Wow. This blog post isn’t starting out too well. I mean, today’s not day six of Convergence 2010, since Convergence really was over yesterday. Technically speaking, Friday’s entry, entitled “Convergence 2010, Day One” was a misnomer as well, since it didn’t really start until Saturday. But, since I’m generally known as a lazy person who exaggerates things, I’ll stick to the naming convention I’ve always used, which is to either (a) pick random names out of thin air; or (b) to title travel blog posts in such a way that the beginning and ending days are considered part of the event even though they are technically “travel days” and aren’t actually part of the vacation or trade show. Clearly, I’ve picked option (b) for my travel blog while choosing option (a) for my fiction blog. If you think this is confusing at this point, just wait until the summer vacation blog entries – we’re planning TWO DAYS of travel each way for that trip. I’m sure it will make for a compelling, exciting and confusingly titled read!

But I digress. Again.

Actually, is it called digressing when you’re foreshadowing? Or should I have said, “But I foreshadow”? Or “But I foregress?” Hmmm. Microsoft Word doesn’t have ‘foregress’ in its dictionary – does that mean I’ve just invented a new word? What does it take to make a new word anyway? Three separate usages in print? Is that what it is? I think it has to be three uses by different bloggers, so the fact that I’ve now typed ‘foregress’ three times does not mean that the word will show up in the dictionary any time soon.

Since I am a planning fool, here’s my proposed dictionary entry for my newly coined word:

[fawr-gres, fohr-]
–verb (used without object)
to deviate or wander away from the main topic or purpose in speaking or writing in a way that foreshadows things that are to come; to predict a departure from the principal line of argument, plot, study, etc. in a forward-thinking manner
2010; <Rob Diaz, travel blogger extraordinaire, first use:>

—Related forms
fore·gress·er, noun
fore·gress·ing·ly, adverb
re·fore·gress, verb (used without object)

So, if any honorable, well-written bloggers or other writerly types would like to use my new word and help with the petition to get it added to the dictionary, please feel free to do so.

Alright, enough self-marketing. I should get to the actual point.

The actual point is: I AM GOING HOME TODAY!!!!!!

Before you mistake my italicized, bolded, shout—let me remind you: I hate travel. So, even though I’m looking forward to getting home, sleeping in my own bed and making some actual, honest to goodness coffee, I really hate the fact that I’m required to travel in order to get to those good bits. (Oh, and I guess, I’m looking forward to seeing the wife and kids and dogs and cats and fish and even the weeds in the garden, too, but don’t tell them – they might get big heads about it.)

Anyway, before I could go home, I had to do several things. First, of course, was get up and get ready for the day. Today, at least, I didn’t have to wear the same lemon-scented logo shirt I’d worn all week. In fact, I was able to give it back, unlaundered, to Atlanta Colleague #1. Today I got to wear my shirt that’s made out of dirt. I think it is red dirt from around the Grand Canyon and was a gift to me from my neighbors when they went to the Grand Canyon a few weeks ago, around Easter. It feels odd around the neck, but I like it anyway.

Breakfast was agreed on last night as a return visit to the concierge lounge. So, around 8:00 we converged on the lounge and found it swarming with people. It was really loud. It was really crowded. The dude who was working the room and keeping things filled up seemed a bit overwhelmed. My roommate and I found a table that we could squeeze into and did so. Some lady came over to ask if she could take our chairs and at first I thought she wanted the ones we were sitting in, then I realized that while she might also want the ones we were in, she actually was asking about the ones that were not currently occupied. Now, these were reserved for our other colleagues, but I figured that since they weren’t there, it was their own fault if all of the chairs were taken. Eventually, the crowd cleared out and the room was plunged into a not quite as deafening silence. The rest of our group joined us and breakfast was eaten by all. I had more grits (everybody cheer! It’s okay, no one is really looking at you like you’re weird for cheering about grits). Breakfast was essentially a replay of the day before: eggs, grits, bagel, fruit… but today the bagel was a blueberry bagel. Yesterday it was just a boring plain one.

I looked over and found that today there wasn’t some sweating dude in a dress shirt and tie hogging up the courtesy computer to prepare a presentation, so I wandered over and printed my boarding pass for tonight’s flight and paid the requisite baggage fee. Then it was time to check out of the room and head up to the 25th floor for our first official company meeting. As we came out of the elevator, loud, obnoxious and male as we are, we found that the crowd of people who were taking up all the oxygen in the Concierge Lounge were up on the 25th floor, holding a meeting in the open lobby area there. Meaning, of course, that our cackling and inappropriate commentary interrupted their meeting nicely. Whatever. If you don’t want to be interrupted or observed by passersby, GET A ROOM! That’s what I say.

I could tell you about our company meeting but then, as they say, I’d have to kill you. I’m not feeling particularly stabby today, despite the fact that I’m writing this while on the way to the airport, so I think I’ll just not tell you about the meeting. Instead, I’ll mention that the aforementioned meeting taking place in the open area on the floor actually had TWO areas in that open area, one all the way in the corner (which is where they were when we first went up to the 25th floor) and one right outside the elevator. And they kept moving between the two areas, like every hour or so. It was the weirdest thing. They were talking about tax law or something like that and about how the most important thing involved with being good at taxing folks is to be compassionate. Seriously, the speaker who was talking during one of the times I wandered through was giving a passionate dissertation on the importance of compassion. I thought she was going to start crying, that’s how hard she was working to convince everyone of her point.

We broke for lunch and headed back to the place that used to be called The Spotted Dog but is no longer called The Spotted Dog. This is the place we went to on Friday night, the place with the heckling guitar player who left after goading us into stopping there for drinks and food. He wasn’t there this afternoon and, in fact, I think we were the first customers of the day. I had the same Spicy Black Bean Burger I had on Friday night. It was a bit more on the “well done” side today but it was alright anyway. No dessert, unfortunately. Guess I’ll have to eat one of the extra apples we rescued from the dining hall at the conference yesterday.

I had to leave the afternoon session of our first ever annual meeting at just before 3:00. I am sure that they spent the rest of the meeting talking about me and making fun of my lemony scent. I know that’s what I would have done.

So, the rest of this story will be about the actual act of travelling home. As I said, I left the hotel a little before 3:00 (like 2:53) to get to the airport for my 5:00 flight which a traveler’s alert email implied was delayed, but Continental said was still on time. I’m going to attempt to write down the rest of my observations and anecdotes in real time. Clearly this can only happen when I’m not walking, since it’s hard to walk, drag a suitcase, hold a notebook and a pen and actually write. Oh, and doing all that while paying attention to where I’m going might prove difficult, too. I know, excuses, excuses… but I promise to do my best to accomplish this. What this means right now is that I’m sitting here in the Marta train to the airport with a notebook and pen in my hands, writing as the train bounces and rocks. Moments ago, a few people came on board and sat next to me, bringing an awful smell of cigarette smoke with them. I assumed it was the big fat dude who sweated his way into the seat right next to me, but it turns out that it was the little old lady with the short magenta-striped gray and black hair who was wearing the expensive Eau de Cigarette perfume. I especially enjoyed it when the train jerked funny as she was getting up to leave and she reached out to grab my shoulder to steady herself – I might need to burn my dirt shirt now, thank you very much. The point is, my first impression was wrong and so I want to formally apologize to the fat man whom I falsely imagined was the one who stank up the train. I am truly sorry for making such a silent accusation in your general direction, sir.

The train ride was uneventful aside from the smell and the old lady’s hand on my shoulder. I disembarked at the airport and headed inside. What struck me first was that there was absolutely no visible signage telling me where to go. Usually, there’s no shortage of people or signs that want to tell me where to go, but in this case I felt completely lost. I finally found a sign that pointed to check-in and baggage drop off and headed toward it. Turns out, this was for a different airline. I eventually found a uniformed person and asked him to tell me where to go. He gestured and pointed back the way I came, so I went that way again. No signs were visible in the main hall, so I splintered off into a side path. There I saw a sign, but for other airlines. Considering this a good, um, sign, I continued walking further. Another sign for other airlines. More walking and then the sign for Continental was there, shining like a beacon. I followed the arrow and found where I had to go to check in. At least here there was someone willing to help me right away and the bag drop off was quick and easy, though he made fun of my inability to figure out how to get the computer to recognize who I was. Of course, that meant I had to find the security checkpoint but that seemed to go alright once the guy pointed me in the general direction. Unlike in Newark, there were virtually no lines and I was through security in about 5 minutes.

I wandered to the gate, largely because I wanted to see if there was an update in the argument between the travel alert I received and the Continental website. As it turns out, the traveler alert was correct; the glowing sign at the gate stated that the 5:00 flight to Newark Liberty International Airport was delayed to 6:14. I started to walk away from the gate to get some food, since I was going to be here a while and the person behind the gate made an announcement: “The flight to Newark is delayed until 6:16, not 6:14. This delay is due to Air Traffic Control activity and as a result it may be lifted at any time, so stay near the gate as we may still leave on time.”

So, I headed over to the local Burger King establishment on the concourse. As you know, I am a vegetarian. As such, I wasn’t in the mood for a sitdown meal in a seafood place or the little “diner” thing they had there which had no veggie dishes on the menu. Not that Burger King is all that healthy for vegetarians, but at least they have the BK Veggie, which is essentially a gardenburger with “special sauce”. So, I ordered a BK Veggie and brought it back to the gate so that I’d be nearby when they got us in the air on time (look at me, the travelling optimist!). The BK Veggie smelled so incredibly good and wonderful as I unwrapped it. Perhaps it was the ten minute wait it took while they figured out how to make it. Perhaps I was hungry. Whatever it was, the thing smelled great and I couldn’t wait to eat it. I took a bite and let the flavor consume me. I savored that bite for thirteen whole seconds before taking my second bite. It was this second bite that allowed me to realize that the burger was still partially frozen. Apparently, the fine people who figured out that lettuce, ketchup and what I think was ranch dressing go on the BK Veggie forgot that it was also supposed to be cooked. Ahh, well, chin up Burger King folks – you’ll get that part right next time, I’m sure.

Note: I ate the burger anyway. One of the benefits of being vegetarian is that you don’t really have to worry about thoroughly cooking things. And I guess it settles the argument: I was hungry.

Anyway, my optimism was wasted earlier when I hoped that the plane would still go on time; we boarded the plane just before 6:00. Let me tell you: this has got to be the smallest plane I have ever been on! It has two seats on one side of the aisle, one seat on the other side (I am in the one-seat side). I can’t even stand up straight in the aisle. I think my children might have toys that are larger than this plane. It is really small! The overhead bins were tiny, so nearly all bags had to be gate checked. I wonder if these folks had to pay $25 or not. I think they should have to!

So, I think I’m going to bullet point the rest of this post as a Top 10 list. Of course, seeing as I am me, it will be a Top 13 list, since 13 is a far better number than that stupid number 10. So the following is a Top 13 shout-out list of events that happened once I was strapped in on the plane in seat 14A, which is really row 13 as I’ve discussed before. Clearly, since I’m in the 13th row, a top 13 list is appropriate. Funny how the universe conspires to make things happen organically, isn’t it?

  1. I thought the extra 15 minute delay we had once we were on board the plane was awesome. This delay wasn’t due to Air Traffic Control activity; it was due to “the lost sheep for our flight” as the pilot called them. Apparently, some folks decided it would be awesome to grab some airport seafood before boarding the plane and decided that the “stay close to the gate” statement was more of a guideline that only applied to the rest of us. I know I enjoyed the fact that they shared the wonderful scent of blackened goldfish or mullet (or whatever it was) with the entire plane. I guess they were star students in kindergarten and learned all about the importance of sharing.
  2. I’ll break with my tradition of changing people’s names in this week’s blog entries. What? You hadn’t noticed I was doing this? Well, I assure you, the name “Airport Colleague #1” is not the person’s real name. That said, I am going to call out Candy, the lady in seat 12B. Candy (yes, it’s her real name – she was wearing her ID badge) decided to share her music with us. (This flight so far is all about sharing! I guess people really are nicer in the south). Anyway, Candy’s iPod was playing some awesome hip-hop hits and she was dancing like a night club star – arms waving all over, head shaking to the rhythm, hair flying everywhere. I must say that I do wish she’d have sung a bit more, as I was not catching all of the words so I didn’t get the complete experience. I really should have thanked her because I got to save my Zune’s battery since I could hear her music over my own anyway. My one disappointment was that she didn’t share her chocolate muffin with the rest of us. She did, however, take off her shoes and share her sweet, sweet Candy feet with us. I felt loved.
  3. I wish I could record the creaking, moaning and whining sound of the airplane as it rolls slowly along the tarmac – it sounds and feels as if the tires are flat or the wheels and their supports are loose. Every bump, every crack in the pavement, caused more rattling and shaking. Oh, it also is causing dust and debris to fall from the ceiling above me. Several other passengers have been looking around, laughing uncomfortably, so I know this isn’t just me being a bad traveler and imagining it. The dude behind me in seat 15A just told us all to relax – the wheels are absolutely fine. “It’s only a loose wing,” he said. Thank goodness this issue is settled.
  4. The next victory was the 47 minute bonus delay we received at no additional charge as we sat, helpless, in the airplane on the runway as we awaited our turn to depart. Thank goodness air travel isn’t billed like taxi rides where there’s a fee to get in the vehicle, a fee for the trip, a fee for time, more fees for time stuck in traffic, etc. Wow. Thinking about taxi fees makes the baggage fee seem less bizarre. Almost.
  5. Another shout-out to Miss Candy in 12B: Typically you wipe the chocolate from your hands on a napkin, not on the clean and sanitary cushion of seat 12C, even if no one is sitting in 12C. No, you don’t get points for sharing this time.
  6. I thought the flight’s only passenger-cabin crew member was doing a good job overall and I want to commend her for making jokes as she tried to help us bide our time waiting to take off. I don’t think I’ve ever had a more entertaining demonstration of the safety features of a plane before. I wonder if there’s a two-drink minimum here.
  7. Oh, Candy girl, you are taking up too much of my list! Did you really need to run (and I mean run) to the restroom with your chocolate muffin just as we got to the front of the departure queue? I’m curious, though: You were only gone for a few seconds, but when you came back, the muffin was gone (except for the bits you saved on seat 12C) – what did you do with it? And yes, I could still hear your music, thanks for turning it up for me instead of turning it off as you had been instructed before takeoff.
  8. You know how awesome it is when you’re on a train and they announce information about the next station or the reason for the train stopping in the middle of nowhere in the dark of night… only the sound is so muted and muffled and garbled that you can’t hear the message over the racket of the train or the hip-hop music from another passenger’s iPod? That’s awesome, I’m sure you’ll agree. But let me tell you – it’s even more awesome when you can’t hear the airplane pilot as he’s announcing details about why the plane is shaking and bouncing, 35,000 feet above the nowhere below. Mostly the inability to hear the pilot was due to the noise of the engines and the creaking and shaking of the plane itself. But a little bit of the trouble was the noise from Candy’s Night Club in row 12.
  9. Did I mention that Candy started drinking margaritas mid-flight? Before that, all of the in-flight entertainment was while completely sober.
  10. I wonder why the crewmember double-cupped my coffee when she gave it to me, first in Styrofoam and then in plastic. I wonder if I was charged an extra fee for that. I’ll have to check on that one. I’m pretty sure the stand-up comedy routine she was continuing to give was complimentary, though.
  11. Just a question: should I consider it a bad thing that the best coffee I’ve had all week is this coffee I’m drinking out of a mix of Styrofoam and plastic? Don’t get me wrong, this coffee is horrifically bad… but at least I recognize it as coffee, which is why it warrants its own shout-out in this list.
  12. Yes, Candy, when they announce that the portable electronic devices need to be turned off for the landing, they mean your iPod, too. Thanks.
  13. I wonder what prompted the lady in seat 10B to move back to seat 11B and start making out with the dude in seat 11C just as we started to descend into Newark. Maybe I’ll ask them once we deplane. They’re a little busy right now or I’d ask them here; besides, they wouldn’t hear me anyway since the plane is rattling way too much now. Oh, and now that we’ve landed and are taxiing to the gate, she’s moving back to seat 10B… I guess Candy in 12B isn’t the only one who thinks the “stay strapped in your seat” rule doesn’t apply to her.

So, we landed around 8:45 or so. Luckily, since no one could bring their oversized carry-on bags on board, there were few delays in getting off the plane. As an update on the kissing bandit in row 10B, I followed her and her… friend… in row 11B out (just how it happened, I wasn’t stalking them). Through the airport they seemed to not communicate at all. They got to the ground transportation area and took separate cabs. I guess they must have had a fight or something.

Anyway, I got my bag once I figured out which carrousel it was coming out on and headed out to the train station. There was a moment of panic when I couldn’t find my return train ticket, but I eventually remembered that I put it in my suitcase. Thank goodness they didn’t lose my bag. Anyway, the tram ride was fine and we got into the train terminal. In here, there was a lot of confusion as people were trying to figure out the odd schedule that was posted on the fancy electronic signs. None of the trains were going to the right places, it seemed and the times were all weird. I noticed the note on it that said “Signs are in testing; information here is not accurate.” Of course, people weren’t reading that bit. Apparently, the staff at the train station wasn’t aware of this, either, as they were all trying to figure it out. I went to the paper schedule that was on the wall, figured out when the train was and plunged forward. I waited for a while and got the train, a double-decker. An hour later, I was in Hamilton. Thankfully, I didn’t fall asleep and end up in Trenton like the last time I was on the train. That was embarrassing, especially since my kid was with me and it was nearly midnight that time… at least this time it was only about 10:40 pm.

Anyway, my sister-in-law picked me up from the train and handed me a nice, big coffee! Yes, real, actual coffee! It was a little bit of heaven, let me tell you. She also gave me a piece of coffee cake. So, I got a coffee AND a dessert out of the deal. She can pick me up any time she wants! This is real service!

So now I’m home. I think the trip was successful (though success is a hard thing to define for a trip like this). It was certainly eventful. I hope you’ve enjoyed it as much as I did, or maybe even more than I did. Here are my requisite statistics for today:

Total steps for today: 8,513

Total desserts for today: 1. Well, 2. I guess the apple was, once again, my dessert at lunch. I’m counting the coffee cake as a desert, though it’s more like a meal.

Total number of times I thought Candy in 12B was going to punch someone while she was gyrating and flailing: 11. Yes, she’s a violent dancer, especially when drunk.

Total number of actual smacks given by Candy in 12B:  1.  She hit the crew member as the margaritta was being delivered. Luckily, it was still closed.

Total coffees for today: 2! Well, one and a half, since the one on the airplane was small and not full. Of course, if we’re counting the physical cups that were used, then it would have to be three. Either way, I’m back on the coffee cart!