Working Away From Home

It’s Woody Guthrie’s birthday, and Bastille Day (and, as I learned this morning, also Gustav Klimt’s birthday).  The calendar tells me to think about freedom and revolution and music and art and the working man and equality.  This would be easier to do if I didn’t have to be on the other side of the state by noon, and then drive another 80 miles along the Lake Erie shore to reach the hotel from which I am scheduled to launch to tomorrow morning’s meeting.

I started by planning to leave home in time for a 1:00 p.m. meeting start time, only to discover—partially by accident, as I was idly checking emails on my work phone—that the meeting was supposed to start at noon.  I realized this at precisely the moment at which I should have been leaving the house, but was in a condition of near-undress and with exactly zero packing completed.  I leaped into action, managed to create a passable veneer of sartorial competence and packed a bag in reckless haste.  15 minutes later I was out the door, where I spent the next 195 minutes exceeding the speed limit to exactly the degree required to roll into the parking lot at 11:59.  During the last hour of that somewhat hyperattentive drive, I called into the weekly meeting where the Project Manager reveals the state of the Big Picture when it comes to the project that pretty much defines my job.  I love the Project Manager; she’s ruthlessly clear and unredundant, says what needs to be said and does not suffer fools gladly.  Today, however, her notable gifts were all directed to sharing bad news, which boiled down to this:  the last 5 months of nonstop work by you and your boss, Mary, has been adeptly undermined by the internal departments that agreed to support your initiative, leaving you with none of the resources you have blithely been promising to outside stakeholders, and utterly powerless to affect the expectations you were explicitly directed to create.  To walk directly from that conversation into an auditorium full of eager networkers and listen to a barely-relevant presentation for an hour (thank goodness there were veggie wraps and white chocolate macadamia cookies) taxed my already-frazzled neuron to its limit.

After the presentation, which was admittedly relaxing in that it required no interaction, the gaggle of attendees from my company gathered under the shade trees outside the door to regroup and vent for a few minutes.  Then my boss headed off in one direction and a Cleveland colleague and I found a place to sit and try to hash out the latest in our shared lapful of adventure—namely that my boss had commandeered one of her staff for a special project without first finding out if the staff member was competent and responsible enough to be trusted with it.  45 minutes later, ears still ringing, I was able to stagger back to my car and head for the night’s hotel.  90 minutes of phone calls later, I arrived at the hotel and checked in. 

Life began to improve the moment I got out of the car.  The hotel turned out to be right across the street from the only restaurant in town that I know, an old-school Italian-American place with decent food, Frank Sinatra playing in a continuous loop, and an auspicious winelist.  Better yet, it has a pool and a fitness center, a blessing in this part of the world where sidewalks are a distinct afterthought.  Instead of collapsing in a heap upon entering the room, I found myself moved to go for a run, in spite of my lifelong dislike of being sweaty after 9:00 a.m.  I dug into my suitcase just long enough to realize that I had somehow managed to pack everything I needed, even after my precipitate departure.  Although the tiny fitness center was stuffy and airless, it did the trick. After 5 miles my tiredness disappeared as if it had never existed.  A hot shower and a good meal made the last vestiges of angst float up off of my soul, leaving nothing but peace in its wake.

Tomorrow will be another day of travel, waking in one city and falling asleep in another. The roads are heavily-trafficked and rife with potholes, the meetings themselves are often incomplete or obfuscated, I miss my own bed and the unexamined familiarity of being at home in one’s own physical space.  But I like this more.  I’m getting good at driving all over creation to meet with and forge bonds with people I’ve never met and will only see rarely in the future.  I can pack a bag for 3 work days and a play weekend in less than 15 minutes.  I can handle the annoyances of deactivated roomkeys, wake-up calls to the wrong room, even discovering that my hotel bill will be charged to my personal credit card because the secretary forgot to attach the company credit card authorization to the reservation. It’s just travel, I say to myself, and I keep going.  More and more, that seems to be my default preference; I am just now beginning to understand that the circumstances that swirl and morph around me are *not* the determinants of mood. 

There is freedom in being able to leave home and do this work without a twinge of conscience.  My roommate looks after everything in my absence, probably better than I do myself. Although I can’t control what I am asked to do or insist upon a satisfactory rationale before I do it, I am at least able to allocate my time as I see fit, whether working late or cutting out 30 minutes early for a doctor’s appointment.  The longer I do this, and the more I notice how needlessly confusing and barrier-riddled our healthcare system is, the more I realize that my role, however insignificant, is being part of the solution.  That makes me less tired, right there; it braces my posture, slaps a smile on my face and gets me on to the next thing.  Being on the road reminds me how little I really need and how much easier it is to travel light.  It feels weightless, traveling for business.  The everyday rituals fall aside, and there is no one to please but myself.  It was not always thus, and it stands to reason that it will not last forever.  I am choosing shamelessly to wallow in the adventure of it, and in the humor of the world that exists just below the surface of this one.  I’ll be home soon enough. 

©Mary Braden 2015

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