Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Extreme Candyass!

The high temperature in Madrid is a hundred degrees (F) every day this week.

Monday I went out running at three p.m., essentially noon here in Madrid, the height of the heat. I ran down our hill, through the park to Principio Pio, down to the river, across the bridge, alongside the river, across the bridge again and up the hill. I wanted to get to the stoplight that ends the park and is halfway up the hill to our apartment. I had to look down at the sidewalk and ignore how far I had to go in order to make it.

The entire run the dry heat of Madrid burned my lungs as I sucked in air, thin with oxygen.

I'm so extreme aren't I?

Um, no.

Let me explain. I thrive on such weather. I have always run in the most insane conditions. When I was nineteen and a friend of mine was about to enter the military, I joined him on an extensive program designed to get him ready for basic training. It focused on push-ups and running. He was going to join in early spring so our regiment was in a bitter Vermont winter. We would run every day, sometimes twice or even three times a day. Being night people, we would usually run at midnight or later in below zero weather wearing shorts, t-shirt, gloves and ski-masks. See, your legs and arms and chest don't get cold when you're running, but the freezing air sucked into your lungs burns without a mask, preheated by your breath. Your fingers also get very cold when running at below zero temperatures.

Mark and I would even run before and after our main run. He lived two miles away. He would run down to my house, we would watch a movie or music videos (new at the time) and then go out for a run in the peaceful quiet dark of a Vermont winter night. Some nights he would run down to my folk's house, rest, we would go for our run, rest, run up to his house two miles away, watch something on satellite that I didn't have access to, then I would run home at four in the morning.

That was pretty extreme.

In college, depressed over a girl, I ran 8.8 miles in a driving snowstorm in my typical t-shirt, shorts, ski mask and gloves. Two months later in early Spring I was into barefoot running but hadn't done it yet that season. I went running with a female running partner who had somehow, unexpectedly, surpassed me in endurance. The ground was frozen. The road was dirt, rocks and half-frozen mud. Every step, cold hard pain shot through my feet to mid calf. She started at a brisk pace and then I realized the whole run was going to be at this insane speed.

Five minutes in I thought: "Can I do this?"

She was one of my best friends. Very attractive, kind, wise, humble, innocent and had a boyfriend out of town who she had been faithful to for two years through college. I respected her immensely. I know she felt the same about me. One night, she had too much to drink (unusual for her) and I was actually summoned by a mutual friend to where she was. "Oh, Jamie's here, everything will be alright now," she said as she fell unconscious into my arms. I carried her back to her room where a friend took control from there.

I was not about to quit in front of her.

At this point in my life, I was just getting secure in who I was and what I was made of. I had left high school the shortest kid in my class with a horrible GPA. I was never the standout wrestling star my brother was, never once winning a tournament but collecting a vast array of third place medals. Short, not very intelligent, not exactly athletic, I only had my will and wiry frame that grew seven inches in the year after high school.

The year I took off from college and Mark and I ran, I started to come into my own. I had real willpower and a great friend. In college I cultivated a group of dependable, amazing friends who I am friends with to this day and see often.

My rallying cry at that time was "I'm Jamie Wakefield Goddamnit!"

All of this was before I was leader of a guild, winner of PTQ's, a writer about Magic, an Inn Manager, a respected computer tech and people asking me to autograph cards. I was a young man trying to find himself whose only success was in the loyalty of my friends and my own willpower. My rallying cry wasn't based on "Look at what I have done" because I hadn't actually done, anything yet. It was more a "I am me. How do I see myself? I am not a quitter. I believe in my willpower over all else." I am me.

I thought to myself, "I'm Jamie Wakefield Goddamnit" and I turned off the pain. I focused on breathing, keeping even with her, matching pace, breathing, I had no feet, breath, there is no pain. Just run.

I ran the four miles, lungs burning, barefoot, my feet numb after the first mile, blocks of ice and bloody by the end.

"Good run."
"Yeah, thanks. Good run."
And I limped back to my dorm.

That was pretty extreme too.

Monday was not extreme because it was pretend. It was not a pattern, it was a single day. I had to stop more often than I wished and the air was dry and burned my throat to an extent I wasn't expecting. When I finished, I was disappointed with myself. Anyone can go out and run in a hundred degree heat if they stop when they get tired. I was pretending to be extreme but actually... wasn't.

So, I decided I would run every day this week in the hundred degree heat.

Tuesday went much better. I made sure I was beyond hydrated. I also had multiple cups of coffee and was vibrating by the time I went out for my run at 5:00 p.m. when it had topped a hundred degrees. I stopped only when lights were against me and I would have had to run into traffic to keep going. All three of those stops were less than twenty seconds apiece. I was tired by the time I was running along the river and assured myself there was no shame in stopping once I got to the bridge. Instead, I made it to the bridge and I kept going, running all the way to the stoplight, resting fifteen seconds as I waited for it to turn, then sprinted up the hill to the next light. I had done the exact same run as the day before, but infinitely better and infinitely more proud of myself.

Today I have gone to the gym, rode the bike, did three sets of bench, curls, triceps and lats. Then I went shopping on the way home and carried sixty pounds of groceries up five flights of steps.

I feel great. And in two hours, when it tops a hundred degrees, I'm going running.

End note: This was all going to wrap up into a message about weight loss, friends, determination and advice. But, this is long enough. My butt hurts from sitting. I hope this didn't come off as "look how cool I am," because I meant it to come off as "I used to be extreme now I'm faking it, but I'm trying to be better." This week should be filled with entries about "My Wife the Spy part III," the conclusion to what I really meant to say in this article, what I went through to lose 40 lbs, and possibly some book reviews, rambles about the BMW car we rented and even some politics. Who knows, but I'm hopeful.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

My wife the spy part II

So, we're investigating...

America has no companies doing nuclear. No new nuclear engineers. All the guys that used to do that are 60+ because of the current opinion about nuclear in the US right now.

So, another country, of the five we're looking at, doesn't have the intelligence, infrastructure or technological base to do anything this company wants. Their computers and engineering are almost stone age.

Another country has no nuclear.

The country doing the most solar is... Spain. (Who we're not supposed to investigate.)

Wendy puts me and the intern (the wonderful Diana) on search duty. Investigate the other countries. Investigate the US for thermal solar, co-generation and other tech the client is looking for. And so the search begins.

This is harder than you might think. It takes me a week to grasp it, and another week to teach Diana. "No, they do solar, not thermal solar."

"Yes, they have pictures of generators, but they build and sell them, they don't design systems."

"No, this company has two hundred million in sales last year, they are too big."

"Yes, they list co-generation on their web site but if you look at their last twenty projects, they do air conditioning and heating. They're not engineers."

These are subtle but important things. We can't show Wendy fifty companies that don't fit the right criteria. We spend... days... searching. It is endless and mind numbing but we get it done.

Finally, we get a list together of ten or more companies in each county that could be looked at. This is where Wendy comes in. Wendy doesn't have a silver tongue, she has a diamond encrusted platinum tongue.

"Hi, how are you today? This is Donna, right? ? Is now a good time to talk? Did you get the keys I sent you? Look, I've sent you a new car and all I need you to do is transfer me to your boss and tell him it's important. I'll take care of the rest. You'll probably get a raise out of this."

Soon she's talking to the president. "Hi, I represent a discreet group of investors in Spain who are interested in your company. Do you have any interest in being bought? Acquired? Retiring early and never having to worry about money again? Being involved in a scandal with a twenty-one year old model? Because I can make all of that happen."

Some responded with "No, we're too busy for new business." To which Wendy responded with "You clearly don't understand. We're not looking for someone to do work for us. We want... to... give... you... money!"

Other times they responded with "What are you selling? No, I'm not telling you anything." These were a problem.

Other times they responded with "We would love to be acquired! Let me send you our promotional material, a video, our bank account information, our sales last year, our newsletter and a box of chocolates!"

These worked out just fine.

In six weeks Wendy had detailed information on thirty to forty companies around the world that were available for the client to buy. She knew their sales, their expertise, their previous and current projects, number of employees, dental and criminal records, etc. It was insane. And most importantly, impressive.

Nothing was ever illegal, none of it was a lie. But calling a company and asking them about their business is a tricky thing. Some responded with suspicion. Some with guarded trust, and others with child-like enthusiasm. BUY US!

Wendy presented a 50 plus page document to the client, an accompanying CD and they were beyond pleased. Information on each companies sales, skills, desire to be acquired, number of employees, etc. Wendy actually advanced a number of peoples' careers with her information.

"You hired Wendy? Really? That was you? Here, you need more money and a better position."

I received phone calls in the night. "Is Wendy married? Because she could marry our company and work here forever."

"How much are you offering?" I asked.


"Ow! Damnit, I'm kidding! She's married! She's mine! Stop calling!"

The best story about this insane business is next. You won't believe it.

Monday, June 20, 2011

My wife the spy.

I asked my wife permission to tell this story. Why?

Because she’s a spy.

Don’t tell anyone!

People constantly ask you what you do. I’m a writer, and a computer tech. That encapsulates me. Wendy’s story is a little harder to explain and always confuses people. When she gets done explaining people generally say ”So, you’re a spy?”

“No!” She protests.

Yes, I nod.

Wendy came to Madrid to work for a company that does competitive intelligence. They have some operatives in the field, they contact companies and say “Anything you need to know about the competition?” In a very general sense, things like that. Like I said, it’s tough to pin down. I really can’t go into all of the challenges she/I faced with her business because… well, because. Let me just give you a few examples that I find fascinating.

Wendy came to Spain with essentially no training, no idea what she as getting into, no idea what the job would entail. In nine months she had contacts with the biggest companies in Spain with the highest level contacts you could get. Presidents. Vice Presidents. Directors of Marketing with millions of dollars for a budget. Her skills are insane. She didn’t just have contacts with them, she was their best friend. They sent her Christmas gifts.

Two projects I want to tell you about to illustrate what she does:

I was called in on this one. “Hi, we have more money than we know what to do with so we want to acquire a business that has engineers familiar with nuclear or solar thermal or cogeneration, or solar or hydroelectric or, well, any new green type of energy. They need to have X amount of employees, X amount of capital, have made X amount of money last year and they have to want to be acquired. Oh, in one of these five countries.”

So, we investigated those countries and their businesses. One country was hilarious. “We have state of the art 386 computers with ink jet printers!” They boldly proclaimed. Um, that was state of the art a decade ago…

More tomorrow…

Sunday, June 19, 2011

They got it.

My father is terrified of flying. Much like I was a lifetime ago. He conquered that fear for us.

We have desperately wanted them to come to Madrid to experience what we have lived for the past four years, and this week, they finally did.

And they got it. They really, really, GOT it. Do you know how that feels to us?

"Let us introduce you to all these things that we love. If you don't love them, that's okay, but we want you to experience it."

They were in awe. Just like I was when I first came here (book link on the side, hint, hint.) They loved the people, the architecture, the food, the history, the living statues, all of it.

We wanted to take them to a seafood restaurant and order a cold seafood platter and a hot seafood platter but it's so different than American seafood. Percebes, and crab guts and cigala and shrimp and all cold with no cocktail sauce. Also a hot seafood plate with shrimp and cigala grilled with salt and olive oil. Clean and natural and delicious with no sauce.

Will they like it? Will they like any of it? Of the two, which will they prefer?

They loved it.

They loved all of it. They devoured the cold plate, delaying the cooked seafood, and when that came, they devoured that as well.

We took them for "Carne Rojo" (Red Meat 600 grams.) and at the end of the meal, my dad said "That is the way steak is supposed to taste."

We took them to many places. Today was Korgui. When the meal was done they both echoed "How can we go back? The food here is so clean, so good, so pure, so tasteful, so different!"

The food here is amazing. Of all of the things we showed them, all impressed them, but I think they really understood the most how different the food is here.

Dad said "This is the way steak is supposed to taste. I will never be able to taste steak again without comparing it to this."

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Top Chef Rambles

Wendy and I are huge fans of anything “Top Chef.” We have watched every season of Top Chef at least twice, most three times, Top Chef Masters I and II twice and Top Chef Just Desserts only once. Right now is the current season of Top Chef Masters III and it is still great, with a few human flaws. In Top Chef Masters these are already established chefs with their own restaurants, (many times multiple restaurants,) usually world famous with multiple Michelin stars (Did you know the Michelin star is actually awarded by the same company that makes Michelin tires? It all started with a travel and car maintenance guide in 1900. True story.)

Since they already have their own empire, they don’t play for personal gain, all the money they win goes to a charity of their choice. And I just have to rant about that because some of the charities they choose, I consider stupid. The world has real problems and if you’re going to potentially be winning more than a hundred grand for a problem, it should be a big problem.

A few of the chef-testants play for really good causes. Like, cancer research, or building wells for villages in Africa that don’t have running water. I tend to think that not having water is something we should help people with. Water is important. Fighting cancer is important. Alzheimer’s, CFS, ALS, Diabetes, etc. All those are serious things that need tons and tons of money thrown at them.

“Faster Cures” is an interesting charity. I know plenty of people out there suffering with a disease or, say, a spinal problem that would like to see a cure show up as soon as possible. Got a cure for ALS? I’m sure if I had it, I would want it NOW, not after five years of testing and red tape. I don’t care if it kills me, I’m going to die soon. Gimme the damn drug!

The dumbest charity I have heard on the show is Seed Savers Exchange which is, and I quote “Since 1975, Seed Savers Exchange members have passed on approximately one million samples of rare garden seeds to other gardeners. We are a non-profit organization of gardeners dedicated to saving and sharing heirloom seeds.”

Now, I think it’s important to save heirloom crops so that we’re not reduced to eating produce that looks good and holds up to travel well instead of actually tasting delicious, but… really? You have the chance to donate tens of thousands of dollars to a cause and this is what you think is MOST important? Because you should donate to what you think is the most pressing issue of our time if you are going to donate, not to some pet cause that really doesn’t even need the money. It’s really a shame too because we love the chef-testant that is cooking for this cause.

Another charity being donated to that I don’t understand is “The Agricultural Stewardship Association (ASA) is a community-supported land trust dedicated to protecting our local farmland from encroaching development. Working together with interested landowners and active supporters, our goal is to protect 20,000 acres by the end of 2015 and to ensure a future for agriculture in our counties.”

They should line up a guy in a wheelchair, a girl with CFS, a diabetes patient sick of sticking himself with needles, and a woman bald from chemo and make the contestants walk past them as they donate their check to keeping seeds and land safe.

I’m on the fence about the “Feed America” camps. There are multiple chefs playing for getting food to kids, food to families, helping food banks, etc. I don’t want anyone to go hungry, I honestly don’t, especially children. But if you can’t find food in America you’re not trying hard enough. No, I really don’t want the elderly or children rooting through dumpsters, but there is already a lot of money and programs in place to make sure this doesn’t happen. And if you’re an able bodied male you should have no problem feeding yourself. It might not be gourmet, but we’re talking America here. We throw away more food in a day than Africa eats in a week.