An important goal of our trip this summer is to experience the sights and sounds of America in our downtime between working with entrepreneurs. We want to get to know the places and people we otherwise wouldn’t hanging out in cities like Boston, New York, and San Francisco. Here are some highlights of our off-the-clock time from Vegas to Albuquerque.
Leaving Las Vegas
We said our goodbyes to Las Vegas neon with one last guilty stop at the big yellow arrow of In-N-Out and headed for the Hoover Dam right on the border of Nevada and Arizona, something that my parents had recommended as a must-see. When we got there we parked and peered over the edge, which gives you a dramatic view of the drop to the bottom. I wouldn’t recommend it for folks with vertigo. I’m not afraid of heights, but it gave me that dropping feeling you get when you’re almost asleep and then feel like you’re plummeting through your bed. The updraft of the hot breeze hitting the dam and rising up to the top almost blew my hat off.
We drove on to Flagstaff, AZ and hunkered down for the night. It felt great to be back in AZ after living there for two years. In the morning, three of my good friends who live in Phoenix drove up with their dogs and met up with me. After being in close quarters with the same people for a few weeks, it was great to be with old friends and tell Mel, Carla, and Tiffany about the highlights and challenges of the trip. Telling other people about the things we’ve had the opportunity to do and the incredible people who have invited us into their lives and businesses puts the challenging parts in perspective. It was also great to see Brandy, the chocolate lab I moved away from when I left Arizona to head to Boston. We took the dogs for a walk in Buffalo Park and got caught in the rain while Hicham, Casey, and Amaris got some work done, relaxed, and explored Flagstaff.
Brandy, official chocolate lab of MBAs Across America.
Took a wrong turn in Albuquerque…
Amaris was excited to show us her home town and decided that a great way to give us a lay of the land on Sunday night would be to take the Sandia Peak Tramway up the mountain to enjoy the scenic view across the whole valley. The tramway is a massive gondola that takes you up to about 11,000 feet. The trip up takes about 15 minutes and is overall pretty smooth with incredible views, but at one point the winds kicked up and started rocking the gondola back and forth. I thought it was fun, but I don’t think some of the others on the team appreciated it much. Once we got to the observation deck the best part was that we could see lightening storms flashing all across the valley. On the way back down, lightning was striking close to the tram, which made for a beautiful show. Casey looked at me gravely and said: “I knew this was going to happen…” We also learned from a helpful poster at the top of the mountain what to do in case of cougar attack: “fight back hard”. Got it. At a normal summer internship I’d have never been inside a lightning storm on a gondola or learned what to do in case of a cougar attack.
ABQ from the top: pretty enchanting.
Inside Intel Inside:
Our gracious host Jim at Ideum arranged for us to visit the Intel factory just outside Corrales on our first day, and we were treated to a presentation describing the fab as well as a tour of the facility. During the presentation we learned that Intel products account for over 50% of all exports from New Mexico. The factory floor itself is an impeccably clean and unbelievably precise environment with monorail-mounted robots about the size of a canister vacuum cleaner whizzing around, picking up and dropping off payloads of work-in-progress materials exactly where they need to be at exactly the right times. Very WALL-E. I expected to see automation, but the sparse presence of humans was surprising. They have a big cube-farm where most of the engineers sit and run multiple machines all at once. They said that people who are good at video games tend to be good at those roles. Another surprise was how proud our tour guides were of the fab – I expected a giant corporation like Intel to have folks who were very smart and very capable, but the degree of personal commitment to the goals of the fab was really cool. I left Intel with much more appreciation for the level of engineering and careful thought that goes into their products.
This made me star-struck in a nerdy kind of way.
MBAs Killed the Radio Star
We’ve been in touch with Curt Nickish at WBUR in Boston for months, and he arranged to have a reporter from KUNM in Albuquerque come to meet us one morning to interview us about MBAs Across America. We all sat in Amaris’ dad’s garage and one by one spoke with Erika, another WBUR employee in Boston, on a cell phone while Andy the sound guy recorded us. Having been a big fan of NPR and WBUR, it was really fun to see and participate in a “real” interview. It was also a little tough to sound natural when I knew what I said was being recorded. We are excited to hear how the piece comes out. It should go live on Tuesday.
Andy records audio while Casey talks to WBUR in Boston.
Andy ended up pitching our story to KUNM and they decided to interview Amaris specifically about the New Mexico angle of the trip. We got to visit the KUNM station offices and studios on the UNM campus, and Hicham and I poked around and learned about the technology DJs use behind the scenes to cut between local and national shows, insert ads (or “carts”) etc. Having just worked with Ideum, a human computer interaction company that builds massive multi-touch displays, I was curious to hear from these folks how soon they thought virtual controls via a touch-screen would replace the large soundboards they were using to mix audio. They felt that it would be a long time before studios like theirs switched over because DJs are so used to the old technology. Hicham and I were surprised by how manual it all is, with DJs having to set up the ads, switch between shows, etc. all by hand.
Cookies from Colleen
We’ve been humbled this summer by support in many forms from so many people, but one woman named Colleen from Detroit made our week in Albuquerque by sending us an entire box full of delicious baked goods. Something about it being cookies made it extra special – they are so “unnecessary” – so impractical to send long distances – there are plenty more reasons NOT to send cookies to strangers than to send them. Despite all that, Colleen went ahead and did it, and it made us feel great. Thanks Colleen!
This is getting a little long, so I’ll cut it here, but we also had a chance to visit Santa Fe, go to the opera, hang out with Amaris’ dad (thanks Gary!), eat a lot of green chile and sopapillas, and see some spots where Breaking Bad is filmed. Authentic!
Big hug from the road to friends and family,
-Mike & MBAxAmerica team