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Monday, June 23, 2008

[travelogue] Red Eye

Saturday morning dawned early and bright. OK, not so bright. I was up at 4:30am and it was still darkish out, but the light was starting to make its presence known.

This trip was strangely confusing to my internal GPS and I nearly got Mark late for his early flight on Friday because I had no idea where I was. So, at 5:00am when I departed the hotel, I asked the receptionist how to get to the airport. He gave me a small map and some very simple directions and after stopping for gas I was there in 15 minutes.

I sat watching the early planes depart, with one beautiful shot of a plane's nose facing me as I dined sleepily in the airport cafe on a bagel. The sun was rising and light was streaming through a cloud with this giant plane facing me in the foreground. It was enough to make any airline executive weep with joy and pride. I bent down to retrieve my camera because it was going to be a prize-winning shot. When I looked up, 5 second later, plane was gone having been taxied backward onto the runway. The clouds covered the sun and I resumed nom-nom-noming my bagel, saddened that my award-winning picture was taken from me and my chances at a successful future receded.

A few minutes later I was on board my American Eagle flight, bound for Dallas. After a beautiful liftoff (again the clouds and sunlight were really pretty at dawn), I zoned out for the two hour flight. Arrived 20 minutes early at 8:40am and had to sit for the 20 minutes because our gate was still occupied. I landed in a different terminal than I left from so I had to take the shuttle to my car, then the 30+ minute ride home. Touchdown at 10:00am.

Here are some pictures from my Wisconsonian adventure.
Big La Quinta room... complete with hot tub.
The little yellow car. It's such a pill!
Madison, the capitol of Wisconsin
View from the Pier where we ate fried cheese curds and sipped beer
Mark and Roxy*
Walking down state street. Restaurants, museums, and hippies on bikes.
Part of the university on the way to the student union.
More of the student campus - here we see the torture castle, where they make new students consume large quantities of beer. Actually, a recreation center, if I recall. There may not be much difference.
Business as usual... chilling with several thousand students, consuming libations, and listening to an angry rockster moan about amputation. Still, it was a nice night.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Midwest Austin

I'm someone who often misses the obvious, but there's no mistaking that Madison is a college town and that drinking is no mere pastime, but a full-on profession. I am clearly in the 80s/90s version of Austin before all the kids grew up and had kids -- but in the Midwest.

We had some very good meetings today (from a personal development standpoint, one of the first times I've led an analysis engagement, so major props for me for a change). I can't talk about it, so all that's left is food and alcohol. At lunch we walked over to Erin's Snug, a great Irish pub. I tried a midwestern beef burger -- good!

After meetings, Mark, Roxy*, Cleopatra**, and I went to downtown Madison and we started the partying set. I admit to being tired, though and was the night's buzzkill. Conserving my energy for walking, eating, and processing a ton of information from the day, I lapsed into what was probably a very awkward silence. Fortunately, Mark stepped in and helped fill the void that is Michael being tiredly thoughtful. People kept remarking, "you're being very quiet, Michael." This in and of itself is not a surprising statement to my ears. A closed mouth gathers no foot.

The first place we went to was a bar/restaurant on a peir right on one of the large lakes near downtown. The name escapes me at the moment. We tried cheese curds (we had to sign a waiver that we'd try these before we left Wisconsin). These were, well, fried cheese balls. Oddly delicious when dipped in a light wasabi sauce. I had a couple of local beers in 1/2 pint glasses and gravity intensified.

Cleopatra** departed for an existing appointment and we moved on to a place right near the university. We saw the capitol and took some pictures. We went to a Mexican restaurant and had some food - I had nachos, trying to be light, but it was huge. The meat was like pot roast rather than fajita meat I am used to in Texas, but it was all very good. Food + margarita had me positively silent. Mark again filled in, hassling the waitress who took it and dished it right back. Our hero! All with the lovely accent of the region. You betcha! Did we all look that young and thin and unconcerned back in those days? Surely we must have. I might be approaching 40.

From there we walked down the long street to the student union. The walk reminded me a ton of Iowa City, actually - a long pedestrian mall of unique, interesting shops. We went to a former-student bar in the union and sat outside on the patio with a few thousand people as a band warmed up for a show -- right on the lake. It was extremely relaxing - a state I was already having great trouble avoiding. Relaxation with extreme prejudice.

After a shared pitcher of beer, I cried uncle ("crazy uncle Mark!!") and we headed back to the La Quinta. I am one tired analyst. I plan on sleeping better tonight.

I don't want to paint a fully drinking picture of Madison - the people we've interacted have been super nice, and the place is creative, fun, and uninhibited. People were playing music or singing on the sidewalk toward the university. Some people were practicing juggling en masse in the courtyard. Tons of people were just out, enjoying the summer, the quiet atmosphere and lakeside. Yeah, this is a fun place to be, don'tcha know?

Delerious. Going to bed now.
*, **: Names have been changed, etc.


Usually before important meetings, I can't sleep well. It's not that I'm nervous about things going wrong. I think I just get worried about finally getting that one good night of sleep where I wake up an hour after the meeting starts. Consequently, fitful sleep last night. The sun rises astonishingly early way up here in the north, too. No lie - at 4:something am, I peer groggily out the window at the lightening sky and wonder why Mark hasn't called me wondering where I am. My friends know that light triggers me to be awake, so around 5:30 or so I gave up pretense of sleeping and got up to get ready. What a very nice sunrise, though.

Madison has the big sky of Texas, actually - you can see very far into the distance and the clouds and sky just seem to go on and on. The area we are in is somewhat a new development, and it has a very Uptown, Dallas feel. They have the new style of condos that are very close together and tall. Nice looking places with new amenities and so on. Like that place in Dallas: flip-flop luxury style homes. I don't think I came to Wisconsin with any preconceptions, but was surprised to feel it was like home. Big D is all about facade, so Madison has the sophistication without all the silicone and botox. There's a lot of farmland still, so the surrounding area reminds me of some of the more rural areas in the hill country near San Antonio and Austin. All the hauling trucks and farm support infrastructure can't hide the farming roots - and it shouldn't.

Tonight, after work, we're going into downtown Madison for dinner. I've been told its quite picturesque and cool. I'll have some pictures later tonight.

Off to finish getting ready. Travel is the only time you will find me ironing.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

[travelogue] Screaming Hella Busy

Greetings! I write to you today from Madison, Wisconsin!

But first, what's happened since Auburn, Indiana, my many (*cough*) readers want to know.

First of all, Auburn went fine. A lot of potential work then came in so the India and Philippines trip was placed on hold while I worked my butt off for two months. Postponing the big trip was one of the weirdly hard decisions I had to make, and I did it with a heavy heart. Meghna's siblings were married without me there (somehow they made it), and Vikas went on to India and recently started up with a new company. Imagine my sad and happy face all at once - happy for him, sad for me. At least I have a friend for life in India, and I'll visit once I get there.

Then, the morning of my flight to Minnesota in March I started up a rapid fever, some intense shivering even under a mountain of blankets (I am always warm, so this was disconcerting) and had to cancel my flight and my attendance from the workshop. Yep, you guessed it, I got the flu -- from someone on the airplane back from Auburn. I suffered for a week - it was that ass-kicking flu that went around this year. It was debilitating.

Things got better, and I had a quick trip to Iowa City in May. This was pre-Noah's arrival with the boat, although I commented to dad how high the river looked. There was still a lot of meltwater from the spring, and I guess it didn't clear out fast enough. Flying in to Wisconsin today I could the massive flooding.

After Iowa City, no travel until last week. I had a super-fast "It's Saturday morning can you go to Phoenix on Monday" trip request, which I did. Spent two days in Phoenix, Arizona. It was hot. I didn't go beyond a 4-block radius and it was a kind of tense meeting. The kind my friend Margaret would say was fraught with opportunities. It all turned out ok... the kind of meetings you learn from.

This trip to Wisconsin, however, had the feeling of being "a trip", hence the blog entries and subsequent emails for the RSS feed challenged.

Today I got to use the perks of being an American Airlines Advantage Gold member. I've been noticing the last few times that I've traveled that I've always been in Group 1 to board. I also realized that Group 1 means you get to go to the quick line at security. Ah, benefits. However, I wasn't exempt from security's rigorous examination of all my carry-on crap. I don't mind taking off the shoes, but for some reason putting my belt back on in front of a bunch of strangers is a little intimate. I feel like I just did something ilicit that turned out to not be fun at all.

There was a little confusion about gates but I figured it out, flew out on a very quiet and calm flight to Madison, Wisconsin. The pilot was very interested in telling us what we were flying over. He pointed out Mustang, OK, interestingly, where one of my newest online buddies, Div, allegedly lives in royal puppy-filled splendor. We also passed over Wichita, KS, where one of my longest RL buddies, Naomi lives. Shout out to Naomi & Div! For the Horde!!!

Upon landing in Madison, hopefully not at all like the premise of disaster, was a small private plane, slightly listing to one side in the grass of the runway. About 10 emergency vehicles surrounded it. After making my way through the terminal, I got to meet our sales minion, Mark, whom I've heard on the phone but never seen in person. Very cool to put a face with the voice. Our company is so spread out sometimes. It makes the homecomings and meetings very pleasant.

Why in Madison? We're meeting with a client who is improving publishing processes and technology, and if you've been reading along at all (I know at least a couple outside of friends and family who have, now) you know this is where I come in. No, there's not a super-hero costume. There might be theme music.

Mark and I met with our client for an awesome dinner at the Cloud 9 Grille. I'm not supposed to talk about details around clients, but lets just say the entire experience was heavenly. Salmon, steak, and rice.... mmmm. Tried a local beer, Spotted Cow, which I moooed over. I reached my serene place very quickly... stars in alignment, all that.

It's when you relax a little sometimes you realize how busy things have been, and I realize I like the travel part -- yes, me, who 3 years ago would rather have driven to Wisconsin than fly. Props to Tom for the maiden voyage to Florida for the space shuttle who in large part got me over my fear of flying. The ensuing 100,000 miles over 2 years helped a little. But, my wandering point is that meeting new clients, helping solve problems, and focusing on one thing instead of 40 are the nice aspects of travel and of my job. It helps to have willing, participating clients.

Before I lapse into marketing euphoria and start shouting buzzwords down the La Quinta halls (by the way, above and beyond the nicest La Quinta I've stayed in - makes the one in Austin look like a hovel), I'll depart. My final props are to my budy Wayne, who gave me a ton of good information on places to go in his former haunting areas here in Madison. Friday night, after wrap up I may wander.

I've got two days here, and I return home to Big D way too early on Saturday (6:30am flight).

Upcoming trips? Anne-Sophie and Florent (co-workers) will be coming from Paris to visit our Dallas office in late July. Unfortunately the Euro to USD ratio is not supportive of me traveling over there. Aside from that, no other trips currently planned... but it's not Saturday yet.