Miami Day One: James Bond and The Dursleys

Paul Horn: Inside the Taj Mahal, an improvised collection of flute music and what I am assuming are religious chants, all recorded in the dome of the Taj Mahal back in the 70's played all night. It was a little eerie - and it might explain this foreboding feeling I have this morning. Then I switched playlists and the first thing I heard was Kielbasa Sausage by Tenacious D. So that segued me nicely into a normal Schwartz day.

Touched down in Miami yesterday around 3 local time. Miami International is like a huge foreign bazaar - like one that James Bond would visit for a clandestine meeting. It reminds you that Miami is the gateway to Latin America and one of the portals to the larger world. At its best, O'Hare - huge and international though it is, still reminds people at every turn "HEY! You're in Chicago!!" Not saying that one is better than the other - that would be a ridiculous thing to compare. All airports suck - but of all the airports I've visited, Miami seems to embody it's town more than others.

The Loews hotel has two buildings. Until now I have only experienced one. I got very excited when I found out that I would be staying in the second building - The Tower... The girl at the counter made a point of saying that I have an "exciting view". So I was hoping for a huge window that opens on the Atlantic and South Beach. Well... apparently this girl needs to get out more. Perhaps the Dursleys keep her in a closet under the stairs because my view is of the hotel next door and some air conditioner compressors. Shit.

My day job partner in crime Greg and I had drinks at Dave's Cafe and then snagged a cab to my absolute favorite spot in Miami, Jerry's Deli - a little snapshot of what I assume New York is like in the middle of Miami. We ate pastrami and brisket and discussed weighty things and the half naked women slipping past the window.

Then it was back to my room for a little homesick conversation with the boy and the lady. Then I let Paul Horn take me away into my creepy sleep.

It's sunny outside today - so perhaps the foreboding will lift as I slip into my corporate character - Meric - and begin the meeting.


Miami Day 2: Mindnoise

So the prevailing feeling within the company is that this is our last meeting in Miami. Our 3 year contract is up and it's time to move on to a new city. I found out that our winter meeting will be in San Diego at... I believe, the Coronado (sp?) - where I think they filmed some like it hot. So you know the big January adventure this time will be to head out to Imperial Beach to see where they shoot John from Cincinnati and then maybe across the border into TJ. Mexico is one place I haven't been and would like to make a stop.

Today was a solid meetings, with one presentation by myself that lasted about 20 minutes. Outside the Miami rain continued into another day. It's reflecting my mood. The Paul Horn foreboding of this morning continued into the afternoon. When 5 rolled around and we were free for an hour and a half until our opening night reception- I crashed. Hard. For about twenty minutes. It was the kind of sleep where you shake awake and lay there for a moment wondering how many things you are late for or missed. I hadn't missed much. So a quick change of clothes and then down to the party.

As always, the bar was open. The heavy thoughts and homesick had been squelched by the mindnoise of the meeings and were just starting to rise. So, a whiskey and coke will go a long way toward an even keel. Rybak was in a great mood, which made me seem even more sullen. Truth is, I hate these meetings - I hate networking and meeting new people. I hate explaining my job. And I HATE talking about my life outside of Houghton. This will invariably happen after No Talent Night when it's all "you should me a writer"... "oh do you do this regularly.." "How's the stand up going?"  I've resigned myself to the fact the they will never understand - so I don't bother trying to explain that I've never done stand up in my life. Most of these people know only one thing - sales. Everything else is a novelty. And they let you know it in a way that they think is friendly. I know they mean well.

So, tuna roll sushi, strip steak - good stuff. I do love the food here at the Loews. Heve to watch the carbs because of the diabetes thing. Trying to be good, but these meetings cram pastries and candy and all other manner of crap at you during the breaks. The meals are the only time when you can make some sort of informed choice. Got Lori getting me drinks - pretty ladies paying attention to me helps quell homesick. Hugged Terry for the first time since her nephew died. Made her cry - that was unexpected and I wasn't sure what to do. I felt bad because we were in the middle of  the dinner hall.

The presentation wasn't bad or long. We were done by 9 which to me is still 8. A quick stop past the hospitality suite. I talked to Danny and Margy and Millie - seems a bridge collapsed in Minneapolis. Awful.

After a while I give up on TV and trying to enjoy the evening. I think I'm having Mildred Wild separation anxiety. I think I hate Miami. I think I hate my job. The rain needs to stop so I can lighten up.

I turn on Gag Reflex on my DJ and let it run all night... just like the toilet in my room. I'm asleep by 11 which to me is still ten. Third day in Miami and the first official day of the meeting.

I better see some boobs soon.


Miami Day 3: Black Cat and Little Lizards

I woke up and stared at myself in the mirror, wearing my black "Club SAS" shirt, preparing to spend a day pretending to be a bouncer outside a Miami club and thought about all the places in the world I could  be right now. Honduras. On that Russian sub planting a flag at the bottom of the arctic ocean. Dispensing HIV meds to poor African children. Fisting Emeril Lagasse. I looked like an idiot... pretending to be a bouncer. I suddenly realized that I was the loose cannon ham that anyone in Houghon Mifflin can call on and feel confident that I will do their stupid thing.

But it wasn't that bad in the end. This product session (4 of them over six hours) had a red carpet and velvet ropes. I had to give out bracelets. Everyone was in the spirit of it and I even pulled people out of line and frisked some. All guys that I know... it is, after all still for work. Though there are some young females in the company... well, never mind. 

Sessions went all the way to  4:30 today. I was meeting my group for our mixed dinners at 6:10 - so of course I slept ... and then I panicked. I woke up at 6 and I'm pretty sure I shrieked like a big girl ... and I farted. I changed quickly, soaped off my face, applied a little more Axe and then bolted from the room.

I thought this mixed dinner was going to be uncomfortable and suck like all sucking things ever. I hate being forced to meet new people. But you know what - to continue my day and shattered expectations - I had a great time and I made a new friend. I had great conversation about Ryan Adams, who I have gotten big into lately. Ate some amazing fish... tried to get chutney out of a black t-shirt with club soda and chuckled about the idiocy of that. Plus I got to hang with Shenk - and Andrea, he said hi. 

We ate at Creek 28 which is a tiny place that serves out of the lobby of the Indian Creek hotel. The Indian Creek is the hole in the wall kind of place that you expect to see in an old black and white Miami detective movie. Great atmosphere. If I ever decide that Miami is worth a  visit, Indian Creek is where I'm going. We ate outside in the shade of palms and what I believe were banana trees. Tiny lizards and a black cat ran around the brick patio floor. It was great.

I decided to walk back to the hotel (about 2 miles) with some co-workers. My new friend , a most kindred spirit Nicole, and I chatted all the way. Very cool lady. We all walked along the Miami Beach boardwalk, the dark ocean stretching on to our left, dotted with the lights of ships and barges. I love those ships! Those lights out on the harbor. It always kicks me in the kid. You know the kid? He's the one that wanted to walk the earth like Bill Bixby. To our right the hotels that lined the darkness rose up, looking oddly like the environmental design of Grand Theft Auto: Vice City.

We got back in time to watch a few people do a little Karaoke in the hospitality suite. I had a diet coke, hung a little with Lori and then road the elevator up and down with Lori and Nicole, swapping ridiculous elevator stories.

Then I headed back under the Dursley's stairs for a night's sleep.

No Talent Show tomorrow night. Joy. Then again, after today - what I expect and what I get could be two different things. Wish everything worked out that way.

Miami Day 4: Whitefish

A slightly more relaxed day. Had to do some presenting in the afternoon, but I wasn't worried. Really the only thing looming was No Talent Night, our annual night where reps and folks get up and... well, you can guess. I have become something of a rockstar. My performace last year still has people talking. To be honest, it did rock. But Mildred Wild has knocked the funny out of me. NTN was the last thing I wanted to do. I had nothing prepared until the day before. I decided that I would borrow a guitar from Deb Exum and lead my peers and paycheck signers in a rousing rendition of "Cheesy Love Song".

But last year's performance garnered me a corporate sponsor. The Math editorial team gave me a prop that they will be using duing their sessions - one of these new Stick Up Bulbs - (it's a long story) - but they asked me to work it into my act. They said that math would make it "worth my while". So I'm not sure if I'm getting money, laid or out of having to go to the math sessions. LOL.

Had a nice lunch with Ledford, JBub from Boston and Bob White (who went with me to Hollywood in January). We were back at Jerry's Deli again. I ordered soup and half a whitefish salad sandwich. The soup was good - but the Whitefish sandwich was un-fucking-believable!! Amazing. Imagine the best tuna salad ever but made with smoked fish . Fantastic! I want a tub of it delivered to my room! Me, my room's flat/widescreen TV, a 3 gallon tub of smoked whitefish salad and a big ol spoon... you can forward my mail. Check on me in a couple of weeks to see if I'm alive.

The afternoon presentations were uneventful. When we got done my energy was low and I found myself in my room homesick and staring at the ceiling. Didn't want to be funny. Didn't want to move. My Dell DJ decided to keep playing appropriate music - which drove me further into the hole. I didn't know it but I needed to get out.

I was happy when Rybak knocked on the door and we made dinner plans. Eventually me and him, Lori and Ledford went to eat. That's always a fun group. And guess where we went. That's right! Jerry's BITCHES!!! Didn't have the Whitefish salad again. We had a great dinner. We laughed at Ledford being unable to find the bathroom. We laughed at some of the idiots we work with. And luckily Lori can throw into the filth pond with the rest of us.  Otherwise we'd be slapped with a suit of some kind.

Afterward I stepped across the street for a couple of cigars. My first since leaving home. I just needed a nerve calmer before the performance... the second one was celebratory for after... my hidden optimism turtleheading out.

I started to get worried during the show because there were some really good acts. People who had put a lot of thought into theirs. I was basically walking up there with a back pocket show piece...and the lightbulb jokes I'd worked up.  Dave Serbun did terrible yo-yo tricks while wearing an "Eyes Wide Shut" carnival mask. Amy Whitaker did a nearly flawless baton routine. Some of the young pepper Marketing Assistants did a GREAT dance number to Thriller. It brought the house down. And Tricia resurrected her "Pips Only" performance of  Midnight Train To Georgia (where she listens to her iPod and only sings the pip parts). I knew I was going to be one of the acts closing the show - showstopper that I am... whatever. I started to get nervous.

I needn't have worried.

Afterward I had my celebratory cigar alone by the fountain between my building and the main building. I killed. I wasn't the best, but I did great. Flks were actually counting the cheese references. I don't think anyone caught all of them. There are technically 12 cheeses and 3 cheese delivery methods woven into the lyrics. For anyone keeping score. They'll all forget it in 3 days, but that's okay. It just served to remind me of what I'm meant to do. I reminded me of what was here before anything else. For one shining corporate American moment I saw me clear as day.

For fuck's sake!! Can I lighten up now?!

Miami Day 5: I Am The Shepherd... You Are My Flock

Okay. Just a little info about my job. I work with four different sales regions, providing training and custom tech stuff for the schools they service. That's all you need to know for the next part of this.

Saturday morning rolled around and all the sales regions went into regional meetings. Not being a sales rep, you'd think I would get a little extra breakfast time. No such luck. Instead I ran back and forth from one end of the conference center, dropping into each one of my regions and presenting for 20 minutes. Cripes! THEN my team went into a two hour meeting where I presented one of the big projects that we did last year as an example of future synergies... or something. It was a good meeting with people I like. So that's good.   But all of this by noon.

Then it was down stairs for a boxed lunch, which was a surprisingly good Italian hoagie. I'm telling you - the Loews has the best freakin' food. Afternoon product sessions rounded out my day. I didn't have to do anything, but by the time 3:15 rolled around (we ended a little early), I was beat. I didn't go back to my room right away, I jumped on the company's wireless network and blogged about Friday first. That got me to my room about 4:30. And there I found the next little snafu waiting for me. My laundry hadn't been delivered.

I have this great, Miamiesque linen shirt and some cacky pants that I was going to wear to the closing reception. I had worn them the first night to Jerry's and the shirt had become bespeckled with brisket au jus... actually I looked like I had been hit by a gravy gun in a Miami drive-by. So on Friday I sent them and a t-shirt out to be cleaned and I asked that they be returned to my room by 2 or 3. Not there. Oh shit. So I called down and the lady said they would find it.

I fell asleep. Half an hour later the phone rang - still nothing on the clothes. The reception, or so I thought, started at 6 and it was already 5. I was starting to panic and devise excuses for why I was wearing a hotel bathrobe to the reception. Being e, I might have gotten away with it. Finally, about twenty after five the clothes arrive. It was my fault. I had neglected to put that I was in the other building, so my freshly laundered clothes were delivered to the other building.

The best part was the lady who delivered them. She was hilarious. In her thick Caribbean accent she explained what I had done and then, suddenly, in the middle of it all, she turns the the hallway mirror and says "I think, oh that poor man, I have to go into this other room and get his clothes"... She's delivering her own thoughts in her story to her own reflection. It was awesome! Shit, I wasn't mad to begin with and didn't need the story. But the cinematic moment with her was enough. She might be my favorite moment of the trip. So I tipped her. And her frantic Caribbean voice called me "Hon". And that's always nice.

And then I arrived half an hour early to an empty reception area. FECK! But my Caribbean lady had made me mellow, so I slipped down to the hotel bar and had a drink. I sat thinking in a wicker chair in the corner. Apparently I was staring at the wall (which had a handicap accessible sign on it). The waitress chuckled and asked if I was enjoying the movie. I laughed back that it was about a very thin man in a wheelchair. She said that the next movie featured a very small woman with a really big butt. A little whiskey and diet, a couple of olives and cheese and I was gone, off to the reception.

Houghton does know how to throw on a bash. Lori and I were hellbent on being drunk and out late and goofy. Two parents let loose for an evening. So we kept getting each other drinks while Jeff and Greg just laughed. After the official presentation and some baked Jicama fries (man! They were good) - the DJ started up. I hung back for a while. Quite a while. I have to reach a limit with the drinking before the dancing inhibition goes away. Lori and I were wrangling people to go down the block to The Delano to continue the party. And we got lots of people to go.

Problem was, all the drinks at the reception were still free. And Lori insisted on taking as much advantage of that as possible. Oh! And there was a bartender there, who could be the worst ever. Luckily, he wasn't the only one on the bar. I asked for a Whiskey and diet and he made it with Johnny Walker Red scotch... it was nasty. So I had to specify Makers Mark! Dude. Really. Don't you know who I am. Eventually, when there was almost no one left, Lori and the lovely Ms. Cruz got me out on the dance floor. I won't say who all was still there, but of the 9 people - about a third had the title of "President" in their job description. It was fun and I was hammered.

Finally after another hour I got Lori to pull herself away so we could head down the block to the Delano. It's one of the hotter night spots on Miami Beach and as we walked and stepped over the homeless, more and more Houghton people passed us, heading back to the Loews. The Delano has these huge white sheers that billow all over the building. We made our way through the bar and lounge - and it was surreal. It was like I just stepped into a cop movie and I was on my way to find a suspect. Then we were out in the back. The pool is surrounded by these huge white beds. Really. Beds.

I'm from Illinois, man. My neighbor behind me once put a couch in the back yard so he could play on a remote control car dirt track he built... but beds around a pool. Doesn't that invite... OOOOOOH! It does invite. This undulating mass of beautiful, tan bodies and empty beds were apparently waiting for just the right mix of late and liquor before turning into an orgy. Well, at least that's were my drunked mind went. Do you put beds in night clubs and NOT expect that?

Anyway, Lori and I finally hooked up with the last Houghton people. They too were on their way out. We'd taken too long and everyone we wanted to see was gone. And finally Lori turned cranky. She'd had enough. I couldn't convince anyone that I was the shepherd and they were my flock - which had been my mantra all night. So me, Lori and Jennifer G from Boston turned and moved back through the orgy yard and out through the billowy, sweaty bar. Stopping only to listen to a dance mix of  "Don't Stop Believing" by Journey. Something I not suggest you do drunk and 35 because you stare at the ceiling and say "Really?" a lot.

There was brief talk of food - which I needed. It was nearly 1am... sad I know. Two years ago I went until four. Jennifer G and I wanted to head to Jerry's but in the end we all agreed that bed was the best thing. Individually, not together... for anyone reading, who might think otherwise.

One more day before I'm home. I laid in bed for a while. I made my wake up call and alarm clock reservations... then I passed out.

Miami Day 6: Leaving Neverland

I woke up to Ryan Adams' "Come Pick Me Up":

...I wish you would
Come pick me up
take me out
fuck me up
steal my records...

I actually managed to get up before the wake up call or the alarm went off. I had to pack and check out before breakfast. We had four sessions and lunch before we could catch the shuttle to the airport. I think it's actually a form of torture. They throw this open bar bash and then expect everyone to make it to sessions. I was ragged, but okay. My freakin' ankle was screaming at me because of my dancefloor abuse followed by strolling up and down the block a few hours before. I needed food. Bad. I needed something disgusting to put me right. As Mark Knopfler said, Heavy Fuel.  Unfortunately Loews serves nothing disgusting. Just coffee and respectable breakfast food. I needed a Cuban Sandwich to kick the funk out of me and I had to settle on tasty breakfast burrito, spicy eggs and bacon. Class when I don't want it. LOL.

The sessions were only bearable. It wasn't their fault. It was me. Luckily I was able to stay awake and alert, but man, I had to work for it. However, a rep named Kelly Kunert, who I've been working with for a few years, managed to get me laughing. She's going to run this company some day. Really. Mark my words.

I did, at some point solidify plans I'd drunkenly made with Alex Coleman the night before. A road trip to Imperial Beach and Mexico in January with her and Bob White and whoever we can get is on. Fuck yeah! It's gonna be sweet.

We had a pleasant lunch and final words - but you could feel in the air that everyone was on the blocks, ready to dash for the door. And dash we did. After some handshakes and hugs and a quick goodbye to my new friend Nicole, Ledford and I headed for the bus and freedom. As always happens - the minute I sat on the outbound shuttle, I put on my headphones and whatever character I'd been wearing all week slipped away. I looked out as Miami Beach disappeared behind me, as the harbor and all the big ships slid past. I have trouble talking to anybody from Houghton at that point, and the plane was packed with them. At that point I just want them to go away.

The airport was crazy. It was Sunday and everyone was leaving Neverland for destinations unremarkable. I just wanted to see my family. My nerves were at the breaking point. When I finally heard Danny's voice on the phone right before boarding, I wanted to cry. My spring was tight and was a plane ride away from release.

The flight home had some really bad turbulence. It didn't last long but it's the first turbulence to freak me out in a while. I just wanted to get home. Home. I have built this airport attitude over the past ten years - I actually know what I'm doing. A world traveller making his way through the crowd. Ready for anything. And Houghton people, except Ledford, are to be avoided. I'm not your man anymore.

Grabbed my baggage, called the limo and headed outside. It was just as hot as Miami. Joy. Gave Ledford a big hug when my limo showed. Then Shawn, my limo driver shut the door on another business trip and we pulled away from the curb.

Later, when I was tickling Danny in his bed, my wire finally unspooled. Home and wondering what's next. All I knew was that Millie, a bag of greasy classless food and two months worth of DVRed "Ice Road Truckers" was waiting for me.