Frank was smoking a cigarette in the furtive way folks do who have issues with work or with nerves or with drink or drugs when we began to chat. I was sitting in the worn little smoking area at a truckstop in Moab Utah, under a leafless tree that filtered a warming winter sun, keeping an eye on my laptop, phone and iPad, all happily charging at an outlet just inside the door.
I had stopped by the truckstop to get gas and to charge up various devices – a hazard of traveling in an older car that lacked charging ports was that I spent a portion of every day trying to figure where I could find AC outlets. Restaurants were closed, as were cafes, and local folks, normally as welcoming and as hospitable as Americans can be, were somewhere between skittish and weary.
Just inside I could hear the occasional rumble of ice machines, the gurgle of coffee, the plaintive twang of country music and the beeping and ching-chinging of cash registers. What comfort there is in all those salty snacks and sugary drinks! Across the fueling area, semis rumbled slowly across the pavement and the red, red rock of the area rose up beyond the highway.
Frank was in recovery – he had gotten too comfortable with painkillers after a bad motorcycle accident, tumbling below a dump truck while getting on a freeway. The Harley that he was very proud of was totaled. He happily told me all about his children and his difficult ex wife and his problems with the meds. There may have been a tour of duty with the armed forces. It was one of those conversations where you are not initially sure if it will be anchored or will glance off into a world mediated by a broken mind, where troubles and reality swirl and mix, like the iridescent pattern of gasoline spilled on a puddle of water.
But it wasn’t this – we stayed lucid in the weak November sun with cigarette smoke wisping around us. Most importantly, Frank told me that he had found Jesus and he wanted me to know that and wanted to share how much Jesus had helped him, had shifted things in his life. I told Frank that I would pray for him that evening and I did so.
I was on the outbound leg of a road and camping trip I made to Southern Utah in early November this year – something I had planned to do for a while but never quite gotten around to – to see some of the amazing National Parks in that part of the State.
East on the Interstate across the Central Valley, accompanied by myriad of semi trailer trucks and RVs – lots of RVs (All those folks hitting the road on account of the pandemic) – up and over the Sierras, cool and dry, with snows yet to hit. Down to Reno and then off on Highway 50 across northern Nevada through the high desert, isolated ranches, ragged mountains, the occasional lonesome gas station and a stark, arid beauty. Camped at 8,000 feet, an enveloping canopy of stars overhead and a full moon visible. Absolute silence. Cups of tea and a warm sleeping bag. Up next morning at dawn, water frozen in the cooking pot, fingers numb, warming against a hot drink.
I listened to audiobooks while on the drive, knocking off the 23 hours of Moby Dick in two days of driving. Melville is perfect for the desert: both the book and the drive are endless and in the vast expanses of the desert I could imagine 19th century whalers searching for their quarry.
I camped by the Colorado River outside of Moab, opposite red sandstone cliffs whose image shimmered on the river surface in its early morning calm. Huddling next to the fire at night, eyes stinging as the smoke blew around me, lots of time to read, to think to pray.
Liam’s skateboarding business got crushed in March and April – the only thing that kept him afloat was sales in South Korea and in the Netherlands. Sales came roaring back in May and he has had some of his best months since then. He plans to do a trip to China, Taiwan and South Korea next year to visit his manufacturer and some of his distributors.
He just released this video, which we think is super impressive.
His two most important acquisitions this year have been Hank, a very lovable rescue dog, and his Toyota Tacoma pickup truck – he is justifiably proud of both. After years of suffering through older vehicles with quixotic operating characteristics he is happy to have a new vehicle; after all he is a Californian, a citizenry who take the cars they drive very seriously. The Toyota has an interior that feels like a first class seat on Emirates Airline, a leather upholstered lounge, lots of screen, dials and glowing indicator LEDs. The back is set up for Hank who is big and loose and active and friendly.
Jennifer and I meet Liam a couple of times a month for dinner somewhere between here and Santa Cruz, and have had this in a number of formats depending on the state of shelter-in-place rules. Most recently, we ate takeout pizza off the tailgate of his pickup truck on the main street of a small town while Hank looked on quizzically.
The heli skiing lodge that Lexie was managing in the interior of B.C. shutdown abruptly when the virus hit. She stayed on through April to help with wrapping things up. She decided not to take advantage of the quite generous emergency benefits Canada offered and opted instead to join a tree planting crew.
Tree planting is a very Canadian thing – mention it to anyone North of the 49th parallel and they will tell you about their experience doing it to earn money when they were younger. It’s piecework – you’re paid by the seedling – and Lexie recounted being trained by her supervisor who almost ran up a vacant area, digging, inserting and leaving seedlings perfectly placed, like a gymnast doing a floor exercise.
She was up near the Yukon border and planted for very long days through rain, sun and bugs. Lots of bugs. Lexie worked for three months straight with very little time off, sleeping in her tent without any connectivity. She told us that she had a lot of time to think, to think about how she works and why.
She is back at the lodge this fall, taking care of it even though they are unlikely to have guests this season. Lexie gets time to back-country ski with some of her workmates – I saw a text the other day with the phrase “….chest deep powder…” so methinks that it is a pretty good set up.
I was to have spent the year in West Africa, in Ghana, with a program through the business school at Stanford, coaching businesses on how to grow. A fantastic operation: I was assigned 5 companies in Nigeria and Ghana, and worked closely with their CEOs to help them figure out how to grow their businesses in a very challenging environment. (If you search this blog site for the word “Africa” a number of my posts from my time there should pop up.)
Then the virus hit – I had gone to Niger to visit some missionary friends at the end of March – and during that week everything changed. I got back on a Sunday evening and was on a flight out the next day. The airport closed a couple of days later. The first month back was confusing – I had geared myself to work in Africa and Jennifer and I were just about to arrange her first visit. The freeways were empty and everything was on hold and folks seemed to be anxious about supplies of toilet paper. And no one had any idea what was going to happen.
Over time, we have all adapted to this Covid life, I guess that is what humans do. I have stayed in touch with my African companies and have assembled advisory boards for a couple of them. After the first month back home I managed to land some consulting work and now have several engagements on the go.
We hope that you are having a fine, if somewhat subdued, holiday – and that you and your family will be healthy and safe in the coming year. May 2021 be a little less eventful than this year(!)
Enlighten the dark corners of this neglected dwelling,
and scatter there your cheerful beams.
Dwell in that soul that longs to be your temple.
Water that barren soil, overrun with weeds and briars,
and lost for lack of cultivating,
and make it fruitful with your dew from heaven.
St. Augustine of Hippo 353 – 430