Big Trip to Little Rock

I took a trip to Little Rock, Arkansas. It was a work thing; one of the big customers of the company for which I work holds a vendor conference every year for operations people like me. Last year it was in Grapevine, Texas (where, indeed, the stars at night are big, and bright (clap-clap-clap-clap) deep in the heart of Texas). My boss – my boss and the owner – thought it might be useful, and would demonstrate our commitment to them and to our business relationship, i.e., show the flag and maybe learn something.

Thing is, I really, really don’t like to travel. You like to travel? Good for you. Me, not so much. I get anxious about going someplace unfamiliar and far from home. What if something goes wrong? What if I don’t make it through DHS security? What if I get lost? My luggage could get lost, and what then? I feel trepidation in anticipation of the trip but when I’m actually making the trip I feel fine, no worries. I guess that means I’m complicated.

I looked at my wardrobe and it was lacking. I didn’t have much by way of business clothing. Two suits which I wore to this thing last year, and my dress shirts were not aging well on the hangers. A pair of dress shoes, a belt, some dress socks, and a couple of ties. Could I make do? Maybe, but I work in the fashion industry and showing up in the same clothes would embarrass me and probably not reflect well on the company. Also, I had a wedding coming up for a cousin and I needed to wear something nice to that, too.

I decided to get a wardrobe. I got a few Joseph A. Bank suits, maybe fifteen dress shirts, a dozen ties, another pair of dress shoes, and some accoutrements like tie tacks. It makes me feel better having these clothes because I can wear them to court, interviews, or any other function without worrying about what I’ll wear. Finally, I have some nice clothes, and I feel more prepared.

About a week before the conference we got some more details on the event, including the dress code: business casual, dang it. That in-between area which I hadn’t covered, so I got a couple of pairs of pants to suit the occasion.

I was disappointed that I wouldn’t get to wear the suits at the event so I dressed up for the flight out. Black suit, dark cornflower-blue point-collar dress shirt, dark red pocket square in a three stairs fold,  light blue tie with white dots, tied in an Eldredge knot, and a ruby tie tack (lab-grown ruby, but hey, still a ruby). Being dressing up commands some respect and I could use that when I asked for help on where to go and what to do, as I knew I would, probably every step of the way. That Eldredge knot got a few appreciative comments, one of which was from a guy I was passing as I made my way down the aisle of the plane, “Great tie knot! Great tie knot!” he exclaimed with almost startling exuberance.  Almost startling, actually; I looked down and there was this early-50ish guy dressed business casual and smiling enthusiastically.   I thanked him and told him it was an Eldredge knot, and he said, “Now I’ve got something to practice when I get home!” The hotel concierge even noted it appreciatively. So that was nice.  It was a big hit at the wedding, too.

The flight from LaGuardia to Little Rock has a connection in Atlanta and the booking I was given had a twenty-five minute window to get from gate to gate. I had my doubts and trepidations because I’ve never had to make a connection before. I asked a coworker about it who has to make this trip a few times a year and she reassured me that she and the owner had never had a problem, no worries! As I waited for boarding the time-to-departure slipped fifteen minutes, but the Delta rep at the desk assured me we’d make up for it in the air. Then we waited another fifteen minutes on the tarmac before takeoff, so by the time I disembarked in Atlanta my connection was just leaving. Missed it.

They booked me on the next flight out, which meant waiting for another two and half hours. At least it gave me time to get something to eat, and I also got to see Air Force One take off. Yup, there it goes, how ’bout that, and back to reading my book.

I checked in to the Marriott hotel in Little Rock in the early evening and my room was on the 17th floor.  Apparently these are VIP suites (I swear, that’s what I was told) and in order to get there you have to wave your room card on an RFID reader in the elevator before it will take you to the upper floors.  I guess that’s how they keep out the riff-raff in Little Rock.  I got into my room and I had to get ready for the conference, by which I mean I had to iron my clothes. As I was ironing my brand-new never-worn shirt I saw some black stuff on the arm stitching, and further investigation led me to the iron, which had some kind of black crud on it – and now on my shirt as well. I was able to get it off the shirt and I called the front desk to get a replacement iron. Note to self: check the iron before using it. Also, bring a spare shirt next time, just in case.

The two-day conference itself was a mixture of boring and interesting. Some of the workshops, like the ones on replenishment, e-commerce, and image metadata, had nothing to do with what my company does with the customer, but others were kind of interesting. I got to meet and talk with some of their operations management people, and they’re all nice people, and it was good to establish or re-establish those personal connections.

They provided breakfast, lunch, snack stuff and coffee. Oh my, the coffee was never-ending and by the afternoon I could just about vibrate through the walls. During lunch on the first day the keynote speaker sat down next to me, a one-star Brigadier General, retired and doing inspirational talks nowadays. She hadn’t given her talk yet but I thought I recognized her from the handout we’d received during registration.  Little tiny woman, very nice, and we had a bland but friendly conversation. Under different circumstances I would have talked to her about the GWOT but, well, as a guest at a business conference I thought it would probably best not to reveal my politics to the rest of the table, which included some higher-ups from our customer’s management.

Dinner was up to me, and since this was expensed on account with my employer I ordered room service.  Gee whiz, everything was so expensive, I ordered just about the cheapest thing on the menu – some kind of burger & fries.  OK, sure, I could just charge whatever pricey thing to the company but this isn’t an opportunity to live large on the boss’ dime.  I make it my business not to screw my employer, and in turn, I add to what I call the “bank account of good will.”  This kind of a deposit is of the “didn’t-screw-us-when-he-had-the-chance” variety but I never know when I’ll have to make a withdrawal from that account so I add to it however I can.  Anyway, the bill for room service included “Service Charge: $2.64” and “Delivery Charge: $3.00”, no mentions of which were on the menu.  A Service Charge?  And a Delivery Charge?  This is room service!  Sure, it’s not a lot of money, but really?  “Oh, you asked for room service to be delivered to your room – there are extra charges for that!”  I also noted on my final room bill that they charged me $5.00 for a little bottle of water I used to make my morning coffee, a bottle that was already in my room, right next to the complimentary coffeemaker.  I mean, I expect additional charges for tiny bottles of liquor from the mini-bar in the mini-fridge, not that there was a mini-bar or mini-fridge for that matter, but again, really?

The next day was a half-day for me.  I would have gone on a facility tour but I didn’t have the time as my flight was scheduled too close to the time the tour ended.  My flight back was worse than my flight out; the plane which was supposed to carry us from Little Rock to Atlanta was stuck in Atlanta with mechanical problems, and apparently there’s just the one plane that goes back and forth. While we waited for hours and hours Delta rolled out a cart of sandwiches and sodas for us to pass the time, but the sandwiches were unmarked. Some fellow passenger told me that they were turkey, or ham, or something else, so I spun the wheel and took my chances. I think it was supposed to be turkey.  It was a plausibly turkey sandwich.  Let me put it this way: if they put the sandwiches in a lineup, I’d probably pick this one as the turkey.

So delayed was the flight out of Little Rock that by the time I got to Atlanta it was right about the time I was supposed to be landing in LaGuardia, and of course, my connection was long gone, with no flights scheduled until the next morning. Once again, Delta was not ready when I was. We got these printed vouchers for a Holiday Inn which expired in a half-hour and I had to find the hotel shuttle in this humongous airport, so I was asking for directions every hundred feet or so. The first hotel shuttle I came across filled up without me so we had to wait for the next one, and the Holiday Inn shuttle driver arranged for another shuttle driver from Comfort Inn to take us.

As were were going to the hotel one of my fellow passengers noted that all the international flyers got a food voucher, too, but not us, we domestic air travelers. “I got a mystery sandwich,” I chimed in, which got a laugh. Then the Comfort Inn driver offered to honor our Holiday Inn vouchers at the Comfort Inn (free breakfast!) and most people took him up on it, but I was not going to take chances. I was hundreds of miles from home, with a voucher for Holiday Inn, and by golly, that’s where I was going.

This being a complementary “sorry we screwed the pooch” room from Delta I expected nothing more than a mud hut with a thatch roof, but the suite was sweet: two TV’s, one in the bedroom and one in the living room, and the living room had a sink, cabinet space, microwave, coffeemaker, and mini-fridge. It was better accommodations than my room at the Marriott in Little Rock, but I didn’t care. I was coming down with cold, I had a phlegmmy cough since the morning and the only thing I wanted to do was to shower and sleep. My flight was scheduled for close to noon the next day and I wanted to be well-rested.

The flight back from Atlanta to LaGuardia was uneventful, thankfully. I took a taxi from there, and the driver was cussing and fidgety. Inappropriate and unprofessional, and so very New York.

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