I am hiding out in my hotel room at the BlogHer '08 conference in San Francisco at the moment, because I had to sit down and write something in a quiet place, or I was going to have a difficult time explaining why it was that I had stripped off all my clothes, draped myself in a tablecloth in the grand ballroom, and proclaimed myself myself the Lizard King. I am truly enjoying this conference, but there are 900 people here ALL THE TIME, and I am an introvert. It's best to secure some alone time for myself than become infamous for spontaneous nudity.
The nervousness I feel here when meeting all these incredible bloggers of all levels of fame pales in comparison to the anxiety I felt when the Palinode dropped me off BY MYSELF at the airport on Thursday morning to put me AND MY LONESOME on the first leg of a three-plane journey from Cityville to Edmonton to Denver to San Francisco ALONE. Have I mentioned that I have never travelled by myself on an airplane before? Because I haven't, and the idea of navigating three completely unfamiliar airports SOLO put my brain through an electric mixer.
The first flight was from Cityville to Edmonton in a glorified cigar tube that held what looked to me like twenty-five people. I read the Globe & Mail studiously to avoid looking out at the right wing of the airplane, which was small and wobbly-looking and obviously going to tear clean off the side of the vehicle while I watched so that I could be aware of, from the very first sign of trouble, exactly how much time I had before I was to be embedded in a field of canola. Did you know that teenagers in Canada are waiting longer to have sex and are more likely to use condoms than they were ten and twenty years ago? When I was in high school, people just slutted around and contracted trichomoniasis. How times change.
We managed to land safely at the Edmonton airport, though, despite all signs to the contrary, and I was hustled along into the terminal and told to find the line-up for United Airlines. Which I did. And no one was there. I stood there at the far end of the airport for ten minutes, checking signs, craning my neck around the counter, and wondering why in the hell, in a crowded airport, no one was standing within fifty feet of me.
And then it hit. I started sweating and forgetting to breathe and thinking ohmygawdImissedmyplane/lostmyluggage/willbedeniedentryintotheUS/Ihavetopee. I jog-walked to the nearest hallway with bathroom signage and started walking. There was no one in this hallway, either, and I was beginning to believe that I had stumbled over the threshold into the bizarro version of the Edmonton airport, and I wondered if I ended up in bizarro San Francisco, would I be the only attendee at the bizarro BlogHer conference?
The more the hallway wound around, the more freaked out I became, so when I finally found an open door to a room with a little, old man behind a counter, I nearly threw myself across the green arborite with joy at there being a non-threatening person before me.
"Can I help you?" he asked.
"Yes!" I said and blinked at him.
"Oh! Right. I just got off a plane, and I don't know if I was supposed to pick up my luggage, and no one's in the line, and..."
He put his hand on my arm. "Breathe. What airline did you take here?"
"It was a small plane, and it was white, and it had four letters in its name." My fingers fluttered around over the counter.
"Show me your ticket," he said, patting my arm.
He didn't treat me like the crazy person I was appearing to be, and I was relieved to be treated with warmth. I realized that my long walk through the bizarro hallway was not another stretch into truly losing my shit but was really a march to reason. The man squeezed my hand, such an intimate gesture for two strangers, a little old man and an incoherent thirty-something, and he walked me out to a place I could sit until it was time to line up for customs.
"You'll be fine," he said. "Drink some milk."
During the rest of my journey to BlogHer '08 here in San Francisco, I had several more experiences that brought out my anxiety - I got lost in the Denver airport, I thought I missed my flight, my flight was delayed, I almost knocked over a one-legged man in his seventies - but I battled that fear with thoughts of the little, old man who sat behind a counter down a back hallway in Edmonton. He was kind and gentle to a person who was so far over the edge that they had lost even their literacy, and in that small squeeze of my trembling hand, he let me know that I would be okay.
Everything about this conference has presented me with challenges to my comfort zone, because I am shy, I am nervous around new people, and this is the first time that my actual human face has been associated with the name Schmutzie in public, yet, despite these challenges coming at me from minute to minute, I have been okay, and I am okay.
All it took to change my perspective and, in turn, the perspectives of others I have spent time with this weekend, was a touch of comfort from a perfect stranger in a place I would least expect it.