Approach with Paranoia, and a Touch of Caution!
10th February 2017
Sometimes it is hard to find a line between caution and paranoia when travelling in an unfamiliar country. I think there is probably an equation somewhere that places exhaustion along a sliding scale between the two. I have known several occasions when either my sixth sense or my usual sense of reason have been blurred by an uncomfortable feeling of not being entirely in control of a situation.
A previous tale recounted a long car journey in the mid-1990s with two New Yorkers, from New Hampshire to where I was staying on Long Island. I dropped the first guy back at his car in a deserted and desolate retail car park outside the city, and the second at his home just around the corner from my motel. I was pretty tired and took a wrong turning out of his road, and spent a good hour driving round in circles as the late evening because darker, quieter, and a little menacing.
In desperation I stopped at a fast food outlet so I could get directions to the Comfort Inn, and as I walked in was immediately aware that my face didn’t fit, and nor would my English accent. It was one of those uncomfortable moments where to leave without either ordering something or talking to someone would have alerted anyone with ill intent, so I turned to the cigarette vending machine rather than risk staying in there for longer than I had to. I got back in the hire car and drove off, then turning left saw my hotel on the right.
I had experienced something similar just a few months earlier when trying to find my way from Newark Airport to the highway to Philadelphia. I had taken another wrong turning along the way and drove in the dark through some very challenging areas of the city. It had been another long day so perhaps my senses were heightened, and if felt good to finally be driving south on Interstate 95.
It must be something about the area because in 2015, my client and I were chauffeured from Chester outside Philadelphia, first to a meeting in New Jersey then on to our hotel in Manhattan. We had met the President of the New Jersey company in Chicago the previous day, following which had decided we needed to take a first hand look at his facility en route to our New York meetings. It was an off the cuff decision that proved to be a good one because it helped us decide that the New Jersey company was not the distributor for us.
Hospitable and warm though the President of the company was (and he was also very generous to send a car for us), he was also someone I felt I could not trust in business. Before the limo arrived to collect us from our Chester hotel, I cautioned my client not to talk about any substantive business matters during the car journey. So we talked about music. All the way to New Jersey for our meeting, and all the way from New Jersey to New York City. I had a suspicion that this guy’s driver might also be his extra pair of eyes and ears! And however conspiratorial that may sound, on this occasion I don’t think I was wrong.
In my first ever stopover in New York City I was booked into a hotel with bars on the inside of the door of my room, and more locks and warning instructions than I care to remember. I slept with one eye open that night, although the reality was that I was in a comparatively safe neighbourhood and the excessive physical security had been installed some years before when it was anything but safe! In that instance I became paranoid because of someone else’s caution.
Regular international business travellers will probably be able to relate to some of these stories, and will probably have a number of their own. I think I go into a kind of auto-travel mode, where my normally accepting and relaxed self turns into a determined and slightly paranoid traveller. It seems to send out signals either that I know what I am doing or that I am slightly deranged and should not be messed with! I am glad of it though because it has stood me in good stead for 30+ years, and I am happy to continue to run with my instincts. The lines between caution and paranoia may blur at times, but these are important instincts to possess.