If you read my last blog post, you can see where I’ll be – at least publicly for the next month. Privately, I’ve got a few clients in addition to the public stuff I’ll be doing. It seems like since the beginning of the year I’ve been on the road pretty constantly. To put it in perspective, I’m half way to hitting Platinum status (50,000 miles) on American Airlines without any kind of double miles promotion and also very close to Platinum status with Marriott (75 nights; I’ll be about 15 days shy as of mid-June, and thst doesn’t count my non-Marriott hotel stays so far this year). Now, you may be thinking, “Man, what a jerk! Bragging about his travel status!” I look at it a different way: it means I’m away from home. A lot. Actually, this blog post is being written on the Amtrak Acela going back home to the Boston area. (Free wi-fi. Woo hoo!) By the way, if you’re traveling on the Northeast corridor, and especially between Boston and New York, taking the train is much easier if you need to be in Midtown.
I genuinely love what I do and the customers I work for. I know what I signed up for, especially since I’m chief cook and bottlewasher around these parts. So while I’m not complaining, I don’t lead a fabulous life of extravagance on the road, either. People think that I get to go to all of these wonderful places (that’s true to a degree, although some are not as wonderful as others), stay in top notch hotels, fly in first class, sip champagne … in essence, lead a “fabulous” life. It is a good life. But “fabulous”? Not so much.
At the end of the work day, a hotel is just that: a place to go back, do some more work, and get some sleep. Some definitely are better than others; I’m not saying there’s no difference. I’d be lying. But I can’t always justify, say, staying in a Renaissance or a “normal” Marriott when one of the other brands is in the same area and like $200 cheaper per night. That’s not a hard and fast rule. For example, if I’m going to be working, say, in downtown Los Angeles, it makes no sense to stay farther out because if you need to be somewhere first thing in the AM, it’s just impractical. I always work with customers to have very reasonable travel costs when it comes to things like hotels and flights. One customer of mine who I’ve worked closely with since going independent and I spend a lot of time up front getting estimates based on the proposed days. As long as we can sign the work quickly (PO processes can be fun at some companies), we’re always close if not right on the money. Doing things that way can easily chew up the better part of a day or two as I search for deals and flight combinations. For example, sometimes with Marriott properties the rates for Thursday night through Sunday night are cheaper (not always, though). So if I’m going to be somewhere for 10 days, I may have 3 or so reservations at the same hotel just to get a discounted rate Thursday – Sunday. You get different rates depending on how you select your dates. Sometimes you can negotiate a good rate at certain hotels if you stay often enough. I’ve done that once so far.
Doesn’t this sound glamorous – spending a day or two just to find travel costs? There’s no assistant doing all of this for me. Add travel agent to my list of job duties after consulting, billing, and running my business.
After a day working at a customer, sometimes it’s too late and restaurants are closed. Compound that with special dietary needs, and life in certain parts of the country can be challenging at times. Not everywhere is like New York City or Los Angeles. Many cities roll up the carpet by 9 or 10 o’clock. This is often why I’ll stay in a place that has a kitchenette or at least a refrigerator so I can go to a supermarket or a Whole Foods (if there is one) and get some stuff. I’ve also learned not to change my diet on the road. I eat the same things at home as I do elsewhere. I also snack less, drink less soda, etc. Why? Before you know it, you’re 10 – 15 pounds heavier. As a small guy, 10 extra pounds makes a big difference and quite frankly, you feel lousy. I could do better on the road; I should use the hotel gyms more often. But after a long day of work, it’s about the last thing I want to do.
Before you go break out your little violins for me and say, “Awww, poor Allan!” I do get to have some fun at times, but it’s not often. For example, on this trip where I’m on the way back from, it was a pretty intense week or so in Seattle, and then I spent a day and half in New York City. Hey, it’s on the way, right? It didn’t add any cost to my airfare to do it, and I don’t charge my customers for the hotel in New York. Win-win. I got to see Peter Gabriel at Radio City Music Hall (fantastic show) with a lifelong friend of mine who I grew up with and don’t get to see very often.
Not being around as much makes you appreciate the really good times more. I sometimes wonder if friends and family think I abandon them … I don’t. My time is mine since I’m self employed, but very limited as my work schedule dictates everything else most of the time. If I’m out West or in another country altogether, I need to be mindful of the time zone differences. Of course I still manage to go home and at least change suitcases, squeeze in a rehearsal or two with the big band, maybe some recording dates (hope to do round two of the sessions I started last fall sometime this summer), and have a bit of downtime to unwind, too. Music is a big part of my life, and even on the road, I try to catch shows if I can if someone I like is playing. I’ve had the good fortune of catching people like Joe Jackson in both London and Sydney, the Chick Corea/Stanley Clarke/Lenny White trio at the Blue Note in Tokyo, and Genesis on the last tour outside of London.
I pledge to get back to more regular technical blog posts that I’ve got some planned after I get through this next stretch of customer work and deliverables (including two whitepapers). Some possible blog post ideas I’m toying with:
Back to editing one whitepaper and writing about 9 presentations I need to deliver over the next month or so …