California highway

I drove from LAX to San Diego Airport, starting along I405 to I5 in the early morning gloom.  I had gone up to LA with our Brazilian delegation.  They had onward flights from LAX, but I was unable to change my San Diego reservation w/o it costing more than a new ticket.  Just as well. I spent the night at LAX Marriott and hit the road early to catch my 11am flight in San Diego. I could have left much later, as it turned out, but I like to be sure to be on time.

Even early on a Saturday morning, there was traffic, not bad but you never got the feeling that you really left the city.  The radio had some oldies including “Ventura Highway.” Ventura is the other direction but it seemed appropriate for me too.  I kept on thinking of all those songs from the 1960s about Southern California. It must have been an interesting place back then.

The freedom of the road is not what it used to be.  It is easier to drive on the Interstates, but they are pretty homogeneous.  You can still go on the blue highways but they are mostly drained of commerce.  The Interstates did their job.  You can drive all over the place w/o really knowing for sure where you are.

Great stories are usually about journeys.  The Odyssey created the genre.   The story requires unexpected challenges, discomforts and dangers to be confronted and overcome.  Life is easier on the highways now, but we have fewer stories.  My trip from LAX to San Diego was easy and predictable.  My greatest challenge was exiting at a rest stop that had no bathroom (see above).  While that seemed very pressing at the time, it wasn’t; not exactly the same as facing the Cyclops.

My picture up top is a pull off on road.  There were no facilities there.  Below are stairs at the convention center.   It reminds you of one of those Aztec pyramids, but I think there are even more stairs in San Diego.  People were running up and down in exercise reminiscent of the myth of Sisyphus.

Southern California

Our Brazilian delegation went to Los Angeles to explore connections with California universities. We met a bunch of university representatives at the Brazilian consulate in LA. I hope that some permanent matches were made. Diplomacy in many ways is the art of matchmaking. We put the partners together, maybe help them find their common aspirations, but others have to do actual connecting.

Anyway, it was a pretty sweet deal for me and I was flattered that our Brazilian partners wanted me along. That is another function of diplomacy, BTW – diplomatic cover. Our official status helps open doors and legitimize. I know these kinds of values are very soft and I underestimated them for most of my career. I was looking for the cash-value-concrete result. Those come, but sometimes long after. Our value is often part of the process. We are like oil (some might say grease) to smooth things along.

I have been surprised to find that people sometimes remember key phrases from the short speeches I make. I have some stock phrases, but I try to tailor to the circumstances. That is why I rarely know exactly what I will say until I hear what others have said and get a feel for the mood. This is one reason why I know that I should not seek work in contentious issues or ever try to be a spokesman. I do not stick to my talking points. In a field like higher education exchanges, you can get away with this and even prosper doing it. I would not be so lucky trying to “fix” official statements. A man’s gotta know his limitations. Interestingly, this particular limitation hasn’t kicked me very often during my long career in public diplomacy, although I have avoided some “career enhancing” jobs that would have put me in harm’s way.

My pictures are from USC, except for the statue of John Wayne up top, which is in front of the Brazilian Consulate. Steven Spielberg and George Lucas are big supporters of USC. Spielberg was denied admission to the cinema school, but he doesn’t hold a grudge. Imagine how successful he could have been with a decent education.

The Heisman Trophy was won by OJ Simpson. They told me that it is the most photographed among their trophies displayed. They don’t take it down, since OJ was found not guilty and (if the glove don’t fit, you must acquit)– anyway – the OJ that won the trophy was not the same man on trial for murder. This unfortunate incident was in the far in future.

San Diego NAFSA

I am finally getting around to writing up my notes, a few weeks late. I went to San Diego for the NAFSA conference. I usually would not attend such a thing, but this was the last time I would have to be with some of our Brazilian friends and my final attempt to help make sustainable connections between U.S. and Brazilian educational institutions.

Most of my work consisted of meeting people and attending receptions. I know that most people consider this a perk of the job but believe me when I say that is work for me. I enjoy talking to people; I even like public speaking. But going to reception is less fun for me than writing reports. I don’t like and don’t do well with the small-talk. But I recognize the importance of being there so I was where I could see and be seen.

I cannot complain about being in San Diego, however. It is a pleasant place and I had a pleasant time. I stayed on Coronado Island. It is right across from the Convention Center, where the NAFSA meeting was held. You catch a ferry to get there. It costs only $4.25 and takes only about five minutes. It would have been a little more convenient to stay in the hotel actually at the convention center, but not very much and the hotels there cost a lot more. None of them were available for the per-diem rate. Anyway, I liked the idea of commuting by ferry. It is a very civilized way to go.

Coronado Island is a delightful place. It would be a little too neat for my liking to live there permanently but it is really nice to visit. There is a bike/walk/run trail along the ocean. My hotel had a view of the bay. I walked almost all the way across the island my first morning there. I had to do laundry and evidently there is only one Laundromat on the island. The guy at the hotel said that they could send it out for me, but I am not going to pay a couple dollars to wash a t-shirt. Anyway, it was a nice walk. Because of jet-lag I work up really early and started in the pre-dawn twilight. The place seemed very safe. There are a lot of retired U.S. Navy folks around and they tend to be orderly and peaceful.

My main “problem” and my excuse for not writing in real time is that my computer charger died. I could not find a new one anywhere in town where I could walk. They all have the equipment for telephones. So after the battery went dead, I was w/o computer for a couple days. It is strange how you become accustomed to computers. I wrote in my notebook and I do enjoy actual writing, but it is a very different experience. I think I am more open and honest with myself on paper, since I am pretty sure nobody, probably not even I will ever read it. But on those occasions when I do read, I find it more banal, maybe because it is harder to cancel a line and rewrite with pen and ink than to insert or delete with the computer.

My pictures show the convention center.  Next is the Brazilian section.  They let me hang out there.   The next two pictures show the ferry landing and the ferry.  The next picture is taken from my room.  You can see the convention center across the water and why it is an easy water commute.  Finally is a big fruit boat.