Business trips and the “Cement Shuffle”.
Posted Friday, 19 May, 2006
I woke up in Oklahoma City this morning and went for a run. The online almanac said the sunrise was at 5:30 AM local time, but someone forgot to tell the sun about that because it was not in evidence when I left my room and shuffled down to the lobby.
I had a ‘poolside’ room. This being a ground level bungalow type arrangement with my door opening up into a courtyard with one of those kidney shaped pools in it.
I had decided against trying to swim laps in the pool the previous night. It didn’t really look like it was open for swimming season quite yet and I hadn’t packed a wet suit. I put on my workout clothes and went down to the “exercise room” instead. In many business hotels these days the work out facilities are top drawer. This trend has evidently not made it to the OK City Airport Crowne Plaza! It was, on inspection, the standard hotel layout; a treadmill, a stationary bike, some sort of stair thingy, an old Universal Gym and some dumbbells.
I had had a great travel day. I had been kind to old people and helpful to women and children. I was in a swell mood and trading in my swim for a little weightlifting wasn’t going to change that. But I do wonder how they can go to all the trouble of putting mints on my pillow and be clueless to other things more important.
A great trivia question is that Oklahoma was one of the last states to join the union. Oklahoma became the 46th state in 1907. Before that it was Indian Territory. I once had the privilege to do some business with the Cherokee Nation in Tahlequah and got to see the Trail of Tears presentation. It’s an interesting place. I wish I had more leeway on my trips to go to the interesting places, but I’m usually sneaking in a run around the hotel somewhere before meeting a client.
There was a nice woman walking on the treadmill who informed me that the bike was broken. It wasn’t really broken, but it only had one pedal-arm. I suppose you could work out one leg. The treadmill was one of those hard-narrow track versions that I refer to as “hamstring eaters”. But, you can’t screw up dumbbells and I got a great workout in. I committed to myself to get out of bed the next morning (this morning) and go for a run.
You have to be versatile when you travel and you have to have a sense of humor. It helps to have a childlike sense of wonder and adventure too. You don’t want to be like those cranky American tourists who wander around Tokyo complaining that they can’t get a decent hamburger. You can’t have rigid workout requirements. You have to flow like water and conform to the local landscape. I’ve simplified it to; “Exercise every day.” If you can do that then you are successful. Let the local environs fill in the details. Sometimes it’s an epiphany. Sometimes it’s 20 minutes on a broken bicycle.
Getting up at 5:00 this morning was not hard because I was still on Eastern Time. It was really 6:00 on my body clock. If you’re traveling and crossing time zones don’t expect to be able to work out at the same quality or intensity you would at home. You will find you are at 60% capacity depending on your jet lag, and if you force a workout you’ll just hurt yourself. Keep it simple “exercise every day”.
The guys at the front desk were as useful as the guys at the front desk ever are when you ask them for a good place to go running. Having repeated this scene in hotels all over the country and world I know the answers before I ask. The typical answer is “Most people just run around the parking lot behind the hotel.” This is not true. No one runs around the parking lot behind the hotel, but they are in the customer service business and feel like they have to manufacture an answer. You can see them thinking, “What’s the best thing I can tell this idiot so he won’t go out on the highway and get himself killed?”
I did what I always do in a strange place. I picked a direction and started running. The weather was warm and a little muggy. If the sun was up you would see that it was overcast and threatening rain. I didn’t have my reflective stuff and tried to run defensively to stay out of harms way. It would appear that OK City hasn’t discovered urban traffic yet as there was nary a car to be seen.
I made my way through the parking lots and came to a Home Depot store where the early employees where just showing up. The birds were gathered at the doors waiting patiently to get in and squawking their morning sounds. I don’t know if you’ve seen this or not, but the sparrows have figured out how to operate the automatic doors at the Home Depot by hovering in front of the motion sensor. They live inside the stores and let themselves in and out as needed. I shuffled by the landscaping area chock full of trees and shrubs, ready for the spring rush.
I came to a reasonable highway for running. I like to find a straight road and just run out and back by my watch. This makes it less likely for me to get lost. If I have to remember too many turns I get befuddled and may miss my meetings! This one wasn’t a freeway. It was a separated highway with two lanes in each direction. There were no sidewalks, but there was a nice poofy grass shoulder to run on. In the mornings all the automatic sprinkler systems are on and the grass tends to be wet and squishy.
There were strip malls interspersed with residential and even some trees. It was mostly pancake flat with one little roll at the beginning. At one point a strong wind gusted and I could help but thinking “…where the wind comes sweepin’ down the plain!” I thought I might be treated to one of the wonderful plains storms where the whole sky darkens like Armageddon, but it passed without incident.
I got out about 20 minutes and turned around. I was soaked and decided to take my shirt off. There was still no sun and still no cars. The sun was starting to peek just a little in the horizon. I passed many stores and things but what really stood out were the garden centers. Great full tables of red begonias, yellow marigolds, purple ageratum, white alyssum and multi-hued pansies and impatiens crowded to the roadside expectantly in the dark dawn.
Another unfortunate byproduct of travel is that it screws up your internal rhythms. I was forced to put my wet shirt back on, pull into a 24 hour gas station and charm the attendant into letting me rest. I’ve found that you don’t really need to explain to people you just need to smile. The information is secondary to the emotional envelope you wrap it in.
A few blocks further down I was treated to an interesting tableau. I saw a car straddling the cement barrier in front of the KFC while a policeman talked to the driver. If this was a painting it might be called “cop and drunk at KFC”. I bet that was a great story, but it makes me shiver to think of all the times that cars have violated the sidewalks that I run on. Hopefully my wanderings will never intersect with theirs.
Back at the hotel I stretched in the brightening day in front of my room by the pool. There was a mallard duck floating aimlessly in the pool, preening himself and wondering why this particular pond had no tasty things in it.
I hung up my wet stuff as best I could and showered for the day. Upon returning tonight I discovered that my running shirt had lent a pungent air of diseased goat to my room while I was gone. I snuck out and dunked it in the pool, hoping the chlorine would win the battle with the B.O. It didn’t help. I opted instead to rinse it in the sink with the complimentary mouthwash.
I’m on to Tucson tomorrow where I’m speaking at a conference, (always fun). I hope to find some mesas, dry washes and arroyos to explore. Maybe I’ll see some spring flowering cacti. Maybe the hotel will have a functional bike to ride. If you’re out and about the southwest and pass a runner smelling of mint and old goat, say ‘hi’.
See you out there,