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.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Watching the Packers – Jetsons Style!

When I tell people that I’ve spent lots of time abroad they always ask me if it’s hard living so far from my family and friends for so long. In the past, before the age of the Internet, this was a tough reality of living abroad. I would go months on end w/out word from anyone.

At one point I was on tour in the United Arab Emirates and I had no fixed address for four straight months. I was also flat broke and my company screwed up the contract with our host organization leaving me penniless for the first four weeks of the stay. I had enough money for a couple of stamps so I wrote home, but my parents had no way to communicate with me at all. This period crossed over both Christmas and my birthday so I never felt more alone.

The only touchstone I had came from Armed Forces Radio. I was on a supply run in a taxi and the cabbie, a Philippine expat, told me he knew of a great station that played Western rock. He turned to AFRTS and much to my surprise, I was treated to none other than Jerome Garcia singing Touch of Gray. This was doubly surprising because, at this point, the Grateful Dead weren’t even played on American radio, let alone Abu Dhabi radio.  When Garcia blasted into the final chorus, “WE WILL GET BY!” I screamed it at the top of my voice with the cabbie manically smiling ear to ear. Them Philipinos likes 'em some crazy white boys. 

In Abu Dhabi, this guy had more spirit than I did. 

Now things couldn’t be more different. I live with two spiffy computers that can dial up any tune I want just for asking. I spend most of my waking hours on line communicating with not only with my family, but also my friends in Oregon, my friends in Dharamsala,  former business associates, drunks whom I’ve met in my neighborhood and even the children of drunks whom I’ve met in my neighborhood. It feels like I live in a weird neighborhood outside of Portland that my friends don’t know exist or else they’d come and party with me.

Just when I thought connectivity couldn’t get more ridiculous, in came the NFL playoffs. I’m guessing there might be some way to buy an NFL package in France, but it can’t be cheap, and I actually have more interesting things to do these days than watch every NFL game – which is what I do in Portland. But the Packers were on a damn fine run and one thing I NEVER miss is a Packer’s game.

The scene at Seraveza, my home Packers bar in Portland
(photo: Corky Helmer)
Over the last few games of the regular season, my Dad and my sister Sue had been Skyping games direct or recording the late night games for later playback. But this game was a huge monster play-off game and I knew everyone in the family would be watching. I come from a family replete with Internet Geeks so the challenge to get us all on line watching the game was too much to pass up.

My brother Bagus in Denver just happens to be a pioneer of the Internet, designing some of the very first commercial sites in the history of digitalia. He was selected as the hub for this operation as he has a phat-ass connection, multiple computers and a huge flat screen. Brother Andy in Ann  Arbor Michigan bought the Skype video conference package a few months earlier so we could organize a medical conference in Bangladesh having doctors from 5 different countries communicating on the same feed. Our goals weren’t as lofty this time, but actually more difficult. Bagus hooked into Andy’s account in Denver and the madness was underway.

I had gotten home from dinner with a neighbor just before 11 p.m. and tried to get a couple of hours sleep before kickoff at 2 a.m. Aix Les Bains time. With one playoff game already underway, sleep was a fruitless effort so around 12:30 I uncorked a bottle of 2010 Crozes-Hermitage and opened up both of the laptops at my disposal. Computer No. 1 was hooked up to FaceBook and the GameCast on ESPN.com while Computer No. 2, a spiffy new Samsung with a 19-inch HD screen would do the heavy lifting on Skype.

I pinged Bagus in Denver and we calmly watched the 4th quarter of the Denver v. Baltimore game preparing for the onslaught of screens anticipated for the Packers game. He pointed one of his laptops at the flat screen and the other at him sitting comfortably in his living room with 7-year-old Tucker sharing the couch.

As game time approached, Andy pinged in from Ann Arbor and he pointed his laptop at his TV so I had split screen of the Denver game and the Packer Pre-game. It was 2 a.m. my time and I can guarantee you I was the only guy in Aix Les Bains watching split-screen NFL playoffs.  Bagus decided to reboot his operation and send out a general conference request to everyone in our family. At this point I had four screens operating on the Samsung, but we were just beginning.

Top:  Me in Aix Les Bains, Charlottesville feed , Sue in Corvallis
Bottom: Tashi in Charlottesville, Denver feed, Bagus in Denver, Barb being pinged in Milwaukee, Ann Arbor feed, William in Vermont, Molly at Yale, six people in Door County Wisconsin trying to get back in.
(Photo: Tashi Haig) 
In just seconds Andy’s two kids, Molly, a sophomore at Yale, and William an 8th grader at a Cross Country Ski school in Vermont joined in. Screens No. 5 and 6. The ball was kicked off and we were on our way. Just a few minutes into the first quarter, another screen popped up, this one from Brother Dan in Charlottesville, Virginia. Screen No. 7, but with his daughter Tashi and wife Zoe hovering in the background we were now up to nine in our party. This oddly resembles what happens when we are all home over Christmas to watch a Packer game. I’m usually sitting in the family room with one or two people and everyone else mingles in.

Before long, William, not a football fan and in the middle of two days of Cross Country ski racing, decided to call it quits. We’d lost one screen, but not two minutes later, Andy got a call from Sister Sue in Corvallis who wanted in on the action. While Bagus scurried to add her to the conference, more requests came in. On Kangaroo Lake in Door County, Wisconsin, my Mother, Father, Sister Nari, and her two kids, Megan and Kelly were ringing on the virtual doorbell to enter in.

Andy is chomping on cheese, I'm slugging Crozet and Molly's actually being productive.
(Photo: Tashi Haig)

So we’d lost one screen, but in a quick hurry we’d picked up two more screens as well as six more participants. The Packers were playing horribly at this point, but unbelievably that didn’t seem to matter. We just wanted more screens.

But with eight nodes of varying connectivity power, we began to reach our limit. Screen’s were freezing up and audio was randomly dropping out. Everyone in the States could watch on their TV, but when the signal from Bagus or Andy dropped out, I was out of the loop. We also had the problem of broadcast delay. Dan’s TV in rural Virginia receives a digital signal over the air and he was more than 20 seconds ahead of the action on the main screen in Denver. That meant that he was screaming and booing a full play ahead of the rest of us. This got quite annoying so we asked him to point his laptop at his TV so we could all get the earliest feed. This prompted Tashi, sitting right next to him, to get her laptop and join in the party so they could do double computer duty (screen No. 9 on my Skype window).

It sounded like a great solution, but as it turns out Dan’s WiFi works great on his couch, not so great perched on a table in front of his TV. So the main screen kept freezing on us. At this point we were at nine screens and 15 people (Bagus’s friend, Tommy came in to watch in Denver) with the Packers looking horrible. But we weren’t about to quit.

The view on the flat screen in Door County, Wisconsin.
(Photo: Nari Haig)

While this was going on,  our final sister Barb (who watches most every Packer game), was at a play in Milwaukee with her Droid buzzing out of her pocket every time anyone of us would enter the conference or reboot our Skype. It would have been easy to give it up at halftime and reboot the entire system except that Tucker in Denver decided he wanted to show us his Christmas presents and that took us into the third quarter.

From time to time, my screen froze and I would have to reboot which gave me time to check out what was happening on Facebook. There I had contact with anyone I've ever known who was watching the game. I was exchanging trash talk and pleasantries with people from Hawaii, Portland, New Orleans, Seattle,  Pullman, Washington (Go Cougs!), Chicago (Go Illini! [Bears still suck!]), Colorado Springs, New York, Madison and Cleveland. Oddly enough, none of my French friends were on line? 

Into the second half we went with screens freezing, people coming and going and the Pack giving up a ridiculous amount of rushing yardage to an unheralded rookie quarterback. As we moved into the fourth quarter Colin Kaepernick, who makes $600,000 a year, out played our MVP Aaron Rogers who touches north of $8 million dollars over the same span. I loves me some Aaron Rogers, but we flat out got smoked. By the end of the night we were down to four screens – just me and my three brothers - who glumly watched a charity touchdown scored by the Pack in the final minutes. Season over.  

The big winner of the night was Molly at Yale who completely ignored the Packer game and instead drew this.

At this point, it was 5:30 a.m. in Aix Les Bains and I had devoured a massive chunk of local Blue Cheese (purchased here) along with my bottle of 2010 Crozes-Hermitage. The Crozes-Hermitage is a dust-storm dry white, rumored to have a caffeinesque kick to it. Perfect for staying up late I thought.


I crawled into bed and confessed to my lovely companion Helene that I downed an entire bottle of Crozes  during the course of my 5+ hour digital odyssey and she has yet to forgive me. She’s not angry with the amount I drank or the quality of the bottle (it ain’t cheap!). She’s just appalled I would be drinking white wine after dinner. I mean who the hell does that?


  1. Which makes you wonder, whether a tour book would even be necessary today...I say "yes".

  2. Hilariously true. But what about the dogs, cats, goldfish, and stuffed animals that made cameo appearances? And since Skype rotates the 8 or 9 shots to give each one prominence at random times, when a football game went down, we had to figure out which one. "Hey Tom, you see my hand waving? No? then it's Bagus that's working. I'll reboot."

    And the weirdest thing is that it really felt like the real thing in ways I can't put into words. Some ethereal social air of 8 guys crammed into Dad's living room with the women-folk popping in and out doing other stuff. except we never had fancy wine and if you popped that cork within reach we would have twisted the bottle from your arm and chugged it. Dry or not dry. Pretzels or no.