Posted by ws1 on:
On Sunday, I rode my bike a few sweaty blocks to the Earth Day festival - which always seems to land on unbelievably hot days. I almost didn't bring my camera (the extra weight and awkwardness of riding with an SLR in the heat didn't sound fun) but decided to do it hoping that I might get lucky and snap a few nice shots for City2.
When I got to Alemeda Park, I did some milling around, looking for tents that had something new, or interesting (or shade). As always, the folks there (sweating in the afternoon heat) were far more pleasant and upbeat than they should have been.
After a few interesting conversations (about the proposed expansion of Elings park or or how to get organic food delivered to your doorstep etc) I weaved through the hula-hooping hippies, nearly naked (possibly drunk) 20-something party girls and fire dancers, to talk to a friend I saw hanging out near the Twin Productions music tent. As soon as I shook his hand, I heard over the loudspeakers that Elon Musk and Louis Capps (among others) were due on stage shortly to receive Earth Day Environmental Heros Awards. I was suddenly thrilled to have been lugging around my camera (which was now stuck to my back). I asked my friend, "did he just say Elon Musk?". My friend nodded, and then nervously scanned the area with his eyes (maybe for clues?) feeling a little self-conscious that he had no idea who Elon Musk was - especially after seeing the excited expression on my face. He finally said, "yeah, he's that really cool musician right?"
At that point, we had a wonderfully awkward conversation. My friend (we'll call him Chuck) was embarrassed to not know who Musk was (and I started making self-deprecating comments about myself being a big enough internet dork to know who he was in the first place). Anyway.. now we're on the same page and have agreed that:
A: Musk is God. B: I am still a big dork. and C: It was high time to hunt down smoothies to prevent total heat stroke.
But first, we had to listen to the award ceremony.
Now, liking Louis Capps is kind of a given if you live in Santa Barbara. Even people who disagree with her politics have a fondness and respect for her many years of honest and genuine service to our community. So it was great to see her all fired up to present the awards.
I had a similar happy feeling about seeing 14 year old Kids vs Global Warming founder Alec Loorz receive his award. Awesome person. It's great to see people so young so committed to making positive change.
But Elon Musk! If you don't know who he is, don't feel bad..The crowd didn't seem to either. He isn't exactly a household name (yet).
Musk is a stunningly successful (and impressively young and altruistic) entrepreneur. At 37, his resume looks a little like this: He dropped out of a Stanford High-Energy Physics grad program to found 'Zip2' (which provided online publishing software for news organizations) and sold it for $307M (in cash) plus another odd $30Million in stock options in 1999. He went on to co-found X.com which later became PayPal. He is currently the founder and CEO (and CTO) of SpaceX (Space Exploration Technologies), which develops efficient space launch vehicles. And if that weren't enough new-model-entrepreneurship for you, he also launched Tesla Motors, which is a car company builds high end EV roadsters (which were of course on display - and stealing the show - at the car show portion of Earth Day). Musk is also the Chairman of the board at Solar City. Both companies underlying purpose is to combat global warming. If you'd like to know more about him, try here.
Getting to shake his hand (and nearly fall over myself telling him that I was a fan) was an unexpected and happy surprise. He was very polite and humble as we spoke for a minute. Then, quietly excusing himself, he was off (in the direction of the smoothies - now I couldn't go or I'd look like I was a stalker).
It is great to see (and sometimes even meet) entrepreneurs who realize that 'doing the right thing' and 'making money' aren't necessarily diametrically opposed. In an age with so much corporate corruption and looking out for #1 mentality, it's refreshing to see an increasing number successful companies (Google, Patagonia, etc) and individuals who are slowly proving that this new humanistic model for business is viable. I'm looking forward to seeing what Mr. Musk does next. My guess is Tesla Motors will be a household brand in less than 5 years and he'll have his hands full with interviews, and even more globetrotting to promote the project. But knowing him, he could be terraforming Mars at the same time.
Burnt, tired and perma-grinning, I walked my bike home. Happy to have been ambushed by a much better-than-expected day.
A final note on Earth Day: Each year, I am more and more impressed with the scope of the Earth Day Festival. My hat is off to the wonderful folks at the Community Environmental Council for orchestrating a meaningful local event.