Monday, September 10, 2007

Hotel Reading

I’d thought about including the phone numbers of real people here so that, when you get to your hotel, you could call them and maybe talk about how lonely you get when you travel. How it’s work, yes, and altogether better than being in the office, but you could tell them about the time you spent a Saturday morning in Connecticut at a supermarket just watching couples shop, envying even the boredom of one spouse or the other, envying those shared choices.

Or how Sunday mornings could kick you hard – I mean, you wanted the breakfast buffet because it’s good stuff, but Sunday buffets are family times and you’d see all the families: a couple of oldsters here and there; a grown family with grown kids; the polite politics of little kids wanting only apple juice and sausage. You, though, sat alone and sometimes that was hard.

All of this, of course, survivable, and most weeks there was work to be done on Sunday afternoons – meetings, presentations, trade shows. I mean, it wasn’t as though you had no purpose in life, no structure. Quite the opposite, in fact.

One of the great joys of work travel is the illusion of freedom: no sudden summonses to this or that office; no late day meetings; no employee squabbles; no knives of lethargy as you finish one project and can’t find the energy to start another. But it is an illusion.

On the road you are tied in to exact places at exact times; specific people who need to be seen; precise routes to be driven; definite hotels to be found where reservations were made weeks ago; no-nonsense lines at airport security; canned and well-rehearsed bon mots for desk clerks, bellmen, waitresses, receptionists, Deli people, bartenders.

Still, you sometimes wonder about the link between freedom and loneliness and you wish I had included those telephone numbers so you could call those people and ask what they’d had for dinner or if they were going to mow the lawn that night, maybe read, watch TV.

Delicately, you might ask about lovemaking, if that was going to happen and how you hoped it would since neither you nor anyone you know has ever actually taken a just-met woman to bed on the road so you’d like to have this vicarious insight.

You might ask, too, if they shower before or after or if they find it better to leave the aura of the day right there on the flesh, or the aura of the sex on the body afterward so that the bedroom keeps, as the kids always say, that grownup smell. Then you’ll ask if real passion is going to happen or if it’s just going to be a few moments of duty and physical release. Sure, you want to be more specific, to ask for details – but you don’t do that.

Instead, on the television, you find James Coburn and Charles Bronson in the middle of a war (or it could be Brad Pitt and Russell Crowe) – men finding duty through obedience.

Which reminds you way too much of what you’re doing with your own life so you get out the two boxes from your suitcase, what you’ve often referred to as the salvation of the lonely man, not actually as good as sex or booze but they’ll function without recrimination and that’s all right, especially since you’ll be going home in four more days and once again you’ll be able to complain about the hassles of the office and the garage window at home that needs to be fixed. Salvation, indeed, in a box of Ritz crackers and a box of chocolate and caramel turtles.


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