One more for the road
By Stanley Bing

(FORTUNE Magazine) – So last week it was Vegas and L.A. Next week L.A. again. I guess Chicago will be coming up in a little while, then Pasadena, and possibly Miami, if I feel like going there during the summer. I'll probably go. After a while the road calls, and you have to listen. Life behind the desk starts looking bland after you've tasted hot nuts and free champagne on a regular basis.

But sometimes when I'm out where the trains don't run, staring at the ceiling at three in the morning because the time difference has my eggs scrambled, I ask myself what it is about the road that beckons. So much of it is old already. Why does it always seem in some ways so perpetually new?

Is it the anticipation? As I sit at my desk on a rainy Monday in New York City, with the skyscrapers looming and a stack of messages on my blotter, does it still thrill me to lean back in my recliner and think of heading into the ether? Perhaps. Like a lot of people in restricting collars, I occasionally have rambling on my mind. And while going to the Petaluma satellite office to review the troops isn't exactly hanging with Jack and Neal at a desert truck stop, it's as close as I'm likely to get. For now.

Is it the meditative process of packing? I hate doing it. I go up to the attic and retrieve my pathetic old warhorse of a Bosnian foldover bag, the one missing its strap and lacking wheels, of course. And I wander through my various outfits, trying to figure out who I'm going to be this time. I despise it with a ferocity that makes me suspect there's something important about it. Will I be a corporate warrior in pin-striped excellence? A casual dude with an open collar and snazzy slacks and sport coat? A surprisingly downscale dude in jeans and leather jacket? How many color schemes will I be able to support? That's to some extent determined by the number and type of shoes I decide to bring. Will I work out? Do I need sweats? Sneakers? In short, who will I be? And how do I know I'll want to be that person when I get there? And when the packing is done and the bag lies ready by the banister, is the feeling of relief so great it's worth the odious process I have just gone through?


Is it the car to the airport, as I shed one skin and put on ... none? There is often a newspaper there, which I can page through while occasionally staring out the window of the limo, not thinking much. I can feel it all melt away as the bridge rises up before me and I enter the land of nowhere that is travel from one place where everybody knows me to another where only a few people think they do.

Is it the ride in the airplane, with the pillowy quiet unlike any other in contemporary life? The little perks that come with business travel, like the aforementioned hot nuts, which used to be hotter, by the way, or the wave after wave of appetizers followed by a comically minuscule main course of indescribable weirdness that one is supposed to cut with a plastic picnic knife about as useful to a diner as it would be to a terrorist? The free drinks? The chance to read, to think, to watch movies I would never see otherwise? Yes, after years of foot-tapping antsiness, I now actually view a five-hour flight as too short for comfort and enjoy being between places more than I ever thought I would. So perhaps it's that.

Is it the arrival at the alien airport, where no one but a guy in a cap is there to meet me? The fact that I need not speak to anyone as I make my way to the car? The comfort of picking up my phone messages, left hours ago, many of which need not now be acted upon?

Or getting to the hotel, which a lot of the time welcomes me back because I've been there so often? The movie in the room? The individual pizza with mushroom and sausage that I like so much, taken with a little red wine and a small salad in complete silence? The business meetings the next day, which after all this major displacement seem to be about nothing, nothing at all?

Or could it be the occasional side trip to nowhere? I have seen the Grand Canyon and Binion's Horseshoe and Topanga Canyon and the spires of the Miracle Mile and the azure beauty of the intracoastal waterway, and next month I plan to take a ride on the Goodyear blimp. They say it's very quiet up there in that beautiful balloon.

Or is it, in the end, the moment when I arrive, slightly disoriented, back at my desk one fine morning to a pile of mail I need not read? No, it's not that. These are, after all, just four walls. And the world is a mighty big and interesting place, particularly when you have a marginally good reason to get out there and see it. So I guess I'll keep on doing just that until they tell me to stop, at which point I'll probably have to.

Travel may be broadening, but it's damned expensive when you have to pay for it yourself.