When you can't get to the office, why not bring the office with you?
Detroit's Metro Airport and I are destined to dance. For the second time in seven months I'm stuck in perhaps the least road-warrior-friendly airport on the planet -- no tables, no chairs near data jacks, and certainly no workstations. I curse the act of God that caused my connecting flight to Pittsburgh to be canceled (the next one doesn't take off for five hours!), and then crouch down on a scrap of floor near a wall with an outlet and open my laptop.
After a few hours of jiggly typing, I decide to retrieve my E-mail. In a busy waiting area I find a stand-up phone with a data jack, and I do my dance of the Flying Wallendas to balance the laptop on its teetering case on my bent thigh, which is lifted high enough to allow the data cord to connect the computer to the phone. One false move and the whole schmear will come crashing to the floor, which is not a particularly good thing for the laptop -- never mind my toes. I dial in, retrieve my messages, and disconnect. Then I find myself another spot on another floor near another outlet and resume my lotuslike pose.
After a few rounds of this I begin to wonder: Why hasn't anyone thought of inventing a laptop case that converts into a portable office so that when a jamoke like me is stuck in a joint like this, he can use the case as a portable work desk? As it turns out, somebody has.
In fact, some of the solutions are quite good. My two favorites come at the problem from very different angles: One builds a desktop from your luggage cart. The second unfolds to reveal a roomy workstation. To taunt you, I'll save my favorite for last.
Hey, Slip Me Over
For the road warrior who cottons to a wheeled suitcase with a pop-up handle, GoOffice.com offers the Navicase (800-373-9635; $129.95), a thin leather case that hooks over the handle of the luggage cart to form a makeshift desktop. Once unzipped, the case stays open at a 90-degree angle -- a perfect platform for your laptop. When zipped, it sits atop the suitcase itself, so you can safely wheel your computer and your clothes in tandem.
If you don't have one of those luggage carts, don't despair: you can attach the case to the back of a narrow chair. And if you're literally on the road, you can attach it to your car's steering wheel -- though typing while driving is not advisable. If you don't have anything to attach it to, well, it's still a nice case.
The Navicase is not only sturdy but also very easy to set up and put away. But it does have some downsides: First, there's no space in the case to store more than a power cord, a few disks, and a thin folder or two. Second, the portion of the case in which the laptop sits is wider than the laptop itself (to allow for those few accessories), so the laptop tends to slide around a bit. But what's most annoying is that when you type, the zipper on the case can dig into your wrists because the laptop sits low in the case. While this sensation may be a pleasant way to remind yourself that you're alive when stuck in God knows where, it's not optimal. You could solve the problem by purchasing some magazines to place under the laptop to lift it up above the irritating zipper. (Bridal magazines have good heft, particularly June issues.) But then you've got an exacerbated sliding problem on your hands (or lap, as the case may be), since, as you know, glossy magazines are slippery devils. This is not a good thing.
While the Navicase is the best transformable laptop case I found that works with a luggage cart, the zipper conundrum disturbs me. But then, I probably have too much time to think about these things.
A Corner Office on Your Lap
By far the best designed (and most queerly named) convertible laptop case I've come across is the Lapdog, from Shaun Jackson Design (888-662-4300; $139.95). When your laptop is safely ensconced in the Lapdog and everything is closed and buckled up, the case makes for quite a compact package. When you face the handles of the case toward you, unbuckle the plastic buckles, loosen the bottom Velcro strap, unfold the two side bags (which form "outrigger" pockets), and then open the inner protective wrap (it's about a five-second process), you've got a portable workstation right on your lap.
The bag is made of nylon, suede, and a proprietary material, which keep it -- and the laptop itself -- from slipping, whether you're using it on your lap, on a table, or on an airplane tray. (The nylon is also allegedly bulletproof, but I didn't test this claim.) The outrigger pockets, which fold neatly inside when the case is closed, are large enough to hold a power cord, an extra battery, disks, and other peripherals. There's also enough space for a cell phone, pens, and assorted tchotchkes. And you can fold over a portion of the protective wrap to form a wrist rest to use while you type.
There's not a lot of space in the Lapdog for folders or papers, so it won't take the place of a briefcase. Nor can you jam as much stuff into it as you might in a more traditional laptop case. (I know. I tried.) But there is enough space to store everything for portable computing, which is what a laptop case was made to do in the first place. Moreover, nothing unzips or comes unattached or needs to be put back together when you're done working and ready to pack up. Just fold, buckle, and go.
You may find, too, that the Lapdog has an added bonus: It is strikingly elegant. Which means you could get an invite from those dignitaries after all.
Jeffrey L. Seglin is the author of The Good, the Bad, and Your Business: Chooosing Right When Ethical Dilemmas Pull You Apart, (John Wiley & Sons, 2000).