Friday, June 10, 2005


Blogging for Books

[Following is my entry in Blogging for Books #12, hosted by The Zero Boss. The theme choices for this month’s contest are: (1) a memorable trip or “mini-vacation” (with “memorable” covering everything from “best time of my life” to “unmitigated disaster”); (2) a time you did something spontaneously, in order to shake up your life; or (3) a time you metaphorically took "the road less traveled", and made an unpopular or uncommon decision. I’m going with Option One.]

As part of my responsibilities at The Great Corporate Salt Mine, I have traveled a lot over the years. It’s usually not too exciting.

Much of this travel has been the routine, boring, grindingly dull sort, the kind that is associated with covering a sales territory. Monday, go here. Tuesday, go there. Fly some days, drive others. After a few years, the fancy restaurants and expense account meals get to be a drag, and you find yourself looking forward to the nights when you can just pick up some random sustenance from the local Food Emporium and consume it in the hotel room.

There have been times that I would fly to New York for lunch, then fly home that same day.

I’ll admit, not all of it has been draggy and routine. Some of my positions have involved international travel, with just enough frequency to be interesting without bringing the dreaded Boredom Factor into play. I’ve been to places as diverse as Belgium, Japan, and Indonesia, and found things to enjoy and appreciate almost everywhere I’ve gone.

Boredom Factor or not, if you travel enough, you begin to appreciate the value of Routine. Airline travel disruptions, last-minute itinerary changes – these all must be dealt with from time to time, and all of them involve extra work and irritation. Keeping a cool demeanor is not always easy, but it’s essential. After all, you never know what sort of surprises you may have to deal with on the road...

Let’s wind the clock back to the last week of January 2003. I’m working on a project that requires an enormous amount of advance preparation and training for our Intrepid Sales Force, and as part of said project, I am visiting our various sales offices and conducting day-long training sessions. Not the easiest job: keeping sales reps alert and interested in any one topic for a full day is a little like herding cats. This week’s Exercise in Cat-Herding is to be held in Farmington Hills, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit.

I arrive in Detroit on a snowy evening and wait for two colleagues to arrive on their flight from Houston. Once they show up, we throw all the luggage into the rental car and head for the (Farmington) Hills, about a 45-minute drive. Routine.

We arrive at the hotel and check in. Routine.

Next morning, I get up and go through my usual Morning Ablutions. Take a crap. Brush teeth. Floss teeth. Routine.

Take shower. Hmmm, no hot water. Shit! Not Routine! Freezing! Gaaaahhh!!

Now thoroughly awake...and slightly thoroughly pissed off, I dress, pack up, and head to the lobby. My colleagues are wearing the same happy expression I am, which means I am not the only one who has taken a cold shower that morning.

We drive over to the sales office and get set up. Projector, on. Computer, on. Routine...again.

The presentations for the day will be in several segments. Ms. Senior Project Executive will take the first 45-minute segment, then I will take over for most of the day. We start...

And after a few minutes, I notice that I just cannot get comfortable. There’s a dull ache in my lower back that will not go away. In fact, it becomes more noticeable and persistent with every passing minute.

After half an hour, I am in considerable discomfort. Not agonizing pain, mind you, but the kind of discomfort that is the body’s way of saying, “Hey, Bub! Yeah, you! Something ain’t right!” And I notice that my forehead is bedewed by droplets of sweat.

Hmmm. Not Routine. Very much Not Routine.

Now it’s time for a break, and that’s when I need to make the Fateful Decision: do I try to soldier on through the whole day like this, or do I call a halt to the proceedings? Is this gonna get worse, or will it just go away? Screw it, I say to myself. I choose Door Number Two and announce that something is wrong and I need medical attention.

In seconds, I’m lying down on the reception area’s couch, with everyone acting all concerned. In minutes, the paramedics arrive. They hook me up to an EKG and quickly figure out that whatever is going on, at least it’s not a heart attack.

And by this time, I’ve already figured out what is going on, and the paramedics agree. It’s a kidney stone.


We send the paramedics on their merry way, and I have Colleague Number Two, Mr. Young Marketing Padawan, drive me to the nearest hospital while Ms. Senior Project Executive runs through my presentation materials, avoiding the need to scrub the training session. It’s not a long ride, but it’s a painful one: by now, the discomfort is getting fairly intense.

At the hospital, I cool my heels in the emergency room for an unexplainably long time. The place is empty, but I’m waiting...and waiting. Finally, after what seems like hours but is in reality closer to 30 minutes, they admit me. I put on the Ass ’n’ Back-Revealing Gown and lie down on the gurney, which thankfully is provided with nice, warm sheets, fresh out of the hospital laundry. Ahhhh.

After another seemingly interminable wait, they (finally!) do something about the pain, shooting me up with a nice, big bolus of Dilaudid. Aaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhh. Then it’s off to get an MRI.

And, yes, Virginia, there is a kidney stone.

The resident geniuses give me a prescription for pain medication and a screen. Piss though the screen, they tell me, until you pass the stone. OK, fine.

Back to the office, now. There are still a few hours of presentation to go through, but by now I am feeling no pain...and very little else, thanks to the Dilaudid. So I do my Stand-Up Routine and finish out the day. Mr. Tough-Guy, that’s me.

After all the shouting’s over, I have Mr. Young Marketing Padawan pilot us back to the airport in my rental car. I’m happy to get on an earlier flight, and I’ve arranged to have the thoroughly freaked-out She Who Must Be Obeyed pick me up, since I am still stoned out of my mind on Dilaudid and Vicodin and in no condition to make the 45-minute drive home from the airport.

Whatta trip.

[Postscript: Next day, I’m getting checked out by my urologist, who is horrified that the hospital in Michigan allowed me to fly home. She (yes, she) has no intention of waiting for the stone to pass of its own accord. Instead, she will go in and get it. Which, the very next day, she does. I will spare you the description, except to tell you that I was mercifully rendered completely unaware of the proceedings.]

Yes, I have traveled a lot over the years. It’s usually not too exciting. And I guess I’m happy to keep it that way.

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