Volvo for the Win!

I love the randomness of freelancing…I got a text at 7:45am on a bright, sunny morning a few weeks ago asking if I wanted to go to Charleston, South Carolina to film at the new Volvo factory to see how they make their new S60. Sign me up - this sounds epic!

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And epic it was! The weekend began on Thursday…I got in early and had time to stroll the streets for a few hours and then we all met up for a nice casual dinner up the street from our hotel. It was nice to meet everyone who would be joining us for the weekend, since I don’t get around to many of these press events, it was great to see who was here from the industry. Folks from Motor Trend, Forbes, NPR, and several other were in attendance…this was an exclusive group of about a dozen people getting this close to the action of making a car on a live production line. Incredible!

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Friday we were up bright and early for our big day!  I say our, but really for everyone who would go through the training and actually install a piece of the car…little did I know it would be a big day for me too…you’ll see.  Manuel and I drove our S60 to the factory, about 45 minutes inland.  Once there, Manuel began his safety training and a very fun team building exercise using marshmallows - watch the video below to see what I mean.  Then we were taken to another training exercise where Volvo employees work on wooden car models before getting to touch the real thing.  This section helps by letting problems arise and seeing how they can be fixed so they do not happen again.  Employees are encouraged to ask for help, as quality and safety trump anything in this industry.  Once they all got a taste for what working on the line feels like, we went onto the actual, live, production floor.  There are three main buildings on the Volvo campus:  A - this is where the bodies of the car are welded together, B - this is where the frame is painted, and C - this is called final assembly where everything is put into the frame...cables, engine, sunroof, front console, seats, doors, etc.  The cool thing is that through this entire process the car never sees daylight until it rolls off the line at the end. 

Manuel was set to report to the sunroof station, he would be installing his very own sunroof on an actual S60...with supervision of course!  He was so excited to be able to put his sunroof in, which he did without flaw and all green lights from the machine!  Remember when I said it would also be a big day for me?  Well, now is that time...I got the chance to sit inside a raw frame of an S60 to get a unique angle of the sunroof coming through where the windshield would later be installed.  

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Certainly the coolest experience I had all weekend - that is not something anyone else except the employees would be able to do, so thank you Volvo...you made this guy very happy indeed.

Here are some more images from our exclusive trip onto the factory floor...remember we are the first outside group to be on this factory floor...it was certainly an honor.  

One of the first outside cameras allowed in...Roadshow was the only media outlet that brought video!

One of the first outside cameras allowed in...Roadshow was the only media outlet that brought video!

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Yes, that blue strip is your side curtain airbags!

Yes, that blue strip is your side curtain airbags!

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Seeing how Volvo builds its S60 really put deeper appreciation in my heart and mind with the workers who make these safe cars everyday. Also it makes me really want a Volvo now! :)

Saturday was a nice calm day to soak in all the area has to offer, while driving an S60 of course! I was able to get some nice photos and b-roll of the car to have for our film. We also wrapped filming for Manuel with his wrap up taking place in the car. Then then fun of the evening began...  

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Our XC90 caravan that took us everywhere, felt like we were a big deal! We were off to dinner at a very nice restaurant with the Volvo USA CEO, who is an extremely nice man, and very knowledgeable of Volvo and the car industry. He and his wife are such great people, not only did we have dinner that night, but they sat down next to us for Breakfast both Saturday and Sunday. To see and talk with someone so attached to a company I admire was a huge highlight of the weekend.

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After dinner it was time to head to the Volvo Car Open to witness some tennis - in person! I was really crossing a lot of things off of my bucket list this weekend! :)

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New Motor Trend friends!

New Motor Trend friends!

The Volvo USA CEO, his wife, and assistant and the goofball on the left, me. :)

The Volvo USA CEO, his wife, and assistant and the goofball on the left, me. :)

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Our camera star - Manuel!

Our camera star - Manuel!

Sunday came early as I ventured out to a very quiet downtown Charleston to get some stills and B-roll of the S60.  I’ll let the photos do the talking...

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 Volvo knows how to put together a weekend of great experiences you’ll never forget.  This is about my second press trip with Roadshow, but I feel this weekend and everything about it will be hard to beat by any future press trip I go on.  Don’t get me wrong - I love going on these trips!  It is great to meet new people, learn more about the particular vehicle, and get some great opportunities for photos and video - but this trip goes even farther with the factory, actually helping to assemble an S60, the tennis, and meeting the fantastic Volvo team that was there. 

Let me just say everyone I met was extremely kind, funny, and professional.  From the lady who greeted me at the airport on my arrival to the driver who dropped me off to return home, and everyone in between.  I’m honored I got to be a part of this incredible weekend.  Many thanks to Roadshow and Volvo. 

Now, check out the film! :)

A Porsche Lover's Dream...

If you ever venture to Stuttgart...and you have the slightest interest in vehicles, particularly Porsche, I highly recommend stopping at the Porsche Museum. It’s beautiful. It’s fantastic. It’s amazing! It’s even better if you snag a factory tour like I did! 

Much to my sadness I wasn’t allowed to bring in any cameras on the factory tour, so you’ll have to use your imagination on that part, but I can briefly describe it.  Comparing the Porsche factories to other major manufacturers, it is very small in output and size, but still massively impressive!!

They are building a new facility which will produce the Taycan when that arrives in a few short years, other than that it seems to have been expanded as the demand rises, which makes it that much more of a unique factory.

My tour took me through the final inspection area, where the cars are checked before heading to their destinations around the world, the area where all the leather is inspected and then stitched for the cars, and where they build the almighty engines of these fine cars - all so amazing and immensely impressive!! Glad I got that opportunity to see how they are built.

A goal of having one is certainly a deep, burning desire! 

Now, as for the museum, a place that showcases Porsche vehicles from the beginning - yes even his tractor he built - is a car lovers dream...so I’m going to let the photos do the talking. Do enjoy!

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A Rising Star is Born - Late!

First, you’ll have to forgive my lateness with this update…plus I really didn’t get the blog going till January so I’m playing catch up! Anywho…here it is now.

Last November I attended the 2018 ‘40 Under 40’ Rising Star event for the state of Vermont. I attended this event as one of these Rising Stars! The process begins when Vermont Business Magazine opens up the annual occurrence with nominations. I was fortunate enough to be nominated twice. They receive between 250 and 300 hundred nominations, and the judges have the hard task of bringing that down to 40.

Of those 40, 7 were from Bennington…so we had a pretty good showing at the event.

My Dad doing a nice photobomb! :)

My Dad doing a nice photobomb! :)

The Bennington Group!

The Bennington Group!

Me and The Wife - she’s proud can’t ya tell? :)

Me and The Wife - she’s proud can’t ya tell? :)

The Govanator and I!

The Govanator and I!

Congratulations to all who took home this prestigious honor - we all do hard work to make Vermont a great place to call home.

Mike Cutler
Humira: Injection The First
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Monday was my first injection of Humira, so we are now one week in. As explained in my previous post, I was nervous, but also looking forward to seeing how the drug works for me. This serves as a quick update, and I’ll keep you updated throughout the journey. Now let’s be clear, I was not expecting a miracle with just one injection, it will take time, but I have seen a few things.

I’ve seen some fading from some of the Psoriasis, but not all. I’ve tried to not use any topicals to see how well the Humira was working, sadly I had to apply a little bit as some spots were getting a bit rowdy, but I like where we are heading. A hopeful goal is close to clear (or fully clear!) for Summer.

On the joint side of things…my left thumb still continues to be a tad bigger than my other and slightly red. A lot less pain when bending it all the way, so that is promising! Ankles and knees have had a lot less pain for a bit while under the Prednisone regiment, and continue to display that. One way I have noticed progress is when I could finally get back to some quick morning exercises, lunges were the one that got me with bending to that degree. More recently this week I have felt less stiffness when I do lunges, which is awesome, however there is still a tad bit of stiffness, but hardly noticeable.

So, we shall see what happens with injection number two, and when I see my rheumatologist later this month. Injection two in t-minus one week!

PersonalMike Cutler
A healthy bit of advice...

I’m not normally one to share every detail of my life online…there are those who want you to know everything that goes on with them, every second of the day…you know who you are. ;)

That being said, I’ll be that person for the next few minutes, my ailments began in mid December when my Iritis and Uveitis returned in my eyes, the last time this happened was when I got Lyme Disease a few years back. Several months after having Lyme, I developed Psoriasis…my autoimmune problems began, and I think that lovey little tick awoken it all.

Random Rant: I’m sure you know what autoimmune means, but if you don’t here is a quick synopsis: Autoimmune is when your immune system is overactive, which can cause a number of problems for your body. So while the immune system is fighting off the germs over there, it is also attacking healthy parts of your body, but it perceives them as threats, like the germs. So germ fighting (POW, BOOM, POW) and at the same time (for me) attacking my eyes, my skin, my tendons and joints…the body is a complex place that’s for sure!

So, back to the story - I venture to my fantastic eye doctor to get that cleared up…and as it’s clearing up I develop some stomach pains that crop up a few times a day and pass very quickly, along with the beginnings of pains in my legs which I attributed to being on my feet working on Christmas Eve. Nothing progresses in the worse direction till after the New Year….

…Ahhh helloooo 2019…this year certainly entered with a bang! First was a trip to the lab to get a lyme test and a liver check up (needed when taking Methotrexate for Psoriasis), thankfully the lyme was negative, but still no answers as to what is ailing me. The stomach pains have continued, and now the leg pains were settling into my right calf, left knee and ankle, and getting painful to walk. I made an appointment with my doctor, but wouldn’t be seen until mid-February…that surely wasn’t going to work. Thankfully, I was lucky to be seen by another doctor in the office on January 11th. I told her everything that had been going on, and she was able to listen, look at me, and type it all out at the same time - very impressive! What concerned her the most was of course, the legs. I hadn’t noticed before but when we looked at my ankles they were swollen, so much so I couldn’t see my achilles heel, not normal for me…and she measured my right calf and it was 1.5cm larger than my left. It was also warm and the spot that was the main point of pain was stiff and slightly hard. Off I went for an emergency ultrasound to see what was going on. After an hour wait I was in the room, I never had an ultrasound of my leg before, so I was very curious what she would find. She scanned the entire leg from groin to ankle and foot, taking many pictures, and having me move my foot back and forth and as I did that you could hear the movement in my leg, it was very interesting. That completed I went home, anxious to relax.

Only home for a little bit, the doctor called letting me know nothing critical was found, but they did find a superficial thrombophlebitis. Non-medical terms this is a blood clot found in the surface veins near the skin, amazing something so small can cause so much pain, thankful this wasn’t in your deep veins or we would have had a much more serious problem, and it is rare a superficial blood clot moves to your deep veins. She told me to rest, elevate, use heating pads, and take Ibuprofen for the pain. My wife really stepped up and was incredible, worried for me, she took care of me to the T - and I owe her so much now! :) I took a few days off work (unheard of for me) and rested up. My movement was slow and painful, and this would go away hopefully in a week or two. The question was still out there…what is causing all of this? Mid-week I head in for more lab work and a chest x-ray, my doctor had a few ideas as to what may be causing all of this. First up was Sarcoidosis. This would be answered with the x-ray, to see if I had lung growths, since I already have the skin patches of Psoriasis. Very relieved that came back clear, but my inflammation levels in my blood work were extremely high, so we continue to look.

The next thought was toxicity to the Methotrexate. I stopped taking that and went from the Ibuprofen for the legs to the magical drug Prednisone. This is truly a wonder drug…after a day the swelling was gone, pain was gone, I was able to move more naturally, my stomach pains were gone, and my skin was the clearest it’s been since 2013. The goal here was to get the legs cleared up and see if the Methotrexate was the cause of all this. The only down sides to being on Prednisone was the fact I had to pee more often, and my appetite was through the roof! Though, I could stand to put on a few pounds. The 10 day regiment came to an end…the pain and the swelling returned.

I finally got in to see my doctor on January 30th; he is a great guy and I don’t feel rushed when I see him, we can chat about the problems and really find a solution. He had done a lot of research into my ailments and we discussed things as he looked me over. We were onto a new diagnosis as if it was toxicity to the Methotrexate my body should have cleared that up and the pain and swelling would be gone, since it was not gone and still present, something else was still causing this inflammation. The current thought trend is: Psoriatic Arthritis. This makes sense as I check off a lot of the boxes for it, but there is no smoking gun that you can test to say YES - you have this 100%. Next step would be seeing the Rheumatologist.

What does Psoriatic Arthritis do? Well, being a form of arthritis it goes for the big joints, and even the small ones, such as your fingers. I’m lucky it has not gotten there…yet. For me, my knees and ankles are stiff at times to move, as well as my tendons near my bones in these areas - this is where it is different. The Rheumatologist said it best: PsA goes for where the tendons meet the bones, and there is fluid build up which creates the stiffness. This is exactly what I have been experiencing! Of course, if left untreated it will destroy your joints.

He is a very young doctor, but very knowledgeable in his field. I was lucky to snag a cancellation spot, or we were waiting till mid-March. We had a very thorough discussion on my problems, and why we think it is linked to PsA, and the steps forward. They were as expected, we will treat this using Humira, a biologic drug. We discussed all the things about going on this drug, certainly a lot to take in, but this is the way forward to being back to normal.

Fun fact about Humira: As I read more into this drug (the swiss army knife of the drug world) it tackles 9 different ailments all from one injection pen - incredible! More incredible? The fact that in 2012 it was the most popular drug in the world - making the company from North Chicago 12 billion dollars. Since it is a biologic it is very expensive. I’ll be taking 2 injections a month…if you had no insurance the out of pocket cost is about $5,000 dollars, absolutely insane!! Thankfully I have very good insurance through work, and my out of pocket cost per month is $150. That is brought down even more with the Humira Savings Card which eats the rest of that $150 to just $5 dollars a month - very manageable, but for those who aren’t so lucky that savings card is truly a savings card, allowing them to have a normal life taking this drug.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous or apprehensive to go on Humira. I’ve done a lot of research about the drug and the risks/side effects it poses. Since it suppresses your immune system you have an increased risk of serious infections and lymphoma is also a risk. I’ve found some stats that do help me a bit with how low these are, but they are still there and I need to be vigilant, as I always try to be - I’m a germaphobe, so that helps…maybe.

On the flip side I will say this - I am very lucky to live where I live. SVMC is one of the best little hospitals in the country. The care and attention I’ve received these last few weeks has been extraordinary.

As I sit here now, typing this out the pain is minimal, but I can still feel the stiffness. This is my path now, and I know I must follow it, with the Humira, to get myself back to 100% and enjoy all the things I do enjoy in life. I will be vigilant and (as I read online) temper my fears with reality.

So…I’ve bored you with my story, but here’s my healthy bit of advice, and it’s simple: If you are not feeling 100% yourself in any aspect of your life, seek help with whatever it is. I was stupid and waited a week too long, thinking it would go away on it’s own, clearly it has other plans for me. We all deserve to get quality care and live a quality life, so if you need help, get help! :)

PersonalMike Cutler
Looking back and looking ahead

Another year has come and gone…for me it was a great year of growth in my freelance work as well as personally. I gained a few clients, which is always exciting. The bigger news is my wife and I bought our house and celebrated one year of marriage! She’s one lucky lady…I’m sure she already knows that.

2018 was a great year! The first thing that happened a big deal in your adult life…closing on our house!!! We are so happy to be in a house we’ve now made into our home. Work at CAT-TV (my day job) went well last year, pushing out new content and covering those meetings everyone loves.

Freelancing with Roadshow was very busy last year…among a variety of shoots two highlights were going to the New York Auto Show for 4 days. It was neat to go to some pre-show shoots for Nissan, Waymo, and Audi…then two days on the show floors. The other highlight was being asked to go to Jackson Hole, WY to film the new 2019 Chevy Silverado! Talk about a location and perfect vehicle for such a landscape, the bonus: I was sent by myself, so it was exciting to be trusted with such a responsibility.

The wife and I took a fun trip to visit my Brother who is stationed in Stuttgart, I haven’t been back to Germany since 2007, it was long overdue. We went to visit my host family in Leipzig for two days, that was so much fun to see them and be with them for a couple days…I’m lucky to have them in my life! Since being in Stuttgart I couldn’t resist going to the Porsche Museum!! What an amazing place! And to top that off, I went on a factory tour, so amazing to see how the world’s most iconic sports car is built. Played some golf with my Brother, a favorite thing of ours. Then we all went on an excursion to Salzburg, Austria! What a beautiful city! Full of history and of course…where they filmed parts of ‘The Sound of Music’! We went on a four hour bike tour of the city and all of the places they filmed the movie, it was the best way to see a lot of the city in a short amount of time. To finish off our trip, we spent the night in Munich before our flight, what a great city, and what a fantastic trip!!

The last big highlight of 2018 came in November. Every year the Vermont Business Magazine seeks out the top ‘40 under 40 Rising Stars of Vermont. People of my community can nominate people of they think are worthy of such a prestigious award…I was lucky to be nominated by two people in town, so I sent in my information to VBM. They also ask some questions and they want to see what I do to help my community and how I’m involved in my community. They received over 250 nominations this past year, and the judges have a tough job of bringing that down to just 40. I was lucky enough to be selected for this prestigious award, along with 6 others from my town, great representation from The Shires of Vermont!

2019 is here with us for another 11ish months, so we might as well make the best of it. A new thing of mine is setting some yearly goals, monthly goals, as well as long term goals. As you can tell I’m not great with the blogging, so one of them is making sure I keep this updated at least once a month, if not more. I’d love to work with some more great people this year, as well as collaborate with other photographers to make some awesome content. Personally I want to be healthier to my body, so more exercise and better food. Top it off with getting to bed earlier.

Side Note: as I write this I am dealing with some health issues through my body, so the whole personally wanting to be healthier speaks volumes.

I hope 2019 brings you all much success and happiness, we are well on our way for another trip around the Sun. Let’s make the best of it!

Mike Cutler