Road Warrior

CherriWalk softly and carry a big straw.

by Cherri Ellis


Traveling for business is completely unlike traveling for pleasure. Business travelers are easily spotted. They never have on anything tropical, they won’t check a bag at gunpoint, and they don’t carry anything that doesn’t roll. I enjoy work-related travel; there is a kind of clarity that comes with moving in and out of unfamiliar territory. Thirty thousand feet above the ground, problems are solved, old grievances are put to rest, and future plans are hatched.    

I recently had the experience of taking two trips without a cell phone, which was surreal. No cell service is bad enough, but no actual phone? I honestly didn’t know what to do with my hands. The last time one of them wasn’t clutching a phone, it was probably wrapped around the handlebars of my childhood bike. (Don’t judge. Where is your phone right now?)

The experience of cell phone force-quit was not the connection back to the human race that Upworthy videos would have you believe. One flight was delayed seven times, and while everyone else just whipped out their phones to alert whoever was waiting on the other side, I had to drag out my laptop, find an outlet because the battery was nearly dead from constant use, and send an email with the news. I felt like Fred Flintstone. As a society, what kind of maniacal pace are we keeping that sending a digital message over the airwaves feels slow?

That particular trip, I hadn’t left my car at the airport. I was returning on Friday at International Cocktail Hour (the exact hour of which moves to suit my needs). My husband had offered to pick me up and whisk me off to dinner someplace fabulous, but that was not to be. A brief weather delay had turned the Atlanta airport into a refugee camp. There were four flights stacked up at my gate, and the people were crammed in so thick that I had to climb over bodies to get to a patch of carpet behind the desk. From that vantage point, I saw why the nice lady on the microphone was shaking like a Chihuahua. Her computer, telephone updates, and announcement screen all were saying different things, and she was being hammered with questions from frustrated people who had crying babies clinging to them. There was a 93-year-old woman who had been wheeled to the area and just parked in the aisle, and she had been there so long that she kept falling asleep. Every time she woke up she would panic that she had missed her flight. We fell into a rhythm of her napping, startling herself awake, and me reassuring her with a loud “You’re OK! Not yet!” We did this about every 10 minutes, and we were there several hours. At one point she struggled to stand up and couldn’t, and I figured out she was trying to reach a basket of snacks behind the desk. I got the desk attendant’s attention for her, but the frazzled woman shook her head no. Um…what? I looked around at the other faces in the area and we were all in disbelief. I am now on security video stealing M&Ms and granola bars.

Delta has a medallion program that has four tiers: Silver, Gold, Platinum, and Diamond. At the highest level, you have spent well over $12,000 on airfare, so they try to show you honor in some fairly desperate ways. The guy on the floor next to me was Platinum, according to his luggage tag. I congratulated him on the honor, which currently wasn’t getting him much. Later, when we boarded, there was a three-foot nylon divider that was strung between two silver poles. He got to step to the left of it, and we all had to step to the right. Two steps later, we all passed through the same door. I felt bad for the guy.

We boarded slowly, and I found myself stuck in the aisle in front of an elegant lady in first class. She was sipping a gin and tonic and did not have carpet fiber sticking to her. Jokingly, I said, “Hey, wanna switch seats? You can have 34E.” She looked up over the rim of her glass and tersely replied, “If you want to pay the difference.” She didn’t even smile. I mentally imagined whipping a straw out, dropping it into her drink, and sucking its contents dry in one gulp. I imagined her horror as she told the story in the Delta Sky Club, and I actually laughed out loud. I think I scared her. Good.

Clearly, everyone’s goodwill was gone. I made it to the back of the plane, and there was a man already seated by the aisle of my row. When he saw that I needed to get past him to the window seat, he rolled his eyes and said “Oh, great. I just sat down.” I countered with, “Really? I had chicken for lunch, but I don’t think that’s relevant either.” We glared at each other as I climbed over him.

Next time I’m casually dressed and headed someplace for pleasure, I will make it a point to smile at the business travelers who don’t recognize me as one of their own. When I am the one sipping a pre-flight Bloody Mary as they furiously type on their smart phones, I will hope that their emails solve whatever issues are making them frown into their screens. I will hope that they closed the deal, made their kid’s ballgame, and racked up enough frequent flyer points that they switch places with me soon.

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