December 2, 2014
Yes, I am still around. With some consideration of the outcome of the first leg, I decided to take this time to begin working on some other aspects of this project. This winter would be used for story development and securing additional funding. During this time on the production side, I was contacted by one of the NASPD conference attendees. The Managing Director of Ontario Parks, Bradley Fauteux recommended that I speak at the Ontario Parks Staff Conference in Orillia, Ontario. Although this was a Canadian park system, he thought my presentation would be ideal for the conference theme, “Because Parks Matter.” Of course I would do it. No question. Here is the kind of crazy rock star part. As a result of my use of leave from work for the first leg of the trip, I decided to use as little as possible. This meant that I would fly in and out of the country in one day. I was scheduled to speak at 3:00 pm, which would allow me enough time to fly in the morning and out in the evening and make it to work the next day.
When I arrived at the airport, it was cold and rainy and early. My check in was very easy without any bags. I found my gate and joined the other waiting passengers. Some time had passed and we were still awaiting our plane at the gate. I overheard someone jokingly say something about our plane coming now and his colleagues laughed. I glanced up and noticed what looked like a toy plane. I have never been to Canada and I knew this was a short flight, but I too had no question that this was nothing but a joke. There would be nothing else to expect but a full sized airplane. HAHA - the joke is on us. The toy plane pulled right up to our gate. It was a prop plane and I was very glad that I did not have any bags. I don't know where they were going to fit.
Out in the cold rain, down the steps and onto the tarmac and up the steps into the airplane. There are nine rows of two seats on each side and the last row is like a bus seat where the aisle ends and it’s a row of six seats. My seat was in that back row. Everyone was seated and once I showed up it turned into a very tightly played game of musical chairs. It was so tight, that when I took my coat off to save space and put it up in the overhead bin, a fellow passenger offered to hold my belongings in my hand. Thank you sir. I squeezed in and quickly noticed that 6 adults should not be forced to sit in such little space. Luckily, the crew seats were unoccupied and one of the passengers in the row was able to move and free up some space.
I had the window seat and was able to have the view. However, with the rain still falling, there wasn’t much to see except the propeller, it really looked like we could have been anywhere but nowhere. Before we took off, my neighbor had a brief conversation with me about how long it had been since he had been in a plane this size. For a minute I thought he may freak out, but he didn’t. I tried to close my eyes for the short flight and settled my nerves. At our arrival in Toronto, we were greeted by freezing rain and old snow when we deplaned out onto the tarmac. Wait, had I actually left the country? I found my way through the airport and customs. Arrangements were made for my transportation and I was to meet Natalie, an Ontario Parks staff member that would drive me directly to the conference about an hour and a half away in Orillia. I wasn’t sure what to expect. I was hoping that Natalie would be someone I could be comfortable sharing a long ride with. Natalie was the most pleasant young woman ever and I truly enjoyed her company. While we were talking, I felt that I may have been grilling her with all the questions, but I was genuinely interested. It was especially obvious that I was completely ignorant about Canada. The most interesting thing about our conversation was that when we would both make references to places or towns and neither one of us really knew what the other was talking about. The drive went fast and we arrived to the conference.
Natalie, nor I had attended this conference before, so we didn’t know what to expect. The conference was already underway and we found the attendees packed in the auditorium in the start of a presentation by Bob McDonald who is the host of a show in Canada called Quirks and Quarks. Much like the NASPD conference, I felt slightly discouraged because I was going to follow another topnotch speaker with some super cool awesome talk. Ok, his presentation was amazing. He wasn’t even looking at some lousy notes like I have to. His talk was almost like watching COSMOS; as you may remember I am space nerd. By the end of the talk, he had made a clever summary as to why and how our planet is so unique and why our resources are so precious. Now that his presentation was finished, I met one of my Canada contacts, Kathy McPherson. She, like Natalie, was one of nicest and warmest people you could meet. I was happy to finally meet her in person after emails and phone calls. I went up to the stage and prepared with the tech assistant to get set up since I was next. Bradley Fauteux came up to the front and I thanked him profusely for thinking about me and inviting me. He too is the nicest and warmest person you could ever meet.
I had this strange idea that I may not be as nervous this time around since I had at least presented this once already. I also thought that the podium would help me feel a little less exposed and could at least hide my thousand-page presentation dialogue that I was reading from. I stared out into rows and rows of faces and hoped for the best and began. I tried to take my time and add a few adlibs and got in the groove. Once I finished, there was a brief Q & A. The questions were thoughtful and I appreciated the interest shown. This was the conclusion of my time on stage and it was time for them to move on with the agenda. My Canadian contact comrades and I met back in the lobby and continued to talk. They were all so kind and supportive of my project and I couldn’t appreciate them more for this opportunity. Apparently we were chumming it up so loud outside the auditorium that an attendee opened the door and practically “shushed” us. Yikes. Sorry folks. We quieted down and finished our conversation and I departed with hugs and new people on my side. Poor Natalie had to take me right back to the airport. This was for sure some real top dog stuff to me; you fly in and out.
On the way back, the conversation with Natalie was just as pleasant. A stop was made for food at Subway. While the two of us continued our chat during our meal, we made a mutual discovery about our eating preferences. Both of us like tomatoes on our sandwiches but hate when they hang over or fall off and act like they don’t want anything to do with the sandwich. We wondered why couldn’t they use smaller tomatoes? Could they use tomatoes the size of cherry tomatoes? Wouldn’t they fit so much nicer on the sandwich? Subway- this is something to consider. I feel compelled to even start a social media campaign now that I know I have some support. #smallertomatoes!
Natalie and I head back on the road. Another hour and half on the road and in the middle we hit the start of a snowstorm. I continued to apologize to Natalie for having to be out in this mess on my account knowing that she would have to drive back to the conference. It was now dusk and the traffic slowed down once we get closer to Toronto. I arrive at the airport and say my goodbye and well wishes to Natalie. With time to spare I check in and decide to take a seat at the bar of one of the many restaurants and get a beer, some dinner and watch whatever was on the tv. Hockey! Of course. Eventually I would make my serpentine path back to the small plane section of the airport. An announcement was made after our boarding time had passed that our flight was delayed because our flight attendant had not arrived. Boy, did that airline representative at the counter look annoyed. Quite some time passed before the flight attendant showed up. She was significantly late. I could tell everyone, including myself, just wanted to get on the plane and get home. Unfortunately, not so quickly. Everyone boarded, but the plane needed to be de-iced before we could take off. This was interesting to see. De-icing a plane is a very well choreographed dance. Soon enough we take off and I close my eyes and we are home. What a great day. I was very happy and I look forward to my return to Canada.
Special thanks to Bradley Fauteux, Kathy McPerson and Natalie McMorrow of Ontario Parks.
*During my wait to board the plane, Natalie texted to tell me that she was able to stay the night in Toronto so she wouldn’t have to get back on the road during the storm.