I'm sitting on the open deck sailing past islands in the Mediterranean, finally beginning to slow down. The past 16 months have been non-stop craziness moving my shop to Minneapolis, regular travel for clinics, taking delivery of a new cnc VMC (computer controlled vertical milling center), learning the g-code software language for that machine, re-designing existing parts to be produced on the new VMC rather than by hand or previous machines, designing completely new parts and machining processes, training my latest shop and office assistants James and Paul, all while keeping up with orders, which in 2010 numbered around 200 trumpets and who knows how many SWE accessories.
I am often accused of not focusing on my work, which always comes as a surprise to me. Everyone at HT knows I work too much even when compared to extreme workaholics. Clients, friends and colleagues sometimes see my vacation or work time as too leisurely. For instance, traveling to NYC to give a masterclass at a university involves a half day of travel each way before I get into taxis and onto trains to meet clients and colleagues before and after work activities. Someone wants a lesson downtown, colleagues would like to try my horns in a big band on a recording session in the Bronx, meet a student at Julliard for lunch and a prospective client wants to jam in the village. In reality, my trips are often almost entirely work-related and I usually get most of my down time on the plane. Don't get me wrong, I love my work, but it isn't all socializing and relaxation, I work for a living.
My current trip to the Mediterranean was my gift to my Mom for her birthday(s). Two birthdays to be exact as I offered a shorter cruise last year and due to my work schedule we couldn't take the trip, so I doubled the length this year. She's always wanted to visit Europe and so far she's done nothing but smile. I moved out of my parents' home at seventeen to attend a college we could not afford. I insisted on going to a very good private school with an excellent music program aiming to major in math or science. No one thought I would be accepted as my test scores were high, but grades were average. I worked nearly full time jobs in high school and found the actual school work to be less than engaging, this was reflected in my low ranking at graduation. Outside of music and math, I was not interested in institutional education, but I knew I had to leave home. It was a complete shock to my parents that I was accepted and moved away a few months after high school. So spending 12 days on a cruise with my mom is a treat for us both as we've missed so many years.
I believe today is Monday, the fourth day of our trip, though I can't be sure. The first three days really felt like one long day that may never end. Mom flew in from Billings on Friday morning and we met at the airport for our flight to Atlanta. We met a nice man from Montana who sat next to us with a broken foot. It is always refreshing to converse with people from Montana, which somehow happens often in my travels. Though I am biased, I truly believe that people living in the rockies often have their priorities in order. Family first, and this means you spend quality time with them every day. Work is sometimes your passion or it may be what is necessary to provide for those you love. Either way, you do it with your heart and give your all as good jobs are not plentiful. Take chances and create memorable moments often. Laugh and smile whenever possible and stand up for what you believe even if your ideas are not popular. In short, Montanans tend to think for themselves and act on their ideas. It is a good thing national news doesn't pick up on Montana happenings very often or the world may have an extreme view of a very sane community. One where people tend to reject the ever-changing popular trends in society. If you haven't visited, I encourage you to take a road trip to Bozeman, Helena or Missoula and see for yourself how different life can be when you see the world from a new point of view. Or maybe their perspective isn't new at all?
So this man from Bozeman sitting next to us on the plane had a broken foot and leg. He was smiling ear to ear nearly the entire trip. On his way to Panama for a "work" vacation, his wife was sitting in the back of the plane as he needed a last minute aisle seat with leg room. I asked him if he got hurt climbing or skiing. Nope, he was ice fishing on Ft. Peck lake and accidentally stepped into a hole. So much for his season pass to Big Sky this year! He's already told his friends they can use his pass for the remainder of the season. His kids love to ski and his eight-year-old is the fearless one who picked it up the quickest. He had been to Rome a few years back and gave us tips and suggestions of places to visit. After a couple hours of talking he mentioned that he wished he could get to his bag for his medication. Oh yeah, his leg is broken! This guy had such a great attitude that we were fooled by his laughter and smile. HE IS IN PAIN. I offered him some little blue pills mom gave me that morning to curb my headache. She said they were a generic tylenol and he took them trusting us. At the end of the flight the stewardess offered him wheelchair service and he kindly refused her twice saying he would walk even if it was far. Atlanta is one of the largest airports in the world! That western spirit is more than pride, it is an independence that challenges us to complete a task even when it is unnecessary. I'm sure he would have asked for help in the end if walking became too much of a burden, but he vowed to try to walk before taking the easy way out. This guy left an impression on us and made me personally feel reassured that life and humanity is a beautiful experience.
We arrived in Atlanta on concourse A and our next flight was on E. Go figure, we had the longest span between gates possible. It must be more than a mile, but we walked to get our exercise knowing the next flight will be a cramped 8+ hours. My head was pounding as I had been abusing caffeine in the form of a product known as "5-hour Energy" to get more work done the past few weeks. I had suffered moderate headaches for the previous week as I am not accustomed to caffeine. I remember having my first (and last) cup of coffee my second year in college. I worked 30 hours a week throughout college which was against school policy, but there are always ways around these things. I was a cook and caterer in the private dining room by day and a security guard by night. My overnight shift ran 11pm to 5am, it was the perfect opportunity to practice trumpet, write music and photocopy the entire school trumpet library. A couple of the full-time guys would come by around 3 to open up the cafeteria and have snacks. At the time, I was the dispatcher so being awake was very important and these guys could tell I was wearing down one night so they insisted I have a cup of coffee. I wasn't interested and for some reason always stayed away from it. I had a few sips and it was awful. My eyes opened wide and after half a cup, I threw it out. I did not sleep for two full days after that, no exaggeration. I was wired beyond belief. On the third day, I started getting massive headaches and that was my first real run in with a drug our nation habitually abuses. Back to Friday...my headache was definitely the same I had been suffering continuously all week, a side affect of trying to cut down on my 5-hour energy dependence before the trip. I took two of the little blue pills mom gave me earlier and immediately became sleepy. We had a brief conversation about lightning rods, which I always see on all of the roofs of airport buildings, no matter how short the structure. Why do these short buildings need to be wired so well for lightning strikes? Then we boarded our flight to Barcelona and I couldn't keep my eyes open. I remember the plane taking off just a few seconds before we ran out of runway (should I be worried?) and then I was out.
An hour later, I was awake and ready to talk or draw or do something! Naps are rare and when I have them, I am energized so I was ready to run some laps...on a plane. I intended to begin writing this blog entry, but found myself sitting there thinking about the previous days and months events and happenings. I don't really dwell on past shortcomings, but I found myself considering broken friendships with ex-girlfriends who in the end mis-understood the meaning of my actions. Devotion to a career or goal is not necessarily a lack of interest in a personal relationship. But it seems many of the people I meet in the world are ready to move faster in relationships and slower in career goals than I find acceptable. Getting neck deep into a relationship is easy. Letting your personal or professional goals slip is just as easy. So how do you balance both and live a rewarding personal and professional life? I don't know and at the time it didn't matter as there was an emergency call over the sound system, "do we have a doctor or nurse on board...we have an emergency!".
I was once a trained EMT so I was about to stand up when I realized the woman having trouble was only a few seats away. Several people rushed to the area and I sat back down. A doctor was examining her...whispers of a stroke, now a heart attack and finally a seizure circulated. This immediately brought back memories of a woman who died on a flight from LA where I WAS one of two first responders, but that is another story and there really was nothing that could be done in that instance, she simply stopped living before we could do anything. I had been discussing flight emergencies with mom and the Montana guy on our previous flight and counting two emergency landings, this would now be my fifth in-flight emergency. How is this possible? Maybe I shouldn't fly...
They wanted to lay the woman down as her blood pressure was low so elevating her legs was advisable. Call it random "luck" but they asked mom and I to leave our seats and take our belongings. We immediately got up so she could take our place, which was the three seats in the center of a 767 whereas her seat was a window. We got up with a ton of stuff in our arms, a laptop, journals, mom's cpap unit, pillows, etc. and made our way to the galley at the rear of the plane. Just then the plane jerked sideways, then up, then down...extreme turbulance just as we had to walk around with all of our stuff. So much for me helping the woman get to her seat, I could barely walk down the aisle. One panicked stewardess shouted to mom and I to sit down. Didn't she realize they just gave away our seats? There is no place to sit. Mom was put into the jump seat by the emergency exit and I made my way through the galley around two very unprofessional air waitresses and up the aisle to the open seats where the ill woman (and her husband) were moving from...no luck. Turbulance worsened and I found myself bucking up and down, side to side trying to keep my balance. This went on for several minutes all the while employees were demanding I find my seat. Humor set in with my fellow passengers as they saw my dilema...they saw and heard everything. "Where do they expect you to sit?...they told you to get up...how can you keep your balance?" It was hilarious and I was actually having a good time trying to stay on my feet with my arms full of stuff. I turned around and said, "it's like a rodeo!" and the plane erupted in laughter. Seriously, emergency aside, this was quite fun and the irony made it all the more interesting. After 10 minutes or so, they finally had moved the couple and gave us our new seats and the pilot had found clear skies. Unfortunately, I get motion sick and this had started to set in...why did I eat so much for dinner? They served pasta, bread, salad, brownies, drinks and then I ate mom's leftovers plus snacks right beforehand. Now I as paying for shaking up all of that food in my digestive tract and spent the next two hours focusing on holding it down, which I barely proved successful.
Five hours into our flight, one of the nicer stewardesses came over and thanked us for moving and added 2500 miles to my frequent flier account. That was nice and unexpected. The ill woman had apparently taken a drug by the name of Lortab and had an adverse reaction. After two doctors had examined her, the prognosis was good and the excitement was a memory. I fell asleep, finally, after watching a "true" story about one of the dumbest successes of all time, the story of Mark Zuckerman and Facebook. I respect anyone who has a good idea and works hard, so Mark does deserve some credit. And I have to say I do not know him, nor do I know how much of that story is true, relevant or any of my business. But if it is true, then we are rewarding a young man for feeding our egos while treating everyone in his life very poorly. There was not one single instance in this movie of him being professional, kind, caring, sincere or for that matter in any way human. Just my opinion, but cheating your best friend out of his share of your joint venture is as low as it gets. Of course, I know this from personal experiences. I recently dealt with a friend who made promises to partner on a second location on the east coast only to have my inventory sold without any compensation to me which was agreed upon beforehand. Such is life in business dealings...friends become liabilities and sometimes competitors become friends. I firmly believe that you reap what you sew...just one of the virtues shared by Lincoln and Carnegie, two of my childhood heroes. We all make mistakes and making things right in the end is a challenge we cannot afford to abandon, no matter how difficult this may seem at the time.
Mom woke me to see the sunrise from above the clouds. "Yes, that's nice, I love watching the sun rise and set up here". Then I realized something, she's never seen this...it is all new to her. She's twenty years older and giggling like a kid excited over the sunrise with the clouds below us. Our trip has just begun and she's loving every minute. My Dad has seemingly seen and done everything in this world so I understand why she's so happy. By herself, she can see the world without his input, stories or shared perspective so she sees everything more personally when away from him. I'm very guilty of interjecting my experiences into other people's lives during those memorable moments and have made a great effort to curb this habit in the past few years. No one cares what I've experienced, especially when it cuts into what they're doing that very moment. So now I save my thoughts for those who inquire and let stories of past experiences settle in my mind while listening to others thoughts. People love to be heard so I offered the video camera to mom and suggested she record it...then I fell asleep. I just couldn't stay awake. It turns out she recorded four videos of that sunrise! How cool. My first sunrise over the clouds was on my way back to Montana after my grandfather's funeral. I'll never forget the beauty, the awe and the sadness. I didn't tell mom about this, but deep down it is why I didn't get excited about the moment like she did. Somehow that experience comes back to me every time I see that deep red and orange streak across the skyline from miles above the world.
Flying over Barcelona was worth the nine hundred dollars all by itself. What a beautiful and interesting city on the sea. We passed the outskirts on the north and circled around the eastern hills with jagged white peaks on our left before turning west, then south and finally passing right over the shoreline and downtown Barcelona. So many interesting tall and unusual buildings scattered throughout with six to eight level buildings filling the space in between. The sail-like shape of the W hotel, a huge glass cylindrical sky scraper than tapers to a smooth soft point at the top (looks like a hotel in Dubai), that crazy church with pointed spires jutting into the sky, stadiums, a massive shipping port, an olympic park, an expansive hillside cemetary within eyesight displaying ornate white memorials, an historic Spanish fort above the port and two distant missions or cathedrals on the tops of nearby mountains (hills by Montana standards). This place is amazing and we haven't even landed!
It's 2am at home, 9am here and I'm ready to go explore. First, let's get our luggage and a taxi...or maybe not? We didn't have a plan beyond arriving in Barcelona. I've been so busy getting trumpets built and shipped these past months, that I really didn't think about it until we were standing there waiting for our luggage. I suggested we take a taxi, that's what I do in foreign countries and it usually proves quick, affective and moderately expensive. Mom wanted to call for a free shuttle from the hotel so we tried using the pay phone with a credit card, it didn't work. So we tried taking euros out of the ATM, it didn't work. The she mentioned she had exchanged euros before leaving home (you can do that in Billings, Montana?) and made change at the bank for the pay phone. Again, the payphone wasn't working, so I tried all four...two didn't work at all and the others displayed error messages. I came back to where mom was waiting, she had already made friends with another woman who told her we could take a bus. I knew nothing about our hotel location other than the address so I wasn't sure jumping on a bus would improve our situation. We walked down to the buses and asked a driver who told us to get on the blue bus. We went to the blue bus and that driver said he doesn't go near our hotel. Here we are 45 minutes from where we started when I suggested we take a taxi. And that's what we did. The hotel Renaissance Barcelona is impressive to say the least, only a few minutes from the airport, but still cost us twenty euros. As is common in most foreign countries, the prices of taxis in Barcelona varied as much as the drivers hoped they could get away with overcharging us. We took the same route three times and it cost 30, 20 and finally 14 euros. Still beats walking!
So there we were in our hotel at 11:18am, which is 3:18 in Montana, exhausted exhilirated and suddenly asleep...