Saturday, December 17, 2011

Back from Chicago

I arrived at around 8 pm local time. The trip back was uneventful, leaving the office at about 1:30 pm and driving to Chicago Midway airport under dark skies, following the highway leading back to the city, seeing signs that lead to Wisconsin or Indiana, aware of the historic places nearby like Springfield where both Abraham Lincoln and Barack Obama declared their run for the presidency, aware of Grant Park in downtown where Obama made his first appearance after winning the election, passing by Chicago suburbs with their large homes and the straight lines of streets with ball parks and schools, thinking that Ernest Hemingway grew up nearby, in similar surroundings, seeing the diversity where an African-American can be elected as Senator and eventually as President, recalling reading in the papers this morning of the GOP debates and their attacks, wishing to visit these historic places, maybe a little stop before going to the airport, but deciding against it, to get caught in traffic and rushing to get to the plane - a possible nightmare, some other time when the weather is better.

One makes these trips to see places, to experience new things, to discover and learn, following the Confucian principle of travel, to read and to write as a way to refinement, something I read in the book I just finished called ‘Tide Players’, but realizing that one does not have spare time during these business trips unlike in Asia, instead the value is the meals with the project team, eating excellent food for dinner or lunch, telling stories and sharing experiences, to get to know one another, to work together and solve problems in different circumstances; the joy is traveling together and working together, a communal activity and not the solitary diversion of a tourist; sneaking to visit places in one’s free time, avoiding the natural slowness of moving with a team, instead adjusting to the rhythm of the group, solving problems collectively, it’s the true value of these business trips despite the routine of hotel – office – restaurant  - hotel, a boring cycle day in day out for the few days on site, but one must not miss the real importance:  the formal intimacy of working with different sets of people and learning from them.

The business leader is a Northerner who grew up in Long Island, New York, a Jets fan, deciding to study in South Carolina, meeting his wife and settling down, preferring the Southern climate and way of life instead of the cold, frenzy and high taxes of New York, working in different industries before coming to the present company, a veteran manager of multiple projects and positions, the youngest in the group, with a weight problem before going for an operation in his stomach that would reduce his food intake, dropping from about 350 pounds to 215 pounds, his large frame still significant, his height about 6’5” , a jolly family man who develops web sites on the side, a technology expert in love with the iPhone and iPad and all things from Apple, although having an Android phone, always talking about his family; his wife is a school teacher, complaining about her low wages, his son and daughter in college, diligently writing daily reports, a new addition to the group but providing a steady hand and a commanding presence to the project, possibly the main reason why the projects is moving forward with success.

The support expert is a middle aged Southerner, having lived in the same general area all his life, never venturing far from his Southern roots, going to work straight from high school, working himself up from warehouses and in the production floor, a 30 year veteran of the company, a good ole Southern boy who loves motorcycles, plays golf and has a boat, talking of his grandchildren, satisfied with life in South Carolina, sporting a mustache and goatee, reminding one of those Confederate generals during the Civil War, a kind man who just transferred to the computer department from the factory, an expert on warehouse operations and their computer systems,  preferring regular Southern food than Asian stuff like sushi or sashimi, an owner of several ‘mill’ houses, small homes near former textile mills that workers used to live in, renting them out to folks and earning possibly a decent sideline, harking back to the old Southern land owners who were devastated by the war, a back slapping friendly man who is easy to work with a natural Southern charm that disarms the folks in the warehouse, insuring a friendly rapport with the staff, though easily disconcerted when faced with an issue, sometimes scrambling when some intricate issue is involved, lamenting that he does not have a college education, correcting him that Bill Gates and Steven Jobs did not have a college education themselves, easy to joke with, his laughter a good sign, telling multitudes of stories of his time in the warehouse.

The project leader is possibly a Mormon, grew up in Utah but lived in Egypt, Israel and all sorts of other places in the Middle East as his parents, possibly Mormon missionaries traveled the globe to preach their religion, living in different places like Colorado, Utah, Indiana and, finally, South Carolina; a licensed gardener, who has a Master Degree in Business from a local college, like the project leader a college educated professional with advance degrees, a certified project manager, an expert as well in technology, especially Android and Google products, a geek who plays online strategy games in the evening, a friendly person who also talks about his family especially his wife who he had met in his youth in the Middle East, talking about his hearing problem, being deaf in one ear until a recent operation that fixed it, a small square contraption strapped behind his ear, a hole through his skull that keeps the gadget in place, a Toastmaster whose life changed significantly when he got back his hearing, and like the project leader, experienced a new life after a major operation, a good manager though a bit laid back at times, passing work to others, but a good leader though unable to travel with the team because of budget constraints.

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