Deke’s Excellent Adventures: A Rockstar Trip to L.A. & why it’s cool to make new friends.
For many year’s now I’ve described the strange, wide-ranging and often very cool and surreal situations I find myself in as basically the real life version of “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride”. Growing up I never expected to end up being friends with the late/great James Brown, to become mayor of the second largest city in Georgia for nine years, to have a tee shirt with my face on it worn by celebrities on movie sets or to unexpectedly end up in two movies starring Sandra Bullock. They say that truth is stranger than fiction which I can definitely attest to firsthand and the past week my wild ride rolled on with a mind-blowing, heart warming trip to Los Angeles.
In life I’ve always kept an open mind to the possibilities along the road ahead and I’ve honestly believed leading your life in this manner will lead you to intersecting with the lives of amazing people along your journey. So when my friend and confidante Tom Patterson offered to arrange a trip to the West Coast for me to meet some of his friends and explore new possibilities post mayordom (if that’s even a word) I was all in.
With this in mind I headed for California on February 10th with a head full of ideas and not much of a clue as to what I was going to experience or talk about in the gigs Tom had scheduled for me. I hadn’t been to Los Angeles since the late eighties when hair metal was king and two buddies and I decided to rent a car and spend ten days driving up and down the Pacific Coast Highway (Side note: glad there was no social media at that point). Needless to say, the entertainment capital of the world has changed a bit since I was in my twenties and my ideas about what I would get myself into on my visit had as well.
The pursuit of a very cool, chill and productive trip began with a visit to be a guest on “Business Rockstars” at their new studios in lovely downtown Burbank. I had watched the program/show online and was immediately set at ease by the host and creator Ken Rutkowsi. Although he’s originally from the Midwest, Ken is definitely the epitomy of California cool while at the same time reflecting a genuine and heartfelt intellectual curiosity about the personal stories of his guests and an amazing want to learn about all things new and entrepreneurial. Basically, he’s just a great guy and a natural leader. I could tell by watching his past interviews that he makes his guests feel comfortable, while at the same time asking poignant and thought provoking questions, which is exactly what he did with me. Positive information sharing to benefit others is his forte and he simply does it with masterful style. (https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=ZWyPLQzU8hQ)
After a great lunch and a drive through Pacific Palisades with my buddy Tom the following day, we headed to dinner with an eclectic group of game-changers who were all rockstars in my book. Ironically, or perhaps not, some of them actually were rockstars whose music I had come to know and love. With Ken leading the pack and Tom crafting the intros, I had the blessing of having a free flowing conversation with Jay Sammit, Scott Page, Richard Gibbs, Elissa Fisher Harris and Jemie Sae Koo. The conversation ultimately centered around music, transforming the world of politics and how best to affect change for the better in the world we live in (Some of my all time favorite topics). As these are all extraordinarily humble, great hearted people there’s no need for me to include a list of the things they’ve contributed to making the world a better place. Just suffice it to say that you do, in fact, live in a better world because of their efforts. All in all it was a spectacular evening and I look forward to continuing the dialogue with my new friends and seeing where our collective ideas may lead.
The next morning I got up early and ubered it over to the historic Crest Theater to attend and speak at my first METal International (Media, Entertainment & Technology Alpha Leaders) event. The group, founded and helmed by my new friend Ken, is an extraordinary group of dynamic entrepreneurs and change-makers from these industries who gather every Saturday for talks with high profile thinkers to promote connecting ideas and collaboration in their community. My talk with Ken focused on how politics can be disrupted by doing things differently having had the experience of being elected three times as mayor with an average of 64% of the vote by taking a business like approach, always staying positive and keeping it to the high ground.
The message was well received, the feedback positive and being around such a forward thinking, energetic and extremely intelligent group of guys was like breathing pure oxygen for me. Fortunately after following my buddy Tom’s remarks at the grand opening of Unisys the week prior I didn’t have to follow him that day as his talk on “Rogue Spies A New Layer of Threat” basically blew me and the rest of the audience away.
My final day in California began with a two hour hike with about a hundred people from METal on the Temesca Canyon trail in Santa Monica. At the beginning of the hike I bumped into Mark Goulston who I had briefly met at the METal event the day before. Mark is one of the nation’s leading psychiatrists and a best selling author who’s on an audacious and inspiring mission to help stop school shootings. In what was one of those “man, this world is so small” moments, Mark asked me if I was familiar with the “Lead Like Jesus” ministry which was actually started here in Augusta and is headed up by Phyllis Hendry, a longtime, cherished family friend. The ministry is based on a best selling book by Phil Hodges and Ken Blanchard who Mark is seeking to enlist to help with his efforts. Naturally, this opening connection at the start of the hike led to two hours of great conversation regarding leadership, how best to contribute to the fabric of the world around us and ways that we could potentially work together in the future.
During the hike, Mark asked if he could do an on camera interview with me later in the day. The idea was to basically have a conversation about leadership which he would figure out how best to use to help get out my message of how and why politics as usual need to be disrupted in an age when political dialogue has devolved to a new level of anger, rudeness and divisiveness. I happily obliged and we met later that afternoon for a candid and wide-ranging conversation that I ultimately know Mark, a humble man and a marvelously compassionate human being, will find a way to put to good use.
When I rose at five o’clock the next morning to fly back to Augusta, I had a wonderfully groggy “Wizard of Oz” moment. I rubbed my eyes, shook my head, smiled and wondered if this truly transformative experience with some of the most amazing people I had ever met had really happened or if I would I wake up the next morning like Dorothy back in Kansas (or Georgia to be more precise).
After leaving office I had somewhat assumed that my wild ride had come to an end and that my life would ultimately become a much more mundane, run of the mill cycle of daily occurrences without a whole lot of excitement to fill in the gaps. Fortunately I was very wrong in that assumption.
As I boarded the plane it became crystal clear to me what had just happened: in a new phase of my life I’d managed to still keep my mind open to the possibilities and the wild ride wasn’t over but was actually only just beginning.
As I write this I can feel the world opening up in front of me and I can’t wait to see where the road may lead. Oh yeah, and one more cool thought to start off this new chapter of the story of my life that continues to unfold: you’re all invited to take the ride with me!
(Note: This story is dedicated to my good friend Tom Patterson without whom this trip would never have been possible! Thanks for sharing your amazing friends with me brother! Also, special thanks to my wife Malisa for being cool with me spending Valentine’s Day traipsing around the Santa Monica mountains! You’re the best!)