Shelves full of books have been written and many movies made on dilemmas and how people handle them. They typically describe BIG issues, about whether or not to save someone’s life for example – Schindler’s list, The Pianist, … The Deer Hunter, dealing with the aftermath of the war, or stories about loss like My Sister’s Keeper. I faced a dilemma a couple of days ago that I still feel the tiniest bit bad about, deep down. Silly really, because it was not a BIG issue and the outcome was overtaken by events. Here’s what happened:
Airport, gate D7. We were all waiting for an evening flight back to London, tired after several long days’ work. Looking forward to coming home again. Then came the dreaded announcement that our aircraft was still in London “with technical difficulties”. Eventually the flight got cancelled and we were instructed to queue for a rebooking, from VIP loyalty card holders down to standard card holders and then the plebs. Nice touch, that. I guess they have to make it worth our while to pursue their wretched cards. By the time they got down to my level they had just given away the last seat on the next plane. There were two of us, an American suit and me, narrowly missing out. Not to worry, said the airline lady brightly, I can put you both on the waiting list. Then she paused, and added: “What if there is only 1 seat?” I mean, what was she hoping for? A fight? We just sighed and looked at each other, our minds whirring. Well mine was, anyway. This was my Moral Moment: I really wanted to be nice and courteous, this man looked as tired as I felt; why would I take precedence; it was the right thing to do. Another voice in my head screamed NOOOOOO I WANT TO GO HOME!!! It took me longer to resolve my inner conflict than it did the other traveler, who pulled the gallant card and “in that case offered the seat to the lady”. I was obviously delighted and thanked him appropriately – not too profusely, just showing appreciation -, but I couldn’t shake the hint of disappointment at my cowardice.
That guilt made me feel relief alongside disappointment when it turned out neither of us got on the next flight home, and we both were put on the same even later one. I am comforted by the thought that I did not cause the gallant American any avoidable delays, but I am now carrying the knowledge that I am a coward. If only he’d been a rude ass. That would have evaporated my dilemma in an instant. I am a coward…
I interviewed with chocolate on my face today. In a cafe in Paris. One more entry on my list of embarrassing things I’ve done. I did suspect for a fleeting moment I might have smeared chocolate on my cheek but then forgot about it, absorbed in the conversation. The guy was interesting and seemed a good fit. One problem solved. It was a couple of hours later, having finished the interview, debriefed with my colleague, walked back through Paris Nord station and made my way back to the airport that the unkind lighting in the ladies’ confirmed I did have chocolate on my face. In my defense, I had been ravenous: I had not had time to eat anything since breakfast other than the miniature galettes the Air France people gave me on the flight out to Paris. The coffee we all ordered to grant us leave to use the cafe as a meeting room came with a sliver of dark chocolate wrapped in foil, perched precariously on the saucer. My chocolate had been leaning into the coffee and half melted away. In my desperation for an energy boost (and my craving for dark chocolate, fine) I tried to eat it anyway, getting the goo all over my fingers. No napkins. I could either put on a show by trying to fish for a tissue in my handbag without getting that coated in chocolate too, or pretend it never happened and hope the chocolate would just dry and peel off or something. No-brainer, I am a professional. The thing is, my fingers must have had the right temperature to keep the chocolate smooth, for a really long time. Long enough for me to forget it was there. Judging by the smears on my face I must have swept my hair out of my face at least twice.
I am grateful to the interviewee and my colleague for being just as professional: they never once looked at me funny. I guess it would have been gracious of my colleague to alert me once the interviewee was gone to spare me the embarrassment of travelling through crowded public places in my decorated state. I can’t decide whether he is ultra shy or a tiny bit evil.
It could have been worse though. I could have been the interviewee, vying for my dream job.
I have not traveled for a month now, and I am getting itchy feet. The thing is, business travel is a drag: get up at stupid in the morning, schlep to the airport, dissemble luggage and get half undressed in a public place, re-assemble luggage, get dressed again in a public place, trying to ignore the feeling of being sneakily watched; find breakfast and try not to get it on your clothes; walk and walk some more, fight for a place to store your compliant little suitcase on the plane, find a taxi that will take credit cards, and finally make it to the office. Everyone there aspires to my life and wants to breeze in just before lunch time like I do. If I am lucky I get to have lunch, with people who have all sorts to discuss because they don’t see me often enough. The rest of the people are waiting for something bad to happen because they hardly ever see me. There must be a very good reason for my visit, and it can’t be good news. Umpteen meetings and conversations later I get to make my way to a hotel halfway across the city and look forward to a dinner by myself. Sometimes I get company, which can truly be that but just as often turns into another work meeting. I am really really tired by then.
And yet here I am, wondering when my next trip is going to be. I love being home, but routine bores me. I crave input from other people than those who surround me every day, and enjoy being in different places. For all my whingeing about the drag of business travel, there often is a brief window when I can appreciate my surroundings. I like to walk to and from my hotels, if at all feasible (mostly in Europe, to be honest). I discovered how nice that was once I was forced to, having waited for 20 minutes for a taxi that just wasn’t getting through traffic in Paris. In the end I assured the hotel reception staff I would be fine, and started walking. I checked the city maps on my way to keep myself on track but any other human would not even have to do that – I just have a formidably lacking sense of direction. And even I got to the office without getting lost. Since Hausmann Paris has a backbone of wide boulevards and follow-on arteries that take you effortlessly through the city. I noticed how recently a lot more people are cycling to work or college there. People also dress differently than they do in the UK.
Smells play a key role in experiencing the environment, I noticed while walking. Paris in the morning smells of the cigarettes of the many pedestrians smoking, with a dash of croissant and bitter coffee wafting out from coffee bars. One July morning, after a violent thunderstorm, it smelt freshly laundered.
And then there was that time I had a hotel room with a view out to the Atlantic in North Carolina. I watched the sun rise, pouring watercolours over the ocean in ever changing shades. It was so mild I threw the doors open so I could smell the salt on the air. That was terrific.
When is my next trip again?