What was your first big trip?
The keyword here is “big” and how to apply it. As a child, my parents most often rented a house for a week at Indian Lake, an hour north of Dayton, but one year decided to take us to Mackinac Island in Michigan, a seven-hour drive, but that’s a child’s view of “big”. From a distance perspective of “big”, driving the family to Dallas and Disney World each clock in at about one thousand miles. But neither definition seems right.
I’ve decided that “big” is going to mean the most impactful, the trip that would change the course of my life, my wife’s, my daughter’s, and my wife’s sons. So my first “big” trip was the first time I went to Europe. I managed the Mead Corporation’s Network Services team back in the 1990s and had worldwide responsibility for all data and voice communications, and needed to visit a few locations in Europe to begin the process of connecting their networks to the corporate network.
My teammate Jeff Boyett and I flew to Paris for the first leg of this trip. That started off with an overnight flight, and although we flew first-class, we arrived at the Orly airport with only a couple of hours of sleep. We rented a car and drove north, taking the Périphérique around Paris, and taking our proper exit to the city’s streets where we were unable to find any street signs. We miraculously navigated to our hotel using our map, counting intersections and roundabouts. After checking in we decided to try to walk to the Eiffel Tower and after a few blocks found that all the street signs are embedded into the sides of buildings. We even managed to buy some bottled water after correctly interpreting a question, in French, asking if we wanted still or sparkling water. Our business began on the second day with a number of meetings and on the third day, we drove three hours south to Châteauroux. At that point in the trip, I would have given anything to go home and never go back, I was so frazzled. The turning point was after the business meetings in Châteauroux we were asked to help resolve a problem one of the staff was having with their analog modem on, of course, their French PC. With the help of an interpreter, Jeff and I were able to fix the issue. On the drive back to Paris I started feeling a lot more confident about my ability to handle all the different things being thrown at me and no longer wanting to just go home. Solving that computer problem put me in a much better place, and that was good because the next day was going to be crazy.
We started that second leg waking up early, driving to Orly, and catching an early flight to London’s Heathrow airport. We again rented a car, a Volkswagen Scirocco with seven miles on the odometer and a steering wheel on the right, in a country where you drive on the left side of the road. Jeff handled the two-hour drive west to Bristol where we had more business meetings and a lunch served at the office which included beer. I handled the drive back to Heathrow and to this day the memory of driving on the left side of M4, in the left (slow) lane is still vivid. We then boarded our third flight of the day to Vienna International Airport in Austria. We landed late and quickly decided that we could not handle a rental car in the dark. While working with our travel folks to get that canceled, and with the crowd at the airport thinning out, I heard over the loudspeaker a call for a “Mister Muerman”. When that announcement was made a second time, it sparked a memory of my high-school German class and how the teacher would pronounce my name. With almost nobody left in the airport, except the armed guards, I approached the service desk and found that our Vienna office had arranged a driver to take us to our hotel, a prayer answered. We checked in and immediately headed to the bar for a beer, which turned into two, maybe three. There were five tables of people in the bar, each one speaking a different language, and we tuned them out. We spent a couple of days in Vienna before flying back to the U.S. and experiencing our first long westbound travel, arriving exhausted in the middle of an Ohio day. We were already planning on the next trip and over the next several years I added Switzerland, Germany, and Italy to the countries I visited.
If it had not been for surviving this first European trip, I might have let the rest of my Network team handle future trips without me. I probably would not have taken my daughter to Paris as a sixteenth birthday present and she might not have taken a high school trip to the U.K. and probably not honeymooned in Greece and Italy. My wife and I might have not honeymooned in St. Thomas, explored a number of Caribbean islands, partied at Munich’s Oktoberfest, or driven her son’s around Ireland for a week. That week in Europe changed not only my life but the lives of those I love.