Thursday, July 12, 2007

Snapshots from a Toronto business trip:

4:15 am
It’s dark. I’m a morning person in the same way Bob Allen is a heterosexual crusader for our country’s moral health. But I manage to wake up and shower and shave and put on my foo-foo expensive impress-the-client shirt and head out to the airport in plenty of time to get checked in and through security without any problems.

Flying United
The United web site tells me to check in at the Air Canada desk in Terminal 2. I go to the kiosk since I have no bags to check and it tells me to check in with a United gate agent in Terminal 1. But the United gate agent in Terminal 1 tells me the kiosk couldn’t have possibly told me to talk to a United gate agent and he directs me to use a United kiosk. When the United kiosk tells me once again to talk to a United gate agent in Terminal 1 and I show the screen to the agent I'd been talking to, he looks me right in the eye and says—and I am not making this up—“That’s not what it’s telling you. It’s telling you to check in with an Air Canada gate agent in Terminal 2.” By the time I get back to Terminal 2 and reach an actual gate agent—a mere 30 minutes before I am supposed to board—she looks at me sternly and says “You’re late.”

United/Air Canada: You are the Dubya administration. You suck and I hate you.

Getting through security
I keep a tiny little travel toothpaste in a zippered pocket in the the professional-looking carry-on I use for one-day business trips. I rarely use it, but it's nice to know that if I have a tooth- or breath-related emergency at 40,000 feet, I'll always have a dentifrice at the ready. In any case, it’s sailed unnoticed through countless security checks at airports across the country for years. But yesterday, it was suddenly a Dire Threat To World Security because it wasn’t put in its own private plastic bag and sent through the scanner in its own private gray tub. I am given a stern talking-to because I’d tried to “hide” it in my carry-on.

On the way home, I simply put it in my pants pocket and it sails through the security check unnoticed yet again. Don’t you all feel safer knowing how easy that was?

Flying with drinkers
The guy seated behind me orders a double vodka and soda. At 7:00 am. Suddenly I don’t feel so bad about drinking Diet Pepsi for breakfast.

It’s just like America, but it’s a whole different country. We should probably fear it. Maybe even invade it. Different can’t possibly be good.

The Hertz NeverLost GPS device
It doesn’t have the most intuitive interface, but once you figure it out, it sure gets you where you want to go with remarkable ease and simplicity. Except when you’re searching for a restaurant located at the back of a vast strip mall with only one access road and the device dumps you off in the middle of a highway bridge about 100 feet (or meters or metres or dodecahedrons or whatever they use in Canada) past your turnoff.

Cell phones
I hadn’t bothered to check what my phone/calling plan can do in Canada. I quickly find that I can send and receive text messages and make and receive calls, but I can’t check my voice mail. And I can’t send photos. Not even this one of a sign I see on a door:

The whole trip is designed for me to meet the clients I’ve been working with over the phone for almost a year. You could say that yesterday I flew to Canada and back just to have lunch … and then go to 15 meetings. By sheer coincidence, our lunch party consists of me, my female colleague and about 20 females from the client office. As we are finishing up, a creepy old man comes up to me and swats me on the back to congratulate me for being able to “land” so many lovely ladies. Then he asks what my secret is and wonders aloud if it could be my cologne.

Dear creepy old man,
Here’s my secret: I don’t treat women as some kind of prize. I don’t belittle an entire table of them by using language comparing them to an elusive sea bass or a troubled airplane or whatever ridiculous metaphor you were going for when you used the word “land.” But if you have a hot son, I’d be more than happy to “land” him in front of you and your wife so you can share in the celebration of my ongoing conquests. P.S. I don’t wear cologne. What you were smelling was probably laundry detergent. You should look into it.

If you can possibly manage it, avoid customs agents with booshy moostaches. They tend to enjoy their jobs a little too much.

Small world
As we wait for our delayed flight home at the Toronto airport, a picture of an old college friend appears on the international news on the TV monitor hanging above the table where I scarf down a surprisingly good airport sandwich.

Amy Jacobson and I had been partners in the University of Iowa’s Old Gold Singers waaaaaay back in the late 1980s, where I often entertained the thought that I was dancing all sexy behind her in her “Le Jazz Hot” solo. If I knew which box my photo albums were packed in, I could probably find an embarrassing photo to scan and post as fluffy-haired proof. She was strikingly beautiful and a little famous for dating Jeff Moe, the pretty-boy media darling of the Iowa basketball team who many of us chorus boys secretly hoped was using Amy as a gateway to meeting us. I’d all but forgotten about Amy until 10 years after graduation when I moved to Chicago and found her reporting nightly on the local NBC affiliate. We’d run into each other a couple times since then—and she’d even spotted me in the crowd as she waved from the NBC-sponsored floats in the gay pride parades over the years.

And now she’s staring down at me from a TV monitor in a Canadian airport. It seems she’s been fired from her job for being caught on tape having a pool party with the husband of a missing woman—a story she’s been covering recently. The tape was “exclusive video” from the Chicago CBS affiliate, which is widely regarded around Chicago as the poor man’s “A Current Affair.” And now the story has been picked up internationally. Most reports make a point to mention the fact that Amy’s wearing a bikini in the video footage, though not one of them describes the pool attire the missing woman’s husband is wearing.

As the cab pulls up to my house just before midnight, I hear my trendy sunglasses clattering to the floor from somewhere in my carry-on. I pay the driver, grab my glasses and my carry-on and crawl my tired little world-traveler butt toward the house, where the boyfriend greets me with the Best Hug Ever. Once I get in the light, I discover that my trendy sunglasses are safely tucked away in my carry-on, and I am now the proud owner of someone else’s trendy sunglasses as well. I’m gonna put them in the dishwasher before I wear them, though, because they’re covered in greasy facial DNA. But hey! Free sunglasses!

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