Who Dat?

Back in the 80s, long before the X-Games existed, Tom Haig traveled the world as an extreme athlete. He visited more than 50 countries as an international high diver, doing multiple somersault tricks from over 90 feet.

That life came crashing down one Sunday morning in 1996. While training on his mountain bike, he smashed into the grill of a truck and became paralyzed from the waist down. But less than a year later he completed a 100-mile ride on a hand-cycle and traveled by himself to Europe and the Middle East.

Since then he has continued to travel the world as a consultant, writer and video producer. He spent six months launching a Tibetan radio station in the Himalayas and shot documentary shorts on disability in Bangladesh, France, Albania, Ghana and most recently Nepal.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Alice Walker for Christmas

To say it was my first week on the job is a bit misleading since I’ve actually had the fortune to interview quite a few famous athletes while I was writing for L’adidas, the most successful in-house newspaper in the history of corporate America. So successful, in fact, that we were shut down by the international corporate headquarters of Adidas, in Herzogenaurach, Germany.                                           Alice Walker

The international guys published (probably still do) a 32-page color glossy rag that was nothing more than group photos and pontifications by members of the board of directors. It was summarily tossed in the bin within hours of each production run. L’adidas, a four-page monthly infotainment piece was read cover to cover by every employee (including the slugs at international) and if you went through 95% of the desks in the Adidas cube farm in Beaverton, Oregon you would find nearly every employee had a collection of their favorite issues.

We wrote it as a celebration of a growing company, not a mausoleum for a decades old dynasty. We interviewed athletes, coaches, CEO’s of other companies, as well as someone from every rank of the corporate chain of command. Even the head of the mailroom got a column. We had a wise-ass lawyer write a column as well as a racist octogenarian who was somehow still on the payroll.

All the interviewing and reporting told me no matter how high or low someone is, they've got a story - and almost everyone is willing to tell it. I can’t say I didn’t get goose bumps interviewing a star athlete, but I did learn how to put them at ease and get the best out of them.

And this was perfect training for my first assignment at 90.4 Tashi Delek FM. Not three days into the job we were told that Alice Walker, the Pulitzer Prize winning author of the Color Purple, was in town for an audience with the Dalai Lama. Our contact at the temple spoke to her, told her that we were a fledgling radio station and wanted to know if we could interview her. Great lady that she is, she said it would be just fine.

While I was giddy at the prospect of interviewing a Pulitzer Prize Winner, it also occurred to me that I was unfamiliar with her work (saw the move, didn’t read the book) and really had no business interviewing anyone who didn’t wear a jock strap or a sports bra. For some reason I didn’t think a 65-year-old Hall-of-Fame writer and human rights activist would be up for talking NFL.

Not much was made of Christmas in McLeod Ganj except for this dancing Santa.

For the next eight hours I scoured the Internet for content. I read her blog, digested her website and read four or five random biographies. From that I whipped out a slew of questions and showed it to Phuntsok. Phuntsok looked at the questions and said, “This would make a great interview for somebody in the States or Europe, but not a Tibetan. You need to tie this all into why she is here and what she thinks of us.”

Back to the drawing board. Well, not exactly, but there were plenty of revisions to be made. When I showed him the final list he thought it was a good start, but added that he might throw in a question or two as we went. Phuntsok’s not only the boss; he’s a very astute guy so having that backup was great for me.

Alice’s trip visit just happened to fall on Christmas Day, so this was either going to be one of the greatest Christmases of my life, or a gigantic disaster. As we drove to her hotel (the nicest place in town – triple what I pay) on a brilliant sunny day I gazed back at the Himalayan monsters behind me and fell into a calmly insignificant state. Those cats have been around for a few million years, so what effect would a nice talk in their shadow have?

Whenever you think you're doing something important in the Himalayas, you just look up and laugh. These big boys have seen it all before.

With that Suresh (the driver) pulled into the hotel, and Kalsang (station manager) and I unloaded and set up all the gear. This was also a test of all the electronics I brought with me from the States. We did a few mic checks, and waited for Alice to show up. I’ll let you be the judge of how well we did, but man is that one incredible lady: Alice Interview

The action shot! (Nice place for an interview eh?)

And the celebrity pose: Me, Alice, Kalsang Tsewang (station manager) and Phuntsok Dorjee (big boss).

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