Rote Trips (Part 1)

Rote: mechanical or habitual repetition of something to be learned. A rote trip differs from a one-off road trip in that you have the advantage of experience. Rote trips, by definition, have the disadvantage of repetition, which means driver exhaustion and vehicle fatigue.

Among the unexpected lessons learned from selling drugs professionally, route planning tops my list. My first year as a specialty pharmaceutical rep I drove well over 50,000 miles covering my Pacific Northwest territory: the I-5 corridor from the Oregon-California border to the end of the interstate at the Washington-Canadian border (including a couple of ferry rides out to remote islands).

Every Monday morning dressed in my suit and high heels, I loaded up my suitcase, food bag, and coffee to-go cup. Leaving Beaverton, Oregon, I drove north, first visiting offices in Vancouver, Washington and then Tacoma. I stayed over two nights in Renton (less expensive suburb than Seattle proper) and made my calls in Seattle and around Puget Sound.

On an “A” week I continued north up toward the Canadian border catching physicians and nurse practitioners along the way. On Thursdays, I drove back and covered Portland both Thursday afternoon and all day Friday. (By all day I mean until 2 pm when the doctors would not see me anymore).

On a “B” week I headed south picking up any offices I missed, spending a night in my own apartment on Wednesday night. I used Thursday and Friday for Portland practitioners and offices on the way to California. My last calls were around 2 pm, but I had a longer drive home on Friday evenings of my “B” weeks and arrived after dinner time.

Saturdays meant sifting through the week’s mail, attending to laundry and dry cleaning, emptying out and cleaning food travel containers, filing reports, and conducting an inventory of samples and coupons.

Sunday, then, meant church and packing up my suitcase, fueling up the car and loading up the trunk with marketing materials, coupons, tchotchkes, and anything else I might need for the week. Any catered breakfasts, lunches or dinners for the upcoming week I booked while on the road.

Having a regimented schedule meant several things: I always knew where I needed to be, and that barring any unforeseen circumstance, should be able to get into the practitioner’s office (I had all their office hours). I had my favorite, healthful places to eat; knew where to pick up lunches for office lunch ‘n’ learns; located clean, safe gas stations which took our fleet fuel cards; always had hotel reservations; and never missed an appointment for a sales call. This requires planning.

One day, I got off my route both in time and space. Exhausted, I had pulled into a gas station to use the restroom, grab a box of junior mints, and fuel up. As I left the parking lot, I realized I had no idea where I was going. Confronted with the blue signs, I-5N to Seattle, go right, and I-5S to Portland, go left… I stopped. The dingy gray, uniform sky gave me no answers. I did not know if it was mid-morning or mid-afternoon. I did not know if it was Monday or Thursday.

I knew it wasn’t Friday – Fridays never saw a Seattle sign. The car behind me honked. I grabbed my Palm Pilot and checked the date: Thursday, head south.


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