Saturday, March 9, 2013

You Go Business Pro…You Go.

I no longer travel well. I used to be a good at it. Always had my travel stuff ready to go and knew how to navigate “the system”. But these days I don’t travel much. So I no longer need a lot of travel stuff. When I do travel, it’s a major process of packing and preparing with lists of “stuff” I need to take on the trip. It takes me twice as long to pack and I end up taking twice as much stuff as I would have when I traveled regularly.

And the travel itself is tedious. I do not have a lot of points nor any priority status, so I don’t get to board with the “big boys” anymore. I even have to pay extra to get a less claustrophobic seating assignment. It takes longer to get through security. The planes are more crowded. Everything costs more money. Most of the people you deal with barely speak English or if they do it’s mumbling, fast-talk, no-eye contact kid speak. I just hand them my credit card and ID. Otherwise, I do not respond until they speak intelligibly.

This week I attended the Truckload Carriers Association (TCA) Convention in Las Vegas and it was painful. Convention business travel is near the top of my worst list. Las Vegas convention travel is second worst only to any place in Florida. And if one is an exhibitor, it only adds to the pain. And the pain started before I even left DFW. Since I live in the boondocks, I have a 75 mile trip to the airport. But it is Saturday morning… no traffic, no problem. I’m pounding down coffee and stop to take a whiz before entering the no-man’s land of off-site parking/shuttle bus service. After relieving myself and purchasing a pack of gum (just hate to pee and run), I return to my Dodge Ram (yes I drive a pick-up with a big V-8 hemi engine…so sue me). I look down and see what I think is a large piece of gravel in the treads of my left rear tire. Being ever vigilant, I check it out and see that it’s actually the head of a large screw that is embedded into the tire. Shit. So I go ahead and park the car and begin the process of making arrangements to get the tire changed while I am gone. Of course, the locks on the wheel require special keys and the highest level national security clearance to unlock. All of which makes arranging for a simple tire change just slightly less complicated than putting a man on the moon. The old guy driving the shuttle van takes note of my dilemma and offers all sorts of useless advice such as avoiding construction areas in the future which would pretty much restrict all travel to my driveway. Ultimately I just give up and like any good husband decide to let my wife take care of the tire problem.

Fortunately there are no long lines at the airport and I have a relatively hassle free flight to Las Vegas. From there things go downhill. The convention is at The Wynn. The Wynn is nice enough, the rooms affordable at the convention rate. But they kill you on food and beverage. It’s just crazy. My room is not ready, so I decide to check out the exhibit area. Turns out that the exhibit is so far removed from the meeting rooms and more importantly the casino, that the only people likely to show up are those who are lost or looking for free water. This is not going to be good.

I get a text advising me that my room is ready. After tipping the bellman (I think this is the third tip and I’ve been here less than two hours), he shows me how to turn on the lights, cool the room and open the drapes via the high tech control panels conveniently located near my king-sized bed. The bellman/ room operations instructor reminds me that the water and goodies in the mini-bar/pantry are charged automatically if I pick them up for more than 60 seconds. Seriously?

I then decide to lay down for a quick nap and the doorbell rings (yes, I have a doorbell on my Wynn room.) It’s housekeeping wanting to know if everything is ok. When I say it would be very much ok if they would just leave me alone and let me sleep, she ask if no one showed me how to use the “privacy please” button on the room control panel. I confessed that I was so enamored with the automated drape and light control buttons that I blew right past the privacy please option.

After wandering around the casino and donating $20 to Steve Wynn via a slot machine, I try to find a reasonably priced placed to eat. Such an establishment does not exist on this property, so I end up paying $40 for a bowl of pasta and $7 for domestic beer. I can’t afford to stay awake; literally I cannot financially afford to stay awake at this place, so I go back to the room. I watch some TV (the free channels) and then it’s lights out, or so I thought. Turns out that the gadget control panels (there are two of them) have incredibly powerful backlighting. The room is only slightly less bright than the Strip outside my window. In addition to the bright lights I hear explosions as the Treasure Island pirate ship gets blown up one more time. Shit.

So I get up and put a towel over one of the control panels. The other takes more ingenuity. Luckily, and for no good reason, I have an almost used up roll of athletic tape in my shaving kit. Guess I was prepared to tape up my ankles or something. At any rate, I put it to good use taping over the wall mounted control panel. Now it is reasonably dark in the room other than the drapes which don’t quite close all of the way. So I get up again, manage to pull and tug, tape up and stack furniture against the drapes until at last the room is dark. I cram and twist my earplugs in and finally go to sleep.?

On Sunday, I get the booth set up quickly and then have nothing to do until late afternoon when the exhibit opens. I decide to kill time by walking up and down the strip watching people, which is far and away the most entertaining and least expensive way to spend time in Vegas. I also stroll through the “Shoppes” at the Wynn, Palazzo and Venetian. “Shoppes” must somehow translate to 1000% mark-up. Either that or it means a place where sugar daddies spend all of their money on women half their age. A Sunday spent watching this nonsense can do more for ones perspective than a hundred sermons.

The next morning I go to the free breakfast sponsored by CAT Scale which was interesting given the way people were piling food on their plates. Everyone was bitching about the cost of food at the Wynn, so they were loading up. Guys were stuffing bagels and Danish in their bags, grabbing extra bottles of water and pop. After eating about six eggs and nine pieces of bacon, I was ready to face the day along with the significantly increased probability of having a stroke or heart-attack.

The Exhibit was poorly attended. For the first time I can recall, there were no big trucks at the exhibit. How do you have a trucking convention and no trucks? Mostly, it was vendors talking to vendors while the trucking executives were off playing golf with truck manufacturers who have figured out that there are better ways to spend money than hauling a truck into an exhibit and having a bunch of guys stand around handing out pens and caps.

Tuesday’s free breakfast was sponsored by Great Dane Trailers…way to go Great Dane. Once again it was a feeding frenzy. Other than those lucky enough to have been entertained by the big truck manufacturers, everyone else acted like this was the first food they had seen since Monday’s free breakfast. The final day of the exhibit included lunch which turned out to be sliders, biscuit wrapped sausages, lemonade and cookies. Glad that my annual check-up is still several months away. Even on this day with free food, the exhibit attendance was so spotty that vendors were taking down their booths an hour before closing time and trying to catch earlier flights. (Hello TCA…can you hear me?)

I had an uneventful flight back to DFW (uneventful is always good). My wife had taken care of the tire issue, but in the process swapped out vehicles leaving her car in another space which totally confounded the shuttle driver. I finally convinced him to just let me off the frickin’ bus and I would get to my car. Getting out of the lot was an adventure as well. I explained to the attendant what had transpired with the tire and everything. But she was not buying it. I had to fill out three forms, show her my flight itinerary, registration and driver’s license. So don’t try to pull a fast one on Park ‘N Fly…they run a tight ship.

Finally with my hands on the wheel, I drive off into the night. Half way home I am far enough away from the city lights to see the stars in the clear Texas night sky. It’s a cool 38 degrees, but still I lower the window an inch or two to get some fresh air. I’m listening to George Strait sing about the things I would sing about if I could sing like George Strait. As I settle in for the rest of the ride home, I realize that in my frustration and haste to get off of the Park N' Fly bus, I left one of my bags behind. Shit. It really is true. I am no longer a good traveler. As for the bag I left behind…I think I’ll let my wife take care of it tomorrow.

“Home is a place you grow up wanting to leave, and grow old wanting to get back to.” John Ed Pearce

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