Virtual realities…

I spent the last week at the JW Marriott Resort in Orlando, FL on business. For four days I didn’t leave the resort grounds as I was involved in business meetings from morning until late night.  But nothing was missing even though I was confined to the hotel: the vistas were incredible from the window, the pool inviting, the lazy river tempting, the walking paths paved smooth, and not a leaf out of place.  Not a leave out of place...Contained within the hotel was a convenience store, gym, wellness clinic and spa, Starbucks, clothes shops, restaurants, cleaners, shoe shiners, a news stand, bank… you name it, it was available: all to be charged to the room in a simple signature.  In the mornings a maid came and cleaned up my messy room, brought fresh white sheets and towels and removed all traces of waste from my room. At night another uniformed woman came in and turned down my bed, leaving chocolates on the pillows. I didn’t have to mess with the vulgarity of daily living; I didn’t even need to handle cash.

For those four days I breathed in conditioned air, bathed with spa soaps, ate gourmet foods. I listened to papers and presentations by people who are top in the field: the brightest minds on the bleeding edge of educational technologies. Every hall conversation was polite, and elevator rides were friendly.  Those I encountered were servile: at my beck and call wanting nothing more than to grant me a magical experience.

The one outing I took from the hotel was in a large luxury bus, designed to take groups to and from resort locations.  I sat with forty others in leather bucket seats which reclined, listening to my own private music as a friendly porter carried us to an Argentine restaurant: a facsimile of Carnivàle, complete with tango dance lessons, open bar, Cuban cigar rolling, fortune telling, artists painting, etc… we were transported to another world just twenty minutes from the hotel.  We could buy ‘authentic’ Argentine crafts made in China as souvenirs.

On the way to the restaurant, we drove through neighborhood after neighborhood of McMansions: each with large SUVs parked in the drive.  Occasionally you’d see the armored Hummer taking up more than its fair share of the driveway.  Endless suburbia stretched before us, disrupted by the occasional strip mall. The way was paved smooth.

I arrived back to Chicago late in the evening at O’Hare to find myself amongst other weary travelers, looking for their luggage. Conversations swirled around me in Hindi, Spanish, Polish and Greek. People pushed and shoved each other out of the way, children cried, husbands got short with their wives.  The taxi driver spoke little English, the cab was filthy and smelled from an overpowering air freshner.  He weaved his way through traffic at breakneck speed, bouncing this exhausted passenger from side to side.  Nausea ensued.

We drove through the Pakistani neighborhood where you can buy halal meat, then the Indian neighborhood where saris glittered the shop windows. We wove our way to my building through the West Indian and Ethiopian districts where the tang of Injera hung in the air . The doorman was not at the front desk and I had to wait several minutes to be let in.  The night air was cold.  The mail box was jammed with the week’s correspondence, much of which was balled up in the back of my box.  My apartment smelled musty and the cat litter needed changing.  She’d thrown up on the carpet in a couple of spots.  She greeted me with loud complaints about my absence, all the while rubbing cat hair all over my legs.

I was home. And I loved it.



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