Thursday, May 19, 2005

Life on the Road

Sometimes people assume that since my job is nominally “customs and international trade lawyer,” I must get to go to glamorous and exciting foreign locations to hammer out important deals over expensive meals in even more expensive hotels. My title seems to conjure images of London cabs, Tokyo Sushi bars, and good beer in Brussels. No such luck. For me, the typical business trip is to an industrial-grade Rust Belt city or, more likely, to a factory in the almost rural area outside Rust Belt City which I think may be between Center City and Edge City.

My current transportation travail is a perfect example of the true nature of business travel for me.

Yesterday, I left home at about 9:00 AM to get to O’Hare for a flight to a city I will not name. Why? Because Heisenberg’s uncertainty principal does not apply to airline schedules. If you are smart enough to search the readily available public record of customs rulings and Court of International Trade decisions, you could easily compile a list of many of my firm’s clients. Given both that list and my destination, you could fairly easily figure out who I was visiting today. That is just none of your business.

Back to my story. Because of my out-of-the-way destination, I was forced to fly an airline on which I have no frequent passenger status. Already a bad start to the trip. At least the two-year-old girl next to me behaved. I did, however, wonder whether a two year old should ever be chewing gum, but that is another story.

Upon arriving at the layover in Intermediary City, I spent an hour in an excessively smoky bar eating a lunch consisting of a wilted salad and a respectable amount of over-priced liquor. My prop plane connecting flight was right on time and I got to City of Final Destination just fine, thank you. However, I quickly discovered that the travel agent had failed to include a car in my itinerary. That was only a brief disappointment as Hertz was more than accommodating with a new Ford Focus.

I have never been in a Ford Focus and was pleasantly surprised when I arrived at stall 11 to find a sporty car with a wood trimmed interior and leather wrapped wheel. The dash looked high-tech enough for me to congratulate Ford on the value it put into this economy car. My glee faded quickly when I was unable to start the car. The key just would not fit. At that point, I noticed the Pontiac logo on the steering wheel. I guess I should congratulate GM for the G6 which seems to be a nice enough vehicle.

The Focus—sitting lonely in stall 12—was perfectly adequate.

A very pleasant dinner with the client and one of my partners followed. The hotel was nice enough too. I don’t, however, understand why better hotels continue to insist on charging for broadband access. I can get free broadband at the $89 Courtyard on the interstate but the $250 Marriott in town will often charge $10 a day for the privilege. It makes no sense.

The meeting this morning was a big success. Lots of talk about the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism and customs compliance in general. Good instant feedback from management was followed by a nice lunch.

Next stop, the tiny regional airport in City of Final Destination and the prop plane back to Intermediary City. Unfortunately, I missed the earlier flight by 20 minutes and had to kill two hours waiting for my ticketed flight. Not too tough as I had work to do and I am reading Jon Krakauer’s engrossing Under the Banner of Heaven.

Which takes me to where I currently sit: the gate in Intermediary City. When I arrived right on time, I had 45 minutes to my connection. At the gate, I found nothing but an ominous “Delayed” sign. It turns out that the earlier flight to Chicago had been delayed two hours and was just leaving. My flight was also to be delayed at least two hours.

So, I had another relatively unpleasant salad and an over-priced beer while I furiously e-mailed on my Treo and simultaneously reading my book. That was followed by a guilt inducing and completely unnecessary Mrs. Fields’ Oatmeal Raisin cookie.

Back in the gate area, I just heard a heart-rending announcement. The earlier flight to O’Hare is returning to Intermediary City due to a ground stop on flights into O’Hare. First of all, why do I care about a ground stop? I want to fly. If there were an air stop, I would understand.

More important, it seems likely my flight will not be getting off the ground on time (assuming the two-hours-delayed departure time has now become “on time”). I am hoping to get home before midnight, but it seems that prospect is fading fast.

Wait! I will update now in real time. It is 8:45 PM. The nice lady behind the counter just announced that the earlier flight is reboarding and my flight will be leaving at 9:30 PM. Given that I arrived at City of Final Destination Regional Airport at about 3:00 and will be home right about midnight, things are looking up.