I’ve been trying to interview Todd Carmichael for a while, because he’s going to do something rather ridiculous, and I love the ridiculous. Todd, the owner of La Colombe coffee, is going to hike to the South Pole to raise money for orangutans. Yeah, you heard me right. Todd, who has not done almost any physical training (but has quit smoking) in anticipation of this adventure, is trying to raise awareness of this animal, which will be extinct in less than 10 years if something doesn’t happen soon.
He told me to meet him at the Loews Hotel to do the interview on Monday morning, because he was going to be there to make an appearance on the local TV show 10!, which airs every morning on NBC 10 at 10 o’clock. Early on in the interview, Lauren Hart, co-host of the show and answer to this week’s question of the week, wandered over and began chatting with us. The result was a rather strange and interesting conversation, and I had the tape recorder rolling the whole time. Here are the highlights of that conversation.
JGT: Todd, you’re heading down to hike through Antarctica with very little training. I think the first question that pops into most people’s minds is, “Have you lost your mind”?
TODD: Yes. I was thinking it was either this or hike to Wayne, but I decided finally on hiking to the South Pole. I’ve never really walked on ice before. So this will be on the job training.
LH (To Todd): So, how do you know Johnny?
TODD: I used to play quizzo, and my team went from finishing last every week to actually winning in one of the biggest upsets ever.
LH: So are you an adventurer, an explorer, what do you call yourself?
TODD: I’m just a guy. This whole thing started one day when I was having cocktails at Rouge. Had a book with me, just sort of started flipping through it, and came across a piece about orangutans. I’m not a tree hugger, I don’t wear Birkenstocks, but this thing just struck a cord with me.
LH: So you love animals?
TODD: Well, I think everyone does.
LH: Not true. I mean, everybody likes animals, but not everybody loves them. Then again, no one really hates them either. You never hear anyone say, “I hate that elephant.” But not everybody will take the time to do anything about their love for animals.
TODD: Yeah, but I’m doing the easy thing. Think about this. There are 7,000 Sumatran orangutans, and they’re dying at a rate of 1,000 a year. It’s a no-brainer.
JGT: Robert Scott, one of the greatest and most experienced arctic and antarctic explorers ever, died trying to make it to the South Pole. You’re a coffee salesman who hasn’t been working out a whole lot. Is the smart money on you not making it back?
TODD: Scott died coming back from the South Pole. Me, I don’t have to come back. What happens is, this cargo plane is watching the web cam which is posted at the South Pole, and when they see me, they come in and land. I just have to camp out there for a while and wait for them.
JGT: So you haven’t been getting in shape for this?
TODD: Not really. This thing is more mental than it is physical. And the priority for me has been trying to raise money. So I’ve had the choice, I can either say oh, I’m going to take this free time and walk the treadmill or I can try to raise money. And I’ve elected to raise the money. And again the problem isn’t the physical part of it. I mean, I’m going to be walking day after day (he’ll be hiking for about three weeks) through terrain with no scenery and with too much equipment on to talk to my guide. So the real challenge isn’t physical, it’s trying not to go insane.
JGT: Are you worried about going nuts?
TODD: Well, I have an advantage, because I already am nuts, and I’ve learned how to function, so that won’t be a problem. And you know what, here’s the big deal, too. I’m a normal guy. And if I can accomplish something like this, helping to save a species by doing something like this, I think it proves that you don’t have to be some sort of superhuman to do anything. I’m not trying to save the world. I’m not aiming for world peace, I’m not trying to end hunger, those things aren’t possible. Great ideas, but they’re simply not possible. I’m doing this because it can be done. My goal is possible.
JGT: Why the orangutan? Why not the Yangtze River Dolphin or something?
TODD: I’m getting there. One step at a time.
LH: They’re beautiful animals. My parents were animal trainers, so I grew up around animals.
JGT: No kidding. I used to be as well.
JGT: Yeah, I worked with dolphins in Hawaii.
LH: My parents worked with dolphins.
JGT: Where, in Florida?
LH: Some of the time. There was a place here that had dolphins back then, so they worked there. I can’t remember the name of it. It came down in the 70’s. (After doing further research, Johnny discovered that she was referring to the Steel Pier, where her dad would perform 100 foot jumps into the ocean, and her mom would jump into water from a height of 40 feet-while riding a horse. To read more about Lauren’s intriguing background, click here.)
TODD: That’s right, I had forgotten that you were an animal trainer. And you just got offered some job in Mexico that you were considering, right?
LH: Working with dolphins?
JGT: The place has three facilities in Mexico, all of them in the Cancun area. I wasn’t real crazy about the way the animals were treated down there. They’re not as regulated as they are here, and people kind of take advantage of it. So that was my dilemma. Do I take this job, and try to make things better, or do I just try to forget that it exists? It’s a very emotional job, and putting that much of your heart into something is frustrating and exhausting.
LH: My brother works with birds, and it’s a dilemma for him. Should he catch birds to study them, or should he only look on from a distance in the wild?
TODD: I’m not a big fan of zoos or Marine Land and things like that, but they do raise the level of awareness and that is really important. Now, you might have to do stupid things, like put a bird in a cage, or teach a dolphin to go backwards on it’s tail, or hike to the South Pole, but the greater goal is something much bigger than that.
LH: (to me) How did you get involved in training?
JGT: It was pretty random. I moved out to Hawaii right after college and got the job there.
LH: You lived in Hawaii? I used to live in Hawaii.
JGT: Really? Where?
LH: I lived in Kuai.
JGT: My sister lived in Kaui for a while. I was on the Big Island.
LH: Did you always know you wanted to be a dolphin trainer since you were a kid?
JGT: No, it was completely random. I got a job in the video department at the facility, and just sort of worked my way up. It’s funny, because back then it was really hard to get a job in this field, and people were desperate for these jobs, and there I was, just sort of stumbling into it.
LH: That’s like my gig here. People are dying to get this job, and I just stumbled into it. I’ve only been here like three months. I came on as a guest one time and they were like, “Do you want a job with us?” and I was like, “OK”. And now sometimes I’m like, “Oh, no, I’m not really a morning person”, and my mom’s like, “People would kill for that job. Now shut up and get in there.” But it’s kool. I like it. I like talking to people and love getting to know people, so it’s fun. I found most people to be really interesting (to JGT) Why did you move here?
JGT: I had done the whole exotic thing and I was still in my twenties, still single, so I wanted to see if I could make it in the big city. I looked at apartments in NY, but that was just too much, so I ended up here. It wasn’t all that great at first, though. I was working at a restaurant where I had to dress up in colonial clothes.
TODD: No, wait, you were working at a restaurant where you had to dress up in “I see dead people” clothes?
LH: Well, that’s kool.
JGT: No it’s not. It’s not kool. In fact, it couldn’t be less kool. It’s like being a circus clown, but without that much dignity.
TODD (to Lauren): What kind of job did you have before this?
LH: Songwriter. I still do some of that. It’s nice. I work here from about 9-1, and then I take a break, and then I go to the studio at about five. (Click here to go to Lauren’s official website.)
JGT: Now what were you doing when you were in Hawaii?
LH: I was surfing and singing at a resort. I worked like one day a week, and they gave me a car and a place to stay. It was great. I did that, and then I lived Europe for five years.
LH: I lived in the South of France.
TODD: Really? So did I.
JGT: How random is this, that she and I both lived in Hawaii, and you two both lived in the south of France.
LH: Yeah, I was working at a club down there. And the French are different about music. I would be singing with Sinatra one week, and with the Gypsy Kings the next. I loved it there.
JGT: What were you doing there, Todd?
TODD: I was working with the Saud prince. And they said, “Where do you want to live? We can put you anywhere, as long as it’s near an airport”, so I said, “The south of France.”
JGT: You were working for the Saudi prince? That sounds a little shady.
TODD: No, It wasn’t shady at all. The GNP is theirs, so they don’t really have to be shady.
LH: What was your job?
TODD: Well, the Prince was very educated, a very smart guy, but he didn’t know the ways of the Western World. So I would just sort of tag along and make sure he knew the people he was talking too and kind of help steer the conversation. For example, he might talk to someone like Kissinger, and I would tell him what kind of things he could and could not talk about, and give him a little bit of background on Kissinger.
JGT: Are you nervous about this trip?
TODD: To be honest, I’m not nervous about the hike. I’m nervous about the plane ride, though. I’m going to leave South America in an unpressurized cargo plane with no windows for a seven hour flight. So I’m nervous about that.
JGT: Is there anything else to do down there besides…walk?
TODD: Well, I brought a kite and I’m going to do some kiteboarding once I get there. Jason, my guide, is bringing an ironing board. You heard of extreme ironing?
TODD: Well, he’s going to bring an ironing board and iron at the South Pole.
JGT: Oh, that’s real? I though that was a farce.
TODD: No, it’s real. He’s going to be the first person to extreme iron at the South Pole.
JGT: That’s awesome. Well, good luck, dude.