U.S. Airways, Flight 486, between 6:36 p.m. mountain time and 11:59 central time, between Phoenix and Chicago …
The babies are loudly and persistently and convincingly protesting that the drinking age should be lowered to six months.
I am having scotch right in front of them, and thinking about why my publishing company pays about a thousand dollars, all told, to bring me out there a couple times every year.
I never get much work done in Phoenix. Phoenix is too strange and disorienting a place for a midwesterner. First of all, the airport is called the Sky Harbor, and retirees in purple blazers volunteer there, directing lost travelers to the bathrooms. Did you know that when it's 110 degrees in the city it's 115 at the airport, because the cement radiates heat, like a brick oven. All the restaurants are in strip malls, and yet most of them have valet parking, even for lunch. Not used to being in an office anyway, and freezing in the air conditioning, it takes me twenty minutes to compose a short email when I'm in Phoenix.
Phoenix. Phoenix. Phoenix.
I always go there with some anxiety, even though nothing as much as unpleasant has ever occurred on any of the nearly dozen visits I've made their in six years. Usually, I have a fine time: My colleagues are happy to see me, and I'm happy to see them. We do a lot of work together remotely. So there is a lot to rehash, a lot to catch up on, and planning to do.
(The babies are really getting fed up now, and if they had teeth they would be dangerous.)
The anxiety is because I am at odds with the deepest purpose of the trip: My colleagues want to know that I am real. They want me to know that they are real. But I'm not sure I want to know that they are real. I'm sure I don't want to know that they are as real as I am (real). That's why I don't work inside companies in the first place: The vivid people distract from the abstract purpose of the work, and I find myself soul-deep in the problems in the workplace instead of the problems in the marketplace.
Speaking of distracting and vivid people, how about the baby in Row 26?
But I do go to PhoenixPhoenixPhoenix whenever I'm asked, because I know that it will be good to have my long-distance colleagues become more real to me, and for me to become more real to them. Each time I go, I surrender elaborate premeditations about my personal brand and wind up showing them an astonishing amount of what they apparently want to see: me.
Vonnegut said the purpose of life is to "get each other through this thing, whatever it is." That's an important purpose of work, too. But we have to know one another in order to help.
The lights in the cabin are out, and the babies are all quiet. As we begin our descent into Chicago, I place my tray table in the locked and upright position feeling slightly reassured that I'm a little bit more tribal a member of a little department in one company in a changing industry in an invented economy in an adolescent nation and in a mad world in a mysterious universe.
Thanks for flying with us. We know you have a choice in air travel ….