Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Panic Turned Pathetic Turned Miracle

Last night’s typical preparations for today’s business trip:

*Fire out confirmation e-mails for the next few days’ doings.
*Stay up late to pack everything. (Even though I hate it, I’m always a last-minute packer.)
*Don’t get everything packed (never do), so set alarm for EARLY morning wake-up to finish.

This morning’s preparations:

*Check e-mails.
*Set up Flight Status Notifications for AA flights.
*Shower and finish packing, making sure each product I use during and after the shower is also packed in my flight bag.
*Unplug charging laptop and pack it.
*Unplug charging cell phone and pack it.
*Print copy of itinerary to insert in my back-of-the-room book sales’ suitcase I have to check, which contains books, which is why it weighs 42 pounds.
*Get in car for airport. (Retired husbands make handy limo drivers.)
*Use curbside service to check in, and check bag.

"WHAT?! They can’t find my reservation?"

After checking the spelling of my name and listening to me repeat, several times, my flight number and destination, Curbside Check-in Man says he’ll have to go inside to investigate. I tuck the collar of my Transition Travel Coat (going from a snowy 19 degrees here in Chicago to a rainy 70 in Irvine CA, so I wear the trench coat with a zip-out lining) up around my ears and wait. And wait.

Finally, I ask Curbside Check-in Man #2 if I’m naming the correct airport. After all, I told Man #1 I’m going to Irvine, John Wayne Airport, but I notice my e-mail flight confirmation, which I finally drag out of my itinerary packet, says Santa Ana.

“Let me see that,” he demands. Frustrations run high when it’s cold. His eyes scan the document. “Yup, we’re checking the right flight. But you’re here on the wrong day. Your reservation is for tomorrow.”

"WHAT?"

I check it myself. Sure enough, it says Thursday the 24th, which is tomorrow.

Dollar signs fly before my eyes. How did I screw this up? Trying to morph an economy ticket into a last-minute purchase will likely cost me thousands.

I tell my husband, who is still standing on the curb waiting for the parking Gestapo to make him move along, to go to the cell lot and wait for a call. I kick all my bags inside and get in line, then remember a major rule of the road: call the airlines while you’re standing in line. My first attempt to right my DUMB WRONG receives an “All circuits are busy” message.

Perfect.

My brain keeps repeating, HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?! I sent my itinerary to the good folks who hired me, a friend who’s taking me to dinner tonight, my husband . . . . How did nobody notice I booked an incorrect date?!

Kick the bags. Move forward. Try not to panic.

What if the airlines can’t find a way to get me to my speaking engagement by tomorrow night, what with today's overbooking?!

I am now officially PANICKED!

I fan through my packet of travel documents and check the hotel reservation, which the kind folks who hired me arranged, as opposed to the airline tickets I screwed up.

WAIT! I don’t check in there until tomorrow, either! WHAT?!

Then the light dawns: some time between last November, when I made the arrangements, and today, I received a brain disconnect as to which days I actually leave, speak and return. Seems my RAM shortage set all systems to GO, but a day early.

OF COURSE YOU DON’T LEAVE UNTIL THURSDAY! YOU SPEAK AT LAFF NITE ON FRIDAY! (And aren't you the funny one!)

(Do you think we lose our traveling rhythm when we’re off the road for a few weeks? Seriously, do you think we do? In last week’s post I said I was so sick of the home remodeling chaos that I longed for a road trip. I wonder if my own preposterous power of suggestion is what caused this false start.)

I phone my husband, tell him to come get me, give him the short version of my stupidity. My saint of a man calmly circles back around, pulls up where he dropped me off, gets out of the car and helps me sling my bags back into the trunk.

“I absolutely cannot believe I did this!” I yelp as I fasten my seat belt. “How did this happen? After all, I forwarded YOU my itinerary, too! You should have known I’m not supposed to leave until tomorrow!”

Silence.

Pathetic, Charlene. True, but simply pathetic.

This mess is not his fault. It’s mine. I need to own it and forgive myself. I need to phone my friends and tell them dinner’s not until tomorrow. (Even they knew that.) I need to show up when I’m supposed to, speak when I’m booked, and return when I’m scheduled. I need to go back home to my chaos.

Yes, I need to go back home to my chaos, leave my stuff in the car and give thanks that for the first time in my life, I’m packed and ready to go an entire day early.

Another miracle in the life of a road warrior.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

When Business Travel Hits Home


Since I’ve been off the road for a few weeks, we’re hip deep in a major home redecorating project triggered by my business travel. Although there are many drawbacks to life on the road, one of the perks is my own bed and the luxury of eating in it, control of the remote, and the ability to switch sides of the bed at will while hogging all seventy nine pillows hoteliers pile on the beds these days..

So, keeping in mind that while on the road I’ve become used to a space of my own, our kids are grown and gone, and due to grossly different sleeping patterns (including the fact my husband and I take turns snoring,) we sleep in separate bedrooms when I’m home. Shortly after the first time I publicly (in print) mentioned our separate bedrooms --yes, I had his approval--I learned, via volumes of e-mail and whispered admissions from our friends, that Separate Marital Bedrooms is more universal than most people think.

And here’s another fact: nearly every bed in every hotel is more comfortable than my circa 70s waterbed. Since my back doesn’t usually bother me on the road but always gets my attention after a night at home, at long last, I ordered myself a new frame, mattress and box springs. What better time to get the hardwood floor (waaaaay past needing attention) in my bedroom refinished than after the waterbed is disassembled (notice how easy that sounds?) but before the new bed arrives.

We decided that while we’re at it, why not also refinish George’s bedroom floor, plus the upstairs landing, plus maybe the stairs, which, following the trail, led us to the reality that our downstairs carpet has had it, which made us realize we also need to replace those old window coverings to match new … what? Carpet? Or maybe we should, after 38 years of burying it, refinish the hardwood floors downstairs, too. Which led to a frenzied bout of ripping up the yucky carpet, and three days of my husband slithering around on his belly ripping up carpet tack strips.

Of course we’ll also need to repaint everything, and get an area rug, and …. It’s like the time we needed to replace our built-in oven, and the next thing my husband knew, workmen were gutting the kitchen.

But back to the project at hand. Before the floor refinishing crew arrives, we must move nearly everything out of our house, which includes not only the furniture, but thousands of books (mine) that are stacked everywhere. This, of course, has hurled us into a giant bout of “Rather than move all this stuff here and there, why not get rid of a bunch of it!” Yeah, baby. This includes my first portable computer I found tucked in the back of my closet behind the teensy clothes, which I obviously haven’t worn since I tucked the portable computer behind them.

Which brings me back to business travel.

Notice I commented on a portable computer, not a laptop. The difference between it and the sexy little Sony I tuck into my handbag today? That old Hewlett Packard Portable Vectra CS weighs in at nineteen pounds, not including the giant chord, monster traveling case and all the 3.25” program and file disks you need to run the thing. My Sony? Barely 3 pounds, plus the chord. What a difference eighteen years makes in true portability, decorating and hip size.

A recent headline read, "Mighty little laptop takes over PC market". From desktops to portable computers to laptops, carpets to hardwood floors, waterbeds to euro-top mattresses, teensy clothes to midlife reality we go. Out with the old, in with the new! But after seven straight days of outing stuff, right now a business trip (oooo, all those pillows) sounds restful.

Man, I never thought I’d hear myself say that!

-----

PS Anyone out there need a 20-pound doorstop? Have I got a deal for YOU!
PSS Do you find the comfort of the hotel bed vs. your home bed relatable?

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Travel Conditioning


Lately, I’ve been walking more, which is good for cardio, stamina, Think Tank Time, calorie burning, athletic shoe sales and concourse cruising.

Conditioning.

Last week we replaced the battery in my car, which is good for vehicled transportation, Chicago winters, safety, reliability, and therefore peace of mind.

Calculated Conditioning.

While riding 18 to 27-foot swells during our recent cruise, I staggered to the on-board store and purchased acupressure wrist bands, which I’d heard help conquer seasickness, the urge to shop (just kidding), lack of accessories (wink-wink), and an over inflated ego that once caused this mouth to utter, “I don’t get seasick.” HA!

Conditions Conditioning.

The Home Shopping Network (or was it QVC?) recently demonstrated “a fabulous” rolling overnight bag that organized your stuff; expanded its girth, yet was narrow enough not to pinball down the airplanes’ ever shrinking aisles; touted adjustable handle height; and came equipped with its own 3-1-1 waterproof bag, complete with its own 3-1-1 waterproof bag compartment.

Conditioned to think: I NEED THAT! FINALLY, the one bag that does it ALL! Good thing the cell phone wasn’t in bed with me, or I’d own one in each color, including a “fabulous” leopard print!

Several of my traveling friends are programmed to receive a “DING!” or pop-up screen or urgent e-mail when one of their “choice” airlines offers a cheap fare (often in the middle of the night) to someplace at least close to where they might consider going if it’s cheap enough, at which point they stop talking on the phone, working, or leap out of bed to check it out, then often BOOK IT!

Pavlov’s Conditioning.

I overheard two recreational travelers discussing how they would heretofore always, because they surely should, pack at least one complete change of clothes to carry aboard with them because “today the airlines lose so much luggage.” Then, as if pardoning the airlines, one of them added, “But then, I never understood how they used to keep all that luggage straight to begin with.”

Dumb Down Conditioning

Recently the Department of Transportation added yet another hurdle to our already complicated packing rules. This one has to do with the amount of batteries we may or may not pack and/or carry on with us. Like my professional travel savvy friend Joe Brancatelli said, “Lots of luck deciphering this one.”

Chaos Conditioning.

The airline industry, the Department of Transportation, the TSA, Homeland Security, Mother Nature, Human Nature: forces that just keep on giving and giving and giving.

Conditioning us to condition ourselves to just keep on taking and taking and taking.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

The Ups and Downs of Freestyle Cruising



“Good morning ladies and gentlemen. This is your captain speaking. Due to tropical storm Olga, we are making a severe navigational adjustment.”

This, my fellow travelers, would have been music to my ears, had my ears—and stomach, and eyeballs (WHY DO I SOMETIMES SEE ONLY SKY THROUGH OUR WINDOW?!)--not been too seasick to register anything but . . . seasickness.

“We will seek shelter and calmer seas on the other side of Puerto Rico,” O' Ca-pi-tain added. He also informed us that due to that severe navigational adjustment, we would not be stopping in Samana, our very first port.

Whatever. Just find a way we can get out of bed without getting hurtled to the floor.

As the waves crashed onto our deck ten, bow-of-the-ship patio, we turned to the all-ship, all-the-time TV channel and saw what we suspected: we were riding 18 to 27-foot swells. No wonder we were getting tossed around!

(“Weren’t you afraid?” our friends asked us afterwards. “No. We were seasick.”)

By 3 PM, all was calmer. By dinner, we were pretty smooth. But by then, barely anyone remembered their seasickness since the HAPPY-HAPPY CRUISE STAFF added an extra karaoke AND bingo session to make up for (and fit right in with) our rock-and-roll seas and non-porting ship. However, the rest of the cruise was as deliciously relaxing as ‘twas before Olga. Only my second time out, and I’m hooked on cruising. It’s a great way to do nothing if you want, and everything if you will.

MY TOP TEN CRUISE TRAVEL HINTS:

*Everyone should send out their laundry at least once. Our underwear came back rolled up like little sausages, neatly arranged in tissue with a gold seal affixed, all tucked into a wicker basket. I realize many of you first-classers are used to this type of service, but we weren’t. We even took a picture of this lovely bouquet d'undies, which I shall spare you since, well, it’s our underwear.

*Don’t eat bacon at the buffet every morning. You’ll blow up like a puffer fish.

*If you simply must pay for an internet package, get the smallest one possible, which will help you allot only teensy pockets of time for daily usage, causing you to STAY AWAY FROM THE COMPUTER. At 75 cents per minute if you go over your package, baby, you learn to prioritize. You also get a great lesson as to how UN-urgent most e-mails truly are. Besides, you're on VACATION!

*Check the tally of your onboard charges at least once during the cruise, just to make sure you’re close to your budget. Drinks with paper umbrellas in them can really add up.

*Keep the umbrellas. They make cute Christmas tree ornaments, beach accessories for your hermit crabs, and souvenir reminders of your grand time.

*If you can afford to upgrade your accommodations, do it. We accepted a terrific last-minute upgrade offer for a penthouse. A PENTHOUSE! There is no going back! Although some people profess that they’re not in their cabin often enough to care about where they sleep, we thoroughly enjoyed hanging out in our own room, especially since we had such a great view, a large patio, fresh flowers, a sitting room, a giant bathroom, and Mark, our butler (HOO-HA!), who brought us a fabulous Hors d’oeuvre every night around five. Did you know they can make a cream puff look like a swan?

*Don’t think you have to get off the ship just because it stops at a port. Which goes along with don’t wear yourself out shopping at a port for stuff you don’t need, just because you can shop, or just because you received a coupon. Which goes along with how delicious and relaxing it is to snorkel, or just sit and stare at the ocean while digging your toes into beautiful white sand.

*Buy at least one of the budzillions of pictures they take of you on the ship, or while you’re getting on the ship, or getting off the ship, or standing with a colorful unknown creature that sidles up to you which might be a red Crustaceon, but who really knows. Or cares. Yes, the pictures are spendy, but they’re usually pretty good, and after you get home, you can store them with your paper umbrellas.

*Go to the ship's spa and sign up for something(s). Ahhhhhhhhhhhh.

*Yes, it’s possible to take a twelve-day vacation, which includes a seven-day cruise, with only carry-on bags. We’re living proof. So we had to buy a few toiletries in Miami. So we USPSed one box home. Not fretting about the airlines losing our luggage was worth it. Plus, remember, we got to experience those neat-o laundered underwear.

In closing, I’d like to thank tropical storm Olga. Even though you threw us a brief topsy-turvy ride, you also gave us a reason to head to the sea again. After all, we still need to visit Samana. If it's half as beautiful as Tortola (right), WOWIE!
That's our ship, way down there slightly left of center. Our island tour was exceptional!