Friday, December 21, 2007

Presents Under the Tree...

I am ready for a break since I cannot seem to get out from under my current work situation. Good thing that the holiday is upon us so that I can slip into the proper mood and be of good cheer. Wendy decided that it was a good idea to break the cycle and jump-start on the festivities by sneaking in a couple of presents last night. Wendy & I have been fortunate to share in some wonderful moments this year, and some of those moments have been blessed with the presence of good friends from far and wide. I take a quick moment to thank all those people (you all know who you are!) for being in our respective lives and look forward to an even better year in 2008.

So much to celebrate - it was easy to let Christmas overtake us. Presents under the tree, and I look forward to what is inside all those intricate wrappings!


Tuesday, December 18, 2007

100,000... and Counting!

The last milestone from my trusty, now old, Volkswagen GTI VR6 was 50,000 miles. It was December 2004, and I was driving cross-country from California to Ohio, on my way ultimately to Switzerland and a year abroad in graduate school. It took 8.5 years to reach that milestone. Little did I know that the next 50,000 miles would take just under a quarter of that time.

I remember so much about this car. My mother dinged it not more than a week after it found itself into my parent's driveway; 10 years later, it would be hard for that to happen again - there is no more basketball pole, and the lane is wider after the house renovation.

At 99,998 miles, I remembered the days in college. After an epic trip with my father cross-country from Ohio to Los Angeles, I wound up with a car on-campus for my sophomore year. What a privilege to have wheels - and what a benefit to friends. There was even that one evening where an impromptu van jam ended up with 7 in the car, from front seat to trunk. Diddy Riese and its famous cookies never saw so many folks pile out of a car that size!

At 99,999 mjiles, I remembered the consulting days on the west coast. Most of that time saw "my baby" lounging indoors, parking from garage to garage as I wracked up the airmiles. I estimated over five years that my air mileage was upwards of 400,000 - but my car miles were 10x less than that. There were a couple of harrowing moments, including a break-in that stripped my car of the Sony stereo that my little brother gave me. It must have been worth something, I hope the thief made a good return on my misfortune.

At 100,000 miles, I was less than a mile from home - which reminded me of the stat that 90% of accidents happen within that distance. I pulled over to document this moment and thought about that moment and all those wonderful memories through the past decade.
A good reflection, to be sure, for this wonderful German machine has been through thick and thin - all the way back to college. Now, it joins me into my married life with Wendy. She gives me a hard time because my baby has faced some mechanical hurdles this year, what with replacement of ignition coils and wires as latest repair. I rationalize every time that it is cheaper to fix than outright buy a new car, but she is not convinced. Perhaps she knows better that I will have a hard time giving up my baby which has traveled so many roads before with me. At 100,000 and counting, it is nice to travel those roads with a trusted friend.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Nothing But Magic

It was Saturday night, and the Magic Kingdom was packed: teens acting cool with their friends, young tots fighting valiantly against fatigue, stroller babies laid out in peaceful slumber, and exhausted parents encircling them all with consternation. First, it was the spectacular fireworks, then it was the light parade. All the while, I was clinging to waking hours by the sheer joy I was experiencing with Wendy. What can make this place nothing but magic?

It was the place where I raced in fascination as a kid - what boy can resist being a pirate and getting "trapped" in an enchanted yet haunted house? It was the place where I proposed to my future wife - what guy can resist being a prince sweeping his damsel off her feet? It is the place where creativity is free to roam and imagination is celebrated and not relegated to practicality - what person can resist the urge of freedom and self-expression that results?

Perhaps it is too much to ascribe a make-believe place with such hyperbole; after all, that same boyhood charm of Disney World today seems much more miniature than before. Perhaps I am negating the jostling experience that getting into the Magic Kingdom can be - and what a crush of people any time of year! True as this all might be, there is still only one place on earth like Disney World. Even the build-up to this short weekend excursion away from a month's worth of work craziness could not spoil the wonders. That must mean that magic really does live in Orlando, where the kids know what Pooh and Peter Pan really can do.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Not So Magic

Southwest Airlines has many supporters - of which I am not one. Call me snobbish from prior days of inter-continental business travel, but I have never fancied the inevitable cattle call that comes when the gate agent opens up the mic. Tonight her call was honest and to the point: "line up, you know, just like gym class when you were long ago in school... and no so long ago for some of you." Correction duly noted - it is not just boomers with a pocket of pension money to burn. Students, military, modest couples, entrepreneurs, regional sales folks, the crowd was mixed - and all the more so because my flight was heading to Orlando. Ah yes, Orlando, that oasis of middle-class holiday-seeking so spot on attracting the bulls-eye median of the US population that chain restaurants like Red Lobster test their new fixin's down there. Simple reason: if the Disney crowd likes it, then anytown USA will like it too.

Somehow I turn out to be a supporter regardless. Standing in line amidst another rocky evening of slight weather conditions throwing off taut, yield-optimizing flight schedules, it seems every time I travel now, the flight is not scheduled to depart on time. Not always long - like the last sentence - but enough to reinforce the aggravation of 21st century travel. Tonight the delay was 30 minutes, but somehow I am willing to put up with it. Perhaps because I am going to the Magic Kingdom where all the magic went down last year, but perhaps also because I am on a budget. Yes, those high-flying consulting days are gone where I actually have to buy the ticket myself.

So I am in this line thankful that I can get a cheap flight on Southwest. Yeah, the crowd is a bit strange, and I am standing around like in high school gym class, but people are nice enough, and the flight is only two hours. Not so magic, but I guess it will do.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Long Days at the Office

I thought the week might get better. If only I could that last presentation done over dinner at the hotel, I would be able to leave from HQ at a reasonable hour. If only we would have reached resolution sooner on some big-picture dialogue then I could have gotten home before the strike of midnight.

No dice. I hate to think that I am working like my father, but in these days, it is true. Granted, the long hours are paying dividends, both in gaining experience and feeling a sense of accomplishment. I am getting better at being more productive. Still, it is long days at the office - and there are other things to do than work.

What long hours at the office lead to...

Monday, December 10, 2007

So Close to Magic

This week is already proving challenging. Driving up to New Jersey on Sunday night, I will be doing work from before dawn to after midnight, hopefully getting a few hours of sleep in between. In the meantime, there are meetings to attend to, presentations to make up, calls to dial in, action items to resolve, and all sort of other items to take care of. It's a mess, and I'm not entirely happy to highjack my schedule.

That being said, there is light at the end of the tunnel - namely, Disney World. To celebrate all that this hard work has brought Wendy and I, we are heading off to Orlando for the weekend, a sort of early holiday present to step out of the every day and into the special. So close to magic, I can taste it - past this week's craziness, that is...

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Silent Sunday

The house is quiet. The computer is humming. Keystrokes break the silence with staccato taps. The desk is cleared, and the notebook is open. Pen standing by, notations as necessary. This is the set-up for a moment all too brief, where concentration and activity meet to accomplish something often anticipated but never realized - a closed list of action items.

Desk, computer, notebook, pen, cup of coffee (sometimes water or tea) - this is all it takes for the knowledge worker to realize a new world. Often, it takes more than this to find the necessary inspiration - website, photograph, song, even poetry as aid - and even then, the results do not materialize. It is the bain of knowledge work that output cannot be summoned like the clouds for rain.

On this silent Sunday, I feel like I have summoned my own clouds. Let me take to work in order to make it pour - just like the grey pervasion of this day's precipitation.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Let It Snow (to stop traffic)

I had my doubts about commuting to work this morning. I thought twice about the endeavor when I looked out the window as I made my daily lunch. An odd silence echoed the sight - a parking lot on the highway. To say that Washington DC traffic is horrible is an understatement - every year it climbs the tables to now reside at #2 worst in the US behind NYC - but today's sight on I-270 that runs from Frederick to the Beltway was unusual. Car-to-car parking lot, literally stopped on a five-lane highway.

Out at the car, I made an easy decision - I would take the backroads to the office. My decision was confirmed when the daily traffic report made my mobile phone vibrate incessantly (every morning, 8am, the traffic report!). I turned on the radio, and the news became worse than the text messages - back-ups on 495 outer loop, inner loop, 395, 95 north and south, Baltimore-Washington Parkway, George Washington Parkway, 50, 66, Ohio Avenue, New York, nearly every major route in and around DC with at least one accident.

It took awhile to get going as I waited for lines of cars trying the same trick as me. Then, I was held up by one, two, three, four, five accidents on the back roads - which were mere stop-offs on a slow caravan out to Laurel. 90 minutes later, and I phoned home to Wendy to let her know that it was a long ride.

No bother, though - I switched the radio on to local 97.1, the "official radio station for the holidays" that has been playing around-the-clock holiday music since before Thanksgiving. I was dialed in and smiling as "Let It Snow" warmed up the car. Absolutely right...

Monday, December 03, 2007

"A Turner, I own one..."

For some reason, the words of a Rufus Wainwright song went through my head as I ambled through the National Gallery of Art. Two special exhibits are on during this period: J.M.W. Turner, the great English landscape painter of the 19th century, and Edward Hopper, the iconic yet laconic American painter of the 20th century. Two different wings of the gallery with two distinctly different takes on the world.

I took great pleasure letting the afternoon slipping away and frolicking with my wife; after all, this is what newlyweds do, right? In spending the requisite time studying some of the works, though, I got to thinking: who are these family of so-and-so and endowment/foundation groups who own these works anyway?
Special art exhibits have a penchant for bringing together the varied works of an artist that have long-since scattered the collecting elites. Some of these pieces come from museums naturally, but a good number come from private collectors, some of whom remain nameless on the walls of the exhibition space. I wondered who these people might be and how deep their art appreciation went, particularly when I witnessed the prancing antics of a young girl who was touring the museum with her mother. In her bounding excitement for the works and while answering the children's museum guide pamphlet of "age-appropriate" activities, she came quite close to touching several paintings in pointing out the violent waves and inscrutable figures of various Turner landscapes. Seeing the faces of those private collectors whose works were almost marred by the innocent joy of a child would have been priceless and brought me back to Rufus' song. He sings of a girl who falls in love with her art teacher in high school, many years later to marry a rich executive and own artwork of the masters she once studied. In her moment, she wonders what has happened to her beloved art teacher as she now amasses without feeling what she once studied with fervor at his feet.

Perhaps these varied vignetted paint the picture, so to speak, of art and life and love and loss. Who knows? Maybe those private collectors would find it timeless that a five-year-old marred their precious works in a liminal moment of happiness. Who knows? Maybe those private collectors would be just as heartless as a stereotype would portray them, stacks of money around with no chance for contentment. Who knows? Maybe one day I will be able to own just one of Turner's melodramatic yet majestic landscape paintings or a Hopper moment stuck in a hotel room with a solitary woman. Then again, I doubt the likelihood.