The past week and a half has been the busiest of my life. Highs and lows, excitement pulsing, and very little sleep. Looking back at it, I don’t know where to begin. I want to gush about meeting so many friends at BlogHer Food. I want to sleep even thinking about my trip home. I want to replay my graduation over in my head. More than anything, I want to thank a couple of people. So, here is my not-so-orthodox way of doing just that.
This week and a half started on Thursday, the 19th of May. I got up at a much too early hour to fly to Atlanta. As I sat waiting for my plane, I grabbed my phone and thumbed through my twitter stream. Friends from across the continent were making their way to airports and beginning to get acquainted with Atlanta. It was my first time traveling internationally on my own, and knowing that so many friends were doing the same thing made it simpler; we’d all be together soon. That intangible feeling of knowing something is so close was pure goodness. I glanced at my homework, but my mind kept jumping to the fact that I was meeting some of my best friends in a few hours. There was no chance of it getting done. I wasn’t worried; I would arrive home on Sunday and have all day Monday to finish it up (or so I thought).
Upon finally getting to the Atlanta airport, I texted the friend I was supposed to meet. Once she told me where she was, I couldn’t help it – I raced to her. Weaving my way through the crowds, I glanced each way before getting a quick call to ask where I was. Upon seeing her, I broke into a sprint. Over a year chatting on Skype was finally coming to this. It was one of those movie-moment hugs. Elissa and I then waited a few moments for Tessa, hardly believing we would all be together momentarily. When Tessa came up the escalator, we waved furiously and gushed over finally meeting. Once finally making it to the hotel, we spotted Hannah and Kamran across the room, and rushed over to them.
Avatars and pings to notify of new words became real live people. LOLs and hahaha!s became laughter emerging through the hotel rooms. Smiles swept across our faces as we fell into an all-too-familiar step. We’d never lied or held back on Skype, so there were no big surprises. Sure, little things caught me off guard -like the fact that I was somehow the tallest, or our accents- but you can’t expect to learn everything through conversations over the net. Meeting in-person is invaluable. But no one needs a conference to do that. Conferences simply centralize it, they are certainly a whirlwind, but they’re also an excellent opportunity to meet a huge range of friends. I would have gone just to hang out with those four lovely friends, though.
The rest of the weekend was a true whirlwind. Much laughter, smiles, hugs, and all-around goodness. I know some found it cliquey and disheartening, but this is my truth. It was a time where I had the privilege to see friends from across the continent, all in one place. Sure, there were small moments of feeling snubbed or patiently waiting to speak to someone, to thank them for their words and insight, but nothing that would stop me from returning. Elissa and I geeked out upon finding ourselves in an elevator with David Lebovitz. Then, we sighed as the kitchen generation, Stephanie, and a few other hotel patrons got stuck in another elevator. My heart leapt with joy while enjoying some gluten-free onion rings (and a grilled chicken burger) two nights in a row.
Now, there have been quite a lot of posts likening this all to high school. Being in high school, I get what they’re reaching at, but honestly? No. High school lasts three (or four) years, not a couple of rushed days. High school has homework and tests and and stress. This was a weekend of connection. Hanging out with friends, meeting new ones, laughing as much as we could and marveling in the fact I was in the presence of great friends. Now, maybe I’m a special case. Scratch that. I know I am. I’m fairly young, yet a “veteran” (no, not really) at this food blogging thing. I have friends throughout the food blogging world. This was my second conference. The one I went to last year? It was likened to high school as well. And it felt slightly more like it, for me. However, that wasn’t high school either. Why? Because bringing your mom is not a cool thing at school. (But it was there).
Not to mention, high school doesn’t happen in hotels. And you don’t spend every waking hour hanging out with your friends in high school. You see, this was different. The teachers were also the students. There were sponsors, and everyone talked about food. The only time math was used was when dividing the bill. I’m sorry, but it wasn’t high school. No, it was a conference. And I’ll bet it was a much more lovie-dovie conference than your average, run-of-the-mill corporate one. I think the biggest difference from what I assume non-blogging conferences are about is that bloggers travel to them to see friends first (at least most of us did). Other conferences tend to be much more about the content of the sessions and the ability to form new business relationships. That’s the lynchpin; business versus personal relationships as a priority. Whenever personal relationships are in frenzy, high school is always the go-to metaphor. It wasn’t high school; just a bunch of people with the same passion, each looking to connect with a different set of friends, both old and new.
I hate drama with a passion. I avoid it, even subconsciously. You can bet that I’ll do my best not to start anything (and know that I am truly sorry if I inadvertently did). So, even though I saw a couple snippets of drama, most of the moments, I was just enjoying myself. I tried to push myself out of my comfort zone as I said hello to people I’ve never met. My goal wasn’t to meet everyone, though.
My goal was to love. And love was what I found. From my time there, to the company, to the view, to the weather, to everything. Right now, the moments that burst across my memory are those where there was laughter, quiet contentment and honest beauty. They filled too many moments to count, and each will flutter back at different times, but I wouldn’t trade my time there for the world.
When all goodbyes had been said, and I got my plane tickets home, I took a moment to be grateful for all that I found in Atlanta. After my first plane landed, we couldn’t taxi to a gate as there had been hail. Hours later, we arrived at a gate. I found my second flight on time – a mere ten minutes from boarding. After grabbing a make-shift meal, it was delayed.
Every five minutes, that flight was delayed another ten. Finally, after changing our gate, they chose a time to take off. It was five minutes from then, and we hadn’t boarded. But no matter. I would be home soon. They boarded us, and we even drove away from the gate. Until we had to stop. There was lightning. It was far enough away, but bright and loud. As I played on my phone, it came closer and closer. At one point there was practically no space between the flash of light and the crack of the thunder. After nearly three hours of just sitting there in the lightning storm, my flight was cancelled. I was stranded. Gulp. Hours after, I was rebooked for a flight two days later. It was the earliest they could get me out of there. And I couldn’t get my bag.
I’m forever grateful for social media. Without Facebook and a certain anonymous blogger, I wouldn’t have had a place to stay that night. (I was told the hotels were fully booked). Mrs. Q, thank you. I loved every minute at your house, and being with you and your boys. Everyone else? Go see her site. She’s much more phenomenal than she gives herself credit for. Undoubtedly outstanding.
Facebook also let me discover that Elissa and I would have the same Dallas layover. What luck. Even in a nightmare of travel, I got to see dear friends. After buying a change of clothes and some necessities from Target (including a shirt fittingly by the brand “Stranded”), I said goodbye to my gracious hosts and headed to Dallas.
The first flight went smoothly. I found Elissa without much problem, and was thrilled for the extra hour or two with her. We scarfed a meal of sorts down, then parted ways. Her flight was minorly delayed. Then it was more delayed. I was jumpy. I couldn’t get stranded twice, right?! Wrong. Both our flights boarded. They were hot, oven-like. The claustrophobic woman beside me started to panic. The flight attendant brought water. Then there was lightning. And hail. Huge, plonking hail. A tornado was spotted. We deplaned.
I was terrified. I was in a hall filled with windows. Tornadoes were a source of bafflement, a story of faraway places. I sat where the police were directing us. The clouds were changing rapidly. It didn’t look or feel right. Then some clouds started turning. I was watching the beginning of a tornado. Tight chest, puffy eyes, panic. Phone calls not going through. Hyperventilation. Rapid texts to Elissa, who was much too far away on the other side of the airport. Tears. I was helpless. I wanted to be home. Anything but alone.
Once the sky calmed down and turned into a night black, sirens stopped sounding. We were allowed to sit in chairs. Flights started to be cancelled left and right. Mine was cancelled soon. The mile-long line-up for rebooking was next. Out of energy, I was finally rebooked for morning. We were advised not to leave the airport. After instinctively buying the biggest bottle of water I could see, I went to find Elissa.
In case you didn’t know, the Dallas airport is enormous. And easy to get lost in. And when there are lightning strikes, hail and tornadoes, the train that makes it easier to get around doesn’t run. An hour later and utterly exhausted, I finally found her. Half an hour after that, she landed the lucky last spot on a flight out the next morning.
We found a corner behind a gate to “sleep”. All the cots and blankets had already been given out, so we made do by draping Elissa’s clothes over us and trying different angles on the chairs. It was freezing. Sleep was minimal, as the lights never went off and sounds were always surprising. Babies cried, conversations were had, and every so often there was panic over where our bags were. Once the stores started to open and we were ready to move, we found some sort of breakfast. Nothing substantial, but something. Our flights left mid-morning, so we’d be home by early afternoon. Upon saying goodbye for the third time, we found our flights changed. Mine was delayed 45 minutes due to a flight attendant who was not in Dallas yet, and hers was cancelled. I wanted to stomp my feet and make them take us home. Now.
After Elissa finally got rebooked, she came to see me. My flight was repeatedly delayed an hour. But it was still happening, I vaguely hoped. The next day was my graduation. And, that dinner with Elissa had finished off the last of my extra medication. Eventually, I said the last goodbye (of that trip!) to Elissa and boarded. It was a clear day. After a couple of passengers decided they wanted off the flight (why they waited that long to change their minds, I will never know), we took off. I could (almost) breathe. Home.
Customs went quickly, and my bag was waiting so perfectly on the carousel, as if it hadn’t been hidden from me for the past four days. Then I ran out to see mom. Home at last.
Elissa’s flight was somewhat delayed, but she made it out that night too. So much relief.
And for the few of you still with me, here is what I want to leave you with: Food blogging is so much more than the act of typing words and photographing what you bake. It is the joy found in community and the expansiveness of that community. It is the fact that because of this space, I’m no longer alone. Not alone in celiac, in life, or in any situation I’ll encounter. So, thank you. Especially to Mrs. Q and Elissa, (and twitter). You lent joy to difficult days.