Tuesday was the big day. My first foray back into business travel. And, no less, travel to the first major convention to be held in the United States since March of 2020: World of Concrete.
Here I will note that World of Concrete, with its rather grandiose and also pretty comical name, has been a pretty strong refrain with notes of significance in my life for quite a while. I went to my first one in 2005. In those days it would draw near 100,000 people, and it is still a really big show.
Several times in the far-flung past, my friends would meet me in Las Vegas and we’d have fun adventures after show hours. And then, one year when I was there by myself, I got pulled into a work dinner where I wound up meeting a lovely young lady who would later become my wife.
Romantic, right? It is a great story, and it goes to show you never know what places and events have the power to change your life.
The show usually takes place in February, and Erin joined me when I attended in 2020, a bit of a reunion with our meeting place. I have a distinct recollection of texting with friends about this strange new disease that was causing all kinds of fear and panic in China and, partly wondering if it was something we had to worry about, and also partly making jokes like, “Ah, it’s Las Vegas. I’m sure a good stiff cocktail would take that virus out.”
I had no concept then about the degree to which COVID 19 would change all our lives. I had no idea what was coming in that year. I was still on course to another reality entirely.
Which is partly why I feel like my return to World of Concrete this year is the right time to wrap up my daily blog. It does feel like a bookend to me for that era of COVID quarantine. Now it is onto a new story entirely, and I don’t know what that is yet.
Anyway, for as nervous as I was about the trip, I was doing pretty well for the most part on Tuesday morning. I got up early, got some things done around the house, got packed and had most of my meeting stuff ready to go. I had to go out to run a few errands, and then had a random 15 minutes that messed with my calm.
I was running just a few minutes late, and was stuck in line at the store. When I finally got to the self check out, the machine kept loudly rejecting my debit card. I had literally just been to the bank, so I knew there shouldn’t be a problem, but I started panicking that maybe my card went kaput just before my trip.
I paid another way and finally got out of there, and went to the nearby gas station, both because I did actually need gas, and also to test my card out somewhere else. When I got there, I saw the first pump had an “Out of Order” sign on it. And the second. And the third. And so on. Whole station was out.
OK, so I changed course and turned out of the parking lot, right into a bunch of road construction that let me go right or left, but not straight. I’ll let you guess which way I needed to go. If you guessed, “straight,” you are correct.
I turned right, and went right into even more construction, this one a one-lane situation where I got stuck at a guy with a stop sign for several minutes. Eventually I got out of it, got gas, found my card was working and got home, but now I was a bundle of anxiety and stress with about an hour and a half left before I had to go.
I did ultimately pull it together and get my stuff gathered. While I was packing up things in my office, Amelia came over and wanted to sit with me. I could tell she was sad, and sure enough, she wanted a hug and started to cry. She told me how much she was going to miss me.
I had told the kids a few days before that I was going to be gone for a few days. Again, this used to be pretty normal, but not so much anymore. I held her and got pretty teary eyed, myself. I was really going to miss her, her brother and her mom, too. I didn’t like leaving anymore than she did.
We hung out while I finished and she seemed to be feeling better, but then really struggled when it was actually time to go. Erin told the kids she would take them out to lunch, and we all said a sad and strange goodbye. It was time for me to make my trek to the airport.
It all felt so rusty, and suddenly there I was, right in the middle of my old, well-worn tradition of struggling to find a parking spot. I finally got one and made the long schlepp to TSA. That went pretty well, but it still felt really weird being there. It was an old routine, but one that felt like it last happened ages ago.
Once in the airport, things went pretty smoothly. I grabbed some lunch, got boarded and was as ready to go as I could be. It felt strange being on a plane again, but I settled in.
The flight went smoothly, and soon enough I was in Las Vegas. The airport seemed different. Some things had moved and changed as a result of COVID and just usual construction and things. And as I was in the cab going to the hotel, I felt a little bit the same about what I saw around me. I’ve been to Vegas tons of times, but something seemed a little tiny bit more low-key to me.
At the hotel, in the lobby as I waited for check in, I was surprised to see that probably 25 percent of the people I saw were wearing masks. More than what I had seen up in the mountains a couple weeks ago. I kept mine on for the most part in open areas. I know I don’t officially need it, but I’m still feeling out my comfort zone a little. It took a while to get checked in, and got a nice room on the 54th floor.
After I got settled, I went to a work reception at a restaurant and boy did that feel awkward and rusty at first. The first few minutes of conversation made me realize how out of practice I was, but after a few sips of a cocktail and seeing some friendly faces of colleagues I hadn’t seen in ages, things got to feeling more normal and comfortable again. I capped off the night having some dinner with a few colleagues and then was back in my hotel to call it an night.
It was overall a successful, if sometimes stressful, day back into what I suppose is the new normal for me. About the only negative note is that I succumbed to temptation and put a few bucks into a Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure slot machine.
My play was most non-triumphant. Bogus, even.