Last week, I became reacquainted with something I’d not experienced in many years: an overnight business trip.
For about 15 years in two different jobs, I was a “samurai” level business trip road warrior. I traveled so regularly that my wife and I have flown to Europe twice on frequent flyer miles and I still have enough (50,000 miles) for another free roundtrip ticket, which I’ve been saving for Amsterdam. I achieved the highest levels of status in a number of car rental and hotel programs, which brought me regular upgrades that spilled over to personal travel.
And of course, there are the “travel stories.” My favorite is when I arrived at an Avis counter in Tampa to find about six folks in line and one agent. They were in a “regular” line and I noticed that a “Select” (which I am) line appeared to be open even though there was no agent for it. I deduced that the one agent was working both lines and so stood in the Select line.
A woman in the other line gave me the evil eye but I ignored her. After another minute, she could not contain herself and said in a loud voice to me: “Sir, the line is over here.” Her tone told me she wasn’t being trying to be helpful; it was a “stop trying to skip ahead of us” tone. The Avis agent (and others in line) looked up and quickly appraised the situation. She told me: “Stay where you are, sir” and then told the woman: “Ma’am, he’s a Select customer and he’s next.” She took on that “deer in the headlights” look and then stared down at the floor while I gave her a “You must be a newbie but now you know” look.
But regular overnight travel is for the young. I was 33 when I became a business travel road warrior. At that age it was exciting to travel. But when you’re in your 50’s, travel becomes more of a hassle. Airport security is a pain and driving long distances is not as tolerable. About five years ago, I decided to become responsible for an area which had lots of “action” but which didn’t require more than a two hour drive to get to. This way, I’d always be home the same day.
Last week, I was asked to join two other folks on a trip to northern South Florida. Normally, we send two folks only in special situations. So, sending three folks was something beyond “special.” Since the boss three supervisory levels up was the one who wanted me to go, it was an offer I couldn’t refuse.
The bad news is that the trip was a killer drive each way. It was too expensive to fly three of us down, so we drove a rental SUV. The seven hour trip down wasn’t too bad. The return trip the next day was a back breaker since I hardly had any time to recuperate from the trip down.
Otherwise, I was reminded of why I enjoyed business travel. First, all the expenses I incurred gave me “free” points on my credit card. And, I made about a $60 “profit” from the trip since my expenses the second day were about $20 but I received a flat $80 “per diem” allowance. (The first day, I received the actual hotel cost plus $30 for meals, which were about $15.)
Checking out new restaurants was a favorite “perk” of business travel. One of my co-workers had been to the area previously and knew a “local” place a short walk from our ocean view hotel. I was bit unnerved by the exterior (which suggested “biker haunt”) but he assured me it was very laid back.
The place had a small interior seating area but a huge outside area. Since there was a cooling ocean breeze, we dined outside. We had just missed their Happy Hour $1 draft beer but their $2 “everyday” price was very reasonable, especially for South Florida.
I quickly spotted a tempting meal on the menu: 20 chicken wings for $8.95. Those are “Happy Hour” prices. The waitress assured me that these wings were Godzilla-sized. So two of us split an order of those wings in the “hot garlic“ version. Even with two of us, we could not finish all 20 wings but we only left three behind. I sure wish there was a place with wings like that where I live!
For lunch, we found a Thai restaurant just a block from our meeting location. Normally, Thai restaurants are fairly inexpensive. They often have lunch specials for about $6. But we were in a tourist city and downtown, so these prices were a bit higher. But, it was coming out of my $80 per diem allowance so a $9 entrée for lunch was not a problem.
I enjoyed a Penang-style curry with pork at “heat level 4” (of 5). I knew that curry was there but I should have gone all the way to level 5. (I think many Thai restaurants set their heat levels to “Western” heat levels.)
On the drive back, the good news is that we made it to the Russell Stover warehouse outlet near Ocala. The bad news is that they were closing in 10 minutes, so we had to be fast. Since it was Easter recently, I knew they had a surplus Easter bunny area and went straight for it.
Unfortunately, since it hadn’t been that long since Easter the prices were still a bit up there: $1.75 for your choice of various 7-ounce solid chocolate bunnies which would drop to as low as 50-cents in a few months. (The warehouse is refrigerated, so that chocolate stays good for many months.) I bought three bunnies – a milk chocolate and milk chocolate with almonds (for Susie) and a “healthy” 😉 dark chocolate for me.
We arrived home around 11. Between the two trips, I earned eight hours of “comp” time. I used three hours of it sleeping in the next day and coming to work at 11. That leaves me five hours to use as “vacation” when I want to.
That trip brought back a lot of memories. I still don’t miss the “old days” and prefer my road warrior sword as a decorative display. But those were the days….