Places I Remember with Lea Lane

Forbes Editor's Travels, Part #1: Liberia, Syria, Vietnam, Drag Racing In Nevada

May 04, 2021 Randall Lane, chief content officer and editor of Forbes, tells us through vivid tales, that "Life is to be experienced!" Season 1 Episode 14
Places I Remember with Lea Lane
Forbes Editor's Travels, Part #1: Liberia, Syria, Vietnam, Drag Racing In Nevada
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Randall Lane likes to live on the edge: I know because, besides  being chief content officer and editor of Forbes, he's my son.  His motto is "life is to be experienced," and in both his work and play, he would rather do things than regret the things he didn't do. Here he gives us four exciting (sometimes harrowing) tales of his adventurous travels.

-- He starts off with a hair-raising  helicopter ride in the Liberian jungle, on his way to helping accelerate health care in an area that needs it. He finds himself in a situation that seems dire ... and then, a surprise!

-- On to Lebanon and Syria, and a dilemma based on identity. There is potential danger from Hezbollah, some mistakes and absurdities that could be dangerous, and we find out how Rand gets out of it  -- in a kind of truth or dare.

-- In Cambodia Rand reflects on the people's forgiveness. And in Vietnam he makes a big jump in Halong Bay, and pays the consequences. Lesson learned? Maybe.

-- Drag racing cars in Nevada? Rand and his friend race up to 200 miles an hour in a rented car -- top down. Do they win? Let's just say it's close.

(To be continued in the next episode: More daring stories of memorable people, and of eating poisonous blowfish. And Ernest Hemingway-related travel tales: in Cuba, meeting a literary legend; and in Pamplona, Spain, running with the bulls . Don't miss Part Two of Rand's amazing travel adventures, in Episode 15 of Places I Remember!)

Randall Lane is the chief content officer and editor of Forbes. He is the founder of 30 Over 30 and 50 Over 50 franchises, and appears regularly  on MSNBC. Check out his book,  The Zeroes: My Misadventures In the Decade Wall Street Went Insane.
Podcast host Lea Lane has traveled to over 100 countries, written many travel books, including
Places I Remember, and has contributed to dozens of guidebooks. She's @lealane on Twitter, Travelea on Instagram, and  blogs about travel at  Contact her  on her Facebook page, Places I Remember by Lea Lane, and at her website,
Follow  Places I Remember with Lea Lane wherever you listen to podcasts. New travel episodes every Tuesday. And please review it on Apple!

* Podcast edited for clarity.

Lea Lane  00:04

Hi, I'm Lea Lane, an award-winning travel writer and author of Places I Remember: Tales, Truths, Delights from 100 Countries. On this podcast we share conversations with travelers about fascinating destinations and memorable experiences around the world.  Randall Lane is the Editor and Chief Content Officer of Forbes. He's also my son. So I know he's had many adventures and has met many fascinating people. And today he's going to share with us just a few of them. Welcome, Rand. 


Randall Lane  00:44

Hi, mom. Hi, podcast.


Lea Lane  00:44

You're right. I'm so glad that you're on my podcast. You are one interesting, man. So I just want to go over your places and people and things you've done that are the most interesting, I know, you've traveled a lot for business and pleasure. And you're something of a risk taker.


Randall Lane  01:02

Trying to catch up with you.


Lea Lane  01:04

Well, you will. And I certainly haven't had the adventures you have. So let's just start with some of them. Let's just start with one you want to tell us that's interesting and different. And here we go, folks. 


Randall Lane  01:18

Okay, well, you know, I travel you know, you taught me from a young age that I mean, life is to be experienced and to get out there and live it. And so I have probably have tried to live that credo. I genuinely, since college, I've loved the idea that you know, better to regret the things you did than the things you did not. So you take when you're traveling, you take chances. You don't ask what if. I probably learned that when I was in, right out of college, a bunch of us went to Mardi Gras, we drove down from New York, we stopped in Memphis, and we were at Graceland. And it was too expensive to go. It was like 20 bucks admission. And we were poor. And we're like, Oh, forget it, we're not going to go. And then for the rest of like, for decades. we're like, we're in Memphis. And we didn't go to Graceland for 20 bucks. So I tried to never make that mistake in generally playing at higher stakes. But I think you can get back there. I have I have since rectified that and it's worth it's worth 20. Not that much more, but you got to check it off when you're Memphis, I agree.


Lea Lane  02:29

I think disappointments are the things that bother you the most. I wish I had bought that strange thing that now is worth a lot of money. And you know the regrets. 


Randall Lane  02:40

But the regrets are what you don't do. So you know, I've tried not 100 countries plus like you but probably get up at 60 or 70. And you know, a lot of them are weird. I travel for work a lot. I mean, one one story was telling recently was how I was in Liberia, which is a place that not many people get to go to where they don't want to go to it's one of the 10 poorest countries in the world. And I was there for a we were bringing much of philanthropists and I was leading a trip of American philanthropist to try to help Liberia which has an American, you know, the big history of American Liberia and I do think there's a moral, there's a lot of reasons why successful American should have feel an obligation and also use it as a laboratory to try to come up with solutions for the world. So we were going to try to bring the idea was that we were going to help accelerate rural health care. And a lot of people in the world don't have any access to health care at all. And we were trying to find models that can bring health care that last mile to the people who literally, if you're living in the jungle of Liberia and you break your leg, it could be a death sentence because you're going to get gangrene and you can't get the hospital's like in a set. 


Randall Lane  03:48

Right. Certainly giving birth is a harrowing and life threatening experience. Just you know, just giving people prenatal vitamins and prenatal care, basic things, you could save a lot of lives of the most simple things. And so we were we were going to go to a village that had never seen Westerners before. It was literally deep in the library and rainforest and we rented helicopters, and we're gonna land on their soccer field. And the problem was, first of all, flying a Liberian helicopter. It's not like getting the Miami of this game, a tour of the Las Vegas Strip to where helicopters these were some rusty helicopters with some folks speaking languages of places that didn't strike me as you know, their Eastern European veteran helicopters flying. It was the kind of thing but again, it's the best Liberia had. We got up in the helicopters. And there's no map because literally there are no roads, you're flying over true, Virgin rainforest to find people who still live very primitive lives and die. You know, the average life the life expectancy, where we're going wasn't much more than 30 years old. It was very you know, it's very easy. Easy to die when you're a child. And it's very hard to live past 50. I mean, because any problem you have is a death sentence. So we're trying to, you know, and it's just so dense. And there's again, there's no even there's no electricity in most of Liberia. So there's no wires, there's no roads, it's just jungle. So we were flying around in two different helicopters. And we're, we can't wait to reach this village and have this really interesting experience. And we were certainly we're trying to find out what's going on, because the pilots don't speak English. And it turns out by kind of Panama, that they can't find the village, the GPS coordinates are off, they're looking, they're just looking at the rainforest, and they cannot find it's a needle in the haystack, we start to run low on gas, because the problem when you go into the jungles, you basically better start turning around when you're in half, you better be a drop over half, or you're gonna have a bad ending here. Because not like they're landing ships anywhere. And so we were getting we weren't that close. But we're getting to where we were going to have to just immediately turn back or bail on this mission. And so they saw a soccer field and we start going down, and we're like, and we see people running out of the little schools and things like that. And it turns out, they were just making a beeline to land somewhere, while they figured out where we were, this was the wrong village. And so we land in an in some ways, this was a more incredible experience than the village were supposed to go to because these people had no they had you know, they this one is not quite as, as remote and as, as kind of deprived, you know, they had, they looked at, you know, they had running water, they had a schoolhouse. But, you know, they do not get visitors swooping out of helicopters very often. And they weren't expecting where the other village they'd been prepared that these people are coming. And we had all this stuff and clothes and all sorts of, you know, we brought, you know, basically our entire, you know, missions worth of stuff to help them and all of a sudden, we just drop into this field and the kids are running out of school like, like, I mean, they could not believe it. 


Randall Lane  07:00

And while they were figuring it out, it was very moving. Because they were fascinated by we had a lot of we had video cameras and things like that. And we're taking pictures of them. They never seen themselves I have so a picture of myself, because they never had a picture of themselves. And I don't know, you know, I was in their house. I don't even know if they have mirrors. So all the kids, we start taking pictures of them and they weren't injured. They didn't really know how to pose but they were they were incredulous that then I would show it to him. And they would look like they were looking into infinity because they never seen themselves certainly not past the mirror. And I don't even know if they had mirrors. But the way they were looking at these phones, they were this absolutely captivated. And it was a very, it reminded you of how you know how far society has come. We eventually did make it to the village barely with enough gas. We had to make a pit stop. We couldn't even make it to Monrovia we had to put up another city on the way back. But it's that cultural. It's that cultural connection. That's part of one big travel day you're the woman with told me how when you travel, you're supposed to bring you should bring a Polaroid camera. When you're at this, this predates cell phones, but when you're going to very, very poor places, they don't necessarily have pictures of themselves, right.


Lea Lane  08:14

It's still today. I've been in some African villages where it wasn't quite as remote. But they still were so delighted to see their picture even even a couple of years ago. 


Randall Lane  08:27

Wow, I didn't go to places, I go to places nobody's been. Yeah, I pride myself on going to countries that are even for vacation with my you know, my buddies for many years, we would try to go, we would try to check off like the most dangerous places in the world and the most hard to get to. We got to we didn't get to Iran. We didn't get to North Korea, but we got the most of them other than that.


Lea Lane  08:47

What about the Syria border story?


Randall Lane  08:51

Oh, yeah, that's a fun story. We did a trip to Lebanon and Syria. And this is more than 20 years ago, 20 years ago. So it's before the tragedy you need to spend time in Syria is to really feel a profound sadness about what's going on there. Because these are beautiful, nice people like you find everywhere in the world, and they have this devastation rained on them by this tyrant. But anyway, we were we were in Lebanon, which I've been to several times it was a wonderful country, a beautiful country, and a fun country. But that was our first time there. And we found that very interested in and we want to go to Syria. So we're crossing over the land border from Lebanon, the Syria and that's not the kind of border even then before you know the way it was still a hot area. We went through when we were Syria, a lot of our travel we had to go through Hezbollah checkpoints and we would show our passports that Hezbollah militiamen so it was still a dicey place. But it wasn't what it is now, but they do not see Americans coming overland from Lebanon to Syria, pretty from what I could tell pretty much ever and we've been warned.


Randall Lane  10:00

Since I'm a journalist and my two friends were journalists again, we weren't there to write a story, we were just there to travel. But we are warned that do not tell anybody that you're journalists, because just don't. And so we check in at passport control and my friend John, they said, What are you and he goes, barber, he went to any kind of they didn't know what that meant in English, he kind of did a scissors thing with his fingers. They stamp his passport. And he goes the next guy. They go, what he is my friend Tom, who was feeling a little more like righteous. And he's like, I'm a journalist, and they all journalist, and they stamp his passport, and they got a journalist, and they stamp his passport and his passport, then get the stamp on and they look at me, what are you doing? Now? I'm kind of feeling like, one told the truth. And one told a fib. And I now I don't even I don't feel comfortable either now, because now I'm the third guy, and am I the other journalism and the other barber? So I went up as I decided I suddenly created I said, I'm gonna say I'm an editor, because I figured they won't. That'll be kind of like, it's they doesn't say journalists. But it doesn't say barber, I didn't know how to pretend I'm a barber. I don't have any hair. But I go, editor, the editor to go journalist, and they stamp my passport. And we both had a stamp on our passport that said we cannot leave Syria until we go to the ministry of information. And we wound up having getting stuck in Syria giant will even everyone but we went to having to stay a couple extra days because we were supposed to leave on a weekend we had to stay through a Monday to go to the Ministry of Information and then basically get interrogated nicely. I don't want to exaggerate that somehow we were tortured. But we were definitely quizzed about what we had to do there when we want to write a story. And basically until they signed us out, we were stuck in Assad Syria.


Lea Lane  11:46

Did you have to cut hair, the one who said he was a barber?


Randall Lane  11:50

He just laughed as the whole time. There's probably a lesson. I don't know what the one lesson will be. Don't lie to Border Patrol agents. A dealer says maybe don't tell the truth. The border patrol agent. Depends on where you are. Yeah, I guess you got to call a lot of on that one. 


Lea Lane  12:03

Yeah, I call an audible. Well, so far, so good. We have some interest. I don't know all these details. I'm learning some of this myself. And I'm glad I didn't know some of it. What about I do know about when you were in Vietnam and


Randall Lane  12:14

Vietnam service not as good as you know. You know, real is one of the you know, stories, but uh, you know, I was there when it was just opening up. And again, it's a beautiful country and actually because of the connection in America, you would think and I've been back also you would think there's a there's a bitterness but actually, there's not they they they really like Americans, they're they they the past is the past. And they there's a shared history, there's a desire to move on.


Lea Lane  12:46

That's very notable, I found that too. And also in Cambodia, there's a certain Buddhist way of life looking at it very forgiving and moving forward. It's very,


Randall Lane  12:57

I found Cambodia in some ways, much sadder. I found that that history there's something about Vietnam had this a boolean to kind of vibe or Cambodia to me felt a little there the tragedy and that had not lifted where Vietnam also had a tragedy but because they because you know, ultimately they forge their own destiny. I felt, you know, I listen. They're both incredible places. Anybody that can get to get to add to your wad should. And Phnom Penh is also a super interesting place. But in Vietnam and Halo Halong Bay with my future wife, that's a beautiful moment. You've been there.


Lea Lane  13:39

Yes, I have it is exquisite. It's a limestone peaks coming out of the blue green water


Randall Lane  13:46

coming out of the water. It's a biggest it's more than a bay. It's like a giant mini sea with giant rocks. It's kind of so it's a beautiful place for an overnight boat trip. It was not a fancy it was like a big four story. It was like a almost like like the Staten Island Ferry and the sleepover on and they're like 20 people and it was kind of like a backpacker kind of trip, trying to you know, try to watch your money because you know, we're on a budget. 


Randall Lane  14:10

And the last day we went swimming, and a bunch of us climbed to the top of the boat and jumped off and even in looking at it a couple people jumped before me even looking like this is really high and they had to be you know, cuz you're you're a guitar, you know, you're the top of the captain's thing which is on top of a three story but it had to be good 4050 feet above the water and a look, you know, I've jumped off high things before but this you know, he also the way math works every five or 10 feet or you're like exponentially going fast. It's looked a little higher than I was comfortable but everybody else had already jumped and like and I was like do it do it. I jump and I hit the water. I hit the water with my arms out and I just saw that rip and I dislocated my shoulder before I had it surgically repaired and I felt my show about and I knew what it was because it had to happen before the impact of what a rip my shoulder down on my arm out of my shoulder socket. And you know, those who, who, anyone who's ever had a dislocated shoulder understands I, you know, I used to think that I could, if I was a guy captured in a war, I'd never tell them I could withstand pain and pain doesn't bother me that much. But after that, after you just look at your shoulder, and like, what do you want to know? Like, it's a very painful thing. And luckily, I didn't know. I knew kind of what was gonna happen, which was, you know, someone's gonna have to stick it back in. But it's really, really painful. Because you're kind of ball your socket is rubbing up against the ball. And this feels very, very, very off.


Lea Lane  15:44

Get the point. Yeah. 


Randall Lane  15:47

Anyway, we go into Halong Bay, northern northern Vietnam, and you're a couple hours from Hanoi and Hanoi is not even where you would want to have something like this happen. And you're in a rural so they went to take me to an army hospital that was outside it was an old North Vietnamese Army hospital that it was it was one little black there a couple nurses and the egg, they they firstly, take me for an x ray. And there was no little lead pad. And I told you when I said both had to get out of this room, because this is like a radiation city here. And they gave me a x ray. And my, my hair literally stood up on in. And in retrospect, I thought I had to be imagining that, but I've actually read up on it. And that actually can happen. I mean, I guess that's where the kind of the cartoonish aspect of that happens, you know, but my phone my hair stand up. And they think that they said, it's dislocated. Yeah, I knew that. But you know, I wanted them to see it before they go start messing with me. And they could literally put it on a straw mat outside in the sun. And it's barely covered, it's like, they cannot get in there trying to push my arm and and it cannot by you know, um, you know, whatever, six feet tall, 200 pounds and, and the doctor just does not have the leverage. He's a small little, you know, older guy and he could not get it in. And so finally he sat down next, he sat across from me lie down across from me, and put his heel into my shoulder and tried to torque it in. And I remembered from the first time and dislocated that before I was in a good hospital Philadelphia. And I remember them telling me before they did this maneuvers, I knew they were doing the right thing if I didn't, if I don't know about the heel thing, I never seen that but I knew they're supposed to push it in. I also remember that they told me at the time there's a five or 10% chance your arms gonna shatter which case we go to surgery right away. And so I knew in the back of my head I remembered that generally you snap it back injury, okay, but there is a five to 10 whatever percent chance that there's gonna be something bad happen. 


Randall Lane  17:48

And when he was digging his heel in the knee, like standing 180 degrees lying down, directly opposite for me. I like you know what? I told you, I think you got to get me out of here. Because if my arm shatters, and I'm, I think it was I think it was two four it was a couple hours from him though and even Hanoi is not a place you want to be. That's where something really bad gonna happen. So I said we're just gonna have to go, even though I'm in tremendous pain. And so they put me in the back of this minibus for the tour and everything and we're on unpaved roads the whole back. And I'm sitting there screaming bloody murder the whole time that I felt bad because the whole bus was looking like, like, this was a terrible experience for them too. And I was trying to bite the bullet here literally, but it really hard and it was so painful. I passed out and something amazing. It was I passed out and my my body contorted my shoulder back in on its own. And instinctively, I guess it whatever it is, and I got the night my arm is back in and they actually gave me a decent hospital. No, and they're like, Yeah, you're back in. But you should check it up. I want to get back to New York and we're about to leave. I'm like, Yeah, I'll do that.


Lea Lane  18:55

I hope you have a better rest of the trip. 


Randall Lane  18:59

Yeah, luckily that was at the end. So that was the grand finale. There's a you know, you take it that was probably a needless risk because jumping off the top of the boat. You could do that anywhere that was probably gonna choose your risks that was probably a ill chosen.


Lea Lane  19:16

How about when you would like to race cars, I know.


Randall Lane  19:21

That's actually safer. If you know you're doing this and very dangerous. And I've get I've done a bit of that. And you know, the most fun trip I took I did something else. Something called the Silver State classic, which is a race in rural Nevada, Nevada being the Wild West literally still of America, where everything is illegal. And they said the race organizers for 10 years had talked the state and letting them have a two lane desert highway 111 Lane each direction to two lanes total and letting people bring cars and drive as fast as they can or want to are there for I think it's 50 Miles 50 or 100 miles. And it's a race and the winners, I mean, the if you're at the Daytona 500, or something, or the Indy 500, the average speed of the winner is about 150 miles an hour. And in this race to win, you got to get to about 220 miles an hour on an open public road. Now two people had died in the first 10 years. So they instead of just letting not everybody race in, try to go 200 miles an hour realizing that that was going to be crazy, they start putting people into they make it a math, a math test, where you have to try to estimate your time, and come as close as you can to your time. 


Randall Lane  20:41

So I we entered, I didn't have a car. And so my friend Eric and I flew out to Nevada and I just went to a rental car agency and I just rented a car and took it to this race and I rented I rented a Corvette convertible, like okay, I'll just gonna have a good time in Vegas, and drove it out to this race. And those guys maybe didn't care at the race or you know, they didn't care. I was gonna rent a car. They have a giant parade through town about 100 cars, 200 cars doing this and amazing cars, fast cars. And it was an Ely, Nevada, which is up near the Utah border. I mean, wherever you're in, it's right, you're right, parallel to area 51. You're basically racing that area 51 There's nobody there. It's you in the wool in the jackals have an alias this little truck tan on one of the of one of the interstates. Or maybe it's even it's it's actually right off of Route 66, the whole route 66 action, and there's a brothel entitle legal brothel. And so they have something called the hooker Choice Awards, where the hookers were the judges of the best, coolest cars. And then the next day, so you're not in you know, you're not in Kansas anymore. And then the next day, we raced all cars on the fire on the side of the road. And we have oh, by the way, we race with the top down. Convertible, we Race to the Top, damn, because at the speed we entered in the we entered in the 110 mile an hour category, which is the most popular category, the most popular category, because it's the fastest category, they'll let you race without like getting roll bars or fire extinguishers, that you can raise a street legal car to go 200 miles an hour, they want this thing to have like a fire. It's thinking, you know, anti fire, which is smart, you know, roll bars, they want it to be like a real race car. But if you just want to run a regular car, you could drive it not as fast as 110 You got to average 110. So you know, you're gonna go 100 a try to get up to 120 530 135 Try to make up for the slow start. And you know, you got turns and stuff like that. It's not just the straight you got to your drive to canyons. So we raised with the top down, and I brought my friend Eric, who's a he's actually an astrophysicist to Los Alamos who had all the, so I had the best. I had the best math guy. And we had about 30 people in our division. We came in second and got a trophy. So one of the proudest things I own, the guy who came first actually had measured the course before, and he was flying without a navigator and told himself the exact speed he should be. And it was talking to himself for the entire race. He pre recorded the race. I didn't say he was within. We got to still remember your point eight seconds or less than a second half, which is pretty good. I think it was 90 Miles actually. So we got the 90 we didn't 90 miles a little less than an hour at 40 ish minutes. We're off. point eight say less than a second. But we did not when the guy who talked to himself was point two seconds, which is pretty pretty,


Lea Lane  23:34

I can say pretty amazing. I'm glad I didn't know about this story in detail. Let me tell you, I think I think I get the point you enjoy excitement, rants, travel adventures are pretty incredible. And he has lots more. So I'm going to put out another episode of his travel tales next week, including famous people he's met around the world, and Hemingway related adventures in Cuba and Pamplona, Spain. So thank you Randall Lane and thank you travel lovers.


Lea Lane  24:09

Thanks for sharing travel memories with us. My book, Places I Remember, is available on Amazon and in bookstores, in print, on Kindle, and I read the audio version. Please subscribe to this podcast and consider giving us a review. Until next time, join us wherever in the world we're going.

"Life is to be experienced"
No regrets -- didn't go to Graceland
Liberian surprise in the jungle
Lebanon and Syria
Cambodia and a bad jump in Vietnam
Drag racing in the desert-- the last and vivid memory