WHAT I LEARNED ON MY BUSINESS TRIP TO TAMPA:
• By the first week in October, people from Chicago have completely forgotten how an oppressively hot, muggy day can knock you on your ass.
• For a city that recently survived assaults from multiple hurricanes, Tampa looks amazingly unharmed. We saw a couple little piles of debris here and there, but they could just as easily have come from construction projects or ritualized Democrat beheadings as from gale-force winds.
• Thanks to the cancerous growth of chain stores and the scourge of cheesy-ass “architecture,” every city in America is exactly the same. Only the local flora and fauna are different. Tampa, for instance, has funny-looking grass and cute little lizards flitting all over everything.
• Ted (the United Airlines offshoot) is also just the same as every other airline. The only differences are how staggeringly lame its marketing is (“Business as usual with Ted, isn’t”) and how new (and maybe even clean) its cabins look. But the seats are just as uncomfortable, the in-flight beverage service is just as stingy and the gate staff is just as unhelpful (I was told by the gate agent that I couldn’t even ask for an exit row seat until 20 minutes before the flight took off, but when I went back 21 minutes before the scheduled takeoff, the same woman told me all the exit row seats had been taken).
• When a hunky bodybuilder with piercing eyes and thick, kissable lips sits a row behind you on an airplane, it’s impossible—no matter how hard you struggle to act casual and without pretense—to turn around and accidentally scope him out.
• If you’re ever going to a warm, vacation-y city on business and you think you won’t have any time to lounge around in shorts by the hotel pool so you don’t pack anything but work clothes, you’ll be sorry.
• Flipping channels in your work clothes all alone in your hotel room can be boring, but then again it can also lead to the discovery of a show on the History Channel about extreme skydiving, featuring your hunky new boyfriend being all hot and butch for the camera in a body-hugging skydiving suit.
• It’s hard to fall asleep after you’ve watched a good hour of extreme skydiving footage and your mind is racing with the possibilities of love between you and your hunky new boyfriend.
WHAT I LEARNED IN SIX HOURS OF FOCUS GROUPS:
• Three focus groups of people 63 and older talking for two hours each about health care insurance isn’t as boring as it sounds. Really.
• If a portly old man with a twinkle in his eye and a well-maintained white beard enters your focus groups and you get the impression that he works as a mall Santa, you’re probably right.
• If you firmly believe that “the Lord has been good to” you, you’ll feel perfectly comfortable working that idea into every conversation you have—even if that conversation is part of a focus group costing thousands of dollars to run and focusing on nothing related to you, the Lord or goodness in general. This is especially true if you’re a batty old broad who is completely oblivious to the repeated angry stares from a roomful of other focus group participants.
• If you are a Pause Queen, you will also be completely oblivious to the irritation you cause when you put a period after every. word. you. say.
• If you are a professional curmudgeon, you will also be completely oblivious to the fact that nobody wants to hear your opinions any more once you’ve established that you hate everything.
• Abovementioned weirdos notwithstanding, old people—at least the ones in our focus groups—are pretty cool. They’re engaged, active, aware of things they need to know, full of interesting life stories, willing to take responsibility for their own well-being—and they’re NOT victims. Which is probably the secret to their longevity.
• When you’re sitting in a darkened observation room and you’re starting to fade after watching old people talk about Medicare for hours and hours and you look down at the bottle of water you’ve been drinking, you notice that the last few letters of the wavy Zephyrhills® brand Natural Spring Water logo, when wrapped around a curved surface, makes it look like you’ve been nursing a bottle of colorfully labeled syphilis.