I woke up, suddenly, to the sound of “Ramblin’ Man” by the Allman Brothers, and answered my phone. It was my boss. I had had a late night, and I tried to downplay the fact that I was still sleeping at 11. He asked what I had planned for the day, and I ran down a brief synopsis of events. He stopped me and asked if I could hop on a plane that afternoon and meet him and Dustin in Texas.
I was dumbfounded;“Today?”, I asked. “As soon as you can.” Still on the phone, I started booking a flight. I had never met Dustin in person, we’d only spoken over the phone, so I had no idea what to expect. “I can be there by 2 AM, what all should I bring?” My boss responded, “A laptop, clothes… I don’t know, just travel stuff.” I asked, “Should I wear a suit?” He laughed. “No, but bring swim trunks.” “No suit?” I inquired. He laughed, “No, bring shorts.” Not what I was expecting from my first political work meeting.
I hopped a plane. And then another. And then another. Three flights later, I arrived in Texas, a state I had only been to once. I stepped off the plane, and it was so humid I felt like I was being waterboarded. After Tiffiny, another staffer, picked me up, we went to a Waffle House and I was excited about tasting grits and sweet tea for the first time. There were two men in their underwear at the lunch counter, and nobody seemed to question why. Tiffiny insisted on getting a picture. My night was getting interesting quickly, and it had just started.
We arrived at a house on a lake in the middle of nowhere. I opened the door to the air-conditioned paradise, and heard the distinctive sound of ping pong balls dropping against a floor. I dropped my bags off, still dazed from three flights and the confusion of not knowing where my night was going. My boss came around the corner, “Hey! You made it!” Then a man resembling the character at the top of this page emerged, beer in hand. “Hey! You must be Greg!” He exclaimed with a hand outreached. “You look like you need a beer!” I mumbled in agreement, and was granted my first beer of the day.
The gang of six staffers, Dustin included, had concluded work for the day. It was obvious I had shown up in the middle of a round of beer pong and trash talk. However, it was not the same breed of beer pong I had encountered in college. I sat, watching the strange fusion of work and play, as people tossed balls into cups, while discussing financial reforms. I finally got it: the key to success lies in blurring the line between work and play. I was glad I hadn’t worn a suit.
The next few days went by in an intense rotation of work and work/play. I learned fairly quickly, there were no “Yes men” here. Just regular people, believing in what they do, offering solutions in a salon-style exchange of ideas and practical reasoning. We worked until we reached a point of diminishing returns, when our ideas began to circle. Then we would retreat for a nap, to watch TV or, more frequently, play beer pong, ping pong, or billiards. And of course, trash talk.
It took me a day or so to get into the swing of things. I had become institutionalized into the 9 to 5 mindset. Never being an “inside the box” kind of guy, I had learned the ways of the stuffy, and had learned to mimic an “All work and no play” kind of mindset. I said precious little the first day or so. I suppose I feared I would play when I was to work or vice versa.
But I came to realize, Dustin was a “real guy”. A night owl like me, he was less interested in a conventional grind, and more interested in ideas; and ideas came in their own time. Banging your head against a keyboard for eight hours won’t produce ideas. It was a collaborative atmosphere of familiarity and sharing of ideas that created further ideas. Sometimes, beer pong brings out the genius in people.
We went like this for a few days, suffering the heat in the brief moments that we left the sanctuary of air conditioning. We decided that we would do Karaoke and drink, though not in that order. We found a roadhouse bar that lived up to every expectation I had about what a bar in Texas should look like. We drank beer in between shots and did Karaoke, some better than others and all better than me. For the curious, I sang “Red Solo Cup” by Toby Keith.
In the middle of the merriment, my boss leaned over and asked, “What do you think?” I confessed that I was overwhelmed; I had been sleeping in bed one minute, and the next I was in Texas with my boss’ boss. At a karaoke bar. I raised the latest round and repeated a line I’d already heard Dustin use several times: “living the dream.”