On Foreign Shores

"Oh! England, my Lionheart I'm in your garden, fading fast in your arms." - Kate Bush

When you're onsite with a client, it is absolutely not a vacation. In fact, it's usually harder work than when you're back in the office. I've been getting up at 6:30 to do the morning routine, grab a bite of breakfast, then catch a taxi to the office which is about 15 miles away. We've been taking the taxi back around five or so and working until 7-ish, then dinner, then answer a few last emails and then bed.

It's anything but fun. I'm in the Midlands of England and there are a few interesting things to see here. I'm not too far from Coventry Cathedral or Warwick Castle so there is history around these parts. I just don't have the freedom to go look at it. Amanda, the project manager, flew home today and Dick, my consultant partner, flies home tomorrow. It has been a pretty successful visit, so far, but we have more issues to navigate before I can raise my arms and dance around a little.

The client's project manager, Horace, is going to take me to a football match on Saturday. I'll be seeing Horace's beloved Birmingham Blues take on Rotheram. The Blues had a rough go of it on Tuesday when they were taken down 1-nil by arch-rival Aston Villa in a derby game. Horace said he considered taking me to that one but it was an away game and he's fairly certain that if we'd stood and cheered for Birmingham City at any point, we'd have had the living snot kicked out of us.

I think he's pretty serious about that, too.

In the meantime, I have to pack tonight because I am changing hotels tomorrow. The one I am in was full through the weekend when I tried to extend my stay so I have to move to a different one in a different part of Solihull. I'm not sad, really. This tired old inn I am in has a certain charm, but it also has rock-hard beds, a faint odor of floods past on the ground floor hallways, and about a million assorted nationalities of tourists. I have nothing against tourists, but they are noisy, stay up late, and really jam the restaurant at breakfast time. Also, they have enormous tour buses that block the entrance for a half hour at a time and make the taxi drivers park a block away and call you.

The other hotel is a lot nicer but is also more expensive. I wouldn't mind that given that I'm not paying for it but those who are happen to be a bit miffed that I'm straining the project budget. Not my fault there are two rugby matches, one football match and about a dozen assorted conventions happening in and around Birmingham right as our client begins user acceptance testing.

The cherry on this ugly cake is that today was the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha which means today was the day of crippling shortages of taxi drivers across England. Dick and I waited over an hour for a driver this morning and I waited around 45 minutes for one to get home. By an amazing coincidence, my last visit to England coincided with the start of Ramadan. I have checked the calendar and it appears when I come back next month, I may hit a fortunate gap in the Islamic calendar which will keep the streets full of taxis.

They say that travel makes you appreciate your home more. I'm not really sure. I like the Midlands. Dick likes them not so much - he refers to it as boring except he injects superlative profanity into that phrase to emphasize his point. But it's pretty here and they have actual autumn weather, a phenomena that usually visits central Tejas for about seven or eight minutes some afternoon in October. All this week, it's been in the upper nineties in Austin. Here in Solihull, it's been totally fall-like weather. So I'm not exactly missing home.

But by this time next week, I am sure I will be missing a few things like good Mexican food, entertaining television, and my bed (which to be honest, I already miss). I also miss the freedom of jumping into my car and driving to where I want to go. I miss having my own desk with my own supply of tea in a thermos sitting there. I miss being able to get home after work around six and do as little as I want for the next couple of hours.


I have really tiny dreams.

My PM, Amanda, wants me to take at least two days off after I get home before I jump back into the work week. I will get home Friday afternoon Austin time. I think I may need to be in the office on Monday at the very least to coordinate putting my team of ace newbie consultants to work. Then again, they won't be that much more befuddled if I take Monday and Tuesday off. Amanda also wants me to plan a real vacation - like a full week off -- sometime after the client goes live at the end of October. I just don't know what I intend to do - November usually isn't a peak month for tourism in the American heartland. Though it will be my birthday.

I need to fish for some good vacation ideas for that time of the year.

In the meantime, it is now after dinner - Dick and I hit a restaurant down the street that was televising the Rugby World Cup. We left in the second half but the mighty All-Blacks of New Zealand were kicking the living crap out of the team from Namibia. For those who are even less aware of rugby than I am, the New Zealand team is the All-Blacks because they wear all black uniforms. Shirt, shorts, shoes, socks, and even mouth guards. They are also rather impressive athletes. The one thing all rugby players seem to have in common is that they look like the kind of scary guys you don't want to meet in a bar.

Of course, we software consultants have our own aura of intimidation around us at all times, too. You see people edging away, looking for the nearest exit … I suspect fear of boring conversation is the main motivator. Conversation is something I would like to experience, particularly when a lot of old friends come together in a small town in Kansas and reconnect.

Enjoy the evening my friends. Stay safe and cherish the moment. I'll be prepping myself to fight off hooligans.