Taking one for the team

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Taking one for the team

My job's pretty cool. I get to be involved with music, work with bright people and travel all over the world. Sounds pretty glamorous as I write these words but the reality can be very different. There's all the hard work of running a small business, and then there's the travel. Mostly good, often great but sometimes the toughest part of the job.

It was 1995. I had left PS Audio to make loudspeaker systems at Genesis. Big loudspeaker systems, the size of the IRS in Music Room One. So big, in fact, that I traveled the world setting these beasts up in people's homes; making sure they sounded their best, solving problems when they didn't. And here was a situation where they didn't. A gentleman in southern Taiwan was unhappy with his Genesis One loudspeaker system; a system that cost him upwards of $100,000 and I needed to make him happy.

My distributor picked me up at the hotel in Taipei early in the morning. 6am to be exact. We had an 8 hour drive ahead of us and our customer would see us at 2 that afternoon. Driving for hours in some parts of Asia is always an interesting experience. Sure they have modern roads, but what's on those roads has always been unusual; at least to this westerner's eyes. Truck loads of live pigs, motorcycles with baskets full of cute dogs on their way to the dinner table, entire families crammed onto a small scooter, big expensive Mercedes zooming by dilapidatedrelics. There was no getting bored on the drive to our customer's home. Always a treat.

After arriving in southernTaiwan and enjoying lunch together we went to the customer's home where we were met by the anxious dealer and his setup crew to help maneuver the giant loudspeaker towers. We made short work of the task, polishing the setup so the system sounded spectacular. Much tea and thank you's later we said our goodbyes and hopped into the car for the return trip to Taipei. It would be midnight before we got back. I had a plane to catch in the morning and that timing would be ok.

"I stay here and work. I get you back to Taipei, no worry, you take bus" announced my distributor.

"The bus? What bus? You're leaving me in the middle of nowhere to take a bus?"

"Yes, no choice. You take bus. You be ok."

Sigh. Alright, I'll take one for the team. Not so bad. The buses in Taiwan look nice, big tall things with upper decks, airplane like seats, air conditioning. How bad could it be? I'd just have to be careful to get off in Taipei at the right stop. I could catch up on emails with the laptop. Grab a few Z's. No problem. "Take me to the bus terminal".

I am sitting alone in a crowded smelly bus terminal. This is no Port Authority, no, not even close. It's a cross between an open air flea market and abandoned warehouse all rolled into one. I must wait for bus 10. Only the numbers are in readable English. No one speaks English. I am alone hoping the number 10 arrives soon so I can get on board, close my eyes and hope this goes away. The number 10 arrives. It's a school bus. No, not a school bus, but definitely not one of those buses with airplane seats and air conditioning. A man next to me has live chickens in a cage he is carrying. The chickens peck at the cigarette buts on the dirty floor and spit them back out. They peck at each other. I hope this man does not sit next to me.

The seats on number 10 are straight across bench seats. Two people per seat plus a bag or a cage of chickens between each passenger. Instead of head rests the seats feature a steel bar. I find an isle seat next to a man who has few teeth, but he smiles at me. He has bags of vegetables. There are fruit flies buzzing around the bags. The bus has no air conditioning. The windows are up. The driver looks 80 years old. His face is permanently frowning and he approves of no one on the bus, definitely not me. He scowls, puts the bus in reverse and we lurch back. Brakes squeal and we start to move forward. I expect the trip will be the same as we came on a modern super highway. Turns out that's a toll road. Buses don't take toll roads. We get the old highway.

Have you ever been driven by someone who does not understand what it means to hold a steady speed? Here's how it works. You accelerate until you reach speed. You then release the gas pedal and slow down 5 miles an hour, then accelerate back up to speed and the process repeats. Over, and over again. Now mix in the road. Concrete slabs approximately two bus lengths apart, separated by expansion joints. The concrete is old. It has expanded up on one end, and settled down on the other. As the bus passes over each joint it bounces on its ancient suspension. With each bounce the scowling bus driver takes his foot off the accelerator and slows down. As the rear tires cross over the last joint he accelerates so as to not lose speed. I am trying to rest my head on the steel bar and it keeps banging back and forth. The toothless man next to me is snoring with his mouth open, laying on his bag of vegetables. I keep repeating to myself "I am taking one for the team. This will be over soon."

Four hours into the trip we stop at a rest area. We all get off the bus and head to the restrooms. I walk into the men's to pee. I almost hurl. The stench is overwhelming. I don't have to pee so much anymore and wait outside till we get back on the bus. But nature is still calling me and there's apparently a bathroom on the bus in the back. Just one, no gender, just a door and a small room in the back. It can't be worse than the outhouse at the rest stop. It simply cannot. I need to pee. Inside the small room there is no light. It's pitch black but I can make out the toilet by the light of the passing cars through, what appears to be the only open window on the bus. I am glad it's open.

As a male I need one hand to handle the peeing business. That leaves the other hand to brace myself against the wall of the bathroom as the bus bounces over the concrete expansion joints and the driver accelerates and decelerates to maintain our progress. My mind wanders in the dark and I start to smile a bit. "This is actually pretty funny. Here I am in the middle of nowhere bouncing down a highway in the middle of Taiwan. I could be stuck at home watching some mindless TV show. This is an adventure. It's ok." Just then something lands on the back of my neck. It's wet, it's cold, it's moving. It's crawling on me. It's huge.

I reached back and grabbed the biggest, blackest water bug I have ever seen. Ewww! I looked up at the ceiling of the bathroom. It was wet, crawling. I had finished peeing. The entire bus was asleep when I got back to my seat. The driver looked at me in his rearview mirror. He scowled. I sat still for the next 4 hours bouncing back and forth. The toothless man slept like a baby, his rhythmic snoring the only stable thing in my life at the moment.

"I am taking one for the team. I will never forgive my distributor. I wish I was home watching a mindless TV program."

Yep, it's a glamorous job I have. I get to travel the world and help bring music to people's lives. Good music, high end audio. But it isn't always pretty.

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Paul McGowan

Founder & CEO

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