When you sign up for conferences, there are all kinds of motivations going into that decision. I originally signed up for the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop for two reasons. First, my very funny friend Kim-Marie registered, and posted on social media that this was a must-not-miss event. Second, my writing for years now has been way too serious, and I wanted to “find my funny”. So I registered, then booked my hotel and plane ticket, along with taking a few vacation days from “the real job” that pays the bills. Then I put the workshop aside for the next several months, while I dealt with all the other things life likes to throw at me.
The week of the conference, I gave it my attention again. I reached out to my funny friend who told me this was a must-not-miss event. She then informed me she was going to have to miss it. Oof. Something about another conference in Paris. I mean, I couldn’t be mad. Dayton, Ohio, or Paris? But why she hadn’t posted about THAT conference before I booked this one was beyond me. Oh well, I was now committed. Dayton or bust. Yes, I considered not going. Heck, my boyfriend was headed to a weekend of partying with college friends for a reunion, and that kinda’ sounded like a lot more fun. However, the money was spent on registration and I’m way too cheap to just lose that $500 (plus, the boyfriend made it clear this was a “guys’ weekend”, so that plan flew out the window). So, I moved forward with the riveting trip to Dayton. I wish I could say I was excited, but I really didn’t know what to expect. In fact, I didn’t even appear to have the dates right. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why I was going a day before the conference even started. Again, I considered changing plans, and wondered why I’d booked a Wednesday flight, or Wednesday night hotel room. I told myself I must have been planning an extra night with my fun friend and made peace with going a day early.
I jumped in on the workshop’s FB group page just days before the conference and started orienting myself with what to expect. Mission one: Find someone to share a Lyft with from the airport. That was accomplished quickly enough. Mission two: Pack.
Even the night before the trip I was questioning why I was going, but at that point, there really was no backing out, so off I went to the airport. I’m based in Atlanta, where getting through airport security may take two hours some days. On this particular day, it took two minutes. I mean, I set a personal record. So, off I went to my gate, where I arrived early enough to watch the people boarding another flight to a different destination first. I’m a friendly gal, but this particular morning I was in my own zone, not really interested in talking to people around me. So I sat, facing the window, watching the busy tarmac, but it wasn’t long before I was entertained by other things around me. Mainly the people. One 20-something guy was on the phone with his mom, thrilled to have gotten an offer for $500 to give up his seat for just waiting til the next flight, four hours later. I couldn’t hear her part of the conversation, but it was very clear she was not happy, because off he went, back to the gate agent, like a puppy with his tail between his legs, saying he couldn’t give up his seat after all. Then, there was a baby-wearing mom who was venting–out loud, to no one in particular, unless you count the months-old kiddo–how much she hated this massive airport and all the walking and train-riding and so many terminals. Her home airport was tiny and you couldn’t get lost in that one, or so she said. Next, we had the older guy who missed his connecting flight because he left his phone on the last flight by accident, and had to run all the way back to the last terminal to get back on that plane and grab the phone where he left it, in the overhead bin. I only know this story because he recited it repeatedly to people he called on his cell phone, on speaker, even when they didn’t answer. Yep, I got to hear it three times, even as he shared the whole story on someone’s voicemail. I’m not sure he realized he was on speaker phone, or that’s the only way he knew how to use it, but the point was, I can still recite all the details, a week later. And I must point out, all this happened before I said a word to any soul after the TSA agent. I was between laughs and screams inside, so I posted a note on my social media account about how entertaining I was finding the airport.
Just an hour later, I was on my way, and two hours later, was touching down in Dayton. By the time I landed, friends had replied to that social media post, telling me there was a whole book in the craziness we all run into when flying. That planted a seed.
Within 30 minutes, I’d located my Lyft buddy and we headed to the hotel. We checked into our rooms, but both bored, decided to explore the buzzing metropolis of Dayton. That means we took a ride over to the Museum of the Air Force, which according to the online travel sites, is the one thing you must do while in town. We had a blast boarding the Air Force One planes on display, along with gawking at other things in the museum, from space shuttles to missiles, and decided to meet later for dinner. By meal time, we’d picked up one more Erma attendee who came in early. We were told Hickory Barbecue was the place to eat, so off we went, making small talk along the way, getting to know each other. This is when they explained that at previous conferences, there was an awards dinner the night before, so I finally knew why I’d booked the trip a day early. That was some relief that I wasn’t going crazy. We talked some more while enjoying our food, and I shared more about my earlier airport experience, and the notion that a friend suggested I write a book about it. To my surprise, they both agreed. Not only did they agree, they helped me work through ideas for a title, and a sequel, potential contributors, and told me exactly who to meet up with the next day to talk about getting it published.
Here I was, a day early by accident, and already felt like the entire trip was worth every dime. The sessions hadn’t even started.
After dinner, these ladies joined me at the hotel bar, along with two fellows who were there for the workshops (that’s us in the photo above), and we spent the evening connecting. Not networking really. Just connecting. And they became my “people” throughout the conference. We’d look for each other in the rooms at lunch and dinner. And we’d fold others into our circle along the way, taking notes in other sessions and sharing our gems of knowledge.
The speakers were phenomenal. I have pages full of notes I took (if I can read my own handwriting), and endless photos of PowerPoint lessons. But I have even MORE photos of the PEOPLE I met those few days; attendees, speakers, organizers, you name it. The true bonding came after the sessions and dinners. It happened in the hallway and bar. Even the speakers shared drinks and fries with us. So, as great as those sessions were, the true wealth is in the bonds we formed. These are people I now consider friends and truly believe I’ll stay in touch with for years. As I said earlier, my hope was to “find my funny” at Erma, and in the end, the legendary Alan Zweibel even shared a note letting me know I made HIM laugh. I mean, does it get any better than that?
Oh, and the book idea that started on the first day? I made a point of talking to the publisher at the conference who told me to snap up the url for the title I suggested, the one my friends helped me create. And he told me to buy another for a sequel. I picked up a co-author on the trip, too, because I know myself and know I’ll need someone to hold me accountable along the way. So, expect to see “101 Tales from the Terminal” in bookstores before the next Erma conference in 2024. And my hope is that my new friends, all of these incredibly talented writers who I met and fell in love with in Dayton, will be contributors to this book, and also share their “tales from the terminal”. I know we all have the stories to share, and we definitely have the power to put them into words on the page. Heck, maybe Alan Zweibel will even write our foreword for the book. And who knows? Maybe my co-author and I will even be asked to host a session at the next Erma Workshop on all the great things that can come from being part of this talented and generous circle. Big goals, I know. But after all, what did Erma say about dreamers? We are visionaries who see beyond the first step.
And if you’re wondering, I wouldn’t have traded this conference for Paris. Dayton doesn’t have the Eiffel Tower, but it was its own version of the city of love for me.