WHINE AND CHEEZ
Guest Article by Charles M. Kunz
The Lonely Business Traveler
1 February 2004
As recently as last month I was actually jealous that my father got to take a business trip. There was a certain glamour involved with jetting up to Toronto for the day. I had actually been mortified when he told me traveling for business wasn’t really that enjoyable. I turned a deaf ear but a growing pattern seems to be that my father knows a lot more about getting older in life than I give him credit for. I am now a business traveler for my part-time job, and I will be for the next few months and possibly indefinitely. I am not necessarily complaining nor am I having regrets, I am just going through what my boss calls “coming over to the dark side.” I have taken a sip of the business traveler’s life and I find it to be a bitter drink but I will have to swallow it and smile while doing so.
My new travel life was supposed to start with a quick day trip out to Los Angeles. I arrived at the airport having been dropped off by my friend Jordan. As he sped away I was the old traveler that I’d been for the last few years. I’d done my share of pleasure trips that look miserable to some people. I’d gone to London for breakfast, Wichita for lunch and to Los Angeles for dinner. I had always made these trips alone and had enjoyed every one of them, why should this trip be any different? Well, for starters I never left Phoenix. I ended up boarding, disembarking and then sitting at the gate as our plane went mechanical and after a five hour delay was finally canceled, along with my trip. I was extremely exhausted and extremely annoyed when I climbed into bed that night.
For my next trip, I didn’t even have the luxury of a friendly conversation before I got to the airport; an anonymous bus driver had to be paid to take me there. I realized how depressing this was as no one could say where I was with any degree of certainty. If you asked my own roommate he would say “I don’t know - flying or something, who knows?” Once at the airport I boarded a full flight on a narrow jet and sat shoulder to shoulder with someone I didn’t know and didn’t care to talk to for an hour and fifteen minutes. Once in Los Angeles I had a mile walk and the pot of gold at the end of it was a five hour cross country flight in coach with my knees pressing against the seat in front of me and a shitty meal. No loved ones or even friends were meeting me in Boston, just another airport full of anonymous people. Soon there would be another 757 taking me back west, only this time with a family of six Asians in front of me, the youngest of which thought hitting my head while I tried to work was funny. It was on this flight where I caught myself looking at the families and friends traveling together, they had someone, all I had was some guy with a beard in 34D who snored.
In Boston one day I took pleasure in the one activity that made me feel as if I was me again, not some blob being fed “Kings Collection Gourmet Party Mix” by the half-ounce packet. That pleasure was my cellular phone. At every connecting stop I tried to call anyone who’d care to hear my voice but it wasn’t until Boston that I managed to get people on the line. Josh and Danyel’s voices were music to my ears as for twenty minutes I was the old me again, just living the glamorous life of jetting here and jetting there for fun, not flying because I was told to and living from shitty airport meal to shitty airport meal.
Now when I check in at an airport, the blue ticket folder with my boarding passes feels surprisingly heavy. I think it is the impending weight of more planes and airports that bogs me down. Or maybe it is because it now signals a return to man’s oldest primal ritual, scavenging for food. Quite frankly, United serves either nothing or not enough in the way of a meal and I have to eat. Spending $8 at an airport McDonalds never annoyed me in the past but now I’m pissed that the price is so high. I’m used to getting up early for flights but only recently have I started to sleep on them, another part of getting older I guess. I used to hate myself if I fell asleep on a plane. My motto was “I can sleep when I’m dead but I can’t fly on Boeings then” but on that early morning 777 to Denver I wanted to sleep but I couldn’t.
Once during a connection in LA, I met up with David and a girl whose name escapes me, two people who work for the same company that I do. After ten minutes of chat at the Red Carpet Club they pronounced me exhausted (and indeed I was - I felt like a bus had hit me, then backed over me and left a calling card) and told me to go get some sleep while they flew off together to Chicago. As I left I couldn’t help but think of David as really lucky since he had someone to keep him company on his trip. I had “The Jews in America” by Arthur Hertzberg. That is the one real positive thing about being alone on these weekend flights, I get all my homework done through Tuesday - something I would otherwise put off until Monday night and do a worse job on. I don’t bother to converse much with my neighbors anymore. Granted idle banter could fill up the time, but once we hit tarmac there’d be some awkward goodbye phrase such as “see ya around” and then I’d be alone again. Better to be alone with the Passé Compose verbs in my French workbook.
The feeling of total solitude finally came to me when I stepped into Room 642 at the Los Angeles Airport Marriott one night. I used to spend a night here every year on our families way to Hawaii but instead of three connecting rooms with Kunz’s all over the place I had one room with just me and my thoughts. I got into bed, ordered a pay-per-view movie, watched it and then tried to sleep. Somehow being in a huge bed with five pillows was far more depressing then it should have been. Compared to my shitty dorm room bed this was luxury with two blankets but instead I wished for someone there to share it with me. Anyone I liked, the names of my best friends and a few girlfriends flashed into my mind and I had to turn the TV back on to focus on something else but finally I drifted off to bed and dreamt of telephones.
At 4:30 AM the clock radio and telephone simultaneously exploded with noise arousing me from three hours R.E.M. sleep. I flicked the light on in the bathroom and was greeted with a shock, I looked horrible (well, more so then usual). My eyes were bloodshot and had big circles under them, my hair was all over the place and I was so far from a smile my lips were practically off my face. A hot shower and a shave helped to ease the fatigue but still the prospect of more travel today wasn’t the best thought to wake up too. But I wasn’t being paid to brood so I hopped the Airport Shuttle with my complimentary copy of The Los Angeles Times and made it to the airport. I found myself extremely excited over the prospect of saving fifty cents and getting a “free newspaper.” I have never been excited over a free paper before and I feel a little strange that I was.
Chicago O’Hare that day was just like the airports before it and probably will be just like the airports after it. I deplane, find out where my next flight will be, on the way call people, grab a snack, get to the gate, wait two minutes and board yet another flight to yet another city. I’m still happy I took this job and I’m still enjoying the fact that I’m on a flight, but it’s not as enjoyable as I once would have thought it was. There is no glamour to what I’m doing. When I say I went to “Boston, Chicago, Denver and LA” I mean I sat at gates, ate overpriced food, watched a $13 movie and slept. And I will be doing it again and again for the next few months and probably after that. If the current trend continues, I may start taking non-stops when I fly for pleasure.
Charles M. Kunz, a native New Yorker, is a freshman history major at Arizona State University and is a frequent flyer.
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