David J. Danto
Business travel thoughts in my own, personal opinion
NOT Traveling Blog, 2nd Week Of May 2021
David Danto’s ongoing list of disjointed and occasionally random observations and thoughts as we wait-out the pandemic – mostly NOT traveling like we used to.
This being the penultimate ‘Not Traveling’ blog (with my first real air-car-hotel trip scheduled for the week after next) I thought it would be a good idea to do some recapping and sharing of the obvious. The COVID19 pandemic was…and still is…horrific. On the top of that list has to be the hundreds of thousands of dead and impacted directly by the disease. We were not prepared for a novel Coronavirus – or frankly any global pandemic, and I can only hope that we’ve learned our lessons about that. Then, moving on to non-health impacts, we see that over-outsourcing of supplies and businesses that fell for the quick fix of short-term profits over resiliency left us all far more vulnerable than we deserved to be. We’ll likely be paying for many of these short term decisions for decades to come. The bottom line is:
In general, things that were good pre-pandemic usually became difficult. Things that were bad before became absolutely unworkable.
Here in the US we are all blessed by plentiful and available grocery stores stocked with food and other supplies. Once you overlay a global pandemic you start to see cracks in that availability. Suddenly high-demand items became scarce and overly expensive. Toilet paper, paper towels, rubbing alcohol, hand sanitizer, baking flour, and on and on…all became nearly impossible to find for months. The supply and restock processes that are intended to minimize stock and shelf-time for consumer goods did not serve us well when there was a crisis. This is an important lesson for people and businesses to keep in mind as they prepare for future disruptions. We need to understand what needs to be repaired to improve the process and supply. What risks are we taking if we do not make adjustments for the future?
Then there are the things that were already difficult before. Many US bureaucracies were always awful to deal with. During the pandemic these simply shattered and fell apart. For one example, here in New Jersey (and I’m sure around the country) there are people deserving of Unemployment payments STILL waiting for their first check – now over a year later. Every politician in every state should go without a paycheck until every deserving individual finally gets the payments they contributed toward all their working lives.
Similar problems of course severely impacted processes affecting our travel.
Obtaining the Urgently Required Until It Was Just Postponed Again Real-ID state driver’s license was nearly impossible pre-pandemic, and it became absolutely impossible once it began. I tried for over a year, pre-pandemic to make an appointment at my local New Jersey MVC to get this done. Every time I received a notice that appointments were available I immediately clicked-through to make one, and there were none available. Then, once the pandemic hit, just forget about it. Most of our state’s MVCs were simply closed-down. There was no way to do the other urgently needed things, much-less getting a Real-ID. With my and my wife’s license set to expire soon we did a desperate search around the state for ANY appointments available ANYWHERE, and we found one – two months out – in Vineland, New Jersey – about 130 miles from our house near the bottom of the state. What else could we do? We made the appointment. We figured that at an MVC that far away in the middle of nowhere it would likely be a breeze to get done anyway. HA!
The line – for people with actual fixed-time appointments – was so long, it constantly wrapped around outside the building. The people who worked there said the rules about what was and was not acceptable paperwork to accept for Real-ID had changed so often that they were always in a state of confusion. The security guard mentioned that just that morning they received a bulletin significantly changing the process the MVC needed to follow for Real-ID, and while they were scrambling to try to figure out how to handle that change, an hour later they received another bulletin saying to ignore the first one. This is just a broken process in just another broken agency that needs to be rebuilt from scratch. It never worked well in the best of times, and during the pandemic – as I said – just forget about it.
This isn’t only a state agency issue. Our US government bureaucracies have shown the same broken face to us all. As many of you read in my prior blogs, I needed to get my passport renewed recently (in order to have it in-time for the insane process of obtaining a new driver’s license above.) Once I received it I went to the GOES website to update the information for the Global Entry program I pay for. (Remember those? …give up some personal privacy for easier access when traveling…) The process for updating your passport number and expiration date is clear, simple, and completely broken. When I tried to do it an error message popped-up no matter how many times I tried. The change would not take. Figuring something was wrong I used their form to open a case. After waiting about a week for the response, I received a note that said to do what I already tried to do.
…and then, they sent me a survey to take to rate their response – but in order to take it I “must select a physical location” which is not applicable for an on-line transaction.
None of the above even begins to address the global supply chain / chip shortage we’re all going to be living with for at least a few years. There is no sector of business that will be immune from this part of the crisis. It again all boils down to moving manufacturing to the least expensive places in the world for short-term profits, then realizing that one butterfly flapping its wings the wrong way disables the entire system. Even if we wanted to spend big-bucks to fix that, the ramp to getting it done would take years.
All my traveling during the pandemic was local – car trips to someplace near. So I got lazy and took big suitcases everywhere. Extra clean pillows? Check. Air purifier for the hotel room? Check. Our own mini K-cup coffee maker? Check. Three days of clothes selections for an overnight stay? Check. Well, in a couple of weeks I’m back to flying. I need to exercise my old muscles of getting everything I need for a week or less into one carry-on and one personal item. It’s amazing how much anxiety having to do that again is giving me. I may wind-up checking some of the stuff above anyway, but it bothers me to have to perceive myself as failing like that. I temper my self-loathing with the thought that the things I’ll likely check are things I never needed to travel with before a deadly pandemic. I never brought a UV & HEPA air purifier to my hotel rooms before. And I suppose, as long as I’m bringing one now, there is likely extra room for a few more T-shirts and shorts in the checked bag I’m forced to have. Not my fault, right?
As always, please feel free to write to me with comments or items I should add to a future Not Traveling blog (or if you just need someone to write to.) Stay safe, be well, hug those you’re sheltering with (but no one else) and do your best to stay positive. We’re going to be in this for a while longer.
This article was written by David Danto and contains solely his own, personal opinions.
All image and links provided above as reference under prevailing fair use statutes.
The Explanation for my Not Traveling blogs: In 2014 I was voted by USA Today readers as one of the top ten business travel bloggers in the USA. Now mind you, I turned out to be number ten on the list of ten, but I did make it on (with my thanks to all those who voted.) Now that we’re all stuck at home and not traveling, I had to think about what to do with my blogs. I could stop writing them entirely – waiting till we all get through the current COVID19 pandemic / crisis. I could wax nostalgic and/or complain about past trips. Or, I could focus all of my efforts on my day job – growing the use of collaboration technologies – especially in light of how many people are now forced to use those tools for the first time. In reflecting upon those choices, what I decided to do is compile an ongoing list of observations during the crisis. Some of these may amuse, some may inform, some may sadden and others may help. My goal will be for you to have seen something in a different light than you did before you stopped to read the blog. I was going to apologize for how disjointed these thoughts may seem when put together, but then it dawned on me that feeling disjointed is our new normal – at least for a little while.