Into the Machine
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Into the Machine<br> By Marc Porter Zasada <p> I don't know about you, but I try hard to appreciate the miracle of modern business travel: the shuttle and the rolling bag, the frequent flyer mile and the little TV in the seatback, and of course, at the far end of the journey, that free bottle of Evian waiting patiently on the hotel dresser. <p> My private name for the whole process is "Entering the Machine" -- for surely the travel industry now functions as a single mechanism, a parallel universe which has nothing to do with Orlando or Boston, only with Marriott and Doubletree. <p> When I enter the Machine, I leave the natural world to pass through giddy pipes and portals, back and forth to a shiny building at the other end, all without any contact with the cosmos mentioned in Genesis. <p> Each year I see the Machine grow wonderfully larger: more soaring glass and steel lobbies, more Wolfgang Puck pizza, more elliptical crosstrainers in more third-floor health clubs, more chocolates left on more and larger pillows. <p> Tonight the Urban Man finds himself in a massive hotel outside of a major airport. Is it a Hilton? Am I in Raleigh-Durham? <p> As I enter the lobby, I recall that when I was young and foolish, I romanticized business travel. I figured I'd become a wandering merchant from Chaucer's Canterbury Tales: "What ho Mistress? May I bend your ear while we share the Avis shuttle?" And I was sure I'd be staying in quaint B&Bs. I mean, who would willingly spend a night wedged among freeway ramps, with the smell of jet fuel hanging in the air? <p> But now, just like in those cheerful advertisements, I find that when I arrive at an Airport Marriott at midnight for an 8am meeting, I'm grateful for the slightest smile from a pale clerk, the tiniest bag of cookies, and upstairs, the cleverest little "executive desk." Yes, in a certain light, and when I sigh with relief, I look exactly like that guy on the slick backside of the airline magazine. <p> Still, come 2am, the cleanliness and anonymity of the Machine begins to nag. I can't sleep on the huge pillows. I walk the soundless hallways in my socks. I take a strange joy in littering the floor with the colored foil from the chocolates and the pink ribbons tied around the shampoos. At 2:30, I recall that existentialist novel by Camus I read in college and I go stand in the window, where I look down nine floors to the endless parking lot and wonder if some local might accidentally look up and see me: <p> "If not, am I really here?" <p> And yes, by 7am, I begin to hunger for the real world: a tree not perfectly manicured or a lawn not mown within the last half hour. I try to take a walk before breakfast, but the hotel has no sidewalks. I sprint across an onramp, and find myself trapped on some narrow strip of landscaping. I wonder, "Are these petunias?" <p> And soon, just as the architects planned, I'm forced to retreat back inside the soaring wonder of the hotel atrium, where I wander a faux French countryside and purchase a cappucino from a little cart. <p> Here I remind myself that the Machine is a miracle of modern life, dedicated to my safety and comfort -- and like all urban men and women, I really must learn to enjoy it. <p> In fact, let me send you a postcard with the complete itinerary of my recent trip to...maybe it was Atlanta. It required just 30 hours roundtrip, and like all well-oiled machinery it had a certain repetitious music. Here goes: Shuttle. Airport. Airplane. Airport. Shuttle. Hotel. Cab. Shiny Highrise with really inspiring glass and steel lobby. Cheerful blond-wood conference table beneath tiny chic lights. Caesar salad. Cab. Noisy Airport. Hot Airplane. Foul-smelling midnight taxi down the 405. Cold driveway. Short whiskey. Dark hallway. Sleeping wife. Warm bed. <p> Repeat as necessary to earn living. <p> Copyright -- 2006 Marc Porter Zasada. All rights reserved. <br>
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