I was sitting at the bar in Oswald’s, one of Santa Cruz’s nicer restaurants, chatting and flirting. This was during the year’s gap between girlfriends, sometime during the summer. First a woman sat down to my left, where she stayed happily chatting for maybe 45 minutes before abruptly announcing that she had to go somewhere or other. My heart sank a little. Then another, equally engaging, sat down to my right: she lasted maybe 20 happy minutes before the same abrupt change of heart.
I’m sitting there looking at the bottles of Scotch behind the bar and wondering what conclusion to draw from this short chain of events when the barman, who must have noted what was happening out of the corner of his eye, chimed in, smiling: “they always leave you in the end, don’t they?”
It was time for a vacation, a change of scenery. He may have been right.
* * *
One of the advantages of having raised adventurous children is that two of them now live thousands of miles from home, Nick in Paris and Arlo in Athens. In the exercise of my parental duties, I am thus obliged to visit Paris and Athens on an occasional basis. That was where this October vacation took me, with an interlude in the UK for good measure.
(Let me interrupt this narrative to personally thank Ryanair for their incredible off-season air fares, without which this trip would not have been doable this year!)
With Arlo, I climbed the Acropolis in the footsteps of Pericles and wondered how the polished rocks which we were walking on got their shine. Then with a start the realization dawned that people have been walking on those same rocks for more than 2,500 years!
The great Athens nightlife is his life, which makes sense for a struggling musician and poet, and I tried to keep up. In one bar toward the end of one evening, another guitarist loaned him his guitar, and I watched him play for the late nighters. I love to watch Arlo perform: he can play and sing pretty much anything. The other guitarist hit on Arlo’s girlfriend while he was performing, and after rejoining the conversation Arlo handled the guy as well as he had handled his guitar. His heart has found a home in Athens.
I toured a Parisian startup incubator at the Gare de Lyon with Nick, visiting one of his clients (he’s a consultant software architect). The extent of the changes in commercial culture in France, even in the law, since I worked there twenty years ago was quite startling.found a home in Athens.
Another of his clients invited me to dinner so that he could discuss with Nick and me the moves that his investors were making to squeeze him out of the business he co-founded, of course with nothing like fair compensation. Just like Silicon Valley! And just like Silicon Valley, Nick and Charlotte, who started her dream sound engineering job this summer, have a slight tendency to work too hard, but still managed to graciously host a temporary lodger in their spare bedroom.
* * *
This visit started, as is my wont, in the UK. I hiked around a grey, cold loch inland from Mallaig in the Scottish Highlands, immersed in the dusk scenery, dodging the puddles in the peat, and feeling the worst parts of 2016 slink away into the recesses of life where they belong.
I visited mum’s grave in Erdington, gave her an update, which came out more positively than expected despite Brexit, and admired the newly-opened and gleaming New Street Station in Birmingham. This was not the dowdy, dirty and cramped Birmingham we grew up in!
In the middle of my BritRail wanderings, I rode on the Hogwarts Express over Glenfinnan Viaduct, star of one of the Harry Potter films. The train wasn’t scheduled to run that day, but had been privately chartered, and they sold tickets to anyone who happened to be at Fort William before it steamed out. Couldn’t resist!
The low point of this depressing year was being obliged in Aprilto move into a friend’s RV in Santa Cruz. I’m still there! Shit happens, as we all know, and this particular load started late in 2015, when I lost the part-time sort of general counsel job I’d held for ten years for a Silicon Valley company. The arrangement was inherently unstable, in that they were paying me part-time as much as they could have paid someone with less experience to work full-time. But I was still shocked when it came to an abrupt end. The bottom line became that I either had to sell my lovely little house in Tahoe and leave there or move my Santa Cruz base into the RV. I still have Tahoe!
What bothers me about moving into the RV is the children. Alex, Charlie and I had been living together for quite a while, and it worked. All of a sudden, I only had a sofabed in an RV to offer them. Needless to say, they moved back in with their mother! It wasn’t much of an adjustment for them, and so I shouldn’t worry. Same with Nick, Charlotte and Arlo. They all came over to celebrate Nick’s 30th birthday during the summer, giving me peak dad moments which merited their own blog post, see https://ianstock.wordpress.com
Nick’s 30th marked my thirty years of raising children. Thirty years: now that’s a landmark! Coincidentally, 2016 was also the year in which the younger children became officially no longer children. Alex turned 18 in January, and Charlie turned 21 in August, meaning that the former can now drink alcohol and the latter can now be drafted. No, wait a minute: it’s still the other way around in California!But the only place I had to put them all up in Santa Cruz was again in the RV. Of course, none of them complained, barely mentioning the challenging nature of their accommodations. In fact, everyone has been really nice about it: the decency with which they have each reacted to these temporary financial issues has made me proud.
Amid the carnage everywhere you turned, 2016 did have its share of amazing moments. I’ll cite two, one from the sixties, and one from the techies. Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize for Literature, prompting a reaction not unlike that accorded the Beatles when the Queen awarded them MBEs, lots of sophisticated whining. You didn’t know that her Majesty was 50 years ahead of the times, did you! Meanwhile, my generation of unrepentant hippies jumped for joy. What do you mean, he’s not a writer?
“You used to be so amused at Napoleon in rags and the language that he used,
Go to him he calls you, you can’t refuse; when you ain’t got nothing, you got nothing to lose.
You’re invisible now, you’ve got no secrets to conceal, how does it feel, ah how does it feel,
To be on your own, with no direction home, like a complete unknown, like a rolling stone?”
Representing techies, Elon Musk founded a company to hedge his bets: if his Tesla electric cars don’t save the planet because of willful ignorance about burning fossil fuels, SpaceX is there to launch a colony of humans into space to start again.
That may sound a little far-fetched, but this year SpaceX landed a rocket upright on a barge floating in the ocean. Think about how far-fetched that was: so many different factors had an impact on the success of that landing: the speed achieved on launch, the force and direction of the jetstream, the unpredictable ocean currents and equally unpredictable sea breezes, not to mention the ridiculously small size of the target barge relative to the ocean around it.
When I asked Ian Summers, a friend recently retired as a physics professor, about this, he replied with a question: “do you know what I wondered when I saw that landing?” Here is a man accustomed to thinking in terms of physical forces and the complicated relationships of the world of physics, and he answered himself, “how could anyone even think that he could get it done?” And someone did: go Elon!
As for good news on the family side of things, Alex started his college career at UCSB in the fall, the only one of our six children to head directly to University straight out of high school. Nick attends and Arlo has attended the University of Paris, in each case quite a while after leaving high school, and all of the children except Alex have spent more or less time at local community colleges. Since middle school, maybe six years before, Alex had his heart set on the University of California. And he’s there, with a dorm room about 100 yards from the Pacific Ocean (and outdoor surfboard storage!) and his parents a suitable distance away!
Several parents of Alex’s high school soccer team were commiserating with each other at a St Lucia party (a Swedish tradition just before Christmas) about how to cope with the absence of boys’ soccer now that Alex and his crew have mostly gone off to University. That’s one of my biggest empty nest symptoms, not having the boys’ soccer games to watch any more. The other dads felt the same way.
The tech world makes much of saying that every problem is in fact an opportunity, and a real advantage of having much less work was that I had time on my hands. Friends at NextSpace, my coworking space, are always full of interesting ideas, and together we dreamed up a new way to help fill the legal needs of struggling entrepreneurs.
As a result, I now offer fixed price, transparent and understandable legal services to early stage startups, loosely defined as those between the desire to launch and the arrival of professional investors. Check them out: www.StartupALaCarte.com.
As is perhaps fitting, Arlo, our own wandering minstrel, produced what was perhaps the Bob Dylan moment of this family’s entire year. He and I were up in Tahoe together, while Nick and Charlotte were exploring the Mendocino coast, and he made contact with his sister Daphne, who also lives up there.
This looked like a risky move. When they were younger, she had often treated Arlo harshly, and had almost never had any contact with him since he left our home to return to his mom’s in Paris at the end of 2007. But he was set on getting in touch with her, and he did.
They talked over the phone, she was welcoming, and they ended up spending a good part of her birthday evening together, chatting in her shared house. She turned 29 that day, and he was almost 27. They were both born in France.
When I finally picked him up at her home, he was as happy as a clam, all smiles. Recounting what it had been like to see her again after so long, he announced that Daphne had apologized to him for treating him badly when they were both younger. I couldn’t believe it! By being positive, and putting himself out on a limb to throw light on a shadow on his past, Arlo did just that, in spades.
There’s a moral there for all of us.
Take a chance, go out on a limb: “when you ain’t got nothing, you got nothing to lose.”
Happy Holidays everyone!