Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Microsoft steals bread meant for the homeless, and other food tales of the road

When Microsoft shipped Office 98, the Redmond marketing team set up a roadshow to demo the new software at Apple offices (yes, Apple offices) around the country. I was pretty good at giving demos, so somehow I wound up getting asked to give the Office 98 demo on this tour. This was a 50-minute demo, part of a half-day program. The plan was for morning and afternoon demos in 5 cities in 5 days, which sounded pretty fun to me.

The tour schedule looked like this: Monday in Dallas, Tuesday in Atlanta, Wednesday in D.C., Thursday in New York, and Friday in Boston. There were only four of us on the tour. We would start the first demo at 9 am, finish up by 1 pm, take an hour for lunch, do another show in the afternoon with a new audience, then pack up and race to the airport to fly to the next city.

The pace was pretty intense for that week. There wasn't any time to go out for lunch, so we had to rely on whatever was brought in to the Apple offices, which varied widely. Dinner was worse: we never had time for it, because we had to rush to the airport. If we were lucky, there were still places to get something to eat at the airport. Otherwise it was vending machines and leftovers.

On Tuesday, we stayed a Doubletree Hotel in Atlanta. We got there around midnight and had Doubletree chocolate chip cookies for dinner. That was pretty good!

By Wednesday in Washington I figured out that we were never getting a decent dinner. Plus, the Apple office that day provided tasty sub sandwiches at lunch. Clever guy that I was, I stuffed an extra sandwich in my bag for dinner. I was set. When we got to the airport, late as usual, I looked in my bag to find the delicious sandwich had leaked Italian dressing on everything. That bag smelled like a deli for years afterward.

That night we flew to New York, my first time there. For some reason, Microsoft's travel department had booked us at the Waldorf-Astoria. I figured I'd never be back there again on my own dime, which so far has been true. Although we checked in very late, room service was still available. Since it was my first trip to New York, I ordered a New York steak and New York cheesecake. I probably thought that was really clever. Since I wasn't paying, I also took a $29 jar of peanuts in a Waldorf-Astoria logo jar. I still have the jar.

On Thursday, traffic and weather conspired to get us to JFK airport very late. No shops or food counters were open in our remote terminal, including a Panera bread cart that had just closed. We hadn't eaten all day and begged to buy some bread, but the Panera dude said no. I watched as he put all the leftover bread into a large plastic bag. "Can we buy that bread?" I asked. No, he said. It was going to the homeless shelter. 

He finished bagging the bread, put the bag on the cart, and left. The four of us debated what to do. We were hungry, and all the shops were closed. Once we were sure the guy was out of sight, we carefully opened the bag and grabbed eight rolls and four pastries. We closed the bag up again and left a $20 bill tucked under it. As we ate the meager dinner, I wondered what it would be like to get fired for embarrassing Microsoft by stealing bread from homeless people.

On the last leg of the trip, we arrived in Boston after midnight and got to the hotel at about 1 am. When I checked in, the desk clerk produced a box that had been shipped to me. This was the first night of Passover, and my amazing wife had packed and sent a box of Passover food goodies for me to enjoy. Needless to say, that was the best meal of the whole trip.

And on Saturday we went home.