One of the few things I miss about work is travel. I will qualify that statement with the words “pre-9/11 travel” as I know business travel is quite different today. . .
The travel I was fortunate to do for so many years had destinations in Europe, Asia, Canada and Mexico. It was travel sometimes tedious, sometimes unsuccessful, sometimes wearing, always laced with missing my family
But my travels took me to places where real people lived and worked. People who were smart, tech-savvy, with families, commutes, success and failures of their own. People who went to Tesco, Netto, Carrefour; Shell and BP; pointed out the DIYs, remarking how they had bought a new screen door the week previous.
They knew the small pubs where one could get a “decent pint”, without a fuss, at a good price. Frequently I was asked if I had plans for dinner, then hustled down a back lane, up a mountain road, entering a remote suburban town. A restaurant, bistro, Gaststätte where my friend was known, or, I was witness to a smile since this was a restaurant that he “had always wanted to go to” and I was providing him an excuse.
Of course, it wasn’t all fun and games. Employers, including my own company, wanted some sort of results from the budget hits I represented. So I worked hard, made good presentations about this product or that, talked to customers, trained the dealer/branch/customer staffs and otherwise tried to contribute to the bottom line.
But even while working, I was often overwhelmed with the opportunities presented me. In a large conference room at a company in Paris La Defense, a window framed the Eiffel Tower; on the way to a dealer meeting in Rotterdam, I turned a corner and the horizon filled with huge container ships from everywhere; visiting former colleagues, I drove through the deep green forests around Aylesbury near Oxford.
But work was mostly confined to daylight and the occasional dinner. Nights and weekends were mine, time to walk and walk and walk. Right or wrong, I feel there is more information about a group of people in a Farnborough or Bergamo grocery store than any library. My walks only occasionally wandered into tourist areas and were remarkably devoid of palaces, cathedrals, museums and other tourist fare. It was these times that provided me endless opportunity to define myself, a person “who loves walking alone, late at night in a foreign city.”
I frequently drove here and there, and travel by car has as its principal reward the ability to pull into a layby and take a look. The Channel at Brighton with its rocky beach; a long green valley east of Frankfurt; a castle perched on a crag in Czechoslovakia; the M1 luring me to Scotland.
But transportation was often public: the ferry from Puttgarden to Røbyhavn, with its wheeling, shrieking gulls and brisk breeze; the bustling Star Ferry from Hong Kong Central to Kowloon; Fuji rising in white capped glory across green fields. Is there an equal to the thrill of Victoria at rush hour; arriving at Gare du Nord after the crossing on a channel ferry; the quiet efficiency of Hannover’s Hauptbanhof; striding purposefully from Osaka Station with a 1000 others; or crossing the plaza of the Koln Hauptbanhof with the Cologne cathedral peering over my shoulder; the Mexicana pilot swooping low over an ocean of lights, mariachi music greeting me once again to Mexico City.
It was a good time and I miss it.