Monday, September 20, 2010

Scottsdale, AZ

The alarm went off and it was very difficult to get out of bed. I finally did and finished packing, hopped in the car with Allen and back to the airport. No problems with my flights and Eric picked us up at the airport. We went to the hotel in Scottsdale and picked up Larry and went to a great place and had a fabulous dinner with Eric and Audra.
On Sunday morning, we loaded into the ballroom around 9:00 am and pretty much set the ballroom and breakout rooms by around 3:00 pm. It was great working with the crew and everything went very smoothly. It helps when you have good people and good gear.
Celgene 1

A drink and an appetizer with Larry, Dan Kathy and Allen at the hotel bar, and I went back to the room to get a good nights rest.
This morning, Allen and I got up and drove off property for an Egg McMuffin and then back for a 9:00 am start. All morning we have had very low key rehearsals and everyone seems happy with the support we are giving them.
We will have a quick lunch soon and then back to the ballroom for a 2:00 pm start.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Prague and then Home

Austin and I landed in Prague and there were a couple of drivers there to pick us up.
I got to the hotel and Rick was standing there in the lobby waiting for me. It was great to see him. I checked in and dumped my luggage in the room and joined Rick, Miles, Priti and Elaine for breakfast. Evan and Tom had gotten delayed coming out of Moscow and missed their flights in London. After we got done eating, I went up to the meeting room and joined Andrea and Stephan who were already starting to setup the equipment. After working for most of the afternoon I was about 90% done and at a stand-still till the room was finished being set by the hotel. I was really dragging by then, and decided to go and take a nap so that I could have some energy for dinner.
When I came back down to the room a couple of hours later, Evan was there and was already half finished with the work that I had left to do. That was a nice surprise. We finished up and met down in the hotel bar for a drink before dinner. I could see that no one was in a real rush to go eat, and finally Rick, Tom and I bailed from the group to go get some food. 
We walked to the historic square which was pretty close to the hotel. Tom hadn't been to Prague before but has traveled extensively and I am sure he was tired of Rick and I telling him how cool everything was. We strolled around and found a little Czech place to eat and had a nice quiet dinner. Afterwards, we walked over to the Charles Bridge and walked across to take in the views. It was really nice and not crowded at all. I was feeling great because of my little afternoon nap, but didn't want to push it, so we went back to the hotel and I got a good nights rest. 

Call was at 7:00 am and the show started at 8:30 am. It was a short day and ended around 12:30. we grabbed some lunch and then went to help Andrea and Stephan strike the gear and load it into the truck. By this time, we were all pretty tired and after a farewell drink with Andrea, I went back to my room for another nap. 
It was really hard to get up from this nap, but I did, and we all met in the lobby to head to dinner at our favorite restaurant in Prague called "Cartouche"
It is a medieval restaurant in the basement of an old building and there are rough cut timber tables, brick walls, a huge wood fired oven where your food gets cooked, and about 80 percent of the restaurant is lit by candle light. They keep replacing the candles and never disturb the wax, so there is this beautiful mound of wax that has dripped off each candle placement. It is such a great restaurant and the food is outstanding. We all got huge platters of meat for entrees. Rick and I shared the medieval meet platter and ate until we were sick. At the end of the meal, I had this amazing desert of cheesecake and vanilla ice cream over warm strawberries with hardened caramel on top. It was just ridiculously good, and at the end of the meal we had a great conversation about a plan to replace some equipment that we needed.

We walked around the square and did a little shopping while Evan and Tom snapped some photos. I had decided that I needed to be back at the hotel by 11:00 pm because I had a very early departure from the hotel in the morning. We all met back at the hotel for a drink and I got to say goodbye to Miles and Priti as well as the rest of the boys. I went up to my room about midnight and packed my luggage. I had developed a pretty painful headache in the last 15 minute and was glad to be able to get into bed.

The alarm went off at 3:15 am and I was pretty confused as to what that annoying sound was. At the same time the phone started ringing and I got up to try and make it all stop. Then the clouds started lifting and I realized what was happening, shut the phone off.. took the wake up call, and then got ready to go. My driver was waiting for me and gave me a quick trip to the airport. At 4:00 in the morning, it only took about 15 minutes to get there, and I checked in and got a quick bite to eat. 

The flight to Frankfurt was pretty quick… it only took an hour and fifteen minutes or so, and then I had about a 5 hour lay over. I went to the Lufthansa club, and got a couple of free cokes, and then wandered the terminal a bit. I plopped down somewhere and watched the movie Avatar to kill some time. Just before I boarded the flight from Frankfurt to Washington DC, I went and got a little Pizza and wolfed it down. The food on the plane wasn't going to be that good, and I figured if I could just get on board and get to sleep, it would be the best thing I could do.

I was successful and woke up with only about an hour left on the flight, and I felt pretty refreshed. When I got off the plane and went towards Customs and Immigration, it was really crowded and as I turned the corner, I could see I was towards the back of the line behind what was about 1000 people. The Customs staff were doing a very poor job of getting people where they needed to go and kept saying that the line was moving pretty quickly. They only had six Immigration officers in the booths and long story short… it took almost 2 hours to get through. I had plenty of time though, so it was nice to not have to stress. My flight to Sacramento left on time, and I landed, got my bags took the shuttle to the economy parking lot and got home around 11:30 pm. 28 hours and 41 minutes since I left the hotel in Prague, I threw my clothes from this trip in the laundry and went to bed because I have a 2:00 pm flight tomorrow to Phoenix for another show. And this is Life In The Corporate Theater.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The show in Moscow

The good news was the group that was in our room finished early so we got access to the room at about 5:00 pm. Evan called Maria our AV contact and she told us that the crew was not going to be able to get there before 7:00 pm. We asked her if we could start setting up without them, and we were told no.
In the mean time, one of the Doctors who was supposed to be the trainer for the meeting first thing in the morning, called in to inform everyone that the Airport in Tel Aviv had gone on strike, and that he wasn't sure if he was going to be able to get on a flight. So, we had to work out a solution using Skype to video conference him in and still get his presentation to the attendees.
We went to a computer store and picked up some speakers and a web cam and did a test with skype. It all worked just fine. Even though we were struggling with the AV Equipment side of things, the one thing that was really good in Moscow was the bandwith at the hotel. There was 15MB Download and 17 MB Upload. So it was a really fast connection and skype looked great!

We waited around till 7:00 pm and checked in with Maria. The crew was stuck in traffic. Big surprise....
8:00 pm rolled around and no sign of the crew. Evan told Maria, we were going to start setting up without them, and to please get the hotel to unlock the room with the equipment.
She agreed, and about 30 minutes later, we finally started getting some equipment.
Just after 9:00 pm, over two hours late, the crew started showing up. The setup went pretty well though. All of the changes that we had asked for had been made, and we ended up with close to the right tools to do the job. We finished about 11:00 pm and said good night to the crew.

The next morning, everything went well... the show started at 1:00 pm and finished about 45 minutes early.
I went back to my room and took a 30 minute nap. It was really hard to get out of bed to meet the guys for a little photo excursion, but how often are you in Moscow Russia right?

We walked down to Red Square and started getting ready to shoot some photos. I immediately got stopped by the Russian Police for using a tripod in Red Square. Apparently you have to have a permit to use a tripod there. So we walked on and shot out of our hands.

Tripod Police

After about 45 minutes of shooting and walking down to the river past the Kremlin, we were all starving and went back to a cafe in Red Square.
After we got a bite to eat, it was dark and as we walked through Red Square, there was a guy shooting photos with a tripod, so we decided to take a chance and get a shot.
I walked out to the middle of the square and extended the legs of my tripod, put the camera up on it and was just about to take my first shot, when I heard vehicles reving up and turned around to see the cops...two of them in two different police cars racing in my direction from each side of the square.
I quickly and as discreetly as I could, popped the camera off the tripod and started heading for the exit, doing my best to make it look like I was just holding the tripod and not using it to shoot photos.
Evan had rushed over and we both thought it best to double time it into the crowd and try to get lost. The cops drove past us and went over and started yelling at the other guy we had seen with his tripod.
My heart was racing a bit, and I think I dodged a bullet.
moscow 5
Evan and I jumped in a cab and went back to TGI Fridays for a drink, and then an early bedtime because we all had early car service to the airport.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Let the Games Begin

I met Austin in the lobby and we took off for a bite to eat and to explore a little. I hadn't eaten anything since dinner on the plane the night before which wasn't that good, so the first restaurant we stumbled upon was TGI Fridays and we both agreed that a cultural experience was not as important as ensuring a solid meal that would help get us refreshed. Lunch was good and we wandered down to Red Square absorbing the culture and shooting some photos. I didn't shoot too much and haven't had time to process what I did shoot.
Russian Billboard
 As we came into Red Square, the view of the Cathedral was blocked by a huge grandstand that was being torn down and I was very disappointed. I am hoping that it will all be taken down by tomorrow evening and I can get a clear shot of Red Square with the cathedral in it. Here is a shot of me in front of the Cathedral though.
Steve in Red Square
Moscow 1
Austin and I were started to get weary so we stopped at a cafe on the Square and ordered a Spaten.
We hung out there for a an hour or so and then Miles, Priti and Elaine joined us. Eventually, we headed back to the hotel and Elaine and Austin both broke away from us. We stopped back at TGI Fridays for a drink and to see if the football game was on. They didn't get any stations that showed American football, but we hung out anyway and waited for Tom and Evan to arrive. Once they got there, we stayed until the place closed and I finally got back to the hotel at about 1:00 am.
I am pretty shocked that I didn't pass out before then, considering that it had been about 36 hours since I left my house in Folsom and only got about 2 hours of sleep on the plane. I slept like a baby, and woke up around 7:00 am. The bed here at the Marriott is great and it was really hard to consider leaving it.

Evan and I met out AV Vendor, Maria in the lobby and talked about the upcoming workday. We were supposed to start our setup at 9:00 am.  Maria told us that the truck was stuck in traffic and that it was going to be 10 minutes late. In Russia, 10 minutes means a half hour or greater. A couple of things you learn working over here are: Everything is going to be late... Something is going to be wrong and no amount of preparation is going to change that... and lastly.... it is what it is... you can get all worked up about something but most likely, the only thing that getting worked up is going to affect, is your mental health.
So, The truck was later than we were expecting.... We have all day to setup and the meeting doesn't start until 8:30 am tomorrow. Not a big deal.
Maria got a phone call that the gear had showed up, and we went up to the ballroom to get things started.
When we got there, we found that the room was not even close to set up, and that one of the airwalls was still closed. Our setup is supposed to be round tables for 80 people and the room was set up classroom style. Evan went to a meeting with the hotel to ask them to get the room setup as soon as possible, and about 15 minutes later, he came back in and told us that we were screwed. The reason that the room is set the way it is, is for an event that runs until 7:00 pm tonight, and there is no changing that.
We immediately decided to have the AV Vendor show us all of the equipment so that we wouldn't have any surprises as 7:00 pm.

To start off, we requested a 16 channel mixer, with a minimum of 10 XLR inputs. They provided a 12 channel mixer with 8 XLR Inputs. We requested a minimum of 4 channels of graphic equalizers, and they provided 1 channel. We asked about the wireless microphones, and fortunately, the 5 microphones we requested were there, all thrown kinda loosely in a case. They informed us that they had  "Madonna" mics and we asked if they had regular Lavalier mics. They said they did, but that the "Madonna" mics worked much better. We told them that we understood that, but that the presenters would never wear a Madonna style headset mic. It turns out that the Lav mics are omni directional, and I am going to have to struggle against feed back for sure.
Next they showed us the video switcher, and while it was a lot closer to being right than the DJ Mixer that they gave us in St Petersburg, it was only a two channel input switcher and we need four channels.
We asked about cables for everything and while they may have brought enough for what they thought we would need, it was clear that they underestimated what we really needed and we had to make a quick inventory on paper of what we wanted.

I decided that while they were shaking their heads yes, and telling us that they would get us the equipment that we wanted, I wanted to make sure that there was no room for interpretation. I grabbed a pen and a pad and drew a diagram of the entire sound system and labeled everything so that everyone was clear. Tom drew a diagram of the video system and I went over both drawings with the vendor.
By the way.... most of the technicians don't speak any english and the ones that do are pretty limited. You have to keep this in mind because, while they will shake their head and acknowledge that they understand what you are saying, they may not be getting it at all.

We went over all the elements of the show and I think we are about 90% confident that they now understand what we want. We are about 40% confident that they will provide it, but we are 100% confident that we can piece together a show and keep our client happy. The only thing left is that we asked many times if they had drape to setup in between the screens so we could put some lights on it and make it look good. Each time we were told that it was difficult to find, and they had to get it from St Petersburg. Before we sent the crew off until 7:00 pm Evan and I decided that we should see the drape and also see the support system that they were planning on using to hang it.
It was only then that we found out that all they were intending on providing were drape skirts for underneath each screen. We were trying to explain that while we wanted the screen skirts, we also wanted thirty feet of pipe and drape for in between the screens. This resulted in a lot of back and forth in Russian and you could tell this was going to be a problem. Maria finally told us that they were making calls and trying to locate the drape. With that, Evan asked her to interpret for him to the crew and he was very gracious. He told them that he was sorry for the confusion, and thanked them for being willing to work with us to accomplish this show. For the record, Rick sent them pretty clear specifications about what we needed, however it was a good move on Evan's part, because none of these guys were involved with the planning process and we need them to be on our side. After Evan finished, one of the techs said something back to Maria in Russian, and she interpreted it for us. His statement was simply, "It happens" and everyone chuckled a little. It was a sign that at least everyone there understood that this is all part of the business and this is what we are all here for.

I am now going to take a nap, and then grab a bite to eat before we start our setup 10 hours later than we were supposed to. The only scary thing is that we don't know if they are going to be able to get us all the gear, and that if something is really messed up, there probably won't be enough time to do anything about it. Other than that... everything is just great!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Touch down in Moscow

About 17 hours later I am checked into my hotel room in Moscow. United Business Class was lovely. I didn't sleep that much buy having a fully reclining seat made a huge difference. I went through passport control and they stamped my passport without ever saying a word to me. That is the perfect situation if you ask me. I retrieved my suitcase from baggage claim and went through customs. They made me put all my bags through the X-ray machine and the customs dude kept talking at me in Russian. He went over to my luggage after it went through and said a couple of things and then realizing I had no idea what he was talking about, he finally just looked at me and said... "Ok" and I was on my way.

The airport reception area was packed and I was looking for someone holding a sign that said Johnson and Johnson. I found to young people with the sign, and introduced myself to Igor and Nadia. We waited for about 20 minutes for one other person who was supposedly on my flight. Austin our Audience Response Technician showed up and it turns out he was on the same flight as I was. I have never met him so we exchanged introductions and followed Igor and Nadia to a tiny little Nissan car. After we jammed our luggage into the car and squeezed in, we were off for about an hour ride to the center of Moscow where our hotel is. 

We passed the Kremlin, which was cool to see. It is about a mile away, and then got dumped off at our hotel. 
All in all, it was about as painless an experience as you could hope for. The hotel is very nice, and a hot shower was quote possibly the best thing in the world. In about 45 minutes or so Austin and I are going to meet in the lobby and wander a bit looking for something to eat.

It was nice to have a direct flight from Washington DC to Moscow. Evan and Tom are flying through London Heathrow and won't be arriving till about 8:30 pm tonight. 
Thats all for now.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Heading to Moscow

I am embarking on a whirlwind set of shows today. The first stop is Moscow, Russia. Evan, Tom, Austin and I make up the crew for the show, and we will be joined by Miles, Priti, and Elaine.
The Russian AV Vendor hasn't given us any level of confidence as of yet, so we all board our planes today with a bit of a feeling of impending doom. I will arrive Sunday morning and we start setting up on Monday for a show on Tuesday. I will fly out Wednesday morning and meet Rick in my favorite city, Prague.
We will set up the show on Wednesday and run it on Thursday. I will fly home on Friday and land around 11:00 pm. Saturday morning I will head back to the airport and fly to Phoenix for another show. I am looking forward to being completely wrecked by then, and am just hoping that I don't get sick! On a brighter note... Even though the budgets were tight, I was able to use two system wide upgrades to fly first class and business class for all but one of my flights on this trip. This will make a huge difference in my ability to land in Russia not feeling totally wrecked. Thank goodness for airline status!

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