I think that the greatest hell yet inflicted upon me in the name of corporate fealty is the overnight business trip.
The true hell is that there's something vaguely glamorous about the notion of being sufficiently high on the industry food chain that not only can you or your company afford to make such a ludicrously out-of-proportion expense part of your or their budget, but that it's worth any conceivably cheaper alternative. There's something attractive about being a member of the jetset community. "Sorry, baby, can't stay for breakfast; I'm flying out to
LaGuardia in the ay-em to lunch with a vee-pee, then it's drinks in Denver with the see-tee-oh on Wednesday, but I'll be back in town on Thursday if you want to hook back up." It feels so seventies-luxury, definitely something I'd have to consider a guilty pleasure.
At least, I would if right now I didn't feel like my body were trying to send my intestinal tract into involuntary exile.
My tale starts Sunday around 14h00 EDT. I'd packed and prepped for the trip as best as I could. Previous flights in recent years—like my last business trip— had suggested that individuals are allowed a total of three bags on the plane, of which at least one must be checked; and that one is also allowed a personal item such as purse or laptop bag. Thus, because I was only going on an overnight, I packed accordingly: I put everything into two carry-on bags, including Malachi, who goes with me everywhere when I travel because he loves to fly and to see new things. At the time, I thought this would mean I wouldn't have to go through the hassle of baggage claim, as that always eats up a good half-hour or more of my time, waiting for my suitcases to make their magical reappearance from whatever stygian pit in which they were stored for the duration of the trip. This will later prove to be a Bad Idea(tm), but it made sense at the time I did it.
Having packed, Kitana graciously took me to the airport so I wouldn't have to leave the Blazer there overnight. I spent most of the drive into the airport thinking that because it was early Sunday afternoon, the crush of bodies shouldn't have yet started and the flight should be reasonably easy. I'd flown on Sundays before, and while they were early-morning flights I'd seen crowded early morning flights before and I thought this would be comparable to the volume I remember from my whirlwind trip to Washington to pick up Jessie's belongings from her old apartment with Greg and Pascal.
The security line at the terminal to get into the gate area reached halfway to the parking lot.
Now, truth be told, this wasn't as bad as I'd seen it in the past. At times it's not only reached the parking lot, but doubled back towards the check-in counters again. Strictly speaking, this was relatively light traffic. However, because one of the security lines was closed, the trip into the gate area took just as long as it usually did. They've also finally implemented a policy of "take your laptop out of its bag and send it through the x-ray machine separately," which they hadn't done before. So, this time when I get to the x-ray machine, I have to drop everything, dig my laptop out of its case, put it in a bag, and then reassemble things enough that they can be
sent through the machine behind the laptop, only to reverse the process on the far end, with no convenient tables at which to work.
After this, I beeped going through the arch.
Now, having gone through this process before not two months ago, I should have remembered that my collar would set off the metal detector. Truth be told, I don't really think of it as a separate thing any more. It's my collar, and I refer to it in the same way I would my finger or my left knee. It's just another part of my body. So, when I beeped, I instantly knew what it was, and yet up until that moment I had genuinely forgotten it was there.
The woman managing the archway asked me to step back and offered me a choice: remove the collar or get wanded. At the time, I chose to remove it, but what that does to my brain every time I take off my own collar... I think I'm going to ask Jessie at some point for a locking one that doesn't come off. I'd rather put up with the wanding than willingly remove my own collar from around my neck, even if I do have my Mistress' permission to do it. It feels like disobedience, even with the orders.
I am no stranger to odd headspace.
After making it through security, the wait for the flight wasn't too bad, though the flight itself was quite annoying. Above, I said I had packed two carry-on bags and my purse. It seems that the policy of "three bags, of which one must be checked, and a personal item" is officially long-dead in the public literature, though I would have sworn that both Continental and USAirways allowed such things. However, I can find no evidence of this on either site. At any rate, it was most definitely not allowed on United, and so when I got to the gate I had
to stuff my purse into my suitcase so that my laptop bag would be my "personal item."
Now, let me digress here just for a moment and say that I am utterly insane, because not only do I talk with my plushes, but some of them talk back to me. Not necessarily in words, but they have moods and feelings and
opinions that are in their own way just as real to me as my own. This established, Malachi was unhappy at being stuffed inside my carry-on suitcase because he normally travels in my backpack where he can stick his head out
and see everything that's happening. This time, I didn't bring my backpack, so I had nowhere else to put him but the suitcase. He wanted to come along, and I told him he could come out to look out the window during the flights, which he loves to do, so he agreed to sit in the suitcase. Then when I had to cram my purse in there, there was suddenly no room for him inside! I ended up having to take Malachi out of the suitcase interior and put him in an external pocket zippered up around his head. This was less uncomfortable, but even more confining, and he was very upset about this but put up with it because he knew we didn't really have any other choice.
Malachi is a very good bunny. Sometimes he's a better bunny than I am.
The flight itself was crammed full, as in there were literally no spare seats anywhere on the plane to be had. I also had the misfortune of being seated next to two people who spent the entire time chatting about nothing when one
of them wasn't complaining about me stepping on his ankles in my attempts to shift myself around in an economy class seat. By the time the plane touched down in Denver, I was ready to run screaming into the night away from life in small-town America.
Denver itself wasn't too bad at all, really. However, as my mother oft-liked to quote, "there's nothing in the world that's quite so bad as something that's not so bad." I ran into my coworkers, we rented an SUV, we drove to the hotel, we dropped off our belongings, I took the time to get Malachi out of the suitcase so he could stretch out on the bed, we went to dinner at Outback Steakhouse, we came back to the hotel, and we went to sleep around
23h00 local time. This all took about four hours, but it went fairly quickly because I was already tired by the time we actually got to dinner.
Pro-Tip: Trying to diet on a company per diem for food is difficult.
Now, having been exhausted, I should have slept like a rock, but something in my intestines refused to lie down and be still, because I woke up twice in the middle of the night. Not just "stir, roll over, sleep" but "wake up, sit up, put on glasses, look at clock, blink twice, lie back down and try to pass out again". When the alarm went off at 06h45 MDT, I thought I would die if I tried to move, but within five minues I was actually awake so I packed back up—and Malachi went back into the suitcase with only a token protest—so I could go down to breakfast.
I met up with the rest of my team in the lobby, we had a quick morning meal—an omelette and some bacon with water for me—before heading to the Denver facility to meet with the production staff there. We ended up spending about six hours on-site, but to tell the truth we really didn't get anything actual production-related done there. The entire trip felt like a goodwill visit. The operations manager of the Denver center very rarely tells
us anything is wrong until it's been wrong for some time, and then when we do finally find out that something needs to be done it's already well past the point at which we could've done it silently, and usually a VP of some sort is already involved, which isn't good for anyone. This visit really felt like an attempt to smooth out some ruffled feathers and hopefully get into some meaningful dialogue, rather than actually resolve any problems. If we
do get some problems resolved, so much the better, but nothing actually got mentioned that wasn't already being investigated.
Lunch was a bacon-cheddar-and-onion buffalo burger with a Caesar salad, which tasted kind of weird to me. The salad dressing had way more anchovy than I'm used to having—not bad but definitely not what I was expecting—and the burger itself had a really powerful taste that was again stronger than I'd anticipated. Plus, something in the combination of flavors was just off to me, but I didn't pay for it and free food always tastes best.
After the meal, we went back to the Denver warehouse and attended a conference call, then did a bit more e-mail management and Remedy analysis while my manager and the GM of the Denver site had a smoke, and then we packed up to head to the airport. This time going through security, I remembered to take off my collar before stepping through the archway, but as I was putting my laptop into the case, the TSA admin working the other side
of the conveyor said to me, "We recommend you remove your shoes and place them on the conveyor as well."
At the time, I thought to myself, what a funny way to put that, but then after some consideration I assumed the wording was deliberate. It's not really an order, but lots of people have metal grommets in their shoes, and if the archway is turned up high enough, those will be enough to make the scanner beep, and sending people's shoes through the x-ray system is a good way to stop that slowdown and keep the line moving. No worries, I know my
shoes are plastic and don't beep, so I proceed to the archway without removing them. I get two steps, and the TSA person looks at me very sternly and says again in a much more pointed tone, "Ma'am, we recommend that you remove your shoes and put them on the conveyor."
Ker-blink? I turn, a bit confused, and say, "They don't have any metal on them, and I wore them through Philadelphia's security system without beeping." Mind you, I'm still working on the notion that this is some kind of practical security or efficiency issue. I'm not trying to be belligerent or disruptive. Besides, she said "recommend." That's not an order; that's a request. If it had been an instruction, like "please remove your shoes and place them on the conveyor," I would have complied immediately, but because it was presented in the form of a piece of advice, I weighed it in my mind, judged against it and thought no more about it. Apparently this makes me a danger to America.
The response I got was, "It's not about what they're made of, and this isn't Philadelphia." Ker-blink again. If it's not about what they're made of—say, plastic explosive—then why x-ray them? If you're worried about shoe-bombs, then this is an issue, but then why phrase the instruction as a suggestion? Are most people so complacent that they respond to such juvenile techniques as the buy-in? That is, suggesting people do something so that their compliance is judged in their own heads as their decision rather than yet another order from a faceless authority—does this tactic really work with people?
Once in the terminal area proper, my manager and one of my coworkers spent an hour in the smoking lounge while my other teammate spent an hour on the phone to somebody, so I spent the time getting pssh to work on my Treo, then hopping onto IRC. I don't like that it's not SSH1 compliant, and I'm not too thrilled about its low-entropy PRNG, but it's still better than nothing.
Everyone else on my team left for Seattle at 17h40 or so, after a fifteen minute delay due to weather, and I had just under an hour to kill, so I went and got some McNuggets and a Diet Coke from the airport McDonalds, then
played more Spider on my Treo waiting for them to announce boarding. First the flight was delayed five minutes, then fifteen, then twenty-five, each time because of rain pushing back the landing time of the previous flight's arrival. Then we tacked on ten minutes until the cleaning crew could get inside the cabin to make the plane ready. Finally, they called boarding and told us that our scheduled arrival into Philadelphia would be 00h13 EDT, only twenty minutes off of schedule. I announced that time to everyone on channel, signed off, and boarded.
We then spent an hour on the runway waiting for the Denver tower to clean up a traffic jam on the taxiways. I don't think I've ever heard a captain of any plane flight say "I don't know what the people in the tower are smoking" before.
Of course, right as we move into position on the runway for takeoff, my guts decide they have to coredump Right Now, so I beg my way back to the toilets and evac just in time to get back for the liftoff. I think I missed being
stuck in the loo for launch by a minute and a half. This flight was far better than the last: I had an open seat next to me, my Nintendo DS was fully charged, Malachi got to look out the window and watch the clouds, and for the
most part things were fairly serene other than the late start.
We touched down at 01h31 EDT Tuesday morning, ninety-six minutes past when I was supposed to be on the ground. I was actually supposed to be home by the time I arrived at the airport. As it turned out, though, Kitana and Jessie were late getting to the airport because of other issues, so it actually worked out for the better that my flight was delayed. More coyote luck.
My guts decided that they needed to explode again on the way home. In fact, seizing an opportunity, I asked Kitana to exit 422 at Royersford so we could get late-dinner at the Wawa—pepperoni and provolone for me, a salad for Jessie—and so I could use their restroom. I almost didn't make it, but I did, and "explode"was definitely the word for it. Either something I'd eaten, possibly the buffalo burger, hadn't agreed with me, or I'd picked up a stomach bug. Either was possible.
By the time I got home, it was 03h15 EDT. I snarfed my dinner, plugged in the work computer, launched Outlook, sent the team an e-mail saying I would be working from home "tomorrow" because of the late hour, and crawling into bed. My intestines—not my bladder, but my colon—then woke me up at 08h00 and again at 10h30 to demand purging.
It is now 12h08 EDT. I've had the equivalent of six hours of sleep after being awake for nearly twenty, which itself is after the equivalent of five hours of sleep after being awake for nearly eighteen. It's time to go clean myself out, make some two-princess soup for breakfast, and then log onto the office laptop in the hallway so I can be "at work" today.
I need a vacation from my vacation.