Thoughts From Travelworld
It’s odd, really, how much travel I’ve been doing recently. I went nearly a year without any business travel and now it seems like every other day I’m away from home, in a hotel or on an airplane. As I write this, I’m (mostly) sober in a hotel room five hundred miles from my home, missing Mrs. Likko’s company and the comforts of home. I’m making time to write, though.
There’s a strange monoculture in airports, at least in the United States and to a lesser extent in airports in other industrialized countries I’ve visited. The language may not always be English but there is the same general attitude, the same pervasive sense of atomized individuals moving with purpose, producing an overall impression of chaos. If you’ve been in one airport terminal, you have tasted the essence, the atmosphere, and the experience, of being in nearly every airport terminal everywhere. In a way it’s inspiring to think that this sort of thing really is universal — until you realize that Travelworld is also pretty banal and mildly unpleasant.
Of course, a cocktail helps, even if it is expensive.
In airport terminals, even at the busiest of times, it is possible to find things (placed intentionally and for this purpose, of course) that have calm. Los Angeles Extragalactic’s terminal one, which is where you catch Southwest and U.S. Air flights, has trees planted in the concourse, and live birds live in them, feeding off of travelers’ leftover french fries, the water used to water the plants, and the absence of predators.
On airplanes, you sometimes hope to get seated next to the most attractive person on the airplane. On my flight today, I sat next to a bikini model. No, really. She was friendly enough — enthusiastically so, actually. And not really all that attractive up close. You know that models get a lot of makeup and staging and lighting, and the photographers and editors photoshop the picture afterwards if they don’t like what’s there. And the model herself was, well, stereotypically not all that bright or interesting to talk to. I’d much rather have had my wife, who is both cute and clever, than this bikini model.
Upon arriving at my hotel in my destination city, I find that there is a free dinner with complimentary beer and wine at the “manager’s reception.” This sounds good. But if I were the manager, I might have hoped for something a bit better than this being offered in my name. It was sustenance, and there were vegetables involved. Broccoli in thick, goopy, traffic-cone orange “cheese” sauce, to be specific. The breaded chicken cutlet was, well, it was okay. I’ll bet dollars to donuts that the same cutlets will be offered in between slices of a biscuit for breakfast tomorrow. But you know what? I remember a time that hotels didn’t think it was their job to offer food of any kind at all, much less dinner, breakfast, and lukewarm chablis from a box. So I need to quit my whining and partake of the food my client is paying for me to eat while away from home on his behalf. After all, food aimed at a general audience must be made, both affordably, and in a way that is at least minimally palatable to a large majority of Travelworld’s transient denizens.
Now, let’s say you have to pack your bag at five in the morning, knowing you won’t be home again until eleven o’clock the next night. Now, let’s say further that because it’s five in the morning, you’re going to forget something. What would you want that thing you forget to be? If the answer was “a clean dress shirt to wear with your suit tomorrow,” then you’re having the same road trip I am. And as things to have forgotten go, this isn’t really so bad. Again, I can recall an era in which hotels treated a request for an iron and an ironing board as they would have treated a call to room service to bring up one and a half gallons of 87-octane gasoline and a complimentary matchbook. Now, you pretty much get an iron and ironing board standard in your basic business hotel.
So I can do Mitt Romney’s trick of soaping and rinsing the shirt tonight and using the blow-dryer on it before ironing it to wear again tomorrow. If it doesn’t get all the smell out, well, after my nostrils acclimatize, that’s going to be someone else’s problem. After all, I’m not asking anyone for money. (That would be the guy suing my client who’s doing the asking other people, specifically my client, for money. My job is to say “No.”) I guess hotels have learned that not all guests are going to drunkenly start fires ironing their shirts.
Still, after so much travel, I’m chagrined that I forgot the clean shirt. I remembered my dirty shirts, in the cleaner’s bag in the trunk of my car at a parking lot near Los Angeles Extragalactic, but not the clean one.
When I was young and just out of law school, I thought business travel would be fun. Go to interesting places, sample the local food, maybe meet someone at the hotel bar not interested in the attachment of strings. Then I got old enough that business travel became a reality. And I learned that when you travel for work, it’s not fun, it’s work. No hotel room, no matter how comfortable, is going to be better than my own living room. I’ve no taste or interest in a short-term bed companion anymore; I want my wife. No one makes cocktails, or breakfast, with the skill or quality that I can at home. No hotel bed is as comfortable as mine, even if the mattress and pillows are of higher quality. No room in another city has my dogs there waiting to be petted and to look at me with pleading eyes, asking wordlessly to be fed bits of carrot.
Sadly, though, professional work sometimes requires leaving the comforts and pleasures of one’s home and entering the bland monoculture of Travelworld. At least tonight I got settled in and got my work done with enough time left over to sit down and write something.