Monday, February 20, 2006

California Dreaming

The Sun Sets on Beautiful Malibu Beach

Another year had flown by and once again it was time for our annual sales and marketing conference in Southern California, which brought together over 5,000 world wide employees for training and stage-setting for the upcoming year. There was plenty of business to take care of during the conference, but some special fun was had before the event took place.

My Best Friend, Jared, lives in Los Angeles and once again played host to both me and my Singaporean Friend and co-worker, Kevin, for a few days before our conference commenced. After a 14-hour direct flight from Singapore to LA, both Kevin and I were ready to meet up with Jared and begin what was now becoming our annual pre-conference odyssey.

As was typical in our get-togethers, food was a staple that bonded the seams of friendship amongst us. Our first evening, after Jared picked us up at the airport, we drove to Gladstones Restaurant, located right on Malibu Beach. Not only did we partake in an array of fresh and nicely prepared seafood, but we were able to dine outside and take in one of the most amazing sunsets that I have seen in Southern California. It was the perfect setting for three friends to catch up and plan the next few days of fun.

One of the fun activities that Kevin looks forward to each year when coming to the U.S. is target shooting. As a former marksman in the Singaporean Army, and a current reservist, Kevin is well-trained around firearms. But given that most countries around the world, including Singapore, do not allow their citizens to own or possess firearms; the U.S. remains one of the last places where people like Kevin can enjoy the sport of target shooting.

We first enjoyed firing Jared's collection of .45 caliber pistols at the special shooting gallery of targets (both stationary and moving) that had been set up at the Gun Club just outside of L.A. There was even a Time Trial section where marksmen could time their ability to successfully shoot at five stationary targets. Safety is always the number one thing to keep in mind and all of us were required to wear safety glasses and ear protection.

After wrapping up at the Pistol Range, we then moved over to try our hand at Clay Pigeon, or Trap, Shooting. This involves using a 12-gauge shotgun to shoot at small circular disks made from clay that are thrown into the air at different angles and velocities. These disks, or clay pigeons as they are called, provide the perfect moving target that challenges the riflemen's skill. All three of us did quite well and were able to hit the majority of our clay pigeons. It was a fun evening and one we will not forget.

One of the most enjoyable and unique things that we were able to take part in was joining in on a very special event. We were all invited to a "Welcome Home" party for two U.S. servicemen who had just completed their tour of duty in Iraq. Joe, who is featured here with his specially prepared welcome back cake, is a U.S. Navy serviceman who was responsible for keeping the Persian Gulf waterways around Iraq secured. He was a strong yet reserved man who was proud of his fellow crew members and the job that they were doing overseas, but was in no way boastful or arrogant. He showed us some of his photos from Iraq as well as some actual former Iraqi currency that featured the profiled image of Saddam Hussein. He also shared some insight that what we all see reported on TV of the situation in Iraq is not necessarily what is happening on the ground. The news likes to report the rare extremes, he told us. But what you don't get to see, he went on to elaborate, is the hospitable, respectful, and genuinely carrying relationship that most Iraqi and U.S. servicemen have for each other.

The party was made up of people who are in the music and entertainment business, which is so very typical of most living in Los Angeles. But these folks were not aspirational in their hopes of making it big, because they already had. In the rank and file of the gathering was a TV Producer, Drew, who outside of work is just in love with his new Rickenbacker guitar. Music was the common theme that bound all of us together that evening.

Nick (shown above), who was the host of the party but who is also an accomplished musician and writes the musical scores for countless TV shows, entertained us with song after song. Another partygoer, who is just getting ready to release his new album this summer, sang several of his new songs at the party for all of us to enjoy.

A truly great moment in the party was when John, one of the returning U.S. servicemen, joined in on the jam session that was taking place. He was quite good and was enjoying playing one of Nick's fantastic guitars from his exhaustive collection. When the song had ended, Nick asked John to turn the guitar over that he was playing and read the inscription. The inscription read: To John, from Nick... Hope you enjoy this guitar as much as I did

When the realization set in with John that Nick was actually giving him this guitar, his jaw dropped in astonishment. He was so thankful and was almost at a loss for words. Nick believed that it was the least he could do for someone who had risked his own life so that countless others could live free and feel safe.

It was fantastic catching up with my friend Jared. He provided so many fun opportunities for Kevin and me, not to mention letting us crash at his apartment. We made it up to him by taking him out to Ruths Chris Steakhouse, which is arguably one of the best places in America to enjoy a cut of U.S. Prime Cut Beef. The food, the fun, and the activities were all fantastic, but it was the conversation and the ability to pick up right where we had left off after not seeing each other for so long that provided the most joy.

Good friends never let distance or time get in the way. Jared and I have been best friends since we were three years old. We've been separated by continents, oceans, and time zones; but it has never impacted our friendship... and it surely never will.