I’d asked to go as far back as February, but budgets being what they are, the uncertainties of funding made for a “No” that was apologetic, but seemingly firm. So no means no and I put the idea out of my mind and went back to work doing my job. Then I received a call from my supervisor eleven days before the conference and he asked me if I still wanted to go. I was so surprised I didn’t even remember when it ran. He told me it started Monday, April 7 and I should probably fly to DC on the sixth.
Plans were made, whipped around, and a few days before leaving I had a plane ticket, a room, a conference registration, and two small bags. I travel exceedingly light taking an abbreviated version of my stuff, and a small roller-bag. I didn’t even come close to filling the rolling bag. I hate heavy luggage and I hate heaving things through an airport, so when I travel I go as minimal as I can.
I left Phoenix on an 8:47 flight that was delayed because the First Officer didn’t show up on time. You expect a few things in a pilot and punctuality might be one of them. Either way, her late arrival made for my own late arrival yet, thanks to a tail wind and a change in flight path, we touched down in the Capitol only five minutes late. I made the required phone calls to my wife and mother to let them know that, yes, I’d managed to make it to DC without the wings falling off the plane or landing a part as an extra in a real-life version of Passenger 57. Then I called my friend Jessica, a lovely and talented librarian who was doing me the honour of making the drive from Delaware to DC for an evening of beer, food, and a new card game she wanted to try.
She picked me up at the airport and we headed for the hotel. It’s comforting to a Western US boy like me to have an East Coast native in the driver’s seat, someone who knows what the hell they’re doing when driving around the streets of DC because, quite frankly, the streets around here make no sense. I believe civil engineering involved a drunken architect and an Etch-a-Sketch. She navigated the streets of DC like Lando flying the Falcon through the Death Star and we were soon at my hotel. I checked in, dropped off my crap, and we hit the streets again — on foot this time.
Dining and drinking commenced after a quick visit to the concierge to ask where one might find good food and better beer. He suggested a spot down the street called Bier Baron and we agreed that he probably knew what he was talking about. I get to see Jessica in person once a year if I’m lucky so we had a wonderful time with excellent beer, a shepherd’s pie far better than anything your mother ever made, and a card game called Gloom.
Gloom, if you’re interested, is a mixture of A Series of Unfortunate Events and the Gashlycrumb Tinies. It’s plot, for it doesn’t have as much of an object as it does a plot, is that you pick a family and then layer transparent cards featuring horrors and misfortune upon them. You don’t want to kill them, not at first. The winner is the person with the best story (optional) and whose family has the worst life before they die. In short, it’s the perfect game for someone as bent as I am.
Needing to return to her Delaware, her apartment, and Her Royal Highness Princess Holly Cat, Jessica said goodbye around 8pm, DC time. She hugged me, got in her car, and drove off.
And that’s when it occurred to me that I’m suddenly alone in DC the evening before a library conference. I didn’t see anyone I knew at the hotel and I didn’t have anything planned. I walked around for a while, taking in the city around me. DC is a city of extremes. This is Obama’s turf, but it’s also the place that birthed Henry Rollins. Beautiful homes and high rises provide counterpoint to the homeless woman I saw sleeping in a park. It’ll be an interesting conference, I’m sure, but for tonight, I’m alone.