Up Front With Martin B. Deutsch



October, 1980 -- The trials and tribulations of business travelers are legendary and legion. Strikes, strandings, mechanicals, missed connections, snowstorms, expired passports, misplaced tickets and lost baggage. The list of things that can—and do—go wrong is endless. A veritable playground for Murphy’s Law.

Of course, these misfortunes always befall other people, don’t they? They never happen to me, or to you.

Usually, that is.

In July of this year, much of our fair land was being baked by a heat wave of unprecedented ferocity and duration. I was due to leave the relatively mild climes of New York City for a Monday meeting in Chicago, then a series of Tuesday sales calls in the Windy City, winding up with several presentations late Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning in St. Louis. Nothing out of the ordinary.

Monday and Tuesday morning went off without a hitch, followed by a very pleasant luncheon at Cricket’s, a Chicago restaurant fathered by the people who give you the “21” Club in New York. The restaurant is at the Tremont Hotel, where my traveling companion Sandy Barba of Fox Associates, our advertising representatives in the Midwest and I were to be picked up at 2 p.m. for transfer to O’Hare.

The previous evening, ensconced in a luxurious suite on the thirty-fifth floor of the Hyatt Regency Downtown, I had accepted an invitation for a ride out to O’Hare the next afternoon from Jacques Hamburger, general manager of a hotel that would open on September 1 as the Mayfair Regent of Chicago. I had met Jacques in New York while he was running two other properties managed by Regent International, the Dorado Beach and Cerromar in Puerto Rico.

It was 2 p.m. and there was Jacques waiting in front of the Tremont. On the button, Sandy and I would have plenty of time to catch Ozark 575 at 3:15 to St. Louis.

As our luggage was being gathered and I introduced Sandy to Jacques, the latter said something about the hotel car not being available due to some sort of mix-up, and that he’d brought a two-door model, that, unfortunately, was without air conditioning. Would we mind? Of course not. A breeze circulating through open windows would diminish the 100-degree heat to a bearable level; and the drive couldn’t take more than twenty-five to thirty minutes. Right?

Sandy climbed into the back, and I sat in the front seat. Traffic out of the downtown area was light, but once we were in the highway, it got progressively heavier and before long we were stop-and-go, crawling. There’s very little breeze at that pace, and the fumes crowding in through the windows were foul. There was now a hint that maybe we’d miss the flight, which would also mean we’d not make the 4:30 date at McDonnell-Douglas.

We were finally past construction that had reduced the number of lanes, when the car’s engine died. Why not?

We took out baggage from the car’s trunk, Sandy put up his hand hopefully toward the speeding flow of traffic, and, honest to Pete, a car swerved to a halt. Sandy, by now hot, sweaty and somewhat irritated, to say the least, turned to me and said: “That’s Chicago for you; this would never happen in New York.” Bidding an embarrassed and marooned Jacques good-bye, we hopped in with our savior. “I can only take you to the International Building,” he said. “I’m late for work.” It made no difference—it was now 3:05.

We got out at the airport, looking for an inter-O’Hare bus. Lo and behold, there was the bus we sought, and we were at that elusive terminal in no time. It was 3:10.

We dashed inside, and Sandy asked a res clerk at the Ozark ticket counter to tell the gate we’d arrived. “What’s he day?” I asked. “Good Luck,” Sandy replied. We ran as fast as we could to security, tried to hurry a long line, cleared and moved at a swift pace down crowded corridors. Gate twelve was, predictably, the last one in the farthest corner. It was 3:15.

And there, in what I first took to be a mirage, was someone down the end of that endless finger waving at us, shouting encouragement, “Come on you guys,” or something like that.

It couldn’t be, but it was: Jacques Hamburger. The car had started, he’d been worried about our making the flight, so he’d driven into O’Hare, parked illegally, ran to the gate and persuaded the Ozark people that Sandy and I would arrive any moment, a prediction that ultimately came true.

We got to St. Louis almost half an hour late, landed in 112-degree heat, got a cab to McDonnell-Douglas, arrived at 5:05, and discovered that our appointment was still waiting for us. He asked if we’d walked down from Chicago, and proceeded to buy a good deal of advertising. A sympathy sale?

Is there a moral or a point to all of this? Hardly. But I would like to salute an indomitable friend, Jacques Hamburger. They grow ‘em tough and committed at Regent International.

A votre sante.

This column originally appeared in Frequent Flyer magazine.

Copyright © 1980-2007 by Martin B. Deutsch. All rights reserved.