Recently I met representatives from two countries where I do business, lunched with one of my employers, attended a meeting with another and had drinks with a third. Then I ate dinner with five potential suppliers.
Convention? Trade show? No. Just my annual trip to New York.
Your industry may have its critical mass in Silicon Valley, Detroit, Nashville or Kathmandu. Mine, like so many others, is centered in midtown Manhattan, clustered between the chaos of Columbus Circle and the clutter of Times Square.
I live far, far away from New York City and communicate by the usual electronic means. But once a year or so, I start thinking I ought to go see those with whom I do business--and give them the chance to see me. The trip never fails to create new relationships and renew old ones. So I buy a ticket, grit my teeth and get on a plane.
Why grit my teeth? If you've ever done business in New York, you understand. The city requires a different mindset.
On this trip, I was shocked to see a $63 dinner entree and a $21 margarita.
I spent 30 minutes in a motionless taxi on West 35th Street, time that was utterly useless since my phone had long since lost its charge. But I also had access to several of the world's finest art museums and half a dozen music acts I'd go out of my way to catch if they ever came through my hometown.
I've been traveling to New York on business for two decades. Before that, I lived there. Yes, it's a difficult place--dirty, noisy, frantic, expensive, often rude. But it's also the creative and commercial center of the universe, so we need it more than it needs us (which, upon reflection, may be part of the problem). Long ago I learned a few truths that help limit my frustration.
New York is a foreign country. Not just in terms of cuisine or language. Its currency, the New York Dollar, has a vastly different value than the greenback we use everywhere else. You'd expect to pay more for goods and services in London or Tokyo, so do the same in New York. If you escape from a business dinner for two for less than $250, consider yourself lucky. Especially if you're in midtown. Which leads me to …
Geography matters. Like all great cities, New York isn't a single place; it's dozens of places crammed together. Brooklyn hipsters dress and speak differently than Wall Street bankers, and a Chinese meal downtown will bear little resemblance to one served on the Upper West Side. When deciding on lodging or setting up meetings, pick the area that suits your needs, keeping in mind that there's a neighborhood for everything.
Lower your expectations. That $300 hotel room just isn't going to be as big as the one you stayed in last month for half the price in Kansas City. That woman who clubs you with her shopping bag as she passes on the sidewalk isn't going to stop and apologize like someone in Houston might. And don't be shocked if you dash into a coffee shop in urgent need of a restroom and get turned away.
… but raise your expectations. Maybe you enjoy reading or watching a ballgame in your hotel room at night, or seeing a movie on the road. Save that for Rochester or Reno. Don't waste your New York hours doing anything but (a) being fabulously productive or (b) having the time of your life. See a show. Eat a magnificent dinner. Call on that customer who never answers your e-mails.
New York can seem like the worst place in the world--especially now, when it's chilly and gray and winter has gone on forever. But its possibilities are limitless. While you're there, get out and do something you couldn't do anywhere else. There's plenty of time to relax back home.