I’m on an airplane in which I cannot stand. It’s an express flight from Winnipeg to Calgary. I have the window seat — 17F. The 14-month-old in row 16 couldn’t be cuter and has made it his mission to rope me into a game of peek a boo. I indulged.
The game briefly wrested my mind from thinking about the many ways in which my body had to contort in order to fit in this seat. I didn’t catch the boy’s name, but he’s wearing a striped onesie. If you see him around, hit him up for a quick game.
I’m on my way to Anaheim, California, to take part in the AgVocacy Forum ahead of the Commodity Classic, one of the largest ag conferences in the U.S. Attending the Classic has been on my bucket list. I’m on my way.
My first two days are at the forum, where organizers are expecting me. After that, the Commodity Classic begins. No organizers are expecting me. I don’t have an agenda there, save for a meeting with the Iowa Soybean Association and a ticket to a banquet.
For the most part, I could attend or stay in the hotel. This conference, for me, will be entirely self-guided. And that’s a special kind of pressure. I want to do the next few days as well as possible, engaging in meaningful conversation and cultivating long-lasting relationships.
I bought a suit. In fact, I bought two. It’s something I should have done years ago. I have been at too many events surrounded by well-dressed men and women. I wouldn’t have scrambled to purchase two bespoke suits ahead of this trip if it wasn’t for a few key inter-conference meetings that give a semblance of shape to my time in Anaheim.
While my docket is relatively clear, I will be attending the American Soybean Association’s banquet. It’s been heralded as a go-to event. “If you’re going to the Commodity Classic, you’ve got to attend the ASA banquet,” a farmer told me during CropConnect, a Manitoba ag event that takes place every February.
When I picture myself there, I am wearing a suit, and I am also wearing a tie. I’m pretty sure I do not have a learning disability, but it wouldn’t be far from the truth to say I’ve learned to tie a Windsor knot at least 10 times, each time forgetting almost immediately after catching on.
There I was, standing in my office in jeans and a t-shirt wrestling with a wrinkly old tie I extracted from a tangled wad I found jammed in a dark corner of my closet. The YouTube video was meant for people like me. At first, it seemed patronizing. Why is this guy talking to me like he doesn’t believe I’m going to understand? Five minutes in I knew exactly why. I’m guessing he had experience teaching adults. On my first attempt, I was already using and appreciating some of his seemingly childish explanations.
“I call this the neck hole,” he said, referring to the wedge between the knot I was about to form and my neck. “Today, we’re going to go through the hole, behind the hole, around the hole and in the hole.”
He spoke slowly and repeated each interaction often. But still, my first few looked more like blobs than anything close to dressy.
In some visions, I’m standing in a large conference-centre hallway, alone, wondering what it is I’m doing here. In others, I’m at a conference event/presentation laughing and chatting with a table full of farmers and farm-group representatives.
I’ll be happy if the latter came to pass. But, amid all the preparations I have made for the week ahead, I’ve come to realize and appreciate that the reality I’m about to face is almost entirely up to me.
I enjoy a good chat and I really enjoy meeting new people, but it takes conscious effort. We’ve all been there, at a conference or event looking for a place to sit. It takes guts to sit at a table full of strangers. It’s always rewarding, but to make that decision and others like it time and time again is a taxing enterprise.
Since the opening paragraph, I landed in Calgary, connected to San Francisco and the pilot just announced our descent into Orange County. For what it’s worth, this is my first column written entirely in three different, cramped airplane seats.
I’m ready for the week. Who knows, it could be a game-changer. Come what may, I have a suit and, as of right now, I know how to tie a tie.