It’s morning here. I don’t know the exact time because I don’t know exactly where I am on the globe. I don’t know what time it is where I live either, but my intuition tells me my son is getting ready for bed, somewhere between 10 hours and a full calendar day behind. Far enough behind at least that, when I go home, I’ll technically arrive before I even leave. I can never really figure out the time thing, so as far as I’m concerned it’s just today, now.
I’m writing this from a reclined business class seat of a Boeing seven fifty something or other, soaring through the sky at speeds humans were never intended to travel. The next time I touch the surface of the earth I’ll be in Singapore. At least that’s the plan, provided something exciting doesn’t happen. I left Los Angeles 16 hours ago, had a brief layover in Taipei where I sucked down a bowl of ramen since I’m American enough to eat Japanese food my first time in basically-China, and now I’m back in the air for another six hours. I’m on my third complimentary vodka tonic of the hour and before we’d even left the ground I’d placed my dinner order off the menu the dainty Asian flight attendant handed me. I’ll switch to wine soon. A few minutes ago the same flight attendant sweetly tippy-toed through the aisle distributing hot towels like a geisha scattering rose pedals through a rice paddy. The hot towels are to clean yourself up with, which is funny since most people who can afford these outrageously priced seats generally don’t get very dirty. But I’m here, and my thoughts alone are gonna require at least two of those bad boys, so kindly make it a double, sweetheart, please and thank you.
I don’t always fly business class but I never book these flights so it’s always a surprise. All I know is my ticket says “row 4,” I have a football field of leg room, and I’m not asking any questions. Now, when I say I’m writing this, I do in fact mean handwriting, the archaic process of lows to which I only stoop during flights because it’s just too fucking inconvenient to travel with a laptop anymore. So I carry a notepad with me for anything I might want to jot down at a moment’s notice. I’ll eventually type it out on one of those badass machines we’re all so reliant on. Perhaps the worst thing about actual notepads is their lack of a spell-check feature, which means that if this plane crashes I’ll die knowing they’ll find this notepad and assume it belonged to some potty-mouthed fourth grader who wrote in all caps.
So I get to spend a handful of days in Singapore. From there I’ll get on another plane and fly 8 hours to Australia where I’ll spend an additional four days. Then it’s another 15 hour flight back to LA and I’ll have spent a grand total of 44 hours in the air within just a handful of days. That’s the tradeoff for being able to see foreign lands and faraway places. Last month I was in Florida. A month before that it was New Zealand. I think Houston was before that, but it gets fuzzy the further back I go because I travel often and alcohol exists. By the time I get home they’ll have put together the travel schedule for the coming year. I hear Vietnam or Thailand might be on the list, either of which would be tight, but I won’t mind if they just send me back to New York or Alaska or somewhere else I’ve already seen multiple times. It’s easy to wind up thinking that way about all of this. Casually, I mean. When done often enough, anything can start to feel like just another day at the office. It becomes simply routine. The norm. Business as usual. There are still many moments, however, when I pull back to reflect, and that’s when I remember just how goddamn lucky I am.
“What do you do?” is a question I’m asked often. It usually comes through Instagram or Twitter or from coworkers when I go missing for weeks on end. I always try to summarize without giving the impression that I’m exaggerating, or worse, bragging. I only ever brag ironically, the same way I call my wife the n-word (“a” not “er”). The problem is, no matter how I answer, it always just generates more questions. It almost has to as it really isn’t something that can be summarized, so I’ve just gotten used to answering a lot of questions, one of which is always some variation of are they hiring?
In a nutshell, I’ve worked on and off for a small Hawaii-based company pretty much since I was 12. Some of the arduous tasks assigned to me back then might’ve been considered more child-labor than a summer job, but I didn’t care because I made money and I got to be in Hawaii, without my parents, for weeks at a time. A few years ago that small Hawaii-based company was contracted by a small California-based company, and that small company works closely with a very big company, namely one of the biggest cruise lines in the world. They have several ships in their fleet and each has an annual inspection it must pass to continue operating. I’m one of the guys who caries out that inspection. Each year we’re given a long list of locations around the world where each ship will be docked. We pick a city, flights are booked, and hotels are arranged. After spending a few years as the assistant, I’ve finally worked my way into the position of crew chief and as such get to choose my own assistant. This allows me to bring along one of my best friends and occasionally my wife. I won’t disclose company names or my exact title, I’ll just say that every time you find yourself on a cruise not burning to death, you can thank my ass. See why it can’t be summarized?
In 1999 Nsync performed the halftime show of the NFL Pro Bowl. The stage they performed on was built on a rolling trailer that was to be pulled across the field and onto the fifty yard line as soon as the network went to commercial. The tricky part was getting everything in place before they returned from commercial, a total of 60 seconds, making fifty yards feel more like fifty miles. The stage took 8 people to push and one big dude to pull. He pulled the trailer by its coupler which he used to steer it into position, and since he was backpedaling he had no way of knowing which direction to pull in or when to stop pulling altogether. To solve this problem, a 12 year old kid stood in the middle of the stage and motioned to the giant who pulled. The kid wore a radio headset through which he could communicate with the crew chief, who watched from above and told him which way to direct the giant. They waited anxiously for the green light from the crew chief, indicating that the network had gone to commercial. They had practiced it twice the day before but never with the field full of people they’d have to weave around. Green light received; they were off. The crew chief said left, the kid signaled left, the giant pulled left. The crew chief said right, the kid signaled right, the giant pulled right. They zigzagged across the field making their way through scantly dressed cheerleaders and some of the NFL’s elite. When the stage was finally in position, the crew chief said hold, the kid shouted HOLD!, and it stopped. He ran around the stage connecting mic cables while the rest of the crew quickly prepared the area around the base of it. It may not translate well through written word, but it was absolute chaos. When it had all come together, 50 thousand people roared with applause, which is like nothing you’ve ever heard until you’ve been in the center of it. The kid, being the only one on the stage, knew the applause wasn’t for him, but rather for the whole crew, for the process itself. But he’d be dishonest to claim that he didn’t look around, just for a second, and pretend it was all his. His fantasy was interrupted by the crew chief’s voice that came blaring through his headset – ALL CLEAR! With that, he jumped off the side, the crowd still cheering, and joined the rest of the crew under the stage where they’d stay hidden from TV cameras while Justin Timberlake and co. performed a mere six inches above his head. I was that kid, and it was pretty goddamned hard to go back to 6th grade math class after that experience.
That was the first of many truly epic moments I’ve been lucky enough to collect throughout my almost-30 years. I flew to Hawaii for three more Pro Bowls after that one, but that first year was the most memorable. That was the year I met Warren Sapp, ate waffles with John Elway, and told Deion Sanders to go fuck himself (many can vouch for this). But those are different entries. For now, whenever you google-image search “Nsync at Pro Bowl 1999” (which I’m sure you’ve done like a bajillion times), just know that a 12-year-old me was stoked as shit, crouching under that stupid volcano stage.
I bring up that story partially because I really can’t explain my current job without it, and partially because it’s just a good story I can rarely tell within context. Fast forward many years and many adventures from that day and here I am, sitting in an airplane seat I didn’t pay for. I get to stay in hotels too fancy to be completely comfortable in and everything from my taxi rides to my bar tabs are picked up by someone else. The pressure of the job itself doesn’t always make for a stroll in the park (I know since I’ve strolled through parks all over the world), but I’d be the heavy weight champion of shit heads to complain. I don’t have any real money and the money I do have is already spoken for since I’m in debt like everyone else. Still, I get to see the world. The world, Craig. I’m an adventurer at heart, and this job has brought me enough adventure to fill up several books. It’s strange, humbling, and a real bummer knowing that most of my friends and other people I love won’t experience a fourth of what I get to quite regularly.
I hear you over there… Hold up! How did you end up riding on the stage at the Pro Bowl?! You can’t just conveniently skip over something like that. Well, as Ghandi once said, it’s all who you know, bruh (that might not have been him). And as I tell my son, it isn’t just who you know, it’s also the impression you make. The only thing worse than a missed opportunity is one you blow for yourself by being an arrogant asshole. It’s no coincidence that the phrase nice guys finish last is most often used by dickheads trying to excuse their shitty behavior.
So to answer one of the questions I get asked most… no, you can’t have my job. You can, however, keep your eyes and mind open to new opportunities. After all, it isn’t really the job you want but all the things that come with it. The fun, the adventure, the passport stamps, the Instagram photos, the wild nights, the stuff I shouldn’t mention but I’m sure you can imagine. And you can have all that stuff, you just have to open yourself up to it. Stop being so careful all the time. Take risks. Eat with strangers. Order something you can’t pronounce. Better yet, ask them what they recommend. If it’s not good, be polite and eat it anyway. Come correct. Always, always say please and thank you. Be mindful of other cultures and customs. Remove your shoes before going into a temple. Watch your mouth in public. Never drive or take a taxi to somewhere within walking distance. Don’t be afraid to sleep in creepy places. Don’t sleep at all sometimes. Travel alone, even if you’re just exploring your own city. Let yourself be cold or lost or broke or scared or exhausted. It makes for great stories, better memories, and the photos aren’t bad either. Best of all, you’ll always learn about yourself. There’s a plethora of great quotes from many highly-esteemed thinkers floating around the universe, but one that I hold dearest belongs to Tyler Durden in Fight Club: How much can you know about yourself if you’ve never been in a fight? As funny as it might sound, I live my life by that quote, substituting been in a fight for just about anything that pops up. In doing so, not only have I come to know myself quite well, I also know there’s still a lot that’s unknown, all of which I have full intention of discovering. That philosophy, good manners, constant gratitude, and a little courage, are some of the reasons my life really is as cool as it looks on the internet.