Monday, October 3, 2011

Montreal Conference Part I: Never Leave Home Without It. Or just never leave home.

After some internal debate, I've decided to break the post into two parts. One concerning the travel, one concerning the conference. This is the travel one.

Remember when I said that hate traveling and get really paranoid about things going wrong? Well, it's not so much paranoia anymore when everything really does go wrong. The first big hurdle was my own fault. Due to the incredible levels of paranoia aforementioned, I got to the bus stop for the first leg of my trip three hours early. So I went to the coffee shop for a quick meal and a bit of reading time. A friend came in, and joined me. He asked what I was reading, and I replied that it was a book by Nick Montfort (Twisty Little Passages), and that he was one of the speakers at the conference. I went to pull out the program, when I realized that I didn't have it. Or my tickets. Or my paper. Or my map. Instead of any of that useful stuff, I had accidentally grabbed the wrong pile of papers from my office--I was going to the conference armed only with my professor's notes on my dissertation proposal. It has its own uses, but those tended not to apply to my current situation.

I quickly recounted my situation to my colleague, and he offered to drive me back to campus to retrieve my lost papers. (Imagine that scene with him being a lot more saint-like, and me being a lot more "crazy-panicked.") At the time, I couldn't remember whether my papers where in my office or at home, so he drove me to the office, with a promise to wait outside to see if he'd be needed to drive me home instead. I got to my office, and realized that I didn't actually have my keys with me, save my house key. Deciding that the beatified friend had done enough for my well-being, I lie through my teeth and tell him I have my papers. He drives away, and I take off running to the English department to beg the administrative assistant for the spare key. It's 4:30 on a Friday, so I catch her just as she's leaving. But catch her I do, and so I finally get back into my office and retrieve my missing papers. Then I catch a town bus back to the Greyhound bus terminal, and spend the next hour in the rain waiting for the bus. Fun.

I went over this in such great detail because it all hinged on so many different factors, any one of which could have spelled doom or averted everything. If only I had double-checked the papers, nothing would have happened. Counterwise, if that friend hadn't come in and asked about the book, I never would have noticed the papers missing. If he hadn't had a car, I would have been up the creak. If I had brought my keys, I wouldn't have had to rely on the slim chance that the administrator hadn't left yet. It's all a complex web of coincidences and random events. Remember when I said I practically live in a sitcom? This is why I say things like that.

I considered myself seven kinds of idiot for not backing up everything I needed. My friend took a more sympathetic view, pointing out that this sort of emergency was just the reason that I had shown up three hours early. History will tell who is right.

And my travel woes don't end there! My bus had connections at Toronto and Ottawa on the way to Montreal. About twenty minutes from the Ottawa terminal, the bus's transmission blows. The driver, not wanting to admit defeat, crawls at 10 k on the highway for a kilometer or two, before a passenger points out that he's endangering our lives. So he pulls over, and I have to split a cab with a guy who knew exactly where the bus terminal was (lucky) and a teenager who admitted upfront that he'd been drinking from a flask the last six hours, and he's really ready to party, man. (Less lucky). I get to the terminal just as the next bus is pulling out, and rush onto the bus. So it ended well enough, I guess, but it wasn't exactly a fun thing to add to a 9 hour bus trip.

And then I got to Montreal, at 4:30 am. I had 4 hours till the conference actually started. Not enough time to warrant getting a hotel room, too much time to do anything useful. All I had to do was get to the conference. And once again, I had reason to be grateful for extra, redundant time built into my schedule.

This is a map of the route from the Greyhound Terminal to the conference:

View Larger Map
It's a straight line. All I have to do is head south. So of course, I head north. Let this be a tip for would-be tourists: north of 505 Boulevard de Maisonneuve is not the most scenic area of Montreal. I stepped over two different hobos sleeping on the sidewalk, and walked very quickly by what looked like a pack of wild dogs. After I passed the third "massage parlor," I decided that discretion was the better part of getting the hell out of there, and fled south. Conference located almost immediately after.

Then, finally, going home, my train is delayed an hour because the signal relay had suffered water damage. At one point, we were slowly going backwards for about five straight minutes. They did a good job making up for lost time, but I'm still 20 minutes late for my connection. Luckily for me, the decision was made to hold my connection back until my train got there. (It is somewhat less lucky for anyone who was traveling from Toronto to Kitchener straight last night.) So one train trip/taxi ride later, I was home at 12 am.

Incidentally, the one part of my transportation that seemed to go smoothly was the cab transits. The cabbies were well-tipped for that distinction.

Moral of this story: I don't know. Plan ahead? Except I did plan ahead, which was why I was three hours early. So... plan ahead in different, better ways. Not that that helps with public transportation breakdowns. So I guess the moral is to take things in stride. I just wish it stopped feeling like I need to take things in sprint.

Later Days.

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