Working as a construction engineer in Fayetteville, North Carolina, I interfaced with a variety of people. There were my co-workers, other engineers and support people, the construction company’s supervisors, foremen and trades people and the design engineers. For this project, Monsanto secured the services of a design firm located in Houston, Texas.
As the plant started coming together, someone got a wild idea to send a group of us to Houston to meet with the design engineers. Why it didn’t occur to them to send the designers to where the action was happening is a mystery to me. Being young and adventurous, I was all in for the trip. Five of us made plans to fly to Houston, stay a few days and return home.
Our office had a secretary; she was responsible for making our travel arrangements. A simple exercise, right? Travel back then was booked through a company travel agency so basically all she had to do was call the company with dates and times and let the agency make the reservations for flight, hotel and rental car.
We took off for Houston one afternoon and arrived at Intercontinental Airport, now Bush International, around four o’clock. As I had previous experience driving in Houston, I took command of our rental car. The four men, who were my traveling companions, took their seats and off we went, headed to our hotel, in rush hour traffic.
In Houston there are two driving speeds, fast and faster. While we traversed the interstate, I realized our exit was coming up soon but we were in a few lanes to the left of the exit lane. A semi-truck alongside us had slowed down, from faster to fast, so I accelerated and cut in front of it, barely making our exit.
The guys in the car were ashen. Most of them had only lived in North Carolina. City traffic to them consisted of two traffic lights and congested traffic on Sunday mornings after the Baptist church let out. One of them asked if we could stop at the next convenience store. They needed a beer if I was going to drive that way.
The ‘kids’ had their bottles and we continued on to the hotel, a Holiday Inn. It was getting dark at that point. We arrived about six-thirty and, travel-weary, headed to the registration desk to check in. At least that was our plan. The desk agent politely informed us that they had given our reservations away when we had not shown by six o’clock.
Our secretary was from Mount Airy, North Carolina, the town that influenced ‘The Andy Griffith Show’ and it’s setting in Mayberry. I’m sure there are a lot of nice people from there; she nice enough, there just wasn’t a lot of worldly knowledge that she had experienced. Things like holding a hotel room for late arrival. She thought with us arriving around four that we would have a good two hours to get to the hotel. We neglected to show her a map of Houston and explain big city obstacles like huge airports, waiting for baggage and rental cars and rush hour. We didn’t think we needed to show her, actually.
We asked about nearby hotels and the desk agent offered us a phone book and a phone. What to do but start with the A’s; I searched for a hotel that was near the Holiday Inn. Adams’ Mark. It seemed like it would be nice, but none of us had ever heard of it. They had plenty of room so we booked it and within thirty minutes, we walked into the lobby.
The ‘lobby’ was a multi-story atrium, glass elevators, plants, furniture, and expensive finishes. I’d not thought to ask about the room rates. It was late; we were hungry and tired and had an early morning staring at us. The rate was at least double that of the Holiday Inn. While none of us were authorized to approve expenditures, we figured we didn’t have much of a choice and would ask for forgiveness, blame it on the secretary, and take our hits upon returning home.
The rooms were fantastic. Mine looked out on the atrium. The large glass wall was covered in floor to ceiling drapes. I pulled them apart to view the atrium. A switch was mounted on the wall. It looked out of place. So what did I do? Like any good engineer, I flipped it, of course. Lo and behold, the curtains slid along a track opening the room to the atrium! What??? Even I was impressed.
The rest of the trip paled in comparison to our first night in the big city. Our bosses understood but we couldn’t resist giving the secretary a hard time. We never traveled again for that project. After our excursion, the Houston designers flew to Fayetteville. I bet they had uneventful trips.