Shmancy Town

Working with a view from the 20th floor of the JW Marriott in Beijing. The view is gorgeous, the service is impeccable, the coffee superb. That’s the Huamao Centre in the middle, the Ritz-Carlton to the right, and China Central Place in the middle. It is a lovely area, a living testament to how far China generally and Beijing specifically have come in their evolution, (especially as most of the patrons of all of these places are Chinese now, not foreigners.)

At the same time, I must confess that the area is a bit on the highbrow side for me. One of the great gifts of age has been that I no longer feel the need to excuse my prosaic preference for a lifestyle that is more Nissan than Ferrari, more Kirkland than Armani, more tuna melt than caviar. Blame my parentage: both mom and dad were children of the Depression, mom especially, and among their many lessons to me was the adage that having the means to make choices does not dictate what those choices should be.

So I will head to the airport today with the delightful memories of a nine-day stay in this beautiful hotel, but I’ll be back in the Courtyard on my next trip, and happier for it.

Shanzai Telephone Poles

“Hey, boss. I’ve got a great idea to save us time and money running those fiber-optic cables up the canal!”

“Really? What?”

“We use the trees instead of phone poles.”

“Brilliant! We still charge the same price, but we save the cost of installing and maintaining the poles. By the time this becomes a problem, we’ll be long gone and they’ll never find us. You’re a genius! I’ll even split the savings with you 80/20”

“50-50”

“60-40”

“Done.”

“Good. Now get to work.”

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Morning Prep

I’m usually breakfasted, showered, packed, fed, and ready to start work around 0700, but our Beijing office doesn’t even open up until 0930, and people file in about a half hour later. Rushing to the office will only find me cooling my heels in the tobacco smoke-filled 20th floor corridor or hunting in vain for an early morning cuppa at the mall across the street.

So I mainline my caffeine ration with a double espresso in the hotel lobby while pounding out a few hours of work before hailing a cab. I can be high-strung, but this enforced pause in my day has done a lot to chill me out. I cannot tell if I am more productive than I would be otherwise – I usually get to the office with at least three, and sometimes four, hours worth of work done.

Yet I approach the whole day with a wider smile, my deltoids are less rock-like and my neck less stiff, so if the price for such blessings is a higher per-ounce cost on my caffeine, I cannot complain.

Lizard Lair LAX

The wonders of business travel fade quickly, and after thirty years of it I find myself working harder to keep the process from draining my mental and spiritual reserves.

Airline lounges are hardly novel (they have been around for almost as long as paid passenger air travel,) but their continued evolution is a joy. Thirty years ago, when I first found myself elevated into business class by a thoughtful employer, the Singapore Airlines lounge at LAX was little more than 200 square foot windowless room with soft lighting, chairs, and some soft drinks.

Today in many parts of the world, lounges look more and more like WeWorks, with WiFi, plugs, light buffet service, full bars, and even showers. There are places to eat, sleep, bathe, work, and watch a little TV. Almost, in other words, all the comforts of home: enough to take one’s mind off of the stressful process of travel and engross it in something more worthwhile.

For me, they are my place to get a few last things done before the plane takes off. I can no longer work on planes for reasons too convoluted to discuss here. On a typical trip I’ll have anywhere from 90 minutes to three hours to do just enough to buy me time to get to the other end of my trip. It is almost always enough.

Creativity gets a boost for me as well in these places. Of the two books I have written, a surprising proportion has been written in these spaces, so much so that I actually put All Nippon Airways in the acknowledgements of my last book. So more than just sanctuary from the unpleasant preliminaries of trans-oceanic flight, lounges for me are temples of intense and deeply satisfying focus.

Waiting for Swallows and Trains

Virtually working from a perch atop the train station at San Juan Capistrano this morning. A late spring rainstorm is passing through, the hills are a bright green, and there is ranchera music in the air. The town feels a little sleepy, and it leaves me kind of wishing that it was a Friday before a lazy weekend.

Lazy weekends are a bit of a fiction for me lately. During my workout yesterday I caught myself singing along to Huey Lewis & the News’s underrated “Couple Days Off” in a really loud voice. I’m hoping for a smooth flight tomorrow: I could use the sleep.

On that subject, this post marks the beginning of about six weeks of interesting workplaces, both real and virtual. I will share in real time as bandwidth permits.