I am writing this while seated in an airplane. I am in steerage class, squished between two large men in suits who are each digging an elbow into my kidneys. Across the aisle, a businessman with a pained expression is trying to shove a stick of gum into the bawling mouth of a neighboring infant. The baby's mother throws the gum back at the businessman and explains that babies don't "chew" gum, they "choke" on gum. The businessman pockets the gum and then offers the infant a small, rubber ball to gnaw on. The weary mother accepts the toy, ignoring the warning label that screams: "CERTAIN DEATH!"
A few rows in front of me, two other business travelers, who began flirting a few hours before in an airport bar, are drunkenly groping each other. A harried stewardess, who has obviously benefited from the airline's relaxed weight and attractiveness requirements for flight attendants, threatens to throw scalding water on them if they don't put their pants back on.
Such is the glamorous life of a business traveler. It's a world filled with adultery, alcoholism, and attempted infanticide. It is
populated by people whose gray pallor reflects too many trips to the vending machine and too much time soaking up the glow of the pay-per-view adult movies that are generously defined as
"entertainment" on expense reports.
For the past year, I've been spending most of my work week in hotel rooms with no mini-bars and views of parking lots. The reason for all of this travel, according to my boss, is because it would be in everyone's best interests if I spent as little time in the office as necessary.
"Is it because I'm a rabble rouser?" I asked, hopefully.
"No, it's because you're an idiot," he growled. "Now, get the hell out of here."
Every week, he hands me a plane ticket along with some vague orders to check on "the field." However, since I have no idea what "the field" is or where to find it, I spend most of my time in the
shadowy world of hotel lounges, drinking watered down cocktails under plastic palm trees, and
preying on the troubled affections of desperate and lonely businesswomen who are adrift from their family and friends and
disconnected from any sense of stability.
Oops, wait a minute! It seems that I've just confused my life with that of the sleazy, womanizing businessman played by Fred MacMurray in "The Apartment."
Although I aspire to be the type of amoral corporate executive who lives on maraschino cherries and cheap blondes, the sad truth is that I'm simply an incompetent middle-manager who spends most of her downtime on the road
dodging social obligations with colleagues and combing garbage cans for disgarded restaurant receipts to beef up her expense report.
The most daring thing I do on the road is lie about my profession. But that's gotten me into some unexpected jams. On the flight to Washington this week, I tried to impress the cute woman next to me by telling her that I am an astrophysicist at NASA. But, as luck would have it, she is also an astrophysicist at NASA and she wanted to know my thoughts on string theory. I quickly feigned an emergency bladder complaint and hid in the bathroom until a stewardess threatened to throw scalding water on me if I didn't come out.