When you travel as much as I do for as long as I have, you are bound to come across places that you have stayed before. Many times, if time has passed, it has changed so much that it is a shell of it’s former self. More often, it just doesn’t live up to the memories you kept. Yet last night, I was thrown back to find nearly the opposite of what I have grown to expect about a return.
I am in Tempe, Arizona for a quick day’s work. There’s a project down here that took me on a day trip (meaning, I flew down and back in the same day) about a week ago. Then there was a need to go back, so this time, I decided to spend the night. More like come down the night before and fly home tonight. When I selected my hotel, I focused on two things: 1) is it in a chain I collect points for .. 2) does it have a restaurant cause I will be needing dinner when I get there. I landed on a DoubleTree run by Hilton that fit the bill.
As I pulled up, the place was immediately recognizable. Not as a DoubleTree, but as ‘The Fiesta Inn’. A quick question to the desk clerk, and I confirmed it was named that previously; and it all fell into place.
For many of you older BearFeeders, you may have seen me post about a beast of an organization called Nadcap. For thirteen years of my professional career, Nadcap was a dominant part of my development, expertise, and stress levels. It is an organization intent of 3rd party special process auditing of aerospace suppliers. From 2002 until 2012, I sat on the Heat Treat Task Group, most of it as an officer; and from 2014-2016 as a supplier/voting member. The key part of this process were the meetings, held either 3 or 4 times a year in different places around the globe. From the late 90s until the mid-00s, the January meeting was held in Tempe at the Fiesta Inn. Where my memory fails me is whether or not I attended 3 meetings or 4 while they were coming to this hotel; but revisiting this venue was about the only thing that failed in my memory.
Those meetings seem to be more contentious that the others. Maybe because January is traditionally the time when people try to implement strategies without knowing they will be successful. Maybe it’s because most of us were coming out of the cold to warm Tempe and now had some piss & vinegar to get out from the holidays. Maybe because the venue was too small, and shoving 70 people a room that has a fire code for 35 was a bad idea. There were other meetings that were pretty brutal, but it seemed like there was always fireworks at this one.
Walking around the property, I was just shocked how little had changed. From the pool, the slightly hidden hot tub, and all the outside seating that made working outside a dream come true. The meeting rooms with the same terracotta colored window treatments. The bar with the copper sheet table tops and the chairs that seemed extravagant for a hotel bar. Heck, they still had pretty good huevos rancheros for breakfast.
The fact this hotel seemed nearly unchanged, except for the name on the front, just brought a lot of those moments back to me. Trying to keep specifics out of things, here’s some vague references:
- One year, an organization got into re-branding, looking to improve how people think about the process. In one presentation, someone stated they wanted a website name that screamed Nadcap, wanted a web address that is immediately what people thought when they thought Nadcap – and they revealed that address to be something that has no logical connection with Nadcap. I got so pissy making fun of that lack of connection, that I kept saying “When I think of Nadcap, I think ….(fill in the blank with something else)”. Ironically, to this day, I know exactly what address to go to because when I think of Nadcap I think of that non-logical address.
- Our team from Cessna was notorious for bringing the youngest people to meetings. It was a far statement, because our reps were all in our 20s and 30s, and everyone else sent people near the end of their career. For some reason, this was especially true at the Fiesta Inn – we seemed to look like college kids there. One of our guys, who still to this day looks & acts like he is 13, brought his PlayStation along to the Fiesta Inn, and wasn’t quiet that we had dinner at the Rainforest Cafe.
- I gripe about ‘revision by committee’ when dealing with new standards or checklists; saying don’t let 50 people argue over the right grammatical of a sentence; especially when they aren’t English majors in the room. I first made that comment at this meeting site, where literally 50 engineers sat around and argued over the proper use of a comma for a half hour.
- There was the big German engineer from Airbus whose name evades me but who pulled me aside in the lobby to discuss the merging of different standards and improving the audit process. I just remember thinking the whole time “why’s he talking to me: I’m not that smart, I’m not that important, and he’s … like … German, and Germans are awesome”.
- I remember standing outside of a conference room and talking about what could be with the task group with Laura Fisher; then the lead staff engineer for the heat treat task group. Within a year, she stepped down from that position to go back to another employer; and not long after she was in a tragic accident and is no longer with us. I still remember vividly the passion she held, mostly to due away with meaningless crap; and now wishing that I could still be passion about meaningless crap with her.
- Then there was a time a great mentor of mine, John Gorley, showed me the power of great leadership. During a pretty contentious time with management of the program, our task group was under pressure to take action on steps we weren’t interested to do. A comment was made by this management and the room tried to explode on him. John raised his hand, and we all waited for him to speak as if we knew what was coming. His speech lasted for 60 seconds tops; it started soft, started technical, started with understanding, but ended with the fire and fury of confidence. It said what every different opinion, and every different emotion in the room wanted to say – but did so in a way that held more power than any of us could ever have.
Boy … and I am just getting started.
What I began to realize this morning is how important this place was to me. Nadcap was something I loved to hate, and hated to love. It did as much to form me professionally because of the great people I met and how it challenged me to form the skill sets I use today. The thing about the Phoenix meetings were that they seemed to be where I evolved the most.
My first meeting at the Fiesta Inn was in fact my fourth meeting. It was a time when I knew enough to be involved in things. It was where I started to voice my opinion during these meetings.
So in essence, it was where I found my professional voice. That sarcastic, pissy, sometimes helpful voice came along here – at this hotel.
And the only thing that really changed is that you can get a cookie at check-in now.
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