Condoleezza Rice is a bona fide homebody compared to Gene Troggio.
At least the Secretary of State sleeps in her own bed most of the time. Troggio? Four of every five nights, on average, he plops his head on a pillow in some foreign hotel, often half a world away.
As Global Environment, Health, and Safety director for the Packaging and Consumer Products Group at Alcoa, Inc., Troggio pulls out his passport more often than Paris Hilton pulls out her charge card. The 1977 IUP graduate has an office in Indianapolis, not that he’s ever there.
You’ll more likely find him in exotic locales such as Nepal or Bahrain or Brazil. Troggio monitors sixty-eight Alcoa plants in thirty-one countries, logging prodigious frequent-flyer miles and living out of a suitcase for extended periods.
“I travel about 80 percent of the time,” he says. “There’s good and bad with that. Obviously you have to enjoy traveling to do what I do. I like being in different parts of the world, experiencing different cultures, eating different cuisines, seeing how people live outside the United States. You get a much better perspective of how good we have it. At the same time, it does take a toll.”
The globe-trotting Troggio has endured fifteen-hour flights, dodged drivers convinced they’re budding NASCAR stars, dined on Asian entrées that were not only raw but still alive, and stood still as a statue as security guards surrounded him, machine guns at the ready. Nothing in his IUP background prepared him for such varied adventures.
Troggio arrived on campus from New Castle in the fall of 1973 looking to earn a Safety Science degree and a spot on the football team. He fared better in the classroom than on the field: Troggio started occasionally at running back but, because he was utilized principally as a blocker, he gained only 186 yards and scored one touchdown, that in a 49-10 rout of Kutztown to close the 1975 season.
“I didn’t have a real stellar college career,” says Troggio, who missed his entire senior season after separating both shoulders. “The last time I carried the ball I scored a touchdown. As far as highlights, that was about it.”
There weren’t many travel highlights, either, in his younger days. Troggio did visit neighboring Canada and made a brief sojourn across the Mexican border to Tijuana. Otherwise, his feet remained firmly planted on American soil.
“I never even had a passport,” Troggio says. “But now—your passport is good for ten years. I’ll go through three in that time. I’ll have to send it back for additional papers three times in a ten-year period because I travel so much.”
Where has he been? Close your eyes, jab a finger at a spinning globe, and you’ll likely land on a country Troggio has visited. Ask him to list some of his destinations since joining Alcoa eighteen years ago and, just off the top of his head, he reels off Canada, Mexico, Costa Rica, Colombia, Venezuela, Peru, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Egypt, South Africa, Spain, Italy, Germany, Bulgaria, the United Kingdom, Russia, Japan, China, South Korea, the Philippines, Nepal, Bahrain, Singapore, and Australia. When he hears the Johnny Cash song that Choice Hotels uses in its ads—I’ve Been Everywhere—Troggio has to chuckle. The Man in Black never got around like he does.
Of course, traveling so much does have its drawbacks. Some trips—those to Asia, for example—transform airliners into the modern equivalent of torture chambers. Imagine yourself wedged into a narrow seat with precious little leg room for a trans-Pacific flight that might last fifteen hours, elbow-to-elbow with a perfect stranger.
“The person you’re next to, you end up basically sleeping next to them,” Troggio says. “So I’ve had some interesting experiences. One time I saw this young lady coming down the aisle with an armload of tennis rackets. She put them up top, sat down next to me, and we started talking. When I opened my USA Today, there she was. I looked at the picture, looked at her . . . ‘Ya, that’s me,’ she said.”
Conchita Martínez, a native of Spain, had just won a tournament and was headed to the next stop on the WTA Tour.
Being cooped up in a metal tube for hours on end—even alongside a comely señorita referred to by her fans as the Iberian Goddess—isn’t the only disagreeable element of travel. Even when the journey is pleasant, the destination often isn’t. Why, some countries leave the old Safety Science grad fearing for his safety.
“Nepal is probably the most hazardous, scary place I’ve ever been in the world. Nepal and the Philippines are by far the worst because of the political unrest,” Troggio says. “Brazil’s bad, too. One time I walked outside my hotel, the best in São Paulo, to take photos of the place. I was immediately surrounded by four or five security guards with machine guns, telling me I couldn’t take pictures. There’s a lot of crime in São Paulo. You don’t go out without an escort or without some of the locals taking you.
“Believe it or not, China is probably the safest place I’ve been. With all those people and the size of those cities, it’s amazing to virtually not have crime. What is dangerous is trying to cross the street.”
Vehicles of all kinds clog China’s thoroughfares. Sometimes they collide, with surprising consequences, as Troggio discovered in Tianjin. He was being driven back to his hotel after visiting an Alcoa plant when his car was rear-ended by a truck and pushed into another car.
“The police were called and arrived in a few minutes,” Troggio recalls. “The officer proceeded to take pictures while standing in the middle of a very busy street with no regard to oncoming traffic. After he finished he talked to each individual driver. Then all three drivers and the police officer got into a very heated discussion. My driver and the driver of the other car then returned to their vehicles and we drove off. I was told the truck driver was going to jail unless he came up with 2,800 yuan ($375) to fix the estimated damage of the cars. The policeman was the judge and jury—no attorneys.”
If there’s anything that requires more courage than crossing a street in China, it’s dining out in many of the places Troggio visits. Fortunately, he does not recoil from the sort of menu items typically served Fear Factor contestants. Troggio has sampled fried giant ants and larvae, which he describes as tasty, “if you can get past the aesthetics.” Troggio has also patronized Japanese sushi establishments that serve live fish. And to think as a student he turned up his nose at the selections in IUP’s dining halls.
Back then, Troggio couldn’t have imagined seeing as much of the planet as Santa Claus on Christmas Eve. He never envisioned watching the sun rise over a Brazilian beach or set on the glistening, snowcapped Himalayas.
“I think I’ve been very fortunate, especially in the field that I was in,” Troggio says. “I thought I’d go to work with someone and maybe travel in the U.S. But not in my wildest dreams did I think I’d travel the globe.”