Thursday, January 16, 2014

Hotel Room Musings, 5:20 AM

Because my alarm is set for 6:00AM, my body feels the necessity to give me a good head start, therein depriving me of a few final, blissful moments of sleep.  Never mind that though, as I now have the opportunity to share a few thoughts with you from the road.  Well, it isn't really the road, it is Crystal City, Arlington VA.  I am attending an industry trade-show, and the thought of back and forthing it to Easton didn't thrill me.  So I got a room for two nights and here I find myself.

The show I am attending is the annual conclave of the Surface Navy Association.  I have probably written of it before. Besides being a very important place for me to be for business purposes, it is a time where a lot of old friends from the Fleet are in town.  Old home week so to speak.  Some brief thoughts, maybe?

1.  The bath soap in this hotel (name brand,  nice) is one of those ergonomically designed bars with the massage bumps on one side.  Really now, besides looking neat, do those bumps really offer anyone anything resembling a massage?  Do people rub that soap along their bodies and coo?  I sure don't.

2.  Esther, my housekeeping representative (or so the card in my room informs me) will receive less than my standard rate of consideration for my two night stay, as she failed to refresh my coffee service with sweetener and creamer.  The room is (blissfully) equipped with a coffee maker, one of those one cup at a time deals that I actually prefer in hotels, as it is easier for me to pour water into the machine without spilling it all over if I pour from the paper cup I will drink from, rather than the little coffee pots constructed with industry standard dribble spouts.

3.  The trade show is populated with the various people one might expect at a function such as this, but there is one very small demographic worthy of mention.  It is the somewhat inappropriately dressed female attendee, and I espied two of them this week.  These aren't the "booth babes", mind you, the handsome young women recruited to hawk the wares of some unmanned underwater vehicle.  These are attendees, proper.  Sometimes the outfit is simply too formal, almost evening wear.  Sometimes it is flashily fashionable, standing out among the besuited, paunchy, middle-aged men who make up the great number of attendees.  In any case, it makes for a pleasant diversion from the Mad Libs like-chatter templates that one finds oneself resorting to.

4.  I met a rather remarkable fellow this week, Dino the shoe-shine man.  Dino was set up at his mobile stand on the first morning I arrived, and as I walked by, he began his well-rehearsed (and executed) patois.  As I have written here before, the shoeshine is the last acceptable vestige of male vanity, and so when he stated that the shine was "compliments of the Surface Navy Association", well, who was I to pass it up?  Truth is, I would have gotten one anyway, but it was the provision of the service gratis that caught my attention. This was a good thing that SNA had done, hiring Dino to be there for a few days.  And so I decided to dig deeper into his business model.  First, I told Dino to give me the "ten dollar shine", because that is what he will receive for it in consideration.  Thusly motivated, we began the conversation that even for a curmudgeon like myself, never gets old.  After a bit, he informed me that he had done "all the shows" in town, and he really liked the military associated ones, as those men knew the need and value of a shoe-shine.  He then said "I'm at five other shows this week in town" or something like that--and I realized that I was in the presence not just of a shoe-shine man, but an entrepreneur.  He has contract shoe-shine gigs at conventions all over the city and uses "independent contractors" (his phrase) to perform the service.  He gets the fee from the trade association and I imagine the shoe-shine guys get a small cut plus tips.  Works for everyone.  I love this country.  It was indeed a ten dollar shine, by the way.

5.  It is hard to get older.  I of course, look out onto the world through the same eyes I did as a 21-year old Ensign, and so while all around me age, I remain 21 psychologically.  The Kitten would tell you that I remain 13, but that is a different story.  But each year, the Fleet gathers at this show, my old friends and mentors get older, some dramatically so, and the young, wet-behind the ears bucks come into their own, many of whom now command their own ships.   Some of these newly empowered commanding officers come up to me and take great pride in telling me how in some way, some small thing I said or did when they worked for me or with me has had an impact on them. I never remember saying what they recall, something I would attribute to early onset Alzheimer's except for the fact that I have never had a memory for these kinds of things.  It is as if God decided that he would give me the gift of being able to say really insightful, admonitional, inspirational things so that others might be inspired, but decided that would contribute to my already narcissistic demeanor in an unhealthy way, so he robbed me of my ability to remember the interactions. Either way, I get a pleasant reminder of some guy who used to say cool things, with whom I am now unacquainted.

6.  Several four star Admirals were speakers at this event, as was the Secretary of the Navy.  They do not linger, they do not mingle with the unwashed. They sweep in from the edges of the empire on their government provided airplanes where they are met on the flightline by government provided ground transportation (usually giant, black SUV's) to convey them to the event.  There they are met at the entrance by a variety of eager functionaries, there to usher them to the "private room" where they can "freshen up" or "make an important call'.  Most interesting of all is the size of the retinue accompanying these modern Viceroys.   There are generally at least one of the following:  an aide, a senior aide, a public affairs officer, and a speechwriter.  In addition, there are two earpieced "security" officers nervously eyeing all who walk past.  There is often a staff photographer.  Sometimes there is a communications specialist.  The point is, there are a lot of people.  I used to be one of these, traveling with the Chief of Naval Operations in the mid 90's.  On international trips, we took a very senior medical officer.  There were too many then, there are too many now.  When the fourstars get together for a confab,  the extra people standing around would outnumber most third world militaries.  It is a bit unseemly.  I contrast this with most Members of Congress, whose staffs are ridiculously small in comparison, and who move about the country/world either with one or maybe two people with them. 

Enough for now. 


Anonymous said...

IRT point #2 - You should probably give her a bigger gratuity than your usual. She probably spotted your rotund arse and is trying to help you by withholding the unecessary calories.

Anonymous said...

You nailed it. Made the effort to get there for a half day, and it felt every bit as dull and miserable as I felt 12 years ago as a JO when I last went. Besides the utter suck of Crystal City in January [anytime?], the SWO community fails so hard at a meaningful and interesting national convention. It was quite telling when NAVSEA actual waxed poetic about their clam bake in Groton...

The Brain said...

You hit it on the head in regards to staff size for the 4 stars, hell, staffing for the pentagon. If you took 50% of the unnecessary "aides" and pentagon staffers, and divided them into 2, first set of capable ones goes into combat units so we don't deplete the armed forces, and the second gets the boot, the combat ability goes up, while the fat is trimmed out so the armed forces can go on and pay the folks and still procure what they need.

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