I’ve been on the road a fair amount lately, and I’ve been facing the classic business traveler’s dilemma: I’ve got to be in another city for a meeting that begins at 10 a.m. Should I get up early and take the first flight of the day that will get me there just in time, or should I give up a night at home and head to the location of the meeting the night before?
My position on this unenviable choice has changed. I used to be all in favor of staying home and spending as much time with my family as possible, and then getting up before the crack of dawn, hitting the airport, and trusting in the benevolence of the Travel Gods. Then I had one instance where the Travel Gods weren’t kind, my flight was delayed and then rerouted, and I ended up missing an important meeting. The people involved were gracious about it, but I vowed that I would never let that happen again.
One other thing changed that also altered my perspective: I realized that I simply never got a good night’s sleep the night before, no matter what the circumstances. My subconscious brain was so worried about oversleeping that I was tossing and turning all night, waking up every 15 minutes to look bleary-eyed at the clock radio before finally, wearily, giving up on trying to get some shuteye and getting up even earlier than I really needed to to make the flight.
So now I always — always — go in the night before. If the Travel Gods are unkind, as they frequently are, I’ll just get in even later than planned. But I’ll still be there in time for the meeting, and in the meantime I just might get some sleep, too.
This morning I’m up and out the door on my way to Cleveland. I’ve got to pick up a colleague and get up to The Best Location in the Nation by 9 a.m. or so — which means getting up and hitting the road early.
Typically people express sympathy when this occurs, but I don’t mind rising during the wee hours and getting started on the day. I’ve been an early bird for as long as I can remember. I take after my grandmother, who said with a chuckle that she liked getting up at the “crack of dawn.” (I always enjoyed that phrase, too, but Tom Waits kind of ruined it when he said, in the bass-driven intro to the classic album Nighthawks at the Diner, that he was “so horny that the crack of dawn better be careful around me.”) When UJ and I spent the night at her house, she and I inevitably would get up by 6 a.m. and have our breakfast, while UJ and Grampa Neal slept in.
We’ve all got our unique circadian rhythms, and there is no right or wrong way. Winston Churchill stayed up until all hours and stayed in bed until late morning but was incredibly productive nevertheless. For me, “sleeping in” means staying in bed until 7 a.m., and if I tried to sleep later than that I’d just end up with a groggy and unpleasant headache. I feel sharp and energetic in the morning, and I want to get up and get going. When your body is telling you its time to rise and shine, why not just reconcile yourself to the inevitable and do the best with it?
So by the time most of you read this I’ll have been up for hours, whistling and listening to the radio and piloting my car on my way north on the familiar trip up I-71. Doze on, sleepyheads! This early bird likes the crack of dawn, Tom Waits notwithstanding.