Iowa to the Easter Bloc:
I’ve set off on an unusual trip this time. It started with a quick hop and a skip from Traverse City to Des Moines. Two flights, each under 45 minutes… a brief stop at O’Hare. The Des Moines gig is for the Iowa Department of Public Health and is attended by physicians and administrators from hospitals and clinics around the state. They are a great audience! We have fun and laugh quite a bit. One of the more engaged groups I’ve worked with in some time.
Iowa is….well…. Iowa. I am reminded of my days at Minnesota Public Radio, just up highway 35W from here. Long stretches of freeway, greening crops of every kind in all directions, immense wet fields awaiting the tender care of vanishing farmers. They’ve had their wettest (and snowiest) winter in decades here. Everywhere I go there is talk of surviving the winter. It’s different in a place like this than in say Minneapolis. In the Twin Cities people are prepared for such weather. There are winter sports to match the dark hours and a humor designed to dryly pierce the layers of protection a mind puts before it in such places. Snow is not welcome as much as the season itself. Winter represents, if nothing else, a respite from the green vastness of the fertile plain. It is a time to dig in, to play cards, to drink peppermint schnapps along with the beer, and to heal your body of the wounds of a year’s labor. After this long season, these people are looking forward to the work which lies before them.
I am here but briefly, just one night and part of a day. Wednesday afternoon I hop a flight for Chicago to work with a private company. The gig in Chicago is a hidden resort which seems to hover between the suburbs and the city. All the time I’ve spent in Chicago and I’ve never before known of this place. Eaglewood Resort and Spa is technically in Itasca, Illinois. But it’s only twenty minutes from O’Hare, and that was during rush hour. It’s an oasis wedged between the Eisenhower Expressway, 355 and highway 20. It comes highly recommended by me. The entire facility including the hotel and conference center reflects on the architectural work of Frank Lloyd Wright. Everything is in sepia tones, with tall and bright interior areas. Seating is Stickley inspired Prairie School in design. Lovely place. And it’s the only private resort I’ve been to that includes a bowling alley. My clients rented the place on my last night for a great team building gathering. Beer and bowling! What else could a group of hard working folks ask for after a long day of change management?
I left the resort and found a room at the O’Hare Hilton for a couple nights. Rather than race home for a few hours, I decided to stay here and relax. It was a good choice. I was able to catch up on a lot of business, including paying some bills and doing some writing. It felt like a little private retreat.
Today, I’ve walked across the street to O’Hare and searched out Terminal 5, for international departures. It’s a scoot on the tram….ten minutes away. I decided to go and check in early so that I could commence with more relaxing. This was a reality check for my travels to eastern Europe. The ticketing counter for LOT, (Polish Airlines,) was empty at noon when I showed up. Disconcertingly there is a sign here that reads, “Check-in starts at 6:30 PM.” A nice round number, but my flight leaves at 5:30 PM. I’m starting to get nervous.
http://www.youtube.com/get_playerSo I decide to ride back to the Hilton and get a beer….I’m allowed! And I know it’s comfortable and I can find free WiFi. While sitting at the bar I noticed an interesting sign that reads, “These premises are for the use of Hilton guests. Trespassing is not allowed, except by hotel employees.” I find it comforting to know that the low paid staff here can at least choose to augment their incomes by trespassing. I must admit to occasionally trespassing here myself on overnight layovers. The lobby can be quite comfortable, and the staff friendly, as long as you don’t smell like Jack Daniels or act like Jack Black. I’ve met some interesting people while ignoring that sign.
So now I’m finally ticketed, (Business Class Baby!) but as I walked up to the counter I noticed an interesting sign hastily taped to the edge of each station. The sign has no words, but is readily understood by all. It has a picture of a chainsaw, (not just any one mind you, a Husqvarna,) and a big circle with a slash through it. Hmmmm. One has to wonder if they need a sign for such a thing if they’ve had multiple attempts to bring them on board. None of the other airlines had the signs, only Polish Airlines. Hmmmm..
I’m behind security. Here there’s another reality check… no restaurants or bars on this side of TSA scrutiny. It’s funny because Terminal 5 is certainly the most modern construction of all O’Hare properties. It’s bright and clean, but somehow they forgot to make room for vendors. All the vendors are lined up using fold-out carts along one of the walls. No stores, no McDonalds, no Sam Adams, no Brookstone. I must admit it’s actually a relief. I’m waiting in the executive lounge here for Greg. (Imagine that, me waiting for Greg!) Anyway….I’m actually excited to be going to eastern Europe for the first time. Lithuania was behind the iron curtain not so long ago. Now, it’s free to travel in and out, no visa needed.
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I couldn’t resist finding a way to ride a bike here. The hotel boasted of over ten miles of horseback and bike riding trails. The process of finding a bike to rent unveiled something I’ll just call “the Hawaiian Thing.” It actually started the moment I got off the plane. Those of you who know me will understand that I’m a sign Nazi. That is to say I’m a firm believer in signage playing an important role for travelers, not just a way to decorate public spaces. So building upon what I said about this on day one, there became obvious a certain smugness about giving away information. It never seemed malicious, but always oddly familiar. When asking the clerk at the check-in desk of the hotel what there might be to do one night, she said “nothing going on here…you can go to the bar.” What she neglected to say was that on the night of my arrival the hotel was hosting a big Luau with dancing, music, fire-twirling, etc. And it was right there on the other side of the building. Just no one thought it important enough to mention.
Then when I tried to rent a bike, another clerk said “no, we don’t rent bikes, but you can drive to town and there’s a place there.” So I did just that… drove to town and right where she said it was, next to a Starbucks!, was a bike rental place. But it was closed up. Funny because the town was bustling otherwise. It looked like he just didn’t feel like opening up that day. So now, I get some groceries and go back to the resort, and this time as I’m walking in I see (less than twenty feet from the front desk,) about 15 bicycles all lined up. So I drop the groceries off in the room and call the desk, “no we don’t rent bikes.” “But really, ma’am, I just saw all these bikes right there near the front desk. What are those for?” “Oh, let me check.” Sure enough, of course they rent bikes! I just had to ask enough people several different times. Some of the natives I worked with referred to it as “Hawaii-time,” but it was more like some Hawaiian trick they play on us Ha oles.
Interestingly I dug a little to check into this term ha ole. It has both positive and/or negative connotation. I’ve always known it as the Hawaiian version of “cracker!” But I much prefer this etymology I found on a website, written by Cheryl Taupu. The meaning represented here clearly gets at the Hawaiian Thing I’m talking about. I love this:
“Ha ole originates from Ha meaning breath and ole meaning without and loosely translates into without breath. When western man first arrived in Hawaii the Hawaiians, being of darker skin thought that the whiter skinned westerner must be without breath (oxygen), thereby being of whiter skin. Ha ole is both good and bad depending on the contexts of which it is used. Ex. That ha ole chick sure can surf. as opposed to Stupid ha ole chick find another wave.”
A few years back Greg told me about the TV series LOST. Since I don’t have a TV, I can’t really participate, but waited until the DVDs hit the video rental store. You know the deal, group of travelers stuck on some deserted island and weird stuff starts happening. No, I’m not talking about Gilligan’s Island! Anyway, the show is shot in Hawaii.
As I rode the bike along the trail, marked in that Hawaiian Thing way, (a brick seemingly tossed along the trail here and there,) I first came across a beautiful little cove with almost no-one there. Walking along the beach I stumbled upon fresh green sea turtle tracks. Here’s a photo, (not mine.) But the tracks I saw looked just like this except they only went in one direction….towards the water. It looks like she made her way in the night before, the surf washing away her incoming tracks, and then must have left early that morning.
The north side of the Island is loaded with places like this. Guess that’s why they call it Turtle Bay.
Heading back into the jungle on the bike several interesting things came to my attention. One was the occasional erratic appearance of preformed concrete pillars. They were square, about 12 inches on each side. I first imagined them to be left over from the old military installation here. Maybe they were footings for an old building. But then as I investigated further I realized there would be a crop of five or ten of them in no real sensical order that I could see. Most bedeviling was that they were all of varying heights. One was buried in the ground so that you could only see its square top. Others were twenty, thirty feet tall, some hidden in the undergrowth, some out in the open. To top off the mystery there were signs all over saying Keep Off – Private Property, or US Government Property – Stay Out. But I was following that dumb trail! There was one of those little bricks with the arrow painted on it right there.
In the last photo of pillars in the field, the one on the left is about fifteen feet tall, the two in middle somewhere about twenty, and the one on the right at least thirty feet tall. No wires or other attachments anywhere on them. In total there were at least ten little collections of them around the property.
Then as I went further down the trail, just beyond a big collection of those pillars, there was this otherworldly set of trees. They were completely different than anything else around.
Ithttp://www.youtube.com/get_playerwas like a wall of thick whitish vines hundreds of feet across lining the path. There’s a few in Waikiki that look the same but it’s a small cluster, only ten or twenty feet across. They were identified as Indian Banyan Trees. Here’s a couple shots of them and a video, with one showing how the trees enveloped some unsuspecting boulders. Very Tolkienesque. Remind anyone of Ents?
All of this sci-fi deep in the foliage was already putting me on edge when out of nowhere this guy walks up with a huge Nikon camera and asks “Want me to take your picture?” Really! I started getting flashbacks to episodes of LOST, and Hurley’s numbers: 4, 8, 15, 16, 23, 42. Who is this guy? How’d he find me in here? Who put these pillars here and these weird trees, and why? Was I supposed to find them? “Jaaaaaaack!”
So not wanting to insult the Gods of the Island, I handed him my camera. I’m thinking the gloss white legs helped protect me. I must admit that I had a ball with this mystery, and I’m not sure if I care to find out the answers. Probably far too banal in reality.
Immediately upon landing in a place….anyplace, I tend to get a sense for some of the culture I’m about to experience. This time, it was the signage….or the lack of it in critical places, that caught my attention. There seem to be many opportunities to make it easier for people like me to find myself around. I’m not judging here, it’s simply an observation. For instance, when leaving the airport terminal it’s not very obvious where the busses to the rental car facilities are. I did a very unmanly thing and actually asked a guy. He told me and I looked in that direction to see a chaotic maelstrom of travelers, but still no obvious signs. I followed his directions and, sure enough, there were busses, but what he didn’t tell me was that the rental car facility was actually just across the street. The busses were for returning passengers only. Again, no signs to suggest such. This would become a theme on the highways, in the small busy towns, even in the grocery stores. It’s almost as if they don’t want to give away too much information. Don’t want the visitors to know too much. Best let them bother the locals for a singular answer than to give it all away. It’s a “need-to-know-basis” thing.
I’m staying at the Turtle Bay Resort. A young man in the same row as me on the plane said, “that’s where the movie stars stay!” Yup kid, you found me out! Went for a nice two-hour walk along the beach this morning early. The resort owns a couple mile stretch of land here. First I slathered on the Sun block. It’s my world these days. I retreat from the Sun when I can, peeking my head out occasionally. When I do pop out in it’s warmth my whole body looks something like a lifeguard’s nose. Streaks of opaque white cream everywhere. I only hope I haven’t left gaps where the tell tale racing stripes might develop. I’m not a NASCAR fan.
Almost immediately upon venturing off I stumble upon a local man fishing. He holds a white nylon net perfectly coiled as he slowly creeps forward a step or two at a time intently staring at a single spot under the surface. He’s watching a fish, but I can’t see it. My angle and distance are not amenable to it. He crouches low, in the same pose he’d use first standing up on a surfboard, then still low he takes a step towards his prey when it turns for a moment away from him. He’s trying to get closer to it. Close enough to throw his net. Slowly he gains on his mark, and now he’s moved into the water, frozen solid with his right armed cocked. All the while the tide is coming in fast. He stays down there in that position for the longest time, legs bent, back parallel to the water’s surface, arm ready to uncoil the net. I watch him for 30 minutes. He throws the net only once. He misses, but is not deterred. And once retrieving the net from the shallows returns again to the rock and searches for the fish. Once again he’s locked on and back in position. The pure elegance of his movements, very much martial or dance-like, fascinate me.
I’m here for another Leading Bold Change keynote and workshop. It’ll be in Waikiki on Monday and Tuesday. Funny, today I picked up Hawaii’s Business Today and found a small advertisement for the workshop. Here’s what it says: “Society for Human Resource Managers Workshop, featured speaker, John Kotter. “ Oops! I hope no-one’s disappointed when they see me up there. Guess I’ll have to give them a real show. For the moment, I’m not too worried about it.
Later today I took a drive to town, (about 20 minutes,) to get some real food and stopped at a roadside stand for some fresh fruit. A ripe pineapple, cut up and bagged by the master while I watched, a couple papayas, and some fresh bananas, all for nine bucks. I can see why people run away from the mainland to find a place here.
While at the store I also found a new reason for living. I might have to smuggle some of these babies home. Milk chocolate coconut macadamias!
That’s my last word for now. Got a mouthful!
And here’s a little video to keep you company. Just put it on repeat and let it play for awhile.