After Two Years Desk Bound – I Return to the Road
Prologue – Up and Out
All the lights in the house were out except one: the light streaming from the 32 inch flatscreen television that sat on top of the tall wide dresser.
One of the many crime investigative shows, that crowd today’s broadcast airways, was playing. I sleep with the television on. It was 3:00AM. My eyes popped wide open again just as they did at 1:00AM and again at 2:00AM. My alarm was set to go off at 3:30AM. At this point I said forget it, flung the bed covers off my body and sat up on the edge of the bed.
Forty-five minutes later I was showered, dressed, drinking coffee and zipping up my carry-on luggage. It was 26 degrees Fahrenheit in Danbury, Connecticut. White smoke rose from the exhaust of my rental car as it warmed up. Most times It’s cheaper to rent a car at a corporate rate and drop it off at the airport than it is to park your own.
With my luggage snuggly packed in the back of the car I backed out, put the car in drive and was on my way.
Welcome to my post from my business travel log. There will be more to come. I hope you enjoy it. Stay tuned.
Part I – Conditioning
The large, gray, four-legged creature darted out of the shadows into the wash of the street light. Fortunately I was obeying the 15 mile per hour speed limit at my apartment complex. Deer love to walk through my complex at all hours of the night.
I take it easy on the main road. More deer may be roaming. At 4:30AM I can count on one hand the number of cars traveling down Mill Plain Road. The highways will be different.
Interstate 84 runs right through Danbury. It’s congested. It connects travelers to Highway 684. Highway 684 runs between Brewster, New York and White Plains, New York. It’s congested. The Hutchinson Parkway, often referred to as ‘The Hutch’, runs through Westchester County . It’s congested and it’s barely 5:00AM.
“It must be a lot of fun traveling like you do.”
“I wish I had a travel job like yours.”
I think about comments like these when I am competing with cars and trucks while speeding down the highway in dark predawn hours. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy traveling but I am conditioned to the hardship of road travel. Fatigue and weariness sets in at week two of continuous business travel. You wake up and your mind says I’m tired of this, yet because you are conditioned, you find yourself getting dressed (after bathing of course) grabbing your luggage and heading to the airport.
Blinking lights of white and blue mounted upon the high cables of the Whitestone Bridge signal our exit from the Bronx into Flushing Queens. Off in the distance more lights outline the shape of the Throgs Neck Bridge. My weariness changes to exhilaration. My exhaustion turns into adrenaline. Conditioning and experience kick in.
Part II – Don’t Eavesdrop
I dropped off my rental, boarded a bus and rode to the terminal. I printed my boarding pass and started my prep for security.
First, I removed suspenders, watch, wallet, keys, change, bills, glasses, phone and threw all in my backpack. Next, I breezed right through security check. After restoring suspenders, wallet, watch, etc., to their proper place it was time to find a coffee shop.
Now I sit at my gate, sipping my coffee and i read. Two young adults dressed in business attire sit in the two seats to my left.
“What time do we meet with the senator?”, the young lady asks her colleague.
I tell myself, Don’t eavesdrop.
“Eleven-Thirty”, her colleague responds.
I tell myself, It doesn’t matter how loud they talk. Don’t eavesdrop.
“We really need support”, the young lady continued.
I tell myself, Okay, eavesdrop.
“We need the funding”, the young man remarks.
My ears swell.
“What are you guys taking about”, says a gentleman, closer to my age, who just walked up to where we were seated. “I could hear you halfway down the concourse.”
Now I wanted to turn my head and see how blush both of their faces were. Nonetheless, I kept looking at my phone. The chatter ended.
“Good morning passengers, Flight Ninety-Four to Reagan-National D.C. is ready to start boarding…” boomed over the intercom. Disappointed, I put away my phone, grabbed my roller bag and fell in line, right behind the two chatter boxes and their older colleague. The whispering begins.
Part III – Puddle Jumping Again
From my vantage point, the top of the airplane looked fine. Can you just picture me standing at the doorway of the small regional jet, taller than the door, my head jutting above the door and the top of the airplane. Stop laughing. I’m puddle jumping again. Haha, if you are laughing that’s great and I’m happy that I made you laugh.
The flight attendant greets me as I bend way down to walk through the door. I am six feet, four inches tall. Small aircraft, AKA puddle jumpers, weren’t built for me. Nonetheless, I have been riding them most of my adult life. Passengers stare as I walk bent down from the entrance to my seat. It’s a long walk to row twenty on a twenty-five row airplane. Smiles glow from row to row.
I put my coat away, I’d left my roller bag at gate check baggage, then I squeeze into my narrow seat. Hmm, i need to get back to the gym, I think.
As I fasten my seatbelt, I think about a few of the puddle jumpers from past years. My first looked like a gooney bird: Columbia, South Carolina to Charlotte, North Carolina — a ninety mile ride. The big propellers are what scared me the most.
My girlfriend, who dropped me off at the airport, asked “Is your insurance all paid up?”
“Health or life”, I asked her.
“Both”, she replied.
Back to my current moment, I smile as I think about the gooney bird. I raise my window flap. I stare at the terminal. My mind moves towards another memory.
“Good Morning passengers welcome to USAmer flight 49 to Pittsburgh. The aircraft door is closed. Please put away all laptops and transmitting devices and put your smartphones in airplane mode.”
The flight attendant’s announcement pulls me back to my current moment. I’ll think about the other memory later, I say to myself. I leave the window flap open and wait for lift off.
Part IV – Another Puddle Jumper
I slept right through takeoff. I raise my window flap and peep out at the clouds. This little regional jet is flying at a rather high altitude. I squirm and I grunt. Single seats are mounted along the left side of the craft. I have the benefit of both an aisle and a window at the same time but this seat is tight. I squeezed myself into it when I sat down.
I’m reminded of a flight I took from Westchester County Airport in White Plains, New York to the Bangor Airport in Bangor, Maine.
I was beat that evening in early December, 1993. I’d been traveling all over the northeast corridor between Boston and New York. After check-in I was looking forward to taking a nap on the plane. It was another puddle jumper. Worse, it was a prop job. Far worse, my seat was right over the tire well. Not only did it seem like my knees were up to my chin but there was a constant rumble. The tires rumbled and shook while it taxied to the runway and the tires rumbled and shook while we were in the air.
I turned to my left, laid my head against the window, closed my eyes and after snoozing for 2 or 3 minutes my eyes popped wide open. I turned to my right, tried to sleep again but the same thing happened again.
I sat up, pulled a folder, a writing tablet and a pen out of my backpack. I started working. There was a lot of work to do. An hour and a half later I was still working. We landed.
My hotel was on the airport grounds and it was connected to the terminal. I just grabbed my bags from baggage claim, took an escalator upstairs and walked across the sky bridge to my hotel.
“Welcome back Mr. Johnson”, said the hotel manager as he greeted, “would you like your usual pot of coffee?”
“Tonight will be a long night”, I said, “may I have two pots?”
“Certainly”, said the manager smiling.
My mind returns to the current moment. That was some memory, I say to myself. I look out my window. The clouds look so still from the window of just another puddle jumper.
Part V – Riding the Double Decker
My plane makes a long downwind track past the Whitestone bridge before making a longer arc to face the runway. I think about a long journey I took in 1995 from Krasnoyarsk to Moscow.
The plane from Krasnoyarsk, Siberia, to Moscow was not a puddle jumper. It was a huge double decker Russian airliner. It was not the most modern of airliners but it was modern enough. My translator, Sergey, and I rode in first class.
“Jerry, how are you feeling”, asked Sergey.
“This toothache is killing me”, I replied.
“When we get to Moscow we can get some good medicine for you”, said Sergey.
“Zdravstvujtye, chto-nibud’ vypit “, said the handsome lady elegantly dressed in the blue, and white uniform with the long purple velvety scarf draped around her neck.
“I know what she said Sergey. What’s on that cart she’s pushing? I see vodka. Wait, what’s in that tall brown bottle?”
Sergey looks at the cart. “That’s Cognac.”
“French?”, I respond.
“Okay, Jerry, it’s Brandy.
The young lady pops the top of the Brandy after Sergey asks for it. My toothache is pounding.
“Nyet”, I tell her, “just give me the bottle”, I say.
She understood. Her eyes met my grimace. She winced.
Her language quickly switched to English, “Sir, I hope you feel better soon.”
“Spasiba Bolshoi”, I responded.
“Pozhaluysta”, she replied, smiling.
Hearing the wheels of my aircraft lock down awakens me from my daydream of memories.
“We are on our final approach to LaGuardia, please put your seats in the upright position with seatbelts buckled and your tray tables stowed” boomed the flight attendant over the intercom.
I comply. I look out my aircraft window at beauty, I marvel at nature, my heart is thankful, my mind is at peace, my hands are steady, my feet are grounded , my emotions contemplate joy. We touch down. Spasiba Bolshoi, we arrive.
Part VI – Afternoon Lunches at O’Hare
The cavernous passageway between concourses L and H is vibrant with the movement of people. Business travelers, tourists, airport workers, TSAs, security officers and more flow in both directions. A few talk excitedly as they walk, others walk with earbuds plugged into their ears and some are like zombies, blanked faced, slowly trudging along, staring straight ahead.
I look out the tall, wide windows. Baggage trucks dart around airplanes and food trucks are raised up to aircraft loading doors by heavy duty cranes. Far away at the edge of the horizon, the silhouette of Chicago’s skyline stands tall.
I enjoy afternoon lunches at O’Hare. I remember the time I had meatloaf here in the same spot facing the same passageway and the same tall windows. That restaurant is gone. Another has taken its place and they do not serve meatloaf.
I was quite tired then and I’m quite tired now. Back then I wrote a poem titled “Meatloaf at the Airport.” Right now I’m writing this blog post. History does repeat itself, I think.
“May I have my check please?”
“Thanks for stopping by”, says my server 3 minutes later.
He leaves the check on my table. One sausage dog and a sparkling water for a total of $15.32 reads the long slip of paper.
“I’ll be right back”, he says taking my credIt card as he dashed to the register.
I leave the signed slip along with a tip on the table, grab my bags and I head towards my gate. The dog was good but I miss my meatloaf. I reminisce about the last time I ate here:
MEATLOAF AT THE AIRPORT
I’m eating a late lunch at an airport,
at a restaurant named after a notable,
noted, well known chef
who deserves redundant adjectives
for the food is just that good.
Maybe it’s not the healthiest choice,
turkey meatloaf wrapped
in a thin slice of bacon,
mashed potatoes smothered
in a layer of light brown, turkey flavored gravy.
The meat loaf looked like it was gently placed
by gentle hands on top of the potatoes
while thin cut, brown coat onion rings
were sprinkled over the layered stack,
topped with one last spoon of gravy,
just a dripping from top to bottom.
I have prime seating, facing main concourses,
two in the afternoon, prime space,
prime time, prime people watching,
truly, it does take all kinds to make a world.
I peer at the large windows,
gazing outside, I see several planes
parked at several gates and I think:
it’s gonna be a long ride.
Part VII – “What a Wackadoodle”
It’s the largest bay window I’ve ever seen. Twenty-five feet tall by fifty feet wide, mostly glass with dark cherry wood trim. It was immense in its display and oblivious to the loud patrons in the bar.
“What a wackadoodle”, blared the rotund man with the rotund face. Laughter exploded at the table of six people where he sat.
“Don’t let him drive to the plant anymore”, piped the man with the scraggly beard.
“A u-turn over a huge median with a packed car. What was he thinking? What a wackadoodle”, the rotund continues.
“I thought the bumper was going to fall off”, said scraggly beard.
“The bumper did fall off”, retorted the rotund.
“Oh I know, that was when we arrived at the plant and parked”, replied scraggly beard, “I thought it was going to just drop off after the car scraped over the curb”
Laughter bursts from the junior members of this crew who sat at the table.
Not to be outdone by the rotund and scraggly beard, two gentlemen seated at the far side of my long tall table raise their voices several octaves.
“Frank doesn’t have a long term strategy”, says the man in the gray suit, white shirt and shiny black tie.
“You needn’t inform me. I know he doesn’t have a long term strategy”, says the man in the blue shirt and burgundy suspenders, “He is in it for the short term. He wants to get his bonus and run”
Gray suit bangs his hand on the table, “That’s exactly what I been telling people but who listens to me.”
Suspenders chimes in, “yeah, I been telling folk too but no one is listening.”
I can’t help but listen as I look out the window. I think to myself, this is one loud hotel lobby bar. The last time I heard this much noise at a lobby bar was in Chicago during the MLB playoffs when the Cubs were getting their butts kicked by the Mets. That was years ago and I sat quietly then as I ate just as I sit quietly and eat now. I check my itinerary for tomorrow. My flight leaves out of Newark at six-eleven in the morning. That’s why I’m spending the night at this full service hotel right here at the airport.
This pork belly pasta dish I’m eating tastes delicious. I didn’t know that you could mix pork belly with penne pasta. The pine nuts, vinegar, oil, chopped brussel sprouts, green onion and parsley really brings out the flavor.
“Sir, can I get you something else?” asks my waiter.
“No, just the check. I got a very early flight in the morning. I’m turning in for the night.”
“I don’t blame you, I’ll be right back” says my waiter as he takes my cleaned plate.
I stare out the large bay window of the hotel. It is still and oblivious to the noise in the lobby. I’m not oblivious. I can’t help but hear: “What a wackadoodle…”
Epilogue – Returning Home
I love kids but traveling back home during the holiday season can be quite hard on your ears.
“Sit still Charlie”, says Charlie’s Daddy. Charlie sits down, looks around and then stands up and steps into the aisle. “Come on, Charlie, sit down.”
“We are dancing, dancing, dancing, people, people, dancing, dancing, people”, sings two little girls who sit right behind Charlie.
“Da, da, da, da, daaa”, sings another little girl across the aisle from the two.
“Mommy, let me have it. Mommy let me have it”, screams a little darling.
“We need to put little Dumpy away for a moment, honey. After I buckle up your seatbelt you can have him back”, says Mommy.
“No, no, no”, cries little darling, when Mommy takes the tiny stuffed elephant and throws it under the seat and reaches for the seat belts buckling up little darling.
Poor Dumpy, I think to myself as I remove my ear pods and replace them with my sleek, black, over-the-ear headphones.
I’m headed back to Newark. I traveled extensively over the last two months of November and December. This is the final leg of year 2019. I’m ready to be at home for a change. After I arrive in Newark, I’ll take a shuttle to Grand Central terminal in Manhattan then take Metro North to home.
I put my phone in airplane mode. Our pilot informed us earlier that our flight may be very bumpy due to reports of heavy turbulence along our route. Cabin service would be canceled. My seat belts are fastened. I press the play button on my headphones. I put my head back against the seat as I feel the plane back away from the gate.
I read as we taxi. I’m on an airbus 320. It has 26 rows of seats. With the exception of first class, there are 6 seats per row. The plane is packed with nearly 150 people. I’m seated in row 26. I feel the airplane turn. It won’t be long now, I think to myself. The pilot slowly releases the throttle and we begin to pick up speed. Then he pulls the throttle way back and with a roar we lift off. I feel my body being pushed by a nano sized G-force. I put away my reading materials. I close my eyes, fall asleep and I dream.