Tuesday, February 28, 2006

(From Arlington, Virginia) Oh, Business Travel!

by Tom Bozzo

I am here on the second trip of what looks to be an odyssey the end stage of which is some combination of burnout, renewed ability to pack light for an overnight trip, and a return to Gold Elite status on Northwest and its Sky Team partners — assuming NWA's financial-labor relations woes don't kill the airline first, that is.

The outbound leg had the usual share of air travel banalities. This ticket, just over half the price of the last one, puts me on flights that were much more crowded. So, instead of the pair of seats I had on the CRJ nonstop two weeks ago, I was crammed into an exit row window (not as spacious as it otherwise might be) getting elbowed by a late middle aged guy whose suit fabric said Highly Paid D.C. Attorney, reading a fascinating if a bit choppily-written Journal of Econometrics article on the Engler v. Oprah beef disparagement litigation (lesson: test your distribution assumptions before calling data points nonrandom outliers) that recently bubbled to the top of my reading stack while I was cleaning out my old office.

But the nonstop flight is so fabulous, touching down — a bit early, today — about when I'd be starting the schlep to the connecting gate in Detroit on the next available one-stop. Getting to fly directly to places would be, for me, be one of the better features of a hypothetical return to big city life. Then I remember what house prices in East Bethesda are.

I was foiled earlier in an effort to dress for the trip in Business Semi-Formal Cozy (wool trousers, camel hair or cashmere jacket, dress shirt and tie) thanks to an article of clothing left in Minneapolis at Christmas. D'Ohh. Then, the step down from 20 monthly trips to the gym in November and December to 15 in January to 10 in a quite busy February turned out to have the implication that my workhorse dark blue suit had made its way to the just-unpleasant side of snug in two frickin' weeks. The manifest defectiveness of the early middle-aged human body being the evidence du jour that "intelligent design" is a crock. That left me with the black suit obtained primarily for my wedding, and more commonly trotted out for dressier Lyric Opera days since. I was a bit concerned that the suit with a blue button-down collar shirt and red power tie was a mixed message — undertaker meets politician? — but it worked well enough in the end. Tomorrow's shirt and tie combination will be a bit more on-message ("I wish I hadn't left my camel hair jacket at my mother-in-law's house").

I am only here, in Arlington, instead of across the river in D.C., because something or other is eating up all the hotel rooms in town, or at least just about all of them that are both centrally located and under $400. Big convention, maybe?

The place I usually try to stay, because of its proximity to Kramerbooks & Afterwords (*) and P Street NW's Pizzeria Paradiso (Obelisk if there's an occasion), is closed for renovations, which has sent me to two Hilton-branded properties in as many weeks. Last time, I really felt like I was in Walter Kirn's "Airworld," as with the curtains drawn and the TV off, you'd need GPS to know whether you were in Washington or Chicago (**). This place is a little downscale relative to unmodified-Hilton decor, which makes it fascinating to observe that the high-speed internet that's a profit center downtown is an amenity included in the room rate here. Though the microwave and mini-fridge in the room would lead me to believe that this particular variation on the theme is tilted a bit more to businessfolk on longer stays; they might riot without data access.

I did, at least, manage to eat a bit better this trip. Though the comparison is to a Subway in Capitol Heights, Md., this is not meant as damnation by faint praise. I met up with a friend from grad school at Red Sage, which has had its ups and downs. As had the meal. I chose a bit better, with a yummy grilled chicken-stuffed roasted poblano chile, with a wild mushroom tamale for a side. My friend's (special) grilled tuna fajitas were a bit light on the tuna; stick with the regular menu item if you are so inclined. With chips and salsa, some of which I managed to dribble on my tie.

Fortunately, I have a different tie to wear tomorrow.

Which will be a sixteen-hour day. Oh joy.


(*) Where Monica Lewinsky bought a copy of Nicholson Baker's Vox for you-know-who; I worked in the restaurant's back office on weekends for a while during grad school.

(**) Even if you're watching national media, D.C. TV advertising is much denser with trade association and Federal contractor PR hoping to snag a decision maker or two than the provinces, which gives away the location. U.S. Telecom Assn. members are ready to provide super duper "TV freedom" if only our telecoms laws are modernized! Lockheed Martin is so proud to be the government's leading IT services provider! The American Petroleum Institute reminds us that they really aren't making that much money, proportionally, and are investing so much in our energy future (twice; derisive snort each time)! Bad Bush administration cuts in hospital funding affecting the most vulnerable — that's a real problem, for sure, but I couldn't decode the sponsorship of the ad.
You're in Arlington? If you have time, try eating at "Atilla's" on Columbia Pike, near Glebe Road. If you like Turkish, you'll love them.
Drek, thanks for the recommendation. Usually I end up within walking distance of food within D.C., but I'll keep that in mind for the next time in NoVA.
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