Fly by with not much to say. The days feel like weeks and the weeks feel like days. We keep getting older.
As many parts of the world today celebrate the day before Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent, I am reminded of a trip I took several years ago to Switzerland, where I used to travel for business regularly. While there in Zug, a city just south of Zurich, in late February, I was informed that I should go explore Fastnacht that evening. “Fastnacht?” I asked, having no idea what my colleagues were referring to. But they encouraged me to brave the cold and experience the Swiss-German version of Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras or Carnival. So I went that night with Melissa, another American colleague I was traveling with, and was blown away with what I saw.
There were people dressed up as animals, people wearing large and grotesque masks, groups of marching bands, brass bands dueling with other brass bands, tents set up to serve beer, strong cheese, pretzels and sausages, and ordinary masses of people, like me, on the sidelines observing the festivities with a cell phone camera wondering how this mayhem got its start. Turns out, Fastnacht goes back centuries in Germanic-speaking Europe and varies by region, with Lucerne and Basel known for their wild Fastnacht parades and events. All in all, it was quite the experience and one I am unlikely to have for years to come.
In November 2015, I posted on this site that Salt Lake City finally received a radio station that I could enjoy and look forward to listening to. That station was 94.9 The Vibe. And now, that station no longer exists. I was shocked to learn the other day that my go-to radio station (in the event that I did turn on the radio) had disappeared literally overnight and was replaced with some sound-the-same Top 40 hit station. I don’t know what the motivation for the change was, but find it hard to believe it was market demand because everyone I know appreciated the classic throwback station that was The Vibe. So, for now, I’ll continue to stick with my audiobooks and NPR, but when I want to listen to music in my old car it really is a shame that my favorite option has been eliminated.
I realized the other day that I could attach some theme music to a few key points in my life. The reason this occurred to me was because each song that sparks a memory is written and performed by the same artist. That artist is Alicia Keys. Here are three separate moments in my life and how each song fits.
December 2003 – I was recently engaged and took my fiancé back to my hometown in between Seattle and Tacoma during the holiday break. The local radio stations of where we lived at the time were less than ideal when it came to urban, hip-hop and R&B and so I took advantage of better stations when in Washington. One afternoon, while driving to the Tacoma Mall, Alicia Keys’s “You Don’t Know My Name” came on. My fiancé didn’t know the song, but I somehow did. I remember singing it in the car and telling her, “this is one of the best songs on the radio right now.” She just smiled as I sang to her, just like lovers do before marriage.
October 2010 – I was with my wife and other immediate family members on my first and only cruise at the time. One of the activities that particular Carnival Cruise offered was Karaoke, and we all decided to entertain ourselves trying to sing one afternoon as we cruised the Mexican Riviera. Song after song, my siblings sang silly songs to each other and we all had a good laugh. Then it was my turn. I chose Alicia Keys’s “If I Ain’t Got You.” The song was released several years before on the same album as the song mentioned above, so I knew every word by then, exactly what is needed to rock Karaoke. I stood up on stage, no one knowing what I was going to sing, and dedicated the song to my wife. I then sang my heart out, and I’m sure only those in the audience who knew me appreciated it. For everyone else, I am sure I was an earsore. Until this day, that song is the closest thing we have to “our song” and I still sing the song at home often. All my kids know it, which says something about how that song has fit into my life.
November 2011 – As I have mentioned on this blog in the past, one of my all-time favorite places to think and write is on a plane at night, surrounded by strangers, with the lights of small unnamed towns 30,000 feet below. One evening, either coming or going, I was on a Virgin America flight from coast to coast and I was listening to Alicia Keys’s “Un-thinkinable (I’m Ready)” on repeat. I was also scrolling through photos of my phone, which at the time, included many shots of my two young daughters. My wife and I had been discussing whether to have another child and when would be a good time. I was the holdout, feeling that maybe I was satisfied with the two healthy children we then had. But I kept thinking, Alicia’s sweet voice echoing around my head saying, “If you ask me, I’m ready.” I came home from that trip and told her I was ready. In September of the next year we had our third daughter. Alicia was even a finalist for her name. Instead, she ended up with another name beginning with the letter A.
There are other life moments that come to mind where Alicia Keys’s music has played a starring role, including dancing to “My Boo” in Lucerne, Switzerland to listening to her acoustic “Empire State of Mind” as I walked up West Broadway in lower Manhattan. Her voice and talent has been with me. Thank you, Alicia, for the great music and memories.
Thanksgiving 2016 has come and gone, and I have a lot to be thankful for. Ten years ago this month I started this blog. I was 27 years old when I had the idea to make some of my thoughts public. Back then, blogs were the primary way to do so before the rise of social media. I was married, but had no children. I was a few months into my first real job at a storied New York law firm and was a few weeks away from being informed I had just passed the New York Bar Exam. I had my whole life ahead of me.
Ten years have passed and I have even more to be thankful for today. I am now the father of four daughters and have lived in three states since I started this blog. My career has not been exactly what I would have thought ten years ago, but I would not have had it any other way. I am in an envious spot right now in my career and I am excited to see what the future brings. My family is healthy and I live in a great location in a (still) great country. So, yes, I have been blessed. As I sit here now, I am amazed at how quickly the last ten years have flown by. I can only hope that ten years from now (wow, 2026!), whether I am still writing on this site or not, I can look back and feel the same way as I do today.
A childhood friend of mine passed away recently. Actually, it was more dreadful than that; he took his own life. In my youth, we spent a lot of time together, although he was a year older than I was. He was a neighbor, schoolmate and church friend. We had fun together. We played soccer, football and baseball together. We jumped on our trampolines together and, looking back, survived some awfully daredevil endeavors. We went trick-or-treating through our neighborhood each year, raking in loads of candy. We played pranks on others, especially our siblings. We were boys and made memories. As we aged, we grew apart, as happens sometimes, even among good friends, with life taking each individual in his or her own direction. But he was always my friend.
Which is why I was surprised, to say the least, when I saw his family members posting the sad news of his passing. I saw that his memorial service and celebration of his life was days away. I rearranged my schedule to attend, and I’m glad I did.
While we had grown apart over the years, I remember him well. The more recent parts of his life I was unfamiliar with were highlighted at his service. He was a good man. He loved God and his family. He struggled with mental illness and such disease worsened over time. I don’t know what he was thinking on October 12, 2016 when he decided to end his life, but I know there are many people here on earth who will remember him for all the good he did and were reminded at how precious life is.
Our Japan trip was amazing. It was so good to be back after 16 years; nostalgic even, as if I was returning to a dream or a prior life. The surroundings were familiar, but different in some ways from what I recalled from my two years in Japan years ago. When I first went to Japan in 1998, it was like I was going into the future given the technology disparity between the US and Japan – the mobile phones in Japan were amazing, more functions were automated at the time and so on. But I felt that less this time around, since no matter where you go in the world today, people have the same iPhones and earbuds and apps and games. I did, however, appreciate the food more this time around and had more cultural context to understand what makes the Japanese culture unique. And it is unique. It is orderly, clean, and respectful in a way that much of East Asia is not. Japan is a fantastic country.
This trip also marked my first trip to Tokyo, and wow, what a fantastic city. The size and scale of the city is incredible, both in terms of humanity and infrastructure. We stayed near Shinjuku Station, which is the busiest train station in the world. As someone who has commuted daily through New York’s Grand Central Terminal, I was used to a busy train station. But let me be clear: New York has nothing on Tokyo. Nothing. Shinjuku alone has around 3.6 million people a day traveling through its tunnels, walls, shops and connections. And there are multiple other stations in Tokyo alone that are almost as busy. It was incredible to see the morning rush hour. And in the evening, I was amazed to see that 11:00 pm felt almost as busy as 6:00 pm, not that I should have been surprised given the hours the typical Japanese salaryman works. But still, it was impressive and overwhelming.
One of the trip’s highlights was the day trip to Kyoto. Yes, that’s right, with our JR rail pass and thanks to the shinkansen bullet train, we were able to make a trip to Kyoto and Osaka from Tokyo a “day trip.” It was a long day, but we did it. We visited some sites I had never seen before, including Arashiyama, Fushimi Inari Taisha and the Gion District. Kyoto has a much different feel from Tokyo and was worth the effort to visit while there.
We also spent a day in Kamamura just south of Tokyo along the coast. It was a quaint, touristy place and we walked the streets and hills of the town exploring the Buddhist and Shinto temples, including a temple built into a cave where the promise to visitors is that if they wash their money with the natural spring water from the mountain their money will double. We’re still waiting to see our Yen double from such a washing.
Overall, it was a great trip. Japan is a country that, despite its quirkiness, I still think I could live in. I fit there, even if I am a tall, white gaikokujin. But that’s just me. I am not sure my family would fit there. And were I ever to have an opportunity to move there, I am pretty certain that doing so would result in a substantial downgrade in comparison to our way of life here in Salt Lake City. Living quarters are smaller, working hours are longer, commutes are exhausting, housing is more expensive, not to mention the language difference. My time to move back to Japan has passed; I just don’t see how it could ever make sense with four children and our current lifestyle. But I do hope to visit again and can only hope it doesn’t take another 16 years.