A tree stands naked before me, majestic in height with branches long and strong. The branches jut out in all directions but mostly reach for the sky. The sky is big, bold, bright, and so very blue; clouds are noticeably absent. Hawks gently glide through the air and circle from above, looking down on the green tufts of grass and watching as leaves gently cascade from the trees. A light breeze billows against my skin. The sun tilted at an angle provides mild warmth on my face. The leaves rustle in the wind, riding on a limb one last time before letting go into the cool sunset of autumn.
Here’s the deal: yes, Colombia is great and the CSC experience is awesome, but there is something else that is integral to any personal revelation and that is the human condition. How many times have we seen beer commercials and thought, yes, I want that lifestyle. Who are we kidding? Yes, you may have a perfect life, with the perfect partner and perfect kids, but whatever happened to camaraderie? Whatever happened to caring about people outside of your family? Whatever happened to letting your guard down and just living in the moment? Life moves very fast and suddenly we are picking out burial plots and tombstones, but there is so much that can happen in-between. Life is an experience and yet we treat it as a daily occurrence. There will come a day when days won’t exist for you. Shouldn’t you enjoy the ride while you are here?
My point is that life is best experienced by sharing your journey with others, whether it be for a moment or a lifetime. If you think back on your favorite memories, you’ll recall that the best memories are those left to chance. The time that started out like any evening, but ended up being like nothing ever experienced. You may be wondering where I’m going in this blog and the answer is nowhere since it’s just words. But I do have a point. Watch the sunrise, love those who love you, be open-minded to those who wander in your path. This is it! This is your life! You can either go along to get along or find a way to make each day the best day ever. Okay, so now I’m off the tracks, but CSC is more than just finding a solution to a client’s problem. It’s a rediscovery of oneself and motivation to plot a course that will allow you to savor every day. We’ve all heard that life is short, but for some reason, we don’t fully comprehend that until we are breathing our last breath. What do you want from life? How are you going to leave your mark? You can be a spectator in life or you can blaze a path to a brighter tomorrow. So stop surfing the web and get out there. Today is the yesterday that tomorrow forgot.
(This is a lost blog. It was originally scheduled to be published in August 2016. The content is still relevant.)
After many years of visiting Hershey for some October chocolate, I decided to head south to see a patch of cars angled 24 degrees on a NASCAR track. Twice each year the Charlotte AutoFair is home to thousands of collector car enthusiasts who are buying and selling vehicles, restoration parts and supplies. I was happy to finally see what all the hullabaloo was about.
Upon entering the Speedway, I quickly realized that the cars (and trucks) wrapped around the track, which is 1.5 miles long. These cars (and trucks) made up the car (and truck!) corral. It was a mix of years and many seemed to be of recent vintage. The pricing, as always, was very optimistic of the seller. In some ways, I believe the sellers just wanted a place to park and show their car while they wandered the expanse of the speedway. And it is quite an expanse. The interior of the track, including the pit stop, had vendors selling all types of wares. There were also vendors on the exterior of the Speedway as well, so there was plenty to see. In fact, I wandered over 10 miles on the first day but ended the day empty handed. On the upside, my wallet was still full.
As I arrived for day two, I was really looking forward to the Antique Automobile Club of America (AACA) show. I entered into the Speedway and quickly realized that the track was full of cars (and trucks) and more were still arriving. As I walked the track, I quickly realized a sequence developing: Chevy, Chevy, Ford, Ford, Chevy, Chevy, Chevy…. Oh, I’m sorry; you want me to be more specific: Camaro, Camaro, Mustang, Mustang. Am I exaggerating? Sure, there were Corvettes as well. In fact, the entire track was full of modern pony cars. This was a little discouraging, so I wandered back into vendor row. There I was able to find some new old stock (NOS) ANCO Red-Dot wiper arms for my non-Chevy/Ford vehicle. This vendor did not have items priced, but I’m pretty sure I got the Yankee pricing, as I was missing the twang that everyone else seemed to have. Nevertheless, everyone was extremely friendly even if cars of interest had so far eluded me.
I decided to leave the Speedway in order to retrieve my parts wagon. Upon exiting the Speedway, I quickly discovered that the AACA car show was being held in a parking lot close to the Speedway. I estimated that there were about 200 cars there, so it was a good showing. A variety of years and models were scattered about and there were even three Studebakers, which is always a sign of a successful show! After spending about an hour looking those fine cars over, I walked back up to the entrance of the Speedway where all the car clubs had gathered their cars. Represented were Mustangs (of course), Camaros (every one ever made), Corvairs (19 of them) and Mopar to name a few. Alas, no Independents, but at least one Yankee was there to take it all in.
Today was a day of travel and it was also a day of reflection. It wasn’t until I reached Miami that I realized the profound journey on which I was embarking. It made me think about culture and if people really have unique cultures. For example, if someone was born and raised in Scotland, does that make him Scottish? What if his parents were from China?
The subject of cultures reminds me of a movie – Smokey and the Bandit. In the movie “The Bandit” falls for a girl from New York, but he is from Atlanta. As they talk, they discover that they have little in common because of regional differences. For example, he likes country music, she likes pop music; he likes NASCAR, she prefers the ballet. As I shuttled through Bogotá tonight, I wondered if the term “cultural” is incorrect. In Bogotá, I see Chevys and Fords on the road, a Marriott up above, and a TGIF and a McDonald’s from the roadside. It seems a lot like the United States. Of course, this is just a first impression; so it’s subject to change, but I’d argue that what we really have is regional differences and over time the world will become more homogeneous. The other thing I realized is that in countries where people are free, ambition and production follow. So are people really that different just because they live in a certain country?
Tonight, I met some of my colleagues. They hail from India, Hungary, South Africa, China, Japan, Italy, and Canada. We instantly connected. It reminded me of spending my first night in college. We had pizza, libations and great discussion. We are a diverse group and will be working in a country we are unfamiliar with, but when the focus is what brings us together, as opposed to what makes us diverse, great things can be achieved. Maybe it’s time to leave our tribal roots behind and participate in a human experience instead. There is so much beauty in the world and from the glimpse I’ve seen of Colombia so far, some of it is just outside my door. We know that life is short, and yet, we create so much friction between ourselves and others. We complain about the process but take no action. We abhor change, but it’s one of the few things that is constant. I’m not sure where this experience will lead me to in the next 30 days, but asking questions and finding meaning is a good place to start.
(This is part of the lost blog collection. It was originally scheduled to be published August 20, 2016.)
It’s been quite a few years since I’ve been to Hershey for the big car show, but my college friend from Charleston, SC was planning to come up for it, so he convinced me to go. He also suggested that I register my 1956 Studebaker President Classic for the show. Anyone who has seen my Stude knows it’s a 10 footer, so I wasn’t so sure I should enter it, as the cars at Hershey are exceptional.
In the end, I decided to register as I would have to pay for parking otherwise. Meanwhile, Hurricane Matthew was making waves during Hershey Week, so my friend’s flight was canceled. Luckily, he washed in with the tide and arrived at my house on Friday afternoon. It was the first time he saw the car in person and really seemed to take a shine to it. Soon after, we left the house and headed to South Carroll High School, as the Stude was taking part in the homecoming parade. It turned out that all the other collectible cars in the parade were Corvettes, so the Stude really stood out because it’s not that common to see an automobile that has craftsmanship with a flair.
As night settled in, we set out to a Harrisburg hotel. Obviously, that would require me to drive the car at night and on the highway. At first, I was a little tepid but later became intrepid as the Stude seemed to have no limit on speed. With the 289 Sweepstakes punching out 210 HP, the cyclops eye speedometer was getting dizzy from all the spinning. While 70 MPH seemed to be a sweet spot, traffic was less than kind and the faster I went, the faster the car wanted to go. We rolled into the 80s several times and the car carried on with great aplomb. In short time, we were at the hotel and all was well.
The next morning, we rose early for the big show and arrived without issue. I had entered the Studebaker in the Driver’s Participation Class (DPC). DPC allows a car to be shown that can be a work-in-progress and/or just a Sunday driver, or a touring vehicle. Vehicles registered in DPC are not point judged, rather they are visually evaluated generally by a two-member DPC evaluation team. After a vehicle has been evaluated for the first time, if certified, it will receive a DPC board, a DPC chip, and a DPC badge. The car was evaluated as soon as the show opened and the evaluators were quite complimentary about the car. What surprised me was that many of the cars featured in DPC could easily be judged, but their owners prefer not to deal with the judging process. Overall, the Studebaker was in good company.
As the day progressed, clouds and then rain joined in on the parade. I was quite happy with the weather as it hid the car’s imperfections (patina). There seemed to be quite a few Studebakers on the show field and I’m not sure if it was always like that, or if I’m just more observant. In any event, the day was as good as expected. The drive home was without incident and the more I drove it the better it seemed to perform. Wouldn’t it be nice if all things were that way?
The first Friday of our assignment was one of the most memorable days I’ve ever experienced. It was such a highlight that it has taken me a month just to absorb all that it entailed. Before I tell you about the day, I should provide a background about our client, The Nature Conservancy (TNC). It’s a conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. Regarding Colombia, TNC has created a conservation trust fund to protect rivers and watersheds and help provide clean drinking water to Bogotá. One way to protect areas is through the ecological restoration of farmland, so on Friday, we headed to the mountains for a tour.
However, before we could reach our destination, we needed to eat, so we stopped in a small town for a nice Colombian breakfast. There were some friendly dogs roaming around and some farmers heading out for the day in their traditional ponchos. Alas, before long, we were back in the 4WD vehicles and off to the farms. As we rode along, I noticed that the paved road had turned to crushed rock and dirt. As we traveled on, the crushed rock became a non-player and only dirt covered the tires. Eventually, the dirt turned to mud and ruts in the road turned to puddles as the rain had honed in on our location. After a while, it wasn’t so much a road, but a path.
As we closed in on our first stop, we noticed that a stream decided to meander across the path at a decent velocity, making it impassable. There was no way for us to continue on that path, so we turned around and headed to another farm. After bouncing around for awhile, we reached our destination. It afforded us a great view of the surrounding mountain and valley below. While we had originally planned for a tour, it was decided that taking soil samples would be a better way to take in the sights, so that is what we did. We split into groups and armed with a shovel, a soil cutter, and a bag, we set off. We learned that the key to a successful soil sample is to take many samples over a distance, so as to capture the general soil composition over a swatch of land. As it was raining, I realized we needed another tool…an umbrella. I even got a nickname – the umbrella man. We did take the time to watch the sheep and take in the field of flowers that glistened under the ever changing sky.
After we finished up, we packed up the tools and the soil and headed to the final farm. This farm’s soil seemed to have more of an oil base to it as it was on a volcanic rock, so we had already learned something just by going to another farm. Like the previous farm, this one had majestic views in all directions. What made it even more special is that I was far away from home in a place where few have ventured. It was then that I realized that the best places on Earth seem to be those less traveled. After packing up our supplies and soils, we headed back down the mountain, bouncing merrily along the way.
We stopped at what seemed to be a roadside destination and had some Italian food, as it was the only place open. As I walked around, I also saw an Asian-themed restaurant and an American eatery. As they say, wherever you go, there you are. After dinner, we headed back to Bogotá. As the sun set in the distance, and the leaves danced about in the gentle breeze, I realized that Colombia is quite a beautiful place. For that moment, all the issues of the world faded and serenity filled the sky.
As expected, the final week was a culmination of all the work and analysis done in the previous weeks; but for some reason, it seemed unsettled. It could have been because the final week was all about finalizing and presenting the deliverables for submission. More likely, it could have been that we could see the end and what had seemed to be some far away event was now in front of us. Recalling the week, it did not have the cadence of the previous weeks. Each day was unique, and the party atmosphere that had greeted us when we first arrived was now filled with introspection. Meanwhile, the days piled on. On Monday, we worked to close the loop on any outstanding issues and finalize the draft. On Tuesday, we presented to the internal clients, but it was a little more than that.
We decided that it would be nice to have some snacks for Tuesday, so I snagged two boxes of Dunkin Donuts, while my colleagues bought some Colombian snacks, as they thought that would be more fitting. In any event, the clients were well fed. We took the clients through our 40 + page document and it went very well. There was a good discussion and by the end of the meeting, everyone was on the same page.
Wednesday consisted of finishing a survey with the client and garnering feedback on the entire experience. We also finalized our executive presentation, which would be presented in front of all the teams, some university students, fellow IBMers, and maybe some press. As Wednesday faded into the past, Thursday appeared, and the final event was upon us.
The presentation was divided into two parts: the first section consisted of clients and IBMers discussing the challenges and outcomes of each project, and the second section consisted of a fishbowl technique, which is when a core group has a discussion while others listen, knowing that anyone in the audience can join in. As expected, all the presentations went well and were well received. Since we did have weekly meetings with all the subgroups, we all knew about each other’s projects and it was nice to be able to celebrate the conclusion together.
When we started the fishbowl technique section, the questions became personal and more about the overall experience. There was one question that asked about when we felt the magic, which meant when we knew that this experience was something special. For most it seemed to have happened early on, or when they presented their deliverables to the client. For me, I think I’m still waiting. I went into this experience with no expectations, so I have nothing to gauge it on. If it impacted me or if it changed me, I won’t really know until I leave. It’s been my experience most don’t realize the importance of a situation or a time until after it passes, so I’m guessing that eventually I’ll have to have a blog post about the cumulative experience that has taken place in Colombia, but that won’t be today.
For now, I know I had a rare opportunity to work in a country that was foreign to me. I worked with many great people and really believed in the mission of my client. I enjoyed working with IBMers from other parts of the world and hearing about their stories while creating new ones. It could be that after all this time (I’ve been waiting since 2014), I’m sorry to see it end. The fact is that the people I’ve spent so much time with over the last month, I may never see again. However, I do take solace in knowing that memories will remain and through meeting them and working with them, I am a better person than I was before this all began.