Thursday, February 25, 2010


We are in the medal rounds for curling.

"We" meaning those of us here at Hillcrest. The curling venue. In Vancouver. We will miss it.

Heather, my co-manager (with her optimism, drive, and consistently sunny disposition) would be an instant friend in any circumstance.
We came into this the same way: we knew nothing about curling. We had no idea what our roles in Vancouver would be before we got here. We didn't know each other.

We got lucky. We have exceptional volunteers and solid, enthusiastic management. In retrospect and story value, nothing will beat the motel we called home for 18 days - affectionately refered to as the Bates Motel. For it's nerdy appeal, relative obscurity, later-in-life award potential, and inherent weirdness - the sport has won us over. And we had, by many reports, one of the smoothest venues going, curbside.

I now know that Canada, China, Sweden, Switzerland and Norway are especially good curlers. I know that "stones" are slid across "sheets" toward the "house." There is a crazy amount of strategy involved, and there are also brooms.

I hear that competitors and fans alike drink a lot of beer (though my only proof is post-event stumbling spectators, looking for their buses) and, apparently, they wear magic shoes - that are slidy or grippy at whim.

Outside the sport, I learned, or was reminded of, other things:

1. A toque is a knit hat. It is pronounced "tooook." I like this word. I will use it.

2. A uniform is like playing dress-up. You put it on, and all the sudden you are like those animals in Richard Scary's Busytown. Others have some notional idea of what you do all day. You are part of a larger whole. In the tribe. And when you are done with work, you can physically slough your day, change into civvies of your chosing.

3. There are a lot of Canadians in Vancouver. I was briefly stunned by the number of Canadian flags flying outside windows in condos downtown. Each time someone would announce that "we won another Gold," Heather and I would have to conciously remember who "we" are. It's them - in the streets - clanking cowbells, wearing maple leaves. The Canadians. And of course it is.

4. Everybody needs a little love. Sussing out the individual motivations of volunteers kept the early days at the venue interesting. Generally, they want to participate- and they have the time to give. Most gave up vacations - to stand, proudly, at a curb. To welcome their constituency: media, sponsors, athletes; depending on the load zone. As a paid employee, my job is primarily making them feel it is worth it. By whatever practical means.

5. Canadians embrace process. Thinking outside previously-set parameters is not particularly rewarded. They speak of "process" (with a long "o...") and "chain of command." It can be frustrating, but it has a discipline to it. It's just confusing to American event people who like the more pirate-y aspects of this career path.

6. Just be nice. "Nice" is a legitimate adjective for Canadians. They are unobtrusive, polite, and pleasant. Sometimes, to quick-moving, quick-decision-making, execution-oriented Americans, "nice" isn't always useful. But it keeps the curb pleasant. And it is FAR preferable to work with unpaid people whose default is nice than to work with overpaid people whose default is suspicion and derision*.

7. Work is preferable than being idle. I spent the first two days here in disbelief. I left my family behind thinking it would be 18 exhausting, hard-driven days. I managed about 200 yards of curb. At a very smoothly-run venue. I paced during those early days. I champed at the bit, straining to find more work, more worth.

8. Fresh is good, and idle is not all bad. Day three of my complaints, a wise advisor (or two, or three) said, "shut up and enjoy your peaceful venue or you will end up knee-deep in muck at the bus yards." Words to live by.

9 Time is relative. It has been 14 years since I worked on a large event. And it seems impossible that it was so long ago, that I have lived another life since then, that these people don't know that version of me - this version of me. In that world, I worked 16, 18-hour days. On this quiet venue, the 10-hour days - spent mostly waiting - seem especially long. And 18 days without my family feels like 40.

10. The Girl Scouts were right. I felt sorta princessy with all the stuff Gav gave me for my trip. My own travel towel, really? Is that necessary? Pillow cases from home?

At the Bates Motel, where I rest each night until the 5AM alarm, towels are an inch thick. When folded, six layers deep. The pillow cases are an obvious and unfortunate blend. I LOVE my travel towel. And my own pillow cases from home are my Favorite Thing.

My instinct is to adapt. But in almost every case? Preparation trumps adaptability.

11. (Because mine goes to 11.) Dorothy was right. When I return home, I will have been gone six out of the last seven weeks. Gavin is wildly tolerant, and the children - while nothing could have prepared them for the absense of mom for that stretch - have adapted reasonably well.

I miss event work. The immediacy, the concrete conclusion. The tangible difference between planning and execution. The palpable energy. The happy volunteers. I miss being part of something bigger. I miss all-access accreditation and the power of issuing cars, or parking permits. I miss golf carts and urgency. I miss drinking with exhausted, loud, fun and funny people with foul language and all the inside scoop. I miss it far more than is practical, or logical.

So much time has passed. And I can all too easily imagine the me that stayed in it - a single me, a career-rich me. And I would be good at it- as high or as deep as I wanted. And I would keep myself fully distracted in the whirl.

But I didn't pick that me, I picked this other me. The one that took time off, that had babies. Three of them. The one that built a checkered, confusing career path. Whose husband is rooted and supportive and There, whose children are awe-inspiring. Whose people require her to focus - tight, direct, measured focus - on others. To not succomb to distractions. To slow down. To be.

I medaled this round. And I won. There truly is no place like home. There are no people like My people - my Littles. My Big One. They are too far, for too long. And "away" is not a tenable, desirable state.

Five more days and I am back where I am meant to be.

*referencing, specifically, the corporate world I closed out in January. NOT organizing committee folks here. I know no one in the event world that operates from a default of suspicion and derision - even when jaded, grumpy, and tired. Which we often are.

Friday, February 12, 2010


Between places, now. Here, with There on the other side of a plane ride that, ironically, may be delayed because of snow.

It is snowing. Hard. And Here is Atlanta, and There is Canada. The world in which I am dabbling is the event world, one I moved in smoothly for years, many years back. Enough years past to make me feel really old when spoken of out loud.

Three weeks ago, I left for south Florida to close out the contract I have maintained and prospered from for four years. A falling, flailing, failing company, I was not surprised by the abrupt dismissal by cell phone over Christmas break.

The news was sharply, suspiciously delivered. Gavin had unprofessional, violent ideas for how I should respond. I demurred, ignored his suggestions, and travelled to Florida at their behest to close out the contract, and train my replacement.

Doing so opened this event door, and soon I had tacked on a contract for ten days' worth of work for a certain couple of high-profile football games, also in Florida. That was last week.

The first 2/3 of the trip - in an office, with low-key responsibilities - was torturous. People were suspicious, uncomfortable. The environment breeds self-protection, chilly self-interest. I was training someone to take my job. My every move was projected on a wall. The recipient of my attention was overwhelmed by the information - and humorless. The ten hour days felt eternal.

I would step outside, just to break up the day. Just to breathe air that hadn't already been breathed, filtered, and returned. To get away from darting eyes and the closed tiny room. And the projector.

The final third of the same trip - in parking lots and bus zones, barking into radios and standing in the rain, breathing diesel fumes - was somehow fun. People were, if sometimes overzealous, generally open. The environment breeds openness, requires frequent exchanges of information and instant familiarity. Trust is necessary, and responsiveness rewarded (by systems that work). Humor is critical and within reach. A ten-hour day would be short.

I was driving across a parking lot, on a golf cart, on the prettiest day we had. I had just dropped a cameraman at his car, while running a courtesy golf cart shuttle for media during media day. I felt crazy lucky to be there. And I thought, "who wouldn't love this?" With little effort I thought of ten, twelve people who wouldn't.

There is no glamour in it. It is working in events, yes. But it is operations. It is transportation. Bus zones, parking lots, motor pools. Bus boards, parking permits, driving routes. A perfect day is one in which the people you are moving (or parking or directing) don't notice. And you eat bad box lunches. And you fall into bed after too-long days - and you can't always get the diesel out of your pores.

Years ago, when I first did this, the boyfriend I was leaving behind for the second time, for my second event, gave me an ultimatum. Him or Them. The them he described, pretentiously and unpleasantly as "misfits and malcontents."

Which sounded at least interesting. I picked them.

I met my husband working that last event 14 years ago. His competency was highlighted by his largeness. I had spun out a little, in a job for which I was under-qualified. I hired him to help me get a handle on all the parts. My boss, when he figured out we were dating, said something to the effect of "thank God. He is your rudder."

I will be so glad to be home, when I am home. When this is an adventure in retrospect, when I am at the other side of too-long days and mishaps I can't yet quite imagine. When three weeks in a 'bungalow,' whose online commentary includes one disgruntled visitor's succinct rating of "creepy," are over. When I can again tuck in my Littles. And thank my husband again, in person, for being so tolerant and willing.

But for now, from here - trying to leave Atlanta with three inches of snow on the ground - it sounds fun. I am so pleased to be a part. To have a husband willing to engage in this outrageous six-week single-parenting experiment. To have three more weeks of pay. To wear the uniform, to smile through grit. To be a tiny piece of something so much bigger. And to fit.