Travel


We had one of the most amazing weekends in New York City.  We had one very long and exciting day in Manhattan/Queens and another in Brooklyn with friends.  I was in Manhattan giving a presentation and decided to stay for the weekend, so Amber flew out and we started our tiresome adventure.  We visited many friends and I thoroughly enjoyed our in “the other city”.

New York Times

A friend at the New York Times invited us both on a tour of their Manhattan building and the printing/production facility in Queens.  Familiar with large companies an their clandestine operations was thrown out the window as both buildings are clearly emblazoned with the company name across the side.  I’m an avid NYTimes reader and have so many fond memories reading the Sunday edition with Amber at Herb’s (no longer there) in Noe Valley.  It sounds so hipster, but memories I strongly enjoy.

The Manhattan office of the New York Times is the first entirely ‘green’ building in the city.  The building itself is entirely customizable.  There are window shades that automatically open and close as the sun moves to keep the building cool.  The lighting system will adjust to the specific needs of each department or office.  There are ventilation ducts throughout the building to enable a seamless flow of air.  The artistic nature of the building is reflected in the art pieces that decorate the hallways.  From the flat screen monitors projecting daily images from the paper itself to the Italian leather furniture the interior is something to behold.  Each floor matches the ethos of that department.  For example, the fashion floor is covered in fashion photos from the Times Magazine; the book review department has desks stacked high with submissions and copies of the OED; the science section has even more books including copies of every field of scientific research.  It’s a culture that enables the employees to live and work in their famous building.

From there we went to the printing facility in Queens.  The innocuous exterior does not reflect the almost surgical precision happening inside.  Upon entering we walked through (literally) the printing presses from start to finish and marveled at the miles of special track they have for moving thousands of newspapers efficiently.  When warming up the presses they may print a few thousand papers just to make sure the alignment of the colors and printing is correct.  They showed us special codes on the paper that show what press it originated from and how many times that page was updated.  There are even special dots on the front page that depict what edition of that day’s paper it is.  The de Vinci code of the NYTimes!

The paper starts in a 9 story warehouse that looks more like the door storage facility from Monster’s Inc. than anything else.  Robotic arms move 1.5 ton rolls of paper onto a conveyor belt that unmanned robots lift and load onto the presses.  We were able to walk among these robots as they moved and maneuvered around us as if secretly guided by invisible beings.  The paper is then run through the presses, different sizes depending on what pages of the paper are being printed.  It’s not until fully printed that the paper is cut and folded.  At top speed these machines can print 85,000 papers per hour – that is not pages, but entire papers!  Some papers are printed on the evening before distribution, but thicker ones such as the beloved Sunday edition are too big for one run.  Instead part of the paper (i.e. book review section) is printed early and held in reserve on massive wheels.  These reserve sections will be inserted into the rest of the paper when it is finally printed.  All of this is done by massive machines and miles-upon-miles of track that move the papers throughout the factory floor.

Bruce Lee – Enter the Dragon

The following day we stayed with friends in Brooklyn.  They are extreme kung-fu fans and got us seats to an open air showing of Bruce Lee’s movie Enter the Dragon.  This was one of the many open air movies showing in Prospect Park.  It was nice having friends who could hook us up with VIP passes meaning we had access to the beer tent and, most importantly, had a seat for the screening.  As the movie began, even in the opening credits, the audience cheered over and over.  I could tell there was something different about this screening but didn’t catch on quite as quick as most.  The music was new, updated and could not have possibly have been part of the original score.  It was not.

At this special screening Karsh Kale was mixing a new and updated live score.  In addition Soh Daiko was on stage drumming.  It has to be the most amazing version of any kung-fu movie I have ever seen.  The music matched each scene and reflected the intonation and intent of the original soundtrack.  I left there with a new appreciation for this movie.

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That’s right, I’m back in the Midwest again – ok, as much as St. Louis is considered as such.  I had a great dinner with friends.  It’s funny that when frequent business travelers get together all they talk about are TSA and the troubles of airports, hotels, etc.  (I’m told that once you have kids, the topic of “poop” suddenly becomes dinner conversation – ewww.)

I so rarely get to talk about myself but everyone seemed interested in my background.  It was nice that one of the dinner guests was German so I could pull that out and dust off a few words and stories.  Many of the others read my work blog and said they enjoyed it.  I’ve heard others say it but it’s strange to meet someone in person who actually reads your blog.  I’ve always said that the Internet gives everyone their Andy Warhol 15-minutes of fame.

I also met a fellow from South Africa so we talked about his past there.  S. Africa (.za) is a place I really want to visit some time – Johannesburg, not Cape Town.  Everyone else came from across the US, mostly on the East Coast.

I was surprised at how few of the people used social networking tools such as Facebook and Twitter, but a few of them had Flickr accounts.  I suppose taking digital photos is more common than micro blogging, but I would have expected more of the younger people there to be on Facebook.  Maybe the masses are still a generation behind them.

I enjoyed both participating in conversation and watching the consultants talk amongst themselves.  I’m no longer a hard-core techie but still enjoy listening to them talk about operating systems and new programs.  It’s as if I’m looking back in time.

I’m going to enjoy the next few days, but am already missing home.  I’ll be on the road for two weeks solid (no going home between weeks), but I just started my trip so things are ok now, but ask me again in a few days.  I like traveling, but someone it gets to be a bit much.  I say this, because after a while you start to think of the hotel room as “home” and you end up in hour long debates about the efficacy of TSA and what constitutes a “zip top” bag.  Although these are rallying points for frequent travelers, they are not how I want to reflect on my legacy many years from now.  At least I’m meeting new and interesting people who I might be able to include as “friends” several years from now.

So I missed my flight from Prague to Madrid today tossing me into one of the worst travel situations I have ever been in.  I won’t bother telling you how I missed my flight because the reason is so dumb that it defies reason.  The point is that there are only two flights daily from Prague to Madrid – one in the AM and one in the PM.  After missing the AM flight I am now waiting at the airport for my PM flight which will get me into Madrid around midnight.

Since I have now missed my flight from Madrid to NYC, I have the added bonus of getting to spend the night as an airport refuge, and then 14 hours later board a flight from Madrid to NYC.

Of course the domino effect would not be perfect unless that made me miss another flight so that is exactly what happens.  I will arrive in NYC having missed my flight from there to another city.  I cannot believe such a small cause could have such an amazingly horrible effect.

I got back from a wedding in D.C. and had the pleasure of seeing some people I had not talked to since college.  Since my friend who was getting married is the “connector” we all have a mini reunion.  One guy from my college dorm room made a comment that stuck with me.  I said to him, “Jim you haven’t changed a bit,” he smiled and replied, “and neither have you!  We may improve but we don’t change much.”

How odd to think such a thing.  I really do believe I’ve changed in oh so many ways, but maybe not in others and that is what he was commenting on.  Had you asked me if I would give presentations in front of others for a living I have smiled and no way.  So maybe this change is just an improvement, but I think it has also changed the way I interact with others and theus perceive the world.

Sure, maybe I’ve not changed in some regards, but I like to think I’ve changed over the past 7 years.  Whew.

I arrived in Boston last night for the week long “graduation tour”.  I met up with my traveling friend and we both went out for dinner.  By chance we ended up at the Bell in Hand, which claims to be the oldest bar in America, established in 1795.  It was normal bar food with nice tall beers.

We had planned on going to Mike’s Pastry for desert but so had about 100 other people.  We went back to the hotel instead and called it a night.

This morning, we have a drive to the campus, then registration and the fun begins.

No, not mine.  I’m off to southern Illinois for a friend’s wedding.  Delays in LAX have me here blogging for a while.  I’ll arrive in Chicago and then immediately caravan south into the wild blue yonder.

Don’t forget to check out the flickr site.  I’ll upload more photos later.

I wrote before about my travels in OZ so I wanted to add a few comments about my travels to Tokyo and Seoul. Before I write anything, I am so very happy to be back home after 5 weeks of continuous travel.

Tokyo was definitely my favorite of the two Asian cities. I arrived to the hotel at 11:00 PM and remembered what my friend J2K said, “if I had one night in Tokyo I would spend it in Shibuya“. So, knowing that the subway stopped running at midnight and I would probably be out all night, I hopped on the subway and rode the Metro to the Shibuya stop. Now, let me mention that it took me about 20 minutes just to figure out how to buy a ticket, because all the machines are in Japanese.

When I stepped out into the streets at Shibuya it was my first experience in Japan. There was a sea of people crossing the streets and even more just hanging around and going somewhere. The megatrons (massive TV screens mounted to the sides of buildings) blasted visual ads and combined with the constant glow of neon from each alleyway seemed to light up the city and make it feel like Christmas and New Years all at once. I walked all around while simultaneously reading a novel about the area. I passed by many of the infamous Love Hotels, where people who could not mingle socially would meet for 3 hour trysts.

I then stumbled by a line of people waiting for a night club and went on in.  I danced to drum-and-bass until the wee hours of the morning, and then stumbled home along with the sea of others who strategically planned their retreat to the Metro and then home.

I spent time working and visiting with others during those few days.  I met several Americans and explored other areas of the city such as Roppongi for food and Harajuku & Omote-sando for shopping and cosplay watching.  What an amazing place and culture.

I had less time in Seoul and spent it mostly sampling the amazing food and exploring the infinite shopping.  My last night there I walked for maybe 4 hours and kept finding little neighborhoods with street vendors serving any (and all) kind of food and clothes for sale.  On the trip home I told the stewardess that I should have brought an empty suitcase for all the things I could buy.  She told me, “why bring one when you can buy it there?”  This reflected the consumerist nature of the locals and the tourists.

I spent one day visiting the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) or Military Demarcation Line (MDL) separating North and South Korea.  This is the most heavily guarded border on the planet with people on both sides very tense.  We were able to visit the actual border and sit in the conference room with S. Korean military soldiers at attention.  It was not scary, but everyone was alert as you could look 500 ft away and see the S. Korean guard tower with soldiers looking at you.  You also had to sign a form from the UN stating that you could get killed on this trip and they would not be responsible.

But that aside, the most surreal experience was driving to Panmunjom. The trip there passed along the freeway where you can look and see the barbed wire (concertina wire) fence and the river separating the two countries.  You can literally look over the river and see other country and some houses there.  I was not in Berlin when the wall was still standing, but I imagine this is how it must have felt.  To be so close to a country that is so far (politically) away.  To know that family and friends are over there and separated from you.  It cannot be easy.

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