Travel gives you the business

Nothing says "business trip" like a shrieking fire alarm in a motel at three o'clock in the morning.

I was reminded of this in San Francisco, where I traveled for business and several tax-deductible meals in expensive restaurants. I was in my "firm" motel bed, regularly tossing and turning so I wouldn't end up like a pizza -- lumpy on one side and absolutely flat on the other -- when the alarm went off in the hallway, just outside my room.

Smelling no smoke, I proceeded to violate all fire evacuation rules, taking time to use the bathroom and throw on some clothes, including a jacket and shoes. Made sure I had my wallet, my cell phone and other necessities. Then I helped motel employees herd the rest of the blinking guests outdoors into a refreshing light rain.

Fire trucks screamed up. Sleepy-looking firefighters checked out the building, and declared the shrieking to be a false alarm. After thirty minutes, we guests were allowed to return to our rooms, where it took mere hours to fall asleep again.

Getting no sleep in motels is an accepted fact of business trips. There's always something. If it's not a fire alarm, it's the phone trilling with a wrong number or a drunken party down the hall or an oversexed couple in the next room.

Maybe it's different for those of you who fly first-class and stay in swank, soundproof hotel rooms and have to really work to spend your substantial per diem. But for the rest of us, business travel can be one long chorus of, "Oh, how I want to go home."

Here are some of the other harsh realities of life on the road:

--You will catch a cold during your trip. Shaking all those hands. Breathing the recirculated air on commercial flights. You'll pick up a virus and bring it home to your whole family, who will not appreciate the souvenir.

--Despite your sudden illness, you will gain weight on your business trip. Too much rich food, too much high-calorie booze, not enough exercise.

--No matter how well you pay attention or how many mnemonic devices you employ, you will forget a client's name. At the worst possible moment.

--Despite the big "Hello, my name is" badge you're forced to wear, someone important will forget your name, or call you by the wrong name, or admit they've never heard of you. This will make you briefly miserable.

--You will accumulate many business cards on your trip. When you get home, you'll have no idea who's who.

--When you're on an airplane, your fellow passengers will not attempt to strike up a conversation unless you're trying to quietly read. Or sleep. Then you won't be able to shut them up, short of stuffing their mouths with the airline's tiny pillows.

--You will watch too much idiotic television in your hotel room. There's no help for it. You've got to do something while you're not sleeping all night.

--At least one of your many restaurant meals will be a real disappointment.

--Overeating will fill you with regret, among other things.

--Somewhere along the way, you'll get lost in a rental car. Just long enough to make you late.

--You'll arrive at an appointment only to find that the people there had no idea you were coming, and no record of your company.

--You will miss your family, while discovering anew how annoying other people can be.
Particularly those who set off fire alarms.

There's a reason for these harsh realities. They make you happy for the business trip to end.

Repeat after me: "There's no place like home. There's no place like home."

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