The Glory of Business Travel…or…How I Could See Myself Starting Fight Club

 Photo Courtesy of Fanpop

Photo Courtesy of Fanpop

First rule of Fight Club…..Don’t talk about Fight Club.  If you remember the movie, you remember Edward Norton’s character slipping into madness and creating his own reality.  It all starts because of his “single serving” life on the road as an insurance adjustor.  Single serve soap, single serve coffee, single serve shampoo, etcetera, etcetera. 

Over the past 35 years I have crisscrossed this country in trains, planes and automobiles.  I have traveled first class and I have traveled last class.  I have gotten into a Marriott Courtyard in Nowhere North Carolina at midnight and bought M&M’s and popcorn from the front desk for dinner and I have stayed at the Pierre by Central Park in NYC and paid $100 dollars for a room service cheeseburger.  I have on occasion been lucky enough to travel in private aircraft and I have flown enough Southwest flights to make me hate my fellow human beings.  I have traveled to one town for 7 days and 7 towns in 6 days --- on these trips, I struggle to remember where I am when I wake up at the local Hilton Garden Inn.

 Photo Courtesy of Brit Movie

Photo Courtesy of Brit Movie

In short, outside of having a Jack Lemmon like moment in “The Out Of Towners”, I have experienced just about every level of travel and the situations that come with it.  Because I am almost 57, I have also seen how travel in general has changed since I was a 10 year old flying with my mother to Kansas City on TWA.  In fact, I remember getting a suit at the Emporium on Market Street in San Francisco two months before we went to Kansas City…had to be dressed properly to fly!  A far cry from the sweat suits, pyjamas and other attire I see on planes today.  Then again, back in the 60’s each meal was served with real silverware with the TWA logo on it (yes, I did take a fork and knife).  I guess we are all victims of the broken window syndrome. 

If you don’t travel for business, you probably have a very warped view of what actually happens on the road.  Road madness is somewhat related to the class level you travel at, but there are certain natural laws of travel you can’t escape, just like the natural laws of nature.  Here are some of those natural laws you will encounter if you travel enough in “last” class, and that will eventually drive you into a “single serve” madness.

Airline Delays- 

I group these into two buckets: 

  •       Equipment Problems-If you have equipment problems with your aircraft (you have to call it aircraft to sound cool), you’re screwed 99 out of 100 times. Whenever I hear the announcement that, “we are having equipment problems….”, I start to sweat and begin to settle in for the next 10 announcements in which they tell the passengers they are trying to get a widget from somewhere and then we will be in the air.  I know that’s simply the precursor to….” we need to de-board the plane and rebook everyone”.  At that point, just surrender and know you are not getting to your destination for a while. 

 

 Photo Courtesy of Cinfex

Photo Courtesy of Cinfex

  • Self-Inflicted Delays-If you fly above Texas from January-April, as my mother used to say, “you’re asking for it."  There’s a reason why they gave away land to the early settlers in the west…..the weather is miserable in the winter.  Good luck flying to or connecting into Chicago, or as I like to call it “Ice Station Zebra” during those months.  God bless the people that live in the upper Midwest.  You are far tougher than us wimpy Californians.  The Cubs should win the World Series simply based on that fact.  

Same thing for much of the Midwest and East Coast during “Thunderstorm”  season.  Don’t’ forget Florida in late summer early fall…..hurricanes.  Sometimes you can’t avoid going into the forbidden zones.  When you do, just know you are messing with the travel gods and they will determine who wins. 

Airline Terminals- 

Depending on the airport, terminals range from high-end mall experiences (you could probably live in these terminals and never go outside) to quasi-third world refugee centers where there is one seat to every ten passengers……… side note-when I was a kid, we used to walk to the gate at SFO and wait for people to get off the plane.  It was considered rude to pick people up at the curb.  Man, that was a better time. 

Anyway, when I am in the third world terminals, it usually has a bad pretzel and coffee kiosk with people backed up 20 deep.  Gee, I don’t know why people’s health suffers when they travel.        

My Fellow Airline Passengers- 

I don’t think God ever intended 200-300 people to be jammed into an aluminum tube together, flying 30,000 feet in the air at 500-600 miles per hour for 5-6 hours.  When you board a plane, you have already put yourself in a bad dynamic.  Newsflash-those glossy TV commercials with smiling flight attendants and passengers going to exotic locations doesn’t exist in the real world.  As flights become more crowded (…our flight will be full today-really, I’m shocked!), seating becomes more cramped and planes age the problem with air travel will continue and the probability of Fight Club will rise.   I will give you my “what to watch out for” list: 

1.       Person who wants to chat-They always tip their hand early with some innocuous comments designed to see if you want to chat.  Don’t take the bait.  Be careful, you could be listening to someone’s life story all the way across the country.  If that’s your idea of a pleasant flight…..well, you may already be a candidate for Fight Club. 

 2.       Pissed off guy-Usually has the middle seat, but is used to the window or aisle.  He will try to dominate both arm rests, or have what is now called "man-spreading" into your already cramped seating area.  Settle in…..you have a long territorial battle ahead of you the whole flight. 

 3.       Hungry person-Someone always brings some awful smelling fast food on the plane with them.  I know airplane food sucks (when they even have it), but as Chris Carter says, “Come On Man!”  Not everyone wants to smell a meatball sandwich for five hours. 

4.       Crying Kids-Yes I said it.  Look, I raised three boys (well actually my wife did) and we went on airplanes with them.  They cried, I cringed.  No amount of preparation ahead of time seemed to alleviate the crying.  I get it, it’s part of the Faustian bargain we make to be in faraway places in short time periods for low prices.  However, after a weeklong trip of no sleep, airplanes, rental cars and meetings……I really don’t want to be by a crying kid.  I do have empathy, but I also don’t want to have a coronary on the plane. 

5.       Guy looking for girlfriend-Nothing more pathetic or annoying than having to listen to a guy trying  hard to impress a woman sitting next to him.  The level of pathetic is directly correlated to age.  The older the guy, the more pathetic.  Dude, if you owned Frampton Comes Alive on 8 Track (which I did), shut up…….she’s not interested. 

Some other minor violators include; no shoes in bathroom (more their problem), overweight guy (I didn’t know I bought some of this seat for you) and angry flight attendant (I’m sorry that a once cool job has become seriously uncool.)  I’m sure I could come up with more, but I am getting depressed thinking about my next flight! 

If there is one of the ten commandments I live by it’s to not covet thy neighbor’s stuff.  I don’t want McMansions, I hate cars ( I think my wife has bought my last three cars…I can’t stand the process), I wear clothes to the point of being retro cool, I have all the material shit I will ever need or want……but man, I would love to be able to fly in private aircraft.  The few times I have, has been a completely different experience than the ones above.  I think God did intend for us to have our own airplanes.  Until then I will continue to fly Southwest, where all the seats are first class and they all suck.  

Rental Cars- 

I have never gotten the car I contracted for...ever.  Enough said. 

Hotels- 

After staying in hotels of every quality level for the past 35 years, I have developed a new disease, which I am going to call roomusdepressionitis (I hope big Pharma can come up with a cool sounding drug to advertise on TV to combat this serious problem afflicting 30 million Americans.)

 Let me be clear…..I hate hotel rooms.  To all hotels…it’s a me thing, not a you thing.  Hotels usually provide reasonable places for people to stay.  However, after so many years on the road I have developed the following symptoms for hotel rooms……. I hate the way they smell, I hate the furniture, I hate the TV remote controls, I hate the thermostats, I hate the air quality, I hate the lighting (or lack thereof), but most of all I hate the showers.  I can’t stand low pressure showers, with fluctuating water heat. 

All of these symptoms have given me the dreaded roomusdepressionitis disease, which manifests itself in the lack of ability to fall asleep in a hotel room.  Yes, I doze a little, but I never reach any level of real sleep.  This creates a weird dynamic where by the end of a five day trip, I usually have a thousand mile stare off into space until I can jolt myself awake with a triple espresso.  It’s a vicious cycle. 

I can’t let this rant go by without mentioning the “free breakfast” at some of the lower priced hotels…I can’t eat anymore runny scrambled eggs.  At least I think they are eggs.  I also can’t watch people fight over the “make your own waffle” bars.  If a healthy day starts with a good breakfast, I am doomed on the road. 

So, why do we travel in business?  Why do we risk slipping into Fight Club madness? Why do we subject ourselves to a lifestyle that most certainly is cutting down on our lifespan?  It’s because, we still need to have human contact with the people we do business with across the country.  A telephone call, e-mail, text message, Facetime, Skype, etc. doesn’t take the place of sitting down with people and actually talking. 

 Dennis Carroll

Dennis Carroll

Until that day comes, or we can make transporting like in Star Trek a reality, I will continue to get on planes, lose sleep in hotel rooms and cut years off my life in order to move the business forward….OMG, I may already be in Fight Club!

By Dennis Carroll, CEO of the Wine Hooligans.

 

This blog post was written by Dennis Carroll in his personal capacity. The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not reflect the view of Charles Communications Associates. 


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