Last week I went to an academic conference in Toronto and forgive my dramatic word choice, but I would say it was rather life changing. For some reason this has been the year of the conference as I recently attended an educational conference with my mom. This conference felt different because it was supposed to be “my people.”
To be honest I am not quite sure how to fit in with “my people.” On the plane ride despite recently buying a brand new In Style I could not read it because I was surrounded by academics and did not want to reduce my credibility. I instead underlined academic articles and glanced longingly at the glossy pages in my bag.
As soon as I began to wonder whether I was the only non-robot in the group the woman next to me (a professor at a nearby University) grabbed both arm rests abruptly when the plane got bumpy. I looked at her tense face and she forced a smile saying how she really hates flying. I get a sick amount of happiness from being around scared flyers. I am anxious about everything from birds to the subway, but I am not generally a nervous flyer (although sure for the occasional bumps and take offs I like to hold a hand, but not too bad). I responded to my seatmate, “Don’t worry, I am nervous about most things,” and continued calmly reading my article with a smug smile on my face.
Arriving at the hotel was a real “culture-shock.” I walked into a place with 5,000 other nerds like me. I felt like an anthropologist the entire time constantly studying and watching people there. For some reason something like a casual breakfast buffet feels to me like a really intimate non-professional experience so watching people in their own morning routines was especially enjoyable.
Luckily I was traveling with one of my closest friends who has similar academic interests and is equal parts nerd and cool girl as me (I will let you decide what those proportions are). During my entire time there we did not leave the hotel much and I felt like I had to play “serious academic” non-stop even in the cramped elevators. I tried to hide my resemblance to the woman on the plane with every pause in service on the elevator, especially after my friend telling me the elevators broke when she was coming up to meet me in our room and one person panicked.
On one lunch break I decided to explore the city alone and felt like I got to stop playing academic and could just be TB Phoebe. I walked in and out of shops smiling to myself as I discovered the funky side of Toronto. Shopkeepers even assumed I was a local and one person stopped me on the street to ask for directions! I guess I gave off a cool Toronto chick vibe. I had a fun lunch at this adorable café by myself and was just starting to relax when a group of people from the conference swarmed the cafe. When they walked in I felt like I had been spotted and slumped in my seat and tried to look serious again.
The next day I spoke on a panel and felt a little more like the serious academic I was pretending to be. To be honest after the panel I was gloating. I felt smart and confident and was ready to leave Canada with a feeling of success. I should know better than to think something humiliating wont happen to me and if it didn’t what would I blog about?
When I get to the airport I said goodbye to my friend and went to check-in. After being guided by someone as smart and soothing as my friend I must have forgot to pay attention and take care of myself. After check-in I went to the “bag drop” area where the woman tagging my bag was busily chatting to her friend. I stared at my bag, “Is my bag all set?” “Yes,” she said, “just go to customs.”
To customs I went and was happy to leave my embarrassingly large bag behind. I was stressing about traveling with two laptops (one personal and one for work) because I pride myself on the speed I can go through the security line. My bags felt extra heavy and painful to carry so I just wanted to get to the to a café for a snack. After customs and being slow in the security line I went to a café and took my time going to the gate, even stopping to buy smarties to really feel like I had left America. When I was sitting at the gate about a half an hour before the boarding time they announce my name. I figured there was a seat change or something so I marched up to the gate relaxed.
An official looking man is waiting for me and told me I left my bag at check-in. When I reply of course I did because the woman said I was all set he looks at me like an idiot and says “no you are supposed to take your bag through customs with you.” (I guess “all set” was not the most clear of questions on my end). My stomach drops and he asks me to come with him. I am speechless and just stare down as he escorts me in an elevator back up to security and we parade through security the wrong way. He is on his walky-talky explaining the situation and I am officially humiliated. He takes me to a screening area where there are a few other people. I have to explain to another customs officer with little commentary that I thought the woman at check-in said I should leave my bag. I can’t remember another situation where I have really been at such a loss of words. What do you say when being oblivious has made you appear like a security threat?
I wait in the gate area for them to get my bag and I call my mom in tears because my plane was boarding in fifteen minutes. They call my name and then the woman who is about to search my bag yells at me and asks if I read the sign about cell phones (I didn’t see one and now I felt like a bigger oblivious idiot). The man who guided me to this area says he is going to leave me. I felt abandoned and asked how I was going to get back through security without waiting in line. He says to check-in with the lady at security when I check my bag and she will guide me to the front of the line.
After my entire checked bag and carry-ons are searched I struggle to carry all my luggage back to security and try to find someone to escort me to the front of the line. The woman who I thought I was supposed to see says that she can’t help me and tries to get me to leave her alone. Finally she tells me to just ask people in line to cut. Now I am in tears and asked to cut expecting a friendly Canadian to warmly say it was okay, but instead I get an annoyed, “Okay” from a middle-aged lady. I unpack both laptops and slowly go through security a second time and make it to my gate just in time for boarding. I immediately get on the plane and eat my smarties (that later of course empty into my entire bag) and read my In Style.
I officially dropped the act of trying to be a serious academic and realize I will always be ungracefully Phoebs. According to my mother it is part of my charm.