“I’m only in town one night! You gotta show me Geneva!”

by Isaac

Shafqat Islam’s phone was ringing. He rubbed his eyes and looked at the number on the screen. It said unknown, but he took the call anyway.

“Hi, this is Travis,” a voice said. “I know Lukas Biewald, and he said you were the only guy he knew in Switzerland.”

Islam, part of the tech team at Merrill Lynch Bank Suisse, sat up and wracked his brain.

Biewald? He had met the man once or twice, but he certainly didn’t know this Travis character.

“Let’s go out!” prodded the restless out-of-towner.

Islam resisted. It was getting late and he was tired. He wasn’t in the mood to give his night to a stranger.

“Come on, I’m only in town one night!” Travis persisted. “You gotta show me Geneva!”

Islam finally gave in. He hopped in his second-hand BMW, picked up Travis and took him to a favorite bar, where Islam learned a bit more about the mystery man. A tech founder named Travis Kalanick, he’d sold a startup for millions to Akamai. He was now an investor in a couple of companies, including CrowdFlower, which was run by their mutual friend. After a night of drinking and swapping tech war stories, the pair parted ways.

Source. Travis Kalanick is of course best known as the CEO of Uber.

Another Kalanick story:

A few years back, before Uber was anything more than an app used by a group of our friends, Travis was staying at my house in the mountains over the holidays. One morning before snowshoeing, my dad challenged Travis to a friendly Wii Tennis match. My dad is a competitive guy and used to enjoy playing in local, real-life tennis tournaments when I was a kid. He also had a Wii at home and considered himself versed in the virtual game. So, he thought it could be a good opportunity to dish out a little good-natured pain to Travis.

As the match kicked off, there was my dad in an athletic stance and confidently giving it his all. He might have even been sweating a bit. Yet, Travis was barely moving his arm or breaking his wrist. Though my dad hung in there and kept it close, Travis won every game.

That was when TK, with full Princess Bride panache, announced that he had been playing with his opposite hand, and promptly switched. Uh-oh. For the next 20 minutes, my dad didn’t manage to score a single point. He was completely skunked. Yet, looking over at Travis, it was clear he was still waking up.

The punchline?

Travis could tell my dad was feeling dejected. I mean, the poor guy was getting aced at least every other serve. A slight smirk came over TK’s face and he reached out to shake my dad’s hand, offering him a touch of consolation.

“I have a confession to make, Mr. Sacca. I’ve played a fair amount of Wii Tennis before.” While talking, he used his controller to navigate through the settings pages on the Wii to a list of high scores. “In fact,” he continued, “on the Wii Tennis global leaderboard, I am currently tied for 2nd in the world.”

I was reminded of the following:

Dagny and Eddie spent their winters trying to master some new skill, in order to astonish Francisco and beat him, for once. They never succeeded. When they showed him how to hit a ball with a bat, a game he had never played before, he watched them for a few minutes, then said, “I think I get the idea. Let me try.” He took the bat and sent the ball flying over a line of oak trees far at the end of the field.

When Jim was given a motorboat for his birthday, they all stood on the river landing, watching the lesson, while an instructor showed Jim how to run it. None of them had ever driven a motorboat before. The sparkling white craft, shaped like a bullet, kept staggering clumsily across the water, its wake a long record of shivering, its motor choking with hiccoughs, while the instructor, seated beside him, kept seizing the wheel out of Jim’s hands. For no apparent reason, Jim raised his head suddenly and yelled at Francisco, “Do you think you can do it any better?”

“I can do it.”

“Try it!”

When the boat came back and its two occupants stepped out, Francisco slipped behind the wheel. “Wait a moment,” he said to the instructor, who remained on the landing. “Let me take a look at this.” Then, before the instructor had time to move, the boat shot out to the middle of the river, as if fired from a gun. It was streaking away before they grasped what they were seeing. As it went shrinking into the distance and sunlight, Dagny’s picture of it was three straight lines: its wake, the long shriek of its motor, and the aim of the driver at its wheel.

Source: Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged.

Paul Carr explains how Rand’s “creepy, dangerous ideology” is responsible for very many bad things, including the Tea Party, Paul Ryan, the Koch Brothers, mean people, and annoying startup types who overuse the word ‘disruption’. Could it be responsible for Travis Kalanick, too? Carr thinks so.

Interestingly, Atlas Shrugged also features a progressive journalist character who runs a smear campaign against a successful businessman:

He saw the article, “The Octopus,” by Bertram Scudder, which was not an expression of ideas, but a bucket of slime emptied in public—an article that did not contain a single fact, not even an invented one, but poured a stream of sneers and adjectives in which nothing was clear except the filthy malice of denouncing without considering proof necessary.