Ce n’est pas une cave.

French parents have very different physical safety standards for their children than their American counterparts. Chloe and I learned this here last year when she had a nervous meltdown in the middle of the ropes course and had to be rescued by skilled climbers.

…Okay by one of my in-laws but whatever.  This post is not about physical danger. What I discovered today is that French parents also have very different emotional safety standards for their children.

We went back to the Adrenaline Adventure Park this year at Chloe’s request.  In celebration of … approaching nuclear annihilation? Humanity’s dark truth? Birth metaphors?…the park has added a new attraction.  It consists of a shipping container modified to somehow mimic the experience of spelunking.  Considering the story I’m about to unfold, I’m thinking that it’s been modified to mimic The Descent just a little too closely…but the actual witness to the heart of darkness still isn’t quite talking.  What I can tell you is there’s a black nylon curtain extending maybe three feet from the left container wall.  Under normal circumstances the curtain is drawn to meet a plywood sheet with two holes bored into it.  The holes, each maybe 2 feet in diameter, are dark and labelled Entrée and Sortie. 

Update: we went back and I paparazzied a photo. You would totally let a 7 year old crawl in here, right?


Chloe has a cousin who is four months younger than she is. To protect his public image we’ll call him M.  M finished the mind-blowingly dangerous “children’s” ropes course in about half the time it took Chloe.  My father-in-law, near the end of what must have been an hour of unscripted time with a seven year old, let M crawl into the Entrée of the spelunking experience. How long it took for things to get to where they were when my mother-in-law and I walked up can probably not be measured in Earth minutes.  M will have to surface that in therapy.  Or a long slow slide into alcoholism.

Anyway.  Who remembers the actor who played Robin Williams’ brother in Mrs. Doubtfire? This guy? There was another parent shadowing us at the park with three small girls and another guy.  They might have been a couple.  If they weren’t went they got there they probably are now, but I digress. Dude (we’ll just go ahead and call him Harvey) was a dead ringer for that actor, except Harvey’s maybe 20 pounds lighter and never without a lit cigarette dangling from his fingers because France.

As we approach yon shipping container, Harvey has pulled back the black curtain from the left side of the ride, is about five feet into it, and is yelling.  I can smell cigarette smoke and I’m intrigued because Disneyworld conditioning has taught me parents don’t pull back the theatrical fourth wall of amusement park rides lightly.  Or get to stay behind there unsupervised for any length of time.  Or smoke within 20 feet of anything that casts a shadow.  Harvey’s agitated, but not in a way that makes me worry yet that anyone’s really hurt.  I’m also taking my cue* from the fact my father-in-law is standing in front of the container looking concerned but way less agitated.

*Disclaimer: I’m also at a level of not giving a fuck that happens when you know you’re own kid is not involved.

A few seconds elapse and I realize Harvey is missing two of his children and the other guy.  He’s continued smoking and yelling, but he’s abandoned the curtain and now has his head in the Entrée while ignoring the third and smallest child.   I simultaneously glom onto three relevant facts:

1) M is nowhere to be seen.
2) He’s probably in the shipping container and
3) given the agitation levels that he’s probably stuck in it with Harvey’s older two girls.

I’m also starting to wonder what the hell it is they’ve done to a shipping container to make it count as an amusement park ride. There’s no evident electricity and they’re not handing out headlamps, which means whatever is going on is in the complete dark. From the extent to which Harvey’s yelling reverberates there’s definitely metal involved, but since the container’s metal that’s really not telling me much.  I’m dimly horrified, but M is tough, so I decide we can weather it until he gets himself out.

Another 2 minutes go by.  Harvey graduates to screaming, my mother-in-law is looking concerned, and my father-in-law has shifted into that Dad Catatonia Zone for men who have let a situation get out of hand and need to pretend someone else was at the helm when the important decision making occurred.  There’s a clanking.  A bang. Sort of a woosh…and than out feet first from the Sortie comes M.

He’s shivering.  Literally shivering.   My mother-in-law and I run to him and all he can say is “Cold. So Cold.” Its evident something severe has happened in the container but all we can think is to get him away from the exit so that he’s not in between Harvey and recovering his children.

The oldest of Harvey’s kids emerges. Her shirt is up over her head which I assume was not a planned part of the ride. It takes her a good deal of time to realize that whatever was happening in the shipping container is over, and that she has in fact lived to see the sun again.  She transitions from white-lipped terror to active sobbing while blocking the Sortie.

M, meanwhile, is shaking himself off and I realize that his face is streaked with tears.  M is- to borrow a phrase- Gangsta As Fuck, so I know that whatever was sufficient to make him cry was BAD.  It’s at this exact second that Chloe decides that what she really wants out of life is a taste whatever the hell M just tried in the shipping container.  Before I can stop her she’s crawled into the Entrée over everyone’s objections.  M grabs her by the leg to prevent her getting in but she’s much bigger than he is and he’s still weakened by terror and relief.

I take over from him by the Entrée and I’m thusly standing right there when the last of Harvey’s kids comes out of the Sortie. She’s young enough to have escaped psychic damage but Harvey is somehow not done hollaring.  Another 30 seconds go by and he finally shuts up and backs up slightly.  The reverberating echo stops. The silence that surrounds all of us has physical dimensions. I’m just about to exhale when- in a denouement worthy of an Almadovar film- the Sortie disgorges an ENTIRE FUCKING GROWN MAN.

The disappearance of Harvey’s adult companion is explained.

I’m startled but I’m no less than 12 inches from one of the most blatant metaphors I’ve ever witnessed live, so I’m also I’m laughing so hard I have to bend at a 90 degree angle sideways to not wet my pants.  I’m marveling that he got out of there without getting his shoulder caught.  I’m also trying to keep Chloe from getting any further into the Entrée than she needs to to realize it’s a Dark Ride and she shouldn’t get involved.

She realizes it.  We recover her without losing sight of her and walk away.

M has stopped shaking and I attempt to interrogate him about his encounter with the eschaton.

Me: What was up in there?
M: *shrugs* [CAUSE HE’S FRENCH]
Me: Did you cry?
M: *peculiar Gallic nasal sound that indicates ‘War is Hell’*
*Pause*
M: Oui.
Me: Why?
M: Cold. And Dark.
Me: Here, let me clean your face.
Chloe: Why are you spitting on M’s face?
Me: I’m attempting to erase the last traces of his fear.

So I don’t know what the hell Nietschean abysmal encounter they have in that container but it’s dark and apparently lures men into peculiar choices.  Maybe it’s just a small locked room and the hell unleashed there really was just other people. On the other hand, I have rarely laughed so hard. More notable, I have never seen my mother-in-law laugh that hard.

Maybe the real amusement is for the parents.

Maybe that’s been the secret all along.

 

About Me: An update

Three years ago I wrote the about me page. This year, much of it changed.

1) Employer -> Not with IBM anymore.  After like 14 years which is crazy.  There’s a bunch I could write about that experience but it pretty much could be summed up with:

I watched the final scene of the first episode of “Halt and Catch Fire” – where the blue flood of IBM employees comes through the door – with a series of contradictory emotions.

Actually hell I watched the entire first season of Halt and Catch Fire and felt a series of contradictory emotions and not all of them had anything to do with IBM. (Flashlight dancing in the rain? And this is our awakening? Really?!)

2) Industry focus -> Went from service management / data center management to Healthcare.

Where did I end up going after IBM, you may ask? This place (athenahealth.com)

Why did you do that, you may ask?  Many reasons, is the short answer.  The long answer is that the loss of my husband four years ago peeled away a lot of things for me about the tech industry, and even more about how healthcare is practiced in the USA.  So it therefore interests me when the opportunity arises to slam one into the other.

What I personally do at the moment is work one of three Austin-based product managers for athenahealth’s More Disruption Please program.  We’re building a big team in Austin, as well as a whole new health-tech incubator down town.  So watch this space as that evolves.

3) My Kid has gotten older -> lucky me, really.

She’s in kindergarten now, which means she has a school record. An attendance record to be more precise. So we’re squares now who have to be at a place on time and do homework.

4) No longer a new runner –> I did four half marathons in one year, which I feel places me in the advanced category.  The last one was on my daughter’s 5th birthday, and it was part of the Glass Slipper Challenge at Disneyworld.  The Glass Slipper challenge consists of doing a 10K on a Saturday, spending the rest of that Saturday at Disneyworld, and then getting up on Sunday and running a half marathon.

I had done the 3m half as part of my training for that set of races, paired with 5 miles the day before. What I reckoned without was the whole “Walk an additional five miles at Disneyworld” thing that would happen after the 10K. Yow.  I didn’t keep track of my steps that weekend and I feel like that was the only thing that allowed me to actually do it.

Oh that reminds me I’m taking a Fitbit break and it’s glorious.

5) Don’t work from home anymore. -> I’m not sure if I’d ever brought up the intensely remote nature of my job in prior blog posts.  Even though I was in Austin I worked between 85- 100% at home for years. This was great when I had a small child but got increasingly isolating as time wore on. Thusly leading to the big change discussed in item 1.  I have to get up every morning, put on clothes that aren’t pajamas and actually see people.  It’s been a revelation.  My fashions have been revitalized.  My ability to string coherent sentences together for entire working days has resurged.  And I also I discovered that, true to demographic profiling

6) I am old. -> Old old old old old. Wow am I old.

Remember all that theoretical stuff I posted about “the millennials” and how baby boomers needed to let up?  Whew. Definitely chose the right side of the line on that one.  I have clothes older than some of my co-workers. As a result, I was terrified when I started that things were going to run on the same chaotic drama level I remember from working in a startup.  Days where you wandered in at 11:45 and were stuck there until your boss went home after dinner at 9:45.  Days where after the car ride home you worked until 2:30.  Days where you were lucky if you lathered and rinsed before you repeated.

But no. It’s a highly focused group.  No one wanders in late, wearing last night’s club makeup. No one’s mom calls the boss, concerned for their kid’s self-esteem and actualization levels.  And everyone works the normally accepted 8:30- 5:30 beat, which means I’m not the solo parent trying to sneak out of late meetings to go pick up my kid on time.

That said I have to relate this little parable.

Yesterday, while at work, we were reading aloud from a list of 80’s and 90’s classic movies and trying to determine whether one of the other product managers had ever seen them.  It devolved quickly from “have you ever seen this” to “have you ever heard of this” and then hit its nadir here:

Us: Heathers
Her: Nope. Never heard of it.
Us: Sixteen Candles.
Her: Have heard of it.
Us: Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.
Her: Never.Even.Heard.Of.It.

So that is the update. I’ll update the Who Am I Page…or maybe archive it. Not sure.

On the origins of ‘The Unexamined Life’

In conversation with my dad yesterday he mentioned that he didn’t know where the phrase “The Unexamined Life,” came from but he was sure it was deep.  Come to that, I didn’t know where it came from, so I decided to make sure I had cribbed it from someplace cool.

And I did! Here it is, in Apology, Plato’s account of the trial of Socrates.

“Someone will say: Yes, Socrates, but cannot you hold your tongue, and then you may go into a foreign city, and no one will interfere with you? Now I have great difficulty in making you understand my answer to this. For if I tell you that this would be a disobedience to a divine command, and therefore that I cannot hold my tongue, you will not believe that I am serious; and if I say that the greatest good of a man is daily to converse about virtue, and all that concerning which you hear me examining myself and others, and that the life which is unexamined is not worth living — that you are still less likely to believe.”

It’s shocking to me that I managed to snatch this one right out of the air, because I would have told you I spent my sophomore year in Philosophy class doing a crossword puzzle and seething about being surrounded by moonbats.  Evidently somewhere along the line I did the reading.

So here’s an odd list.

Things about which Socrates and I agree:

  •  Being a smartass is a divine command.

Things about which Socrates and I disagree:

  • That you need to examine every aspect of your life in order to make it worth living.

And in the great spirit of philosophy classes everywhere, I leave you with the following essay question:

What would Socrates – advocate of the examined life- have thought of wearable technology?

What we talk about when we talk about the Blerch

The Beat the Blerch race I mentioned in my previous post grew from this particular comic from The Oatmeal. I bought the book – which is to be made available tomorrow- and I recommend it for new runners, much as I recommend the Couch-to-5K.
The Beat the Blerch comic takes its inspiration from Haruki Murakami’s “What I talk about when I talk about running,” which I have not yet read but will link to as I fully intend to add it to my queue.

We Are the Ones We’ve Been Taught Not to Wait For: On Shanesha Taylor and Caring Communities.

I have been distraught for Shanesha Taylor since I first saw her mug shot. I feel as though there is such a thin and unfair line between her situation and mine. This quote, especially, hits very hard:
“Many single parents learn early to keep their heads down, their challenges quiet, their desperate moments secret. We are taught that work must take precedence over everything else, that self-reliance may have to come at the expense of a sound mind or safety for our children. “

beyond baby mamas

Image

Last week, a black single mother dominated the national news cycle. In her mug shot, plastered above many a think-piece headline, Shanesha Taylor’s tear-soaked cheeks and emptied eyes were offered to the world as a kind of apology, a kind of explanation, a kind of platform. The reading and viewing public was all too happy to fill in the blanks. At first, she spoke to us only through the police who arrested her for leaving her sons, ages 2 and 6 months, in a hot car with the windows cracked in Scottsdale, Arizona. She left them for approximately 45 minutes, while she interviewed for a job. According to Sgt. Mark Clark of the Scottsdale Police: “She said she was homeless, she needed the job. Obviously, not getting the job. So it’s just a sad situation.”

This got the wheels of the commentariat grinding. Black single mothers are popular grist for…

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South By Southwest and Taco Obsession, an Insider’s Guide

I’ve lived in Austin for 18 years. I’ve learned to control it, the urge to make a diet out of tacos.  But I’ve seen  too many of my friends – Texans in Exile especially- go Taco Crazy to pretend it doesn’t happen.

This is supposed to be a tech blog.  Or a blog that addresses tech trends and strategy.  So I’ll loop that in by saying that after 18 years of departing Austin the day that SXSW starts and coming back the the day it ends, this year I’m headed to the party.   My primary objective is going to be chatting with IBM’s existing and prospective clients about IBM Service Engage.  But my secondary objective is to learn more about three things.

1) Marketing Strategy
2) Social Media
3) Millennials, even though I’ve already well placed a stake in the ground with this post.

I’ve built my agenda accordingly.  My walking shoes, still packed from Pulse, will be making a reappearance.  So I’m set.  I couldn’t help but notice, though, that the SXSW Interactive crew loves three things themselves this year.

1) Wearable Tech
2) Milliennials (What a stroke of luck!)
3) Tacos.

Damn, everything is about the tacos.  The secret menu tacos.  The breakfast tacos that coat your stomach with redemption after a night of mistakes.  The haute taco based on interior Mexican cuisine.  The bas tacos that pull in southern cooking.  Tacos with breakfast cereal BAKED RIGHT IN, people. It’s everywhere.

So I’m going to help you out and contribute my expertise.

Call it my way in to the narrative, so to speak.

Here’s how you Taco, Austin-local style.

Breakfast

On a normal day, in the normal way, breakfast tacos of average excellence  are not going to be hard to find.  Austin Java does a fine job, for instance.  Pretty much any place that serves breakfast is going to feature a taco-building option, and I find just as a general guideline, adding avocado to any taco is going to take it to the next level.  Even so, we’re here for the insider dish, so I’m going to point out three outliers, both good and bad.

1) My personal morning-after-the-night-before favorite isn’t a taco at all.   After about three ingredients, it’s time to stop with the pretense and just go whole burrito on the situation.  Everything you secretly want on one taco but can’t wedge in there.  Enter the Burnet Road Burrito from Taco Shack. Taco Shack overall is a breakfast revelation, pretty much as good as you can get breakfast wise without stumbling towards advanced levels.  Especially important is the application of their sauce- don’t leave without at least one ounce of the stuff in your bag or you’ve missed the point.

2) Advanced levels. Secret society level stuff…Torchy’s tacos Taco-of-The-Month this month is the Roscoe. It’s hard to explain the Roscoe without weeping or using religious terminology.  Flour Tortilla, Fresh Waffle, Fried Chicken, Bacon, Maple Syrup.  You’ll be back for another one. I don’t recommend this one for the morning after…let your stomach warm up and make this one a lunch or dinner experience if you’re suffering.

3) From the Meh Files:  Rudy’s BBQ breakfast tacos and Taco Deli in the Morning.  Trust me we will revisit Taco Deli later.  But Rudy’s tacos are available for resale Austin wide, making the otherwise improbable downtown encounter with them possible.  It’s wholly personal opinion, but there’s something added to the eggs, some ? spice that I can’t get into.  They make up for it by delivering the best possible BBQ options with your taco, including brisket and sausage, but still.  The eggs.  I can’t quite make it happen.

Taco Deli in the morning swings close but has potato issues.  They’re mashed.  I think this is because the focus here is on authentic Mexican cuisine, which shines in other areas, but not in the morning with the mashed potatoes.  Just no.

Bonus round: The Airport.  Beware here because there are some vendors who think that American cheese in a breakfast taco is something people should be paying money for in this the year 2014.  Hell No.  Ask before you buy.  Especially important because the airport is either going to be your first or last taco experience of the fest.

Non-Breakfast

I divide the taco world into two sections, which I mentioned before.  One is going to be Tacos the way Mexico intended them, the second one is going to be Texan-Southern.  I love both.  But make sure you walk on both sides of the street before you declare yourself a convert either way.

1) Best -in-Class, Interior style: Taco Deli.  Oh Taco Deli.  I was an Original Taco Gangsta at the one near the IBM office.  At one point in my reign I was one of the people consulted about whether or not they should close early on holidays. Even more extreme, the counter help were consistently polite to me.

Once you leave the breakfast menu behind, there are no missteps here.  But if you want to get it done right, go on Thursdays.  Why? Because of the Scallops (grilled scallops tossed with roasted red and poblano peppers, grilled corn and a garlic lime mojo sauce.)  You might also find the Taco Lomo (pork loin with red cabbage) on Thursdays, but I haven’t seen that in a while so try to manage your expectations.

2) Best in Class, Southern Style: Torchy’s.  There are those who believe that you’re either a Deli or a Torchy but I disagree with this level of divisiveness.  The key here is to go slow, trying a crazy one and a conservative each visit.  And beware that the odds of falling down a Torchy’s Tacos K-Hole, where it’s the only thing you eat the entire time you’re in Austin, are high.  My typical order, when Roscoe isn’t in town, is the Green Chili Pork on Corn and the Baja Shrimp on Wheat.   But again, it’s hard to go wrong here if you’re willing to be bold.  Be sure to buy some of the Elote as well.

Honorable Mentions

1) Fresca’s Chicken– This is the place where I finally found out what a corn tortilla is supposed to taste like and why they exist.  Much like Torchy’s, there’s no such thing as just one visit here.  I usually get a Anchote & Citrus chicken meal.

2) The Mighty Cone – This is basically a taco served in a paper cone and termed the Hot and Crunchy Cone. They’ve relcoated from their original stand on Congress to Rio Grande.  For my own dietary protection I  only let myself eat them during ACL festival.  They come in Avocado, Chicken, and Shrimp. I’ve had all three, I generally get the chicken when I indulge.

3) Maria’s Taco Express – I only vouch for this place on Sunday mornings, and even then it’s more cultural experience than a taco.  They have a gospel brunch that’s worth sitting through, even if the counter staff are notoriously rude.

Be aware that like anything that inflames passions, Taco recommendations and opinions are going to be varied and heated.  There are people who will disagree with everything I’ve said here, and they’re welcome to it.

Looking forward to seeing everyone and their tin foil wrappers at SXSW!