The AP conference I'm attending at Arkansas State University doesn't even begin until tomorrow morning, but I've already learned something vitally important: If your district gives you the choice between staying at a hotel and getting reimbursed or staying on-site at a college, whatever you do, choose the hotel.
That was the lesson Kim and I learned the hard way this evening as we wandered helplessly across ASU's campus, guided only by vague directions, looking for where to check-in. Following the instructions we received in an email, we wound up in a nearly deserted parking lot next to a building that's under construction. No problem, we thought. We'd just walk until we found the check-in. So we walked. And walked. And walked. All the while we never saw a single soul. The campus had all the makings of a ghost town. All it needed was a few tumbleweeds rolling in front of the student center. No, scratch that. The buildings looked too new to be a ghost town.
It was more like the Stephen King story "The Langoliers," where a plane passes into some other dimension and lands at a deserted airport. Of course, we were short an Australian hitman, a blind girl, a crazy guy who stabs another passenger, and the strange, static noise in the distance of the langoliers coming to devour us.
I am convinced Jonesboro is in another dimension, though.
Eventually we spotted three campus security guys cruising around in a golf cart. Once we explained our predicament to them, one guy called the head of security who told me, "All you have to do is go over the hill to your right about three hundred yards and then you'll go to the Commons Building at the North Quads to check in. There are lots of signs up."
Okay. Simple enough. So we headed back to the car and drove in the direction he'd told us to go. We saw apartments that we supposed could have been the elusive North Quads, but we didn't know for sure because there were no signs. After we turned down a road not even listed in the directions, we found the entrance to the complex, and what do you know, there was a sign (the only sign anywhere on campus mentioning the conference)! Not the sort of sign you'd expect to see, mind you, one large enough to see from a distance, brightly lettered, welcoming teachers to the AP conference. Nope. Apparently they didn't enlist an undergrad in graphic design to tackle this sign--a white sign about 14'' x 20" sitting two inches off the ground that read "Check-in for Summer Conference," with an arrow pointing straight ahead. Thanks, that was really helpful.
Well, at least we'd found the North Quads. Now it was just a matter of finding the Commons Building . . . the Commons Building . . . the Com . . . oh, come on, where in the @@#I%%U!@#%U*%!!!!! is it!
The only building we saw besides the dormitories was the laundry mat. Dejected, I spotted a sign at the far end of the parking lot that read "Commons Building." At last!
Sweaty, tired, hungry, we lumbered up to the door where a college-age guy greeted us.
"Are you guys looking for the teacher conference check-in?"
"That's in the Commons Building. This is the Red Wolf Inn. Don't feel bad. You guys are like the fourth group in the past hour that's come here."
"You know, this building has a sign right in front of it that says . . . Oh, never mind. Could you tell us where the Commons Building is then?"
"It's that building right down there."
Yep. The laundry mat.
There, in the back of the laundry mat, sat two bemused-looking college girls at beige formica table, with a hand-made sign behind them that said "Welcome, Teachers to the AP Conference." I felt a bit like I was at a voting site in a third-world country, but without a few stray goats eating dryer sheets in the corner.
"Do you have any information packets?"
"Do you have a map of the campus?"
"No, but I think there might be a book in the other room that lists things to do in Jonesboro. Oh, before you go, Matt has to go over some things with you."
Matt, who had been manning the registration table for a bio-tech conference, stepped up and greeted us with a look serious enough that I didn't know whether he was going to give us a few helpful tips about the Quads or entrust us with classified government papers someone may try to kill us for while we're sleeping.
"Okay, just a few things I need to go over with you. Make sure you don't lose your keys. They're $135 to replace. The smoke detectors are very sensitive. Don't spray hair spray or light a match under them. Don't throw anything at the smoke detector or sprinkler."
Really? 'Cause I'd been pretty psyched about throwing my shoes at the sprinkler while I smoked a cigar and styled my hair.
"And don't hang any clothes from the sprinkler either."
So, I should use the clothes rod in the closet for that, right?
"And, give a hoot, don't pollute."
Okay, he didn't say that. He did hand us a trash bag and tell us to come back for more if we needed them, though.
So after that tutorial, we were off to our rooms. Well, we would've been, if we'd known where they were. Oh, our key envelopes had room numbers, it's just that no one at the laundro-check-in-o-mat told us which of the two dozen or so buildings we were in, and none of the buildings were numbered. So, it was back to the laudro-check-in-o-mat to find out which building. Thankfully, it was the building right behind it.
My colleague and I were/are staying on the second and third floors respectively, and, naturally, the building doesn't have an elevator. A short work out later, I arrived at my room. I'm not sure what exactly I expected my room in the quad to be like, but let's just say I found the roughly 8' x 8', linoleum-tiled space with a yellow overhead light, a small desk, and a bed set four feet off the ground a wee bit disappointing. It appears you can adjust the bed height. The problem is the conference's "what to bring" list didn't include a tool kit.
As I write this, I'm lounging atop Mt. Mattress, listening to the man in the adjacent quad who's snoring so loudly I can feel a faint vibration when I put my hand to the wall.
And, just to think, the conference hasn't even started.