What started out as a bold marketing campaign for Sirus and a possibility for grown-up children like us to live a dream, turned out to be a tremendous success for both parties.
No clue what I, Pascal Desmet, .NET Consultant at Sirus , am talking about? I will give you some background information explaining the previous statement.
Sirus is a planet in a Marvel comic series (hence the name of the company and a first look inside our CEO’s head😊). How do you get people to extraterrestrial locations? With a spaceship of course. And what do you call people who fly spacecrafts? Astronauts, you guessed it.
How can we tie this all together and link it to ‘Sirus went to NASA?
Let’s back up a good 2 years. Someone at Sirus produced the idea of calling the employees ‘astronauts’ from that day forth. That would make each of them extraordinary. And what do you do with extraordinary people? You send them to a magical world. Not the one with pink unicorns and creeks filled with your favorite whisky, no, Cape Canaveral, Orlando, Florida, home to a bunch of palm trees and to ‘NASA’.
Yes, the plan was drawn up, set in motion, and executed as promised. All new employees who started at Sirus in 2022 (and their denouncers) visited the Kennedy Space Center in Florida in March 2023. NASA could be checked off our bucket list.
My heart soared with delight when I received a confirmation email inviting me to embark on the journey to visit NASA.
Never was a fifty-year-old child so happy. The preparations for our journey could now begin.
Renewing my International passport.
Filling in my TSA Pre-Check and acknowledging I did not, nor plan to execute a terroristic act in the upcoming 6 months. Free custom passage in America was now guaranteed.
Making my suitcase, including a package to take care of my personal hygiene, some carry-on luggage - with spare underwear in case the main luggage gets lost (after all, you have to be prepared for anything, right?).
Finished packing and now we’re almost there. I’m already counting down the days and hours before departure.
Day 1: Brussels - Orlando
D-day, day 1! At 4 AM, I jumped out of bed, ate breakfast, said goodbye to my wife and dogs and drove to the rendezvous point to join my colleagues to carpool to the airport. We almost got to the airport without any hiccups when a first stressy moment occurred. Protagonist in this display of stress and panic: a snow-covered license plate which was causing trouble. The camera system could not read the license plate and would therefore not allow us into the parking lot. Trying to scan a QR code from multiple smartphones did not get us any further. Accepting our defeat against the parking machines, we ended up pressing the help button. We explained the situation, threw in some female charm, and a few minutes later we met with our other colleagues who were already waiting in the lobby.
Sirus is the breeding ground of prepared people – as was illustrated 10 minutes before check-in. We were handed a label and an extra belt to put on our luggage and a baseball cap with the Sirus logo on it to keep the bright hot Florida sun out of our eyes. Check-in went without problems, seats lined up perfectly for most of the group and our 2 giants were given seating with extra leg room several rows before us. This gave us a pleasant view on the back heads of our BFG’s (you know who the words come from; please do not sit on me next time we meet 😊).
The day is March 8th, the only day it snowed in Belgium. We all know what that means. Gridlock on the highways, vegetation instantly dying, hoarders buying up all toilet paper. We – the Sirus team – were caught off guard, but that is not what you expect from your pilot. We apparently drew the short straw and ended up with a pilot who presumably just signed his first 8 flight hours on his flight hour counter… He was apparently unaware of the fact that your airplane must be de-iced before takeoff. When he finally asked to de-ice his plane, he was too late and was sent back to the back of the queue with more than 10 planes ahead and a delay of more than 2 hours.
Once airborne, he had the audacity to promise to try to make up for the lost time. We started to wonder whether he was delusional? Or perhaps he was suffering from a lack of oxygen in the cockpit? Or, no, I know, he probably had a Superman complex! I don’t know what came over him stately announcing this promise, but when we missed our connecting flight in Newark, I was well aware he was no Superman. But hey, we were on holiday, nothing could bring us down.
We collectively started singing kumbaya, which instantly set off the fire alarm in the lobby of the security check, causing us to queue for the better part of an hour with a blazing alarm in our ears, nice… Flight 2 that day, however, took us to where we needed to be, and the hotel shuttle was on time. A short drive later, we ended up in our hotel, checked in and gathered back at the restaurant for a quick bite with the entire group.
As it was after 10 PM and I had been awake from 4 AM, I was tired as hell. Time to go to bed looking forward to the next day.
Day 2: Disneyland
Well rested (yes Marc, it is printed in black and white, I slept well despite all attempts made to keep me awake 😊), we saw each other back at the breakfast table. Some of us did not have such a good night and received a small comfort animal with their breakfast. They did, however, experience some relief as they bit into the crispy bits of bacon. We found out this piece of pig is good to order with almost anything. I would not have been surprised if they asked me ‘with bacon’ if I had ordered a smoothy.
For your breakfast, you get two options with one common – and typical American – starting point: it must be a lot. Do you want your food to be greasy, or do you want it to be super sweet? If it isn’t greasy bacon being served, it’s a liter and a half of maple syrup you get with your breakfast. But prioritizing the quantity, I, personally, am a big fan of the free refills you get for your coffee.
Well-fed, we headed towards the mother of all amusement parks: Disneyland. And what is the preferred means of transportation in America? Right: Uber. As Forrest Gump said – Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get – we too never knew what Uber driver we were gonna get. During the long drives, some of them did not talk, others made a loooot of small talk. I am not sure if the colleague who sat “shotgun” that day understood his driver correctly, but he reported to us a conversation in which the Uber driver told him about his struggles to get through the long hours because of his hemorrhoids. Hmmm? I know who that colleague is, and as far as I’m concerned, he is ‘the mole’, messing up the translation and lying to our faces without blinking. I will keep my eye on you and question everything you say from now on.
Happy to be able to leave the car of deceit and non-transferable illnesses, we found ourselves at the gates of fun and entertainment. We received our entrance ticket, pinned on our first-time-visitor badge – causing the Disneyland employee to greet us even more friendly – and skipped into the park. As the good father he is, our COO Jochen arranged a meeting point and time for us to return to our hotel.
During the first few minutes, we listened to each other’s preferences about what to do in the park, and eventually two groups were formed: a group of daredevils and adrenaline junkies and a second group of – be nice Pascal, don’t write what you think – … a second group of very loveable and calmer people. That is the good part about such a large amusement park. You have fast rides, slow rides, and no rides at all. Everyone can have a great time doing whatever they want.
Disneyland is all that you expect of it. It is pristine, not one piece of rubbish on the floor, friendly staff, and a lot to see and do. Waiting in line before stepping into a new attraction is not a punishment when you do it with your very enjoyable colleagues. It gives you time to talk about all that’s important and less important and you get the chance to get to know each other better. Thank you all for sharing your thoughts with me during the – sometimes long – queues.
Day 3: NASA
I am a Trekkie. I can’t deny it.
NASA, the final frontier
These are the voyages of the Sirus gang
Its five-day mission
To explore strange new places
To seek out new experiences
And bond in brotherhood
To boldly go where pineapple on pizza is allowed.
A mantra going through my head during the short hour drive to the Kennedy Space Center. We arrived early so we didn’t have to wait to hop on a bus driving us closer to the launch pad and the surrounding exhibition places.
We drove by the building where rockets are prepared for takeoff. It is so big that a bus can drive on one of the stripes of the flag painted on the side without touching its neighboring stripes. That’s how big it is. The Colosseum of Rome fits on the roof with some space on all sides to walk around it. Impressed, yes, but for me it was not seeing a moon lunar, old and new space suits or the real-life sized Apollo and Atlantis rockets that struck the most.
As impressive as it was, what struck me most was the way all shows built up to the recognition and awe of man’s tremendous achievement of leaving the third rock of the sun and going into outer space. The over-the-top and good news shows are there to show the greatness of America. And they can be proud of what they did. I find it extraordinary as well. They did, as expected, a swell job of turning the entire center into one great environment of fun and facts. And even if it is in a too small corner not all that visible, they did honor the astronauts that lost their lives during the many failed missions.
Filled with known and new facts, I was just as happy to be able to sit down and look forward to filling my tummy. And what better way to do this than to head off into town with the entire group and crash into a local diner? An alcoholic cocktail for those who brought their passport, otherwise no luck. You can be as gray as an old fox, no proof of your year of birth, no alcohol for you. Some percentage later and a hamburger heavier, half of the group called it a night, the other half disappeared into the dark and vibrant streets of the city. But, what happened in Orlando stays in Orlando. After all, we never did get a clear and consistent explanation of what occurred that night.
Day 4: Basketball game
On day 4 there was a basketball game planned for the evening: Orlando Magic versus Miami Heat. That meant our schedule was clear until 4 PM. Research by a colleague brought to light that it was the last weekend of the Daytona Harley Motorcycling Event. The alternative was alligator spotting in the Everglades. Simple math steered me to the motorcycle event. Even though I am not that much of a Harley fan (or any other motorcycle for that matter), I thought my chances of survival were higher when facing a Hells Angel instead of an alligator.
I have a vivid memory (and bruises) of the Uber driver getting us there. This time, we ended up with a man we all guessed was 45 to 50 years old. It turned out he was a 65-year-old veteran and a hell of a storyteller. Some of the things he told us wouldn’t even make an R-rated movie. As a former basketball player, I am used to receiving some elbow hits. Our storyteller had the nasty habit of throwing in an elbow or two himself. And in his enthusiastic way of ending a story, those punches landed, 65 years or not. He dropped us off a few blocks away from the main street and after a small walk along the shore, we headed towards the main attraction.
Never ever have I seen so many normal and custom-built bikes together. Some of them equipped with a stereo installation that could be used in a dancing, others with a rough looking female co-rider able to produce the same number of decibels.
After several hours in the main street gasping at all that loud violence driving past, we went to the beach to see a rocket launch from Cape Canaveral. Lady Fortuna was not kind to us as the launch was postponed and cancelled that day. But as I prefer my glasses always half full, I got to see the friendly side of the Daytona residents. Strolling along the beach, we met 2 people throwing a football (the American version, not the European one) at each other. I wondered aloud if they would pass me the ball if I held out my hands toward them. And behold, a 20-meter pass landed straight in my hands, lucky me still remembered to put my thumbs behind the ball (thank god for basketball training), otherwise I would’ve come home with a broken nose.
One of them taught me how to throw a football and so the afternoon ended on a positive note, me learning another skill.
Lingering around the beach and waiting for the launch caused us to return a tad too late. We told the Uber driver we needed to be back in Orlando before 4 PM to be on time for the basketball game. As everyone was leaving Daytona at the same time all main roads were congested. Fortunately, we had a driver who lives in the area and knew the back roads. On that drive, we saw the lesser blessed part of society. Poverty, as you probably all have seen before on TV, cuts in deeper if you actually see it in person.
Thanks to the Uber driver – who wondered why Belgium hadn’t already conquered Luxemburg and thought we actually lived in the European castles – we got back in time. A quick rinse in the shower and I was ready to root for home team Orlando. An NBA game is something different from a basketball game in Europe. The entertainment before and during the game is mind-blowing. You do not have a single minute of rest. We’ve seen a good match with a heart-pounding ending. A buzzer-beater tied the score, and we were blessed with extensions. Orlando, said to be the lesser of the two teams, won with a score of 126 – 114.
Day 5: Orlando - Brussels
Last day in Orlando, Florida. We still had half a day. Our flight left in the afternoon. What should we do? Go into town? Visit a mall? Is that something I want to cross from my bucket list? Nope, too tired and I needed some alone time. It was 22 degrees; the sun was shining and the water in the pool was calling my name. I took it easy and charged my batteries for the trip to come. We were flying overnight to Brussels, so that could’ve been a heavy trip if I wasn’t able to sleep during the flight.
Suitcases packed, final check of the room and the door closed for the last time. What happened in Orlando stays in Orlando, but we couldn’t.
Everyone who didn’t have the name Ben Desmet on his passport had to go home. The lucky geezer extended his stay to Dallas to visit an old schoolmate.
Jealous as I was, I could take peace in the fact that he too had to come back to Belgium one day and the fact that I had a tremendously good time with twelve other people I’m proud to call ‘my colleagues from Sirus’. I thank each and every one of you for being so unique, bringing different insights and still fitting perfectly right in in the world of Sirus.