Off the Road Again
The thing is, I'm not picky. At my last job, I was always thrilled at the prospect of field work. It's so fun to get out, drive for a while, and end up somewhere new and different - don't you think?
In my current position, a work trip entails hours of browsing museums, historic homes, beaches, parks, aquariums, art exhibits, and other attractions, not to mention meeting lots of fun new people. Isn't that wonderful? But it's all icing as far as I'm concerned. I adored traveling for work even when it just meant going to Yoakum to examine pavement.
Last night I came home from a whirlwind two-day trip to Corpus Christi, my old stomping grounds, to begin the process of planning our big 2010 conference. Naturally, our contact in Corpus is familiar with my old, evil Corpus employer. Naturally, our contact in Corpus doesn't think too highly of my old, evil Corpus employer. Naturally, Corpus being the small town it is (despite its almost 300,000 residents), our Corpus contact also knows many of my former-coworker-still-friends in the area. It made for some fairly lively conversation as we drove from attraction to attraction. It's a small world, when you work in the travel industry: everybody knows everyone. So it's a darn good thing I actually am a reasonably nice person!
The trip was tremendous fun. I can hardly wait for next year's conference! I have to say, our hospitality suite setup is a lot nicer than the one we had last April. This probably means I won't be getting quite as much sleep, next time around. What the hell, conference is only a week long, and there are much more interesting things you can be doing, at any given moment, than sleeping. Such as examining pavement!
As much fun stuff as there is to see and do in Corpus (and I'll have to put those pictures up in Photobucket and post a link tomorrow), the most surreal moment of our trip came last night, when we stopped for dinner in Kenedy. We arrived at a little hole-in-the-wall place - my favorite kind! - called Barth's, recommended by our photographer. We arrived around 8 p.m., a little past the dinner rush. "Just go ahead and sit anywhere," a hostess informed us, after we'd been standing timidly in the doorway for at least five minutes. "Smoking's up here, non-smoking's in the back."
Well, of course. We passed the salad bar, an array of iceberg lettuce and pickled beets, wilting sadly in the cigarette smoke, on our way through to the non-smoking room. There were no open tables there. Or rather, there were several tables - but most of them were in a portion of the room where the lights were off altogether. Three of them stood in the lighted room, all uncleaned. We stood and looked uncertainly around us for a few moments. Finally we moved the dirty plates and the cash tip from one table onto another dirty table and sat down. A waitress appeared and wiped our table down. "What would you folks like to drink?" she asked.
We ordered soda, but the gloom that descended after she left was impenetrable. My boss, the photographer, and I were on this trip. We all get along very well, but it had been an awfully long two days, and we were tired. The silence stretched on interminably. The waitress did not return.
"So," says the photographer, Kevin, after a while, "do y'all just want to go to Subway or something?"
We left - I stopped on the way to apologize to the harried young waitress, who was polite, but seemed frankly relieved - and filled up the gas tank, then pulled into a Dairy Queen a quarter of a mile down the street. Here we ordered burgers at the counter, but fast food was apparently not a concept with which Kenedy was prepared to grapple last night. We sat at a Formica table and made awkward, weary chit-chat with one another. After twenty minutes, I remarked, "You know, I think maybe they're inventing cattle."
Eventually the food came. We ate in silence. Kevin wanted a milkshake, and I'm not impartial to Blizzards myself. He approached the counter again. Sorry! The Dairy Queen was fresh out of ice cream. Kevin looked around the room. Several people were eating sundaes.
My boss, undaunted by the "Restrooms closed for cleaning" sign posted on the door, took a chance on the bathroom, and was successful, too. Kevin found the men's room likewise to be perfectly in order. I started wondering if we were all characters in an episode of "The Twilight Zone."
The sensation didn't dissipate after we left. Kevin drove, wending through the darkening countryside as lightning flickered restlessly in the rainless clouds. He and I talked about books and movies, or were silent. Martha dozed in the backseat. We passed three or four other small quiet towns with Dairy Queens, lit up only just enough to showcase the silhouettes of chairs perched upside-down atop Formica tables. There was no ice cream to be found anywhere in Texas last night. I gazed out the passenger window as random discharges of electricity illuminated the sky.
Today we had a division-wide birthday celebration - tres leches cake with whipped-cream icing, plus cookies, yogurt, chocolate cupcakes, and fresh fruit. Life is normal. Sweets and dairy products are readily available. And it's an honest living, too.