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Executive Travel | ON THE MOVE / CAROL SMITH

Frequent Fliers in the Night

Relationships: This couple travels so much, they've even run into each other at the airport.

August 07, 1996|CAROL SMITH

When most couples want to get together for dinner, the logistics are pretty straightforward: They meet and they eat.

For computer consultants Steve and Terri Lazarus, it's not so simple. First, they have to decide which time zone they want to meet in--and then which city.

As both marriage and business partners in their firm, Education Experience, Steve and Terri crisscross the country installing networked computer systems in grocery stores. Their travels often take them in opposite directions. Terri usually gets to a site first to install the computers. Steve follows to train store employees in their operation.

Steve, who has been at this for about six years, has about 1.7 million frequent-flier miles accumulated on Delta alone, and averages about 180,000 miles a year. Terri expects to log more than 100,000 miles this year, her first full year on the road.

"In 1994, I was home 17 days," said Steve. This year, he expects to be home about 40. Terri has been home about a week so far in 1996. They spend only about 30% of their travel time together.

There's no letup in sight. The couple recently got a four-year government contract to install systems in military commissaries in the United States and overseas.

You have to love traveling to be on the road so much, Steve said. "About 80% of what we do is incredibly hard, but the other 20% makes up for it. We meet incredible people."

They route their travel so they can make stopovers to see far-flung friends and family--including each other.

"We try to take time out and meet on weekends in different cities and do something special," Terri said.

They've even run into each other by accident. They once literally passed within a few feet of each other at the airport in Portland, Ore.

"I was running for a Delta plane," he said. "She was running for Alaska. I told her, 'Quick, kiss me before your husband gets here!' "

It helps that they have no children or pets. One of them tries to be at their home in Washington state at least once a month to pay bills, mow the lawn and put a casserole in the freezer for the other.

This system is not without its flaws, however. After working to cure his habit of leaving dirty dishes in the sink, Steve once put an empty lasagna pan back in the freezer to avoid having to wash it, thinking he'd be home next and could wash it then.

Terri came home first, however, and had to laugh even though there was nothing to eat. "I followed his logic," she said.

For now at least, their life is on the road. Here are some of their rules:

There are only two things, besides their passports, that they never leave home without. One is a pair of chopsticks, the other is an all-purpose remote-control unit.

"Chopsticks are great because they don't break in luggage," said Steve. And you can eat just about anything with them in a pinch. Another tip: The bottom of a hotel ice bucket works just fine as a plate.

The Lazaruses started carrying remotes because more hotels are bolting theirs to the night stands, which makes it awkward to watch TV from anywhere but that side of the bed. "You'd need a tool kit to take it off," said Steve.

Their travel schedules make it difficult to get enough rest. "We use the planes to sleep," he said.

That has its downside, of course. A groggy Steve once got off his plane and was irate to discover that the rental car he'd reserved wasn't there. After insisting he'd made the reservation, and producing the reservation number, he discovered he'd gotten off the plane in the wrong city.

Perhaps the biggest trick to managing life on the road is staying in touch with each other. Even though they spend a lot of time apart, Terri said, she and Steve keep their relationship going by talking on the phone at least twice a day.

The last tip Terri has for making travel go smoothly is to be vigilant about safety.

"I always watch and am aware what's around me," she said. She never puts her laptop computer down, even when she's on the phone, and if she notices someone suspicious hanging around, she'll make sure she gets lost in a crowd. She also prefers not to stay on the ground floors of hotels.

Steve learned firsthand how safety-conscious his wife is. He once decided to surprise her by taking the same flight to Hawaii. He finagled a seat next to her, got on first without her knowledge and hid under some blankets. When she sat down, he snuck his hand out to put it on her knee.

"She gave me a really serious jab," he said.

Carol Smith is a freelance writer based in Seattle. If you have suggestions or comments on Executive Travel, write to Daniel Gaines, Executive Travel/Markets Editor, Business Section, Los Angeles Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, CA 90053, or message on the Internet.

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