I’m on a business trip, the first one I’ve been on in about five or six years. Prior to that, I’d spent just about every week on the road. Boston, Baltimore, Cleveland, Chicago, Detroit and Charlotte were the places that I called home during the week. I can still recall how lonely the hotel rooms felt and how I dreaded meeting my co-workers for every meal and the only topic that was discussed was business. It was so…impersonal. We had pre-dinner meetings to discuss what to say and, maybe more importantly, what not to say, in front of the client. You know those guys, they’re the ones paying the bills.
Nothing much has changed over the years except maybe me…
We gathered in the lobby last night promptly at 6:15. There was seven or so of us and the consensus was to go out and find a nice Italian restaurant. After we got seated and went through the routine of ordering drinks and discussing the menu, the conversation turned to the inevitable talk of business. It was here that I found myself starting to glaze over and sort of took on an aloof air from those around me. I started to take notice of my surroundings.
The town we’re in, in comparison to most others I’ve been in, is rather small. You could tell that the place we went to was a kind of home to many a regular. There were old pictures of days gone by that recalled the past glories of the local high school football team. There were pictures of the owners with some celebrities like Dean Martin and Sammy Davis, Jr that must have dated from the early 60’s on the walls. There was a stained glass mural that paid homage to Rocky Marciano and, as one might expect, no self-respecting Italian place would be complete without a signed photo of the man, Frank Sinatra himself
The food came and the table fell somewhat silent. The only sounds that one could hear were the clinking of knifes and forks on the plates and the occasional “This is really good” comment from one of the folks at the table. Unless, you listened closely…
At the neighboring table sat two older couples. By old I mean they must have been hovering in their mid-eighties or early nineties. You could tell that dinner at this restaurant had become a ritual for them since all of the waitresses (servers?) and other staff seemed to know them. I’m willing to bet that the table they were seated at was one that, by restaurant standards, was considered their own. They ordered their glasses of wine and, even though it might seem rude, I couldn’t help but keep glancing their way and eavesdropping on snippets of their conversation.
Their mode of dress was what you might expect from people who had lived so long and probably couldn’t care what one thought about their attire. One of the men had on plaid pants and a pink shirt. The other wore a striking pair of blue trousers and even more striking bright red shirt. They both wore the requisite white belt and white shoes. The ensemble would’ve put many a golfer to shame.
On the other hand, the women were dressed in the conservative mode from what seemed like the 50’s. They had donned knee length dresses that wouldn’t call attention to themselves if they caught on fire. The jewelry they wore consisted of a simple strings of white pearls Among the four of them, I counted three hearing aids, one walker and a single crutch.
Their conversation centered on days gone by. I guess that if one is lucky enough to live as long as they did that it’s easier to talk of the past than to worry about the future. They started to talk about friends who they had lost during World War II and who had died or gotten injured during what battle. You could tell that these were the kind of stories that had been told many times before and I’m guessing there’s some comfort in that. I was kind of waiting for one of the wives to chime in and berate her husband, not for telling the story again but because he was telling it “wrong”. They commiserated about friends long dead and friends recently departed. Whatever food they were having was secondary to whatever was being said. They weren’t in a rush to go anywhere except to maybe tell their stories and have them heard one more time before they too were called to the great beyond.
We left the restaurant before they did. We were told to meet in the lobby at 6:30 this morning to discuss the days strategies and contingencies over breakfast.
As part of my morning ritual I put on the news to try and gather up what went on the world while I was asleep. Another 60 or so people killed in Iraq and scores more injured. Genocide, Hurricane Ivan and mushroom clouds in North Korea. I mention these little occurrences to my co-workers and am greeted with an insincere “tsk” and a shrug of the shoulders. They somehow have seemed to acquire the uncanny ability to inoculate themselves about the events going on in the world. For them, it seems like business as usual.
I sit in the back seat of the rented Ford Crown Victoria on the way to the office. The radio remains quiet and the drive is mostly silent. I look out the window at the cars flashing by and my mind flashes back to the two older couples that had inadvertently caught my attention last night. I wonder what they’ll speak of today.
Plans will be made for another dinner out tonight with my co-workers. There'll be much discussion about where to eat and about what we either accomplished or didn’t accomplish throughout the day and how we can improve our methods.
For me though, I think I’ll take a pass, room service sounds just fine.