Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Nighti- (AWAKIE) Night

Interesting, trying to get a good night's sleep on the road when you're a Very Light Sleeper—and, I imagine, even if you're not. Travel schedules that don't work out the way you plan; insane agendas that do. The lure of the grab-and-go candy bar and a cola (CAFFEINE) when there's no other choice. The mental aftermath of meetings that leave your mind whirring like a meat grinder trying to create premium sausages out of carpet remnants. Alarms, which you didn't set, ringing at 4:30 a.m. next to your ear. Pillows and bedspreads that smell one day short of a nursing home. (I actually experienced this in a famous hotel. Double blaaaaach.)

For me, one of the worst violators of my snooze time is an air conditioner or heating system that clunks, or even just clicks, as it turns on and off, jarring me awake with each switch. Or how about doors that schloop-BANG? Or people who meet in the hall and TALK FULL BLAST RIGHT OUTSIDE YOUR DOOR?

Then of course we have the ongoing BING when your room is too near the elevator (can a hotelier out there please explain to me why this binging is necessary) and the heart jolting CL-CR-CL-CR-BLADL CRUNCH-BLADL CRUNCH, CLATTER-CLATTER-CLATTER of the 2 a.m. ice machine that's been jump started by a drunken sports fan or wedding reception attendee ready to continue partying with the rest of the folks who just rolled off the elevator to their block of rooms on your floor.

Another Real Baddy for me is when I'm tired, it's bed time and yet I can't go to my room because the business part isn't over yet . . . and then I catch a second wind. Why, you might wonder (or not) is this bad? Because my second wind is not a functional wind; it's about as productive at keeping me awake or helping me get to sleep as a gale blowing open the eyes on a corpse. When my head finally does hit the pillow, that's just how I look: eyes OPEN, yet dead.

As I ponder the plethora of sleep-producing travel accessories I've purchased in order to help me achieve a worthy eight--or at least five, or even three--hours of ongoing sleep, it's kinda mind boggling. And scary. Of course I've traveled with various types of eye covers (from silk, scented ones to used wet tea bags), ear plugs (I find swimmer's wax works best), lavender pillow sprays, sound machines (several brands and styles) and a humidifier. Yes, I honest-to-gosh bought a travel humidifier for one of my earlier book tours. It was heavy, cumbersome, hard to dry out before repacking and large enough that I had to check my bag if I also wanted to travel with essentials. (A quick Google search for "travel humidifiers" reveals they make them much smaller, lighter and smarter now, at least so they say. If you've found one you like, let me know.)

Shortly after arriving home from that tour, I came down with a horrendous case of bronchitis. I've always wondered if it had something to do with that spendy humidifier spewing wads of manufactured mist right at my face every night. But hey, if you wake yourself up enough times making that half strangling/half choking sound because your throat is as dry as a gravel pit, you're willing to try anything at least once, which relates to another reason I don't sleep: my own sounds wake me up. Any of them. Now that's bad.

Over time, I've resorted to:

*Flannel pajamas any time of year so I can turn the air conditioner as cold as it will go so it won't turn on and off;

*Locking my pillow around my noggin' with my arms as if I'm a professional wrestler who's turned on myself. Of course this was before pillows got too fluffy to fold in half. With the masses of monster shee-shee 600 thread count versions on today's hotel beds, I no longer try this for fear of suffocating myself;

*Sleeping with my head at the foot end of the bed (euuuwwww) so it's not so near the shared wall when the NOISY passionate express plays out next door, and

*Dialing the radio to "all static all the time," creating my own sound machine, or . . . .

I've tried them all. I've tried everything but sleep medications because I'm a speaker who often needs to wax PERKY very early in the morning, especially when I travel East and the breakfast meeting begins at 6 a.m. my time.

But lately I'm partaking in/using none of the above because I travel as light as possible (I never check a bag, no matter how wrinkled or dribbled I might end up looking), which means I need to keep things light and simple. My all-in-one secret nighttime weapon? A jar of Vicks® VapoRub® in my zip-top plastic bag. ("Cough Suppressant/Topical Analgesic." ) Just before turning out the light, I smear a dab of it under my nose (and sometimes on my sore, luggage toting back) and recall how comforting and soothing was my mother's tender, loving act of kindness when, as a child with a cold, she put me to bed by gently rubbing a good dose of the thick ointment into my chest. (Scientists say a sense of smell is a powerful memory invoker--but that it can also help us track like dogs. Well, not quite as well.) Then I thwack the pillows a few times, say my prayers and end them with AMEN AND GOOD NIGHT. It works about as well as anything, which is to say I've discovered that a comforting, sensory-laden routine is my best friend. It doesn't always produce the results I'd like, but it gets me as close, if not closer, than all other gizmos and theatrics I've tried throughout the years.

And yet . . . I still fan the pages of trendy travel catalogs in hopes of finding the One Small Thing that guarantees a good night's rest on the road. But even when I do spot those tempting dozing enhancers, I no longer fall for them. At least not yet.

So tell me, what are your best tricks for restful, peaceful, guaranteed shut-eye on the road? Or is this where together we simply say, "HA!"?

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Catch a BREEZY ride!

As you well know, life on the road offers an interesting array of opportunities and dilemmas, sometimes in the most unsuspecting places and ways. For instance, sometimes when we're thinking "And away we go!" we instead find a gate change downshifting us to "And away we go . . . to over there." Or worse yet, "Away we don't go--again," when we see the dreaded CANCELED gut punch flash before our eyes.

Other times, however, we enter an Unknown Transportation Zone and find we need to double-clutch just to keep up with the surprising swiftness and ease of the ride since due to our well seasoned seat-sitting traveling buns, we are prepared for the worst. Such was the case when, for the first time, I recently dared to approach the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) in Hotlanta Georgia.

Although I booked my airline reservations plenty early, I waited until the day before to figure my ride from the airport to the Hampton Inn near one of the dozens of Peach or Peachtree somethingorothers downtown. When I am travel weary--especially when I'm bone tired and bordering on YELLING--I book a private car since limo drivers often deliver a less herky-jerky ride than other alternatives, and my sanity and safety mean everything. But $77 one way when I'm on my own dollar? I'm feeling just a little cranky, not yet that desperate.

Next I move on to the share rides that make oh-so-many stops between the airport and wherever. While in the midst of that search I stumble upon a link for Ms. Marta. Hm. What's this?

A BUCK SEVENTY-FIVE? How good can THAT be? But it says it runs right out of the airport terminal, and the hotel tells me the peach-a-ma-hoosy station near them is just a block or two away. Well, I will have time to correct a mistake, so I think I'll give it a try. One thing I know for sure: it can't be less reliable than the airlines and it says it runs every 10-20 minutes, depending upon the time of day.

We'll see.
* * *

ALERT! ALERT! I am a woman traveling alone! Is it safe? What do I know about rails? And I've heard more than a few warnings about downtown Atlanta. Another call to the Hampton Inn helps assure me I'll have no problems. Plus, I'll be arriving with plenty of daylight to spare. Get over yourself, Charlene! Buck up and give it a whirl.

I have to admit that the MARTA website is slick, slick, slick. Maps, locators, instructions . . . . And who wouldn't want a "Breeze Card." Sounds almost as good as a beachy vacation, ey? "Over 590,000 MARTA Customers Have Caught the Breeze," it says on their opening page. "Fast & Easy." "Interactive." "Includes Bus and Rail." They even have a "New Rider Guide" and on the route map you can click on any station and it gives you all the information surrounding it, including PARKING availability or not!

I'm thinking they could have saved a lot of verbiage by saying, WE'VE GOT EVERYTHING! They even have a "See How to Use the Breeze Card" video, which I watch. Wowie. Just tap and go. By the time I leave for the airport, I feel fully armed to tackle Something New. And away I go!

Of course my plane is late departing O'Hare. Of course.

When I finally arrive at ATL, I follow the signs (with only one brief question to a passer-by) to MARTA and buy my round-tripper Breeze Card. Yup, just like that, I catch the breeze! Although I have a tad of trouble with the "just tap it" part, that's only because I'm trying to tap the green light rather than the tap pad. My dumb bad. But someone is there to help me out by pointing to the obvious. ("Poor thing," I hear her say in her head.)

I board the last car (the woman at the Hampton told me to) which is as clean as a whistle. Easy map on the wall so I can follow the stops. Nice. It's a smooth 19-minute ride, which beats all other modes of transportation by less than HALF!

[INTERJECTION: Do not file your Breeze Card too far away after you enter the gates; you'll need to tap it again to GET OUT of the gates at your arrival. Ask me how I learned this. No, don't.]

I ride the longest, steepest escalator (two of them, I think--or was it three?) I've ever been on, but I pop right out where I was told I'd be. A short walk, and Hampton Inn, here I am!

$1.75 and 19 minutes. Easy. Breezy. CLEAN. Smooth. Everything they said it would be, and more. I saved $75.25 by not taking that limo ride. Fabulous dinner or two, here I come!

Airlines, if I can catch that breeze all the way from ORD to ATL--or anywhere else I travel--I'll do it.

Readers, if you'd like to make any other comments about Atlanta's MARTA, jump right in. I admit I'm only a one-time rider thus far, but that ride was awfully dern good.