On the Road

On the Road

Copyright 2004, Traffic World, Inc.

I''ve been poked, prodded, pushed and squeezed. I''ve had my temperature taken, my shoes removed, gotten half undressed in public, had a burly man in Chicago fold down the top of my pants with gloved hands and a Japanese woman gently pull back the front of my trousers and have a polite peak inside.

I''m sweating, confused, tired and trembling and I''m sitting down in stocking feet even though I''m in a rush.

In other words, I''m traveling.

It''s the glamour part of business, right? It''s a pleasure and a perk, you keep reminding yourself as you stand in a snaking line at an airport for the third time today. Or is it the fourth time? Or is it the second day?

If you''re reading about how business travel has fallen off and companies have awakening to the productivity of teleconferencing, you''re probably reading about it on an airplane. No conference call will do for the customer, the boss, the meeting planner, so you''re on the road. And I''m there with you, taking off my belt, my shoes and everything else in search of the magic line between TSA compliance and public indecency statutes, inching through a security line, all the time fearing that dreaded electronic "beep" of the metal detector.

There was plenty of time to contemplate the dubious pleasures of the road on a recent trip - one week, six aircraft, countless taxis, endless airport waiting rooms.

And there were mysterious, exotic cities, but it''s hard to get a sense of that standing in line for 40 minutes to get first-hand look at the barriers against the spread of bird flu by pointing your forehead at a man taking perhaps 2,000 temperatures an hour.

This gives you time to contemplate the explanations conference planners give you for holding meetings in places that might charitably be called remote: "We know this unmapped territory, 46 miles from the nearest paved road on land populated only by feral dogs seems inconvenient, given that it takes four days travel to get there from the nearest town with an air strip. But once people get there, they can really get into issues without distractions such as plumbing or cooked food."

Or at least it seems like I''ve heard that explanation.

And there is always the last hurdle, the immigration agent who casually strolls in to begin questioning of hundreds of bedraggled travelers.

"What were you doing out of the country?" he asks.

Easy enough, unless you recall that immigration desk you passed through in Miami a couple of years ago. There, you were asked what you do for a living.

"I write about freight transportation." Wrong answer, judging from the way her eyes suddenly come alive with skepticism as she lowers her glasses to look at you hard. Very hard.

"You what?" she says in a tone suggesting you''ve told her you transport kidnapped children across national borders. "Freight transport, for a magazine, a weekly - it''s about freight transport."

"You write about freight?" Right now you''re looking ahead at the businessman, a friend, who is all smiles marching through with hardly a glance back. He''s finished an eight-day itinerary that reads: Washington-Miami-Medellin-Cali-Miami-Santiago-Buenos Aires-Miami-Washington.

You''re thinking is, "What about him? Have you seen his itinerary? Go question him." But what you say is, "Yes, ma''am, it''s about freight."

"Step this way, sir, we''d like to ask you some more questions."

But you make it through that screening just like you''ll make it through today. Belt buckled, shoes on, car keys presumably stashed somewhere in a travel bag, you finally stumble toward the last leg home.

But have we told you lately about the state of our highways and the bad driving out there?