Sunday, March 18, 2007

Anatomy of a Business Trip

It was time to return to Pennsylvania for work, this time a three-day, two-night trip.

Now generally, I'm one of those strange people that not only doesn't mind business travel, I actually enjoy it. Maybe because I haven't done it so much that I've become a jaded road warrior, or maybe it's just my nature to enjoy being on the road. Granted, southeastern PA is the farthest thing from an exotic location to me, being that it is the homeland and all, but at least I know my way around.

Leave the house at 6:00 Wednesday morning, drive to RDU, park, take the shuttle from Purple 3 (the official economy parking lot of The Traveling Roths) to the A terminal. Ridiculous "security" procedures, and an on-time departure from gate 22 on a Canadair small jet.

RDU DepartureRDU Departure Hosted on Zooomr

On-time arrival at PHL via runway 35, which runs perpendicular to the main 9R-27L and 9L-27R runways that parallel the Delaware river. This was very disorienting as I didn't even realize they still used that runway for commercial traffic.

Get the rental car (a Chevy Cobalt) and off to West Conshohocken. Meet up with Bill, my PA counterpart, and work on a reporting project all morning.

For lunch, Bill suggested Cifelli's in Bridgeport. . . just up PA 23.
Cifelli'sCifelli's Hosted on Zooomr

It's a tiny deli that's been around a long time, but just changed ownership. I didn't see a menu, but I knew that if I ordered an Italian Hoagie, they'd probably know what I meant. I didn't know what they meant, however, when they set wrapped sandwich down on the counter and called out, "Shad?". Shad?!? Isn't that a fish? What the hell kind of messed up hoagie was that? Bill pointed to it and said, "That's yours." No way. Seriously? Bill then explained that the "shad" referred to the special homemade roll that was the specialty of the house, and that my sandwich remained fish-free. Oh. OK. Freak-out averted. We took our food back to GSK and ate in the break room. No surprise here, but it was a great sandwich, complemented with some Herr's Kettle Cooked Sour Cream and Onion chips (which you also can't get in North Carolina) and some Canada Dry Vanilla Cream Soda.
ShadShad Hosted on Zooomr

Back to work for the rest of the afternoon. The weather was really nice for Pennsylvania in winter, getting up close to 80F. Can't complain about that. After work, I checked in to my hotel, the Hampton Inn in King of Prussia. I have to admit, it's weird staying in a hotel in KoP, but I got used to it. I drove out to the folks' house with the initial intention of surprising Mom on her birthday, but since Dad hadn't responded to my e-mails or messages on his cell phone, I'd be surprising him too. And surprised they were. I gave Mom her card and present, and without too much difficulty, convinced them that they needed to go out to eat. We went to Longhorn in one of those Chester County strip malls that was just a horse farm a year or two ago.

After dinner and some hanging out, it was back to the hotel.

Thursday. It was still pretty warm, but it was raining. I was invited to sit in on a staff meeting at the Upper Providence (Collegeville) site that I've never actually been in before. The UP site was one I used to drive past twice a day when I worked in Conshohocken back in 93-94. At the time, I had wished that I worked there. It was some other company back then, and the rumor was that they paid people with backgrounds like mine something in the neighborhood of $30,000, which was a far cry from the $9/hr I was making at the time. Now I did work there. . . kind of. . . in a sense. I at least now have a GSK ID badge with my picture on it that opens the gates and doors.

After the morning meeting, it was back to the Upper Merion (aka West Conshohocken) site. Maureen had picked up a paper shopping bag full of Philly soft pretzels, which is not uncommon at businesses in that area, but it turns out there is a chain of pretzel stores that sells Philly-style pretzels. Finally! Now I enjoy an allegedly Amish mall pretzel covered in chocolate jimmies and gummi bears or whatever they coat them with as much as the next guy, but a Philly pretzel is where it's at for my taste. The late nights leaving the Spectrum after a concert, usually with Andy, buying five pretzels for a buck from some shady character with a stolen shopping cart full of them, and washing it down with a warm $1 can of soda. What could be more wonderful? Now the Philadelphia Soft Pretzel Factory can bring that little authentic taste of Philly to an affordably-priced franchise opportunity near you.
Philly Soft Pretzel FactoryPhilly Soft Pretzel Factory Hosted on Zooomr

But I digress. . . . Back to work. Lunch at the cafeteria, where Aramark also provides their over-priced, under-delicious food, and disturbingly, people dressed in scrubs eat lunch in the same room as those of us wearing clean clothing. More work for the afternoon.

After work, I made the reverse commute back to the folks' for some corned beef and cabbage for dinner, and the chance to rewire Dad's stereo, and bring the nice TV in from the RV. At least there was no sailboat transit involved. I took a ride through Pottstown on the way back, and found the location of their Philly Soft Pretzel Factory franchise. It's on East High Street, in the little strip mall where Arthur Treacher's Fish and Chips used to be, next to Pat's Beverage. (That description is for the benefit of my brothers, and anyone else from around there who has moved away, who also find the historical references more useful than modern ones.)

Friday morning, and I already had the feeling it was going to be a long day. The forecast was for wintry precip, and before I even opened the shades on my room, I could hear the ice pellets bouncing off the air conditioner. All through the morning, flights were being canceled at the PHL airport, but my 5:30 direct flight to RDU was allegedly still on. With that being the case, and the sleet starting to pick up, it was clear that I'd have to leave even more time to get to the airport.

But I didn't have to leave so early as to miss eating lunch at my favorite Conshohocken eatery, Flanigan's Boathouse.
Flanigan's BoathouseFlanigan's Boathouse Hosted on Zooomr

Bill had spoken so highly of the crabcake sandwich the last time we were there (see July 2006) that I knew I had to try it. Bill was right. The chunks of crab were as big as lump crabmeat-sized pieces of chicken, plus The Boathouse has the best seasoned salt-seasoned fries around. You also get a souvenir cup to take with you!

We trudged back through the slush to the car, and drove back to the work. The afternoon was short, as everyone was admonishing me, "You'd better leave now." Crap. I had planned on swinging through Norristown to get some pretzels to take home, but now I was paranoid about not getting to the airport in time for my alleged flight.

It turns out the drive to PHL wasn't all that bad by Philly standards. I had plenty of time, even with returning my rental car. I couldn't believe what I saw in the terminal. The lines were interminable. (See what I did there?)
Queue?Queue? Hosted on Zooomr

I don't know if it was all people who had been stranded, or just people that hadn't bothered to check-in before getting to the airport, or maybe had baggage to check. Because I've flown on airplanes before, I:
  1. checked-in online 24 hours in advance,
  2. don't check luggage
So I went almost right to my gate to wait, bypassing all the lines. There were huge lines at the gate agents too. One agent completely lost it on the customer in front of her, and left, leaving probably 50 or so people in the now absolutely not moving line. I love watching stuff like that, especially when it's not my fault.

But allegedly my flight was still on-time. Until about 45 minutes before departure, when it was canceled. Why they took this long to figure this out, I have no idea. So now it was a quick call to my corporate travel department to figure out some options. They found me three hotels ranging in price from ~$150 to $290 for one night, and ranging in proximity from four miles away up to however many miles Center City is. So once this information was presented to me, I decided on the cheap one and tried to book it only to find out that it was now sold out. Uh-oh. Try the midpriced option. Sold out. The $290 hotel was still there, and we started to book it when I inquired if I could still get a rental car. My awesome travel arranger found me one with unlimited miles and no drop-off charge. I would be driving to North Carolina. I figured with the extra night, plus who-knows-when I'd be able to depart the next day (or the day after that, it turns out) it became one of those "If I had driven I could've been home by now" situations. So I'd drive.

Now it was off to the Hertz building, passing this grounded plane with a ground crew guy shoveling snow. Literally. (That's him by the plane's right winglet.)

GroundedGrounded Hosted on Zooomr

Even though I had a reservation, I waited at Hertz for three hours to get my car. There were probably 150-200 people in front of me.
HurtsHurts Hosted on Zooomr

When I did finally get my car, I was not disappointed. They gave me a 2006 Volvo S60, with traction control, heated seats, a special "weather" driving mode. . . the works.

Swedish SledSwedish Sled Hosted on Zooomr

So by 8:30, I was on the road, presumably. I couldn't actually see the road through all the accumulated snow/sleet, but that didn't stop me from trying to lose traction in the Volvo; flooring it, slamming on the brakes, turning way too hard. The little wheel-spin indicator would flash and correct my indiscretions, and keep the car on course. Even when I was driving down the completely snow-covered I-95, steering with my knees as I flipped through the owners manual, trying to figure out what all the buttons did, the car never got out of control. This was actually going to be fun. What my brother Tom told me about his first experience with winter driving: "It's like sledding. . . . . with heat."

After a few stops at places like "Something House", or Sheetz to get some food, take in large volumes of coffee, and then release large volumes of coffee, I arrived back in Mebane around 5:15 AM Saturday morning.

Like I said, had I stuck it out with the airplane plan, there was a good chance that I wouldn't have gotten home until at least Sunday night, and maybe later. This could've all been a horrible experience, to say the least, but to me it was almost kind of fun, because it was an adventure. . . and hoagies and pretzels were involved. What could be more wonderful?


Andy Roth said...

How could you of all people not include a photo of a pretzel?

Unknown said...

You're right, I didn't get a decent pretzel picture. If I had, it may look something like this:
Pretzel Picture

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