Except that I got there just after a high school swim team. Probably 30 kids milled around, talking to one another, goofing around as their compatriots fiddled with the automagical boarding pass machines. Then, of course, they all had to check bags, which meant they had to dig out some form of photo ID (which included their school IDs - airports take those?). Then they all had to go through security. I held my tongue and practiced patience while periodically glancing at my cell phone for the time. It was unlikely I'd be able to get food, at that point.
"You with them?" TSA guy asked, smiling.
I shook my head with slow, deliberate annoyance.
"You are now," he said, looking at my boarding pass. "They're on your flight."
"You're kidding, right?"
He grinned and mirrored my head shake. "Good luck," he told me, handing me back my driver's license and boarding pass.
I texted Noodlebowl and threatened to fire her for booking me on that flight. My friend Z told me I can't, not until Noodlebowl finishes $project.
I made it through security with about 20 minutes before boarding was to start. I went to the Boston Beer Works bar, ordered a beer, and asked the bartender what the fastest thing she had was. I was expecting a salad, but she suggested the chicken quesadilla. It came in about 2.5 minutes. With the guacamole on it, it wasn't bad, and I was out of there in about 15 minutes.
Jet Blue was awesome, though, and all the kids zoned out on their seat-back tv screens (as did I, when the audiobook and iPod games got tedious).
I took a Car (not a cab, which would've been more, the ground transportation guru told me) to the conference hotel. Which was in the middle of suburban nowhere. No stores that I could see, no character, no soul. Just identical hotels and apartment complexes. I checked in, made a phone call to let a friend know I'd made it safely, and walked around the grounds. The pool was lovely in the night, with a waterfall on one edge, softly lit throughout. It was quiet, and humid, and hot enough that the jeans I'd worn on the plane were uncomfortable.
I breathed in the wet, thick air, and relaxed.
The conference was the following day, and I made it to the conference area with time to grab some breakfast before the introductory remarks. I managed to track down iGrrrl in the large ballroom area where we were directed to eat. (As an aside, it was great to see iGrrrl there - we had a bit of a chance to catch up, and it was really nice to have someone who went to different sessions and got some different information about NIH politics (which are far too boring to go into here)).
I complained that night to Z, who works in a different division at my university, that most of what I heard just reinforced what I already knew. Where were the concrete suggestions? Where was the new information? Did I really need to hear what each funding mechanism code means at the beginning of every fucking session?
"Conferences like this are like church," she told me. "People with experience go there to be with people who think like them."
I'm convinced she was right. I took a lot of notes that day, and learned the occasional tidbit, or had the occasional insight. But mostly, I was drifting in and out of the talk, seriously tuning in only when people asked questions.
After the last session, there was a reception with free food and one free alcoholic beverage. There was also a Hawaiian shirt contest, in which I did not participate. My shirt had short sleeves, though, baring my tattoos, or at least parts of them.
I hadn't been there long - just managed to get my drink - when a couple walked up to me, two women, obviously together. One of the women worked as a sort of grant-wrangler (sort of like me) for a children's hospital that had recently been acquired as a teaching hospital for Johns Hopkins. The administration is pushing the faculty there to do research, when there is no research culture. I didn't have my business card on me (because who thinks about these things?), but I told her my institution and told her to check out our office's website - there are lots of resources there.
Jan, the woman who worked for the hospital, just wanted to chat. Her partner, however, wanted her to actually learn something from me.
"Are you trying to network me?" Jan asked her, a small smile on her face.
"Somebody has to," her partner said, smirking back.
I liked them. They told me they'd lived in Massachusetts for a while, and that they'd been married in Provincetown. The partner was an Episcopalian, and shook my hand upon learning that I am, too ("I was raised as a Southern Baptist, though," I confessed. "God bless you," she responded with sympathy, squeezing my hand).
I woke up Friday morning, the day I needed to check out of my hotel before going to the rest of the conference, in time to make the 7:30AM "networking" meeting about multi-investigator grants. That's our top priority, in my office, and it seemed kind of important. I read a few blogs and then went out onto my first floor porch ( on the other floors, it was a balcony) to smoke. I yanked at the door to go back inside, and it was locked.
I was wearing my pajamas - knit boxers and a t-shirt. No bra. No shoes. No ID. No phone. Just a cigarette lighter. I yanked on the door some more, and nothing happened.
"I'll just have to go to the front desk," I thought. "They'll get me back in."
I was near panic.
But I went to the front desk, hoping that no one important would see me in my boxers and t-shirt and no bra. The front desk woman seemed vaguely sympathetic, asked me a few security questions, and gave me a new key.
I was relieved. I went back to my room to let myself in, and realized that I'd set the security bar on the door. No matter what I did, I couldn't let myself back in. I tried squeezing my fingers through the gap, and nothing happened.
I went back to the security desk. Did I mention I was in my underwear?
"I can't get in," I said, practically gasping for breath. "I set the security thing, and I can't get in."
The front desk woman clicked at her computer. "There is someone in 102. That is the only way we can get in," she said, in her lightly Island-accented voice. "If Security cannot break in, then you will have to wait until they wake up."
"Go to your balcony. Wait for Patrick. He will see if he can get in," she instructed me. I sat on my balcony, wishing I'd brought my entire pack with me, instead of the one cigarette. Comeoncomeoncomeoncomeon, I thought, like a litany.
Finally, my porch door shook, and I peered through the blinds. Someone had tried to open the front door. I dashed around the building and met Security.
"Are you Patrick?" I asked.
"No, I am Reginald," he said. "You are trying to get in?"
"Yes!" I breathed.
"I will have to get a tool." He spoke Spanish into his walkie-talkie. I wished I still understood Spanish. "You have two coming!" he told me. "Two!" He beamed at me.
I smiled back, trying to be accommodating. "Thank you."
I squatted (in my underwear), against the building next to my front door, and the panic faded. "This will make a great story," I thought. You have to understand that this is new - I've never been able to short-circuit a panic attack by thinking of the story. Within moments, two new men arrived. The first tried using his hand to get the door open. Nope. Then he tried a utility knife. That bent too much to be of use, though it was thin enough.
He said something in Spanish to his partner. His partner nodded, and the first guy left. The second guy smiled reassuringly. "We find a tool," he said. "We get you in."
I smiled back and said thank you again.
While waiting, the second guy got bored and started looking around for a tool. He tried the multi-headed screwdriver in his pocket, but it was too thick. Then he noticed the "Use this to break glass" tool attached to the fire extinguisher outside my door. He used his screwdriver to unscrew it. He forced it into the gap and pushed hard against the security bar.
He twisted his face in a grimace of effort. He pulled the door toward him and pushed the flat piece of metal against the bar. And bam! The door was open.
The first guy pulled up just at that moment and confusion passed over his face before he broke into a pleased grin.
"There you go!" he told me. "Open!"
"Thank you very, very much," I told them. I gave the second guy my most sincere smile. I went back into my room, showered and got ready for the conference in time for the first session - I missed breakfast. But I was not in my underwear when I got there.
When I checked out, the front desk woman assured me that had never happened before. I have no idea how I locked the balcony door. I just thank God that I was on the first floor.
I saw Jan, my new lesbian friend, at lunch. We chatted about jobs and locations. She misses the politics in Massachusetts. I told her I'd moved from Wilmington, NC to MAia.
"How did you manage that?" she asked, with disbelief. "And why? For the lifestyle?"
"Partly," I laughed. "And there was no work in Wilmington. And I met someone who lived there."
"That's how I ended up moving to Florida," she told me. "And then I got dumped." She went on to tell her story. She and her partner-at-the-time adopted a son, with her partner's name on the adoption papers. It was a private adoption - gays and lesbians are not able to legally adopt in Florida.
Then her partner was diagnosed with breast cancer and began treatment. As she recovered, she became a born-again Christian, decided that lesbians are Satanic, and moved out with their son while Jan was at work, just leaving a note. She pulled the boy out of the daycare at Jan's work, and Jan hasn't seen him in a number of years. When she tried to send Christmas presents, she received a letter from a lawyer, saying that she would be sued for harassment if she contacted the ex-partner again.
She had tears in her eyes as she told me this. I made sympathetic noises and expressed my sympathy, telling her how horrible it was, and basically channeling my therapist.
I don't know why people tell me these things. I feel for her. I'm also a little bummed, because I liked her, and I think it's unlikely that she'll contact me professionally after unloading like that. Still, it was a terrifying story, and, along with Z's current situation, it reminded me of why I've never had much of a desire to have kids when I've been in a relationship. Co-parenting is even more terrifying than single parenting. It also made me incredibly grateful to live in Massachusetts, and not in Florida, or any other red state.
I went to sessions that were fun, as opposed to applicable to my job, on Friday. I learned about the Office of Research Integrity, and a professor who ended up in jail for falsifying a study (research that is still quoted by gyms all over the country, by the way, and that continues to affect post-menopausal women's healthcare). I went to learn how to write an institutional training grant, and -- after the obligatory what-the-funding-mechanism-codes-mean part, I actually learned something.
And then, it was time for part two of my trip - the vacation.
To be continued….
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