Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Last Week's Work Travel

I SHOULD NOTE A FEW facts about last week's travel, before zapping off for another dose of it this week. After which, successful trip or not, I'll be quite ready to settle in for a few months.

Getting to the airport: Because flights to Central City on Continental are far less frequent than those to Las Vegas, I needed to awaken at 3:15 to get to the airport for a 6:15 flight. Oh, both of those are ante meridian. In a radical cost-cutting move, and to avoid having another narcoleptic chauffeur from the company's standard car service, I drove my own car to the airport. I decided to bet on there being little traffic, and that I would have no problem leaving my car untended in one of the medium-term lots at Newark for 2 full days.

The one hitch was food. Neither of the local bagel joints were open. I didn't feel like Dunkin Donuts (heresy to some readers here), so I got on the road without further local exploration and pulled into the McDonald's after the Route 3 exit on the Garden State Parkway. There, I ordered the only edible thing on the menu, hash browns. A guy who appeared to be the only employee in the joint asked if it was okay if it took a few minutes to get the two of them cooked, as he had none under the hot lamps; I said no sweat. As if to apologize for the very short wait, he gave me what felt like an extra one. I thanked him profusely and began digging them out one by one, shoveling them in as I drove with my knees. It turned out he gave me five of these steamy little grease slabs! I finished wolfing them down while navigating the little dippity-do through local streets to get from the GSP to 78 East, as I'd seen numerous car-service drivers do on past Vegas airport runs, and was, in record time, zooming onto airport property with an oil-scorched tongue and greasy fingers.

Parking: I left my car somewhat close to the entrance of the airport-wide monorail in one of the medium-term parking lots. I figured the closer to the Air Train entrance, the more often the airport security patrols would pass my car. There were plenty of spaces, actually, and probably even more in the cut-rate long-term lots. I didn't want to experiment while on such a tight schedule. At any rate, the lot was virtually dead. I took a picture of the nearest sign with my cellphone, and hefted my bags over to the escalator to wait for the train. Aside from a change of monorail cars halfway through, this process was quite simple, and I soon found myself at Continental's Terminal C.

Security: The streak of all but cartwheeling through the TSA gauntlet continues unabated. By this point it was about 5:00 or so, and the checkpoint was a ghost town. It might even have been that ersatz Rock Ridge from Blazing Saddles, complete with prop-up plywood TSA staff. With no computer, and all fluids obediently parceled in 3-oz. doses, I had nothing of interest to them. Putting my shoes and belt back on took longer than the whole scan of both me and my gear.

Now we wait: In addition to no bagel stores being open near home, the other flaw in my plan was that newspapers had yet to be delivered to the airport. Considering there had been big weekend financial news, I was hoping to read about the last living moments of Lehman Bros. I would have to wait until I arrived in Central City for a Web-based refresher. So I gritted my teeth while listening to the airport CNN and inane phone conversations of my fellow passengers. (Who the fuck was awake at that hour to take a call?) Boarding of our surprisingly full plane commenced on time, and we pushed away and lofted only about 10 minutes late. Flight was quick and smooth.

Lodgings: It was still way too early to check in at my hotel, but it was across the street from the Central City HQ, so I did duck in to check it out. Seemed nicer than the place I'd stayed the first time. I made my way up to the office, found a rest room to change into garb a bit businesslike, and accompanied one of the Central City magazine staff to my temporary cube. Aside from a computer set up for me to help close the issue in house, the cube was entirely empty. Considering my cube in the NJ office was strewn with many hastily unpacked piles from our move several weeks ago, I gazed on the blank walls and desk surfaces with envy.

Meetings and more meetings: One of my teammates estimated that we spent 5 hours in meetings that Monday. Brutal. The two meetings that mattered most were more or less painless, but I was numb by the end of the two days. Between meetings, I reviewed copy for the issue in production and harassed friends via email.

Night of the living Jesus freaks: Fortunately, my only night out there was a Monday night, so I had the Cowboys–Eagles game to watch. It turned out to be a barn-burner of a match. I caught part of the first quarter over mediocre Mexamerican food at a nearby Chili's. The scoring never stopped in this game; I missed one touchdown while calculating the tip, and a turnover while scouting out the restroom.

I scurried back to my hotel after eating to watch the rest. The lobby, previously empty, was seething with the members of some sort of Christian religious organization. A tour bus or two must have dropped them off. People of all ages, with matching religious medals on their chests, were standing around chatting. Some looked like high schoolers; I wondered how children could get sucked into a sect like this so young. Through the parents, perhaps. A whole clutch of these clowns was fussing over a fundraising sale in one of the small conference rooms, scrutinizing jewelry that made the knockoffs on Canal Street look like the contents of Tiffany's windows. I had to excuse myself twice to edge past one fervent pilgrim buttonholing a priest with the following query: "Does the prayer say, 'Now and at the hour of our death,' or, 'Now and at the hour of our deaths?'" Keep counting those pin-dancing angels, true believer.

I arose late the next morning; between watching the entire game and the luxury of a 2-minute commute, I could afford to sleep in. I wandered out sometime around eight for the hotel's breakfast. In the lobby and lounge, what looked like the entire group of Jesus freaks was congregating for a morning ceremony of some kind. As I sat in the adjoining restaurant area, I watched the harried hostess try to stop the worshippers from taking the chairs away from the tables into the lounge. Each time a new person came down from his or her room to attend the Mass, he or she would try to steal a chair, forcing the hostess to repeat her polite, wordy request not to take chairs from paying restaurant customers. So much for the Eighth Commandment.

One of these zombies tried to shuffle off with my chair while I was toasting a bagel. I rejected the hostess's apologetic approach and merely grabbed the chair to arrest his retreat, saying, "This is mine." The hostess caught up with us and she eased the thief away with her standard apology, sparing me the effort of escalating to threats of a broken pelvis. Apparently this crowd clots the joint a number of times a year. Assuming this poor hostess therefore had to repeat this act each visit, I tipped big.

After showering and dressing, I hauled my shit out to the front desk, having to thread through these pinheads once again. This time, they were all focused on something happening up by where the priest might be. Those not in the lounge seemed distracted, as did the hostess, temporarily drawn from her chair-guarding duties. I found out why. As exited the hotel, an ambulance pulled up, followed closely by a second emergency vehicle. Someone must have been stricken in the short time I was in my room. Well, at least this trip would be memorable for them.

Escape from Central City: My boss kindly drove me to the nearby airport, where — at about 5:15 p.m. — there was no security line whatsoever. I cruised through that, then bought a Wall Street Journal to read about the fast-moving collapse of Lehman for an hour or so. The flight back through beautiful stratospheric twilight took about another hour, and deposited me in Newark on time. There, to my relief, my car sat where I'd left it. I burned rubber for home, where I dropped my luggage and slept deeply, happy to be back in my own bed again.

No comments: