The High Life
Move over Clooney: Confessions of a real Road Warrior
I get to the airport early to visit the Presidents Club, read the Wall Street Journal, and make important calls. My business partner is not committed to this neurotic punctuality.
I remember one December when we played golf in Los Angeles. We cut it too close and were still on the freeway at 5:20 p.m. when we had a 5:45 p.m. flight. There were no other flights until after Christmas.
We pulled into the first airport hotel we could find, left the motor running, threw the keys and a $50 bill at the valet, jumped into a cab, and dashed to the airport. We called Hertz from our cell and told them to come get their car.
I had always wondered what happened to people who did stuff like that. Well, we found out. A $500 surcharge. But we made the flight. That's a road win.
I travel 150,000 miles a year — three days a week to at least two cities. I plan my trips only one week in advance (if I’m lucky), which means I don't always get what I want in terms of hotel rooms, flights, etc.
It’s an interesting life.
I have a love-hate relationship with travel. I get to do what I love. As managing director of The Alexander Group (a Houston-based executive search firm), I make a difference in my clients’ businesses. I like the better trappings of travel — a first-class upgrade, a nice hotel room, visiting a new restaurant in town, and a familiar greeting from the flight crews. Now, the downside.
It took me 12 hours to get home to Houston from Newark earlier this spring. Huge storms, an hour to be de-iced and a two-hour line for takeoff. Once in the air, the landing gear would not retract so we returned to Newark, circled for two hours, fixed the problem and did it all over again. I missed my son’s baseball game. That hurt.
I don't mind flying, though I avoid small jets. They are not designed for a 6-foot-4 guy. Like every frequent traveler, I have had turbulent flights, landing gear issues, and the faulty cockpit indicator. But nothing scared me like two separate incidents that occurred two weeks before my 40th birthday. First, my plane flew into the wake of a 757 and nearly flipped. The flight attendant fell in my lap (that was OK). One week later, flying to a Live 8 concert in London, an engine caught fire right after takeoff.
The man behind me had a heart attack. I called my family and told them goodbye. Bad things happen in groups of three. One week later, my taxi ran into a tree in Nicaragua at 60 miles an hour.
I have gone through security at every airport in the country. The nastiest and rudest TSA employees by far call Philadelphia home. I've never figured out why. Perhaps they are not proud of their airport, which is the worst in the country. Twenty five hundred miles west and a million miles better in comfort is Orange County Airport, which has rental cars in the airport garage, only one terminal, and a lightning fast security line.
Because I am in the service business, I am particularly sensitive to good service. No one beats Continental Airlines and Chicago’s Hotel Sax. Last February, I arrived at Hotel Sax without my overcoat and the doorman graciously lent me his. It worked great until one of the other guests asked me to get his car.
Celebrity sightings are a regular occurrence on the Acela Express train between New York and Washington, where I have seen Bill Cosby, Bob Woodward, John Edwards (sans mistress), and Connie Chung and Maury Povich. I tried to sneak a cell phone picture of Connie and Maury. Note to self: Turn off flash if you are taking a picture on a train in a tunnel.
On one of my memorable train trips, I sat in a seat facing a grotesquely obese passenger, knee-to-knee across a table. The guy was sweating profusely, absorbed in his laptop. The Internet content reflected from the window across the entire car, and all of us could see the most lurid pornography imaginable.
As I tell people, you can’t make this stuff up.