Until now! Yes, I was a convention virgin until Thursday through Saturday when I attended the Erma Bombeck Writer’s Workshop held here at the University of Dayton, Erma’s alma mater.
I was so nervous! I reviewed my downloaded schedule a dozen times on Thursday morning to make sure I knew exactly when I was supposed to be at the first event and what to do about transportation. I laid out my outfit the night before. I got a new pen and a notebook. I was ready. Ahead of time!
Registration was set for 2:00 at the Marriott hotel where out of town delegates were staying. I got there at 1:57. There was no welcome table set up. No signs pointing the way. I wondered if I got it wrong. Within a minute or so, though, a trio of nicely dressed women came along. One put up an easel and hoisted a sign into place that declared: ERMA BOMBECK WORKSHOP REGISTRATION. Ah, I thought, my chance to make contact.
“Hello, I’m just wondering if registration is open yet?” Passive-aggressive, sure, but as I said, I was nervous.
“Not quite,” she replied.
“Ah, well, the materials I got by email said 2:00.” Once you’re in passive-aggressive, there’s no turning back.
“Oh, I doubt we’ll make it by 2:00!” She made one of those exasperated sounds as she said, “Isn’t it supposed to be 3:00? Oh, well, that’s o.k. I can give you your name tag and packet anyway if you are in a hurry.”
Nice lady, I thought. By now a few more people had arrived to register and were kind of hanging back a bit to see what was going on.
The nice conference lady opened a couple of enormous suitcases containing alphabetized name tags, neither of which was the “N” suitcase. Another attendee beside me consoled the volunteer, “Oh, you poor thing!”
“What!?!” I thought, “I didn’t make her do this!” But I offered an apology anyway. “Yes, so sorry to get you to open up early, I’m just on such a tight schedule today. Ha ha.” It wasn’t true, although I really couldn’t wait until 3:00 or I’d miss my personal training session, but I felt daggers coming my way sent out by the standers-by, and as I said, I was nervous.
Another volunteer came over and offered to relieve the lady who was helping me. “You go. I’ll look for a tag for this lady.” Whenever someone says “this lady” like that, you know they’re irked. So, now I’m truly feeling like one of those women who makes unreasonable demands of sales clerks and waitresses, and all I can think of to say in my own defense is, “The materials I got by email said 2:00!” (Oh, Lesley, worse!)
She smiled through her reply, “Well, it’s,” looking at her watch, “two minutes before 2:00. So we’re close!”
“Ha. Ha. Yes, sorry, ha, ha, it’s just such a tight day for me.” I grabbed my tag and tote bag and fled attempting to keep up the impression that I was really pressed for time.
Damn, damn, damn. I didn’t intend to sound pushy. It was merely a statement that when the other woman said 3:00, I panicked and didn’t want to wait, and she offered to get my tag, and I didn’t want to say something about that within her hearing distance or it would sound so whiny, and oh, rats, now I would have to avoid seeing this volunteer all weekend because by now she must be thinking I’m a total nut case or, worse, a total B-word.
Later, at home, getting ready to go to the Marriott for the dinner, I checked the schedule again a couple of dozen times, loaded my tote bag with some personal items, like Kleenex and snacks for the next day’s sessions, and filled up my free EBWW water bottle thinking, “Look at you, what a nerd! What am I? Six? A school kid on the first day of school getting my new book bag ready?” I didn’t see anyone else carrying their conference tote bag at dinner. I hid mine under the table.
Some conference veterans were heading into the bar at the hotel before dinner was served. They asked if I wanted to join them. “Oh, gosh, yes! Could I ever use a glass of wine!” And then I thought, “This is going to be o.k.”
It was. More than o.k. actually. The workshop was fabulous. Lots of things for a novice writer like me to learn from experienced, talented writers, plenty of laughs, a few tears at touching moments when Bombeck family members read their favorites of her columns, and so many interesting and genuinely friendly people to meet. The tone of the whole conference was an affirmation that we are all writers regardless of experience level. I even made eye contact on Saturday with the registration volunteer who smiled back kindly and didn’t appear to be saying the “B-word” in her head, or maybe she didn’t remember me after getting name tags for 350 people out of those suitcases.
Anyway, pretty great for a first conference. And now I’m not a rookie anymore!