Eyes Wide Open

I'm on the road again...and back in Las Vegas.
Since Vegas is the convention capitol of the world, I decided to make my peace with the city. This is my second trip out here in the past 6 months and I'm sure I'll be back again next year. So I approached this trip with a new attitude...and intentionally went looking for some bright spots.

With a new perspective...everything fell into place perfectly.

And it started with the cab ride to the airport.

But first, a few background notes. I haven't talked about it much, but lately, I've been doing a ton of research for my round the world trip. Africa, in particular, has held a soft spot in my heart. I've been studying the historical conflicts in Somalia, Sierra Leone, and the famine in Ethiopia. These past few months, I've also been researching the devastating affects of not only HIV, but water-borne illnesses, diamond trafficking, big oil, and the end of European colonization.

Naturally, when I learned my cab driver was from Somalia, I was anxious to talk with him.

En route to the airport....notice the laptop? He had a modem hook up for idle time between passengers.

My cab driver, Mosa, arrived in the United States 6 years ago through a sponsorship from his brother. Most of his siblings live in Europe or the United States. Back in Somalia, he left behind his mother & father, and his wife & children. Eventually, he hopes to bring them to the U.S. In the meantime, every few months...he sends thousands of dollars back home.

I asked if life in the United States was what he expected.


"What would you like to be different?"

"I came for peace." And after he reflected for a moment, he said with great care, "I do have peace...but I'd like more money."

I shifted the conversation to Somalia. It turns out, he was not in the country when the conflict began. He was living in Russia as an exchange student...gaining what little news he could through the Soviet-censored media. The exchange program was filled with students from around the world and he gained his first exposure to other cultures there.

Then Mosa began traveling. First to Europe...England, France, Germany, Norway, Sweden, and beyond. Next, he moved on to the Middle East--Dubai, Saudi Arabia, and Oman. Returning home after the war, he traveled to the north eastern part of Somalia to visit his family.

"In the capitol...they are still fighting!"


"Yes, it's like Palestine. The conflict will never end. It's very dangerous there...bombings every day!"

I asked him what it was like traveling as an African. Did he experience prejudice and racial conflicts? "In the Middle East, no. Europe, yes. They suspected me of terrorism and people on the street were suspicious."

And that is where our journey ended. I arrived at the airport and we said our goodbyes with a promise to connect again.

Our conversation reminded me...even at home, you can live like a tourist. The most fascinating people are part of our every day encounter...if you take the time to listen.

Leaving Seattle. Notice the islands off in the distance...and the industrial port to the left.

Boarding the plane, I scooted in to my window seat and said a quick hello to my seatmates. The husband and wife duo were headed to Vegas for gambling. The wife offered me a mint, and from there, the friendship began.

Pause for another side note. Friends of mine joke that I know people everywhere. There's six-degrees of separation...and then there's two degrees of Traca! While that may be a bit of an exaggeration, the reality is...I'm a connector. I meet people literally everywhere I go. In the cab, standing in line at airport security, cooking classes, lectures...you name it. When friends of mine meet, the conversation immediately turns to, "How did you meet Traca?" It's a point of endless fascination. In fact, it's not unusual to hear a story like this: A couple years ago, I called Verizon to complain about my phone. The operator on the other end was so nice, I thanked her...and then told her supervisor how wonderful she was. Long story short, Arietta and I became friends and have actually met on several occasions. (She makes a mean jambalya!)

Bottom line? I love meeting people and am endlessly fascinated by those who come across my path.

Back to my seatmates. Karen taught me how to play Suduko...and then I started talking with her husband. He had the sports section of the newspaper marked with circles and asterisks. He and Karen had picked their favorites teams for this weekend's series of games. Then, Greg lowered his voice and counseled, "Bet on Seattle." He proceeded to explain the statistics and why Seattle was a good bet. Now I'm not a betting girl, but it was interesting to see what influenced his decisions.

Greg moved on to the list of soccer teams and as a side comment, mentioned that he was friends with the top-rated coaches. My curiosity was piqued.

"How do you know them?"

It turns out, for every team listed in the paper....he knew all the coaches.


Greg used to play pro soccer. When his career was over, he stared a company with his wife. They secure sponsors and facilitate soccer training camps throughout the country. His club is for elite players only. They work with scouts who keep tabs on the best high school players in the nation. When a sponsor (like Adidas) decides to grant money for a camp, Greg puts the whole thing together. They find the venue, select the coaches, run evening trainings on everything from taking the ACTs to nutrition. During the day, the players practice and compete.

Greg explained how they find the players. Say the camp will be open to 150 players. Greg sends the word out to scouts that they're looking for the top 5 players in their area. The names get submitted, and based on the statistics, they make a call about who gets selected to come. Now, once the players are at the facility, the sponsor typically pays for everything--the venue, food, lodging, equipment, salaries for the coaches...everything. However, they are not allowed to pay for transportation to the camp. Because the camps are an opportunity for college and pro scouts to come out and see the best players in the country, the rule states that transportation has to be paid for by other means. (Otherwise, it might be considered a type of bribe, which is illegal in sports.)

Then we talked about non-native American players and the impact they've had on soccer in the U.S. It was a fascinating discussion about how in some countries, people don't know their exact age. For example, there's no birth certificate process in many countries of Latin America and Africa. This can pose a conflict when a player is too good or his skills are developed beyond his peers. Is he really 13 years old? Or is he 16, playing in a younger age group? One of their players, Freddy Adu, faced that exact same scrutiny. Authorities asked him to take a bone density scan to determine his real age, but Freddy refused. He was declared a prodigy and signed a pro soccer contract at the age of 14.

During pauses in our conversation, I caught some interesting scenery:

Logging roads and clear-cut forrest in the Cascade Mountains, Washington

Mount St. Helens in Washington. The volcano blew it's top in 1980. (Was 9,677 feet, now 8,365 feet)

A popular ski destination...Mount Hood in Oregon (11,249 feet)

See those circles? I learned that those are irrigated crops. Typically, the plot of land is square, but the watering device sweeps in a circle--creating those "crop circles."

Upper Klamath Lake in Oregon--with that incredible blue water contrasted against the dry terrain. Thanks to Wikipedia, I learned that intense color of the lake is due agricultural nutrient runoff from the surrounding land, causing a high concentration of blue-green algae blooms. As a result, recreational activities are often not permitted.

That's all for now.

Next up? Snaps from Las Vegas.