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Charlie Hatton
Brookline, MA

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Howdy, friendly reading person!
I'm on a bit of a hiatus right now, but only to work on other projects -- one incredibly exciting example being the newly-released kids' science book series Things That Make You Go Yuck!
If you're a science and/or silliness fan, give it a gander! See you soon!

Messed, in Texas

Sometimes a really good-seeming idea turns out to be just as useless and horrible as all the other ideas you’ve ever had.

Where, if you’re me, “sometimes” means “always“.

Take this week, for instance. I was dispatched yesterday on a rare work-related trip. I’m now sitting somewhere in Texas, in a hotel room located on the great winding plains between Dallas and Fort Worth. Dotting the wide-open spaces are enormous-er-than-they-need-to-be car dealerships, fast food joints and roadside megachain coffee houses. It’s all steers and Starbucks in these here parts — and you don’t look like no latte, son.

I’m here with my work computer and my new rolling take-on luggage bag, and that’s where my awful misguided idea was hatched. My wife got me the bag a few weeks ago, and it’s very nice. A four-wheel flat roller, hard-shelled and roomy, it;s easy to handle and fits into overhead bins with plenty to spare. This trip — a two-nighter — is my first with the bag, and it’s been solid and reliable.

It’s also my first trip with the laptop computer. I usually keep it in a docking station at the office, and use a separate wireless keyboard, mouse and monitor to get my work done. This particular notebook computer is what they call a “desktop replacement” — partly because the specs (RAM, CPU, etc.) are comparable to what you’d find on a full-size computer, but mostly because it weighs approximately the same as a desk.

Adding to the bulk is the power cable. I don’t know where the actual power cable for the computer is — perhaps my company sold it back for extra toilet paper in the bathrooms, or something. So on my way out of the office on Tuesday, I grabbed the power supply for the docking station. Fourteen feet of cable straddling a power brick the size and weight of a labrador retriever. Joy.

As I packed my new bag the next morning, I faced down a dilemma. My clothes and toiletries and such would easily fit, with plenty of room to spare. But then I’d need a computer bag — none came with it, of course; possibly the office traded it back for the little bell on our receptionist’s desk. I’ve got one of my own, but would it fit that behemoth and its megawatt juicer? And if it did, did I really want it slung over my shoulders as I schlepped to and from and between airports? I decided I did not. And that’s when I had the Idea.

Why not, I pondered, simply stash the computer and reinforced power rope in the overnight bag? There was a zip compartment I wasn’t using, just behind the toiletry pockets. It had plenty of space, if not so much padding — but that was okay. I wasn’t checking the bag, so it wouldn’t be slogged and chucked around so much. And I wouldn’t need the computer on the plane. I’d have one bag to deal with, fresh shoulders when I landed, and a fully-functioning and unbroken back to enjoy during the trip. It was brilliant. It made life simpler. And I was extremely proud of myself.

“As business relations go, that’s not exactly a ‘first-date’ sort of conversation.”

Until this morning, when I woke up in the hotel, got ready and started out the door for my work visit — for which I needed the computer. And had nothing to carry it in.

I had two choices. One, spend the day in a strange place, far from home, carrying my company’s expensive and tremendously heavy laptop computer in hand from place to place. This seemed less than ideal. For one, it might rain. That’s just about a dealbreaker right there. Any weather-related emergency would be a complete disaster. I could maybe slip the computer under my shirt, in a drizzle, and stuff the power brick down my pants — but they’re not staying dry for long in that case, for a variety of uncomfortable reasons. Any heavy sort of rain, and something’s shorting out, probably quite painfully.

Worst of all, when I got to the office I was visiting, trying to look and sound competent and professional, the first thing I’d have to explain is why I’m pulling various bits of computer equipment out of my soggy clothes. As business relations go, that’s not exactly a ‘first-date’ sort of conversation.

So I took the other route. I packed the computer back into the rolly-bag and set off on my appointment. On the good side, it was a breeze to handle. No fuss, no heavy lifting, no bother. I started to think my bad idea wasn’t so bad, after all.

Then I reached the office and met my contacts, who were ready to get started. I just needed to get out my computer. So I rolled my suitcase onto the floor and unzipped it, to a set of very confused looks.

Oh, don’t mind all this. My laptop’s just in a little compartment back here… behind, uh… the mini-bottle of Listerine and yesterday’s underpants. Just need a moment.

I retrieved the computer and set up to show them a few things. Oddly enough, no one wanted to sit too close to the computer screen. Or touch the keyboard. Or look me in the eyes again.

I think the lesson here is, don’t ever travel for work. If you do travel, don’t take a computer. And if you must take a computer, don’t have any ideas. At all. Ever. Not while packing, not on the way to the meeting, and not in the back of someone’s office, with your dirty boxers and travel toothbrush on display.

Now I’ve got to take my hosts out for drinks, and just hope they’ll have enough to forget everything that happened today. What are the chances my office is going to reimburse for that?

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