The Conference

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Tray tables rattled and the entire plane shook as it descended on our final approach to Las Vegas.

I looked up from my book, catching expressions of shock on a handful of the first timers — their dreams of a wild time in Vegas evaporated into visions of a shocking plane crash.

My eyes went back to my book as I smiled to myself. The desert air frequently makes for a bumpy landing and this was nothing unusual. But shortly after our wheels touched down safely.

The moment of tension past, the vibrant energy that is almost unique to a plane bound for Vegas returned. A very different feel than the hung over, weary looks you see on so many on the outbound flights. And with a little surprise, I realized I shared their excitement.

Even though this was a work trip, I had committed to myself to have a little fun. This political conference had been an annual event for me for nearly a decade and it was always the same. A lot of speaking panels and a lot of making friendly small talk at receptions to make business connections. It was fine and good, and it had rewarded the bottom line of my small business for years. But it was a bit of a rat race that left you tired and bored by the second day.

As I gathered my belongings and made my way off the plane, I thought about my resolution to try to enjoy the city a little more this time. Maybe I would try my hand at a table game or even take in a show if I could find a friend to go with me.

The last year had been a difficult, but good one. My kids were finally transitioning into full-on teenagers who had lost all interest in their parents. My business had turned a corner; shifting from an incessant need to grow to a steady, stable flow of work. Even my wife and I had made some real progress in our relationship that had brought us even closer together. Life was good and I was determined to reward myself.

I collected my bag from baggage claim and caught a ride to the casino where the conference was being held. Pulling up, I marveled at the thoughtful elegance of the establishment — one of the newest in town.

For several years the conference had been held at one of the older casinos — a focus on keeping down costs for those less able to afford it. The promotional materials for this year had emphasized the amazing deal they had been able to secure because the location wanted to promote itself to new customers.

As I got out of the car, I fully appreciated the wisdom of their strategy. Reflecting pools accented a beautiful marble entrance that led into a large lobby populated with tasteful couches and chairs. Carrying my bag, I made my way over to the line to check in. It was a considerable wait, not surprising, as it was clear this large property was hosting several conferences and events. I waited my turn and then approached the counter.

“Hi, I’m here to check in,” I told the receptionist, handing her my credit card and ID. She smiled at me and began typing my information into her keyboard. I saw her smile fade to confusion as she continued to press buttons and read the monitor. I began to become genuinely worried when her confusion turned to annoyance and irritation.

“Is everything ok?” I asked, fearful of her answer.

“It’s just … hold on,” she responded, walking away from the desk to talk to a manager. They talked in hushed voices I couldn’t hear over the other conversations and activity at the counter. My stomach started to sink and I wondered if this would derail my plans for the weekend. At one point, the manager turned her head to look at me and then turned back to receptionist and nodded. The girl nodded back and came back to the counter.

“Mr. Jones, I am truly sorry for the delay,” she started, the pit in my stomach starting to grow. “Although I can see your reservation in your system, we are now completely sold out of the rooms you requested. We’ve been running some promotions and as you can see we are operating near capacity.”

Great, I thought. I wondered where I was going to find another room on such short notice and how big of a hassle it would be to schlep back and forth to the conference.

“Luckily for you, we always make good on our reservations — even if we have to upgrade you to a better room. Part of our appeal is offering a wide range of rooms to meet our customers’ discriminating tastes,” she said with a small smile on her face. “In fact, the reason I needed to talk to my manager is that we are sold out of all the rooms that were comparable to yours. You’ll be enjoying a pretty nice stay, if I do say so myself.”

Worry dissolved into excitement. I wondered what kind of room they were checking me in to.

“Oh that’s great!” I exclaimed, perhaps a little too enthusiastically.

“Yup, I think this one definitely worked out in your favor,” she said with a wink. “The elevator is down that way and on your right. Don’t hesitate to ask if there is anything else we can do to help you enjoy your stay.” She handed me a key and pointed the way.

I Escort bayan thanked her and headed in the direction she had indicated, noting that it was not the main bank of elevators to reach the rooms. Arriving, I pressed the button to call an elevator. It failed to light. I tried again and nothing happened.

“Oh you need to use your key to access these elevators,” said another guest who had walked up behind me. “Are you in the right place?”

“I don’t know, let’s find out,” I responded, turning to see the woman was gorgeous and in her mid thirties.

I inserted my key into the slot. The door opened, and we both boarded.

“This place is pretty amazing, but there are a few things that are a little tricky,” she added as we pressed the buttons for our respective floors. “Is this your first time here?”

I nodded, noting that this elevator only went from the lobby to floors 30-40.

“Yeah, us too. This part of the hotel is separated from the other guests. They really came up with some nice ways to treat their VIPs,” she continued, smiling at me. “Are you here for a big stakes game or something?”

“No, just a lucky guy who is here for a conference and got upgraded,” I answered as we reached my floor. I stepped off and turned back to her. “Thanks for the tip, I would have been waiting down there a long time.”

“My pleasure. Hope you have a great time, lucky guy,” she said as the doors closed.

Me too, I said to myself, turning back to the deserted hallway. Unsurprisingly deserted as I saw that there were only entrances to two rooms, each on the opposing wall. Using my keycard, I let myself into the right one.

I stepped inside to find a short hallway leading to the left. Unlike typical hotel carpet, this suite was outfitted with soft, deep pile in a shade of gold. I kicked off my shoes to enjoy the feel on my feet. Down the hallway I could see a chestnut coffee table with a love seat and two chairs upholstered in a dark purple, royal blue, and creamy white pattern. I proceeded down the hallway, which soon opened into a large room. Turning the corner, I found myself looking out floor-to-ceiling windows that went the length of the wall. The city and the Nevada desert lay before me as I peered down.

The center of the room was taken up by a king bed sitting on a platform that was upholstered with the same purple, blue, and white cloth. There was a bar behind the love seat with a coffee setup on at one end. The walls were adorned with black and white pictures of the performers of old Las Vegas. It was a pretty nice place.

Upon entering the bathroom, I found it was larger than my own at home. There was a large, oval shaped tub set within a raised rectangular deck that was tiled in the same gray slate as the rest of the floor. A separate shower with glass walls and a rainforest nozzle stood in the corner. Here too most of one wall was a massive bank of glass windows that I imagined would be make for a stunning view once the sun went down.

I whistled in appreciation, the echo rebounding off the walls.

After unpacking, I decided to head out to check in to the conference and get some supplies. A room like this needed a few amenities to truly enjoy it.

Taking the elevator back to the lobby, I made my way to the convention section of the facility. But after seeing a massive line at the registration table, I decided to go shopping first and return when things might have slowed down.

Hailing a cab, I headed to a nearby megastore. Strolling the aisles, I picked out a nice bottle of vodka, grapefruit juice and club soda for mixers, a couple of limes, strawberries to snack on and a chocolate sauce to dip them in. I checked out and made my way back to my room to store the supplies.

When I got back downstairs, the line had shortened to a small handful of folks. Joining the end of it, I pulled up the conference information in my email and realized that the check-in desk was scheduled to close in a few minutes.

I stepped forward when it was my turn and was greeted by the staffer behind the desk.

“Hi, I’m Tom Jones here to check-in,” I said warmly. I waited to see if there would be a joke about the singer of the same name, but guessing the age of the young woman helping me I realized it was very doubtful.

“Oh yes, Mr. Jones. I have you right here,” she said, all down to business. “Here is your pass for the three days and the updated schedule of events.

“If you want,” she continued. “To go with the new location we have added a new part of this year’s conference — an ice-breaker activity right here at the registration. Now earlier we broke people out based on their professional focus, but as you are the last group for today we are just going to ask everyone to form one group. Do you want to participate?”

I was thinking about getting the hell out of there. And in years past I would have. But as I paused, I looked over to the group of about a dozen people obviously waiting Bayan escort for the session. My eyes fell on a young Latina standing near the edge of the group taking to another woman.

Her dark, straight hair hung down below her shoulders with bangs that curved around to frame her face. Her complexion was that of well-milked hot chocolate and her eyes were brown to match. The patterned dress she wore showed her slender figure, with the neckline revealing generous breasts for her frame. Light blue tights showed off long legs. She stood with one leg turned to the side and a hand on her hip as she spoke expressively to her companion. I watched, appreciating how her body language conveyed the conviction with which she spoke.

“Yes, I would be happy to,” I replied, surprising myself as I said it. But I had committed myself to trying new things and here was a perfect opportunity.

“Great, go over there and wait with them,” she said as she waved in the direction of the group.

I made my way over and joined them, reviewing the materials I had received. I snuck a peek at the girl, but quickly dropped my eyes again when she returned my gaze. I smiled to myself, surprised that making eye contact had left my blood rushing to my ears. With a quick glance up again I saw that she also had a small smile on her face as she continued talking to her friend.

“Ok, in this session we are going to let you briefly introduce yourself to all of your fellow participants,” said a staff member who approached the group with a clipboard. “Now normally we would have then broken you out into smaller groups for a longer conversation based on shared interests in politics. But because you are the last group of the day, we are going to instead randomly assign each you four one-on-one conversations.”

As she directed, we gathered in a circle and went around, each introducing ourselves in turn. I told them about my small political consulting business and learned about the various organizations, politicians, and firms they were connected to. The woman worked for a voters rights’ group, and her friend for one that advocated for reproductive rights.

We were then each handed a piece of paper with four numbers on it, which it was explained matched the numbers on our passes. I proceeded to sit down for three very cordial conversations with people I’d probably never interact with again. I think I remember one was very excited about the latest in using data to better target voters.

Holding up the paper as I scanned others’ passes for my final conversation, I found myself face to face with the girl who was holding up a paper with my number on it. She smirked and I felt my body temperature rise a few degrees, making me worry if I was visibly blushing.

“Hi, I’m Tom,” I said, shaking the hand she had extended to me.

“Hi, I’m Alexandra,” she replied, her grip soft but firm. “It’s nice to meet you.”

We spent the next ten minutes learning about each other, our backgrounds, and our interests. Alexandra had been working in politics for the past six years, first as an environmental activist and now trying to protect and expand voting rights in Southern California. “Ultimately, I really wanted to do something that would directly impact the people in the communities I grew up in,” was how she explained it.

“That makes sense. Believe it or not, that is one of the things that I think really makes my job worthwhile — helping people improve their lives,” I replied.

“Oh really. Isn’t that the same line the capitalists in the oil and chemical companies use?” she challenged back.

“Well, I try to stay away from the purely evil clients. I like to think the corporate paychecks help me cut my rates when working for non-profits,” I countered, ready to tread this familiar back and forth I’d had with activists countless times. But then I noticed that same smirk again forming at the corners of her mouth.

“Oh, I’m just giving you shit,” she said, breaking out into a light laugh. “It’s always pretty funny to see the privileged white guys put on the defensive.”

“And to be fair, we do need to be called out on our shit pretty frequently,” I chuckled, and as we both broke into laughter. My heart raced a bit faster as she brought her hand up to rest briefly on my arm.

We continued talking as I told her about my progression from activist to staffer to strategist to consultant. It’s a common evolution, but she seemed interested and it quickly turned into a lively conversation about what it meant to stay true to yourself while working in politics.

As our discussion turned to our values and why we did what we did for living, the physical distance between us shrunk. Twice again she placed her hand on my arm, at one point leaning in close and dropping her voice to a nearly a whisper as she told me about the egotistical, asshole men that too often become leaders in the environmental movement.

Sadly our time was up too soon. Her friend, having wrapped up her Escort own conversation, joined us. Alexandra introduced her as Tova and I learned she worked in the San Francisco Bay area. They were sharing a hotel room for the conference.

Where Alexandra was tall, Tova was short — not much over 5 feet I estimated. She had green eyes and pale skin, with her curly hair forming tight ringlets that came down to below her chin. A slight girl with peach-sized breasts, her hips flared to show a gorgeous rump that you hoped you would be lucky enough to have rubbed against you.

I quickly realized that our time together was about to come to an end and struggled to seize the moment.

“So, what are you doing later?” I asked, trying to find an excuse to see them again.

“Oh probably this opening reception,” Tova replied. “I hear they have some free food and it going to be outside.”

“That sounds fun,” I said, and then remembered that I had already scheduled a dinner during that time. It was something I had committed to a long ago– a bunch of guys I had worked with at an advertising agency with years ago. Each year we got back together to swap war stories and remember the good old days. My mind scrambled. “But I actually have a dinner at that time. Any interest in meeting up after that?”

I saw them exchange looks, Tova searching Alexandra’s face to see if this a welcome offer or not.

“Sounds good,” Alexandra said, dissolving my nervousness. “Here, let me send a text to my number so we can find each other later.” I willingly handed over my phone. She sent a message and after checking it on hers, returned mine. She came in close for a hug and I was intoxicated by the faint scent of cinnamon.

Tova gave me a final once over with her eyes, and seeming to accept the idea, said “See you later.”

I nodded to both of them and went back to my room to prepare for dinner.

—-

It was a lively affair, six guys in a restaurant at another casino on the strip. We sat at a big table, drank, laughed a lot, and ate a fantastic meal.

We had all met as junior staffers who had been part of a crazy election year where the firm took on way too much work. We worked incredible hours, sometimes crashing on a couple of cots in the break room. And that caffeine-fueled, sleep-deprived environment made for tons of jokes and pranks and other bonding experiences as we turned out materials, mailers, and commercials for our clients. We also had a crazy boss who acted like he was in an abusive relationship with us, alternating almost hourly between screaming and threatening violence and then trying to win us back with promises of massive bonuses and big opportunities after the election.

At the end of the election cycle, most of us moved on after the boss’s promises evaporated. But we stayed in touch over the years as we made our way in politics, even occasionally finding ways to work together. This conference had been the annual opportunity for us all to meet up.

It was a great dinner, but my friend Mark seemed a little quiet and reserved throughout the meal. As we bid our farewells and promised to talk more at the conference tomorrow, I took the opportunity to walk Mark out of the casino and suggested we share a cab back to the conference hotel.

“It seems like something’s wrong,” I told him as the driver pulled out into traffic. “How are you doing?”

“Not great, Tom,” he said after a brief pause. “I just feel like I’m losing all connection to my wife. We don’t talk. We don’t have sex. Normally, I look forward to these trips as a chance to get away. Now I’m worried what she’s actually doing when I’m gone.”

“I know how that can feel,” I told him. “Really, I do.”

“Seriously?” He looked me in the eye, probing me to see what I meant.

“Yes, and I can tell you that for me what made all the difference was being honest with my wife. Really and truly honest,” I said putting my hand on his shoulder.

He turned to the window and I could tell he was giving it some serious thought.

We finished the cab ride is silence. After we exited, he turned to me and said, “Maybe you’re right. Thanks for the advice.”

We gave each other a hug goodbye and parted ways.

I looked down at my phone. It was well past the time the reception had ended. I hoped I had not missed my chance to hang out with the girls. I texted Alexandra.

“Finally done. What are you up to?”

“Hanging out at a bar w friends. U should join.”

“Perfect. Where are you?”

She replied with one of the lounges off the main floor of the casino and I made my way there. I found them seated at a table in the back. I noticed that like me the girls had changed into eveningwear, with both adorned in attractive blouses and slacks.

It was a larger table with a booth bench on one side and a couple of chairs on the other side. Alexandra and Tova were seated on the bench, with a young man and woman sitting in the seats. Alexandra patted the bench next to her and I sat down.

They introduced the man and woman, Jeremy and Kim, as friends they had known from their days in the environmental movement. The two were now a couple that lived in the Chicago area and worked in local politics.

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