Occasionally, I am invited by to travel to a conference to develop myself professionally. Most of this involves the development of my patience as there tends to be lots of sitting and wondering what they’ll have to eat next. Sometimes these buttock-callousing events take place in exotic locations, like Baltimore or Atlanta, but this time I journeyed to a remote hamlet in Texas-somewhere between Texarkana and Brownsville-called Bastrop. The main claim to fame for this locale, other than the vast Lost Pines Resort where the conference was held, is that there is a Buc-ee’s convenience store nearby. (At least there wasn’t shortage of jerky or pork rinds.)
The actual conference took place at a palatial complex nestled in a thicket and accessible only by an incredibly long and winding road through woods so dense that I expected a hillbilly assault at any moment. I feel certain that this isolated location was chosen to deter conference attendees from being distracted by more cosmopolitan temptations, like Chick-fil-A. The only apparent diversions available at this resort involved exercise or eating. One out of two ain’t bad, I guess.
Eating at most professional development events is an adventure-at best. The featured dinner entree is usually conference chicken with seminar sauce, accompanied by green beans that taste and feel like they came out of a Hasbro kitchen play set. Imagine my surprise when the first plenary supper included a medley of blackened redfish and fillet mignon. Unfortunately, I soon discovered that the fish seemed to be seminar chicken wearing a fish costume, and although the steak was edible, it was about the size of an eyeball. Thankfully, I could console myself with the gelatinous chocolate cake made out of raw brownie mix that had sat uncovered in the fridge too long. At one of the conference lunches, I actually got really excited when out of the corner of my eye, I saw a display on the buffet table that read, “Burgers.” Once again, though, my hopes were dashed when I got in line and realized that it was a vintage metal sign used only for decoration. The actual menu consisted of deep fried conference chicken and the second string fish that sat on the bench the night before. I guess the theme of the display was “Things you wish you were eating.” The only other notable menu item was at breakfast on the final day of the conference. They were serving roasted potatoes mixed with chunks of smoked brisket. At any other time of day, this combination might be tolerable, but if I ate that at 7:30 AM, I’d have to go back to bed immediately or make life miserable for the person sitting next to me at the conference for the rest of the day.
In addition to the culinary excitement of the conference, I did attempt to participate in the only other available resort activity to avoid my mealy hotel sheets for the night-exercise. I decided to go jogging. In other words, I decided to avoid running while still being able to claim that I had worked out. When I went out into the muggy Texas night wearing my Nike shorts to make me feel more athletic, I noticed a thick fog in the air that reminded me of something from a horror movie. Pushing such childish thoughts aside, I bravely began my jog and was abruptly halted by something truly terrifying-a small herd of deer. On every patch of grass surrounding the jogging trail, there were at least two of these wild-eyed creatures glaring at me through the mist. I had always thought deer were skittish animals that would bound away at even the slightest scent of a pair of Nike shorts (especially mine). Apparently, though, these were the deer that bullied all of the other deer into giving up their milk money, and I appeard to be their next victim. Needless to say, my workout ended prematurely. After all, I had already jogged about 100 feet, and I didn’t want to harm the local wildlife.
When the conference ended, and I was trying to avoid falling asleep in the car with my head back and my mouth hanging open, I reflected on what a real privilege it was to be asked to attend a conference at such a beautiful facility, and I really did learn a lot. I’m actually looking forward to my next trip, and this time, I’ll be packing my DVD copy of Bambi.