Friday, June 11, 2004

The Boy In the Bubble

Grubb Street has been silent for the past few days, primarily because I have been out of town on business. Now, I have had (erratic) Internet access during this time, but I have had precious little to report or comment on other than work.

My trip has been to Rhode Island, to Hasbro, WotC’s corporate parent and our largest client. The nature of the trip involved an upcoming game product I was working on, and served primarily as a last-minute checkup on the project. Playtests were played, discussions were held, general decisions were reached and specific bugs were squashed. It was pretty successful, as business trips go.

The frustrating part, as far as I was concerned, was the meetings could be held in Nebraska or Ohio or the moon as easily as Rhode Island, for all the effect it had on me. There was no point where I stopped to think "Hey, I'm on the other side of the country". The life of the business traveler is that of moving through a bubble, passing through the surrounding world without really touching it.

Part of this is the fact that we have made it easier to travel. The pattern changes according to our state of national emergency, but in general, business travel has been smoothed out to am almost-frictionless plane. You give the employee a good hard push in Renton, Washington, and he slides out to Pawtucket though the gates of Boston and Providence with precious little impediment from the support mechanism. There is nothing to catch the hem of his garb as he moves between airport and rental car and hotel to remind him that he has moved thousands of miles from his starting point.

Similarly, the work load is such that there is precious little to see. This is my fourth trip to Providence, Lovecraft’s birthplace, but I have yet to see the city except for brief glimpses on US 95 heading north to Pawtucket. These were 11 and 12-hour days, well-spent, but leaving precious little time to encounter the world beyond the service workers and the hotel rooms. I made a major stride forward by finding the local restaurants within walking distance of the hotel, but it is hardly a victory to find the local mall.

So it was for the first three days of the trip. Thursday evening, after finally shaking loose (there was talk of wrapping by early afternoon, but actually I was one of the last to leave the building), I took the long trek up to Boston for a flight early Friday. My company had me booked into the Airport Hyatt, a deluxe building right on the harbor. The rental car place (slick, smooth, frictionless) was right up the road, so as opposed to shuttling I chose to walk along the harbor walkway back to the hotel.

It was a cool summer evening, the sun westering beyond the Boston skyline, its buildings unrecognized monuments to me. Water taxis danced over the harbor, and in the center a collection of sailboats circled like gulls. The evening light caught the glasswork of the monuments and splashed it out towards me. I ran into joggers, dogwalkers, and elderly couples. Not a businessman in sight. And even when I had gotten to the hotel, I ordered a nine-dollar margarita and sat on the back porch twenty feet from the water, watching the last of the sunset die and feeling the cool air descend. And for the first time in three days, I felt like I was in a place unlike any I had been in for months before, that I was on the other side of the country, and that I was really and truly traveling.

More later, after I take a long, long sleep.