Monday, February 28, 2011

When The Unfamiliar is Familiar

Having survived PlayhouseSquare's Jumpback Ball relatively unscathed (but without meeting anyone significant) Sunday evening I made my way to Hopkins for my flight to Minneapolis.
(The picture to the right is the view from the conference room I'm working in for the first part of the week)

I checked my bags and walked without delay to the TSA agent. "Make sure you visit the Secretary of State by May 14th" he advises after a quick glance at my Driver's License. Oh, shoot, my licence expiring and my 27th birthday are both only about 3 months away. I feel old. You can tell a lot about a person's roots by their word choice for various situations. Note that he said Secretary of State, not DMV (my default as an ex-pat Californian), not BMV (what most Ohioans will give you)...but Secretary of State... If I had to place money on it, I'd bet based on that peculiarity he's originally from Michigan. I was well on the other side of security by the time that clicked, and though curious it wasn't worth going back through to find out.

I got a shoe shine. I'm sure there have to be more convenient locations to get one's shoes shined in Cleveland, but I haven't found them. And my shoes are in desperate need of a shine. Nothing like walking dress shoes through active construction sites on a regular basis to keep a shoe shining, right? Forgoing escalators, elevators, and moving walks, I make my way to my gate enjoying the brief bit of winter exercise that that sprint entails.

Late night flights are always a weird assortment of people, particularly on a Sunday, ranging from people who missed or were bumped from earlier flights (depending on origin and destination, a surprisingly large percentage, actually), people who wanted the cheapest ticket, period, business travelers savoring every last moment at home, and me -- both covering my bets in the case of a hangover [unnecessary as it turned out] and because I thought I might be attending an event at the Cleveland Playhouse earlier in the day [canceled as it turned out].

The flight was uneventful but a bit bumpy. I made a serious dent in The Severances: An American Odyssey... a somewhat longwinded look at the history of the family that among many other activities got the Cleveland Orchestra's Severance Hall home built; full report to follow after I finish it. Landing in Minneapolis. I fight my way through the people clogging the jetway waiting for their plane-side bags to be returned to them and to baggage claim. I'm a little miffed because the placard on the jetway clearly says "Checked bags may be claimed at Carousel 12". I'm waiting at Carousel 12. My bags aren't appearing. Then the announcement is made that checked bags are actually at Carousel 13. Great.

I grab my bags and make a run for the shuttle to the Rental Car center. It's a short ride and I find myself walking up to the Hertz counter and picking up my car. I'm assigned a Mazda 3. I do a walk around inspection, one scratch on the front bumper but otherwise acceptable*. I settle in, get my GPS and iPod going for the 90-minute drive south through a vast expanse of dark nothingness that separates Minneapolis and Rochester. Thank goodness this car has Cruise Control. I'm reminded of this same stretch of road where on my first visit I had a Minnesota State Trooper advise me that "I best not go more than 10 or 15 miles over the speed limit because we're really starting to enforce it". I see only a handful of cars, and no state troopers, but somewhat bleary-eyed and closer to 15 over than 10 I drive South.

I make my way to the hotel and check in just after Midnight. I've stayed here before; a DoubleTree, part of the Hilton Family that I've sold my hotel-dwelling soul to. The elevator is exactly where I remember it. As is the vending machine. As is the soap in the bathroom. I stumble into the bed with as much ease as if it were my own bedroom and sleep well. A heavy sleeper and pernially afraid that I'm going to miss an alarm on the road I wake up this morning to 4 simultaneous alarms (Cell phone, hotel room alarm, iPod, and wake up call).

I deal with some work email, take a long shower and leave the room. Rochester has an impressive network of Subways and Skyways linking core downtown buildings and the campus of a certain well-respected Clinic who shares its name with a condiment. It's not worth asking for a map; I know where I'm going and how to get there. It's a bit surreal in some ways -- I'm only here about once every six months but everything is exactly as I remember it. A jog here, an escalator there, and a grand piano at the end.

I meet my contact in a Subway-level lobby and we proceed to the room. It all feels so familiar. The day progresses relatively uneventfully and it's great to catch up with people that I usually only chat with on the phone or through the occasional email.

Though one of my favorite parts of my job is summed up as "New": New cities, new buildings, new places, new hotels, new restaurants, new discoveries there's something kind of nice -- particularly in the whirlwind of new that I've been in for the past weeks -- to travel to somewhere a bit familiar.

This client is also fun because the scope of this entire project is gigantic -- spanning several hundred rooms in three states -- and I developed a very unique solution to client's requirements that is just amazingly cool, if I do say so myself, and it's also unlike any of my normal projects. I like variety, it keeps me on my toes and from becoming complacent. Especially when that variety leads to solutions that other people claim aren't possible. I like telling people they're wrong.

Returning to my hotel room after a day I deal with a few emails that have stacked up, then I leave for dinner. The hotel has a restaurant, Pesca, that intrigues me, but there's a bar/restaurant that makes an amazing burger a short walk away. I walk to Newt's and order what has become my usual here -- Marvin's Burger -- "Our cook Marvin’s secret blend of seasonings with cheddar cheese, hardwood smoked hickory bacon, & a tangy chipotle mayo make this burger, in a word, Marvy!" Despite a relatively large catered lunch at the Clinic, It disappears within moments of appearing on the table in front of me. I think the chipolte Mayo is what pushes it over the top. I really want to bring some home. Rumor has it that they make it themselves, and I wonder at times if the clinic across the street is any inspiration.

I walk back to the hotel, despite the 20-degree temperatures, I forgo the skyways and take the sidewalks back; it really doesn't feel that cold and I make good time. But now I'm ready to call it a night again.

*- If I find more than 5 defects on a car, I won't accept it; I think this may have been the first time I took the first car I was assigned in Minneapolis. My thinking is if I can find that much damage on the car with awful parking lot lights, how much damage am I not finding?

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