March 14, 2008

Playing Catch-Up Part 1

Time for my rare update.

When last we left Dan he was entering February with quite a bit on his plate. The past four weeks have seen me home rarely before 11 (when I was home at all) though the activities have been a blend of work and play, and all fun.

We throw a yearly HR conference at work which went very well. We hosted loads of folks from around the world who descended into NYC for four days of why Human Resources is special, what we’ve done for you lately, and what’s next. There’s a couple of big deal initiatives happening, so it’s a great time for a get-together, and we got a lot accomplished. Despite my appreciation for technology and love of computers, as someone who has spent the past year trying to do most of his work via telephone, email, and web conference, I can tell you emphatically that there is no substitute for face to face meetings. Sure, I love traveling, but that’s coincidental; it also just so happens that travel is still the best way to get things done.

During that conference in NY, and last week during some meetings I had in LA, I think I made better progress with some recalcitrant people than I’ve made all year. Not only is it harder for difficult people to be difficult in person, they don’t seem to be as inclined to be so when you’re chatting them up over coffee, rather than via a Webex or teleconference.

Our HR conference was Monday through Thursday afternoon a few weeks back, and that Friday was a catch-up day. Saturday and Sunday were my first relatively free days in several weeks, which I used to handle some chores, and spent time with my grandmother, who bestowed upon me some of my grandfather’s wardrobe. Though always larger than life to me, he was in fact somewhat smaller through the chest and shoulders than I am, and so there’s more incentive for me to drop some more weight. Grampa had some dope threads, and now several choice pieces beckon from my closet. The best item fits just fine though - it's this terrific Scottish beret which still smells of him. He was wearing it when we attempted our helicopter trip this past January, you can see it in the photo from last month.

But back to the narrative... painfully early the following Monday morning after our HR conference I flew out to LA to attend a second conference, this one as a participant. I planned my travel quite particularly, ensuring I arrived with a few hours to spend on the beach before the first session kicked off. No travel drama heading out there, which was nice, because the quicker I got to the hotel, the happier I knew I would be. And I wasn't disappointed.

The hotel – sweeeeet... the Fairmont Miramar in Santa Monica. The view from my room was spectacular, and I had the chance to go for a run on the beach (twice) and had the theme to Three’s Company in my head the entire week. The weather was sunny and in the 70's, and the sudden immersion into spring from the depths of winter was a welcome change of pace.

The conference itself was on corporate ethics and compliance, which has been a big part of my responsibilities for my company for the past 18 months. It's somewhat ironic that I was at that conference and then came home to find out that our Governor, whom I was a strong supporter of, had been sleeping with prostitutes for many years - but more on that later.

The conference material was very engaging. As I've mentioned, I feel quite strongly about integrity, ethical behavior, and hypocrisy, and each of the sessions dealt with either preventing or mitigating the impact of corporate ethical violations. The theme of the conference was "outbehaving the competition" which I loved, and I spent the week immersed in the strategic and tactical aspects of creating and administering corporate ethics and compliance programs, and more importantly - why they are a good idea.

There are legal and HR implications for programs that umbrella both legal compliance and ethical culture, and I was there for the HR side of it. There was additional value to me in my capacity as the guy running our talent management initiative. One issue we hear quite a bit about when considering attracting and retaining the best employees is the blossoming resentment toward hypocritical corproate behavior. Practically every study being done of the Gen-Y and Millennials entering the workforce confirms that they're most concerned with whether they can be proud of the company they work for. In fact, we consistently see that more than money, more than hours or vacation time or health care, working for an ethical company rates highest on their list of reasons to apply and subsequently accept an offer of employment. For myself, I like how this issue is about doing right not just because you have to but because ethical behavior and reputation is good for business as well.

But enough of that and back to the hotel - it had an amazing koi pond, with koi fish that were enormous, and these funky turtles who were all about sitting on the rocks and catching some sun. This little guy was doing yoga, methinks, as you might be able to see both his back feet are up, and splayed, for maximum sun exposure.

One of the evening events the conference organizers had planned was a trip to the Sony lot, with dinner and a studio tour. Thinking (correctly) that it would impress the masses, they also arranged for several celebrity impersonators to wander amongst us and be charming or annoying, depending on their role. As you all well know, the only celebrities I’m impressed with are William Shatner and Julie Andrews, but it was fun to see how much the random folks from random places enjoyed the Hollywood action. Am I jaded, am I too accustomed to working for a media company? I still enjoy time on a studio lot, hearing the history, seeing where so and so filmed this and that, seeing the bungalow in which Adam Sandler writes his prose, and of course I get a kick out of seeing famous folks... but watching some of my co-attendees flip out over the celebrity impersonators – not even the actual celebrity, but some barely-working actor who happens to look like someone with a much more enviable imdb entry – left me somewhat amused and feeling more than a little patronizing toward my colleagues.

No, for me the big treat was Wednesday night’s field trip with my co-worker Michelle. As the last session was concluding, we discussed where we might want to head for dinner. "I was planning on looking for an In-n-Out Burger..." I commented. Her eyes lit up, and I knew it was game-on. Michelle had a rental car, and with a little help from the internet we identified an In-n-Out not terribly far away. Armed with a google maps printout we lived the dream: a double-double with cheese, vanilla shake, and fries animal style.

Yeah, yeah, you’re thinking “it’s fast food” Oh no… it’s so much more than that. Fresh, extra-tasty, and just right. Their menu has four items: burgers, fries, soda, and shakes. Period. I'm very impressed with anyone who does whatever they do well, and In-n-Out does fast food burgers better than anyone else. They do one meal, and do it right.

With the conference over and finding myself in LA, I arranged to spend Thursday on our studio lot and had two very successful meetings with some of my most significant constituents. I was also able to squeeze in a lunch with an old friend from my San Francisco days whose office is also out in LA. We realized that this fall will be ten years we’ve known each other, a relationship conducted primarily via sporadic visits to each others coasts/offices whenever possible.

Work responsibilities complete, Friday I was off to San Fran. Though I was there briefly last year, I didn’t get much in the way of San Fran time in during that trip as I spent most of my three days staying with friends at their place with no car. This time around I rented a little VW rabbit and actually enjoyed the city. My friend Tina was the only person I told about my trip, and the weekend revolved around seeing her and her two girls, visiting my old SF haunts, and eating.

I’d like to pretend my life doesn’t always revolve around food, but evidence suggests otherwise and you wouldn’t believe me anyway. There were several places I wanted to eat, but the only minimum required was lunch at Specialty's. It’s a sandwich shop which had only one or two locations when I was there 8 years ago, but now it's growing like crazy. I spent years waiting for Jamba Juice to make it to NYC, and I’m still waiting for Specialty's to come east.

Tina indulged me and my urgent need to get there before they closed Friday afternoon, though it wasn’t until she bit into her sandwich that she truly understood: she was eating the very best sandwich she’s ever eaten in her life. Except for perhaps mine, which I think was even better (but only because she had wheat bread, and I had the potato poppy bread, which is way betterer).

When I first moved to SF in 1998, Specialty's was the first lunch place I happened across, and it was so good I proceeded to eat lunch there every day for the first few weeks I was working downtown. Their bread, their cookies… everything about what they do is staggeringly good, and eating with Tina in the same place I used to eat when I worked there 8 years ago was as terrific as I anticipated.

During this trip I finally got to meet Tina’s two girls, Ally and Katie, aged 8 and 6. Though I enjoy children, and think I do pretty well with them all things considered, I don’t of course have any of my own and I forget how much fun, and exhausting, being around them nonstop can be. Their energy is nuts! When Tina and I were looking for places to nap, they were still going… forget that energizer bunny, bottle the power of a six year old.

It was fun playing house this weekend with Tina, as much as we did. Not only would everyone naturally assume we were all a happy little family when at brunch and such, we did happy family things like go to the beach together and cuddle up for a nap together. Can’t help but come face to face with wondering if I will ever have any of my own, and if I do, will I have the energy to keep up with em?

Sunday morning it was time to head home, though first we had brunch at Squat & Gobble, which was my go-to Sunday brunch place when I lived there. A quick goodbye and it was back to SFO, and back to NYC. My travel karma however, did not hold up...

1 Comments:

At 1:05 PM, Anonymous Janna Saad said...

You ate at Specialty's? DId you have a cookie? Did you have one for me? Did you actually go to Jamba juice? And what about the chinese place upstairs that we always ate at for lunch? An Orale Orale? North beach? Oh I need a trip bhack there, too....

 

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