Great excitement tonight as I check in to yet another American hotel. Because today I am….wait for it……the Marriott Houston North “Guest of the Day”. I eagerly ask the nice lady on the desk if the prize is a lovely bottle of wine. She smiles……I have won an “amenity”, which is in my room, which now has a super executive bed, presumably approximately the size of a small European country.
I open the door, and there is the ice bucket, one glass chilling. And a bottle of water and a bag of nuts. Life on the road is a series of disappointments. I have shared my room with cockroaches, caught scabies, and struggled to find the bathroom in the middle of the night many many times. A continuous roll call of different hotels is no place for a man with a dodgy prostate like mine.
Selling in America is different, a respected profession, unlike in Europe. I always used to ask new salesmen what they answered to the most boring of pub questions “what do you do for a living?” In summary, in Europe, I would tell them that if you want to pull, never say you are a salesman.
Selling is a dirty word in the UK, but in the US there is real pride in being a Road Warrior.
As I have perhaps said before, the key thing to understand about America is that it is vast. Flying coast to coast takes over 5 hours. From my home in Oxford I can drive to anywhere in England in far less, well anywhere you would want to go on business. Customer visits in the UK might mean an overnight stay, but in America you have to arrange several adjacent meetings, or else the time spent travelling and the costs involved make it all too prohibitive.
But being on the road every other week has its frustrations, and you certainly have to have a calm disposition. You rely on certain routines and methods. And queuing.
For those who know me well, this will have produced a snort of derision. Ward and patient queuing, what a laugh.
But business travel is a series of quiet bits between queues. I have even had to change my age old passion for being the last one on board the plane. My reasoning has always been simple, why sit in an uncomfortable seat when you can be nice & relaxed in the airport bar? My long suffering wife will recall when I have got this slightly wrong…….”last call for Mr & Mrs Ward”. But my line is simple, “they have our bags, they won’t take off without us”.
However, in America you are forced to try and get on first. The problem lies in getting all your travel needs in to a suitcase which you can “carry on”. But most of these aircraft do not have enough overhead locker space, a major design fault you might say, and so you fight to get on as early as possible. My excitement last month was gaining “silver status” on United, which meant I can now jump the queue, and board in group 2, only slightly behind the weak, the sick, and the very blessed.
No longer for me the humiliation of the dreaded “gate check”, as my bag is dragged off me and put in the hold. I am now a true Road Warrior.
There are other rules of the road. I never put anything in a drawer, this limits the opportunity for an old man to leave things behind.
And I print out all essential bookings, there will be an argument or a mistake at some stage of every trip. Last week it was my side kick Vrinder who booked rooms for both of us, but managed to book for a week later. Paper still works best, it saved us being ejected from the Sheraton.
Lots of people use boarding passes on their iPhones, but the first time I saw one rejected I knew this development isn’t for me. No point in queuing at security to only have to go back to queue at the check in kiosk and then re-enter security. I know best, I am a Road Warrior.
But things do go wrong. Last month in Michigan, I keyed Detroit airport into Apple Maps on the iPhone, and the nice man guided me along politely. I was cruising, I had plenty of time, it had only taken me an hour to get to the hotel the previous day. But with Sat Nav (sorry GPS), you just don’t pay attention to your route like we did in the good old days of maps.
After 50 minutes I noticed that I was driving into a poorer area. The houses were literally falling down, in fact many were ruins. With the financial collapse of Detroit, many houses are worthless, and areas have been deserted, and I now found myself in such an area. And one thing I know, American airports are NEVER in poor run down areas. I locked the car doors.
Pulling off the road into an abandoned gas station I checked the man on the phone. Yes, he was sending me to the wrong airport, in fact it appears that this had also been abandoned.
So back to good old Google maps, and a very hairy drive back in the opposite direction meant I caught the flight by minutes. Don’t do business travel if you are easily stressed.
I have now visited 24 states of the Union in the last 18 months, and the differences are amazing to a foreigner. The accents are very different, the ethnic mix can be very different, and the politics veers, but are always right of what Europe calls center (sorry centre).
In Colorado cars stop to let you cross the road, in New York or Washington DC, they will speed up to try and scare you out of their way.
In Texas everything is big and loud, but in Seattle they are probably the most quiet and polite people you can meet.
But above all else I am continuously struck by the way they greet me. They all love the English.
The stereo-typical conversation yesterday was about wanting to meet Prince Harry, they are obsessed by the Royal Family. I didn’t laugh, she seemed like such a nice lady.
So my life as a Road Warrior is always lively. I dress in a white shirt, and dark suit, every bit the English gentleman. Please don’t laugh, it works.
And I try and survive the life of a Road Warrior. My record trip was 12 days, 8 hotels, 6 airports, 8 states and 4 different rental cars. I have met many interesting people, but I am obsessed with stupid things, like collecting hotel and airline points that I will never spend.
The most ridiculous thing I have done? Probably booking a flight for the evening rather than the morning.
In my defense, please bear in mind that America has a very strange fixation with the old 12 hour clock. The only people here who use the 24 hour clock are the military, and they use it for a reason, it is more reliable. Even I couldn’t possibly get 9.00 and 21.00 confused.
And so I would rather be at home, or down the pub. Or spending time with my family. But I am a Road warrior, a very old Road Warrior, but I am pretty good at it.
Can I lie down now please nurse?