June 18, 1998 -- You live this column every day of your lives, but let me lay it out for the business-travel wannabes, the travel-industry marketing wizards and the media types who don't fully grasp this simple concept:
Life on the road stinks. And it gets worse, day by day, week by week, year by year.
The depths of our despair escape those who don't live our lives because, well, because they don't live our lives. Life on the road is not something you can synthesize or rationalize or intellectualize. If you ain't living it, you can have it explained to you, but you can't feel it.
Outsiders look in on us and see only the superficial stuff: How airlines throw us first-class upgrades or the far-forward aisle seats in coach. How technology means we're rarely out of touch. How there are more hotels--and more types of hotels--than ever before. How airports offer better food and more shopping options. And how we're running up all these frequent-flyer miles and earning all these free vacations.
Life on the road for the business traveler must be getting better than ever, they say. Look at all that great stuff you get that you didn't get before.
We know better. We know we're feeling more stressed and more angry and more unhappy on each and every trip. The stuff the outsiders see often makes things worse, not better.
Life on the road stinks partly because our life in the office stinks. We are, after all, business people who just happen to travel. We are not immune to the stresses of the everyday business world just because we are mobile. We live with the downsizing, the politics, the financial pressures, the frenetic pace, the unhappy employees, the misguided managers and the idiot bosses. Business travelers are not exempt from the run-of-the-mill maladies of office life.
Once upon a time, we used to be able to escape the office turmoil by going on the road. The road was our sanctuary. We were almost always out of touch, so the turmoil back in the office didn't affect us. We controlled our exposure to the icky details of daily business life. If we didn't want to know what went on back at the office, we just didn't call in. They couldn't reach us, so we were immune. As long as we kept moving, the office couldn't find us.
No more. E-mail and faxes follow us everywhere. Our bags are laden with beepers and cellular phones. We can't escape our lives in the office by living on the road. The office is everywhere--even in the cabin of the plane. We can no longer say, "Oh, gee, sorry, I was flying." Planes have phones and dataports now. We're expected to stay in touch because the technology makes it so easy to stay in touch.
So, now, inextricably tethered to our miserable office lives by anytime/anywhere telecommunications, we also have to deal with the miseries of the road. The rude, officious airline workers and the blank-eyed hotel clerks. The long lines, the high prices, the dirty cabs. Indignities large and small.
Our companies ask us to take connecting flights instead of nonstops to save money. We fly on restricted tickets that require burdensome, costly and time-consuming paperwork whenever we change our plans. We fly on the weekend now to circumvent the Saturday-night-stay rules. We are squashed into coach in tiny little seats filled cheek-by-jowl with vacationers and screaming 8-year-olds. Upgrades to first aren't much relief; those cabins are full now, too, and the service up front is sporadic. When we get to our hotel, it may be one of those limited-service places in the middle of Exurbia. They don't have restaurants or room service, only vending machines selling us peanut-butter crackers and a side order of M&Ms. We may even have a roommate now, since our company has thoughtfully decided to double us up to cut costs.
And what are we doing in our rooms? Raiding the mini-bar for a Diet Coke and watching ESPN or a movie? Of course not. Our companies don't pay for either and, besides, who's got the time? We've got to crawl around on the floor looking for power outlets and phone jacks to plug in our laptop. We've got to check our E-mail and voice-mail and make sure we deal with our office lives. And, damn, we gotta call home because our spouse is on the road, too. Are the kids okay? Did the guy come to clean the septic or repair the busted window? Did anyone remember to pay the electric bill this month?
There's no space anymore on the road. No time anymore on the road. There's no refuge, no respite and far too many packets of peanut-butter crackers.
And tomorrow we get to do it all over again.This column originally appeared at biztravel.com.