My Breaking Bad Moment in Albuquerque

If you’ve never seen the show Breaking Bad – you should. The story begins with a high school chemistry teacher in Albuquerque who finds out he has terminal cancer. Unable to pay his medical bills and too stubborn to accept help, he puts his skills to good use cooking up the best blue meth in the Southwest. He goes from small time meth cooker trying to support his family to the infamous drug lord Heisenberg who lies, ruthlessly kills rivals, makes LOTS of money and loses the very family he swore to protect. Be warned though, it contains gratuitous violence, excessive use of language and all kinds of moral lessons about what not to do in life.

In the show, both the main character (Walter White) and his business partner (Jesse Pinkman) get into insane situations cooking meth in the desert. I had a situation that felt a little bit like that and wanted to share.

Last weekend I traveled to Albuquerque for my pickleball job. I had organized for my dad and I to play at a couple different locations in town and to meet a guy who wanted to start selling paddles for us (ironically we call them dealers). It was a great weekend and we came back to Colorado really tired from playing in the sun and driving so much.

On the way home, I had to pee. Since we had stopped a couple of hours before for gas, I didn’t want to take another break and told my dad to just pull over on the side of the freeway. I went, it was glorious and I jumped back into the car. Unbeknownst to me, when I jumped out I had accidentally knocked my phone out of the car. An hour and a half later when we returned home, I realized that my phone was nowhere to be found – probably on the side of the road where I decided to use the bathroom.

So what did I do? I went back to look for it! Luckily, I remembered that we had stopped immediately after an exit. I didn’t know which exit or even which side of Walsenburg it was on, but I vaguely remembered what it looked like – at least I had a clue.

So I drove two hours back to Trinidad (which I knew was too far), turned around and stopped at every place that even remotely resembled what I remembered of the stop. I pulled over onto the shoulder of at least 3 or 4 exits, probably looking like a lunatic stooped over on the side of the road looking for something in the grass. Finally, after the Rugby Road Exit I found a place that looked familiar. I got out and found my phone…. just feet away from cars speeding by on the freeway. Thankfully it hadn’t rained and I got my phone back still with 20% battery. So what did I do then? Well, I had to pee again so I figured that it was as good of a place as any…

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Breaking the Rules in 3 Cultures

As Americans, we like the idea of breaking rules. It feels anti-establishment and counter-cultural, like we’re sticking it to the man and coming out just a little ahead. We use phrases like “it’s easier to ask forgiveness than permission”  and “rules were made to be broken” to demonstrate this defiant, independent attitude. Interestingly enough, I believe America’s rule-breaking mentality actually makes it harder to break the rules. There are more lawyers in the state of Texas than the country of Japan and probably the continent of Africa because in America, catching rule (or law) breakers is now an industry.

Japan is a little different. Most Japanese wouldn’t dream of breaking the rules because conformity and loyalty are of the utmost importance. Japanese work culture dictates that you stay longer than your superiors because leaving early would be a sign of disloyalty. Falling asleep at work is viewed as a positive development because it means you have labored for the company to the point of exhaustion. In fact, some workers fake falling asleep at work to convince people they have been working hard! In this sometimes absurd culture, local proverbs like “The nail that sticks out gets hammered” demonstrate Japanese attitudes toward breaking the rules.

Perhaps counterintuitively, in Japan it’s easier to break the rules, especially for someone like me who can never fully conform to society anyway. For example, everyone knows that the best skiing is under the ropes. But in Japan no one goes there! I spent entire days snowboarding outside the boundaries. Occasionally ski patrols caught me but I would reason with them in Japanese, apologizing profusely and lamenting my foreign ignorance. At other times (I am somewhat ashamed to admit), I used the language card and only spoke in English. They would point at the rope, cross their arms into a big X, and be on their way.

Finally there is Kenya, where some would argue there are no rules. I would say there are rules, but they often exist to extort money from ordinary people, like when I was talking on my phone while driving. The instant I saw a police officer I jerked the phone away, but just a moment too late. She gave me a lecture about how dangerous it was to talk while driving (even though I was inching along in traffic) and eventually said she could either take me to jail, or I could give her 500 shillings ($6) for lunch. I chose option C and pleaded with her to forgive me this one time since I was from America where the rules were different. Employing my usual strategy when dealing with African police, I simply wasted enough of her time that she let me go.

Now to my point. Wherever you are, I think it’s important to think outside the box to create the kind of life you want. That often involves breaking rules, at least society’s rules on the right career path or who you’re supposed to be or how you should live your life. I like Frank Zappa’s quote when he says,

“If you end up with a boring life because you listened to your mom, dad, teacher, priest or some guy on television telling you how to do you S***, then you probably deserve it.”

I’m not encouraging anyone to break the law or wear Guy Fawkes masks. I just think nonconformity goes hand in hand with living intentionally because everyone can do something special, unique and interesting with their lives. But before you do that, people will think you’re crazy. To me, that is what breaking the rules is all about: finding that unique thing that you were called to do, even when other people (and sometimes yourself) tell you it won’t work. I am slowly learning that purpose for myself and I am trying deliberately to pursue it. It’s risky, but it’s the way I strive to live my life.

I will leave you with one more quote, this time from Sir Winston Churchill:

To each there comes in their lifetime a special moment when they are figuratively tapped on the shoulder and offered the chance to do a very special thing, unique to them and fitted to their talents. What a tragedy if that moment finds them unprepared or unqualified for that which could have been their finest hour

 

What is Your Travel Philosophy?

Last week I began my first of several Japanese tour guiding trips this summer. I love working outside, speaking Japanese, seeing beautiful scenery and hanging out with people. The first day I took 15 Japanese guests to Pikes Peak, Garden of the Gods and the outlet mall in Castle Rock. They loved Pikes Peak, but to my chagrin, we only did a drive by of Garden of the Gods… to allow more time for the outlet mall. It’s not what I would choose, but I suppose the customer is always right and there really is nowhere like America for cheap brand name omiyage (gifts).

Riding up the Cog Railway

Riding up the Cog Railway

The second day, one of the guests asked me to translate, as an American family who had stayed in his house in Japan wanted to show him around Denver. Since his English and their Japanese were basic at best, he hired me! It was a great experience, although I stumbled my way through the Denver Museum of Natural History. Somehow in all of my years of living in Japan, I failed to learn sciency terms like cyclocilicates, stalagmites and carbon dating of dinosaur fossils. I’m learning that as a translator, knowing where you’re going is crucial and google translate is a lifesaver.

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In traveling around the world and working as a tour guide, you learn what you want from travel, and realize that people have different ideas about what travel should entail. Many Americans, for example, go to Mexico or Hawaii or Florida for the sole purpose of doing absolutely nothing except getting a tan while sipping margaritas by the pool. That’s nice for a time, but I can’t imaging going somewhere and only seeing the inside of a resort. Japanese, on the other hand, cram in as many famous sites as possible, taking thousands of pictures in the process. They see a lot of things in a short time, but for me it’s a little fast-paced and touristy. I would comment on Kenyan travelers but since most Kenyans can’t afford it, their travels involve riding a crammed bus “up-country” to see their relatives for Christmas.

So what is my travel philosophy? Cliche, but I think it’s all about the people. Whenever I go somewhere, I make sure I know someone. Not only is it cheaper, you also experience the real place with a little adventure, local cuisine and fascinating conversations thrown in. In Mexico, I remember partying with couples in their 40s until 3:00 AM as this old dude explained proper tequila drinking etiquette to my dad and I. In Damascus, I went to a Turkish bathhouse where a huge Syrian guy  “massages” you by karate chopping your back, cracking your neck and rubbing uncomfortably far up your thigh – sort of a martial arts chiropractor masseur. While studying abroad in Cairo, Egypt won the Africa cup of Nations. Breaking the rules, a friend and I participated in the celebrations, where people danced on cars, spun machetes, pointed flamethrowers in the air, and circled around the Americans to watch us dance. Yes, I’ve experienced some crazy things that probably weren’t the safest, but I wouldn’t trade those memories for the world.

So what is your travel philosophy? Ask yourself what you want from travel and do it. Maybe that is lounging at an all-inclusive resort. But maybe it’s just a little bit more 🙂