Wednesday, November 4, 2020

No Business Trips This Year

Because of the pandemic, this is the first year in two decades that I will not be flying out of town to visit a factory. Part of my job is to bring consulting engineers and HVAC contractors to visit manufacturing facilities for some intense product training and a little hospitality. 

I would be lying if I said these trips were always a wonderful experience. The factory tours, training seminars, and dinners at local restaurants are usually quite enjoyable — especially one particular barbeque joint in Springfield, Missouri. I’d like to retire in the apartment building right next door to that restaurant. If I did, my heart would only hold out for six months tops. But their brisket is so good, it still might be worth it.
The process of getting to the various locations around the country can be quite an ordeal. On one trip a few years ago, thunderstorms caused us to miss a connecting flight, so we had to scramble to find a couple of rooms in a seedy motel near the Atlanta airport. When we finally reached our destination a day late, the rental car company no longer had the van I reserved, but the guy at the counter assured me six adult males and their luggage would fit comfortably in a different vehicle. By the time we all piled in, it felt like we had been hired by Barnum and Bailey to perform in the clown car show. One of my guests was sprawled across the little shelf next to the rear window. I suspect when he was studying hard to get his mechanical engineering degree, he never envisioned that his professional career would include being the first ever 5’ 10”, 175-pound bobble-head doll.
Another aspect of these factory trips is the likelihood that one of my guests will suddenly decide he is not a 49-year-old Project Manager with a large contracting company, but instead is once again the 21-year-old fraternity brother he was in 1992. Which means his new mission for the next three days is to see how much alcohol he can consume without throwing up. (He usually makes this determination by indeed upchucking and then muttering, “OK, 19 shots of Jack Daniels is one too many. Tomorrow night I’ll only have 18.”)
Although everyone involved on these trips is a highly trained and skilled professional, as the host and organizer, it sometimes seems like I’m a Cub Scout den mother trying to corral a half dozen hyperactive second graders. I have actually shouted the following statement in an airport bar more than once: “Alright, fine! But if you’re not on the plane in time, you’re on your own getting back to Connecticut!” 

When the pandemic halted most business travel back in March, I felt a bit relieved that I would get a break from these factory trips. But now that it’s been many, many months without a trip — and it looks like they won’t resume anytime soon — I recently realized that I miss them. I miss the camaraderie and the adventure.
I never thought I’d say this, but I miss the traveling part of it, too. I miss dragging my suitcase two miles from Gate C-12 to Gate M-22 at O’Hare. I miss being startled when the guy in front of me suddenly leans back in his seat and turns my kneecaps into guacamole. I even miss those spacious airplane bathrooms. Obviously, this pandemic has had an adverse effect on my ability to think rationally.

No one is looking forward to our society getting back to normal more than I am. When I’m finally able to schedule another factory trip, I’ll start grumbling like always, but with a smile on my face. 

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