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Obviously, when you get invited to the Grammys, the most common question asked is “What are you going to wear?”

Fortunately, for me the invite clearly said “black tie” which simplified the decision to criteria and questions like does my tux still fit, do I wear a bow tie or a straight tie, and how do you tie a bow tie? All in all, pretty simple. In hindsight, I probably should have had some sort of pocket square because apparently pocket squares are a thing now.

I will say, I felt out of place on Friday and Saturday nights prior to the event. I wasn’t aware that dudes around events like this wear black suits out to dinner. Or at least they do in LA. I went with my Midwestern-chic jeans and sports coat look. Of course, my refusal to not wear blue jeans that are so dark they’re almost black made that look even more casual than usual.

Enough about me, what you’re really interested in is “what did Lindsay wear.” The invite suggested a short dress would be appropriate, she wasn’t so sure. I was fully prepared to purchase some sort of ridiculously priced dress that she would only wear once. That was before I learned about Lindsay’s plan.

Being know as an over-planner, I should have expected this. The first step to her plan was to find a short dress that could be worn as a back-up and contingency in the event the rest of her plan couldn’t be executed. She successfully found (a moderately priced, to my surprise) dress that fit well and looked great.

The second part of her plan was to see what Rent the Runway was all about. I had never heard of it but apparently it’s possible to rent designer dresses at a fraction of the price. I mean, if it’s good enough for the average groom at a wedding, why can’t a woman rent clothes to wear to fancy shindigs? I was intrigued, to say the least. The way it works is you basically pick your dress, pay anywhere from 5 – 15% of the retail price. You’re able to select two sizes, making up for the fact that you’re not able to try on the dress. They do, apparently, have people who have rented the dress send in pictures of them wearing the dress so you can see what it looks like on actual people as opposed to models on a website – I honestly think this feature sold Lindsay. You select whether you want it for 4 or 8 days, they mail them to you for free, and give you a prepaid bag to ship it back. It’s pretty much the same way Lindsay uses Zappos. Or as she would call it “easy peasy.”

There’s obviously still risk that the dress won’t work, but what the hell, she tried it anyway. Well, she actually rented two dresses (times the two sizes) just to hedge. And it’s good she did. The first one she tried on? I didn’t even get to see her in it. Apparently it was that bad. The second? Winner. Stunner. Showtime.

At the rate we go to these types of events (and by “these types of events” I don’t mean A-list awards shows but simply any event requiring me be in black tie), I’d absolutely encourage her to rent the runway again. Great value, super simple process – I mean as long as it fits.

 

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If you’re friends with me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter, you probably noticed that the wife and I were fortunate enough to snag an invite to the Grammys in Los Angeles last weekend.

The short answer to the question posed in the title is:

“Because AEG (the company that owns and operates the Staples Center) wanted to build the Sprint Center in Kansas City on a site that was occupied by a branch of UMB Bank.”

The real answer is far more complicated than that, but at it’s root, that’s as far as I was able to trace the answer to that question (which was posed to be by a golfing buddy via text and probably many others when photos started popping up on social media). When the opportunity arose and the invite was received, I quickly scribbled “attend a major entertainment awards show” at the top of the bucket list and told Lindsay, “yeah, we need to do that.”

Obviously, it wasn’t that simple and that wasn’t quite my first reaction. My first reaction? “There’s no fucking way they’re going to let us do that.”

The “they” in question was our employer because the invite was received by a supplier contact that Lindsay works with. Neither of us had ever received this type of invitation in a professional setting and, in the sexy world of benefits outsourcing, had never really considered it much of a possibility. Literally, my experience in this type of situation was taking a computer based compliance training course once a year where they make it sound like if you accept more than a dinner from a third party, you’re looking at punishment that could lead up to and include termination of employment. And don’t even think about ordering dessert at that dinner.

In this situation Lindsay received a surprise email just over a month ago from a partner at the bank mentioned above, which has access to a suite at the Grammys based on a sponsorship deal in place with AEG. To her credit, she’s one that sees no harm in at least asking the question and approached her boss, whose reaction was “let’s give it a shot and see what they say.” Surprisingly, after meeting a few conditions, both general counsel and compliance gave the green light. I was stunned. Lindsay was giddy. We were going to the Grammys.

For those that know me, I’m not really a “Grammys” kind of guy. This became painfully obvious on the dance floor at the after-party. I’m pretty happy listening to Jack Johnson and any other acoustic singer/songwriter that either plays on his label or produces what Lindsay rightfully calls “surfer music.” Needless to say, I don’t think people really had me pegged (nor did I peg myself) as someone that would ever attend the event.

Now that the compliance issue was cleared, there was still the personal aspect. We’ve always been fortunate and have tremendous support from family and friends when we want to do things (like the time we wanted to go to Everest Base Camp for three weeks and somehow convinced our parents that they could each spend 10 days with their 14 month old granddaughter – but seriously, what grandparent wouldn’t do that if able, especially given how adorable our daughter is).

This time around, both sets of parents were traveling, Lindsay’s in Mexico and mine in Colorado. We were going to need to get creative. Thankfully, that’s where we’re fortunate to have family friends like Aunt Kiki. I’m pretty sure Aunt Kiki just really likes Lauren and pretty much just tolerates us (or at least me). Whatever. I’ll take. Even then, three nights is a lot to ask – especially outside the family – but thankfully Aunt Kiki (and husband) were up to the task. And I can’t thank them enough. Without a trusted family friend like her, this type of thing just wouldn’t be possible. I’m going to owe her for the foreseeable future (as she’ll rightfully remind me). I was hoping that the swag bag at the after-party would be repayment enough, but upon finding it stuffed with such glamorous swag as a Hello Kitty visor and sweat bands, I probably need to rethink that strategy. Regardless, it was worth it.

Now that the personal piece was taken care of, I stared to ask questions like, “if someone wanted to just go, how hard is it to get Grammy tickets?” I did a little research to see if one can even get tickets. Based on my internet and StubHub search, it looks pretty hard, which was somewhat surprising since it’s held at the Staples Center and 10,000 people attend. You’d think in this day and age, there would be a price for everything. I get the sense tickets are given to individuals in the industry and corporate sponsors and partners (how we were able to score an invite) and that those people pretty much use them. I did see a couple people outside trying to turn tickets (though those scalpers seemed to be in “buy” as opposed to “sell” mode, at least when we walked past).

I’m going to dedicate the next few posts (not sure yet how I’m going to break it out) on the experience. From the scene around LA Live (we were lucky enough to stay at the JW Marriott across the street from all the action) to the pre-party (where my closest brush with “celebrity” over the weekend was a shared elevator ride with Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper), to the event itself, to the after-parties, to how the heck Lindsay decided what to wear, to anything else that seems noteworthy from the experience.

All in all, pretty much a typical weekend for a middle-aged suburban married couple. But not really.

Of course, all of this wouldn’t have been possible without the invite from our hosts. A simple thank you does not suffice but I can’t really think of what might. Just know that it was greatly appreciated and you provided a once in a lifetime weekend. Simply incredible.

 

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There comes a time in each youngster’s life when her parents finally bite the bullet and take her to her first game. For us, that day was Saturday and that event was the Wisconsin/Northwestern football game in Evanston. Lindsay is a Wisconsin alum and Northwestern, in case you hadn’t heard, is Chicago’s Big Ten team (even though its own fans are routinely outnumbered in its own stadium). What better reason to make the trek to Evanston for Lauren’s first (semi) major sporting event?

My only issue with this plan was that I’ve been teaching (or training or brainwashing, depending on your perspective) Lauren to become an Iowa Hawkeye fan. At one point earlier this season Lindsay started to realize this and went full press with the Badgers. To counter this, I shared the basic fact that badgers are, in fact, mean animals. Lindsay was not impressed.

So there really was no plan. I hadn’t bought tickets, not wanting to commit ourselves in the event the three year old was uncooperative. I didn’t really even know where to park, with my last experience at a Northwestern game having taken place in 2008. The only thing we knew was that a former classmate of Lindsay’s was attending a tailgate “on the west side of the west parking lot at a Northwestern painted ambulance. Seemed like it would be easy enough to find.

Along the way, and it may have been because it was too early, there seemed to be far more scalpers looking to purchase than sell tickets. Not a great sign. As we approached the west lot, I decided to raise three fingers, the international sign for “I need three tickets.”

It took a few minutes but the first good Samaritan claiming to need tickets asked, under his breath, “How much you looking to spend? I’ve got them on the 30 or the 50.” This guy had no idea he was dealing with a former expat that had spent years haggling on the mean streets of Dilli Haat. My response, “Not sure – what’s it cost on the 30?”

“$75.” I knew it was too early to buy so offered him something that wouldn’t insult him (not sure why I was worried about insulting him, but as someone that’s negotiated foreign currency exchange rates on the black market in Kathmandu, it seemed like the stand up thing to do) – $50. He declined, and we politely went our separate ways. At least I had some idea the market.

A few minutes later, my three fingers still extended in the air as we searched for the purple ambulance, two women approached Lindsay and asked, “Do you need three tickets?” At first, I thought maybe it was the friends Lindsay had planned to meet (I had never met her friends and these women seemed similarly aged and were wearing Wisconsin gear). But no, they were simply friendly Wisconsin fans looking to unload the season tickets of their friends that were unable to attend. We started talking, quickly got to price, and there first offer was, “I don’t know, like $40.”

Sold!

We followed them back to their tailgate (their brother-in-law had the tickets – seriously, if they weren’t Wisconsin fans, it would have seemed like a pretty obvious scam of some sort) and quickly finished the transaction. Our only plan was to resume our search for the illusive purple ambulance, but before we could leave, we were being offered food and drinks. It seems like it would have been pretty rude to have simply purchased tickets and left without a beer. I’ll never root for the Badgers against Iowa, but this type of hospitality is tough to beat.

We never did get a chance to find that purple ambulance. We made some new friends, I think Lindsay even made some sort of connection with one of the sisters. The daughter was her usual charming self, making herself at home, picking at strangers’ food as only a three year old can.

As kickoff approached, we said good bye to our newest dearest friends and walked the 50 yards to the entrance. The seats? Surprisingly good. A little low (third row behind the bench) but on the 35 yard line. Bottom line, you could do a lot worse.

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The camera was on a dolly to follow the action else it may have been a little annoying.

We made it to halftime – about what we expected before our daughter lost interest. She watched a bit of the band, saw Bucky the Badger up close, seemed enthralled by Willie the Wildcat (I didn’t even know the Northwestern mascot had a name, but I guess it makes sense), and we made our way to the exit – well in front of the rush at the end of the game.

What did I learn at Lauren’s first game? A few things:

  • Even something as innocuous as buying football tickets on the street can lead to a little adventure
  • Northwestern is a great place for a first game – not too big, not too serious. It’s like Columbus except the exact opposite
  • If you spend too much time trying to brainwash your kid to be a Badger fan or a Hawkeye fan, she might just become a Northwestern fan

Will we be back? I think we will – based on the current Big Ten schedule, Iowa and Wisconsin alternate years in Evanston, so as long as there’s no realignment (which rarely, if ever, happens in college football), we may have a new annual tradition on our hands to see Chicago’s Big Ten Team, which is pretty much any team playing Northwestern in Evanston.

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The original travel plan for Moab this year was for Lindsay and I to fly to Salt Lake on Thursday night where our friends Judith and Glenn would be eagerly awaiting our arrival, having driven down from Calgary, for us to embark on the car ride to Moab the following morning after staying near the airport.

That plan changed somewhat when Lindsay learned of a client meeting she needed to attend the final afternoon of our planned trip. Not a big deal, we’d part ways at the airport, I’d go home to Chicago and she’d fly to Seattle for a client meeting and to scout for future houses. (Joking, joking – we’re not moving to Seattle, but if someone were to hypothetically get offered a job there, I’d hypothetically have our house packed in a weekend.) The plan changed again when Lindsay learned she needed to be in Houston for work the day we were flying to Salt Lake. Not a big deal, I’d keep my plan as is; she would add an early morning flight to Houston, work there, and meet me in Salt Lake.

While all of her work travel emerged, north of the border Glenn realized that they were looking at 18 hours each way to drive from Calgary. Thinking better of this idea, he booked a flight and rented a car.

Taking the most economical option (as is usually the case in the commoditized rental car industry), he elected to go with EZ Advantage Rent-a-Car. They offered an upgraded Toyota 4Runner for an additional $20 per day. He declined, seeing this as an unnecessarily large, gas guzzling vehicle, and instead took the Kia Sorrento originally assigned. Plus, that additional $20 per day could be used toward wine.

Unbeknownst to anyone, this was a mistake.

Based on the new and earlier flights recently booked by my travel mates, the final morning of the trip started at a nice and benign 4:03am departure from the hotel in Moab. We were all cheerful, some more cheerful than others with the discovery that Glenn’s phone was filled with 80’s sing-a-long music. Cheerful, that is, until the temperature gauge on the car started acting up. Thinking nothing was out of the ordinary – the car was still running fine. We continued. Somewhere between Provo and Salt Lake, Google maps directed us off the highway to get around an accident. That’s when the trouble started. Cars aren’t supposed to steam out of the hood. It quickly subsided so we went back on the highway, except the car didn’t want to accelerate. Trouble.

Glenn put the hazards on and took the first exit, hoping to find a gas station. With no gas station to be found we limped into an outlet mall parking lot right in front of a Columbia Sportswear store still hours from opening.

At this point, it was nearing 8:00am and Glenn and Judith had an international flight to catch at 10:00am. Let’s just say that EZ Advantage Rent-A-Car’s customer service center didn’t seem to match our sense and level of urgency. Our solution? Deserting the car in the Columbia parking lot with Uber to the rescue.

In the interim, Glenn was finally connected with someone at the car rental facility in Salt Lake City. By this time, they had little leverage. They could send a tow to pick up the car in the parking lot and we would drop off the key with the shuttle driver at the airport. There really was no other option, at least no other option that meant flights would still be made.

At this point, we had no idea what the cut-off was to check bags for an international flight, and honestly, knowing would have only added stress to the situation. How much stress we didn’t actually know until we got to the airport just in time for Judith and Glenn to hit the 75 minute cut off.

I’m not sure who’s at fault in this situation or if anyone is at fault in this situation. It’s been a long time since I’ve worried about a car overheating. So long, in fact, that it’s not something I remotely worry about. Maybe I should. Maybe Kias suck. Maybe EZ Advantage Rent-A-Car sucks. At the very least, their customer service sucks. Maybe we just got unlucky and shit happens.

What I do know is that Judith is a lot like my wife. Suffice to say, the good folks at EZ Advantage Rent-A-Car have no idea how lucky they are that our little contingency plan worked.

(Sorry for the lack of photographic evidence but the stress of the situation kept the camera phones in our pockets.)

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I first took Lindsay to Moab in 2008 for our fifth anniversary. After a few nights exploring the town and hiking in and around Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, we splurged and ended the trip at Sorrel River Ranch. Little did I know this would set two distinct parallel paths in-flight. First, and not surprisingly, Lindsay would determine that her “happy place” was this beautiful ranch on the banks of the Colorado River with views of red rock mesas. Second, and a complete surprise, I would become a runner.

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Typical sunrise view from Sorrel River Ranch

When we booked at Sorrel we had no idea that a half marathon, Moab’s “The Other Half,” ended at the ranch earlier in the day of our arrival. At breakfast the next morning, we noticed something about many of the other guests – they seemed fit, they seemed energized, and it was obvious they had accomplished something. At that breakfast Lindsay declared that she was going to take up running. Not only had she declared she was going to take up running, but she decided we needed to come back the next year and conquer “The Other Half.”

Nothing like jumping in slow.

But here’s the thing: with the right research and the right plan, we did it. I started by running a minute or two at a time with walk intervals in between, but by the time we returned to Moab in 2009 as registered entrants in the race, I had little doubt we’d both finish the race. And finish we did. Since then, I’d classify myself as a runner.

Fast forward seven years, three moves, and one child, and we got the itch. In need of a fall vacation and an excuse to work toward something, a destination half marathon was in order. And what better place than Lindsay’s happy place. Along for the ride this time were our trekking and adventure travel friends Judith and Glenn, the Sparlinskis.

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Judith and I at the start of the race

The thing I’ve learned about half marathons is that for me the satisfaction isn’t in finishing the race, it’s in the process and discipline required to finish the race. Barring an unforeseen injury, I know that if I do three short runs per week with a long run on the weekend of escalating length, that I can pretty much be ready for a half marathon in ten to twelve weeks.

This formula is especially important for The Other Half. Why? Because I know I’m not setting any personal records. Relatively speaking, the race takes place at altitude and has some strategically placed hills in the second half of the race. In fact, mile 8 is a hill. Why put myself through that? The race takes starts near mile marker 31 on Utah State Highway 128 at Dewey Bridge and ends at Sorrel River Ranch. If you’ve ever driven that stretch of road, you know the reason. The scenery.

From the start, you quickly enter a tight red rock canyon that winds down the Colorado River. Prior to the canyon opening up, you can see Fischer Towers, probably one of the more famous rock climbing playgrounds in the US and host to my favorite Citibank commercial. While the towers are a mile to the left of the road, they’re a marker that seems to get no closer for the middle third of the race. Ordinarily, this would be exceedingly frustrating. Except for the fact that, you’re surrounded by towering red rock features the entire time.

At some point during the race, you come out of the narrow canyon and into the wider valley home to both Fischer Towers and Sorrel Ranch. During this year’s race, I couldn’t help but smile. I honestly can’t remember the last time I physically smiled at something like this with no one there to share. And I didn’t care. I just smiled. With the exception of the couple dozen runners around me, it was a completely empty, silent pristine landscape (a pristine landscape that’s the obvious victim of millions of years of erosion but a pristine landscape nonetheless).

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Fisher Towers (from the trail at the towers, not the view from the race)

At this point I did something I’ve never done in a race (at least that didn’t involve a bathroom stop). I stopped. I pulled my iPhone from my arm and took a photo. As is the case with most long distance landscape photos, it’s not a great photo. In fact, it doesn’t come close to capturing the physical beauty. It does, however, trigger that smile on my face.

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Worse than I remember, what with the half man on the right and everything

At mile 11 I finally caught my friend Judith (who used the race as a training run and was only running the first 8+ miles (or 15k as she would say – Canadians and their logical metric system) and talked with her for a few seconds before continuing up one final hill. Thankfully, the course sets up as a downhill toward the end before entering the ranch property for what the welcoming sign said as “0.7 miles to go until beer.”

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Time to start doing pushups or cut back on the IPA

Even as I crossed the finish line, having spotted Lindsay in the crowd so I could actually smile for a photo during a race as opposed to a look of overwhelming pain, I couldn’t help but transport myself back to that silent smile in the middle of the race.

Then I decided to go ahead and have that beer.

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