A Road Warrior’s Lament
By Tom Bostock

Despite my best efforts to the contrary, the irritating, high-pitched whine of my cell phone alarm finally woke me from the snuggle-comfort of my wife of forty years, forcing me, reluctantly, from my bedclothes-covered cocoon, into another Monday morning travel day. Ugh! Nashville was on the agenda this week.

I absently wondered if the feeling of satisfaction would offset the replacement cost of the phone if I accidentally threw it against the wall, relishing the sight as it shattered into about a hundred pieces. I could just see the scenario of me trying to explain to the insurance company; “It was the darndest thing you ever saw. It just flew off the night stand and crashed into the wall. “Would you believe poltergeists?” I would suggest, knowing full well that I had little or no chance of pulling that one off.

“If only I had been born rich instead of just good-looking,” I thought, sarcastically, for the thousandths time, gazing at the ravages of the 63-year old face staring back at me from the mirror. I had, for all appearances, been “rode hard and put away wet.” The dark circles under my eyes had already graduated to shopping bags and were fast approaching the point where I would look like a perpetually surprised raccoon if I didn’t take some time off, and actually take a real vacation. After this trip, I promised myself; after this trip.  

Living in Florida, I had long since concluded that, being sand-blasted by powdery grit, eaten by sand fleas and subjected to already overcrowded beaches and highways was truly over-rated. I was more than happy to forfeit my share of seaside adventures to the countless hoards of unsuspecting tourists who flock to our shores when the winter winds began to sting their sensitive northern noses. “Help Keep Florida Green – spend money!” How would that be for a slogan for our local Chamber of Commerce?

Three hours later, I found myself, a helpless captive, hurtling through the sky at 600 miles an hour, suspended 30,000 feet above the ground, wondering, with child-like innocence, how this large metal machine that constantly amazes my engineer’s mind ever got off the ground. I understood the principles of lift and thrust, in theory, but the reality was still mind-boggling.

At 6’3,” I have rather long but unfortunately only semi-collapsible legs. When the person in the seat row in front of me reclined his seat, I lost the use of at least one leg for the duration of the flight. Upon landing, I lurched from my seat like something out of the “Night of the Living Dead,” since one leg had fallen asleep from lack of circulation, and the other was incapable of fully supporting its semi-incapacitated companion.

After carefully retrieving my briefcase from the overhead, which had most definitely “shifted during the flight,” while balancing precariously on one foot, I proceeded off the plane, periodically stomping my dormant foot, in a poor imitation of a Nashville clogger, without the benefit of clogging shoes, while vainly attempting to avoid the “pins and needles” feeling when and if my lower leg circulation was ever fully restored. It was amazing to see how many of my fellow travelers willingly cleared a path for me, when, while politely minding my own business, I lurched down the jetway doing my patented imitation of the Hunchback of Notre Dame.

After walking for what seemed like miles on a series of moving walkways and escalators – Why do people walk on “moving” walkways? It seems redundant – following a series of signs and arrows, like an intrepid hunter in search of an elusive elephant’s spoor, there was one final escalator … and a glimpse of freedom.

Circling the airport, I had returned to the same concourse for the third time, like a directionally challenged swallow returning to Capistrano by way of Uganda; I was probably beginning to sound like a homeless person who holds animated conversations with himself and his imaginary friends. I kept reading signs, missing signs, retracing my steps, all the while rhythmically maintaining my clogging routine. I think I was beginning to understand what someone, lost in the desert, must feel like, glimpsing an occasional stand of palm trees in an oasis, only to have it turn into another shimmering mirage.

I half expected to see a dazed procession of weary travelers, trudging aimlessly toward the seemingly unattainable baggage department. An attendant on a passenger golf cart, loaded with senior citizens, rudely and unceremoniously forced me to the side of the concourse with a resounding “beep, beep,” but didn’t stop or even slow down. The “beep, beep” was not even a mechanical horn but a noise being made by the driver. How embarrassing! Can’t the airport afford to buy carts with real horns? The very thought of being hit by a “beep beep” shouting driver was too embarrassing to even contemplate.

Even my simple pickup by our company’s local representative turned out to be a production from the ‘theatre of the absurd.’ If I have ever had a more comedic business trip than this one, I can’t remember it. The pickup was reminiscent of an audition for a stand-up comedy routine. Standing on the curb outside the airport, I called my contact on my cell phone.Not being familiar with the airport, I tried to describe my location to the driver.  After several unsuccessful attempts, a helpful airport security guard took my phone, spoke to my ride for about five minutes and determined that we were both on the same side of the airport, but he was one level directly above me. In my haste to get out of the airport, I had taken one too many escalators to one too many lower levels. Hurray for the boys in blue!

Did mention that I was “climatically” challenged” too? When I checked the Weather Channel before leaving for Nashville, it was forecast to be a pleasant 76 degrees; I only packed the minimum of tropical-weight clothing, enough for my carry-on. Sometime during the night, after my arrival, Mother Nature decided to surprise me with a sudden cold front. For the remainder of my stay, the temperature remained at a balmy 42 degrees. It was easy to spot the Florida representative at the ensuing week’s meetings; I was the only one with the “blue” arms.

Have you ever had one of those weeks where nothing went right, through no fault of your own? I was beginning to feel like I was trapped in some “grade B” movie. After arriving at the hotel, someone suggested that we all meet at a famous restaurant downtown. It seemed like a reasonable suggestion, so four of us jumped into a rental car, set the GPS to the name of the eatery and backed out of the hotel parking lot.

Somewhere between the hotel and the restaurant, the GPS apparently decided that we were not that hungry and took us along a scenic route, depositing us at a dead end of a nicely landscaped cul de sac, about fourteen miles from our Nashville destination. I seem to vaguely remember thinking to myself, as we travelled through empty streets of the least desirable part of town, that we may not know where we were going, but we were certainly making great time!

I considered suggesting that we knock on the residence door to see what they were having for dinner since the GPS insisted that they were a restaurant. I wisely kept that and several other thoughts about the driver’s impaired navigation setting skills to myself, since the mood in the rental car had turned somewhat hostile at that point. A mere hour later, we arrived at the restaurant where the other members of the company party had just finished their meal and were enjoying their third or fourth adult beverage. And a fun time was had by all!

When we returned to the hotel, Fate had apparently already decided that a good night’s sleep was not to be. After saying the obligatory “good nights,” I went up to my room, grabbed the tv remote and settled back on the bed to see what the “boob tube” had to offer. I noticed a corded remote on the bed with a series of controls.

When I pressed the one button to see what happened, the bed began to sink. Cool! It was a “sleep number bed.” I decided to have fun with the controls – you can see how bored I was – and set the one side of the bed to its maximum setting, like sleeping on an ironing board and the other to its softest one, like quicksand. There was a discernable disparity in the height of each side.

I had fully intended to change the mattress settings to something that would be uniformly comfortable before going to sleep for what was left of the night. Sleep intervened, however, and, before I knew it, I was fast asleep, on the elevated side of the mattress. I am a very restless sleeper, just ask my wife. When we were first married, she considered taking karate lessons to defend herself from my nocturnal onslaughts; she’s a black belt now!

Around 3 AM, I slid from my lofty perch on top of the upper side of the mattress, barely slowed by the marshmallow consistency side, and crashed, unceremoniously, to the floor, my elbow hitting the wall, and my head, the nightstand. A particularly nasty looking black and blue mark developed the next morning and bore witness to my stupidity.

That was it! I re-set both sides of the mattress, looked for seat belts or some other restraining device and failing in my search, went back to sleep to salvage what was left of the now semi-morning. When I first adjusted the bed, I had noticed an innocuous red button in the middle of the control but, since it didn’t affect the bed settings, I paid little attention to it.

That was to be my undoing. Some fifteen minutes later, I rolled over and apparently activated the button in question which caused the entire bed to vibrate. I woke up suddenly, thinking that there had been an earthquake. So much for sleep! I took a shower, grabbed a cup of coffee and waited to see what dawn had in store for me, certain that it would, like the beginning of the trip, be anything but uneventful.