08 AprBusiness Travel. The not so exotic

I have traveled a lot; to the nearest 250 times, I really do not know how many planes I have been on. That travel has taken me to many countries, many clients and many offices. Mostly a simple routine of early start-taxi-airport-plane-taxi-hotel-meeting room-taxi-airport-plane-taxi-home late. There have been some really adventurous outings though. Over the next few weeks, I’ll share my favourites.

JFK airport. About 9pm. The rain is teaming down and that means one thing; a very long line for a taxi. Even though we were on a plane for several hours, the airline service had not extended to ordering us a car service. Years later, Emirates and others, would sort this, but at the time company policy forbade pre-booking and yellow cab was the only way into town. By my body clock it is something like 3am the next day. My day had started in Zurich, around 530 am locally, took in a meeting in London and then a late flight to New York to go to the Goldman Sachs office there. The wait for a taxi was trying my nerves and those of all the rest in the queue. So much so, that there were some heated efforts to partner up and get four people into a cab to ease the wait. That is not comfortable and has more in common with London’s central line tube at 5pm than luxury international travel.  Eventually, my group of four made it to the head of the queue. One of the guys was a fellow Goldman staffer and we all managed to agree a drop of plan.

When the rain falls in New York, one phenomenon is that taxis are hard to find and the other is the traffic tends to snarl up. No sooner are we en route to Manhattan, then we encounter a traffic jam. Our intrepid cabby suggests he knows a shortcut and takes a turn off. All of us are too cramped and too tired to offer an opinion. The cab drives on into a suburb, which the road signs announce as Jamaica, Queens. Now we are awake, this place has a reputation and it is not a good one. Some ten minutes later it is evident the taxi driver is lost. We command him to get back on the main road, in spite of the jam. Sadly, this is our only option, since getting out the car is not advisable.

With much delay, we make it downtown, and I am dropped off at the Carlyle Hotel near Central Park. A very tony establishment, probably on a par with the Savoy in London for tradition. Definitely not my normal haunt; my standard being to stick to Marriott’s and Hilton’s near the World Trade Centre and the office. But, this was the only room the corporate travel folk could find, because some event or other meant all the usual places were booked solid.

Checking in, I realised this was the 10th different place I had slept in as many nights. I was in the middle of moving house at home, still commuting to London three days a week and now in New York. I got my key, dumped my things in the room and headed to the bar in search of Jack Daniels and something that would help me sleep. I managed a couple of glasses to help that process, set the alarm clock and headed to bed.

Some time the next morning, an alarm bell rang. It took me a few seconds to notice it. I looked up and had what I’ll call a “Talking Heads moment”, as in a realisation that “this is not my beautiful house”. The room was totally dark and silent, the Carlyle doing a fine job with curtains or drapes as the locals call them.  Where am I? I tried to engage the grey mater, but it would not come to me. Old house? No. New house? No. Company flat in London? No. Mother-in-law’s house? No. Hotel? Nothing comes to mind. I spent some two minutes frozen stiff, completely unable to arrive at an answer. Eventually, I moved gingerly out of the bed and picked up an ashtray that seemed to have a logo on it. “The Carlyle”. Still did not make immediate sense. It took me about another 30 seconds to realise where I was. New York.

Lessons Learned: There is a lot to be said for staying in the same place. Maybe with today’s Smartphones, we would need city specific tones to use with the alarm function.

The Talking Heads reference is to their song: Once in a Lifetime. Quite apt, as I do not want to repeat that experience.

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