You know, I’ve been having a powerful troublesome time writing this entry. I don’t know why it is. I guess it’s because I’ve been trying to come up with a way to compare this business trip with business trips that I’ve been on in the past, and just… failing at it.
So anyway, we’re here in Chicago. Westmont, actually. We’ve been here since last Monday, when we finally arrived after an adventurous flight from Sacramento through Denver, some troubles concerning exactly how it was that we were supposed to get from the airport to the Benthic Creatures headquarters, and an encounter with a big-hearted bus driver who shattered all of our stereotypes about the surliness of the typical Chicago driver. And here we are, safe and sound.
We’ve been busy. During the day we’ve been at work, the nine of us mollusk-handler-trainers-to-be sitting around a large table with our laptops and approximately six tons of documentation, learning the product through and through (it may be important to note, by the way, that Benthic Creatures does not actually produce the product in question — it’s produced by a much larger corporation that you have probably heard of, called Universal PolyPolyps Inc), watching presentations and giving presentations. I’ve discovered that while I have a solid understanding of the product, I’m still a bit nervous about public speaking — this even after years and years of improvisational comedic acting at the Renaissance Faire and live action role-playing. Who would have ever thought that standing in front of your colleagues and giving a presentation about economic processes and databases would be so different from pretending to be a 16th century barber-surgeon trying to remove a tooth from a drunk Scotsman?
Apparently, there’s a world of difference.
Not that I did badly, of course. I think, in fact, that I did rather well. One of our co-workers tells me that I just need to “find my groove”, and I think he’s right about that.
Jennifer took to it really easily. She loves explaining things; whether it’s explaining to users how to interface with a database backend, or explaining to me why it is that Azzie is not an evil overlord bent on world domination, she shines at it. I don’t have as much experience with that sort of thing; but, at the same time, I’m not all that allergic to making a fool of myself in front of a room full of strangers, so I’m not all that worried.
Tomorrow I give a presentation on how the PolyPolyp product can be used to help the mollusk handlers better track their mollusks. I’m not nervous, but at the same time I can’t help but wonder if I’m going to miss something important. Like, how to log in to the system or something. Not all that urgent when presenting to a room full of colleagues as a practice session, but possibly more pressing when it’s a room full of mollusk handlers.
Chicago itself is pretty swell. I’d never been here before. And I’ve decided that I really love this city. The buildings are marvelous, and the weather, with the exception of a couple of really nasty and muggy days at the beginning of our trip, has been great.
One of the things that’s really going to stick with me, though, is the food. On the night of our arrival, we went to Pappadeux’s, a Cajun style restaurant just blocks away from our hotel. I was attracted to the place because the sign advertised that they offered “Fried Gator”, and there’s no better way to attract my custom than the promise of weird food. The six others in the team were similarly intrigued, so we went.
Then two nights later, King Squid showed up and took us all out to dinner at the Weber Restaurant, which I’ve been wanting to get to ever since I’d heard that there was a restaurant which featured exclusively food items prepared on Weber grills. And since that night, we’ve eated twice at Papagus, and had sandwiches and pizzas from local eateries that were fantastic. And we’ve had a lot of Starbuck’s coffee.
We stayed over the weekend, since it would have made no since to fly back home just for two days. On the first day, we went to the Field Museum, Chicago’s natural history museum; see, I fully admit that I’m a natural history museum junkie, and I have a hard time passing up the opportunity to wander a place where I can look at dinosaur skeletons, learn about ecosystems, and pick up rare and unusual stones from all over the world. And on Sunday we went to the Shedd Aquarium, where we were both impressed by the beauty of seahorses and the talkative nature of beluga whales. Seriously, did you know how chatty belugas are? The fellow who was trying to give the talk about belugas kept having to pause because one of the belugas was hanging out at the edge of the pool, looking up at the visitors, and belting out squeaks, chirps, raspberries, and whistles. Belugas are nicknamed the “canaries of the sea” for that very characteristic. But, then, this is the sort of thing that I find absolutely fascinating.
There’s still a lot of Chicago to explore and a lot of learning to do. Tomorrow night, a couple of us are going to try to get to downtown Chicago to catch some authentic Chicago-style blues. Jennifer is unimpressed with the notion and has vowed to spend the evening holed up in our hotel room, playing on line and possibly watching television. Her loss.
And, of course, I’ve been doing a lot of reading which I haven’t been recording on my web page, because that’s what I do. I’ve read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn again, as well as We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson. I’ve also started reading The Haunting of Hill House, also by Shirley Jackson, and The Island of the Day Before by Umberto Eco. Jennifer reached a crisis in reading the other night when she ran out of books to read, and we had to make an emergency trip to Borders — “Clerk, get me five hundred pages of Janet Evanovich, STAT! And a cc or two of coffee.”
I guess that’s basically where this trip differs from the business trips that I’ve taken in the past. When I went to Boston, I had ideas that I’d get to see historical sites and explore, if only a little bit. Naturally, I didn’t; I didn’t even get to eat at any non-chain restaurants. So when I came to Chicago, it was with the idea that I wouldn’t see anything but my hotel room and the training area. I’ve been very pleasantly surprised. The fact that I like everyone else on the team, and have enormous respect for our boss, has really helped. The fact that I’m here with Jennifer has, of course, really made the trip worthwhile.
And so on Friday night, we fly back to northern California. Once there we’ll get a week or two of respite before beginning our next business trip, which will take us down to Santa Clara. And in Santa Clara, there lurks something even odder and more mysterious than any beluga whale or leafy sea dragon:
Side note. Yes, the mollusks that will be handled are actually people. And I don’t mean to disparage them by calling them mollusks, which are, after all, either insentient and inanimate creatures that feed by filtering at best, or free floating multi-tentacled beasties with big eyes and a propensity for shooting ink at others. It’s just that when I was coming up with nicknames for the company and the job, “Benthic Creatures” is what sprang to mind, so I’ve been trying to stick with that theme ever since. Besides, some of my best friends are mollusks.