday, March 5, 2005

Seis tequilas, tres cervesas, dos cafes con Baileys, y "Brass Tacks"

My time working in Mexico City this week was fairly uneventful ... well, until night fell (which is where this story will arrive after it takes a brief stroll). In short, the days were filled with meetings, appreciation of how good we have it in the States, more meetings, and more appreciation of how good we have it. I was watching presentations, asking questions, and taking notes non-stop from 9-2.

Finally, as my hunger reached its limit, we would brake for a long afternoon lunch (but no siesta!) and hit it again until 8. I have to admit, I enjoyed the business environment and found it much different than I expected. By the way, what's the deal with our "expectations" anyway? It's not like I expected mariachi bands strolling through the office while the bull-fighting oversight committee huddled together to tackle some urgent bull-fighting initiative. "Pedro, you must adjust your Cost-Benefit analysis to show a more attractive net present value for the matador's wardrobe. And don't forget to leverage synergies across the bull aggressiveness development program."

To interject -- when I digress, I digress ... to continue my digression ...

It's not like I expected twice-daily salsa dancing breaks kicked off by a short chubby guy wearing a sombrero, blowing a whistle while he passes out tequila shots. "Log off of email and hang up the phone mi amigos, it's time to salsa! Fiesta!"

Well, maybe I did expect all of that in some wacky way, but what I didn't expect was the level of professionalism and advancement that I found in the office. As what I hope to be an atypical American, I still have a hard time shedding the American assumption that not only is everyone else in the world behind in business and technology (which we know isn't the case), but also that *all* of Latin America is made up of shanty houses, dirt streets, overcrowded buses with chickens and hogs running up and down the aisles. Sure, unfortunately much of Latin America is very poor; however, there is also a vibrant business environment full of educated professionals working in much the same way as we do in the States, across the Pond, in Asia, etc. Well, I can see that my brief stroll with this story has turned into a sit-down session on one of those comfy coffee shop chairs, so I'll ask my story to stand up, stretch, and walk itself back to the office description.

So what's it like to work in corporate Mexico? Can't answer that, but what I observed in my short visit was a formal business atmosphere -- suit and tie for the gents. I'll avoid getting into trouble by not delving too much into describing the attire for the ladies, which was professional, but also very Latin American. I have to admit, after enjoying the business casual environment in the States for my entire career, I had great appreciation for the formal environment ... yeah, I know ... the grass is always greener. Large numbers of people hustling and bustling in business suits just made it seem like everyone was doing something important. This reminds me of the Seinfeld episode where George found that by walking the halls of his office looking busy, hurried, and stressed, everyone thought that he was being productive -- when in fact, he was doing nothing. Suits accomplish the same thing.

Aside from attire, another major difference was office space. The equivalent to our maze of spacious cubicles in the States was what amounted to a farm of tiny, tiny desks ... in the open with four co-workers within four feet of each other, separated by 3-foot high walls. Yes, life in the States is grand. Even manager types work in open offices -- without full walls and without a door.

When I first saw the office, I related it to a newsroom ... ala CNN or a newspaper: lots of activity, people coming and going, small meetings everywhere. There was a buzz in the air -- an energy and openness that I think is hard to find with the cells that we create for ourselves with tall-walled cubicles and closed-door offices.

Ok, enough of the office talk -- here's where things get interesting. On the way to dinner, I received the obligatory lecture on the patheticitude (a term I just coined) of tequila in the States and prepared myself for an evening of buzz-laden business talk.

When our local host offered two choices of tequila -- strong or mild, you can guess which I chose. You can also guess the volume I selected (single or double). After a huge double-shot of tequila (which all members of our group indulged in), tongues began to loosen. And let me tell you, this was fine tequila -- top shelf sipping tequila, not the typical bar-slamming variety.

It took the next round of tequila to really get the conversation going though. Thankfully, our kind hosts spoke in English for most of the night. They also were kind to compliment me on my broken Spanish, as I would often throw out a phrase and hope that the reply would come in English.

At some point, we ate an appetizer. I don't remember what it was -- I honestly don't remember anyone ordering it. All I know is that between rounds of tequila, plates of tortillas and 'fixins' simply arrived on our table. We switched to cervesas ... I ordered one -- my last planned drink of the evening. Yep, I was full, tired, and quite buzzed. Time to pack it -- it was close to midnight. "Fuhgetta bout it." Before I knew it, I had ordered more tequila -- as the cervesas were too filling for me. I must interrupt here to say that despite by best efforts, I was not keeping up with my hosts. Mas cervesas .. then another tequila -- then cafe con baileys (yes, I was fading after a while, so I switched to caffeine). The conversation was lively -- mostly on business, with bizarre tales from around the world interrupting occasionally.

I was in my element -- thrilled to be immersed in a different culture -- experiencing an adventure -- on someone else's tab. The night wore on. Whenever I (or another member of the party) appeared ready to pack it in, someone would order another round.

Tequila and cervesas flowed -- I ordered mas cafe con Baileys y mas tequila. At some point, the conversation migrated to Spanish only. This lasted for nearly an hour. An argument of sorts ensued -- all in Spanish. I listened, not understanding a word, but happy to nod my head to flow with the conversation, raise my eyebrows at what I thought was the right time, and laugh when my hosts laughed. Sure, I probably looked the fool, but I don't think it mattered to anyone -- certainly not to me at the time!

I have to jump into my own story with another interruption here (yes, I'm throwing my story back onto that comfy coffee shop couch) and mention that my Mexican amigos talked at one point in the night about a major cultural difference between Mexico and the U.S. In Mexico, when friends get together, whether it is for dinner or a child's birthday party, there is no schedule. In the U.S., it's more typical to host a party from a set starting time to a set (or understood) ending time. We most often feel the need to leave a friend's house before midnight because we have tasks scheduled for the next morning ... we don't want to impose, etc. In Mexico, the social nights are long. A child's birthday party brings the adults together at 5 PM -- and likely keeps them together until the sun rises. Forget the tasks for the next day -- enjoy our time together -- that seems to be the mantra. So that's what it was all about for this meal. We all had loads of work scheduled in the morning -- we all knew that we wouldn't get much sleep -- but the camaraderie was more important than our never-ending lists of responsibilities. It was a good lesson for me, as I think we all need a reminder once and awhile on the value of relationships in our lives.

Back to the night (get off the couch story ... move along) ... the Spanish-only argument raged on -- and apparently hit on a list topics that I haven't been around the company long enough to know about. So, it didn't matter that I couldn't follow the conversation. In a nutshell (or more applicable ... in a shot glass), this conversation, which took four hours and gallons of tongue-loosening booze to arrive at, was the type of honesty we needed from this trip. Good grief -- what is sometimes required to get down to brass tacks!

We finally packed it in around 3:00 AM. I slept well for a few hours, although I frequently awoke to the sounds of the city (which our hotel's walls did little to dampen). I was up at 6 with only a slight hangover -- which a quick session on a treadmill resolved. Another day of excellent meetings, and before I knew it, I was in a car being driven back to the airport ... with new friends, an appreciation for a taste of Mexican culture, thankfully without the multi-day hangover that I was expecting, and with excellent fodder for my blog.

Coming up next month -- I hope -- will be stories influenced by Chilean wine.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, March 2, 2005

Have job, will travel!

I kicked off the New Year by finally landing the job I had spent, oh quite some time, searching for -- yippee! Unfortuantely, I was not able to find an IT Project Management job in the Galapagos Islands or the South Pacific. Fortunately though, I found a great job in Atlanta. I think I'll keep my company name secret for now -- in case it becomes good fodder for blogging. It's a global company though, and my role is to lead project delivery improvement and IT procurement efforts across our offices in North and South America. Yes -- it's the exact blend of IT, project management, international cultures, and global travel that I was looking for. Whew --- finally ... but it comes at a price: huge responsibility, steep learning curve, and a string of dark-to-dark work days that doesn't seem to have an end in sight. On the bright side though, I'll be traveling to South America with this job. And it all starts with a trip to Mexico City -- TODAY!

This posting is just my way of setting the stage for future work-related travel stories -- which I hope will prove to be just as much of an adventure as personal travel has been!

Monday, February 14, 2005

My Valentine

Thirteen years ago on this day, I proposed to my wife. While I fully intend to say some wonderful Valentiney things about her later in this posting, I want to start by sharing a bit of our engagement story. You see, we were engaged thirteen years ago today, but it almost occurred thirteen years ago yesterday (or perhaps not at all!), as we got into an argument the night before the planned proposal -- an argument that nearly ended with me angrily popping

the question early by hurling the ring at her and saying "the reason I can't tell you why we're having dinner early tomorrow night is that I'm planning to ask you to marry me!".

I like surprises, but in college, it wasn't very easy to pull off a surprise like what I had planned on Becky. My surprise: after months of talking about getting engaged, I decided to propose to Becky right before a Valentine's formal. Romantic? Yes ... the setting was perfect. It was also too easy to figure out though --too easy for her to not be surprised. I planned for months. I had to create a belief in her that there was no way possible that I would propose on Valentine's Day.

Step 1 was to convince her that I wouldn't propose without asking for her father's blessing. I accomplished that by having my talk with him, and then using my post-talk energy (yeah, I was freaking out) to convince her that I had chickened out and would ask him on our next visit home. I was rattled after my talk with her Dad. We both said that right things, but man was I a mess after that talk!

Step 2 was to convince her that I had no way to even buy a ring. We had talked about rings, but we had yet to shop for them. I accomplished step 2 by leaving out a credit card application and telling her that my parents were planning to co-sign, once I finally got around to sending it to them (which I kept *forgetting* to do). I told her that once they co-signed and I got the credit card, we could start shopping. Meanwhile, I picked out her ring and borrowed the money to buy it without her even having the faintest idea of what I was up to.

So, with a ring in hand (well, in a box hidden in my dorm room) and a girlfriend who believed that I didn't have the courage to ask for father's blessing (at least in the first go-around), I set forth on Step 3, keeping my plans secret from her until the last possible minute. I didn't want her to have much time to think about what *could* happen the night of Valentine's Day 1992.

You see, the dance started late, and our friends were planning to dine late as well. On the eve of our engagement, in Becky's mind, we were heading to dinner around 7:30 PM. That's not what I had in mind though. My plan was to take her to a fancy-smancy restaurant, treat her to a fancy-smancy meal, hopefully get away with buying wine (yep, we weren't even legal drinking age!), and lead her on a post-dinner walk through the historic part of UGA's campus -- where I planned to propose to her in special garden.

Unfortunately, I hit a kink in my planning: the only dinner reservation available was for 4:45! Not great -- but better than no reservation! I took the early reservation, and set out to make the best of it.

Telling her about our early dinner plans though --- that's where things got complicated. Apparently, the following things are a big deal:

1. Telling your college girlfriend the night before a formal that she has to be ready at about three hours earlier than she had planned.

2. Telling your college girlfriend the night before a formal that the two of you won't be dining with your group of friends, but will instead by dining alone … in the late afternoon.

3. Telling your college girlfriend the aforementioned while doing laundry and very tired ... in the basement of a dorm at 11:00 PM.

So, an argument ensued ... an argument that included me saying things like "Becky, there are some things you don't understand right now. Just trust me. Eating early will be fun. Trust me ... maybe you don't understand the reasons I wanted to eat early.

Trust me." Well, despite me saying everything but "will you marry me?", she continued to not get it ... and continued to be unhappy with me ... for quite some time that night. "I just don't understand why we have to eat so early!" Just a silly college argument, but one that took her within a few minutes of having a funny, but not so romantic engagement story! Well, somehow we managed to end our argument without breaking up or getting engaged early -- with her still pretty mad at me though!

The next night -- better said, the next afternoon, her girlfriends helped her get ready for our early dinner. They all knew what was going on -- Becky still didn't. Can you imagine these girls knowing that Becky was about to hear the big question, while Becky was still complaining about my dinner plans! (By the way, this is one of my favorite parts of this memory!)

She managed to get ready in the late afternoon and off we went to our early dinner. Toward the end of our dinner, which turned out to be in a very romantic setting, I started to set in motion the plans to take that post-dinner walk. Unfortunately though, the weather wasn't cooperating. It was very chilly with light rain. I wasn't ready to throw in the towel though -- that garden was the spot -- it had to be. I suggested that we take a walk and mentioned that I'd rather walk from the restaurant because I was still a little tipsy from the wine. She quickly replied that she felt fine and could drive. Hmmm ... making it difficult for me. I pressed, suggesting that I really did want to take just a quick walk to enjoy the fresh air. She countered by saying that it was raining -- and that the rain would hurt her coat. I offered her my overcoat. Good grief -- she was making this a challenge! Finally, I convinced her to go on the walk -- and convinced her twice to keep going when she suggested that we turn around. When we got to the spot, in the middle of a beautiful garden, I dropped to my knee and ask her to marry me. And she laughed.

She laughed because she thought that I was kidding. She was so convinced that it just couldn't happen that night that she refused to believe that it was real. I finally got the point across though, and of course, you know by now what her answer was.

Thirteen wonderful years have passed, twelve of those in wedded bliss. Each year, our relationship has grown stronger. We've become better friends and better partners. We laugh more. We disagree less. We communicate more and become angry less. I've learned to cook and wash dishes, and she's learned to ... well, make a big deal of saying thanks whenever I do all the things that guys should do, but still expect praise for doing!

My high school girlfriend in 1987 became my college girlfriend in 1990 became my fiancée in 1992 became my wife in 1993. She is my soul mate. If I tried to write everything she means to me, I'd fill up the Internet. Loving, smart, beautiful, patient, compassionate ... I'll just keep thinking them and wrap up my posting now.

The luckiest man in the world,

February 14, 2005

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Part III: 2004 A year of Friendship: New friends

I started 2004 with a realization of just how close I'd become to my new friends when I said goodbye to Krysia, Jane, Sascha, Mike, Eric, and my other great Emory friends.

Fortunately, I was able to visit with them from time to time over the year - and hope to be able to in the future as well.

In Costa Rica, Becky and I stopped to help a couple who were having car trouble and wound up being treated to great conversation and an outstanding dinner by this interesting and adventurous duo from California.

I got into motorsports in 2004 when I decided to take my WRX to a track day at Road Atlanta. Little did I know that I'd make friends at that track event whom I'd be playing guitar and drinking Scotch with a year later.

In Washington, D.C., I met two of Gary's good friends, one whom I enjoyed laughing and drinking lunch-time margaritas with -- the other, whom introduced me to hookah bars with middle-eastern music and the best late-night espresso I've had.

In Thailand, I made several new friends while diving, including ex-pat British dive shop owners, dive instructors on mega-extended holidays, and a group of guys from the States who motivated me to dive the Galapagos Islands.

In a small village in the jungle near Burma, I drank rice moonshine with one of my best friends from the States and several new Thai friends, most of whom didn't speak English. That night we listened to an impromptu live concert of folk music and bonded with our new Thai friends through song, food, drink, and smiles. This may stand as my most salient "new friend" experience of the year. Incidentally, several nights later, after another evening of traditional drink and hours of laughing at jokes we had no hope of understanding, a park warden warned us not to venture away from our tents due to the risk of being attacked by a tiger.

In hindsight, I'm not so sure about how well jungle-brewed alcohol and camping in tiger country mix!

In the Galapagos Islands, I spent a week on a liveaboard dive boat, building new friendships with divers from California and the U.K. Experiencing such stunning marine life and amazing scenery in an exotic location with a certain element of risk pulls a group together quickly. I couldn't have asked for a better group to celebrate the Galapagos Islands with.

The sport of cycling led to a huge year of new friendships. Thanks to Becky's motivation to do group road rides and to make new friends in the process, I was introduced to a new and constantly growing group of wonderful people starting in the late spring.

From weekday group rides and cycling trips to the North Georgia mountains to a series of fall parties and off-season activities, I gradually met and bonded with what seemed like a dozen new people a week! As the days grew shorter and darkness fell by late afternoon, we transitioned from cycling to climbing, with various music, movie, and dinner events added along the way. This group of new friends has made a huge impact in my view of living in Atlanta, and I'm looking forward to continuing to spend time with them in many cycling and non-cycling activities over the next year.

Now, it took me just over 1,700 words to explain it, but now that I've completed my reflection on the year, I feel more strongly than ever about what a fantastic year of friendship 2004 was!

I thank my old friends and my new friends alike for playing a role in my life in 2004! I look forward to many more years with your friendship.



Thursday, January 13, 2005

2004: A year of ?

I've been reflecting quite a bit on 2004 lately.

I've been looking for a simple description of the role that this set of twelve months played in my life. In 10 or 20 years, I want to be able to look back on 2004 and say "ah … 2004 … that was a year of _____".

Is there a single word or idea that captures the essence of this year in my life? What did this year really mean to me? What was it all about?

One possibility is 'change'. It was definitely a year of change. I started the year by making a gut-wrenching decision to change career direction - to move away from pursuit of a PhD - to say goodbye to my good friends and colleagues at Emory and to a path that I'd spent a number of years pursuing. "Change"? Certainly a year of change … but that's not quite the right label for the whole year.

"Travel" is another possibility. I was fortunate enough to experience adventures in Costa Rica, Thailand, Alaska, California, Ecuador, and the Galapagos Islands. 2004 was certainly an epic travel year, but 'travel' just didn't capture the essence of the year - neither did 'adventure'. It was more than that.

"Learning"? That's certainly a good label for the year. I set off on many new learning journeys in 2004, including performance driving, SCUBA diving, backpacking in grizzly country, guitar, and wine tasting. "Learning" is a lifelong focus though, so I don't feel good about labeling one specific year as a year of learning. The same goes for "Family" or even

"Becky" - two wonderful parts of my life that transcend the years and don't seem to fit as the perfect label for a specific year.

So, what was 2004 all about in my life?

I got it -- now I have an answer I can live with - actually, one that seems perfect the more I reflect on it.

For me, 2004 was a year of Friendship - of rekindling old friendships and making many marvelous new friendships, more so than any other time in my life with perhaps the exception of my first year in college. Many of these new friendships started right here in Atlanta, while others developed in other parts of the world. Friendship - that simple word describes a recurring theme throughout the year of 2004 - a theme that seemed to have a special significance in this year of my life.

I have much to say on this topic, so I've decided to split this posting into three. Stay tuned for parts II and III!

Part II: 2004 A year of Friendship: Old friends

Becky and I started 2004 celebrating with

Ken and Sarah, a childhood friend and his wife, whom incidentally we feel we've known for just as long as Ken. I love how things seem to never change with old friends, even when a great deal of time passes between visits.

As the winter turned into spring, I started seeing a lot more of my best friend Sean, whom I've been near-brothers with for over 25 years now. We've lived in different cities for over half the years that our friendship has spanned, so it's been wonderful to be back within an hour's drive again.

The monthly phone chats I have with Chris remind me how happy I am to be back in contact with him after so many years - and how glad I am that we can still play a role in each other's lives while not having lived near each other in over 15 years.

Another great friend, Gary, whom I've only lived near for a few months of nearly a nine year friendship, and I remained in email contact nearly daily in 2004. In addition, we managed to see each other quite a bit through travel, including nearly three weeks together in Thailand - a week of that trekking through the jungle near Burma on elephants and bamboo rafts. Memorable to say the least.

Kevin (a friend from high school, my college roommate, and father of our God-children) dropped in for a fall visit to see another high school friend work his way to the final four on the reality show, the Benefactor.

Late night talks with Kevin played a major role in three years of living together at UGA - and yes, some things never change as we both enjoyed re-enacting our chats and laughs during his excellent visit.

Becky and I enjoyed grilling out with our old neighbors and great friends Meg, Brendan, and Cindy -- and sharing in the joy of Craig and Cindy's wedding with them at their reception party.

Sean and I were fortunate enough to visit with Cleo and Rosalie in August - a couple that really feel more like family to us than friends.

Sonia and Gary visited in the fall, reuniting friendships that started with cycling -- friends who we biked with from the Grand Canyon to Oregon a few years ago and who click so well that we always leave each other's company bummed that two of us live in Atlanta, one in DC, and the other in Seattle.

Becky and I attended Homecoming at UGA this fall, reuniting with many of our band friends -- a group that became our first family away from home nearly 15 years ago. We also saw more of one of my best buddies from college, Jason, as well as bag-pipers and new parents, Tom and Becky.

Dave, Sean, and I went winter backpacking together in the Smokies - I just love spending time with these guys together. Dave is a friend from high school - but one whom I realize I have so much more in common with now than I ever would have thought then. It's too bad we only get to hang out together on one annual backpacking trip!

Becky and I made it out to Colorado for an early December ski trip, and my heart was lifted when I spent time with so many great Colorado friends. These friendships were so important to Becky and me - it was very tough to leave our friends in Colorado, so we were quite happy to be reunited with so many special friends during our visit.

Becky and I felt very happy to live so close to our friend Sandy. Her travels and optimistic, energetic, and adventurous attitude gave us a jolt of energy every time we saw her, which is much easier now that we only live a few miles apart.

We closed out our year with an opportunity to spend time with Kevin, Michelle, Ryan, Kyle, Lori and Lori's new baby Emily.

Thanks to email, I also kept in touch with many other old friends, such as my Aconcagua tent-mate and other expedition members, great friends from former jobs, and many old neighbors from both Georgia and Colorado.

So, one reason that I'm calling my 2004 "A year of friendship" is that we were fortunate enough to spend time with so many old friends - to even have so many old friends in the first place. I suppose that this posting is a bit of a thanksgiving post! While our experiences with old friends had a lot to do with what this year was all about, making new friends also played a huge role - as will be explained in part III!