Saturday, October 30, 2010

From the Archives - Business Travel

Introduction

I used to travel a fair bit on business. Not so much anymore, partially due to technologies like conference calling and net conferences. I realized recently that I’ve gone over a year now without a business trip. In observance of that anniversary, I offer here a humor piece on business travel, from my archives.

Rest assured I did not actually submit this extravagantly detailed report to my employer. That said, every item, thought, feeling, and reflection presented here is 100% factual.

The photo below has nothing to do with this post. I just think it’s funny.

From the Archives - EXPENSE REPORT

“Please include all details of Meals, Entertainment, and Other expenses (IRS REQUIRES).”

Date: 8/4/97

Amount: $14

Description (names, titles): Myself, Super Shuttle to SF Int’l Airport

Details: The van showed up early, catching me just out of the shower. Ran to van with belt and shoes in my hand, hair wet, tripping over my duffel bag. Van got me to the airport almost two hours before my flight.

_____________________________

Date: 8/4/97

Amount: $4.15

Description (names, titles): Myself, Burgers, Etc., SF Int’l Airport

Details: “Burgers, Etc.”: the name suits the place nicely. Totally uninspired, dutifully descriptive; they could have called it “Burgers & Crap.” If you’ve looked at my receipt, you may wonder why I had a meatball and a tuna sandwich at 8:13am. It was a mistake: the clerk, Rhad, was new and hit the meatball sandwich button by mistake. He then made matters worse by canceling the tuna, rather than the meatball, sandwich. If you’re wondering why I got a 20% “Airport Employee Discount,” it’s to compensate for the price difference between the meatball and the tuna (so Rhad wouldn’t get in trouble for botching his over-ring).

_____________________________

Date: 8/4/97

Amount: $333.59

Description (names, titles): Myself, flight to Columbus, OH

Details: Asked for exit row for more legroom, got wrong exit row seat that had no extra legroom and didn’t recline, had no left-hand armrest. Felt guilty for ignoring flight attendant’s safety instructions. Airline magazine had pointless article about Ruth somebody, founder of Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, and how it was called “Chris’s Steakhouse” for years until our enlightened period when she could put her own name on it. I wonder if the waitresses still wear short denim miniskirts. Ads in the magazine were for Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse and for a variety of products and services aimed at executives: seminars by either Steven Covey or Charles Kurault, on either improving quality or increasing shareholder value, or both. Dozens of ads for new laptops, new cell phones, new two-way pagers, more ways to accrue frequent flier miles—evidently ads designed to rub travelers’ noses in the frantic pace of their lives.

SkyMall catalog was equally depressing: pages and pages of ads for inspirational posters, framed or unframed, with captions like “DEDICATION: If we don’t take care of our customers, somebody else will” below, incongruously, a close-up of a handshake. Or, “ATTITUDE: It’s the only buzzword you lowly cogs of industry could ever hope to understand,” below a picture of a grossly magnified drop of water hitting the surface of a pool. The silent movie was “Dante’s Peak,” starring Pierce Brosnan. Another Hollywood loss-leader, mercilessly foisted upon the trapped traveler, and I wasn’t about to spend $4 on headphones to find out if it’s any better with sound.

In-flight “meal” was blanched pressed ham product, white foam bun, little Pepperidge Farm “Exquisite Cookie” which was a sandwich cookie the color of an undercooked waffle with a brown middle tasting like the faintly minty product they put in green mint chocolate chip ice cream. Beverage: my usual tomato juice, of which they must have a glut, because they gave me the whole can, which I spilled. Paper napkin became a red, stringy mess, like a murder.

Flight attendant’s singsong voice was a perfect replica of some prototypical flight attendant of long ago, who should be paid royalties for his or her now classic inflection, with special emphasis placed on those words that are the most unnecessary: “Please do be sure to check around your seat for any personal items you may have left on boaaaaard. Be careful opening the overhead bins as items may have shifted duuuuring the flight. Should your future travel plans again call for air travel, we do hope that you will again choose America West as your airline pro-viiiii-der.”

_____________________________

Date: 8/4/97

Amount: $4.51

Description (names, titles): Myself, Pizza Hut, Phoenix Airport

Details: I do not know why the receipt says “Manhattan Brew T8.” It must be a ghost of what this Pizza Hut once was. This was my layover. I had one glistening cheese pan pizza, purchased after an endless search that kept turning up the unhelpful trio of “America’s Best Bagels,” “Hot Dog Factory,” and “Cinnabon” repeated in disorientingly identical food courts throughout the airport. The other alternative was an airport bar full of miserable smokers. Had just enough time after my Pizza Hut “meal” to stand in line at a phone booth behind three other business travelers, all apparently running late and ready to murder a women who couldn’t get her calling card to work. Gave up on getting voice-mail. Saw several joyous family reunions at the gate, wished I was travelling on pleasure.

_____________________________

Date: 8/4/97

Amount: $143.15

Description (names, titles): Myself, Avis, rental car, Columbus, OH

Details: Car was a midsize, Buick Skylark or equivalent, as promised on my itinerary. Can’t remember what it was, but it was exactly equivalent to—certainly no better than—a Buick Skylark. That is to say, it was the kind of car that nobody would actually buy; the kind of car people win on game shows. A car that was so nondescript that it got lost in parking lots—I would find myself wandering about, befuddled, comparing the license plate number on my keychain to that of a hundred other fleet cars. Felt trapped because the seatbelt would automatically lock me in when the engine was running. This would have made it awkward when dropping off passengers, though I had no passengers. Just somebody else’s car stereo presets.

_____________________________

Date: 8/4/97

Amount: $18.86

Description (names, titles): Myself, Grady’s American Grill, Hilliard, OH

Details: Service was, as usual, impeccable. Everybody in the Midwest is so nice. They bend over backwards and it’s really unnecessary: I’m eating by myself, with nobody to impress with my choice of restaurant, no business to conduct that requires silent, efficient service with no distractions. Don’t make too much fuss, I want to say, it’s just me, taking in my nourishment. The waitress was new. I asked her if she recommended the seafood pasta, and she said, “Well, that depends. If you like pasta, and you like seafood, then I would recommend it. But if you don’t like seafood, then I wouldn’t get it.” Fair enough.

During the meal the waitress—perhaps sensing my loneliness—refilled my water six times, brought more bread, and asked, “Does the seafood pasta taste good?” I assured her the taste was excellent. We did not discuss texture, appearance, or quantity, all of which were excellent. On my left, a couple, the man grand, the woman petite, having a fine time, the man eating most of his wife’s dinner and all of his. A group of six were loud and boisterous. Another couple, perhaps on their first date, were eager, polite, reserved, and stricken, either with love or shyness. I alone was quieter. I wish sometimes for a restaurant that only seats single diners—all tables of one.

(Before settling on Grady’s, I had wandered into TGI Friday’s and was immediately scared off by its lively music, “fun” crowd, and paper-lined plastic baskets of onion rings, fried mushroom buttons, and other munchables. A fun place, you know, to take a bunch of friends, especially if you’re all losers. I also ruled out Spageddies, as I had eaten there once before and found it highly mediocre. I remember that meal well: I’d had a fettuccine dish consisting of limp pasta in what had to be Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup, with the lightest dusting of fresh Parmesan cheese, dispensed ineffectually by the waitress, who was new, and who held the excellent Zyliss rotary cheese grater backwards and upside down, turned the handle the wrong way and unscrewed it from the grater, until finally I gave up and said “when” and that’s all the cheese I got.)

_____________________________

Date: 8/4/97

Amount: $97.23

Description (names, titles): Myself, Homewood Suites Hotel, Hilliard, OH

Details: Depressingly palatial. Huge living room, desk with two chairs, sofa, armchair, TV, VCR, kitchenette with range, fridge, dishwasher. Two closets. The bed was longer than my queen at home, and wider than it was long. Could’ve slept my three brothers and myself easily. I used just one edge of it, like Gulliver in the seldom remembered “Brobdingnag” episode of his travels. There was a second TV in the bedroom—I could have watched two shows at once. Two bureaus, two nightstands, two Gideon’s Bibles. Imagine: a traveling couple cannot manage to share a Bible, so they each take one up and sit there, side by side in that gargantuan bed, reading.

I imagined putting up all my friends here the night before a bike race. Three would easily fit in the hide-a-bed in the living room, four in the bed, a dozen more on the floor. We never had such nice accommodations when I was racing; we’d be crammed into the available floor space of a single room. Here they have a pool, a spa, cable, continental breakfast, even “getting to know you night,” which is every night, and which is free food down in the lobby. Free food! Imagine! The calendar on the fridge tells what food is on what night: on August 4, it was “baked potatoes with the works.” The next night was Spageddies night. I never did attend “getting to know you night,” because I am depressed by the thought of getting to know the hotel staff. Am I really here that often?

Actually, this is my first stay at the Homewood—the latest stop in my nomadic search for the least offensive hotel. You see, as embarrassed as I am by how seriously these places take my simple needs, I’m strangely irritable in all matters of hotel comfort. Since convenience is the only benefit to travelling, the silver lining on being away from my wife and everybody else I know, I have become slavishly devoted to it. The slightest flaw becomes egregious. I gave up the Sheraton Suites because, besides being too far from the office, they insulted my intelligence by having Nintendo in the room, and had this ridiculous round mirror, on an articulated arm, bolted to the main bathroom mirror. What its use was I’ll never know, but it just banged around and got in my way, and distracted me as I found myself struggling, time and time again, to figure out its purpose. The Wyndham Suites was too noisy: the air conditioner shrieked like a wind tunnel, the bathroom fan was always on, wheezing and rattling, and a construction project—a badly needed renovation—caused various annoyances like a half-mile detour to get to the elevator. Beyond that, the shower head came out around my chest, so washing my hair became a contortionist’s act.

The Sumner Suites, meanwhile, is so convenient to the office that it took a huge number of grievances before I finally gave up on it. For one, the elevator bell was way too loud, which not only woke me up (I sleep nervously on the road) but insulted me with its needlessness. I mean, who doesn’t notice that his elevator has stopped, and that the doors are open? Then, their workout room was absolutely swimming in Lemon Fresh Pledge. One time, the housekeep left my door open all day. What’s more, once when my Vingcard stopped working, the front desk staff gave me a new key, no questions asked, meaning any respectable-looking fellow could get instant access to my room. And, perhaps most annoyingly, when I routinely smuggled the extra bath bar into my toiletry bag, they never replaced it. As though the housekeeper was saying, “I know your kind—you soap stealers, do you think we’re stupid here! I saw your squirreled-away soap! You’re not getting two bars a day just to take home!” Damn it, that soap is rightfully mine. It’s like my consolation prize, something to take home to my wife as a peace offering after leaving her home alone all week.

Now, the Homewood Suites is much better. I’m sure I’ll have my minor grievances—I’ll tire of the two identical paintings which won’t vary from room to room, and of the sandpaper-like fake Kleenex, never more than five tissues to a box. And, I’ll probably never get over the fact that the windows won’t open. I read an article about hotels, actually, and about what they’re willing to do for customers and what they aren’t. Your nicer hotels are willing to use tan-colored towels, for example, even though they can’t bleach them—a nice touch. But almost no hotel will have windows you can open, because, among other things, they’re worried about people jumping.

dana albert blog

5 comments:

  1. dude!
    reading your blog makes me feel more like a schlock than i thought...nevertheless, love your prose as always and i relish the memories of coming home to the apartment with you in the living room pounding the keyboard at high velocity to James Brown on the big-ass headphones (albeit before the big ass headphones were 'cool')...

    good times!

    ReplyDelete
  2. “Please do be sure to check around your seat for any personal items you may have left on boaaaaard. Be careful opening the overhead bins as items may have shifted duuuuring the flight. Should your future travel plans again call for air travel, we do hope that you will again choose America West as your airline pro-viiiii-der.”

    I hadn't realised this before but actually, you're right. Inflight announcements always sound exactly like this! It must be one of those constants, like the in-flight meal always tasting foul. Or the person in front reclining their seat on a flight that's an hour and a half long.

    We use video conferencing quite a bit too but I still spend a lot of time on business trips. I'm usually in serviced apartments now, rather than hotels which is a vast improvement. I've even managed to teach myself to cook a few things and my wife has a grudging respect for that.

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