Business Travel

Tomorrow morning I head off to a grants conference at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York. There is nothing like a business trip to rip open all kinds of psychological fissures. You’d need a dozen octopi for all the “one the one hand… on the other hand…” situations. The crowning aspect of any business trip, of course, is that it leaves one partner home alone with no shift change. This, Shannon does not like- not that she should. I don’t like that part of it much, either. As difficult as evenings can be (with Vivi’s hijinks), there’s no substitute for simply being there with the girls – which is what’s made it so unpleasant for me to be cut out of the bedtime routine these last few weeks and months.

On the other hand, I love traveling and especially seeing new places. Skidmore and Saratoga Springs both sound like fascinating places that’ll eat up my few hours of downtime. Having attended earlier iterations of this conference, I know it too will be great in all the important ways – such as finding new ways to drum up money for the college.

On the other other hand, travel like this is a pretty far cry from relaxing. The days are, after all, full of rather intense work. And yes, as Shannon reminds me, I can eat what and when I want and sleep without a baby monitor buzzing in my ear. But airplanes are not exactly dens of comfort and bliss, and having had quite a bit of the usual modern air-travel trouble every time I’ve flown for business, I doubt I’m going to arrive in Saratoga Springs tomorrow feeling particularly tanned, rested, or ready. But if all goes well, I will probably head home on Friday in a pretty good mood.

New York City

My trip to New York City turned out to last exactly 36 hours. Of that time, I spent one-ninth in the meeting that was the reason for going; one-sixth asleep; one-fourth traveling by planes, trains, and automobiles; and one-ninth either walking around or running (I highly recommend the “big loop” in Central Park). The rest of the time was spent eating, seeing the Brad Mehldau Trio show at the Village Vanguard, recuperating in my hotel room, or just soaking up some tiny fraction of the city.

Though this was only the second time I’ve been to NYC, I felt like I had a decent handle on things. When trying to go three blocks uptown to the park, for instance, I didn’t first walk ten blocks south. But as I had been in 2006, I was most impressed this time around by the sheer scale of the place. I mean, there must have been most of the population of Northfield standing at the corner of Broadway and 44th in Times Square at 10:30 last night. Not really, but close:

 Times Square Late

Given these crowds, the people-watching is, of course, unparalleled. Having some pizza and then a beer before the Mehldau show on Friday night, I enjoyed some ridiculously wonderful sights, such as the numerous couples (male-female, male-male, and female-female) who were clad entirely in black, or in black with a bit of white (the rocker chick with a white belt, the dapper old man with a white fedora). Despite the fact that it was 70 degrees and muggy, I saw almost nobody wearing shorts – except, tellingly, crowds of tourists (like the herd of kids in purple “Greenvale Band Trip 2009” t-shirts). Conversely, there were plenty of people, most of whom looked like Manhattanites, wearing unseasonal stuff like fleece jackets, puffy vests, heavy scarves, turtleneck sweaters, and Uggs. Very odd.

If I could have captured anything on video, I would have loved to have a clip of a hipster who, in trying to beat the don’t-walk signal, nearly tripped over the six feet of cable dangling from his gigantic headphones. He ended up hopping a few steps while he extracted his foot from the loop. If I could have taken a single snapshot, it would have been a picture of the silver-haired matron in the oversized glasses and black neoprene-looking jacket who was sitting outside the bar, chainsmoking Pall Malls pulled from a beautifully ornate silver cigarette case.

Given this visual feast, the aural feast was great too. I overhead some choice lines while walking downtown and then back uptown on Friday night:

  • “I know New York like the back of my hand.” – a woman near Madison Square Garden, shouting to her friend as they turned one way and then another
  • “She was fucking calling when I wanted to see fucking As I Lay Dying!” – a guy in Chelsea, idling outside the pizza shop
  • “He did it with the casting director, is how he got the part.” – a guy just north of Times Square, talking on cell phone
  • “Are you calling me black?” – black street vendor, talking on cell phone
  • “You’re such a fucking loser you don’t have a life on a Friday night!” – a college girl at table next to mine at the pizza shop
  • “I’m gonna get my stampede on!” – a woman leading her equally tipsy girlfriends against the foot traffic

All this is by way of saying, I can’t wait to go back.