Planes, boats and trains.

Below me the Rockies are spread out as far as I can see.  They look like the paper- mache mountains over and through which my Uncle Albert’s HO gauge trains would run once a year when set up during the Christmas holidays.  He loved these trains and even today at the age of ninety is in charge of the model train club at his nursing home near Pittsburgh where my family lived and where I grew up.

I’m returning to San Francisco from having spent two days in Charlotte, North Carolina, working with the management of a truck fleet maintenance outsourcing business on their marketing initiatives.  I’ve made this trip back and forth from the East Coast to the West so many times over the past thirty years that I’ve lost count.  I do, however, remember my first, and up until this week, only trip to Charlotte.  I was fifteen and my swimming coach flew with me there to swim one race, and to set the U.S. National Record in the event.  I did just that and my picture appeared in the sports section of the Charlotte newspaper.  It must have been a slow sports day since swimmers so rarely ever appear in any newspaper, much less a young guy from out of town.

A lot of my life has been spent in planes, hotels, rental cars, boats, trains and other people’s offices around the world.  It’s the by-product of wanderlust and a career in global advertising: the first leading to the second. Even before I started making weekly trips from Manhattan to Cincinnati, Dallas and Wilton, Connecticut in my first years at Benton & Bowles, I had already become a seasoned traveler to and from school in Maine and with my first job at Aperture, where among many trips around the country, I had the opportunity to visit Paul Strand at his home in France.  I had crossed the Atlantic twice on the QE II and SS France to attend graduate school in Ireland, sailed in the Caribbean, spent two months on ferries visiting nearly every island in the Hebrides, and crept through the Alps on Swiss narrow gauge railways.

My true commitment to travel began at Needham Harper and Steers when I convinced my friends John Bradstock and John Wren who ran the international division to send me on a foreign assignment.  It was a way to jump into a senior management role far sooner than had I stayed in New York while at the same time fulfilling a dream to work overseas.  I had majored in international marketing at NYU business school with this goal in mind and finally achieved it with my first posting as managing director of NH&S’s Barcelona agency.  This began a career journey that lead over the years to management roles in Singapore, Melbourne, Paris and Tokyo with literally hundreds of additional trips resulting in more than forty-six countries stamped in my ever expanding passports. I’ve been to Bermuda more times than I’ve been to New Jersey.

These years were not without drama, with inevitable client and agency ups and downs, illness, marriage difficulties, years of jet lag, loneliness and the hardship of being away from my home and family.  I often felt like Marco Polo.  When managing DDB Needham Singapore–a comic novel could be written about this–I spent a week of high anxiety when the Singapore government, which owns all the media, threatened to arrest me as head of the office for non-payment of the agency’s media bills.  (New York eventually came to my rescue after first directing me to a non-existent line of credit at the Hong Kong Shanghai Bank.)

Long haul flights were my favorites: New York-Tokyo; Singapore-London; Paris-Hong Kong; New York-Buenos Aires.  I especially liked crossing the date line and losing or gaining a day.  Seventeen hours on a plane were bliss–time removed from reality, time removed perhaps from a reality I wanted to avoid.  Cross country flights today seem short.  And how could Boston-San Francisco match the romance of Amsterdam-Jakarta?  Though less frequent, I happily say yes today to any trip over six hours in the air.  Work can be done in peace, long books absorbed, naps enjoyed, and on a few occasions over the past several years time spent quietly holding hands with someone I loved.

I used to fantasize that the aging process was suspended when crossing time zones.  Hours and days somehow out of the flow of time. My assumption–wish?–was that one stayed younger, that the time was subtracted never added.  By this rationale I am at least three years younger than my real age.  The opposite is more likely the case with all the sleeplessness and those free radicals over the Pole.

The greatest benefit from all this travel is the many friends I’ve made along the way.  Alan in Paris.  Sean in Mannheim. Janine, Tim, Sherri and many others in Melbourne.  Yamane-san, Sangu-san, Sasaki-san in Tokyo.  Tormod in Denmark…. These I’ll leave for another day.

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2 Comments

  1. Sounds like an adventuresome, story-filled life where friendship is precious. Eager to hear the next chapters…

    Reply
  2. Thank you, Kare. Sometimes I look back on all of this (and maybe ahead to where life might still lead) and think Laurence Sterne couldn’t have written a more picaresque story. I think it’s changed my DNA. Out of all of it my friendships are the most precious, vital and a continuous link to each and every place.

    Reply

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