Thursday, October 22, 2009

Traveling Man

A week of business travel has got to be the loneliest, most alienating thing possible – except for, maybe, being an expatriate. Schlepping from airport to rental counter and across alien countryside to a nondescript, corporately approved hotel leaves a guy feeling like he’s got no country. I find myself staring out the hotel window, past the heavy-duty tapestry drapes and across a sea of asphalt to the strip mall across the street at odd hours. As if I might see someone I know out there – somebody dropping by to say hello. It doesn’t happen.

I get up at whatever wrong hour work demands and hit the free breakfast buffet in the lobby. I never have eggs on a Tuesday and definitely never eggs and sausage – but they’re there on the steam table. Tossing aside the pretence of hominess, I get cold serial and skim milk with a toasted English muffin. I never have those things on a Tuesday either – but they’re closer to my normal breakfast bar while I drive fare than anything else the hotel has to offer.

I roll into work at what, back home, would be the god-awful late hour of 7:30. Showing up at an out-of-state plant site requires showing up late – your schedule has to conform to the hours of the front desk when there will be a receptionist or security guard whose well enough informed to get you the prerequisite visitor’s badge and let you sign off on the magical book that documents your arrival and departure. I wonder if there are hundreds of register books stowed away at elder companies – all of them bearing witness to the comings and goings of people long since dead and gone.

Tense hellos and introductions lead to the temporary office – a space as denuded of character as parts of the Amazon after slash and burn farming. My spot is on the second floor among rows of file cabinets and disused copiers. The vent huffs noisily when the heat comes on and directly below me is some machine that pounds most of the morning, apparently smashing big somethings into littler somethings.

Nobody visits you when you’re the guy from the Indy office come to stay for a week. Well, unless some low-ranking schmo has pulled take the visiting guy to lunch duty. I always feel sorry for the guy whose got to take me to lunch. Not that I’m unpleasant to be around but what the heck do you talk about with someone you don’t know, probably won’t see again, and don’t know anything about? Sports, weather, work, and then whatever you’re eating – then you’re out of bullets and its just chewing until time to get back to work.

In a half hour I’m off for the airport again. Waiting in some noisy bar or lounge while US Air screws up the schedule. Then it’ll be crammed into the flying sardine tin for the trip home. That old crutch “home is where the heart is” should be amended to “home is where your life is”. Everywhere else is just a shadow of life – life on pause, flickering like a VHS tape paused in mid-scene.

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