Monthly Archives: January 2016

When We Get Stuck

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Here we are, on the verge of something great!  It is right in front of us, in plain sight, a brand new endeavor, a great idea, something that’s going to either change the world, change our lives, or just be one heck of a great time!  The path in front of us is clear, exciting, invigorating.  Never have we felt so alive!  With excitement, enthusiasm, and passion, we enter this new endeavor without hesitation.  We do our due diligence, of course, but the excitement of what lies ahead by far overwhelms any concerns about what could possibly go wrong.

But then it happens.  Shortly into this new endeavor, due to something we either overlooked, poorly estimated, or never even considered in the first place, we find ourselves stuck, much like I was in Vail’s Orient Bowl.  That morning, I got off the ski lift, and saw the 15″ of fresh powder that Vail had recently received.  Instead of following tracks already made by those who skied in this area earlier in the day, I wanted to make my own tracks.  I expected a wild ride through this fresh powder!  On the contrary, I suddenly found myself slowing down, and sinking. The realization that I would find myself at a standstill, and need to work to dig my way back on track, is much akin to the realization many of us have when we realize that some aspect of our plan is not going to materialize the way we had anticipated.

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What is strange is that this experience, of suddenly finding myself stuck occurred at Vail Resort.  Vail Resort is not only home to one of the largest and highest rated ski resorts in the world, but it is also home to a ski museum, which has artifacts of the history of both skiing and the resort itself.

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Vail ski mountain was founded by a man named Pete Siebert, who fought in World War 2 as part of the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division.  This group of soldiers trained in the mountains of Colorado, mainly on skis, and were subsequently deployed to Northern Italy to lead an attack, on skis, in the heart of one of the Nazi strongholds in the region.  Many of the soldiers from the 10th Mountain Division, despite being from many different places all over the country, found their way back to Colorado, and alongside Siebert, helped develop the skiing industry into what it is today.

The story of skiing, and the story of Vail is summarized quite nicely at the Colorado Ski Museum.  In fact, the museum has other exhibits, including one on snowboarding, a bunch of facts about the origin of downhill skiing, which pre-dates Vail and even the 10th Mountain Division’s World War II efforts, and one that shows the history of the U.S. participation in skiing and snowboarding events in the Olympic Games.

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Yes, I had to get my picture taken with one of my favorite athletes, even if it is only a cardboard cutout.  I was not sure if I would get kicked out for taking this photo, so I made it quick.

The abridged version of the story of Vail is that it opened on December 15, 1962, struggled for a couple of years (the second year they had a snow drought and brought in the Southern Ute Indian Tribe to perform a snow dance for them), and then the resort took off in the later half of the 1960s.  After that, the resort periodically expanded, eventually combined with Beaver Creek and became what it is today.  For more details, I would seriously recommend visiting the museum.  With only a $3 suggested donation, it is a great activity for kind of day where skiers and snowboarders need to take an hour or two off due to weather or exhaustion.

The aspect of Vail’s history that is largely not covered by the Museum is the one that pertained to my own experience earlier that day- getting stuck.  The museum has an exhibit, and a video describing the 10th Mountain Division, how they trained, and what they accomplished.  They also describe the history of Vail as a ski resort in detail.  But, the 10th Mountain Division disbanded at the end of 1945, when the war ended.  Vail resort opened in 1962.  The only discussion of this roughly 17 year time period between these two events, was that Mr. Siebert was looking for the perfect place to open a ski resort.

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In detail, what did Pete Siebert do from 1946 through roughly 1960 (when he started laying the groundwork for Vail)?  Nobody knows, but it is definitely possible that he got stuck, much in the same way I was earlier that day.  Maybe, like many who returned from World War II, he came back and did not know what to do during Peacetime.  Or maybe, he looked at places for years and could not find the right one.  It is possible that he could have had a few “false starts”.

Those of us that have ever been, or currently are, stuck, can take solace in the fact that Mr. Siebert eventually, despite what is likely close to a decade of being stuck, put together a world class ski resort.  Additionally, many of his fellow 10th Mountain Division soldiers contributed to what Vail eventually became (the shops, restaurants, and even clubs that popped up in Vail Village).

After being stuck in the snow, I eventually made it down the mountain.  In fact, after only a short delay, I was able to climb my way out of the deep snow into a set of tracks just to my left.  Despite the fact that I did not get what I wanted out of that particular experience, I had a great experience with the remainder of that particular run, finding areas of deep powder farther down, where the terrain is a bit steeper, and then shooting through some glades.

In this particular case, I had no choice but to try to climb my way out of this section of deep powder.  In may other situations in life, we do have the option to give up.  Unfortunately, we often do prematurely, sometimes simply knowing that there is an easier path.  But, the easier path is rarely the more rewarding one.  The experience of getting stuck in the snow only to eventually have a great remainder of the run, followed by seeing a parallel experience with the founding of the very resort I was skiing at reminded me that it is often worthwhile to get “unstuck”, but also that it is less of a catastrophe to be stuck in the first place than we often imagine.

We live in a culture that reprimands people for being stuck only for a couple of months.  Two months with nothing to show for it- you’re on thin ice …. or out of a job!  Sometimes I even reprimand myself for “wasting” a single day!  Pete Siebert may have been stuck for over a decade!  Yet, he eventually founded Vail, and the experience of living in, or visiting, Colorado would not be the same if it weren’t for this important contribution.  So, maybe we need to be less hard on each other, and be less hard on ourselves.

NYC- Sort of Home

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Few places have as high of a profile as New York City.  Few places inspire as much thought and discussion, and, in North America, there are few places that are portrayed as frequently in popular culture.  New York is one of those places that everybody has a reaction to.  Some are in awe of it, see it as some kind of magical place where excitement looms around every corner and dreams come true every day.  Some see it as intimidating.  Others resent the influence it has on our culture.

At 8.5 Million, New York is by far the largest City in the United States of America.  This is less than 3 percent of the National Population, but it’s influence expands far beyond its borders.  Every day, millions of Americans living nowhere near New York read two major New York publications, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.  Across the country people look to New York for the latest in business, music, fashion trends, musicals, and more.  And, one would be hard pressed to find anyone in North America that does not recognize Time Square at first glance.

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Countless shows and movies are set in New York.  At Washington Square Park, it is easy to imagine running into Billy on The Street, the cast of Impractical Jokers, or one of the many other shows that often uses this park as a backdrop for crazy antics.

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At Rockefeller Plaza, I imagine being in the cast of 30 Rock, or one of the shows that is actually filmed here.

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Yet, what I actually encounter here at Rockefeller Plaza is people in suits waiting in line for a salad, and tourists paying far too much money to skate on an ice rink that is far smaller than one would expect.

Day to day life here appears to be some kind of a tradeoff.  There are tons of fun places to go, and things to do!  I was only in New York for several days, and this was two weeks ago (I am behind on blogs- life gets in the way sometimes), but I am still thinking of all of the great food I had while here.

 

It must be amazing to have access to the best of pretty much everything the world has to offer right outside your door.

What intimidates me most about the idea of living in New York City (I say idea because I have no specific plans to move) is the work culture.  While the experience one has in any job is more related to the particular industry and particular organization in which they chose to work, geographic location does seem to play a part, and, from what I hear, employers in New York expect a lot from their employees.  I actually imagine working at a major corporation in New York City as all of the things I hate about the standard working environment; strict hierarchy, lack of caring, people stepping all over each other, feeling disconnected and like just a cog in a machine, dialed up to 11.

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Yet, as I walked around New York City, I realized the first thing I would miss is the friendliness.  I do not live in the Midwest or the South, the parts of the country known as being the friendliest of all.  But, in Colorado, I feel as if I can smile at strangers, and even strike up conversations with random people as I walk around my neighborhood, go to the store, or go about my life in any other normal way.  Here, not so much.

What would the average American feel if they were to move to New York City?  What would I feel?  Would I fall in love with the cultural institutions, concerts, shows, restaurants, and bars open until 6?  Or would I see a City full of people who appear to have had the life sucked out of them by their professions, hurrying from meeting to meeting, yet accomplishing nothing.

New York, despite being like no other palce on this continent, is a city of contrasts.  Here, in this City, at any given time, there are people having their lives made, and people having their lives ruined!  The City is congested.  Yet, one can get around the city quite quickly via subway.

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It makes every other system of public transit I have ever ridden (with the possible exception of Washington D.C.) seem slow and frustrating.

I walk down 14th Street.  The sidewalks are just as crowded as I remember them.  People are as eager to shove those who dare to walk slowly out of the way.  It is the fast paced, driven New York of every stereotype.

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For blocks, the only vegetation one can see is roped off to avoid overuse and destruction.  Yet, a few blocks away, one can find a quiet street, and almost find tranquility.

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In summary, in New York I feel both at home and in a foreign country at the same time.  With how similar it is to the rest of the county in some respects, and how different it is in other respects, I imagine many Americans would feel the same way.  I guess that is why some people would love to call this place home, while others would be frightened by the very idea of it.

Where New England Begins

 

Everyone has this idea in their head of the ideal place to live.  For some, it is right in the middle of something; the middle of the big city where everything is happening, the middle of the woods, or somewhere else one can truly immerse themselves in the kinds of activities they enjoy most.  For others, it is places like this, places that are kind of on the edge of two worlds, that combine easy access to several types of amenities.

Greenwich, Connecticut is literally the first town across the border from New York State.  Since the people of New York, and the people of New England have a mutual preference to not include New York in the region known as “New England”, this is the exact place where one enters New England.

But, how much does one really feel like they are in New England when here?  The town is clearly a suburb of New York City.  There is no unincorporated area that separates Greenwich from the adjacent suburbs that are part of New York State.  With an express train, one can be at Grand Central Station in Midtown Manhattan in around 40 minutes.

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The town does have a New England-like charm.  One needs only travel, by foot, several minutes away from Greenwich Ave. (the town’s main street), and the train station, before they enter an area of windy roads, dense trees and quaint houses one often associates with New England.

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It has a charming downtown, as well as a “Commons” outside their City Hall, which is something I have come to associate with New England, as I had not seen areas like this referred to as a “Commons” in other regions of the country.

Perhaps one of Greenwich’s greatest attributes is the beach in an area referred to as “Old Greenwich”.

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One of the largest beaches in the area, and one of the few that permits dogs, it attracts a significant  number of people, even on a dreary day in January.

Once again, here at the waterfront, one can see where this town sits geographically.  Even on a cloudy day, at the end of the Peninsula that extends southward into the Long Island Sound, one can see both the rocky shores that pop up the along the shores of New England, extending all the way from here to Maine, but can also see the skyline of New York City.

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Around town, I got that same hybrid-like vibe.  The pace of life is definitely different from New York City.  In New York City, people appear to have some kind of sense of urgency in everything they do.  I tell people who have never lived in New York to imagine the second or third most stressful day of their past year and assume that every person around them is having that kind of day.  In the short amount of time I spent in Greenwich, I did not sense nearly that level of urgency in the people around me.

Greenwich’s New York-like and New England-like characteristics are overshadowed by one characteristic that seems to define everything here; wealth!

Dealerships selling expensive cars, even Bentleys, line U.S. highway 1 coming into town.  The beachfronts are lined with large, multi-million dollar homes, and downtown is lined with shops selling expensive designer brands.

Gucci, Louie, Michael Kors…  I do not even know the name of all of them.  Frankly, I do not even care.  I can never picture, even if one day I become this wealthy, choosing to spend my money that way.  The only reason I know the names I do know is that they pop up in popular song lyrics, particularly rap music.  While sometimes I can get extremely annoyed by designer brands, particularly if I am EVER pressured into making a purchase, I cannot help but have some kind of odd admiration for the people that managed to market them, and, convince people to spend the amount of money they do on such products.

The people who create and market designer products have a keen understanding of human psychology (albeit, they could have used it for a better purpose).  Anytime anyone spends money (and sometimes time) on something, they want to know what they are getting.  It is the same dynamic that takes place when we ask our friend regarding their experience with a specific doctor, or a real estate agent.  We do not know what we are getting.  Through brands, we create trust.  “I know Subarus won’t break down on me”.  Or, “I trust the Cohen brothers to make a good film.”  So, we buy the product.  Those that created these designer brands managed to create a reputation so powerful that millions of people worldwide purchase this product when they could easily purchase something similar for a fraction of the price!

The two main things that stop people from living in that “ideal place” in their heads are job availability and money (which are closely related).  The fact that people with this amount of additional money chose to live here speaks volumes to Greenwich’s appeal as a place that combines the best of both worlds.  People who live here seem to have the best of both worlds; easy access to New York City, the city with more amenities than any other in the country, and fairly easy access to outdoor activities.  Friends that moved here from Manhattan tell me that the move has reduced the travel time to nearly all outdoor activities (hiking, skiing, the beach) by 30-60 minutes.  While it’s easy to come here and be envious of the fortunes here, it is also quite easy to see, even from someone who might have a different “ideal place” in mind, why people chose to live here.

Going Back to My Roots

“If you know your history, then you’ll know where you’re coming from”, Bob Marley explains in his classic hit song Buffalo Soldier.  It’s hard to really know how many places the functional equivalent of this phrase has been uttered throughout the history of mankind.

What does it mean to “know your history”, or “know where you’ve been”?  Is it sufficient to know your personal story?  Or, do you need to know the story of your parents, and your family’s ancestors?  How deeply must we understand the cause and effect relationships of events in the past?  After all, history, whether we are talking about it in an academic sense or in a personal narrative is about more than just facts.  When asked, nearly all people can recite the rudimentary factual aspects of their lives.  Where they were born, what schools they attended, when they moved, married, changed jobs, etc.  I always wonder, though, whether they understand their life’s events more deeply, how certain things impact one another, what emotions were involved, and what events were significant.  In other words, do they understand the “story” of their lives?

This holiday season, and by holiday season I am referring to Christmas and New Years, was kind of a trip back through my own history, or at least the places where said history took place.  First, Christmas was spent in the suburbs of Chicago, with my immediate family.  I spent a little bit of time in the City of Chicago, with friends, which is where I spent the four years before moving to Denver.  But, I largely spent that time in Buffalo Grove, a sort of typical suburb 35 miles northwest of downtown, and the place where I spent my Junior High and High School years.

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It’s been said, particularly of Millennials, that young adults go home for the holidays and revert into their teenager mode, subconsciously, because they have returned to the setting of their teenage years.  For me, it is a little bit more complicated.  Some things are the same, but some things are different.   Some things get a little bit more different every year.  There is the obvious course of change any particular location undergoes over time; that restaurant that closed, with a new one opening in its place, the road that was reconstructed and widened on the other side of town, and the new neighbors.  But there’s also a strange change in how we respond to things, sometimes things that are exactly the same as they were in previous years.

Over the course of our lives, we periodically re-examine things (I do this more than most).  Maybe it’s a different experience, or being exposed to a different point of view on something, or some major event.  Each year we come back with a slightly different perspective, and, that experience, which was the same exact one we had last year, the year before, and back when we were 14, is viewed differently in our own minds.  When it comes specifically to what my family does, both during the holidays, as well as in life in general, there are mixed emotions. There are some things my family does that I did not really appreciate with I was younger, but have found a new appreciation for.  There are other things now seem strange to me.  I am guessing many people who have moved a significant distance away from “home” have a similar experience at the holidays.

The Chicago area is not my full history.  The first 11.5 years of my life, I lived in New York, outside of New York City on Long Island.  I didn’t specifically travel to New York on New Years Eve as part of some plan to revisit my past.

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But, the two practically back-to-back trips did line up in a manner where I could not help but think along these lines.  New Years is already a time when people reflect on their lives.  Having just spent time in the place where I spent my recent past, and now being in a place where parts of my early childhood unfolded, I could not help but think it is time for me to re-connect with who I am.

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The move from New York to Chicago, my college and graduate school experience, jobs and more recent move to Colorado are the rudimentary facts of my life.  My “history”, is the memories, the periodic experiences, the kind of person I was and the kind of people I was around.  It is something that is remembered, hopefully accurately, and something that can be reconnected with, but only partially.  The New York of 2016 is not the New York of the 1990s.  Neighborhoods have made transitions, different kinds of people have both left and moved in, and some of the things one will experience here are significantly different.

However, some of the things are the same.  And, while I was not reliving a childhood event, coming back to the places where our formative years unfolded can help us reconnect with our roots. Through this experience, I feel like I am being called to return to my roots, the person I am, naturally, rather than the person we are all pressured to become as we adults in today’s world.  It’s like 2016 begun with what the year’s theme needs to be.  Outside of whatever negative feedback we have received, the adjustments we have made to be accepted, and who we were told to be, there is a person inside of all of us, the person we naturally are.  In this midst of everything I do in my adult life, this is a person I need to not lose sight of.  It is a person many of us need to reconnect with.  It is my sincere hope that in 2016, we all reconnect with our roots both individually and collectively.