New experiences, new places and new people keep life interesting. This week brought two authentic individuals along my path, an exiled Amish man who zigzags the country with a major moving company and an exotic animal trainer who gives leadership seminars using live animals, namely lions, tigers, macaws and primates.
I knew I had seen Dan Stockdale's face before, but I was not sure where. His professional presence quietly split the crowded dining room. So, I introduced myself, made some small talk and began relationship building. It took a couple of these impromptu meetings before I inquired about his line of work. "I am a business consultant," he said humbly -- I knew there was something concealed, something wild about him -- "who uses exotic animals in live presentations," he continued. The curious journalist in me took the bait and he knew it. For the next several minutes I played 20 questions with him, learning of his background, his passion for wildlife conservation and his busy speaking itinerary. We exchanged information and he handed me the most unique business card I had ever seen.
After work that night I came home and began surfing his web site, remembering where I first saw him. On a live FOX News cast in September of 2006, I recalled watching an interview with a well-spoken man who delivered great key messages with an on-air comfort that would make most actors and politicians jealous. On Sept. 4, 2006, not even a week before, Stockdale and the world had lost a champion of animal conservation and education, Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin. That night, Stockdale talked about his personal friend Irwin, his life of conservationism and sting ray revenge killings on the news. It was an impressive interview because of Stockdale's poise, knowledge and expertise.
On Stockdale's site, I found several other interview clips and noteworthy media mentions that lend credibility and proof of this man's success. Stockdale never "name dropped" nor boasted, and I respect him for it. He was authentic, humble, confident and successful.
Authenticity can come in many forms. John was the second such individual I met this week.
I met John early Friday morning after my good friend Adam abruptly interrupted the last good hour of sleep. Adam was desperate when I opened the door, which he had spent the last few minutes banging on. It seemed the tractor-trailer Adam had hired to move his family back to Albuquerque, N.M., couldn't squeeze beneath the drooping power lines in our neighborhood. Adam needed some help renting a U-Haul in order to shuttle his household goods to the semi parked a few blocks away.
After getting ready in a flash, Adam and I rushed off, secured a U-Haul and picked up the moving company guys. The older of the two, Don, looked like Paul Sr., owner of Orange County Choppers. Don was the driver, delegator and a character of his own. John, on the other hand, was extremely quiet and obedient. When he spoke, an Eastern European accent could be detected.
About an hour into this move I asked about his ancestry. "I used to be Amish," John meekly replied. I wasn't expecting that answer and looked puzzled. "AH-MISH," he said slowly to help me understand through his accent. Again, the curious journalist awoke and 20 questions was on. I knew he would be reluctant to answer the meaty questions about his religious background and reasons for leaving the community, so I focused on more general questions about his current lifestyle and love life. Even then he was reluctant to discuss details with a stranger. I understood and went pack to lugging boxes, making small talk and learning how the exiled Amish community is growing and how much and how quickly John had assimilated into American culture. Only two years ago, John left his unique heritage behind.
Growing up Amish, John didn't get to travel much outside his community in Ohio, he said. Now, he zigzagged the United States on a month basis, working in the shadows of New York skyscrapers, walking the beaches of Miami and driving over the Continental Divide. The only hard part was packing up people's dishes, carrying valuables up and down flights of stairs, staying away from his girlfriend for spans up to three weeks and eating at truck stops nationwide.
Traveling in Don's big rig made it easier though. This large truck had more luxuries than John could ever dream of, a personal shower, microwave oven, refrigerator, Plasma screen TV, X-Box, and DVD player. The striking contrast in lifestyles was a different as black and white, Amish and Tech.
"I can't wait to have two days off. I'll play this," he said holding up his Nintendo Dual Screen.