One of the perks of running a large thrift store is being able to attend the annual NARTS conference(National Association of Resale and Thrift Stores — could there be a worse acronym? Sounds like a disease!), held this year held in Indianapolis. The workshops themselves are always great learning experiences, and every year I return with more great ideas than my brain will hold. Being a closet introvert, I also come home every year with a little pang of regret that I didn’t use more of my downtime getting to know some of the other participants. This year, however was different.
For starters, I was thrust into the spotlight on the first day of the conference in what is now known as “The Nightmare in Indianapolis.” Those who know me well may say it was one of those things that could only happen to me.
I arrived in Indianapolis on Thursday evening, and after registering, went to my room for a relaxing night of reading, watching TV and sleeping without being sandwiched between two dogs. I set my clock for 7 a.m. – plenty of time to be ready for the 8 a.m. start of the conference. I slept well, and was awakened by what I first thought was the most obnoxious alarm clock I’d ever heard. It was not: It was, in fact an actual fire alarm accompanied by the directive to proceed to the nearest stairway and exit the building.
Believing this was a true emergency, I ran down the seven flights of steps in my (very modest) men’s PJs topped by the very stylish terry cloth hotel robe found in the closet. I had the presence of mind to grab my purse, but not to put on the pair of flip-flops I practically tripped over leaving my room. In my bleary-eyed, semi-awake state, I failed to notice until I got outside the hotel, that every one of the 300+ conference participants was bright-eyed, busy-tailed and FULLY DRESSED. Why you may ask? Please, let me tell you. It is because it was 8:45 and all of my peers had been at a workshop for a full 45 minutes. I later discovered that my alarm hadn’t gone off because I had inadvertantly set it for 7 p.m. instead of a.m. (I am currently writing what I hope will become law, that all alarm clock manufacturers must comply with having the “lightdot” correspond with p.m. and leave the a.m. dot-free as God and nature intended).
The next five minutes were garishly real and yet I hoped against hope that maybe I really was in some sort of wierd dream-state. I tried as best I could to hide my face and begged the people around me to look away, for my unedited morning state is not how I wanted to introduce myself to this NARTS group that would become my family for the next five days. When the all-clear was announced (someone apparently pulled the fire alarm as a prank), I took the elevator back to the 7th floor, head down the whole way, only to discover I had locked my room key in the room.
There was absolutely no way I was going back downstairs, and fortunately, the two women staying in the room next door let me use their phone to call the front desk. I use the word “fortunately” lightly; turns out these two women were two of the conference leaders who couldn’t even keep a straight face as they promised me this incident would not become NARTS legend.
I had almost convinced myself I was blowing the incident out of proportion, and that everyone was too busy panicking themselves to notice the wild-haired woman in the men’s pajamas. Returning to my room, I dressed and made-up more carefully than normal, and slid into the meeting room as unobtrusively as possible. “Whew,” I thought. “It’s over. The nightmare is over.”
Finally relaxing, I took out my notebook and pen, anxious to get on with the learning. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed the women on either side of me smiling, pointing and nodding their heads in my direction. Soon, people throughout the room were casting glances my way, not even trying to hide their smiles and — it seemed to me — looks of pity. In situations like this, a person can do one of two things: ignore it and let it die a natural death, or look the tiger in the eye.
I am a tiger-looker. Call it stupidity, call it bravery, call it experience: I usually choose to accentuate the obvious and put everything on the table. Raising myself slightly out of my chair (in case I was misreading the situation), I put my hand in the air and was acknowledged by a small groundswell of laughter, cheers and applause.
I am now part of the NARTS legacy, forever to be known as the woman in the pajamas. I also became incredibly popular: for the first time in my life, people were asking me to join them, to be part of their group, to be their friend. And what friends I made! Watch for Part II to see why you are never too old…to be young again.