Monday, October 25, 2010

Small Times in the Big Apple

Lower East Side
Photo by Emily Grace Sauer

"I don't know if you're gonna like this or not, but it's a place where you spend a lot of your time..."

Emily told me this as I unwrapped the birthday present she gave me. Seeing as how I had given her a used Xikar lighter and Dunhill cigarette case for her thirtieth, the possibilities for my gift were endless.

I opened the package to reveal this. It is a photo Emily took with a Holga when she was along on one of our NYC trips last fall. I knew this was New York the moment I read the eloquent graffiti text. This is quite possibly one of the best pictures I have ever seen.

When Emily and Co. were with us in New York last fall, I watched in wonderment as non-business travelers made the best out of a normal business trip. They conquered New York, finding more Big Apple fun in four days than I have found in four years. But that doesn't mean I am a bad traveler. It just means that when I'm here for work, I am not a tourist.

Business travel is truly one of those grass is always greener situations. It's just never as cool as it sounds. In fact, some of the things that I have learned to cherish are things pleasure travelers completely overlook. And the things pleasure travelers like I could probably give two shits about.

For example,

  • I like airports with efficient security.
  • I like Airbus airplanes (more than Boeing airplanes).
  • I like hotels without revolving doors.
  • I like 24-hour hotel room service.
  • I like 24-hour hotel gyms.
  • I like unusually large hotel swimming pools.
  • I like amply stocked mini bars WITHOUT the touch sensor lasers that charge you if you move an item (not good to find out after you have picked up each candy bar in deciding which one to eat.)

I like working toward Diamond Medallion status on Delta NOT because of the free miles but because I can say I have flown around the circumference of the Earth five times. This year.

It's lame, but also kind of dorky cool.

There are many things I love about having the opportunity to travel for my job, but it's true that I have a hard time seeing places through the eyes of a tourist if I am living out of a suitcase.

Today Johnny, our driver from the Dominican Republic yells at me.
"Susi! Look, Statue of Liberty!"
"Yes, that's great Johnny, but I have my eyes closed because I'm carsick right now."
"Susi, Look!"
"Okay, yep, I saw it. There she is. Thanks Johnny" – (he is so sweet to always be working to make a tourist out of me) – Oh no, I'm gonna be sick..."
I almost threw up in front of my boss. But I held it together when she informed me that if she watched me throw up, she would probably throw up too.

Just another Manic Monday.

So, there is this one thing I find interesting about the people I meet in New York. No matter what background, no matter if they are research participants, cab drivers or clients, they are so incredibly proud to invite you to explore their city.

I used to joke about this with Sara. We'd have just finished six hours of interviewing and criss-crossing five boroughs when a sweet woman would go into detail about where we should go eat and then see a show. We would smile and nod, smile and nod, nod, nod, then upon bidding farewell collapse into the back seat of the car contemplating what we would each order from room service once we got into our pajamas.

And the next morning, instead of dishing about cosmopolitans and NYC men, we'd be all,

"I watched Avatar last night."
"Huh. I rented Couples Retreat but fell asleep."

I have a hard time believing the truth in this business traveler reality when, as a kid, I would get a present from my dad each time he would come home from traveling on Fridays. For a number of years, he was a traveling business consultant, and all that meant to me was that he was up early and stressed on Monday mornings, rushing to eat cereal wearing a tie and crisp white shirt. Then at the end of the week he would mysteriously walk in the door, wearing a beige trench coat and smelling like leather and cold air. He would drop his suitcase and pull out some small exotic thing.

It did not occur to me how he acquired these treasures until as an adult I traveled with my clients who, as parents, would hurriedly purchase small airport trinkets for their children.

So, no. I do not take the Staten Island Ferry or get tickets to The Late Show (only today did I realize that The Late Show is right around the corner from my hotel.) But that does not mean that I do not know or love New York.

  • For me, New York is Johnny, our driver (the happiest driver you'll ever meet).
  • For me, New York is bumpy landings into LaGuardia Airport, where it always looks like you'll end up in the water.
  • For me, New York is a packed Sheraton hotel lobby, filled with Asian flight attendants and Model U.N. high school students.
  • For me, New York is quiet dinners with my co-workers and boss, swapping stories about the workday over a bottle of wine.
  • For me, New York is a soft white bed, made this morning by the hard-working room service staff.
  • For me, New York is a fat slice of Brooklyn pizza, when I've promised myself I'd eat healthier on this trip.

For me, New York is staying up late in my hotel room, writing about my life as a business traveler.

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