Journal (07Jul11)by Tourguide on Tue 05 Jul 2011, 12 AM CET, Views: 526
With my visit to SHAPE Army Health Clinic complete last week, all that was left was for me to lay eyes on Landstuhl Regional Medical Center’s three outpost clinics in Northern Italy, and meet with their staff. And while the trip to Belgium was drivable (8 hours roundtrip), a visit down to Italy was at least 12 hours each way. With modern communication technology being what it is, you may wonder …why bother?
Email, web-cams and the good ‘ol fashion phone (or “telephonic” communication as I’ve heard it referred to, hilarious) bridge those gaps with relative ease these days. This is all true, sure, but there is just no replacing the value of a face to face conversation and the ability to make judgments for yourself. There are a thousand and one details you’ll notice seeing a situation in person. Yes, it is a lot of work to travel across two countries for a walk through, but this is a major reason why I do it. As a manager it is important for employees to see that you are willing to go through that trouble. It lets them know they are *worth* the effort.
Having the chance to talk to an employee face to face and listen earnestly to their assessment builds a critical bond. Having the opportunity to shake their hand, look them square in the eyes and say ‘Thank You’ for their hard work matters. The employee sees you care, and the employee’s colleagues see that management values them. This in-turn raises the stock of your staff in their office. It’s a win all around. Management 101, it’s a shame more leaders don’t see that value of it.
So, off I went to Vicenza, Italy. Fortunately, the group I was going with saw the value in flying versus the ½ day drive it would take to get down there, and with gas prices being what they are we would certainly save money. Now with the skyrocketing airfare (pun intended) prices Stateside there would be little comparison, but in Europe there are *true* discount airlines. Forget Southwest Airlines, or TED where you can travel for a few hundred bucks, here in Europe we have something even better …Ryan Air.
Check out my side article on Ryan Air for my 2 euro cents on the pros and cons of discount airlines. $50 Ryan Air plane tickets purchased, the flight down to Venice was gorgeous. We flew through over the Alps with its mysterious mountain lakes, and down across the fields of Italy. Seeing the rivers begin to form into canals was very neat, check out my gallery of images from the flight. We landed in Marco Polo airport, which for some reason I found hilarious. I would ask someone what airport we were in and blurt out “POLO” the moment they began to say “Marco.” Hours of entertainment I assure you.
Marco, “…POLO”, airport was right outside Venice, but alas, our current business took us about 45 minutes in the other direction, so Venice would have to wait. The Army base we were visiting today was in Vicenza, another canal-laden, and equally scenic Italian city. So once I sorted out the rental car situation, off we went. I had brought my German GPS with me, fondly named Helga, to help navigate the roads. But we very quickly determined that, unlike anything else in Italy, the interstate system leading out to Vicenza was brand new, …like a few months old new.
The GPS was no help steering us in the right direction and we took several passes through the same clover leaf interstate intersections. What was worse was that not only did every wrong turn put us 15 minutes in the wrong direction (as there were few places to get off the interstate to flip around), but there were toll booths at every bypass. We began racking up quite the tally as we skated back and forth through these euro-guzzlers. Eventually, we managed to get ourselves sorted out and headed in the right direction.
Unfortunately, I was a little too eager in finally heading the right way on the correct interstate, because I accidentally drove through the speed pass lane of the last toll gate. This wouldn’t have been so bad except for the fact that this particular toll booth required you to pick up a ticket. Having done my fair share of driving on the Jersey Turnpike I know how this story finishes. It ends with you futily pleading your case to a tollbooth operator 20 miles later, only to be charged with the maximum ticket cost anyway.
Well, such was the case here. However, instead of a toll booth operator, I got an automated machine. Unable to get past this toll lane Gestapo, our only option was to drive *backwards* 50 yards out of the tollgate, and then pull off into some tollbooth employee service lane. You want a nice shot of endorphins, try driving backwards on an Italian interstate knowing you waived the coverage on your rental car. Good times.
After that fiasco I parked, and had to try and communicate with one of the Italian booth operators (clearly those working at tollbooths don’t count secondary languages in their skillsets). Eventually the “no biglietto” explanation got through and I was handed a whopping €60 bill. Yah, a $100 tollbooth ticket …in cash.
I tell ya, Italy was not starting off on the right foot.
This ominous prediction was furthered when I went to boot up my computer that night and got this screen. Talking to the IT computer techs at the clinic the next day didn’t go any better. They came out and asked me “So, when was the last time you backed up your files?”
This is the equivalent of a doctor coming out and asking you if you have a family history of cancer. That conversation is never going to end well.
Now, my computer issues wouldn’t have been such a big deal if I weren’t making a presentation for the Command suite and then the *entire* Medical Center the next day. I see some ad-libbing in my future for certain. Well, that’s why I get paid the big euro bucks, or something like that.
Still, life wasn’t all that bad. Vicenza it a gorgeous corner of the world, and the clinic here is world class. It’s less than 2 years old and is state of the art in every regard. Plus, you had to love the little Italian touches like frescos on the wall (created from photographs taken by the clinic’s own staff), the Italian statues greeting you in the lobby, and, oh yes, the espresso machines. Funny, you could even buy a fob which allowed you to buy coffee without the need for coins. Subscription coffee service, …only in Italy.
The clinic itself featured many very un-Army touches. The hallways were marble, there was plenty of natural light in the waiting rooms and the birthing centers looked like a page out of IKEA. Truly a beautiful facility with vibrant colored exam rooms and even a play area, for people of all ages. 🙂
The nicest thing I saw was the TV web-cam system set up in the mother-baby rooms. With so many soldiers deployed, this set up allowed them to be there virtually for the birth of their child, and to look in on mom and baby whenever they were able. The thought of families being separated during such an important time was heartbreaking, but at least here in the Vicenza Health Center the staff has gone through unprecedented lengths to bridge the distance the best way technology can.
Oh, and did I mention the clinic even presses its own olive oil? Yep, welcome to Italy.
Our first day of clinic tours and staff meetings aside, we were able to actually get out and about a little. My colleagues and I settled down in city-center platza for some mojitos and people watching. Fashion in Italy is fascinating. Men dressed very welll. In fact, it was down right impossible to tell the difference between someone who was Italian, …or gay. Even the US soldiers who came through had picked up much more flare in style than I had ever seen. Smart sunglasses, throwback polo shirts, and even high end loafers. Those who had been here a couple years even sported berets and, gasp, man purses. I can’t say I’d try it, but I must admit that it all kinda worked for them. These guys were sharp. When in Rome I guess, …or when up the street from Rome, ha ha.
Women dressed smartly as well. I guess this was to be expected, but I noticed that women at much older ages dressed up sharply too, and sexy. And this wasn’t your typical mom broke into her teenage daughter’s closet kind of wardrobe, it was all very classy and age appropriate. You just don’t see that much Stateside. Once we get married and have kids, its kinda the norm to start dressing like, well, moms and dads. I guess dad could still go out with a plaid sport vest and white linen pants while mom rocked Dolce Gabbana sunglasses, an LV purse, and full length floral lace skirt split all the way up to high heavens. Good for them for bringing sexy mom’s back.
Well, this is Italy, I doubt they ever left.
So that’s all for this week. Next blog I’ll return with details of my workout with the Sky Soldiers of Europe, the 173rd Airborne Infantry Brigade. All this and an IED explodes in my rental car.
Yikes, …should have gotten the coverage.