Early Thursday morning, the birds were barely awake, sending their tentative chirps out into the air when Husband rolled my suitcases out of the house, while I followed, checking off for the tenth time the items written on the list I held firmly in my hand. Excited and anxious, I could not stop talking all the way to Los Angeles International airport, eagerly anticipating the BlogHer Food conference in Atlanta.
We departed right at 7.00am, and after valiantly trying to read Water for Elephants I brought along, I succumbed and took a nap, my head resting against the window, the book clutched firmly in my hands. I finished packing really late the previous night, and a few hours of restless sleep were not enough to keep me afloat.
The plane arrived about thirty minutes ahead of schedule, and as I made plans days ahead to meet my roommate Beth from OMG!YUMMY and several other bloggers arriving from the Bay Area at the airport, I was biding my time, walking through the Atlanta airport, and enjoying the Exhibit of African art rather then taking the speedy train. I needed to stretch my legs anyway. But at one point I decided to check my messages, and there were several informing me that the Delta flight everybody was on had been delayed for several hours.
Suddenly deflated, I gathered my luggage and sat down despondently. Sure, I had my reservation and I could find my way to the Westin Peachtree Hotel, but roaming the streets of Atlanta by myself was not the most exhilarating thought. I send a text message into the ether, and seconds later, Sabrina of The Tomato Tart responded, informing me that she was a few meters away wearing a leopard head band. My spirits rose, my heart accelerated, and I rushed towards the baggage claim area to embrace my new friend.
And this pattern followed me throughout the conference: a few moments of an awkward silence were annihilated by hours of laughs with new friends. The anxiety of approaching strangers and engaging them in conversation was immediately soothed by friendly smiles and words of support. Whenever I felt lost, I encountered a kindred spirit, and the world seemed at peace.
At moments, I felt as if I did not belong, and the ghosts of middle school appeared, mocking and leering, threatening to bring me down and make me hide, cowering in the corner. But in no time I would be overwhelmed by a glint in someone’s eye, an unequivocal invitation to share a meal, a tentative “hello”, and the anxiety demons would retreat, defeated and vanquished by the forces of good that rule the community of food bloggers.
Most of the time I felt as if were flickering from person to person, trying to meet as many people as I could that I recognized from Twitter, leaving my seat in the middle of breakfast to hug a virtual friend, gathering courage to approach a veteran blogger whose posts inspired me to start my own blog, and shake hands with people as panic-stricken as I was.
I kept in mind the directive of Patti Londre from Camp Blogaway and tried to mingle and meet new people at every meal, every break, and every session. It was challenging and exciting at the same time, made easier by a glass of wine once the afternoon rolled slowly into the night. I felt empowered, and I felt brave, completely immersed in the Cinderella world of glitter and parties.
I barely took any photos, finding my Canon Rebel too cumbersome to tote around, and definitely not matching any of my Bohemian outfits. I decided not to let my blood pressure rise after not receiving any signal on my iPhone, and deserted my Twitter friends for the duration of the conference ( I only connected to my family at night in my room, after battling the inconsistent WiFi). I used my laptop only to get in touch with my new buddies, to get the right address of the restaurant we were meeting at, or to get the right time for our after-party soiree at the hotel lounge.
I have to admit that my escapades into the adventurous world of food blogging were made much smoother by my friend Beth, who graciously shared her room with me, after I promised I did not snore. We did not meet at the airport as we planned because her Delta flight was delayed by several hours. We met at Terrace Restaurant on Thursday night, along with a dozen other bloggers. We shared cocktails, appetizers, and dinners, gluttonous in our desire to taste as much as we could, satisfied in the end by the quality of food and sense of community.
Beth and I talked about our families, our jobs, our blogs, and every day we delved further and deeper, comparing our experiences, questioning out motives, trying to figure out the best approach. We connected from the beginning and we stayed together for many hours of the conference, finding solace in each other’s company. I introduced my friends to her, she in turn shared her friends with me. We both enjoyed wine and organized a little get-together on Friday night.
I bought the ticket for BlogHer Food conference way back in January. I don’t know what I exactly expected from the conference, but I know what I received: a Eureka! moment from Sabrina and Irvin during their Design and Branding panel on Friday morning; an inspiration from Aran, Tami, and Stephanie after their insightful presentation; a boost of energy following funny and informational Photography on the Cheap session by Sarah and Alice. I felt motivated, energetic, and empowered.
I learned something about myself, too. I assumed a lot, I projected a lot, and I lost a lot. My middle school ghosts emerged and I averted my eyes on many occasions, avoiding contact, afraid that any attempt I made would be met with ridicule and a cold shoulder. But any time I engaged in the conversation, I realized that my assumptions were wrong, and that most of the cool kids were as introverted and shy as I was. I am usually a fast learner, but in this instance it took some time for me to realize that it was only my perception that prevented me from meeting anyone and everyone at the conference.
I can continue to kick myself in the butt for ages, but the truth is that I benefited immensely from BlogHer Food conference. I know that Beth and I are going to make our friendship stronger. I know that I have a wonderful connection with Jane and Sabrina. I am happy to count among my friends Lydia and Kelly, Megan and Susan, Pam and Andrew, Christianna and Rene. Some of them are veteran bloggers, some are journalists, and some are fairly new, just like I am. Even if I did not learn anything at the sessions organized by the women of BlogHer Food, I would have departed satisfied, smiling all the way to the airport, basking in the afterglow of the energy, love, and support I received in Atlanta.
My roommate had to leave really early on Sunday morning, and I stayed in the room until checkout time. Unable to connect with anyone, I left my suitcases at the hotel and took MARTA to the High Museum. I spent hours entranced by history, art, and stories, interrupted only by my lunch at Table 1280, a fabulous little restaurant just across the museum. That was truly an unforgettable day.
Our flight left the Atlanta airport around 8.00 p.m. I was comfortably seated against the window in the crowded airplane when a women and her three year old child appeared, their seats separated, one of them sitting next to me, another in a row across the aisle and ahead. While everybody was looking away, consciously hiding their glance, I volunteered to switch places and moved into the middle seat a row ahead. I did not expect a reward for being a good Samaritan – I travel every summer with three girls and being separated on a Transatlantic flight is major downer – but the steward brought me not one, but two bottles of Caberenet Sauvignon as soon as the plane gained velocity.
I did not do it for the wine. I did it because I could relate to the mother’s plight. The wine was a welcome bonus, though:) In retrospect, everything worth saving and savoring from BlogHer Food conference in Atlanta could be summed up in a few words: pay it forward.
I think that this post could be useful to future blog conference atendees and I am linking it to Feed Me, Tweet Me, Follow Me Home blog hop, hosted by Alex of A Moderate Life and April of 21st Century Housewife.