grey world

-a short story-

Everything about today went exactly as planned. Every meal, every flight, the trip from the concourse to the rental car garage, and from there to his very planned meals and meetings. This was, of course, by meticulous design. 

Greyson’s home office, as best as he remembers it, has an entire bookshelf dedicated to notebooks and planners that have helped keep him exactly on schedule for the last 30 years of his life. The mention of the memory of his home office is due to the fact that Greyson Newell’s job keeps him on the road roughly 80 per cent of the year. In a lot of ways, he has become too good at his job, so good at planning his weeks to run exactly as they should that being home, however briefly he is there, feels more like work than being at work does. He liked it this way.

Monday morning: 
Alarm goes off at 4:30am.
Brief shower followed by an inspection of his shave from the night before.
En route to the airport, exactly a 23 minute drive, by 5:15am.
Park in Lot B, near the shuttle stop with which he has convinced himself   provides the easiest pickup and drop off at week’s end.
Through airport security in roughly 11 minutes due to his status with his preferred airline and smart packing. 
Blueberry muffin and black coffee from the sub shop in the food court where nobody else thinks to buy coffee. The line at the place that the average person would want coffee from is too long, it’s just coffee. Four dollars and thirteen cents- every time.
First to board his plane, first to take his seat- 6F – every time. He prefers the window to be on his right.

The 7am flight is a little later than the experienced business man generally prefers. Something about being on the first flight out of town brings him a purpose that he can’t seem to find elsewhere. A feeling of accomplishment that he has a jump on his week when most of the world is still hitting snooze or watching the morning news.

Grey’s home airport isn’t that of a major metropolis, but is still large enough to provide the comforts that frequent business flyers are accustomed to. He has become so used to this Monday routine that he barely even notices the weather as he performs his weekly ritual of leaving town. He thinks it was cold outside today but he was only exposed for the handful of minutes that it took him to walk from his car to the concourse shuttle. He knew exactly what the weather would be like in his destination city though, as any planner would. He couldn’t be bothered by the temporary nature of the weather in his home town, as it primarily served as a starting point for his travels to somewhere else. Somewhere else is where he felt at home, and it was where he was heading today.

Three decades of reliable job performance has enabled Mr. Newell to enjoy almost any luxury that he could choose. His discipline, however, has made him a man of predictable tastes. A bank account that is large enough to afford a luxury sedan was not reflected by his choice to instead drive a more practical vehicle with cloth seats and a hundred thousand miles on the odometer. He finds peace in practicality.

The same practicality that guided his choice in vehicle guided a closet full of nice, but not too nice, sport coats. Navy and charcoal, with one tan jacket that serves the purpose of entertaining clients in warm weather. He doesn’t care for the fit of the tan jacket, a little too boxy for his liking, but not boxy enough for him to take it back to the tailor. It was perfectly sufficient, and he was comfortable with that.

This particular Monday morning flight is one that Grey takes about once a month. There are four primary routes that make up his territory, and he prefers to schedule his routes in an order that is as predictable as the rest of his life. While sitting at his gate, he recognizes three or four other people who take this flight with similar frequency. The well dressed woman, maybe 45, in high heels and a modest suit. Pretty and well-kempt, he assumes that she has probably worked hard enough to enjoy the kind of comfort that he could afford, if he chose to do so. Her hair was a sandy brown, with the roots slightly grown in. A beauty that he felt was well earned and would persist for several more years. She generally sits in the exit rows, meaning their interaction is limited to a brief acknowledgement of each other every few weeks as they wait at this gate for this flight. Greyson never understood the appeal of the exit row seat. A man of just about six feet in height, he felt perfectly comfortable with the amount of legroom that his average seat provided, and felt that trying to secure more wasn’t worth the hassle. One of the other regulars, another exit row-er, was a younger man in an expensive navy suit with a slight windowpane pattern to it. The suit was strong but subtle, as though to say that he was successful but not showy. His hair was short, usually shaved, and he wore a nice watch on his left wrist. Grey assumed it was nice anyway, he didn’t know much about watches but most people can spot a nice watch regardless of their familiarity with the specifics.

 Mr. Newell feels at home around these people, though he isn’t confident enough in any of their names to say them out loud. He thinks he heard the pretty woman in the suit introduce herself as Cait once, but maybe he made that up. The humiliation of mislabeling someone to their face would be too much for him to bear, so he instead sticks to nods and simple hellos. Aside from the embarrassment of getting the name wrong, there is the possibility of someone thinking that he was a creep for knowing their name though he had never introduced himself. The opportunity to introduce himself by name seems to have passed ages ago, as is the declaration of the unwritten rules of interaction with strangers that we often make up in our heads.

“Good morning Mr. Greyson,” says the middle-aged airline employee as he scans his ticket, using his first name to build on the airline’s reputation as a friendly place to fly. He seemed sincere enough.

“Morning” he says, politely but reserved. Grey often thinks that if someone were to have to eulogize him, the terms they would use to do so would be exactly that- polite and reserved.

Though he assumes many people like the familiarity of being a regular with airline staff or bar staff or the staff at any other place that someone frequents, Greyson Newell prefers to maintain a sense of anonymity. A desire that seems incompatible with the meticulously regular schedule that he keeps week after week. Maybe it’s not part of his personality to make friends easily. He doesn’t believe himself to be unlikeable, he just has to work a little harder to create small talk than most.

In fact, part of the reason that Mr. Newell has been so successful at his job for so long is that he thrives on the loneliness his lifestyle provides. Never a citizen of any town for more than a day or two, his weekends at home are spent thinking about the familiar restaurants and familiar views that he is going to see on his next week’s trip. The diner near his hotel in Portland, the coffee shop in Reno where they make a pretty decent turkey sandwich with avocado- Greyson Newell lives a life that many would consider boring and lonely, and he prefers it that way. It’s safe and controlled.

Contentment with one’s loneliness is a learned trait. Everyone responds differently to being alone, and plenty of poor relationship decisions are made in the name of avoiding loneliness altogether. All of this being true, the focus of this story has made his lonesome bed and is content to sleep in it night after night.

The lonely patterns of Grey’s life provided him with a peace that the chaotic outside world couldn’t. Unlike a majority of men, he did not fear being alone. In fact, he harbored a fair amount of fear of the opposite, and his hermetically sealed lifestyle of emotionless travel from one city to the next enabled him to feel safe from harm. Not dissimilar to working on an assembly line, he found purpose in his work, and his employer found financial prosperity in his continued success. A beneficial relationship in the simplest terms.

This particular trip was to Albuquerque, New Mexico, the land of enchantment. A quick two hour flight and favorable time change usually lands him in town well before his first client visit, and today was no exception. Something about the giant sky and purity of the desert air always felt right to Grey. Today it was particularly crisp, a small smattering of clouds framed the sky as the sun began taking it’s first position of the morning. Grey had always wondered if he could live in the Southwest and be happy. Happy as anywhere else he supposed. New Mexico always felt a little understated to him, a quality that he appreciated. A color palette of reds and sandy yellows make up a monotonous blend of inconspicuous buildings and Native American inspired architecture. These buildings are of course not actually inspired by the American Indians that occupy the area, but were enough so for someone from out of town to place it as part of the charming description that occupies the portion of his mind dedicated to this particular day on this particular part of his sales route. New Mexico had a charm that Greyson Newell enjoyed.

This part of the country felt easier than most to him. Maybe it was the minimal national attention that this part of the world received. It felt as intentionally understated as he did, just going about it’s business for the mutual benefit of all who lived there. Nobody moves to New Mexico to get famous, which so often seems to be a measure by which people determine if a region is one worth moving to. Of course that isn’t something that Grey cared about, he just liked to occupy his mind with that question about every city in which he did business. He figured that, should he ever retire, he might find some peace in that part of the world, as he was today.

A dedicated observer of those around him, Mr. Newell always felt it appropriate to listen to public radio in the city that was kind enough to host him for the day. It was his way of adding context to his contribution to that society. It also gave him talking points for his client interactions for the day. 

~A recent report by the Albuquerque Journal finds that one hundred and fourteen people were shot in the city of Albuquerque in only one hundred and twelve days~ states the calm, generic female public radio voice. Greyson couldn’t help but find comfort in how similar public radio personalities were in all of the cities he visited. It was almost as though the same news crew somehow read the headlines for every city in the country at 10 til the hour, every hour.

Several other headlines poured from the speakers as he went about his quest to arrive at his first meeting of the day. Everything he had done to that point, from the moment his alarm went off at 2:30am local time, had been for the purpose of having two business meetings and a lunch that he hoped would be as unremarkable as they were successful. Two meetings and a lunch was the drumbeat by which he marched every day, in every city.

Mr. Newell’s business wasn’t one that would be considered important by most. In most settings he had made peace with not being the most interesting person in the room. After all, he found comfort in his relative anonymity, to have a flashy job that others found intriguing would be out of character. It was, however, a business that had secured him with financial stability and a reason to keep traveling. Both of which were things that he appreciated.

As a man of structure, the average travel day – which is to say the average day – consisted of two client meetings. Mr. Newell was at a point in his career where he wasn’t what you might refer to as hungry for business. He had put in the hard work in his early years and had now taken his position as casual entertainer of clients and renewer of contracts. If things went how he preferred, his morning meeting would last from around 10:30 am until noon, followed by lunch with that client. Lunch would generally last from about 12:30 to 2pm, at which point he would drive across town to his afternoon meeting, which would almost always be scheduled at 3pm. He knew his clients and they knew him, there was a respect mutual enough for each party to know the drill. Each side maintaining their respective positions as signers of contracts and shakers of hands. Most people with high paying jobs actually just sign contracts and shake hands for a living, a fact that would make the working class pretty upset if they knew the truth- as though they need more reasons to be upset.

With his clients, Grey felt like a different person. Each client interaction was an opportunity to, within reason, be whoever he wanted to be. He no longer had to be quiet and reserved but could instead be something of an outgoing sports fan. Clients love sports, that much is true of every industry. He found it to be so true that at times he wondered if his clients were pretending to like sports just to relate to him, as he was actively pretending to like sports to relate to them. Ultimately though, like most things, he decided that it didn’t matter.

“We’ll have to play a round of golf next time I’m in town!” he’d say.

“Absolutely, I know a great place!” they’d say in response.

Grey wasn’t very good at golf, but that didn’t matter because talking about playing golf was much better for business than actually playing golf would be. As a man who was both naturally subdued and soft-spoken, Grey assumed that his clients viewed their interactions with him in the same way that he did, as a means to do business. He couldn’t imagine they would ever actually want to spend time with him in any meaningful way outside of normal business hours. Based on these assumptions, he’d have his meetings and be on his way to the next city to repeat this process day after day. 

Early flight, morning meeting, lunch, afternoon meeting, quiet dinner alone, bed. This was his life, and he felt safe in this pattern. He could control this existence without fear of being let down. He could be a regular without any of the normal pressures of being a regular. Life was exactly as he felt it could be at that point in his life.

A firm handshake and an understanding smile ended Grey’s workday in Albuquerque. Tomorrow morning he would experience a carbon copy of today. The same flight from a different airport, the same clients and the same meetings in a different city. Another dinner alone and another empty bed, a life that many would find underwhelming- but a life that made Greyson Newell feel at home. 

Someday his time on the road would come to an end. He tries not to think about it much. The idea of losing his comfort and his purpose was often times a distraction from his daily duties, from the job and routine that he served and that served him in return. His life wasn’t much, but it was comfortable, and maybe that is exactly what this life is meant to be.