This January, I attended the annual Scottsdale Barrett Jackson auto-show/ auction with my father. I personally have almost no interest in automobiles. I mean, I can do typical car stuff: fix headlights, install windshield wipers, test and swap a battery, check and replace the oil- but I could really care less about the make and model of some vintage hotrod. The first car I owned was a 2004 Honda Civic Hybrid. I was fortunate enough to have parents that were willing to invest in a new car for me when I received my driving permit. My logic behind the purchasing decision was that I wanted a car with high durability that was as fuel efficient as possible. This was December 2003 and the dealership could hardly give these things away.
Anyway, I went to auction because I am trying to find ways to spend more quality time with my parents. Growing up, my parents and I never really had many opportunities to bond or form a strong emotional relationship. My dad was always off working and my mom was always busy watching television or working in cafeterias. Growing up, for the most part, my brother and I were left to our own devices. ‘Our own devices’ usually resulted in Nintendo or random acts of petty vandalism. There was never really an opportunity to get to know them.
During my childhood, my dad started his own business repairing old and selling new pool and spa motors and supplies. The supplier of the pool motors he sells at his business, United Aqua Group, is a major player in the business. This supplier is a multi-million dollar corporation, and as a result, they have the means to send their customers to annual retreats across the globe. Previously, it had been mentioned that this year’s annual event would be held in Puerto Rico. During my trip to the auction, I mentioned that I would be interested in going if there was still an available spot (I had attended the event the last two years in Phoenix and Hawaii). He mentioned that there was, I purchased my tickets that weekend, and prepared myself for a lovely stop in Puerto Rico.
When purchasing my house, a major factor in the purchasing decision was its proximity to the light rail. The light rail is the first major contribution to rail-bound public transport in Phoenix, Arizona since my birth. The light rail stop is a brief seven minutes from my house, the ride to the airport is about thirty-five minutes. From there, I jump on a Skytrain that takes me directly to the terminal in about ten minutes. Airport security takes a mere twelve to fifteen minutes. From my front door, to the plane is about one hour. From my front door, I can step on a plane and travel anywhere in the world in less than an hour.
I often ponder this fact, when leaving my house. I see my front door as a gateway- a gateway to the world, a gateway to experience. Sometimes I open it- I don’t see my front yard: I see Sweden or Norway or Beirut. I do not see them first hand, but I imagine them- I dream. Puerto Rico? Why the fuck was I going to Puerto Rico? I never thought about Puerto Rico before a week ago. Why not? Bucket list? Life is too short for bucket lists. I say, fuck planning every little thing. Plan for spontaneity and live life for that. Life is little more than a spontaneous ephemeral dream anyway- plan for spontaneity. Live life to enjoy every day-especially through your work- and you’ll always enjoy yourself and have the opportunity for spontaneity. Don’t live for the trip, live for the possibility- be ready to take any possibility when it comes your way.
As part of this blog, I am starting a new project. I call it the world airport project. Think of it as an exercise in minimalism and musique concrete. I have decided to record audio clip from airports all across the world so that you all can hear what it sounds like to be in airports around the nation and the world. Included is an audio clip from my trip through Phoenix Sky Harbor airport, from getting off the light rail to walking to my gate. You can even hear the recorder travelling through the x-ray machine around minute twenty three. Anyone and everyone may disseminate this recording or use it for audio tracks.
Midflight, I noticed a Southwest Airlines plane flying in close proximity over the Gulf of Mexico, so I captured a little snap shot of it. Deboarding my plane in Puerto Rico, I am instantly hit with the smell of a fresh island. The air is moderate, similar to Phoenix in temperature (high 70s), but much more humid. My bus to the resort is found on the other side of an almost vacant airport. Inside, a cooler bears complimentary drinks including Don Q rum, Sprite, Coke, and a local beer called Medalla that I did not try until later. In the bus, I met two business salesmen attending the retreat/ expo. We spoke about the utility of drones in the pool industry, solar powered pool skimmers, the life of the traveling salesman, and the state of the industry. I also talked music, running, and education (he was a former school teacher) with one of the individuals whom was wearing a Bob Dylan t-shirt and had recently moved to Portland, Oregon.
I arrived at the resort around midnight- the bus trip was an additional hour on top of my five hour flight from Dallas. The first night, it was too late to purchase any dinner, so I went to bed complacent with a Cliff Bar- everything would change after this. Fortunately, the trip turned out to be an all-expenses paid extravaganza at a five star resort called El Conquistador (The Conqueror). This resort contained a private fire pit, two pools, a water theme park, two arcades (each containing a game called ‘Flamin Finger’), a slot car track, a gym, a full golf course, a private boat dock, and a ferry boat that took hotel guests to an exclusive private island which I’ll get back to later.
Waking up the first morning, I open our sliding glass arcadia doors. The oceanic view is absolutely stunning and gorgeous- the taste of the air is fresh, soothing, welcoming. In the lobby, are two stubborn parakeets that sweetly repeat the word ‘hola’ when they get around to it. On the way to the lobby, iguanas can be found in the hallway outside the elevator. The lobby, of course, contains a Starbucks that has a herd of people assembled out the door to experience a little piece of Seattle all the way out in Puerto Rico.
The name of the event this year is Spark2015. The theme of the event is transition and change. United Aqua Group has recently gone through a major restructuring that resulted in the million dollar severance of an old CEO and hiring of a new CEO. The first event on the itinerary is a presentation by some of the vendors to sell you whatever they’re trying to jam down your throat this week. It is interesting to watch: some of them are noticeably bad at giving presentations or perhaps are having ‘off days’, but some of them are truly fantastic!
After the tradeshow, my father and I wanted to go check out the water park so we decided to head over to the trolley- the only way to reach it. I appreciated the sentiment of the trolley- it was supposed to seem exclusive and unique- like a little adventure on the way, but they thing was completely ghetto/ ratchet. Only one of the two was working, it seemed like half the mounts that were supposed to be keeping the tracks in the ground on either trolley were coming out of the ground, the trolley ran over a series of complex tubes, half of which merely cut off randomly along the way, and the main circuit box for the whole thing was wide open with wires just dangling free out in the elements.
When we reached the bottom of the trolley, there was a private boat dock and a ferry that taxied hotel guests out to the private island for free. Unfortunately, we arrived too late to catch the boat the first time, so we walked over to check out the water park. The water park was decent enough for being part of a hotel pool. It had three water slides and a lazy river. We then made our way back to the main pool area and hung out in the spa. In the spa, my father and I talked a lot about the business, music, and women. We were then joined by three women from New Jersey, two of which were school teachers (kindergarten and special education) and one that was a designer for Morgan Stanley in New York.
After the spa, we attended a pirate themed party were there seemed to be an unlimited amount of food, from steak to chicken, to crepes and gelato served in a buffet all you can eat style. Neither of us was dressed for the occasion since we only packed for the party the next night (my dad actually picked out my outfit for the next night which I had still no seen). My dad went off to make a fool of himself on the dancefloor (like a boss!) and I decided to leave and enjoy the ambiance of the night sky. I found my way out by a private fire pit and was overwhelmed by the sound of the resort. During the night, the resort is absolutely teaming with life, so I walked a little down the path, away from the fire pit, and sat in silence for about twenty minutes. It was so peaceful and serene- I decided I could stay there all night, but I decided it would probably be best to go back to the party to see what was going on the rest of the night.
On my way back to the party, I stumbled upon a family playing cards. The family was very nice. There was the mother and father, two daughters, one son, one boyfriend, one girlfriend, and one husband. The poker stud in me instantly assumed they were playing poker and went over to ask them what they were playing- they we not playing poker at all. Instead, they were playing a game whose name I do not recall. I asked if I could join them to learn and they said yes.
The game consisted of trying to make runs with suits. Everyone has their own deck (I had to purchase one at the gift shop) and starts with a stack of ten cards facing down and four cards facing up. The four cards facing down get to go into the center ‘community cards’ as long as they are of the same suit and the next number in the stack. The only cards that can be played initially are Aces since they count as one. Once an Ace is played, then someone can add a two of the same suit, then a three and so on. The objective of the game is to use all of your face down cards first. But, you can only turn a face down card up to use it if you have used your face up cards. If you cannot play any cards, then you must go through the remainder of your deck and take every fourth card until you can play one. All of the cards you play in the community count as a point for you, all of the cards you have still facing down count as two points against you.
I become completely consumed by the game and my conversation with the father and mother about business and my research. Before I knew it, I had played the game for about two hours. When I went back to where the party was, everyone had left. I made my way back to the room and retired for the evening. The next day, we managed to make it to the private island. The private island contained a croquet course, wave runners, secluded hiking trails, and plenty of beach. We found a trail to the side of the island opposite to where the boat drops everyone off. This side is fairly secluded and abolutely beautiful. I captured the sound of the waves coming up to the island. Venturing onto the island, we are introduced to several iguanas that live on the island- including this huge ass alpha-male. As mentioned earlier, this trip was ‘all-expenses paid’, so the pina-coladas kept comin’. We also got a chance to ride a waverunner out on the water which I could not capture since my phone stayed back on dry land.
That night, during the masquerade party, I had the opportunity to speak with the new person in charge of accounting for the corporation that was hosting the event. He mentioned that he admired the way my dad and I spoke with one another. I asked what he meant and he replied that it seemed as though my dad and I spoke to each other as friends and he would have never guessed that he was my father based on our conversations. A first, I did not know what to make of this comment, but he went on to elaborate: when he was growing up, his father and he never got along well- they hardly spoke. His parents got a divorce when he was very young and he never spoke much with his father after that. He mentioned that he envied the relationship my father and I have and emphasized that what we have is actually quite rare. This really struck me for the first time during this conversation. I never took the time to appreciate the bond I have with my father. Growing up, it was always very difficult to have conversations with my parents. For whatever reason, it was never easy for us to have meaningful or emotional conversations. We never really talked about sex or love or friendship- I never had the opportunity to discover what it means to form bonds with people at a fundamental and emotional level. For the better part of the last year, I have been putting in a solid concerted effort to force myself into conversations with my parents and loved ones about the emotional connections they have to the world. I have been questioning some of the things I and they value and seeking understanding and insight into those values. These conversations have often been extremely difficult- some have resulted in the complete loss of people for which I love very deeply, others, such as those with my parents, have resulted in the formation of emotional bonds I literally considered impossible only a year ago. I'll conclude with these thoughts later.
As part of our itinerary, we had some free time to be away from the resort and the convention. I had heard about something called the bioluminescent bay and wanted to check it out so we grabbed a taxi (notice the placement of the drinks). I tried to capture it using my GoPro, but the image is too dark to see the glowing. Bioluminescent bay is a large body of water that glows at night due to dinoflagellates- here's an explanation from biologybiozine.com: "A dinoflagellates glow is an example of bioluminescence and is the result of an enzymatic reaction. In the reaction, oxygen reacts with a substance called luciferin. First, luciferin combines with ATP to form luciferyl adenylate and a phosphate group. Next, luciferyl adenylate combines with oxygen on the surface of the enzyme called, appropriately enough, luciferase. Light is produced when the oxygenated luciferin, or oxyluciferin, is released from the surface of the enzyme. Scientists think that the reaction evolved as a way to bind up excess oxygen, thus preventing cell damage. The light given off by the reaction was just a byproduct of the reaction, not originally its main function."
The next place we checked out was Casa Bacardi, the distillery where they produce Bacardi Rum and the largest premium rum distillery in the world. Every tour comes with a complimentary mixed drink- morning, noon, or night. Sure, I was there at 9AM, but in Puerto Rico it’s never too early for a drink. The tour itself is a little underwhelming. Most of the time is spent looking at a mural which explains the history of Bacardi followed by showing a room with some old Bacardi barrels- the room even included a rubber bat hanging from the ceiling. There is then a brief moment where you can look out a tiny window to view some fermentation tanks. Tourists are then quickly shown the way to the gift shop with Bacardi branded everything, including custom etched bottles. Interestingly, rum is made from sugar cane. Rum can be made using sugarcane juice, syrup, or left over molasses from the production of crystalline sugar. Fermentation can occur by either using naturally occurring microbes in the ambient air and environment, or in a tightly controlled setting with specific yeasts. The distillation process involves heating the fermentation products to separate the alcohol from the rest of the mixture.
The next place we went to was Castillo San Cristobal in the City of San Juan. This fort was built by the Spanish in the 1700’s to defend the city from attack. At its original size, the fort covered 27 acres of land. The fort was also used as a fallout shelter in World War II.
Next, we wandered around the City of San Juan. The city contained a lot of shops and a parade was going on that day. We ventured into some antique stores and looked at old electronics, vintage plates, hats and some old vinyl (we even found a cockfighting arena by the airport). We managed to make it out to El Yunque National Forest, but quickly discovered that we missed the trailhead and limited reception prevented us from finding it.
Looking back at my childhood, certain events and activities stick out in my mind most succinctly. Events like going to the park on weekends to shoot off model rockets with my dad, my mom gluing lined paper to teach me proper handwriting, going to the RC car race track on the weekends to watch my dad race and to help out flipping overturned cars, spending the Sunday at my house listening to vinyl while my mom cleaned the house and my dad read the newspaper, and driving quickly over the hills on Union Hills (before they flattened it) in my dad’s Maverick. The Maverick- what a liability every trip in that thing was. The interior was completely stripped, it contained zero seatbelts, the shifter was a wrench, the center of the steering wheel was a giant bolt, and the seats were not mounted to the car so my brother and I would slide around on the back seat every time we banked a corner or shot up a hill too fast. All these things- all these events we shared- that was how we bonded and I absolutely loved every second of them.
But looking back, and during this trip, while having conversations with my dad in the spa at the resort, I realized that despite these events and great memories, my childhood still was not an easy one. It was very difficult for me to find meaningful relationships with others during my childhood. Sure, I had many friends, and I loved and love my friends very dearly, but there was seldom discussion about feelings, emotions, ambitions, etc… And for the better part of my life, I have been complacent with these relationships. These relationships are merely the zeitgeist to which I have become accustomed. I am certain that much of my independence, drive, and willingness to succeed stem from this scenario. However, growing into my early adult life, I find myself wanting, really needing, more. I believe that each and every one of us has times in our lives during which they feel as though everything around them is fake due to lack of emotional intimacy or whatever- that meaning and purpose are fleeting artifacts of an imaginary past that was invented by poets and mystics. During these times is when we need each other the most. During these times is when we need attention and care. We need to be reminded that we are doing a good job or that we are smart or beautiful or capable or competent. We need to be reminded that the people that surround us do acknowledge and appreciate our values. Finding myself in this situation, I reached out to those I loved the most. I asked them to consider my feelings, to understand my thoughts and ideas and worldview. I asked them to share theirs. I sought emotional connections with the people closest to me to build stronger, sustainable relationships. I captured this audio clip of the sound of the city during the parade which is one of the most musical things I've recorded to date.
I have learned, from this trip and other recent conversations with my parents, that those who really love you will be receptive to your thoughts. Many of these conversations have not been easy, some of them resulted in hurt feelings, and others brought up emotions and wounds that were difficult to confront- but having those conversations has built emotional bonds that will stay with us for a lifetime. I understand how it is that I will try to raise my children- emphasizing the importance of open, honest, and difficult conversations in building meaningful relationships: establishing a trust through those conversations. With my parents and family, this experience has been spectacular! This trip to Puerto Rico was a stupendous opportunity for me to bond with my father, for us to have talks about silly shit and difficult topics. Although the pina-coladas and resort amenities were a nice touch to an extremely meaningful trip- they were merely added luxuries to what I consider a priceless opportunity to discover new love in old places. I am not sure, exactly, where this leaves you, the reader. But I strongly encourage you to call your father or mother or significant other and tell them you love them. And if there has always been a conversation you could ‘never have’ with them, I suggest you give it a try.
My dad checking out at car at the auction.
Me and my Civic circa 2009. (don't ask)
My dad and I at the 2014 Phoenix event.
Spiral parking structures at PHX.
PHX airport overlook from SkyTrain.
Look! A plane!
Looking out from the hotel lobby.
One of the pools.
The water park.
View from the room.
Iguana chillin' in the lobby.
Spark 2015 trade show.
A private firepit blazes until late in the night.
Behold, the trolley!
And its twisted pipes!
The pina coladas!
I can sit here all day.
My dad on the beach.
Mandatory 'check-out my feet on the beach' shot,
This is how you masquerade!
Decadence was mandatory.
Getting ready to get on those kayaks on the left to go into the bay.
Science /ˈsīəns/ verb the act of partaking in, learning about, or teaching about the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment. "We're gonna science the Hell outta this thing!"
Bradley Lusk, PhD
I have embarked on a mission to bridge cultures through science and human discovery. For this mission, I will be visiting innovators, entrepreneurs, and game changers around the world to bring you perspective on how logic and innovation unite our planet in a quest for knowledge.
Join me as we science one individual, one community, one Earth at a time.