So I’m on the road again this week, and after a long stint in the office it’s nice to feed the wanderlust again. As is my custom, all last week I was researching the towns and cities I’d be visiting for work and finding the restaurants I’d be dining at for dinner; you know, highlight of each day’s work is a nice meal on the company budget. That’s why I stay at hotels that offer free breakfast. Hahah. For today’s trip I found a great seafood shack that served Cajun style seafood boils and fried or blackened seafood as well. I’d be coming off of a two hour drive so without even considering it, I was already planning on spending my entire budget on a few items and ordering them all to go to eat in my hotel room. My brother heard me and said ‘you’re really going to eat $40 worth of food alone in your hotel room at night? Isn’t that kind of, you know, depressing?’
And I really had to think about that! After months and months on the road, I don’t really bat an eye anymore at the concept of having a few nights where it’s just me in a dimly lit cheap hotel room with a mountain of food in front of me and just taking bites from one styrofoam container to the next while the umpteenth episode of Law and Order: SVU plays on the TV. The life of a road warrior is very different from that of the leisure traveler. Don’t get me wrong, there is still a very real sense of adventure and glamour in being able to travel at someone else’s expense, and it’s certainly one of the key factors that convinced me to move into this department. But it’s not always the best destinations. Believe it or not, some of the most beautiful places in the world aren’t exactly the best for business, and some of the best for business aren’t exactly always beautiful. There’s a lot of Bumble-whatever, USA and remote hotels whose sole sign stands as a beacon along long dead and desolate dark highways. That’s why when I get the opportunity for a nice meal at a nice restaurant and be among civilization, I want to take it. But you really can’t say you’ve lived the road warrior life, or that the road warrior life is for you, until you can reconcile a certain level of love and affection for cheap, greasy Chinese takeout or generic pizza in the same box with the same mustachioed chubby paisano that every small town pizzeria uses. At a certain point the ‘sad’ is elevated to the ‘unique’ and ‘oddly endearing’.
I could be home right now actually, believe it or not. In fact, the hotel I am in right now is no more than an hour away from my actual home. My own bed. My own shower. My family. But when given the option if I wanted to, to stay on the road or to just go back
home and then drive back to another store the next day, I decided I’d just keep going on the road. Could I say I would always choose that? No, definitely not. But I really hadn’t had the opportunity to sleep on the road in a while and I was beginning to miss it. I think it’s like when a chef, long out of the kitchen, develops a twitch. A friend of mine was a professional restaurant chef for twenty years and after she left the kitchen…her body, so used to the frantic chaotic pace of the kitchen, developed some twitches to cope with the sudden and uncharacteristic calm. Her fingers constantly drum the desk and she finds herself often times craving the adrenaline of handling ten different dishes on the burner at a time. But she left because she wanted to focus on family and recover from a failed marriage (partly due in fact to the job). She misses the field but when asked, she vehemently says she would not go back at all. In much the same way I know that this chapter of my life, though fun, is not sustainable. The road can get wearisome. The isolation can become comfortingly addicting or painfully alienating. Single, no place of my own yet, no ties or roots to one place, I can continue to enjoy the benefits of the job. But there’s going to be a time when I’ll only be able to reflect back on this unique experience.
This is the sentiment, the complicated love-hate, consistent yet unsustainable, feeling of
the road warrior’s life that John Updike’s On the Road so beautifully and somberly portrays. It’s why it speaks so deeply to my own experience and best illustrates why anyone would ever choose the nomadic life of the unique brother/sisterhood of the road warrior. A calling that is answered in the most uncertain of terms. For a good, long time vita can be found on the worn out treads of a tire and the accumulated mileage of a frequent flyer card. It is in finding…maybe not joy, but peace, and fulfillment, and equal parts thrill, in that familiar dusty smell of the hastily vacuumed and cleared hotel room. For someone who is so often times reserved, quiet, and comfortable with his own company, it is a great fit.
On the Road
-poem by John Updike
Those dutiful dogtrots down airport corridors
while gnawing at a Dunkin Donuts cruller.
Those hotel rooms where the TV remote
waits by the bed like a suicide pistol.
Those hours in the air amid white shirts
whose wearers sleep-read through thick staid thrillers.
Those breakfast buffets in prairie Marriots-
such venues of transit grow dearer than home.
The tricycle in the hall, the wife’s hasty kiss,
the dripping faucet, and uncut lawn-this is life?
No, vita thrives via the road, in the laptop
whose silky screen shimmers like a dark queen’s mirror.
In the polished shoe that signified killer intent,
and in the solitary mission, a bumpy glide
down through the cloud cover to a single runway
at whose end a man just like you guards the Grail.
The road warrior’s life is by no means a life for everyone. Nor am I trying to champion it as such. It is a unique occupation that inhabits a niche corner of life, whose best paragons are the long lost traveling salesmen of old, carting their wares through old, marked, hastily folded atlases. And since I imagine a good majority of you will not have
the opportunity, or the desire, to live like this, it is my rare and wonderful opportunity to share a glimpse into it. To try my best to portray why even the supposed ‘saddest’ and most lonely aspects can be so wonderful, when they aren’t not. Maybe one of the best ways to show you some of the highlights is to share with you pictures of my meals the past two days. In the end I did relent and decide to eat at the seafood restaurant. Not out of loneliness or the ‘sadness’ of the alternative, but because I won’t always have that luxury in some of these locations. They’re not half bad looking, and let me tell you, they all tasted incredible. If you know where to look, you’ll find something good every time. It doesn’t matter where you are in the world, or how far removed you may think you are from it. People always appreciate good food. Bad food doesn’t last long.
Man: 238 Loneliness: 33