The Hershey Hotel, where I spent the last week at a sales meeting for one my clients, is a grand affair.
Built during the Great Depression, the architecture was imported from an Egyptian hotel which Milton S. Hershey stayed at during a trip in the 1920s. The result is impressive: a little bit Gatsby, a little bit Indiana Jones, and a lot bit Willy Wonka.
Hershey was a late-life success story who pioneered adding milk to caramel as a preservative, and who built an incredible fortune by doing so. Not content to be merely rich, Hershey was a model philanthropist.
Hershey pledged there would be no unemployment -– at all -– in his town during the Great Depression, and backed up his words by building hotels and theaters and banks and schools and everything else. He even paid workers to build row houses, and then sold the very same homes back to the workers. At cost.
Milton and his wife Catherine had no children, but founded a school for wayward boys in 1905. Today, the Hershey Foundation oversees that school, providing a completely free education (including room, board, clothing and food) to underprivileged youth. If the students can maintain a B average through graduation, they get $80k of their college paid for too. The school's endowment, managed from the original donation of $60 million provided over 100 years ago, is now well over $7 billion.
In his eponymous hotel, a towering mural hangs behind the grand Iberian bar, portraying a bustling Egyptian boat dock. As the bartender will happily tell you, the image of the dock is a "trompe l'oeil" ... a trick of the eye ... that makes the center feature of the picture follow you, wherever you stand in the room.
Maybe it was the setting, or maybe it was the company, but the old world hotel framed some great conversations over the course of the week. At one point, I found myself talking with a young woman who was an impressively responsible diabetic.
By "responsible" I mean that every couple minutes, she pulled out an iPod-like monitoring device to input how many calories she'd sipped down. The device would then calculate her needed insulin dose, and push it straight into her bloodstream through a tiny port on her skin.
With my own experience in ports, I couldn’t help but ask about hers. From there, the conversation naturally moved on to larger, more sobering anecdotes of personal health. I told her a few of mine, and she told me a few of hers.
Because of an unfortunate family heritage of cancer, as well as her own closely monitored health, she'd been genetically tested several years ago and discovered that she had all the markers for a future date with breast cancer. The personal tragedy would be inevitable, as would the ripple of impact through her family and friends.
And so, as a mother of two, she took action. She chose the path of short-term hardship over the tragedy living just over the horizon. She had a “radical masectomy.”
Earlier in the week, I’d been greeted at my mailbox by the new issue of the Economist. Trust me, having a subscription to the mag is a lot less intellectually formidable than it sounds. The writing is straightforward. The articles are pretty short. And even though it comes out every week, I can usually make time to read one or two of the articles during bathroom breaks.
One of the things I enjoy about the magazine is the political neutrality of it. It calls itself a "newspaper" and it focuses for the most part on facts, not philosophies. It's also published by Brits, providing a welcome perspective on our increasingly dysfunctional American political system. The cover story of this issue, however, practically made me vomit.
Apparently, acceptance of climate change has become the new green. Congress is doing it. Bill McKibbon is doing it. Yvon Choinard is doing it. And so is the NY Times.
We've chosen the path of long-term tragedy over of short-term hardship, of doing nothing versus doing something, and of putting off sacrifice until the day after tomorrow.
What a kick in the nuts.
The good folks at Quark Expeditions are giving away a trip to the North Pole on a Russian icebreaker to any blogger who can whip up the winds of web traffic and get it to blow real, real hard .
They call the $54k adventure a “trip of a lifetime." Understatement alert.
Unless things change, unless some egos can be throttled back a few gears, unless some obvious responsibility can be embraced by leaders, by governments, by groups and by individuals … it’ll be one of the last trips ever to see a snow-covered North Pole.
Whoever goes – whether it's me, you, or somebody much more deserving – it would be worthwhile to have them partner up with a young girl or boy on the adventure. Someone who’s not just punching a bucket list or using it to fluff their own web career. Someone who's innocent enough to talk some sense into our leaders. Someone who can help put a face on the tragedy that we have been tested for and that we know that is coming.
And if not, maybe they’ll just be a witness. One of the last remaining humans to actually be there, back in the day, when snow covered the poles.
Their tales will seem like the stuff of legends, most likely, like the grainy black and white photography filling the grand hallways of an old world hotel.