Wham, Bam, Gracias Ma'am
Got back on Thursday from a whirlwind trip to Chihuahua. After grabbing all of three hours of sleep the night before, I departed for Houston on Monday morning at 5:45am along with a couple of coworkers. We set down in Houston around 8:30am, and by 10am we were in a conference room at one of our sister divisions enjoying a scintillating conversation on inventory turnover.
The remainder of the day was spent discussing related matters and taking a tour of the facility. At 6pm we split for the airport, where we caught a flight to Chihuahua at 9pm.
The separation of church and state isn't quite the burning issue in Mexico as it is in the United States, as evidenced by the giant cross of lights that covers a good portion of one of the more prominent hillsides surrounding Chihuahua. On a clear, dark night it made for spectacular sight from the air, and let visitors know that in Chihuahua, wishing a "Merry Christmas" would not result in a trip to diversity reeducation office.
By the time I checked into the hotel, it was 11:30pm (Mountain time) and I was well past being tired. I had reached that almost Zen-like state of exhaustion where nothing really matter anymore. It can be liberating, but it's also dangerous as your common sense survival instincts pretty much shut down. If there had been a fire in the hotel, I might have just elected to stay in my room and not hassle with the whole emergency evacuation thing.
Knowing what the next day held in store (corporate board meetings of interminable length), a sane man would have turned in immediately. I turned on the television and began exploring the eighty-plus channels (at least a third of which are in English) available for my viewing pleasure. After scouring up and down the dial a couple of times, I settled on 2002's feel good hit of the year: Auto Focus.
The flick is a nihilistic nightmare that catalogs the swingin' sex life and pornographic passions that sent actor Bob Crane's career and life careening out of control. And like watching pornography itself, the movie leaves you feeling empty, emotionally spent, and dirty. At least that's what JB Doubtless tells me. The desire, need really to take a shower after this sordid little tale of debauchery was overwhelming. Not one for the kiddies or those with delicate sensibilities (take heed Atomizer).
I closed the night by reading a few more pages of Jacob Slichter's book So You Wanna Be a Rock & Roll Star: How I Machine-Gunned a Roomful of Record Executives and Other True Tales from a Drummer's Life. Jake is the drummer from Minneapolis band Semisonic, and this book provides a fascinating behind the scenes view of the band's rise to the almost top. For long time Semisonic fans like myself, it helps explain why the band was never quite able to seize upon the success of 1998's smash hit "Closing Time" to establish a more permanent presence in the world of pop music.
This isn't another "tell all" expose of sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Rather, it's a look at the nuts and bolts of the recording industry. Record deals, radio airplay, album sales, touring, and music videos are all explored from the view of someone who lived through it all. What's refreshing about Slichter is that he's not one of these artists who bemoans the commercialization of his craft at the hands of the "man." He wanted to make it big, to have #1 records and to enjoy all the trappings of fame that accompany it. For Semisonic fans, it's a must have. But I would also recommend it to anyone with an interest in pop music, particularly the business end of it.
Here's one of my favorite excerpts when the band is hunting for a producer and talks with a young candidate with some new ideas:
"I've been listening to your tape, and I'm got some suggestions for lyric changes."
Dan [Wilson] took a sip of Scotch. "What changes do you have in mind?"
"Well that line 'Fascinating new thing, you delight me'--I don't like the world delight. It sounds kind of...twee. What about saying 'You're stunning' or something like that?"
Had we been characters in a James Bond film, Dan would have set down his glass and pressed the button that opened the floor and dropped the young producer into a pool of hungry piranhas. With no buttons at his disposal, Dan affected a smile. "Stunning? Well, let me think about that." John [Munson] and I forced smiles, too. No fucking way.
Tuesday was another long day. As I mentioned earlier, I spent most of it attending a multi-divisional board meeting. I was not required to present anything myself, so I secured a spot in the back of the room and spent most of the day working on a presentation of my own due for a Friday meeting. Not only did I not have to stand and deliver, but the vast majority of topics that were discussed did not concern or interest me in the least. My name was brought up on a couple of occasions when the president of our division mentioned, "Yes, Chad's on that team" or "that's what Chad's been working on for us."
Upon hearing my name, I perked up like a loyal dog, and, as the attention of the group momentarily shifted to the back of the room, I nodded vigorously to indicate, "Yup, I'm on that team" and "Yup, that's what I do." That was about the extent of my contribution. But I just had to be there.
And I was until damn near 7pm. Thankfully I managed to avoid the uncomfortable experience of dining with the gathered corporate elite. I was able to bail since I already had made dinner plans with a long time acquaintance who lives in Chihuahua. It's not that the crew attending the board meeting are bad folks. Most of them are in fact quite nice. But they tend to be rather focused on one particular aspect of life: work. I enjoy talking shop as much as the next guy, and am not entirely averse to doing it after hours. But I find that I have a hard time relating to people who are so passionate about the intricacies of wage structure that they can debate it for hours on end. That's just not my bag baby.
On Wednesday, I was able to take care of some business at the plant and squeeze in a trip out to the Misercordia Orphanage (more on that in an upcoming post). Thursday morning I flew out of Chihuahua at 6:30am and was home sweet home in Minneapolis by mid-afternoon. It was a short, but exhausting trip. I'm looking forward to a long spell at home.