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June 10th, 2006

I’ve been out of touch lately because I am just finishing up with a writing conference I coordinated in Madison WI. A committee chair is what they give to those of us who do not run fast enough when the call goes out for volunteers.

It happened to me last year, when Maureen, the president of our local writing group asked if I could get Jennifer Crusie as a guest, since I knew her. Of course I said yes, because I wanted to see Jenny as much as anyone.

It didn’t occur to me, until much later, that running the conference was not the best way to get to see Jenny. Attending the conference is a better way to see guests. If you are running the conference, all you see after a year of planning, is little black dots swimming in front of your eyes as some guy from catering passes you yet another piece of paper to initial, which probably means we’ve gone over budget in some as yet unpredicted way.

Most of it involves food. The reason I started carrying a flask to conferences was because I couldn’t afford the cash bar. But now that I’ve seen a hotel catering bill, rail drinks hold no terror. It is only a few cents more to get a highball then to get a teabag at breakfast. From now on, when I go to a conference I’m going to offer to forgo hot tea at breakfast and pour brandy on my Cheerios. The conference chair will probably want to have one with me.

Over all, things went well, and I enjoyed a brief cachet in the group for being able to get big name guests: Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer, authors of lots of other stuff, but most recently “Don’t Look Down”. This was before the group realized how easy it is to get Bob and Jenny. They’re total cream puffs. At the actual conference, people spent a lot of time congratulating me for work that was done by my crack team of conference ninjas, all of whom possessed skills far beyond me.

After getting the guests (which I did last May) I existed mostly to do the worrying and sign documents. It is just as well, because I can’t be trusted out without a keeper.

I waited until Friday afternoon, the day of the conference, to do some last minute shopping for the hospitality suite, and guest gift baskets. Apples for Jenny, Ding Dongs for Bob, liquor for the suite. There were a few hours left before I needed to pick the guests up at the airport. I was assured that there was a grocery, right across the street.

How hard could it be?

To be on the safe side, I took Cory Lavitt along as co-pilot. Cory is from Connecticut. Which means her chances of successfully navigating in Madison are still slightly better than mine. We were in Middleton, which I think may be the far south side of Madison.

Or West.

Or perhaps Southwest.

Or maybe North.

Which gives you some idea of how I started out.

I took the directions, “right across the street” and ran with them, promptly finding a craft store, the DSW Shoe Outlet, and an assortment of mid-priced restaurants.

Ok. So I cross a different street. And another and another. I turn back when we see the life-size statue of the elk (if elk were made of rusty metal, this would have been quite lifelike). We are in office building country. No grocery stores to be had.

We try again. And end up in downtown Middleton. There must be groceries. People eat here, don’t they?

Apparently not. I found a post office, a liquor store and a Kwiky Mart. Finally, I give up and ask at a gas station. I am told to stay on University Ave. and I’ll get to a grocery.

After 10 minutes, I figure out where I am. Middleton, is not actually in the middle. It’s on an edge. I am driving towards the middle. For some reason, it never occurred to me that University Ave. meant the avenue that goes by the university. In my mind’s eye, Middleton has very little to do with Madison proper, but exists in it’s own world, totally surrounded by terra incognita and connected to other places by Highway 12/18.

Now, it is an hour and a half later, I am halfway back to the airport, and we are trying to find Hostess Ding Dongs in an upscale and largely organic grocery to the south of the University.

Or West. Or perhaps North. I couldn’t find it on the map, but where ever it is, it’s not Ding Dong country. They were there but well camouflaged, hiding at the back of the store, probably afraid of all the whole grain cookies and organic juices.

FYI: Our guests did not actually demand Ding Dongs or anything else. But I’d placed myself in charge of this portion of the hospitality. A gesture needed to be made. I was going to make it, dammit, or die trying.

We turn and head towards the airport, since what should have been hours to spare before meeting Jenny and Bob’s plane is now much closer to “only slightly late.”

When we get them to the car, Jenny begs for one stop before the hotel. She is having a crochet emergency and must go to a craft store immediately.

No problem. I have emergencies like this, all the time. And it just so happens, I can find the nearest craft store to the hotel. It’s right across the street (where I expected to find a grocery store). We take her there, and she runs in while Bob waits stoically in the car with Cory and me.

Bob is an ex Green Beret. They are specially trained to wait stoically. He’s really good at it.

Jenny is back in 5 minutes, with a crochet hook. She explains later that by Monday, she needs to crochet a baby afghan. And write a novel. She writes kind of slow, but she can crochet like a fiend.

She thanks us profusely, and we assure her it is no problem. And she says, nice mall and too bad there isn’t a DSW Shoe Store.

Well. Let me tell you…

Just don’t ask for groceries.