Monday, November 07, 2005

Notes from my Trip to Texas (2nd in a series)

I was sent down on a business trip last week to the head office in a Dallas suburb. These are some random thoughts on the Lone Star state, and the state of George W. Bush's America from a Canadian visitor's viewpoint
(Link to Part 1).

Part 2 - Scott, meet Texas; Texas... Texas, are you awake?

Oct. 31/05, mid afternoon. After arriving at Pierre Elliot Trudeau airport more than three hours early to find exactly no one in queue; after charging briskly through the United States Homeland Security checkpoint with little hassle; after being metal-detected in under five minutes,... we are informed that, due to thunderstorm activity in Dallas, our plane will board about an hour late.

So now we have nearly three hours to kill, but it's impossible for me to go outside for another cigarette before take-off. Must psyche-up for a long painful wait. I'm travelling with my boss, who is younger than I, but very ambitious - and good at the office politics game. He has made this trip at least four times before. He has a good 10 inches or so on me, making us a true Mutt & Jeff team.

I scan at the news-stands and kiosks for a Sudoku book but can't find one anywhere, so I sit opposite my boss and take out the Sunday NY Times crossword I've been saving. Boss-man has decided to haul out his laptop. He can't get a connection to VPN into the office so he begins showing me countless digital pictures of his very cute little boy. I stupidly have none with me of my son, Francis. Well, there is that cropped photo I keep in my wallet, but he's seen that.

It's surprising how little of a bond I have with my boss, considering our first-borns arrived two days apart in May of last year. I guess we're rather different people (he is certainly wealthier than I). Also, I am wary of him. He hasn't always been honest with me; and having worked with him for four years, I always assume everything he says has an ulterior motive. He has never screwed me over, but those who get in his cross-hairs always seem to find themselves fired or demoted before very long. At the same time, he's a loving and proud family man.

"What do you think of that one?" he asks, beaming as he points to his son in a purple dragon costume.

"Ah, what a cutey," I fawn.

"How about this?"

"Wow. He has such long, thick hair. Francis still has only wisps."

We were both disappointed to be missing Hallowe'en with our little guys. But the Company doesn't give a shit. There is no saying no when Dallas beckons. For my boss, it sometimes happens on a day's notice. For me, never before. In fact, in a few hours, Texas will overtake Marietta, Ohio as the furthest from Quebec that I have ever ventured (and I was only seven or eight at the time. My first-hand accounts of America are entirely based on car trips to New England.) In Canada, I have been as far west as Hamilton, as far north as the Gaspe, and as far east as Halifax. A true homer.

Finally we are able to board. An American Airlines McDonnell Douglas MD-80 jet. Looks solid enough. Find our seats. Boss gets window. I get aisle. There is blessedly a vacant seat between us. Not much window viewable from my vantage point. No matter, it's pitch-black out already. Sit. Wait. Buckle up. Taxi. Take-off. Turbulence. $3 meal-box anyone? Not a one sold. Drink cart. Diet Pepsi. Crossword very difficult. Drag out Lloyd Axworthy book. Realize how repetitive, self-congratulatory and boring his prose can be. Nah, probably just can't concentrate without nicotine. More turbulence. Get laptop out (on loan from the Company) and play Free Cell. Damn Touchpad adds to challenge. Stewardess hands me two teeny-weeny cornchip bags, with "Great for Dipping!" printed on them, but of course, no dip. Drink cart again. Crossword still very difficult. Never-ending turbulence. Wrestle with rest room. Lose. Bang elbow wiping up. Ow. Wash hands, sort of. Return to seat. Doze off.

We land after circling the airport a few times, dipping a bit on each pass. Then we sit idle for 20 minutes as there is a plane sitting at our intended gate. Lazy dead-beat plane! Our plane finally loses patience, backs up, and goes to another gate. My boss and I both have only our carry-on bags, so we get out fast. Boss knows the way so I follow. Outside and the air is cool. I catch a glimpse of a cyclindrical, free-standing ashtray that would dwarf R2-D2 and manage to spark a cigarette while carrying two bags and not losing a step.

Before I have a chance to take a third haul on my first cigarette in seven hours, the airport bus pulls up. It will take us to the car rental desks at the southern end of the five mile-long airport (DFW airport takes up more land mass than Manhattan, they're proud to tell you.) It's past 10 pm CST and my ex-smoker boss is in no mood to wait for the next bus while I de-crave in front of him. I go to stamp my cigarette out on the ground but there isn't a speck of dirt or previous smokers' butts or even a wayward leaf in sight. Nothing but pristine concrete and pavement, unweathered by snow, sand or salt like in Montreal.

I butt-out awkwardly in the R2D2's flattened head and board the bus, which has matted grey carpetting on seemingly all its interior surfaces. No one asks for a fare or ticket; what would be the point? There are few other passengers, all looking as non-plussed as we do, I am sure. After a few minutes, we see the Avis sign and de-bus.

I was not allotted a rental car by the Company, so I stand idly by like Teller to my boss's Penn while he picks out his car of choice. He is the boss, after all, and besides, I am only staying three days, while he's here for nine. Can't argue with that. Nevertheless, it turns out badly for both of us since it means he has to ferry me around everywhere (pedestrians might as well be illegal in Texas it seems) and I have to go whenever and wherever he goes. My boss picks out a burgundy Toyota sedan and I settle in on the passenger side with the map out, feeling somewhat like Gromit to my boss's Wallace. There is no smoking allowed in the car.

Oh, it's going to be a great three days.

- 30 -

Next up: Big Texas roads, big Texas toilet stalls, hotel-pillow-mania (Texas-style), and the Company HQ.


tech98 said...

You're depressing me already.

joycie said...

Somehow, it seems like this trip could be so much easier if you didn't have to smoke----

Scott in Montreal said...

You're so right, joycie.

Ivan Prokopchuk said...

Tech 98:
Not depressing. Interesting. Kind
of a nice setting to notes on something like Celine's Journey to the End of Night. Notes for a later novel.
I made a simiar trip, a long time ago, and that one was not depressing, though the guy on the trip was severely depressed. He had left his wife, picked up a girlfriend, dropped wife, dropped
girlfriend and ended up quietly going mad at the old Baker Hotel in
Dallas-Fort Worth. I suppose it would depress you if it weren't so
real. Watchind DALLAS in Dallas--sort of Borgesian. It's all in my novel, Chapter l4, Light Over Newmarket, on my web or through
your library (interloan).
But what I think Scott is going to find out is that Texans, in spite of the redneck label, can e frieghtfully nice people. Until
recently, you culd book into a hotel on your own recognizance, pay
nothing for days and days until you wire somebody for the money.
Americans seem to do business more
trustingly than we do. I'm from
Ontario and the way of the small
businessman in Ontario is "How and I going to screw this guy?" Different with the You-alls. "Pay me next month." But I suppose all this has changed now. I am following Scott's trip with great interest.
Ivan Prokopchuk

GoodGrief said...

Scott, when's the next installment? Was hoping it would be up by today, but no luck yet. Put a move on fella.

Scott in Montreal said...

The next instalment will be coming soon - I promise. A little patience is required as my time is divided between my full-time job, my wife and 18 month-old son, Habs games and a band that seems to always get pushed to the back seat. But I thank you all for your gracious comments and invite you to check back later today or tomorrow (if all goes well...)