September 2, 2014
From the start of my contact with the state parks, I think both sides were excited about the possibilities of this relationship. The state parks were so kind to assist Thomas and I with our visits to the parks and that was all I could have asked for. But somewhere along the way, I was asked to speak at the annual conference where all the state park directors meet in September, the National Association of State Park Directors (NASPD) conference in Omaha, Nebraska. For some time this was a conversation but now this was full-fledged reality – a formal invitation, agenda and registration info was forwarded. On my end, travel and a presentation were on the plate.
Making travel accommodations was much easier than the latter. I completely racked my brain for some time on what exactly I was going to say. Not to mention this potentially horrifying idea of public speaking, which was that same underlying pain you would have when you were forced to speak in front of the class. Some people don’t mind being on that side, I however much prefer being on the other. Late nights and lunch breaks and every minute of time in between were spent on gathering and writing and trying to determine what should be the best way to present my story, the Graham’s story, to the NASPD attendees.
The weekend before the conference, after a stretch of stress and bothering all near and dear, I finally was prepared to have a run through of my presentation. My beach house crew had reconvened at my parent’s home for my nephew’s 7th birthday. Here was my opportunity to have an audience. What a distinguished audience, especially the two little ones. There were a few humorous moments while they all tried to give every possible example of what a bad audience could be, but in the end they did offer a very sound critique. They thought I had done a good job.
This entire journey so far has been surreal. “Are you excited?” Sure I am, I can’t believe that this idea that I had has taken this path beyond my wildest dreams - but my nerves have gotten the better of me. Almost swallowed me whole – like the dog-created crab sinkhole at Virginia Beach. I wasn’t too sure if my run through made me more nervous or not. The time had crept up and before I know it, Thomas and I are arriving at BWI and it’s happening. Our arrival at the airport was going pretty smoothly regardless of the ping-pong of thoughts in my mind, until we were ready to board the plane and this quick moving storm of gray clouds and lightening decided to overtake the airport. The opposing wall of glass windows had now been fully pelted with raindrops and the announcement was made that they were suspending boarding due to lightening within the 3-mile radius. Not too much longer it was over and boarding began. Anxious travelers made their way onto the plane and were settled in. Full flight. To be expected. Doesn’t everyone fly to Chicago on a Tuesday night? We strategically headed towards the back since it was Southwest. You board by number and pray that when you board the plane you get lucky and at least get an aisle or window seat-even better, to yourself. We got lucky until a fellow passenger sat in our row and scooted Thomas over to the middle seat. A lot of turbulence but otherwise it was an uneventful first half of the trip.
The second half of the trip was O’hare to Omaha. The sun was starting to set and mystified everyone with its beauty. There wasn’t too much of a wait and I now had this number line up system down pat. While boarding, it was obvious that this was a new plane. It was like a hip ultra lounge: fresh leather seats and groovy blue up lights and the overhead lights that casually dimmed down (the blue lights are similar to the electric neon outlines of sharks at the National Aquarium in Baltimore). Luckily, the flight was not as full as the one from BWI to O’Hare. The flight attendant made an announcement while we were boarding that they calculated that since the flight was not full, all middle seats should be empty. They repeated that there is no reason for everyone to be crowded on this flight and everyone was guaranteed to be comfortable. Of course people were not listening. The flight attendant made her way back to the intercom and announced that if anyone does indeed choose to sit next to you in a middle seat, beware that they have some suspicious motives.
We were all seated and a flight attendant spoke directly to the people sitting in the exit rows. There were a series of questions as if in a congressional hearing (Do you swear the tell the truth and nothing but the truth?). After she explained the duties, they were asked if they understood and were willing to comply and perform said duties. The next question was if they could speak English and understand it.
A few airplane thoughts: I wonder if you chose not to be defender of the exit row and declined the duties, would you be persecuted and immediately admonished from your seat? Have you ever wanted to buy anything from the Skymall magazine? Is there a Skymall magazine quality control committee – how do we know this stuff really works? Are peanuts that cheap that they can literally just keep throwing them at you on the plane?
It was officially nighttime and we arrived in Omaha. It was a fairly quiet airport with a few people milling about. The concession stands were closed for the night, even the Omaha Steaks stand. We collected our luggage and I looked at the information board and made a call for the complimentary hotel shuttle. When we arrived at the hotel, Holiday Inn Express and Suites: Omaha Airport, they did not have our reservation. I took out my reservation confirmation for our accommodations and showed them to the hotel-clerk. Apparently, the reason that they did not have my reservation was because I called the wrong hotel. Our reservations were for Holiday Inn: Omaha Downtown-Airport. Holiday Inn Express and Suites: Omaha Airport vs. Holiday Inn: Omaha Downtown-Airport. She says this happens all the time. Yes, I can see how. The information board only has the one listed so I saw “HOLIDAY INN” - “OMAHA” – “AIRPORT” – “DOWNTOWN.” I thought it was the one so I didn’t bother to double check the paper before I chose to call what I thought that was our hotel. The hotel-clerk was kind enough to call the other hotel for their shuttle to pick us up. Needless to say, this back and forth across town provided a great opportunity for some nighttime sight seeing.
Eventually we are checked in and settled but we were hungry. I asked the front desk what were the best available options for food because after some brief review of the dining options in the guest info binder, it appeared that they close earlier than we are used to. The same kind shuttle driver that picked us up from the wrong hotel took us around to a place that he thought would be open. Sadly, it was not. We returned and we chose to order from the one place that was still opened at 11:00 during the week - Dominoes.
Gobble gobble –gone. Full and done and time to got to bed after I thank my lucky stars that I am this fortunate.