The trip began horribly. Last Wednesday morning, I departed Houston, TX for my first ever, out-of-town work trip in Portland, Orgeon. Or rather-Beaverton, Oregon- a small town about 20 miles west of downtown Portland. My flight left at the god-awful early hour of 8am and I picked a fight with my boyfriend as we exhaustedly made our way to the airport.
The flight and subsequent layover in Salt Lake, City went smoothly and I got a glimpse of the beautiful, snowcapped moutains. My heart was happy. Unfortunately the high didn’t last. I took an obscenely expensive cab ride (as in I’ve lived in NYC and never paid this much) to the hotel and anxiously awaited my roommate’s arrival.
I’m no stranger to intimate encounters with complete strangers—the recovery rooms are sort of known for this—but I was nervous nonetheless. Would she like me? Would she pressure me to drink or think I’m lame if I don’t? Would she drive me nuts and make me regret I’d come?
All five feet and one inches of blond came bursting through the 3rd floot door, introducing herself as Jocelyn, and hugging me immediately. Within ten minutes she had told me her entire medical history. She was boisterous and direct and extremely sweet. I was both intrigued and scared as we went downstairs to pick up our training material.
The first day of the trip proceeded without incident—lots of introductions, bad catered hotel food and talk of going out with everyone in bed by midnight.
Thursday was a less than enthralling eight hour powerpoint punctuated by a better lunch and more intimate, engaged chatter. We happily accepted new friend requests and tagged one another in goofy Facebook photos. We learned a lot of brand history and even more about one another.
We clinked glasses over dinner and decided on the necessity of going to downtown Portland our last night in town.
An hour later, six of us squeezed into a rental car and made our way toward town. Our chaueffeur Chris, a friend of a friend also in town for a work trip in Washington, had never driven into downtown Portland and neither had any of us, so we drove around aimlessly for some time before finding a suitable parking lot.
At one point, we were in the right-most lane and there were metal tracks on the road as well as either a train or bus approaching us from behind. We were stopped at the light and as the train/bus came soaring closer, the driver laid on the horn. My roommate and a new friend from Denver and I became terrified it wasn’t going to stop, that we were in the grips of some insane Final Destination type moment.
I no longer worried about looking stupid; I wasn’t going to die like this! The three of us charged out of the car just in time to see the metro-style bus slowly come to a hault at the light behind our vehicle. We hopped back in the backseat as our ride turned the corner and laughed our assses off.
After finally parking, we began to explore. We asked the first group of young locals we came across where we should go for fun. They suggested a gay bar up the street and we made our way to a colorful joint called Embers.
The next 90 minutes consisted of photo-ops with delightful drag queens, insane dancing, and meeting up with another friend’s friend, our new Portland guide, Gerard. He proceeded to bring us through the fried-rice-littered streets of Chinatown to another downtown hotspot, CC’s. It was a much smaller venue that hadn’t yet come alive and I guess Jocelyn grew bored. Before I knew it, I was “Hilda” and got roped into my roommate’s twisted prank with a couple innocent Portlander bystanders.
After that, it was on to another club, more ridiculous merriment, and then chaos and confusion as it related to our going back to the hotel plans. We lost three from our group and the rest of us danced on.
We eventually found ourselves at the iconic and much hyped, VooDoo Donuts. I ordered a delicious vegan variety with purple icing and purple sprinkles. My roommate ordered the ODB and upon biting into the peanut-butter, oreo-capped concoction, I immediately regretted my modest choice.
We finally hopped into a cab near 1am and shared our adventures with a Nigerian driver who wasn’t a bit bashful about telling us we should travel with him to Seattle the next day. It was a wonderfully weird night.
Aside from learning that I absolutely adore Portland, I realized a few other things on this trip as well:
It’s always ok to be me. I don’t know why (except that I’m human), but I still have moments where I’m afraid of being 100% me. I fear I won’t be liked or accepted, and in fact, a very primal need feels threatened—that of belonging. Humans have evolved to survive in numbers, in groups, and those that were cast aside literally died off. And while our very physical lives aren’t in danger anymore, our social life may be.
Fortunately, I was able to interact authentically, nuances and all, and find acceptance among my peers. It was amazing to know I could be honest about my past and even present difficulties with people I hardly knew and be met with warm support.
It’s good to get wild. I’m someone who naturally thrives in solitude, a lover of peace and quiet. I don’t do large gatherings or parties or clubs or anything with load noise and lots of people, save the occasional concert. And I’m a recovering alcoholic so I also don’t drink or go to bars. And yet, I was able to go to these venues, not drink, and have a blast. I danced until it hurt, ate donuts in the street and conversed with near-strangers all night long.
It should be noted that the wonderfully warm, funny, welcoming Portland spirit made it easy to unwind. I felt right at home 2,200 miles away. In fact, I felt more comfortable, free, and profoundly me in Portland than I probably ever have in Texas.
Allow others their darkness. If there’s one thing that was confirmed for me this trip, it was this: Everyone has their vice. Drugs, cigarettes, drama, obsessive working or working out—whatever it is— we all have our modes of shutting down, disconnecting, and avoiding pain. The best we can do is be understanding of the ways in which we all go unconscious, love one another where we’re at, and help where we can.
I try to bless everyone I come in contact with, particularly those that irk me, and this work trip was no different. I honor those difficult individuals around me for the bold lessons they inspire. I also recognize that I’m the difficult one at times and I grant others the same forgiveness I seek.
“Compassion is the most profitable business skill.”
Respect the moment. There were multiple times during this trip in which I could have easily veered into regretful or anxious thinking. There was that cab ride that immediately swallowed half my funds and that whole getting lost downtown and almost losing my phone and mediating heated arguments in the middle of Chinatown. But I didn’t allow any one of these moments to define the experience or my outlook on it. Instead, I tried to simply listen, look for the lesson, and honor the teacher.
And teachers come in all forms—airport check-in lines, taxi drivers, and yes, even drunken, childish arguments. It’s in these moments, as much as any other, that I can choose to reconnect to my highest self, my divine center. I can practice nonjudgmental observance and see the beauty in every single squalid second.
Have you had any wild and crazy work trips or travels in general? What did you learn from them? Let me know in the comments below. And may you find peace wherever you are…Xo