In sitting here in my hotel room. It happens to be at a Courtyard Inn on the north side of Raleigh, North Carolina. I am here on business of course, and I won’t wend my way home until Thursday. During the day I head a few blocks north and hang out with three hundred or so party hearty hydrologists. Yes, hydrologists from across the eastern United States have come to Raleigh to trade notes, listen and have a good time. I’m here mainly to listen and observe. I am no hydrologist but I have to learn their lingo and have an appreciation for the work they do. “From the gage to the page,” is what I have to learn. My business is to serve the data collected from thousands of points across the United States, much of it in real time, to the public over the Internet. The Internet part I understand pretty well. But how the data gets from a gage stuck in a well or in the middle of a stream and makes it within minutes to the World Wide Web is something of a mystery to be explored in intricate detail. So that’s why I’m here.
Part of the good time of this conference was a barbeque and Bluegrass party tonight. I was okay with the barbeque, but nix on the Bluegrass. No offense to my good neighbor Steve (who loves Bluegrass) but Bluegrass music makes me itchy. I’m not a huge country music fan anyhow, but all that banjo picking, high-pitched male voices and endless songs about Jesus is about as welcome as a couple hours of rap music. So I wisely opted out. It was perhaps not the politically correct thing to do since my boss, her boss, her boss’s boss, and one of my employees were all going. But we all have limits. We’ll all do dinner tomorrow night.
So tonight I revel in the mundanity of my hotel room, Room 268 at the Courtyard Inn. It’s not a bad experience. I got out for a little food and spent some time loafing at a Borders bookstore down the block. After listening to presentations and chilling with Susan (my terrific boss) all day I don’t really mind spending the evening by myself.
I stayed at this very hotel back once before in 1998. Then I was here on business too, but for another employer. I’m beginning to feel my way around this city a bit. Raleigh like many cities in North Carolina is growing by leaps and bounds. However, the growth is not downtown. It is in the northern and western suburbs. I got a little lost finding my hotel because I got on the Raleigh beltway only to discover they had added an outer beltway since the last time I was here. My atlas is a bit old.
Raleigh is both a city and a state capital. But it doesn’t strike me as much of a city. It’s five miles or so from the inner beltway to the center of town. There are a couple buildings that look like they are twenty stories or more, but that’s about it. I drove into downtown tonight just to look around. It is one of these downtowns that must close up promptly at 5 p.m. Actually I doubt the place ever gets crowded, unless the legislature is in town. There’s not much there there in Raleigh. Much of the action seems to be in nearby Durham, or on U.S. 70 that connects the two cities.
One thing that is new this trip is that my hotel room now has a high-speed Internet connection. That was the reason I chose the hotel. I hope it is not much longer before this feature is universally available everywhere, including all the Motel 6s out there. I’m sorry but a dialup connection just doesn’t cut it anymore. I need high-speed Internet wherever I spend a night. And although I’ve gone through some annoying connection hassles it was worth it. So really I don’t need an evening social life: the laptop is my social life. I am virtually at home here in my soon to be forgotten hotel room, doing pretty much what I would do if I were at actually at home, like reading my personal email, checking my favorite political sites and blogging.
There are admittedly some dubious side effects to having high-speed Internet access while on a business trip. For one I feel I have to read my work email. I don’t really want to do it. But I get such a volume of email that I feel like I can’t let it wait. Otherwise when I get back to work on Friday I’ll be inundated, and I need to do real work on Friday, not read email. So I’ll spend an hour or so hurriedly going through it and sending most of it into the bit bucket.
While I like the high speed Internet, I can see why Marriott needs to offer it. That’s because there are choicer lodgings just down the street. There is a Hampton Inn next door, and two extended stay suite hotels just past it. Here I just have a plain room. Granted it is a nice and clean room, but it’s just a room. Courtyard Inns are a ubiquitous way station for the business traveler. You know exactly what you are going to get. I do find it curious though that when I look out into the swimming pool I never see anyone in it. We are the business class and the business class doesn’t take evening dips in the pool. We work on our laptops in our rooms, we make calls, and we may watch a movie on HBO if we have the time. In the mornings we pay $7.95 for the hotel breakfast bar and studiously ignore each other. Instead we feign interest in the McPaper (USA Today) placed outside our door every morning.
I am glad I am not boarding at a Motel 6. I love the high-speed Internet access in my room. But really there should be more to business travel than this. Yet this is more fun than the known alternatives. Crabtree Mall is only a few miles away. I could kill some time there. But it is nothing special. It has all the same stores I have 250 miles away at home. From sea to shining sea, America seems eternally bland to this business traveler.
I’ll be glad to get home.