Finding Your Path
Harrowing Tales of Business Travel and Observations of Life
By Lorne Polger, Senior Managing Director
Monday. Zero Dark Thirty. Leave the house exactly 58 minutes before scheduled departure. The traffic pattern of every cab and Uber driver on the freeway at 0620 is imbedded in my memory like the birth of my kids. I know that it takes a minimum of 17 minutes, 35 seconds and a maximum of 20 minutes, 14 seconds to get to my secret parking space. The TSA line snakes around the terminal like the endless line for a popular Disneyland ride on a summer day. There is no prize at the end of the TSA line.
No worries for me, Mr. Mileage Plus/Admiral A-Lister! I’m smarter than the average bear! Gosh darn it, I haven’t spent 60-80 days a year on the road for the last decade without learning a trick or two. I know more than these rookies. Line, schmine. I’m TSA Pre-Check! I practically own the place! I got this one.
Wait. TSA Pre-Check not printed on the boarding pass?? Horrors!! You mean a Federal agency made a mistake? Couldn’t be. I paid big money ($54, as I recall) to be on that list. Humph. Someone is going to get an earful.
No worries. I fly 85% of my flights on Southwest Airlines. They go everywhere we do. I can book a flight in about 96 seconds the day before online, the easiest site to use (by about a million miles) of any major carrier. I’m a proud A-Lister with free drink coupons spilling out of my briefcase! I even recognize some of the flight attendants! The A-list line isn’t as short as TSA Pre, but it’s not the cattle call line for the amateurs. Sure, I might have to take my shoes and belt off, but they don’t really make you take the liquids out or your sweater off. I got this one.
“Sir, you’ll have to step over to secondary security screening (the dreaded “Triple-S”) so we can look in your briefcase.” Really? Stomach now grumbling, realizing that dreams of an Einstein Bros. toasted bagel with plain cream cheese, tomato slices and iced coffee may not be in the cards. Quick glance at the watch – now 0637. Departure in T minus 28 minutes. Couple of deep breaths. Don’t let the 23 year-old TSA border guard see the beginnings of a soft sweat on the brow. “Sir, we just need to use this swab on your laptop and then put it into this other machine that looks like it came straight from Star Trek central casting that will tell us if you’re carrying C4 explosives in your Lenovo. Is that okay?” “Uh, sure, that’s okay, but could you hurry up so that I can get my coffee and bagel before my three-hour flight where they only serve stale peanuts and lukewarm water?”
Make it through Checkpoint Charlie. Pathfinder top secret info still safe in the special compartment of the briefcase. Wafting smells of shoe polish, grilled meat (still unclear who eats burgers before 0700; must be the East German tourists) and Folgers coffee hit like a bag of bricks. Glance down at the boarding card. A16. “Who da man? You da man!”
Use the patented left handed curve toss of the Wall Street Journal across the middle seat, row five, premium left side ocean/bay view on departure, and sufficient elbow room for the laptop keypad maneuver. Begin the “faux flu” ritual. Hacking cough, followed by the full arm- length nose wipe, at exactly sixteen second intervals, or as needed when the “is this seat taken?” query occurs. Avoiding all eye contact. Amateurs, can’t believe they keep falling for it.
RED FLAG WARNING! RED FLAG WARNING! SCREAMING BABY ALERT! FULL SHIELDS UP!! INCREASE HACKING COUGH FREQUENCY TO EIGHT SECOND INTERVALS! INCREASE USED KLEENEX DEPLOYMENT!!
￼￼￼￼THE PATHFINDER REPORT: MARCH 2016 4
“Uhm, sir, this is my first flight with my baby and I wonder if you can help me?” Full scale global warming begins. “Of course, happy to help.” Possible full L4/L5 disc herniation occurs lifting combo baby stroller/play pen/four wheel drive into overhead compartment. Note to self: Book the physical therapy appointment once the Wi-Fi is activated.
Hour two. Fascinated to learn that Toys R Us no longer sells diaper genies, but that Amazon Prime will deliver them via drone within seven minutes of the poop explosion. Surprised to hear that Raffi no longer plays “Baby Beluga” to sold out crowds everywhere. New mama not overly interested in the article I share from Section Three of the Journal on predictions for rising oil prices in Uzbekistan. Feeling every bit of my 53 years at this point.
Sailing through arrival terminal with my Tumi superlight bag in near O.J. sprint mode to the rental car shuttle. Chest puffed, headphones on, two conference calls in, I so have this. I’m National Executive Elite! You get that people? I just don’t pick my car in the aisle, I can pick “that car.” Because nothing says success like a shiny black Ford Mustang with crushed velour seats that looks exactly like all the other rental Mustangs that never seem to look like a real Mustang. En route to check in at the hotel
“Sir, I see that you are a platinum/titanium/super alloy member of the Starwood SPG family. Thank you so much for staying with us. You are entitled to an upgrade from the 15th floor to the 16th floor. Can we do that for
you today?” “Uh, sure Tiffany, but is there anything we can do with that $56 overnight parking charge? And how about that $48 daily resort fee? Because there is nothing here that resembles a resort.” “Sorry Mr. Polger, that’s our corporate policy.”
Tuesday. Zero dark thirty. Raining. May impact drive time back to the airport. No worries, I’m TSA Pre, I’ve got this. Always good knowing that I’m heading home to San Diego. Safe travels, everyone.
A personal note: I wanted to thank the many, many people who reached out to me with kind thoughts, prayers and condolences during my wife, Cindy’s illness and passing. The journey was made easier by your actions and I will always be profoundly appreciative of the kindness shown by so many.
Lorne Polger is Senior Managing Director of Pathfinder Partners, LLC. Prior to co-founding Pathfinder in 2006, Lorne was a partner with a leading San Diego law firm, where he headed the Real Estate, Land Use and Environmental Law group. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.