January 20, 1998
San Jose, Costa Rica
If you're wondering where I am, I'm here. Here is Costa Rica, to which I've returned (plug for Travelogue) for some more work. As anyone who's been here knows, this is a beautiful country, in relatively good shape by Central American standards, with great people, and flora and fauna. (Actually, don't tell my wife about Flora, she wouldn't understand...)
International business travel is a topic understood only by those who experience it, which is a very tiny percentage of the world. When we run into each other in hotels and on airplanes, and most often waiting somewhere, trying to get to hotels and airplanes, we immediately comprehend one another. The tired look on the face, the hunched over shoulders from carrying luggage, the frustration combined with resigned acceptance of another complication in our plans.
International business travelers commiserate by telling stories of their worst hassles. We're not really trying to one-better each other ("You had to ride next to a goat? Well I had a taxi driver who insisted on taking me home to meet his wife!"). What we're actually doing is finding brethren (and sistren) who truly Understand. If you tell me a story that is even more preposterous than mine, I know you've Been There, too, and we can share the unspoken, lonely burden of all international businesspeople.
You see, the people back home simply don't get it. All they know is, we get to go to exotic places, paid for by the Company or the Client, stay in expensive hotels, eat (usually) good food, and visit famous sites, all while hobnobbing with fascinating foreigners. (Actually, I've only been invited to hobnob a couple of times. It's over-rated.)
These things are all true, and they have their definite advantages, but everyone seems to overlook the other aspects of these voyages. For example, the vital activity known as "Getting There". You see, it turns out that most foreign countries are not very close to Home. And there are certain unavoidable steps one must take to transfer one's being from Home to any given exotic overseas destination.
As a service, therefore, to those curious stay-at-homes who long to share the magic of their loved ones traveling around the world, I have devised a simple exercise that anyone can do, by himself, at home to emulate this central experience of international travel:
- Get up at 5:00 in the morning, carry 3 heavy bags out to the car, and sit in the back for 30 to 45 minutes.
- Get out of the car, pick up the bags, and walk around the block 3 times while carrying them. If you want the total experience, run around the block, dodging bushes and cats.
- Go back in the house. Find a small, uncomfortable armchair and place it tightly between two other chairs; put a 3rd chair in front of you, about 10 inches away from your nose. You may wish to place large, heavy trashbags on the other chairs for more effect.
- Sit in the chair for 14 hours.
- Get out of the chair, and repeat steps 2 and 1, in reverse order.
There can be variations on this exercise, such as including another run around the house between two 8-hour intervals of sitting in the chair. If you want, you can have someone serve you a microwave TV dinner while you're sitting. You can also place an 8-inch TV set about 15 feet away from your seat and play a video for part of the trip. If you need to go to the bathroom, remember, you have to get up and get back in without touching any of the trash bags; and come back within 5 minutes, no lingering.
If that little exercise doesn't seem to capture fully the flavor of international travel for you, there is, in fact, a second element that you should learn about. This is what we seasoned globe-trotters call "Being Bored Out of Your Mind". To experience the special sensation of this unique state of being will require, ideally, at least a full week of your time. Similar to transcendental meditation, spiritual one-ness, metaphysical tranquility, and other crap like that, Total Boredom can be achieved only through long-term dedication of the apprentice. Although I know the effect will be but a shadow of the True Ennui, you may try the following Initiation practice, so that you may begin to comprehend the greater world that we, the devoted pilgrims, have so often embraced:
- Go to work on Monday, as usual. (Actually, the best thing would be to do the previous travel exercise on a Saturday night, into Sunday. Then, make sure you don't sleep before going to work on Monday.)
- Come home from work, as usual (ideally, take a cab driven by someone who doesn't speak English. But I guess that happens anyway, huh?).
- Go directly to your bedroom and lock the door.
- Stay there until morning.
- Repeat steps 1 to 4 for at least 5 days.
To be realistic during this period, you may only speak to your family by calling them on the telephone, and for each minute you speak to them, you must tear up a $5.00 bill and throw it out the window. You may have a tray of food delivered to the door, for which you must tear up two $20.00 bills. You may watch some television: the International Channel, or CNN. You may read a book, if you could fit it in your stuffed luggage. You may also read 2-day old editions of USA Today.
One other option: If you have a laptop computer, you may use it to play solitaire, but I recommend this only to the most seriously devoted seekers of the Utter Living Death. The feeling generated by 4+ hours of uninterrupted computer solitaire is more than the average, uninitiated mind can comprehend. As for me, I now leave you to return to this Nirvana state. And as we say in my circle, May Your Cards Always Bounce Off The Screen.
© 1998 David N. Townsend
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