May 25, 2006

Oh me? I'm on business.

I have a confession to make. I love business trips.

Among my contemporaries, it's fashionable to complain about travel. Somehow, these complaints always strike me as overly affected.

"Oh, mercy me! If I have to eat free room service salmon one more time, I do believe I'll die of ennui!"

If I traveled every week, or I had a precocious toddler in my possession, I might feel a little resentment toward these trips. But I don't. And so I approach business trips as I approach most of life's little inevitables: with as much joy as possible.

I'm writing this in a comfortably apportioned hotel room in Tucson, Arizona. My employer is more discriminating in hotel selection than I am, so my two-room Embassy Suite is smoothing over the wounds left by my unfortunate sojourn at the Las Vegas Howard Johnson.

There's something undeniably flattering about being sent on a business trip. It makes me feel like a valuable and unique part of the company: I'm not just some nameless drone with a hundred counterparts in the Reno office. I am important enough for my employer to shell out a few hundred bucks to share my Monica-ness with another office.

On these trips, I often feel like a little kid pretending to be an executive. Checking my itinerary on a Blackberry, striding up to the gold counter at Hertz Rent-a-Car, flipping through the complimentary USA Today over breakfast - these are tasks that most people approach with a detached nonchalance, but inside I feel like giggling at how grown up I might look.

Sure, I've had to work hard here, harder than I work on an average day. But there are still parts of the day when I'm not working, and in those moments I can't help but enjoy discovering a new place.

It's so hot and dry that outdoor seating areas are surrounded by thin pipes that spray a fine mist of cool water onto the people beneath them.

I can't explain why, but cacti always make me smile.

The world of chilies is so much richer and more diverse than I had ever imagined.

Even the more banal parts of these trips contain little pleasures. As much as I miss sleeping next to my husband, I love sprawling out over five down pillows on a king sized bed. I love choosing a restaurant for dinner without having to consider anyone else's enjoyment but my own. I love wearing a spaghetti-strap tank top to breakfast without feeling self conscious about my flabby arms because, hey, nobody knows me here.

At home, I'm terrified of sleeping alone. Here, I am not afraid. Perhaps the ghosts don't know where to find me.

Without the distractions of home, I have time to read novels and trashy magazines. I drive around in my rental car, intentionally getting lost.

My visit prompts coworkers here to live just a little more brightly. They take me to the places one takes out-of-towners, those memorable local haunts that the locals never make time to visit. They see their own city and their own office through fresh eyes, remembering that yes, it is rather remarkable to have a Pac-Man machine in the break room.

Tomorrow, my trip draws to an end. I didn't take any pictures or buy any Native American jewelry, but I've enjoyed Tucson. Even better, I will be able to get off the plane tomorrow with a fresh appreciation of Reno. I consider it a sign of a life well-lived when the best part of any trip is returning home.


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