My experience this month was to go to the Giant Panda Breeding Research Base outside the Chinese city of ChengDu. The facility is home to over 50 giant pandas. It also has detailed exhibits on panda evolution, habits, and conservation efforts as well as an artificial lake, tea house, and gift shop. Once a fierce carnivoir, the Giant Panda evolved into a mostly peace loving eater of bamboo leaves. First made known in the West in 1869 by a French missionary, the Panda’s choice of diet require it spend most of its day and night sleeping waking up only long enough to chow down for a few hours on a low nutrition bamboo diet. As the signs at the base point out, this kind of life makes the animal oddly endearing. Regrettably it also does not leave a lot of time for mating and the total worldwide estimated population of the species about 1,000. Breeding is the focus of the base and I felt myself strangely moved by the comparison between my own challenges dating and those of the Giant Panda.
Today it is my good fortune to be in
An old movie showing on cable, The Out of Towners, reminded me of what the city use to be like, dirty, dangerous, and expensive. Now it is just expensive. The Out of Towners stared Jack Lemmon and Sandy Denis as a couple who come to
To see how much things have changed I left my hotel at dark and ventured alone into
My first week of experimenting in homelessness has been pretty successful. One of the aspects of modern cultural that makes this possible is commercial uniformity. In Denver I get up in the morning and go to Starbucks for a Cafe Americano, Jamba Juice for shot of wheat grass, and Safeway for an apple. Here in San Francisco I can go to exactly the same stores and get exactly the same products. My connection with the Internet is consistent, my cell phone works or does not work as often as it does in Colorado.
The concept of home doesn’t really work for me anymore. Between the two of them, my mother and ex-wife destroyed the idea of home as place you could go and be accepted. Being alone in my apartment just reminds me that I don’t have a home. It is a warehouse for things of where I am just another thing. Instead I experiment with internalizing the feeling of belonging. The chair in the coffee shop is my home as long as I sit there. The lobby of the hotel with internet access is my office. My latest experiment in homeless comes courtesy of the builder of my apartment. They are paying me to leave for two weeks while they make repairs to the ceiling. During this time I will try and make myself at home wherever I go. What that means at a practice level is that I eat the same foods, accomplish the same tasks, do the same work as I would were at “home”.
Its been a long time since I visited Miami Beach. Since I have been here last the buildings seem to have gotten bigger while the swimsuits have gotten smaller. Miami has become the urban paradise, a sort of Manhattan in the tropics.
Spent an interesting afternoon on the boardwalk. Walking along it, got a call from Marc Benioff from his private jet while he flew from New York to Arizonia. Marc sounded a little hourse and tired but we soon had a lively conversation about databases, competitors, and Cisco. Expect our interview to appear in the Enterprise Sof tware Observer on Tuesday.
This trip to San Francisco is starting like a real disaster. Per usual rushing out the door at the last possible minute. Only today there was in an accident on the one highway leading to the airport. This time it seemed like my flight would take off without me for sure. Calling the airlines to inform them of my traffic dilemma, the reservations agent tried to rebook my flight but finally confided my best course of action would be to get to the airport on time. Fortunately for me the traffic cleared just as my car reached scene of the accident. My Toyota wagon escorted a lopsided, smashed gray Toyota wagon propped up uneasily on a flat bed tow truck on the first leg of its journey to the auto graveyard. Maybe that driver had been in a hurry too.
After that sobering scene I drove purposefully but not recklessly to the airport. Fortunately enough no one was there on a sunny Saturday afternoon and passing though the ticket gate, security, and the train in record time and reached my fight just as it was boarding. My departure could not have been more efficiently timed although there was stress in every step.
Our flight arrived at SFO around 10:30 at night. The airport was crowded despite the late hour and it took another 15 minutes before baggage claim could be reached. Since I was sitting at the back of the plane, almost everyone else arrived before I did, but we were still ahead of our bags.
Suddenly there was a commotion in the crowd ahead of me.
A short man in his sixties with a white goatee collapsed at the south end of the Alaskan Airlines baggage carrousel. Overcoming their initial shock, some of the other passengers closest to him moved to his aid when it became evident he was not going to get up on his own power.
One of those passengers, a small middle aged woman, rolled him onto his back. He gave a couple of loud grasps, almost like he was snoring as he lay prone.
“He is having a heart attack,” she shouted. “Call 911”.
“I’ll call,” I announced and quickly pulled my cell phone out of my pocket. Most of the other passengers seem transfixed by the sight although one man repeatedly suggested in an almost demanding tone that the little man be give aspirin.
My emergency call kept rolling over through some kind of IVR hell for what seemed minutes. I had to press buttons and listen to recorded warnings that I would have to give out my telephone number. It was not a very encouraging wait. Fearing the worse, I went over the white airport courtesy phone and dialed 911 which did not pick up either. I was standing in the terminal listening to two phones, one in each ear until finally someone picked up.
Meanwhile the woman, who must have been a doctor or nurse, began pulling up his shirt. A couple of the other passengers whose training, profession, or personality gave them confidence to touch me came to her aid. Despite his small statue, the man was seriously overweight an had a very big belly which was a ghost like white in contrast to his head which was starting to redden. His tennis soled feet splayed outward and lapsed into motionlessness beyond what even the deepest sleep could bring.
As this happened I briefly explained the situation to the 911 operator. Her first question was to ask my name which I spelled out.
“He has stopped breathing,” yelled the woman aiding the traveler. The small group of Samaritans began quickly debating among themselves who was the best person to do mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Next the 911 operator asked if anyone else at the airport had called for help. She told me to ask around. As I tried to find out, I could also hear her speaking to the emergency dispatcher at the airport just as two police officers carrying rescue ran up. She thanked me by name for calling and we hung up.
The policeman and policewoman unrolled a pack. The pack contained a monitor that had wires and spoke. The monitor had a voice I recognized - Mason Adams – the voice of Smuckers Jams who ironically died himself this April of a heart attack. They moved everyone back and gave him a jolt which did not restart his breathing.
The dead voice of Mason kept repeating to them that the man was not breathing, to clear any obstructions in the throat and mouth and take his pulse.
Just as the good Samaritans have given way to the police officers, they in turn gave way to the fireman who in turn gave way to the paramedics. Although the man might have had a heart attack in a hospital, the airport seemed like a pretty good second choice. Still he was still not breathing and his face was turning purple.
You could see from this circumstance that the human body is a collection of tissues and cells that cling to life even when the other cells they depend on fail. As the team outside him worked to save his life, the battle for life within was taking place somewhere else. If he survives, I doubt he will remember anything about either battle.
According to the Woman’s Heart Foundation cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the USA. Over 1.5 million heart attacks occur in the United States each year leading to 500,000 deaths.
Eventually an ambulance came with a gurney. It has impossible for me to tell if he was alive or dead, or would live or die. I had done what I could and turned away.
Since a heart attack is so common, it was hard not to wonder if I wasn’t looking into my own future. Thinking this way makes me tired of mistakes. Mistakes like not packing my bag until just before I go and leaving things behind in the process. Mistakes like trying to use the deadline of travel to do every possible thing I should have done in the past week. Mistakes like not minding to my duties as a father and attending my daughter’s soccer game. Why are we so often our own worst enemies? I am tired of making the same old mistakes. Its time I started making new ones.
Living in the modern world gives you an odd sense of geography. For example, my current and childhood home is Denver, Colorado. Ask anyone what landscape comes to mind in conjunction with the place and the answer will inevitably be "Mountains!". I am a good example of this mentality. Despite living for much of my adulthood and most of my childhood within a few miles of the "mile high" step at the state capitol, I have only crossed the plains on the ground once in my life. As inhabitants, when our thoughts stretch beyond the limits of the greater metropolitan area they inevitably extend West. Yet geologically Denver is located on the edge of a basin that extends into eastern Colorado, southeastern Wyoming, the southwestern corner of South Dakota, and the Nebraska Panhandle. Thanks to air travel, it is easy to ignore the ocean of grass that all but surrounds us here.
So no matter how large the mountains may loom in our imagination, Denver lies on the periphery and not in the center of an alpine zone and shares much more in common in terms of climate, flora, and fauna of places like Cheyenne, Wichita, or Oklahoma City than it does with the Aspen.
To correct this error in thinking among future generations, I have elected to take my children to see what lies east and north of us. Our first stop was to hike the Pawnee Buttes in the Pawnee National Grasslands in north central Colorado. The buttes tower 250 feet above valley floor below and were created by glacial melt water at the end of the last great ice age.
From the car, the earth around them looks flat and lifeless. Yet walking across the land towards the buttes makes one immediately aware of the multitude of life that makes the grasslands a home. Butterflies, rabbits, locust, and snakes all scatter as we make our way down the trail. In the wind, even the grass seems lively and animated. Naturally the kids want to turn back at once but gradually the sense of adventure awakens in them as we follow the trail into the badlands. There the landscape is more barren but the view to the east more rewarding as the land stretches out beyond the imagination to the distant horizon.
Although the hike is easy and the Buttes about the right distance for a stop, I wish we had come later and spent the night under the stars before starting it. That way we would really have felt like to live in the grass and I suspect the Buttes must be even more spectacular at dawn than they are in the early afternoon.
Cruising the back roads we make our way north, north east. Sometimes the road is paved, sometimes it is not. The paving is deceiving because once we follow it until it ends - not at a town, but at a low fenced-in area with a few large, low mental air vents. A missile silo and a reminder that once this area was on the front lines of the cold war. Whether abandoned or one of the estimated 650 silos to be still active, we did not stay around long enough to find out.
Eventually the back roads led us to Pine Bluffs, Wyoming. Originally named Rock Ranch, Pine Bluffs was as the end of several cattle trails that began in Texas and once was a major shipment point for cattle. We stopped in the towns small but varied historical museum. The register said we where the first visitors in several days, even though the museum is only a few blocks from I-80.
From Pine Bluffs we made our way to place I had always wanted to visit Scottsbluff, Nebraska. Growing up the weather reporters on T.V. always mentioned the high and low temperatures there, which increased its significance in my young and impressionable mind. I liked the name Scottsbluff because I had a friend named Scott and figured whoever named the town must have had a friend named Scott too.
It was only much later that I learned that Scottsbluff was named after an early mountain man named Hiram Scott who fell ill in the autumn of 1827 on his way back to St. Louis from a fur trading expedition. What happened next is now more a part of legend than fact, but by all accounts, fearing for their own lives, Scott was abandoned by his companions. The next season when they returned, his bones where found some distance from where he was last seen near the magnificent formation of rocks that now bears his name.
In much the same innocent spirit, as a child I also thought Casper, Wyoming (a place we would visit later in the trip) was named after Casper the friendly ghost. Casper Wyoming was actually named after Fort Caspar, which in turn was named after a young Lieutenant in the 11th Ohio Cavalry, Caspar Collins.
In retaliation for the November 1864 Sand Creek massacre of a Cheyenne Indian village by Colonel John Chivington's 3rd Colorado Cavalry, posts across the plains were attacked by the Sioux, Cheyenne, and Arapaho. On July 26, 1865 sentries at the Platte Bridge Station noticed a large number of Indian warriors gathering. Since a wagon train of supplies was expected to arrive that same day, soldiers at the remote outpost feared it would be ambushed. Although he was only passing through the station on his way back to his own post, Lt. Collins volunteered to lead a small detachment of Kansas cavalrymen to warn the wagon train of the danger after their own officers refused to do so. Soon after leaving the station, the detachment was attacked and Lt. Collins killed (and according to some accounts captured alive and tortured to death). So were four of the Kansans. The supply train arrived in the middle of the gun fight and all but 3 of the 25 of the soldiers guarding it were also killed. Eventually the Platte Bridge Station was reinforced and renamed Ft. Caspar.
This might seem like some story of suffering out of a distant and forgotten past, but such men are not gone forever. What about Pat Tillman? He turned down a $3.6 million contract with the Arizona Cardinals to enlist in the Army in May 2002. Two years later Tillman was with the 2nd Battalion of 75th Ranger Regiment when he was killed in Afghanistan by friendly fire.
The world is lot richer, darker, and grittier than I imagined as a child. We name places, not after people we like, but after the people who do things we can't imagine ourselves doing in their place. Scottsbluff and Ft. Caspar were named in the hope that some of their courage would rub off on the people who stayed behind and maybe someday there will be a Ft. Tillman for the same reason.
The town of Scottsbluff itself was only laid out in 1900 by the Lincoln Land Company, a subsidiary of the Burlington Northern Railroad. Like many towns along the North Platte River, Scottsbluff came into being as a direct result of the railroad's extension along its banks. Together with Gering, Scottsbluff is the companionable size of 20,000 and is laid out in the orderly grid system so favored by real estate speculators in the 19th century.
Coming in from the south, we passed the spectacular bluffs on our left and historic markers, farms, and golf courses on our right. Aside from the bluffs, Scottsbluff seemed quieter than Cheyenne, and less wind swept than Laramie. Near our motel was a large plant for turning beats into sugar. Sweet. A accidental search of turned up what I think is a good example of the wholesome corn fed beauty you can expect to find in women there. The town has four public courses which confirms my impression on the drive in is that it would be a good place to be a golfer.