Getting There

After staying in Atlanta overnight, I wake at my usual 4AM and prepare for the trip. I go through my old routine for getting ready for work including make up and hair, two tasks I’ve grown accustomed to skipping. I put on my comfortable business casual clothes. In fact, I’m wearing jeans, but they’re so dark and cut so full through the leg that most people don’t notice they’re jeans. I pack up all my belongings and head for the door. I turn back one more time to check that I have everything–it’s so easy to lose track of a bottle or a charger.

The airport shuttle waits outside the hotel lobby and I board it unassisted. On the way in the day before, my suitcase was whisked out of my hands and I was offered a bottle of water, but now, the driver isn’t in sight. I find a seat and park myself amongst the other weary travelers, all of us looking like we should have spent at least another hour in bed.

When I get to the airport, it’s busy. Atlanta cannot be mistaken for Chattanooga. It’s early and I have two hours before my flight, so I am in no hurry, but I never relax until I’m at my gate, so I make my way through security and down to the tram. A man passes me on the escalator, worming his way around those who don’t stay to the right and rushing for the tram just seconds too late to make it. For a moment I think he will try to jump between the closing doors and I close my eyes, but when I open them, he is safely standing on the platform, although he’s cursing.

Making it to my concourse with still plenty of time, I stop at the only open restaurant for breakfast. The waitress is impossibly friendly and efficient for this time in the morning. I use my meal voucher from the airlines since they didn’t get me on the plane last night, but I tip extra generously since I figure the happy waitress should benefit from my voucher, too.

As I make my way to the gate, I pass dozens of people wrapped in blankets, still sleeping from the night before. I have never spent the night in an airport and feel grateful that I’ve always been able to get a hotel room when the need arose. I cannot imagine what it would be like to wake up among strangers with no way to get cleaned up and to have to get on a plane.

At the gate, I set up my MiFi device and get my work laptop out. I manage to get several things done while I wait for my plane to board. I’m in zone three. Although it’s now been years since I flew often enough to have the kind of frequent flier status that gets you free upgrades and early boarding privileges, having been spoiled for so many years before makes the lack of those benefits sting a little. This flight is on a relatively small jet with gate check for roll-a-boards and only a “fake” first class with slightly wider seats, so I’m not sure why I care.

I remember boarding a plane for Newark when I was on my way to Italy when I was still in my twenties. It was a Sunday flight and I was dressed in jeans and a black leather biker jacket. Back then, companies still paid for business class tickets for long flights, so I was in first class on this connection. But when I got on the plane and went to put my carry-on above my seat, a flight attendant called to me, “Miss, that overhead is for first class only!” I muttered “uh-huh” at him, but he didn’t understand his mistake and said, “Are you in first class?” with a little more surprise in his voice than was polite. Having finished stowing my bag, I looked directly at him and said, “Why yes, I believe I am!” as I slid into my first class seat. To this day, I don’t know if it was my youth, my jacket, some combination thereof, or something entirely different that made him think I didn’t belong in first class, but it’s a memory that sticks.

Back to today, I board with my zone and get over myself, happy that I have a seat at all. The plane takes off and soon I am lost in my iPad, enjoying a book I’ve not had time to read nearly as fast as I would like. Recommended to me by a friend, “The Help” has me hooked and I’m dying to know what happens. Unfortunately, the flight is not long enough for me to find out, but that’s just as well–I’m always disappointed when a good book ends and find myself wondering what happens next.

As we approach the White Plains airport, I stare out the window, scouring the scene below for signs of Irene. From the air, all looks well. I find my way to the taxi counter and am put in one of those big, black Lincoln Town cars that people in NJ call a “limo.” As we make our way to the training facility, I see downed trees and ask the driver how bad the storm was. He tells me that the area was not hit too hard as we pass bands of men with chain saws trying to clear more fallen trees. He does say that some still have power outages, but all-in-all, they seem to have weathered the storm well.

Nearly a day after I left my home, I arrive at the training class. I walk into the room at roughly 11:30 in the morning and am surprised to see half a dozen colleagues from Columbus. I knew 2 would be there, but didn’t realize there would be so many others. I smile, wave, and silently greet my familiar colleagues as I’m led to a seat waiting for me with my name tag in front of it–both my first and last name are spelled correctly and fit on the tag. Now that is a good omen!

Walking and Waking

Having survived my first day of class only to work late, I took some melatonin in the hope of getting more sleep. I succeed in sleeping until 5AM, but given that I was up until 11:30, it doesn’t feel like a break through. I get out of bed none-the-less and decide that a walk is the most important thing for me to do. I pull on walk-appropriate clothing and decide I will walk to the corporate headquarters that is supposedly right around the corner from the training center.

I start down the road in the gray light of pre-dawn and try to read the signs pointing me in the right direction. The training center is like a resort set in the woods, with a campus of buildings set so carefully among the trees that it doesn’t at all feel like a campus. I follow a sign that says “Pedestrians” headed in the same direction as the headquarters figuring it will be safer since there is little light and I am dressed in all black. The path is blocked by a large tree that must have fallen during Irene’s passage, but I move a small branch out of the way and am then able to climb between the larger branches to continue on my way. As I walk down steps, I look up and see tennis courts. Even better, I see two does and a fawn munching on dew-covered grass.

The fawn nervously raises his head and flicks his tail. I stop and stand still while his mom sniffs the air and flicks her tail once, then twice. They move a few steps further from me, but then resume eating. I take a few steps forward and they both raise their heads once more. I sit down on the steps and they start eating again. Eventually, the mother and fawn work their way into the woods and the lone doe looks up at me. She has moved closer to me, looking directly at me, raising her head and snorting like she can’t decide if she wants to come closer or not. But she does. She walks straight at me, growing more nervous with each step if her flicking tail is an accurate indicator. Suddenly, she jumps straight into the air and lunges sideways upon landing as if she’s just seen a pack of wolves. I turn to look at what could possibly have startled her since I hadn’t moved and see only the mother and fawn going up the hill in the background. I chuckle to myself that she is as easily startled by her friends as I often am.

With the deer off in the woods, I have no excuse to keep sitting there, so I continue my walk. The path around the tennis courts doesn’t take me to the headquarters building. I wind my way around back to the parking lot and out to the public road that brought me to the training center. It’s a narrow lane lined with trees. On both sides, there are nothing but woods. I cannot imagine the worldwide headquarters of a huge corporation hiding in these woods and find myself thinking I’ve misunderstood somehow. My attention is drawn back to the setting when I spot a group of 5 more deer foraging in the woods across the street. I realize I am back to the main entrance to the training center and decide to turn up the drive since I clearly am not going to find headquarters this way. Two more deer pop their heads up as I walk by.

The birds are starting to sing and the light is getting steadily brighter. I almost give up on my quest, but I decide to try following the signs once more–this time I decide to stay on the road instead of taking the pedestrian path. I pass another mother and fawn on a grassy hillside as I follow the road back into what seems like only more woods. But eventually, there is a shiny structure peeping from behind a clump of trees. It is far too small to be an office building, but as I make my way through tree-lined parking lots, I realize I am approaching the building from one end. It is so inconspicuously tucked into the trees that even when I see the building from the front, I cannot believe that it’s headquarters. The building is a modern work of steel and glass, gleaming against the dark evergreens. But instead of looking plopped down in the middle of no where like so many corporate monstrosities, this building looks like it grew there. I look around at the beautiful green space that seems to go on for miles surrounding this building and discover a sense of growing pride that I work for this company.

This is not the first time I felt this. Just a couple months ago, my company encouraged all of us to spend a paid work day doing community service in honor of the company’s birthday. As a result, we collectively contributed millions of work hours to communities worldwide in a single day. I’ve never heard of a company doing that before–at least not to that scale. It’s an amazing way to celebrate a birthday.  The commitment to comunity service doesn’t end with anniversaries, either.  My company has an ongoing program to track hours and provide grant money to the causes we participate in as well as providing payroll deduction services for contributions to small, local charities as well as big ones.  It means a lot to me that the company puts its money where its mouth is rather than just asking us to all contribute to the United Way every year.

But now, I am worried that I will be late to class. I tuck away my growing pride and head back to my room to get cleaned up. Along the way, I count the deer and keep smiling to myself that this property is preserved by my company.