Sunday, October 25, 2009

My Interview with Pam the Blam - Part One


Last Friday, I had the opportunity to chat at length with Pam the Blam on a wide-ranging set of topics, including her childhood, travels, life experiences, book, and -- of course -- her involvement with P90X.

She spoke to me from Denver, where she relocated after leaving Los Angeles and traveling around Panama and Guatemala. I found Pam to be a warm, open and genuine; after interviewing her, there's no question in my mind why "Pam the Blam" is one of the most common search terms that lead people to my blog.

But even after substantially editing down the transcript of our hour-and-a-half conversation, I realized that I couldn't fit the entire interview in one post, so I’ve broken it into four parts. I’ll post them all over the next few days, starting today.

Part One starts after the jump.


Hi Pam -- thanks for taking the time to speak with me today!

It's my pleasure.

I know you just recently relocated to Denver, but you also spent a few months in Panama and Guatemala earlier this year, and considered moving there.  What were some of the lasting experiences you came away with?

I’d never visited either of those places before, and I wanted to try to live in another country. I came away with a greater appreciation of life in the U.S. I also got to experience a different quality of life, and learn to live without those things that a lot of us think are so important. As a result, I have a completely different lifestyle now.

Is your lifestyle more Spartan now?

Definitely. Materialism and consumerism are prevalent in Los Angeles. When I moved out of L.A., I basically packed up and sold almost everything I owned. I just took the things that I thought I would need, and I actually ended up giving away even more things while I was traveling. I found out you can be happy even without a lot of things that people think are important.

You grew up in a military family, so can I assume that you moved around a lot when you were growing up?

Yes. It’s kind of in my blood. I’m really comfortable with change. I look forward to change, and I need it in my life.

Did your family’s military background also influence your decision to enter the Air Force?

No, it didn’t. I joined because I wanted to leave and see another part of the United States. When I was that age, I thought it was a good idea, but I wish that someone had said to me, “you know, Pam, that might not be the best decision for you because you don’t like being told what to do.” That’s exactly what the military’s all about. My dad was a Marine, and Marines tend to carry their military life into the home, so I was already familiar with living a disciplined lifestyle. I figured, I’ll join the Air Force. How tough can it be?

How did your parents react to your decision to enter the military?

My parents know the child they raised, so they knew I was willful. I had already moved out of their home by the time I was about 16 and a half or 17.  I went off and signed the papers [to enlist] when I was seventeen, and they had to co-sign because I was still a minor. I don’t think they were all that surprised – it was like, “there she goes again!”

Where were you stationed?

I was first stationed in New Jersey, which I chose because I’d never been to the East Coast before. After that, I went to the Azores, approximately 700 miles off the coast of Portugal in the middle of the Atlantic. And my last base was Edwards Air Force Base, which is where I had my Space Shuttle experience.

I was curious about that when you mentioned it on your blog. How did you manage to get yourself on the Space Shuttle?

I know -- at least in my lifetime, there’s only going to be a certain number of people on the planet who will ever be able to say that they were on a Space Shuttle!

At the time, I was a medical technician who dealt specifically with people are on flight status – the pilots, navigators, those kinds of folks – so when the Shuttle lands at Edwards, which it does whenever the landing is in California, we would be the first response team out there to make sure everything was okay. On this particular day, they thought there was some kind of a problem, so they cleared everybody out except me and a doctor. We got a chance to go in the Shuttle, and of course, he brought a camera with him, and we took pictures of each other sitting in the front seat of the Space Shuttle!

That’s amazing! How long did you stay in the Air Force?

Four years – that’s how long you have to stay. I did my four years and then I got out. But I don’t want to make it sound like, “Oh, it was so horrible.” I didn’t fully take advantage of all of the benefits offered by the Air Force like the opportunities for more travel, but I don’t regret joining the military because it did pay for my college tuition.

I’ve enjoyed reading your blog, but I’ve found that many of your posts have a strong existentialist undercurrent. You’ve pondered, for instance, if life is just “about pursuing the things that make you happy” and “biding your time until the end.” As a reader, I come away with a sense that you’re searching for fulfillment, but you’re not sure precisely what you’re looking for – all of which has left you sort of vaguely unsatisfied and unsettled. Or am I just imagining this?

Oh no, that is definitely not your imagination. I think I was very explicit in saying that I was – in the past tense – caught in this existential web of wondering. I believe that I’m here for a reason, but I have not yet figured out what that is. It can actually get you in trouble if you spend too much time in your head asking over and over: Why am I here? What is my purpose? I certainly took it to the nth degree with my musings, but I think this process is very human. I would be surprised if people aren’t questioning the reason for their existence.

Now, I’m more at peace with the fact that I’m on a journey, and I’m not going to get to any one destination and say, “oh, now I’ve discovered what my purpose is, and I can sit back and bask in my purpose.”  Because the end point is when you die – that’s the end of your journey. At the time [I blogged about this], I was definitely not at peace. I’m more at peace with it now, but it’s still there; I’m still wondering and thinking about these things. 

Also, it’s funny about the blog because it was meant to be just this little personal site for people to be able to follow me as I was traveling, so it’s much more intimate than appropriate for the general public – especially people who only know me through P90X. I kind of put the P90X reference in my blog as an afterthought because I’m proud of it, but I never expected anyone to find my site and then dig into my personal angst! [Laughs.] Some guy told me on Facebook, “Gee, I feel like I know too much about you from reading your ‘Pamela in Panama’ blog,” and I thought, I probably need to make that site private!

Well, to the extent I had a role in expanding the public awareness of your personal blog, I apologize.

[Laughs.] Actually, I think it’s good for people to read – I’m just a normal person with normal life struggles trying to stay fit, making my way through the world, dealing with relationship issues, and all that.

The other thing that really struck me is the line in your blog about how “to the casual observer, I have what could be called escapist tendencies both professionally and personally.” From your earlier comments, it sounds like you’re coming to terms with the realization that there may not be one singular thing that will fulfill you; instead, it’s the actual collection of experiences that ends up being your goal.

Yeah, I think that’s right. I had a very close friend also make that same suggestion using that same term – “collector of experiences.” In society, that’s not something that’s looked upon as productive and ambitious. You’re always supposed to be working towards one particular thing. But reflecting on my own life, I am collecting experiences, and they’ve all served me in certain ways up to this point.

Well, you’ve definitely collected some amazing but very different experiences in your life so far.  I’d like to ask you about some of the more intriguing ones. We’ve already covered the space shuttle incident, but you were also a private investigator, right?

Well, I’m not actually a private investigator.  I’m currently an investigator. That’s something that Tony said in the DVD, right? I think he referred to me as a “private investigator.”

Yes, and when I heard it, a “Magnum P.I.” kind of image shot into my head.

Well, I’m not that type of investigator. I do background investigations for people who need security clearances. I’m a contractor, so it’s a job that allows me to come and go as I please. I’ve been doing that for about 7 years now.

You’ve also been a contestant on “The Weakest Link.”

I was! If you live in L.A., you have to try to get on a game show. I’m a huge trivia buff, so I thought why not? I’ll give it a try. I think I made it down to the last three contestants, and I think we started with 6 or 7 so I didn’t do as great as I thought I’d do under the hot lights.

Is it an experience you’d want to do again? Maybe go on “Jeopardy!”?

I love “Jeopardy,” but I’m not smart enough to pass their test. I don’t have enough trivia knowledge in diverse subjects. There used to be a show called “Rock & Roll Jeopardy!” that I should have gone on, but they took it off the air very quickly.  There were so many contestants with such vast knowledge of music that they were just giving loads of money away.

I think Jeff Probst from “Survivor” was the host of that show.

So you remember it!

Yeah. I don’t know a lot about music, but I always thought it was a fun show to watch.  What kinds of music are you interested in?

I listen to everything. If someone were to check my iTunes library, I can absolutely guarantee that he or she would find a genre that they love, and maybe one of their favorite songs as well.  I love everything from really old classic country to classical music to metal to hip hop. Just name it.

How did you develop such a broad musical palate?

I guess it’s just what I was raised with, and what I heard in my house. My parents have always listened to a lot of different music.  Also, there was also the influence of my military upbringing – especially my interactions with diverse people from my childhood. You’d go to your friends’ house and they’d be from Guam, and they’re playing this traditional kind of music or having this particular food, and you just end up getting exposed to a lot of different people and cultures.

And I also saw that you learned improv from the Groundlings in L.A.?

I did! I took a six-week improv course to improve my speaking ability and get over my fear of making a fool of myself, because that’s what you end up doing in the Groundlings. You just kind of have to get over it because it’s improv. They just throw things at you and keep you on your feet. It was a lot of fun, and really helpful.

Well, you clearly have a stage presence. On the P90X videos, you look totally calm and collected.

You know, I was only focused on getting through the workouts! Even by the time we did the filming, it wasn’t like the workout was easy. Tony’s talking and counting and breathing through the whole thing, but I was just focused on what I was doing and trying not to make a mistake.

. . .

Click here to read Part Two, in which Pam discusses her book and how she first became involved with P90X.