What have been some of your life's greatest surprises?
My earliest memory of a great surprise was my grandfather Maurice Otto taking me to Arby’s on Salem Avenue. There may have been my Mom or another sibling or two there, but all I remember was the gigantic Arby’s sign shaped like a cowboy hat and how amazingly delicious the roast beef sandwich tasted. Not that my family ate out a lot or favored fast food, but I knew enough to be shocked at the taste. It’s still my favorite fast food sandwich to this day.
My first trip to the Hawaiian island of Maui was full of the beautiful ocean and mountain scenery I was expecting, but the shocker was the awesome aromas of the resort. I remember walking out of the hotel room the first morning and experiencing the fragrance of bananas wafting through the air. Everywhere I went whatever tropical fruit trees were planted imparted their essences into the air. Nowhere else I’ve ever been has matched that aromatic scenery.
I walked into yet another Information Technology Leadership Team meeting in the summer of 2001 and I was the last one to join. The buzz in the room was unusually busy and my colleagues began asking me what I thought. “Thought of what?”, I replied. “The merger, of course”, they explained, not really explaining anything. I was the last one on the team to learn that Mead and Westvaco were merging and I was dumbfounded, my safe little world all of the sudden filled with questions and unknowns. That began a crazy seventeen-year stretch of changing companies and managers that, in the end, worked out very well for me.
The Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany was a bucket list item we knocked off the list in 2011. We did the usual combination of a two-hour nap after arriving at the hotel after the overnight flight, followed by a walk, dinner, and back to bed for a long night’s sleep at 8 pm. Waking up refreshed and settled into the GMT+2 hour time zone, we headed to the train station to take the short trip to Oktoberfest. We knew we needed to exit at “Theresienwiese", but did not have further directions. We just figured we follow the crowd, many dressed in traditional lederhosen or dirndl dresses, but as we exited the escalator we were shocked to see we were already inside Oktoberfest, the beer tents, rides, food vendors, and shops right in front of us. It took a few minutes to soak it in before we set off exploring.
When I retired in August of 2018, the folks in the office gave me a nice send-off and I was focused on my life’s next journey, one not filled with alarm clocks and deadlines. My wife scheduled a little retirement party a few weeks later and drove me blindfolded to the destination, which turned out to be Jimmy’s Ladder 11. Maybe that should have tipped me off that something was going on, but when they walked me up to the second-floor party room, I was truly shocked, to the point of tears, to see so many of the people I worked with over the years there to greet me and wish me a happy retirement.
We hold an annual summer party, inviting around two dozen people for a late afternoon cookout, their favorite beverages, and conversation well into the darkness. I was deep in conversation with friends during the 2021 party when my daughter Laurie and her husband Rodney, now residents of Charlotte, North Carolina, walked over to me. I looked up, and while I certainly recognized them, my brain initially rejected what I was obviously seeing, seizing up for a couple of seconds before realizing they had made the seven-hour trip to surprise me. And an absolutely wonderful surprise it was!