Oh, Mayor Bloomberg, There’s No Place Like Home!: A New Yorker’s lament at having to travel to the provinces on business
Feeling slightly better about the economy these days? Encouraged by the up tick in your 401k balance?
With all due respect to Economic Reporter Ali Velshi, don’t believe everything you see on Crisis News Network (a.k.a. CNN).
Times are still tough. Not only have workforces been reduced, salaries frozen, and vacation days slashed to ribbons, but one overworked New Yorker (a.k.a. Desk Jockey) is facing a challenge even more ignominious in order to earn his daily bread: having to travel on business. Outside New York.
Chicago in February, anybody?
As some of my most devoted readers may recall, I have the enviable job of writing proposals for a widget company, designed to induce fellow widget companies to invest with us. This seemed to me, at the outset, a reasonable enough way to earn a living. (We can’t all work for investment firms like Madoff Associates, can we?)
However, I didn’t realize how challenging proposal writing would become in tough times. Shortchanged employers, including manufacturers of widgets, are making their hardest-working employees work twice as hard as usual. That often entails traveling west of the Hudson River—and dealing with prospects that are, shall we say, not exactly on the New York wavelength.
Yes, dear readers, as those of you who hail from the flyover states know all too well, New York isn’t America. And, shocking to reveal, America doesn’t always “get” New Yorkers. Or at least they don’t always “get” Desk Jockey.
I first came to this painful realization of not “blending in,” when I had to take a business trip last winter to our office in Atlanta, Georgia. While I had always associated the Peachtree State with Jimmy Carter and Tammy, I certainly had high hopes that Atlanta, the “New York of the South,” would understand my propensity to speak at machine-gun pace, and drop F-bombs like rose petals.
Apparently, this trip made me realize how delusional I am.
As soon as I arrived back in New York, I was informed by my performance manager—which is what they call a boss these days—that the Atlanta office had been less than amused by my “aggressive” behavior and “rough” language. (I should have gotten the hint when an associate informed me she was leaving early to get ashes for Lent.)
Such displays of religiosity should not have come as a surprise to Desk Jockey, because a) he was raised by lovely, well-meaning, religious people, and 2) there is no shortage of devout individuals of all creeds in New York. It’s just that Desk Jockey does not happen to be one of them.
Oh well, I thought. Lesson learned.
Er, uh, not exactly.
When I flew out to our St. Louis office a year later, a similar situation arose. The commotion actually started before I began the trip, when my cohorts from the East Coast jumped on a conference call with our St. Louis counterparts. During the phone call, someone made an idle comment to the effect of “I hope to God this happens!” to which Desk Jockey, in his irrepressible manner responded, “You don’t understand. Around here, I am God.”
Chuckle, chuckle goes here, I thought.
Er, uh, not exactly.
When I arrived in the St. Louis office the following week, one of the very pleasant-sounding women who had been on the call stopped by my desk and closed the door behind her. “I think we got off on the wrong foot last week,” she said quietly.
“I don’t understand,” I replied, truly not understanding.
“You know, you mentioned you were God, on the phone,” she responded in her sweet, Nurse Ratchet-like voice.
That stopped me cold. “You’re religious?” I tried not to make it seem as if I were accusing her of being a post-operative transsexual.
Then I noticed the gold chain around her neck—a chain with a cross.
The act of traveling to, and around, another U.S. city on business confronts New Yorkers and Desk Jockey with another terrifying prospect—the lousy public transportation systems outside of New York.
Taxi rides from the Detroit and Chicago Airports to downtown cost upward of $50 each way (La Guardia by contrast costs on average only $30). There is no Air-Train, or E train from Queens, as you have in New York—that will run you about $7 each way to Kennedy Aiport, tops. The light rail in downtown Detroit costs just 50 cents, but it’s inconveniently located, doesn’t go anywhere you want to go, and nobody ever rides it. If you want to travel any distance from the office once you arrive, you have to rent a car (an annoyance for many New Yorkers). Or, you can bum a ride from a colleague, or take another expensive cab ride.
In St. Louis, I asked my hotel’s concierge how long the cab ride would be to a restaurant I wanted to try. “Well,” he said, pausing to reflect, “I would say it’s about a mile away.”
Five miles later, we were still driving around St. Louis, the cabbie looking lost.
I suddenly why people became concierges and not statisticians.
Where’s the Zagat-rated restaurant around here?
Once you do arrive at your non-New York destination—be it in such exciting locations as the downtowns of Albany and Dallas (both more deserted than the Atlas Mountains of Morocco)—you are forced with a less than a Brobdignagian selection of fine dining establishments.
I was tempted by the tent card in my St. Louis hotel, whose restaurant promised the delights of “Imo’s Pizza.” Conjuring up visions of Patsy’s in New York and Giordano’s in Chicago, I took the bait.
I soon found myself staring a sorry-looking piece of yellowish, round toast. It tasted like I imagine a stale English muffin would taste, if it were smeared with Velveeta cheese, then studded with rubbery bits bearing little relationship to any animal with hooves.
Such experiences have convinced me to forget about eating healthy, or well, when you are traveling outside New York. Most times, you are so consumed by work that you are fortunate if you have time to do more than run down to the office’s cafeteria or the local fast-food joint.
In Dallas, with all of five minutes to spare, I had a truly inviting choice:
1) order lunch from Quizno’s, a mediocre Mexican chain, 2) run over to the pizzeria that served huge calzones of indeterminate age, or 3) opt for a barbeque ribs place. Since the rib place offered free ice cream with my jalapeno baked beans, I chose the ribs place.
Is it any wonder that hotel treadmills are all taken by 6 a.m. the following day?
What’s the real time here, anyway?
While you are working outside of New York, you are constantly reminded that you are not on New York time. Your stomach growls at inappropriate hours of the day. The stock market closes at 3 p.m. (or even earlier). When you finally get a moment to ask your colleagues in New York a question, they’ve already left for the day. And if you’ve failed to reset the alarm function on your runner’s watch, you are going to wake up one hour earlier than you normally do.
Anyone for working out at 4 a.m.—unintentionally?
What’s with all the fat people?
Living in Manhattan, Desk Jockey and his fellow New Yorkers become accustomed to seeing neighbors and perfect strangers who look like supermodels. It’s easy to see why—an international city with lots of opportunity tends to attract smart, energetic people who work hard and exercise like Navy Seals. (Note: Desk Jockey also invests the time to look his best, but realizes there are limits to looking like Channing Tatum when you’re turning 55.)
However, when you leave New York for another city, you discover quite the opposite phenomenon: many people surrounding you are a) fat b) out-of-shape, and c) morbidly obese (select three). A quick visit to our company’s lunchroom in St. Louis bore this out. Every woman on the lunch line looked as if she were auditioning for the next season of “America’s Biggest Loser”. Yuppie-type guys show up at restaurants, looking as if they are pregnant with octuplets.
You repair to your hotel room, shed your clothes, look into the mirror, and say to yourself, “Huh. Not bad at all for 55!”
You see, traveling outside of New York does have a few benefits.
Where to next, oh beloved performance manager?
The thing about traveling on business across America is that it’s not going to stop, particularly if you’ve had a successful business trip. People want you back—which in a world of diminishing economic security is desirable.
So a few bits of advice for those traveling outside New York:
1. Pack more than you have to—even if you have to check luggage.
2. Make sure you don’t bring clothing that’s too fancy.
Above all, bring your New York standards—but remember not to flaunt them. No one in life cares that you’ve read Camus, or that you’re lucky enough to live in the capital of the world. Your awareness of this privilege is perfectly sufficient.
And that knowledge, plus a $2.00 MetroCard, will get you a ride, one way, on the E train from Queens.
August Cosentino is a professional writer who cycles passionately, eats discriminately, attends theatre religiously, Facebooks constantly, and as the photo indicates, is as good to his mother as he was to his father who passed away in 2012. He lives in Manhattan with his two carbon-fiber bicycles, and G.
ARTICLES BY AUGUST COSENTINO
AIRMAIL – From the Wilds of Manhattan
The End of the Bucket List
Fifty Shades of Pain: Cycling the Pyrenees, One Mountain Pass at a Time
Go West Young Desk Jockey
Greece: It’s a Riot
How Many Facebook Friends Are Too Many?
Marylebone and Me
The Sandwich Generation: Eldercare and Me
Scandinavia, The Great Escape
Welcome to the Jungle: Is Mad Men Really About Advertising
Work Like Wall Street: Earn Like Main Street