Roadie Warrior

A tribute to a friend of a friend

a strong lady in the storm
She still stands proud
Our flag is still there
Still flying
Roadie Warrior
By Claudette

We met at the hotel bar last night about 11:00pm. Of all the things I thought I might do while on tour with the Boys of Pop, planning a memorial service was not one of them.

It takes about 200 people to put on a show the size of the Backstreet Boys. There are riggers, carpenters, electricians, lighting and pyro technicians, wardrobe, and a whole team of production folks to coordinate the logistics. They are what the outside world would call “roadies.” I guess I should say “we” are what the outside world would call roadies. A lot of this crew has been together since the Millennium tour a couple of years ago. The really big one that put the BSB on the map of pop sensation. I, being the nubile tour-sponsor-roadie, not in the thick of it like the rest, have only just recently gotten to know the crew. They are really an amazing group of people.

Sometimes, when I have an extra minute during the day, I sit in one of the arena seats and just watch the action. At any given point there is someone climbing high in the rafters, someone leading a crew of local hands assembling parts of the stage, and someone else mastering all the pyrotechnics that make the show go boom in ways I will never ever understand. These are all the same people that just ate toast and cereal with me or laughed about a favorite Simpson’s episode the night before. Many people have families who we get to meet when we pass through home cities, or who visit the tour during a long stay in a city. As cheesy as it sounds, though, the people who you tour with quickly become a different type of family – they become the constant in the very surreal and inconsistent world of concert motion.

Anyway, we had just finished three nights in Boston, making up for the shows we missed in July when AJ entered rehab. It was actually great to be back in Boston. This time around, we all knew exactly what to expect with setting up the show, so it went oh-so smoothly. Plus, we were looking forward to heading North for a day off and three nights in Toronto. You know how much I love Canada. So, on Monday night, after the last show in Boston, we got into our busses for the overnight drive to Toronto. If all had gone as planned, we would have woken up across the border ready to change our dollars for loonies and enjoy a day off before our first show on Wednesday. It didn’t quite happen like that.

Tuesday, September 11. By now, you all know what happened. What you don’t know is that one of our carpenters, Daniel Lee, was aboard the first airplane that crashed into the World Trade Center. Daniel was taking two weeks off to be with his pregnant wife who was due any day. Actually, I think today’s her due date. It was hard enough to believe the live coverage on CNN was anything other than a gross Bruce Willis flick intended to rile the audience against some foreign terrorist – but to imagine that someone who you’d just seen the night before was on that plane is unfathomable. I watched several crew members break down unabashedly in our hotel bar, where we sat watching the details unfold. I did something I don’t normally do – get rip-roaring drunk. Cosmopolitans seemed the only appropriate response to the ludicrous events in New York and DC.

We got through yesterday’s show, which was an amazing feat. The managers debated about whether to cancel the show, and everyone was mixed about what would be the most appropriate response. The consensus seemed to be that “keeping busy” would somehow help the pain. The Boys went on stage and asked for a moment of silence for Danny. I have never seen an audience of 15,000 so quiet. Carolyn and I did not do our Pop promotion last night, either. How could we go on with our silly shtick like nothing had changed?

I volunteered to organize a memorial service for Danny on Friday before the show, which is what put me back at the bar last night at 11:00 pm. I asked for a couple of crew that knew him really well to help me. I just want to make sure I do it right. If we do nothing else but come together as a group to acknowledge the personal tragedy, that will be a start.

These past two days have been traumatic on so many levels. I had to excuse myself from the lunch table yesterday when a fellow crewmember commented that perhaps it was finally time to “kick out all the foreigners.” I also excused myself from a conversation where, after I pointed out that we have been bombing the Middle East for years, a crewmember responded that we just “need to try harder.” I understand their pain and you understand my politics, and this is a hell of a time for me to learn patience and restraint.

I am saddened that at this time in history, there is no Gandhi, no MLK, no Mother Teresa to help guide the world through what could be one of the worst moments in history. Even the Pope couldn’t seem to say much beyond the obvious. I’m sitting here listening to the music of the Sufi mystic Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, wishing he, too, was still around. It helps that he is singing in Arabic. It helps that I can’t understand what he is saying. Sometimes there are just no words for sadness.

With much love,

Oxford by Proxy

Behind every MBA grad is a supporting spouse

the big reunion
We all suffer together
I paddle better than I punt
I paddle her around..
the jaozai experts
..and Ma & Pa cook for her

When Jingmei first started her Masters and I would join her at social functions, her classmates would ask if I was also attending Oxford. My reply would always be: Yes, by proxy. That would confuse the students long enough for me to change the subject or flee the scene, for the Oxford bunch is pretty self-important. They didn’t know what I meant, but I know all their relatives did.

As anyone who’s had a spouse in grad school knows, s/he doesn’t attend grad school alone. Oh no, you’re right there with them, and we’re not talking physically. We’re talking living every success, crisis, and defeat in real time with the enrolled spouse. They talk about football widows in the USA, but that ain’t nuttin like being a Masters widow/er.

Lets take Labour Day weekend for example.

The week before the holiday, Jingmei found out that one of her Summer Business Project team members was MIA. He’d split from Oxford when the last exam’s grades came out and he’d failed a few tests. Instead of re-sitting the exams, an amazing treat for Oxford students, he split from the program. He may have even split from himself by now, for when Jingmei tracked down his family in India (can you tell she was pissed?), they said he’d already left for Afghanistan.

Now down to three people, and a Monday deadline for the project’s report approaching, Jingmei went into overdrive, working and re-working the sixty (60) page business analysis. Don’t think her team was working alone though. Frantic emails and phone calls flew across the Atlantic, and yours truly was put to work.

From finding photos to go with her presentation, to researching the number of foreign students in England taking English as Second Language classes, to editing the report for grammar and style, I worked side-by-side with Jingmei, albeit via phone and email. I even enlisted my Mom for eagle eye final editing.

The real drama came when Jingmei’s team tried to print out the final document. First, the laser printer was agonizingly slow, taking thirty minutes to print out the paper in color. Then, it ran out of toner, and Jingmei’s teammate had to call the University IT department to fix it. Amazingly, the IT department responded quickly, and even gave the team printer credit when they ran out of money on their student printing card moments later.

With ten minutes left before the deadline, Jingmei grabbed the finish report, jumped on her bike and raced for the collection center. She was in such a rush, a bus hit her, and before the bus driver could get out to see if she was okay, Jingmei was up & off, screaming obscenities over her shoulder.

She then had to fight a huge crowd in the middle of Oxford, where the usual crazy tourist traffic mixed with locals checking out a street fair. Finally, after a sprint up several flights of stairs, Jingmei slammed down the report with one minute left.

How do I know about all that? Because Jingmei told me in painful detail, all her trials and tribulations in finishing her report, and in fact, with my twice-daily calls to her, I’ve heard about all the previous challenges too. From the exhaustion of pre-exam study, to the depression of post-exam failure, to the exam re-sit success, to the aggravation of lazy teams, to the stress of last-minute reports, I’ve listened to it all.

Well, I’ve tried to listen, for sometimes Jingmei gets a little carried away and then anything and everything I do becomes part of the problem. Thankfully, I’m an understanding kinda guy and never take it personally, and Jingmei always apologizes when I point out her anger miss-assignment.

Hopefully soon, this too shall pass, and we can look back on her MBA experience and laugh. Hopefully…

A Long Weekend in Vero

Grabbing at the last bits of summer

look good with the gold
Dad gets the gold!
I think the blue one is good
Late night shopping
what keeps chinese wives happy
We all scream for ice cream!

I can’t believe it. It’s the end of Labour Day weekend, and I’m yet again stuck inside a flying steel tube. Where did this summer go?

It seems like just yesterday that I was looking out the office window while working on a major presentation, wishing I could be enjoying Memorial Day. Then, in a flurry of flights across the pond, long days at the office, and too-short weekends at the pool, another summer is gone.

Wait, it is not really over yet, for the days are still hot, the nights short, and I’m headed back to work after a weekend baking on a Florida beach. Friday, as I sat in the office, lamenting my lack of planning that threatened to make me one of six people stuck in DC for the long weekend, I got an inspiration to check out an interesting website for weekend getaways, Their cheapest deals were flights to Orlando, which got me thinking about heading down to see the ‘rents.

Ten minutes and $200 later, I was on the phone to Ma, telling her to pick me up from the Melbourne airport Saturday afternoon, thanks to the only discount airline lying from National Airport, Spirit Airlines. Too bad that my folks, who could cross the planet without a hitch, now get lost in small Florida towns and were ½ hour late in picking me up. Nuladna.

Sunday I got up uncharacteristically early (ie: before noon) and ran with my folk’s running group. Thankfully, Dad isn’t doing marathons these days, for that’s a long distance to live up to, but he still runs longer than my 5k sprints. Mom, nursing a hurt knee skipped the run for a morning swim in the ocean. After our dawn workout, it was off to breakfast, and our egg, sausage, and pancake rewards.

Mom took me to the Vero Book Center, for a rare treat: book shopping. I ordered a number of Chinese-American books for Jingmei and bargain-binned a few good beach books and classics for myself. Now that I’m mature enough to understand ’em, I’m reading the classics that I either Cliff Noted or outright skipped in school. My current reading: The Communist Manifesto and The Wealth of Nations. Fun eh?

Since this is Zero, I mean Vero Beach, nuttin happened Saturday night.

Monday, in celebration of Summer, I did all the things I missed out on this year: I washed the car, worked on the truck, visited Dad’s new workshop, cleaned the camper, oiled the fishing reel, and rewarded myself with an afternoon on the beach.

As an added bonus for my quick decision to head south, my cousin Eric and his new bride stopped by for dinner. They are in Florida this week on their honeymoon, and after reaching theme park overload in Orlando, they are headed back to Chihuahua, Mexico, where his mother (my father’s sister) lives.

I guess I am really lucky this weekend, for I had the ultimate American Labour Day: fun, sun, and food with good my family who also happen to be my friends.

The Power of Peter

Soccer Moms: Beware of the Soccer Cousin!

attack! attack! attack!
The Green Menace Attacks!
He is not tired!
Always there to assist
nuttin better than treats!
Sweet Rewards

Today Peter is very excited, for he knows what will happen in just a few minutes. As he warms up with his team, kicking the soccer ball back and forth, he can barely control his excitement.

Today is the first day of the fall soccer season!

Soon he will be on the field, rushing to and fro to score goals for his team and block goal attempts by the other team. Peter is not scared. He is not worried. He knows that this is his field, his team, and today will be his game.

He concentrates on his practice, not returning to his mother or his cousin until the coach calls for him to stop. Then, even when his body seems to be at rest, his mind is not. Peter is still practicing. Thinking of how he kicked the ball right, trying to forget when he didn’t. He is talking with his teammates, encouraging their strengths, and dismissing their weaknesses.

Peter is at once the mascot, the lead player, the master promoter, and the picture of calm. Relaxing comfortably as he leans against his cousin, drinking cool water from his mom, and watching his little sister play with her doll. Peter does not mind his family so close, for they are helpful and encouraging.

He is ready now, ready for the game to begin. Up he jumps and onto the field he runs, his heart pounding in eagerness. There the ball is dropped, and off Peter goes. Attack, attack, attack! Peter charges the other team, stealing the ball this time, blocking a shot that time, and intercepting passes every time.

What is that? How did they score so quickly? Peter cannot believe that all his efforts were for naught, and the team scored against him. This can’t be right! He re-doubles his attack, using fists, elbows, knees, and feet to stop his opponents. Luckily he escapes a red card, only to be sidelined when his rage overcomes his judgment.

Focus. He must focus! Yes, he looks into the eyes of his opponents. ‘I can beat them,’ he thinks. ‘I can and I will!’

Into the game he goes again, scoring once, twice, and almost thrice. He passes left, he passes right, the passes are kicked in here, kicked in there, and kicked past too many times. No, the game does not look good. Peter is exhausted. His heart is tired. His legs are tired. His face is red form the heat and effort, and yet his team still is behind. Oh agony of defeat!

There it is, the final call. The game is over and Peter’s team has lost. Such pain he feels, but does not show, as he congratulates the other team. Pain that he will have to cool with treats of cookies and juice with his team. There will be other days, there will be other games, and Peter will be there for them. Ready. Willing. Able.

And he will know the glory of victory!

No One’s Home

Its so empty, you can sleep in the streets!

stark colors
My own artistic flair
alone in the dark
I love those Spanish drivers
we glow in the dark
Ain’t we cute!

When Jingmei and I first planned our trip to Spain, I was looking forward to seeing Madrid. Back when I did my two summers of touring Europe, I just touched the top of Spain, running with the bulls in Pamplona, but I never made it to Madrid.

For years, I’ve always wanted to go back, as much to make my Dad proud, for he always wished I’d seen the Prado, as to see the country for myself.

Now I have.

You know when you wander home from a club at daybreak (okay, some of you don’t, but go with me here) and there is no one on the streets? Well, it’s the middle of the afternoon and Madrid is deserted. Not like a city weekend deserted, where all the offices are closed and people are relaxing at home, but like no one’s there deserted. You might think it was just siesta time, but even the houses are closed and empty.

Jingmei and I are sitting on a bench outside the Prado, relaxing after a Museum Morning before we head back to London and I am still shocked at how empty this city is in the summer. No one is here. Not most of the shop owners, not most of the restaurants, not most of the businesses, and none of the government offices.

All are closed and after studying a few of the business hour signs, I realized what most of them say: Closed for August. They should actually hang that sign on the airport and train station, for the whole city is, for all intents and purposes, closed for August.

Luckily for us, there are a few restaurants open, and the food they serve is amazing. Jingmei is quite addicted to paella, ordering it for every meal. I’m a little more diverse, trying every kid of tapas I can find, and delighting on the butter-soft calamari and octopus.

We did enjoy the Prado, or at least I did, for the intense religious themes were too much for Jingmei. In looking at the art, I was amazed at how wealthy the country became from its conquests. Granted, the Prado is no Louvre and Franco ignored the Botanical Gardens, but for a country that was occupied by the Moors for eight hundred years, and is one of the driest in Europe, they made a great fortune on war and exploitation.

Actually, the paintings did not impress me as much as the Italian stone tables. Made with different marbles, with intricate inlay tops supported by golden lions, the tables were amazing in their beauty yet utility. I defiantly wanted on for my kitchen room table when I win the lottery.

Oh, right next to the Prado is an under-rated gem in Madrid: the Botanical Gardens. With plants and trees from all over the world laid out in perfect geometry, it was a beautifully cool respite to Madrid’s dry air.

My favorite was the tropical green house, complete with Venus flytraps and pitcher plants. I guess I’m not the only humidity-lover, for the Atocha train station’s old Western section is now another tropical greenhouse, complete with water misters and a little pond.

Ah, its time for us to go now, and say goodbye to our second mini-honeymoon. Adios!