How it all began…


From the book Zen and the Art of Moto Taxi Survival:

When I stepped out into the blinding glare of a Roissy morning, little did I know I’d feel like a different person, by the time I got to my hotel. I was a senior web manager with one of Europe’s top technology companies, overseeing a team of 20+ associates, running projects that spanned the enterprise in 25 countries on 5 continents worldwide. When I wasn’t on conference calls with Japan, China, Korea, or Singapore, I was coordinating marketing activities with colleagues throughout Europe, Latin America, and ANZ. I was on-call pretty much 24/7, my days often started around 4:30 a.m., and the action could keep coming till around 10:00 p.m. A 40-hour work week was a nice thought, usually reserved for lulls when my European colleagues were on vacation for the month of August. That dreary spring day was nowhere near August, and there was work to be done.

I’d flown to Charles de Gaulle International Airport on the red-eye, hoping to get a jump on my meeting schedule before my American colleagues arrived the next day. This was my third business trip of the year, and it was barely March. It was also my second trip to the Paris area in less than a month. And another was in the early planning stages.

Groan. 

You might think this was a great thing. Who wouldn’t love going to Paris – let alone three times a year?

Well, I, for one.

Looking back, it seems odd that I would feel the way I did. After working for a global corporation based in Paris, France, for four years, I’ve been stateside since March, 2014. How time flies. And how different my life is now, compared to then.

When I tell my current coworkers about my last job — when I tell current coworkers about my last job, actually — they almost always tell me how envious they are of my past opportunity. The chance to travel, the chance to spend time in Paris… What could be wrong with that?

See, here’s the thing — traveling to Paris for fun and pleasure is a very different experience than traveling there for business. You’re not there to enjoy the cuisine and take long, langorous walks by the Seine. You’re going there for work.  And when you’re working in an environment where people normally fly around the world as a matter of course, it doesn’t actually seem like that big a deal. Everybody does it. A lot. It’s just part of your life. It’s just part of your regular day. Talking to people all over the planet and flying to and from to visit them, is just what you do for your work.

Looking back, the contrast between my “grounded” life now, and my life in a global corporate environment seems like night and day. They really are two different things, and “going global” doesn’t come naturally to everyone. I’m one of those people who really took to it. I lived in Europe for several years, back in the late 1980s (before the Berlin Wall came down and East and West reunified throughout Europe), and I’ve been back and forth across the Atlantic a number of times, since then. I actually grew up in a very global village — literally. We had one stoplight in town, just down the block from the little grocery store, but because there was an international agency headquartered there, you could walk down the street and encounter people from anywhere and everywhere in the world.

So, “doing the global thing” came naturally to me.

However, having to haul myself all over creation in back-to-back trips, left something to be desired.

I discuss this a lot more in the book.

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Strange to think it was a year ago…


Not quite as romantic as you'd like to think...

The usual view from my hotel room. Not quite as romantic as you’d expect.

… that I landed in Paris and hopped on that moto taxi to my hotel.

It’s strange to think I used to go to Paris a lot, period.

But I did. And I have to say I’m glad I didn’t have to go this year.

Over the period of 2010-2014, I made annual “pilgrimages” to Paris for work. Politically, it was required, because company headquarters were in the Paris area, and it was important to be introduced to the “right people” — and be seen talking to those right people.

Now, sitting in my US home, surrounded by five feet of snow on the ground, it’s wild to think back about how usual it was, just to pick up and go. You got your marching orders from management, you looked at your calendar, you looked at the calendars of the people you were supposed to meet with… you made your reservations, arranged for coverage at home, and you flew to France and back. You just did it.

It was never easy — for plenty of reasons I describe in my book (don’t worry, I’ll describe them here on this blog, too, as the weeks and months go on). But you had to go… or you’d get lost in the shuffle of transatlantic office politics.

So I — and a lot of people I worked with — went.  For a few days. For a week. Sometimes several weeks. Considering how slowly decisions got made, and how easy it was for plans to go off the rails if you weren’t watching closely, it would have made more sense, at times, to go for a few months. But if you’ve got a family to support, with kids in school or other domestic responsibilities, that’s not terribly feasible.

Unless you take everyone with you. It could be fun. Provided everyone is up for it.

In any case, that’s a rare phenomenon — especially in the States. I can’t think of many Americans who would gladly pull up roots, even for a few months, and go abroad. It sounds good on the surface, but when you get into the reality of things — the different language, the different customs, the scarcity of luxuries we take for granted here — it gets a lot less appealing.

In any case, it’s Monday morning, and I’ll be heading off to work in a little bit. My life is remarkably staid and steady, these days, the bad weather notwithstanding, and my regular routine is… well… regular. I have a much better commute now, than a 7-hour flight to France, and I’m living pretty much the same way that most folks around me do.

But a year ago, this time, that was not the case at all.

And it’s kind of cool to look back on it and remember (from a safe distance) just how out of the ordinary it was.

Snow, snow, and more #snow


At least they can ride…

Got a day off today to handle a bunch of things that have been lagging, due to snow coinciding with my work schedule.

  • Rake that roof. Put some additional extender poles on, and see how much I can get down.
  • Go out for a long drive in my humble little car to see the countryside. I don’t do much driving, now that my commute has been shrunk to a fraction of what it once was, and I have to admit, I kind of miss it. Put on those shades, and go stylin’ on President’s Day.
  • Get some physical therapy for the aches I’ve developed from sitting too much on the one hand, and moving so much snow on the other.

A couple of other logistical things need to be handled, but other than that, it looks like the day is shaping up nicely.

At least it’s not snowing again … yet.

I may take some time to do some sitting later. I could probably use it.

Then again, I tend to favor the idea that any activity you focus on completely enough to lose all thoughts of yourself, is as good as a “sit”.

So, I’ll go with that.

More intro… more book


moto-tax-beside-van

Just inches away from the nearest vehicle – right down the dotted white line

Still crankin’ away at the word-mill… I’ll be posting bits and pieces from the book Zen and The Art of Moto Taxi Survival in the coming weeks.

Here’s a bit more from the introduction:

So, you may ask, what’s all this got to do with Zen, the French, Life, and everything else in the subtitle? And why should you invest the next x-number of hours in reading about my stupidity?

Well, here’s the thing with regard to the French – in my extended experience of dealing with Europeans both personally and professionally, since the late 1980s, I’ve learned a whole lot about what works and what doesn’t. And since working almost daily with French colleagues from 2010 to 2014, I’ve learned even more. I’ve watched movies and read a bunch of books. Everything from Peter Maille to Pamela Druckerman to Stephen Clarke, and a bunch of more obscure yet no less enthusiastic Francophile confessionalists. And yet there’s nothing like climbing on the back of a very powerful motorcycle, and spending 40 mind-numbingly intense minutes with a Frenchman, to bring home the lessons you gleaned from mere words on a page.

So, if you’re like me and you can’t resist yet another contemplation of the nuances of Gallic temperament and shenanigans, why don’t you join me for the next little while.

As for Zen, I’m not sure I can – or should – speak to that. In my mind, by its very nature, Zen precludes discussion of itself. Of course, you’d never know it from looking around online and finding so many voices coming up with so many different versions of truth about all things Zen. From where I’m sitting, putting my finger on the particularly “zen” aspects of this ride is a little like trying to get a small piece of shell out of the eggs you’re scrambling. It’s slippery business, and if you’re not careful, you can end up wearing your breakfast before it’s cooked, if you’re not careful. Those who are into the Four Noble Truths and tread the Eightfold Path with glee may find plenty to hold their attention. And they may even discuss amongst themselves. But I’ll leave it to my readers to do their own finger-pointing at what I’m mooning about.

Regarding Life, well, nothing makes it sweeter than a passing brush with death. And nothing makes your near miss seem more dramatic, than writing a book about it after you’re safely back at home.

Let the record show that I do actually regret making the choice to hop on that moto taxi. I understand why I did it, and it eventually came to make sense in a pragmatically twisted sort of way, but the record should also show I will never, ever do it again. At least, not that way. There were way too many close calls, and I was eminently unprepared for the ride I took – or the potential consequences of my driver’s various choices that could easily have gone south.

Let the record also show that I do NOT recommend that anyone without motorcycle riding experience follow in my footsteps. I’m clearly not going to stop you if you decide to do this stupid/crazy thing called being an inexperienced rider who hops on the back of a motorcycle with an untested driver in a foreign country and tears down the road at top speeds through snarled traffic. If you do this, yourself, and you get maimed, killed, or castrated, it’s on you. Consult your significant other. Consult your doctor. Consult your lawyer. But don’t come crying to me, if you do what I did and it ends badly for you.

Then again, if you’re an experienced rider – either driving or riding pillion (as a passenger) – taking a motorcycle from the airport could be the ideal way to get around. It’s probably a great way to get around Paris, too. Sure, it’s a little more expensive than a regular taxi – maybe 20 euros more on the trip from the airport – but for the time it saves you and the feeling of being out in the open, instead of inside a stuffy cab, I think it’s well worth it. Moto taxis are fast, convenient, and they can be a lot of fun. If your pilot knows what he/she is doing on two wheels, and you’re comfortable on the back of bike, I say go for it.

In any case, if you do decide to try it for yourself, make sure you have ample travel insurance that covers repatriating your remains to your home country, as well as providing for your funeral and the future welfare of your loved ones. After all, French motorcycle riders are – to be indelicate and possibly impolitic – fucking crazy. And you’re not going to be the one driving.

Enough flap. Let’s get started.