San Diego Day 1: The Lights of Mexico

Something in my head went off and I woke up and looked at the clock. It was 6:15. SHIT! I bolted out of bed, woke up Millie and Danny and ran to the bathroom. SHIT! The last thought I had before I fell asleep last night was "I've never missed one - I trust my body"... apparently my body felt compelled to turn off my alarm in my sleep.

Let me back up a bit.

I promised Danny that when I came back from my sales meeting in San Diego, I wouldn't be smoking anymore. He's not real happy that I started again, and neither am I frankly. So, this is a promise I intend to keep. I have a box of nicotine gum and I smoked my last smoke around 2am last night. Let me say that again so you can begin to build a picture of my morning.

I had my last smoke around 2am. (Here's the part I haven't told you) My limo was coming at 6:30am. So bolting up at 6:15 was part of the process of getting out the door. I hate rushing. I'd rather be up at 5:30, get ready and be sitting by the door when the limo pulls in. Instead I got to rush around and only had a moment to hug Danny, who burst into tears, before heading out into subzero windchills to get in the limo. Not the way I wanted it. But somewhere in my mind my body said "you still haven't missed one".

And I didn't smoke.

There 's only one service that drives from Dekalb to O'Hare, so I've had this driver before. Old guy. Nice guy. We had a chat on the way in, as the sun was coming up over a very frosty Chicagoland. Limo rides like this are always awkward for me  because I just want to nod off, especially this time. But I didn't. If this guy was going to freeze his taint off to drive me, the least I can do is talk to the guy.

I had a ticket for US Airways. I hauled my crap into the terminal and attempted check-in. No good. I tried it again. No good. Finally I got an attendant.

"Actually sir, you are on United."

"No, my Expedia itinery says US Airways."

"Oh, we share customers. We send them some of ours, they send us some of theirs... But United is in Terminal 1. Just walk to the end of the building..."

So let’s say I walk into McDonald's and order a Big Mac. And they hand me a Whopper (yes I know BK is basically running this ad right now on TV... strange). I don't want a Whopper... I want a Big Mac.  I went to US Airways because I don't like Untied. Everybody flies United... and United treats you like everybody flies on them. Not to mention O'Hare is the hub for United.

I wanted to fly smaller, but apparently someone else had other ideas. So... I had to trudge back out into the subzero windchill to walk back to terminal 1 - luggage in tow. Now I have to wait in line. Now I have to take the walk to the United gate, which involves going underground into a tunnel that looks like Club 54. All the things I was trying to avoid.

And I didn't smoke.

I have to say, for all my bitching, the flight was not bad. Ratatouille... or however you spell that, played. And I slept a lot. The flight was crammed, but not terrible. The man sitting next to me was older, in his fifties easily, and he had Down's Syndrome. I helped him with his headphones and a few things. But I felt horrible because he would smile at me and say something, but I honestly couldn't understand him.

There was this one guy, but this was more in the waiting area before we boarded. He irritated the sweet squeezy shit out of me. He was probably my age, maybe younger. His hair was prematurely gray - you know, young face/old hair... that look. Cut a little longer - like a college professor. This guy had two kids. One, a little girl that he carried around. I heard her name, but can't recall. But the boy, about 4 years old, was named Gleason.

First of all the dad talked to both of them in a voice that allowed everyone at Gate C9 know, that he was their dad. Same volume and tone as some asshole on a cellphone. Get the picture. On top of that he is one of these dads that needs to turn every interaction with his son (not the daughter mind you) into a coaching experience. These are verbatim:

"Gleas, watch me. When you go to pet a dog, put your hand out like this and bend down. Then when they know you're not going to hurt them..."

(I don't know what the boy was doing, but I heard this) "Gleas, if you ever want heelies, that's what it's going to be like. Good, now concentrate. There you go! More on your heels. Good!"

and the most annoying... The kid had lost a rubberband he was shooting around. Here was dad. "I see the rubberband. Over there, behind you. Made you look!! Gleas, it's over there. Made you look! Oh, I see it, over there. Made you look!!"  Ten minutes. Relentlessly. And the kid wasn't laughing, the dad was... well... kind of a dick. I just didn't like him. And fuck him. I don't have to. I'll never see him again.

And I didn't smoke... or eat anything, which sucked.

San Diego has to be the fastest trip through an airport, ever. Except maybe Kerry airport in Ireland, which was the size of a medium sized banquet hall. I literally exited the plane, had my bags and was outside in 15 minutes. Sweet. I tracked down Jeff and Rose's plane, which had just landed, hopped a little commuter bus to Terminal 2 to meet up with them.

After the way the morning started, things were looking up. I found them getting their luggage, we hopped in a cab and I got to see my first bit of San Diego.

Until just a few years ago, Jeff used to live here, so he be came our tour guide. The hotel we were going to was way out on Coronado Island. The Loews Coronado Bay Resort to be exact. As everyone told me, Coronado Island is beautiful. And as Steve Lord warned me, the bridge across the bay is something to behold.

On our way down the island we passed the Hotel Del Coronado where "Some Like It Hot" was filmed. It was also the first hotel wired for electricity by Thomas Edison... AND Frank Baum wrote The Wizard of Oz while staying there. All of Houghton is going there for a dinner later in the week - I'm looking forward to that.

So, we finally reach our hotel. Lovely. Really. Jeff, Greg and I are all on the same floor, just feet from each other - so trouble will no doubt ensue. See, this is our last sales meeting. My division of Houghton is in the process of being sold... so this is it. This is the last time I will see many of these people, even if I continue on with the new company... it'll never be the same. I plan for this to be a memorable meeting.

FINALLY, I have a good view. My room looks out onto the bay, with San Diego and the mountains beyond. If I sleep with the curtains open, the sun will rise right over the mountains. THAT I have to see. I'm also happy because I haven't spent much time in the presence of the Pacific. I'd seen it a little in 2000 when I landed in San Francisco. But now it's all around me. YAY!

We made plans to meet for dinner at 6:30, I threw in Muddy Waters' "Folk Singer" album and napped away the rest of the afternoon.

Greg and his wife Denise have a rental car, so the four of us climbed into it and Jeff directed us to Old Town, San Diego. We ate at a small place called El Agave. Fantastic. The walls are all lit, see-through liquor cabinets filled with the most amazing collection of tequilas I've ever seen. We ate lots of Mole and pork cooked so long that it fell apart under a green tomatillo mole. Outstanding.

On the way home Jeff pointed out the lights of Mexico along the horizon. I have to admit, the urge is strong. Even if it's into Tijuana, that romantic, Fandango urge to cross the border is strong. I haven't been so far, and I don't know if I'll get the chance this time, but the draw it is there... Thanks to Tom Russell and his Borderland and Hotwalker albums.

Off to bed now. The last Houghton hurrah starts at 7:45... Peace Out.

And I didn't smoke.

San Diego Day 2: Topless and Bottomless

A history making storm is approaching. It's been making its way down the coast. It's going to hit today, the question is simply.. when and how bad.

Last night Obama won in Iowa. So I tooled around all day in my Obama in'08 T-shirt. It's nice to be on the winning side. :) This is technically day 0 when most people are arriving and checking in, however, my group had  a day 0 meeting. The vibe here is interesting. Jeff and I are yucking it up because we know this is the end of an era. So it's bittersweet, but we also had an outstanding year - so there's just a lot of celebration going on. It's, as I said, strange.

I slept great last night. My bed is covered in different kinds of pillows that I folded myself into. On top of that I put my MP3 player on "Play All" and shuffle... which means that with no method or rationale, any of the 750 hours worth of tracks I have could go off. It made for interesting sleep.

So I woke up and got dressed - not long after, Jeff knocked on the door and we headed to breakfast.  If there was a reoccuring theme today it was me shoveling food into my face. The food here is great. Breakfast was pretty straightforward, but our little lunch buffet included lemongrass chicken and tofu fried rice. And the rolls here are incredible.

The meeting I was in all day was fairly non-descript. When it finally ended I went back to my room and crashed out for a few minutes. Ledford, after much joking  did allow me to borrow his beard trimmer. My beard has been curling into my mouth and driving me freaking nuts. I hung out in Ledford's room for a few minutes and wound up catching sight of a topless woman changing in a room with the curtains open. Her back was to me, then she turned and angels sang. I probably stood there, my mouth gaping open like a 13 year old boy. Nice. I kept trying to show her to Ledford, but he never saw her. So we went and took a group photo for my team.

While killing time before our opening night reception I checked out Jeff's new room. See, Jeff disappeared during our meeting today for half an hour. When he got back he informed me that he'd changed rooms. It seems that the hospitality suite for the company is on my floor... and I'm just feet from the elevator where drunken reps will line up. Joy... Even worse, Ledford's only a few doors down from it. God help us all.

Jeff and I killed some time out on his balcony. No topless women, just some good conversation about where I think I'm heading in life. I would have preferred more topless women, to be honest.

So, attached at the hip, Jeff and I headed to the opening reception. We hooked up with Bob White (who went to LA with me last January) and we sat and watched everyone arrive, like color commentators.

When they finally opened the room, Jeff and I were almost the first ones in and we scooped a table and saved seats for everyone. Then we hit the buffet. One of the specialties around San Diego is fish tacos. It's surf food, I understand. And these were GREAT. I ate like a bottomless pit. 4 huge fish tacos... guac... chips.... beans....

Well I found my bottom. 

I skipped the hospitality suite all together and crawled into bed at 10, feeling like a bloated tick. I called Millie and we talked for a little while. I drifted off to sleep with a dangerously strong food buzz  just moments later... my insane mix running in the background.

And I didn't smoke.

San Diego Day 3: Prado

So the rain finally hit. It wasn't the earth ending apocolypse that Frisco and LA got, but by mid morning I couldn't see the other side of the bay. I have yet to see San Diego in the sunshine.

The meeting kicked off proper today. Just to give you an idea of what these meetings are like - breakfast starts at seven and the last session ends at 4:30. There is an hour and a half lunch, and fifteen minutes between sessions to cram whatever carbs they have put out for you. We open with a general session usually, then it's a mix of hour long discipline "feature dumps" which means you listen to an hour of  "Blah blah Chemistry comes out on February blah blah, the website goes live on blah blah it's a traditional... more rigorous ... full revision..." Some are well done, some are not. Some make you stab your legs with a mechanical pencil to stay awake.

Recently we've started these sessions where are there are 15 small sessions, more like a convention floor, that you travel to for 20 minutes. These are okay. I had to run a couple of these today.

The plan was today for my team to skip out of the last session and sneak away in our bosses van (with our boss driving) and drive up the coast to have dinner a little north of San Diego. The rain put a nix on that. So we had to sit through all the sessions.

I'm feeling all right after the stuffing of myself last night, but I'm taking it easy on the food for now. Low-key breakfast and lunch. The hospitality suite last night proved to not be a problem sleeping. In fact I slept a LOT!! I woke up feeling great and relaxed, believe it or not.

After our sessions today I went back to my room and crashed out for a while. I did a little writing while I waited to leave for dinner. We weren't taking off until 7pm. I plugged in my jump drive and noodled a little on THE FARM and a couple of scripts. My head wasn't in it. The gray outside was starting to affect my mood and I became a little gloomy.

I ironed my blue t-shirt, put on my suit coat over it and headed to the lobby.

I think I was starting to burn out. I got quiet for a while as we all drove to dinner.

We ate at a beautiful place called the Prado. It's built as part of the historic Balboa (spelling?) Park. According to Jeff, the entire park and the gorgeous architecture was built in the early 20th Century as part of an exposition celebrating westward expansion and opening up the San Diego sea ports. If you go to San Diego, go here. The Old Globe theater, several museums, fine dining... all in this picturesque local.

The Prado is amazing. Kobe Beef sushi, Pork Osso Buka (again, spelling) with adobo crust... slow cooked until it fell off the bone. Tres Leches - sweet Jesus!!! I wish I could have smoked because that meal required smokage.

During the meal I toasted my team, telling them that I loved them because they always felt like I didn't belong there. Which got a chuckle, but it's true. They always remind me of who I really am and that I should be doing something else with my life.

Then I told them that even if we are offered the chance to carry on with Cengage after the sale of Houghton Mifflin - I'm not going. It's time to move on. I told them I would stay to the end, but that would be it. And it's true. All I've thought about is the opportunity I have right now to change my life and the way it's going. It didn't surprise them, only that I said it... in front of my boss. Who said only that she was happy that I felt comfortable enough to say it.

We got back from dinner late, around 11. I crawled into bed and let my maniac mix lull me to sleep.

And still... I didn't smoke.

San Diego Day 4: Live Free or Karaoke Hard

I'm not sure what I dreamed about. I think it was a plane crash. I woke up with a knot in my gut and an overwhelming sense of doom. I picked up the phone and called home. I needed to hear the boy's voice. It was probably a mix of not smoking, eating late, home sickness and the unending rain and gray outside. After I heard his voice, all I wanted to do was crawl back into bed, fetal up and cry. But I couldn't, today I needed to be ON a little more. Our team was getting a moment during the general sessions and we'd be holding "office hours" during breaks.

So I laid there as long as I could. Finally, I threw myself out of bed, got dressed and finished up just in time for Jeff to knock. I was quiet the rest of the morning but as lunch approached the anxiety attach started to leave and my neurosis balast emptied. I balanced out as I settled down to lunch.

I did decide to keep myself on an even keel, there's two full days left and I could easily burn out. So I ate lunch quietly at a table, and blogged about yesterday and ordering one of Millie's presents for her birthday. The afternoon was not unpleasant, just more rain and more meetings.

I met Michael Busnach and a few people for drinks right after meetings, I caught a little buzz before chuckling my way back to my room. I had about three hours before Karaoke night... or however the fuck you spell that. I hunkered down, ordered a cheeseburger and creme brulee from room service (excellent btw) and ordered "Live Free or Die Hard" on the TV. Mind candy was much needed.

So I stuffed myself, I relaxed and I watched John McLean blow away cyberterrorists. It was like a little piece of home. I am missing the wife and the boy. I am missing City of Villains. I'm missing sitting with Mil doing nothing. This felt like home for a little while.

About 9 Ledford knocked and we walked down the hall to the hospitality suite for Karaoke.

I hate karaoke. I don't hate watching. I actually love watching people who are not performers, get up and touch their rock star. It's liberating. I hate everyone pressuring me to get up. I get very tense around it. I don't want to get up and sing anything that I haven't rehearsed. I'm not a good enough singer. It makes me very very tense. I can jump on stage and do just about anything but that just makes me cringe. I've done it... I would love to do it, but it feels like my fear of heights.

So I hung out and laughed and clapped while Ledford and many others belted the hits out. Then around 11 I moseyed back to my little home away from home, crawled into bed and went to sleep.

Smoke free for four days, btw - and I used only about 6 nicotine gums. I'm already stepping down a little. And I'm not coughing my sack off.

San Diego Day 5: Floating Through

The spirit seems willing, but the body is starting to drag. It was a hell of a lot harder to pull myself out of bed. Really, the rest of the day I just floated through things. I had no responsibilities other than just turning up.

So, really, there's nothing to report. Oh, I take that back... the sun came out today. Thank GOD! What a long gray stay it's been. Insane. Around 1 in the afternoon Josh called me from LA, but unfortunately I was in a meeting. I called him back later. He was just getting off the picket lines for the day and we were able to have a really nice chat. He may come down and do some of Comic-Con with me in July. That would rock.

I had a great long talk with Danny tonight. Normally he rushes away to play Guitar Hero, but we talked for a good twenty minutes. I needed it. It will be good to see him on Wed.

Tonight was the night that Houghton packed everyone up on busses and took us over to the Hotel Del Coronado - where they shot Some Like It Hot. I was worried it would be a little lame, with assigned seating etc... It was a fucking blast. They had fake hats and boas and sunglasses for people to wear. Celebrity impersonators were wandering around. Luckily everyone seemed to have a great time.

I have no idea what this cost, but everyone got swag bags on their chair and inside of every bag was an i-Pod Shuffle (amongst other things). It's obvious that management is throwing some money at our last meeting because it IS our last meeting.

We were all put at assigned, mixed tables, so I wasn't sitting with my normal posse. At some point, after a few drinks had kicked in, Rose, who I work with, and I caught sight of each other and started pointing at each other... just being goofy. Completely unaware that one of our authors was standing in between us, thinking that Rose was coming on him, causing Diane Gullman to tell Rose that her Flirt misfired.

Later... more drinks and eventually, as is my way... dancing. I was hoofing it with Rose and Jeff and Laurie and others ... it was very fun and I was very drunk.  Eventually people started to head back, I grabbed a quick White Russian with some ubercool Boston folks. Then I stumbled onto the bus and headed back to the hotel.

But it still wasn't over... I met up with Jeff and Tricia and Mikey Busnach at the hospitality suite. A few more drinks went down. Eventually I found myself standing drunk next to my boss' boss... Pam. My old boss. She was in a good mood and was a little tipsy. We had a nice chat and I told her that I was leaving when the sale with Cengage is final. I wouldn't have done it sober... but she was great and like all my other friends here - they support my decision.

At midnight I stumbled down the hall and crashed into my bed. Tomorrow is the last day of my last Houghton Mifflin sales meeting. That is starting to sink in a little bit. Some of these people, I'm never going to see again.

Oddly... okay, it's me, it's not really that odd... I'm a little sad at the thought, but excited about where 2008 is going to take me.

And happily, I am still smoke free. Danny's going to be so happy.

San Diego Day 6:  And I Feel Fine

I slid on my stomach backward, be-cobwebbed as I felt, out of the bed. I wasn't hungover, just tired. After several days of really solid sleep, I'd shot myself lovingly in the foot with dum-dum bullets of whiskey and diet coke. For a brief moment I wished it was Miami so I could get my fists around a couple of cobweb removing El Cubano sandwiches... no such luck. The next best thing though, some really great breakfast sandwiches.

It's always interesting to sit in the breakfast room and watch the progress of others at these meetings. It lets me know that I'm not the only one who is getting tired down to my bones. I have noticed that there's something else in there this time too. We all know this is ending, well and truly. You could feel it in the air this morning - it's the last day of the meeting and we're all relieved to go home... but this is it. This is the last day of the last meeting. Many of these familiar faces we will never see again.

I tried not to think too much about it. My ankles were screaming at me from the dancing I did last night and I had eight hours of sessions to get through without nodding off.

My team and our associated teams hosted the lunch sessions, giving away Garman GPSes to top performing reps... blah blah. It was nice actually. The lunch was great - chicken and sun-dried tomato wraps, Southwestern corn salad... drooooool... Okay, I have to just come out and plug it - I cannot recommend the Loews Coronado Bay Resort any higher. The food, the feel and the staff here have been great. Always a smile. On top of that Coronado island and all the surrounding areas are beautiful - and that's only from the limited amount I've seen them. And I got rain dumped on the first 5 days here, so if it's still pretty... If you are looking for a splurge weekend for you and your loved one... wife ... or fuck buddy... whatever, seriously spend the dough for a night or two. Anything beyond that would be irresponsible for most, but you should experience it this once at least.

Any way... after our leisurely lunch I had a few more sessions. Then our boss, Mary, piled us all in the van and drove us back to Hotel Del, where we were last night, to have a quick meeting. Seriously quick. We had an hour to get back to our hotel for closing remarks. It was fast but fuck almighty it was worth it. After several times glimpsing the Pacific and the western horizon from planes and cars, I stared out at it as the sun was making it's way toward it.

You know, it's strange, the Atlantic isn't that big a deal to me anymore. I've crossed that a few times. I know what's over there. NorwayEngland, France, Ireland... I've done that - there's a ton more that way, obviously. But the mystery is gone a little. But the Pacific... I am completely unable to concentrate on our little "meeting's end wrap up meeting" because I am thinking about Japan and New Zealand and the Ring of Fire and India and...  You know it's one thing to look up at the night sky and feel tiny and insignificant. It's another to look out at the horizon of our own little world and realize that there's so much here that I will probably not have the time or money for. Tijuana and the Baja beyond... for all it's dangerous legend and allure, is right over there... I can see it at night from here... and I just can't reach it right now. I can't even seem to get myself organized enough to go back to Austin to see my brother in arms... or see the life-altering wilds of New Mexico again or the Boundary Waters... or even New York City. Come to think of it I haven't seen much of Wrigleyville on the north side of Chicago for a while.  I don't feel tiny. I feel owned, lazy, uninspiring. I love travel. And I would see it all if I had the chance but for now, I have to suck as much of this beautiful place as I can from in between the cracks in the corporate schedule I keep.

I watched some surfers paddling out in the freezing cold to catch a wave. I thought immediately of John from Cincinnati - so I will have to watch my taped copies of that again when I get home.

Tonight is the annual awards banquet and dance party. Not much fun for me, to be honest. I never got anything. It's mostly a night for reps who have made and exceeded goal. I don't begrudge them, it just can get... long. But it seemed like everybody was getting into the game a little this time. I was floored when our team (me, Jeff, Greg, Deanna, Rose and Mary) were recognized and called to the front of the room. We got a standing ovation. It was nice.

As the ceremony began to wind down (they kept it really short) you could feel the electricity in the room... "this is it". One of the sales managers, Joel, got up and accepted the award for division of the year... he's a great guy and has won the thing a ton of times. But suddenly he turned into the Tom Hanks of our little corporate award ceremony when he said what everyone in the room was thinking.

And you know what, I'm not going to repeat what he said here because it wouldn't make any sense to anyone else. In fact it probably would get the same eye rolling response I would give a passionate member of some other company. But he got me and the few tears I knew would come, came. See, for all the jabs I take at the job and all my would-be beatnik anti-suit crap... Houghton Mifflin been my home for eleven years. I never expected to stay this long but they gave me the opportunity to provide things for my family that I couldn't have otherwise and they always welcomed me... and they all know my name. No really... I am a rock star there. And that's something special, to be honest. To see this organization sold off like this breaks my heart a little. Even though it's allowing me to make the break I need to - I still want all of my many friends to be all right too. In the end... home may not be where you think you should be, it may just be where you end up.

Following the award ceremony much alcohol was absorbed and much more dancing was done. Spinning like an idiot to "It's The End of the World As We Know It (and I Feel Fine)" which I requested and dedicated to everyone in the room....

Eleven slipped by... midnight slipped by...

San Diego Day 7:  Journey’s End

One slipped by...

Around twenty to three, there were still TONS of people on the dance floor. It was obvious that a lot of them didn't want it to end. I however had a moment of clarity and I trudged my way back to my room.

My flight was at 8:24, so I needed to be on the shuttle bus no later than 6:30.  I drunkenly turned on my giant playlist and started to pack. To be safe, I set the alarm for 5:40 and called the front desk for a 5:30 wake up call... a conversation that, at 3:15am, the girl and I both giggled at the absurdity of.

I've never missed one! NEVER! These were the thoughts in my head as I collapsed onto the bed, which was still half covered with what I was packing. I didn't turn the lights off, and I only got half undressed. I wanted everything to tell my mind  that I needed to get up. I glanced at the clock... 3:30... A nap. A really good nap is what I need...

I woke myself up at 5:15. The call came at 5:30. The alarm went off at 5:40. I was checked out, on the bus and starting my journey home by 6:10.

I've never missed one! Never.

Little pieces feel like they're falling off of me as I write this from my den in Dekalb. I didn't sleep on the plane. I nodded off a few times in the limo from the airport. Nodded off while playing with Danny, but he understood. I'm home with Mil and the boy. It's back to normal right away of course. I doubt I ever convey to Millie exactly how much I missed her. I don't always know how to show her, so I try to tell her... but that's not enough usually. I missed you, sweet thing... REALLY! I wish you could have seen this place. You would have had a ball ... and I would have let you. :)

As for the future... It's so wide open and scary that I can't put it into words. I should be able to put it into words... I mean that's the point of what I'm doing. I still have another six to nine months with Mother Mifflin... but there's a light. An exit sign has illuminated.

And don't think for a second I don't know how ridiculous and childish it sounds to say that I am going to leave a career for a longshot at being a writer and performer. I know. No, seriously, I know. I'm 36 and most of my friends have put their toys away. But I can't. I've tried. I have tried so hard to sit still and be "normal" and fit in and keep it a hobby... But folks, it claws at me. It screams at me in the middle of the night. It shakes me every day.

If I don't do this. If I don't take this risk. Succeed or fail... If I don't walk away and do the best... the most that I can... How can I possibly look my son in the eyes and tell him that he can be whatever he wants to be. So, think me idiotic or think that I'm having some sort of crisis or think that I simply don't understand adult responsibility... think whatever you want.  But I can't listen to that anymore. Life is too short and getting shorter.

This is 2008 - Journey's End - let's see what's here.