The trip to California went well. Suspiciously well, in fact, to the point where, even though I am now back home, I am still waiting for something to go wrong.
I first became suspicious during the two-hour drive over to Dulles Airport. There was no traffic. How odd. My rule of thumb when flying out of Dulles is to leave home five hours before flight time. That almost never happens, however, and usually it is closer to three and a half hours, which is really cutting it close. Heavy traffic only seems to occur when you are already in danger of missing your flight. Some corollary to Murphy’s Law.
Pulled in to the economy parking lot, drove down the first lane of the Green Lot even though it seemed to be a solid ocean of cars. But then, right next to the shuttle stop, a space! Parked, got my crap together, and walked over to the stop just as the shuttle showed up. Excellent!
Get to the terminal and go to the self-check-in lane. Stuck in my credit card, fully expecting the machine to tell me it had never heard of me. Happily, that did not happen. Not only did the machine know who I was, it even let me move to a better seat. Score!
For such a short trip I did not check any bags, so it was on to the security line. This, surely, is where everything would come undone. Line would probably be a mile long. But no! There were only a handful of people in front of me and I sailed right through. Put my shoes back on, then proceeded to the shuttle that would take me to my gate. It was there waiting for me, and shut its doors moments after I stepped on board.
Got to my gate more than an hour and a half before flight time. As I sat down I noticed something weird. I was completely at ease. My heart wasn’t racing like it normally is from having sprinted through the terminal, and I wasn’t sweating or marvelling that I had actually managed to not miss my flight. So this is what it is like when you leave plenty of time to get to the airport. I should try it more often.
The plane took off right on time. Landed a bit early in Dallas, making my slight concern over the relatviely brief, one hour layover seem unnecessary. Had to take a train over to a different terminal in Dallas, but it was right there waiting for me as I walked up. The plane from Dallas took off right on time. As we got underway the flight attendant informed us that the temperature in Ontario, California was currently ninety-nine degrees. Yikes!
Landed right on time, my friends were there to pick me up, and we had dinner at a nice Tapas restaurant. My friend is a math professor at Harvey Mudd College, and I got a little driving tour of the area. I knew that Mudd was part of a consortium of five small colleges, but I had not realized that the campusses were effectively contiguous. The five schools are Mudd, Pomona, Scripps, Claremont-McKenna and Pitzer. Interesting arrangement.
Then I was dropped off at my hotel, and informed that I would be picked up at 7:30 am. This presented a bit of a problem. I never sleep well in strange beds, and my bachelor hours being what they are I seldom get to sleep before three in the morning anyway. I envisioned sleepwalking through my talk at nine the next morning. That is what would have happened on a normal trip. But on this trip I was so sleepy that I got to bed by eleven and managed to sleep through the night. By the time my alarm went off at 6:30 I was ready to go.
Drove on down to San Bernardino. I have been to California many times, and I have seen most of the major cities. I have been to San Diego, Santa Barbara, Los Angeles and San Francisco, among other places. But this was my first time in the state away from the ocean. It gives you a very different impression of the state. The mountains are very pretty, and really make the university feel very small. But they are also very brown, which makes you appreciate that you really are in the middle of a desert.
I was certain that my little flash drive would somehow have become nonfunctional during the trip, or that I would stick it into the computer and it would just be spat out again. That would have been a fine how do you do, seeing as how this was to be my first ever talk using Power Point. And to think I was just getting the hang of using transparencies! I was prepared with hard copies of my slides were that to happen. But everything worked perfectly, and they proved to be unnecessary.
I was the first order of business at the meeting. My friend introduced me, mentioning among my other merits that I am a great conversationalist and that I hate cheese. The part about the cheese is certainly true (vile stuff — I am alternately horrified and awestruck by people who can stomach it). I’ll leave it to others to decide about my conversational skills.
The talk was a big success. Everyone laughed at my jokes, and no one laughed at my equations, which is all I really ask for. Lots of questions afterwards, all of which I knew the answer to, to the point where we finally had to cut people off. Had a crowd around me after the talk. On several of the slides I found myself with no good graphic to use, so I filled the empty space with pictures of my cats. They’re very cute, you see. I was not sure how that would go over, a single guy talking about his cats can sometimes seem a bit creepy, but most people liked it, and one person came over to me afterwards to tell me he thought it was genius and inspired. What can I say? Sometimes, the muse, she speaks.
After the talk I put Operation Change My Shirt into effect. I wore a nice dress shirt for the talk, but I did not want to spend the day walking around in such a garment. So I brought a T-shirt with me and changed in the men’s room. Of course, my dress shirt is now a bit wrinkled from having resided in my backpack all day, but such is life. Did I mention it was in the nineties?
Went to some of the other talks, then hooked up with a friend of mine from CSU Los Angeles for lunch. He informed me that he, for one, would have been fine with me giving my talk in a T-shirt, but I felt that was just a bit too casual for a big one-hour talk. He had mentioned to me that he and a friend were working on a book about isoperimetric numbers of Cayley graphs (among other things) which just so happens to be my research area. As a college professor, it is always a bizarre and unexpected thing to have someone, even someone else in the biz, care about your research. Se we talked about that for about an hour and a half, eventually noticing that we had missed most of the second invited talk.
The rest of the conference and the rest of the evening went well. Sunday morning I met my friend for breakfast, which was an interesting little diner at a small, local airport. You get to watch small planes take off while eating French toast and eggs. Very cool. Then it was back to the airport where I was certain the little machine would tell me it had no idea who I was. I had flown to California on American Airlines, but was flying back on United. Smaller things than that have derailed a trip. But not this trip I am happy to report.
The flight out of Ontario was on time. Alas, of my four flights this was the only one where I had the middle seat. And wouldn’t you know it, the guy next to me was, well, a bit portly and somewhat malodorous. No big, the flight to Denver was under two hours, and if graduate school teaches you anything it is how mentally to go to a happy a place while annoying things go on around you. Two hours next to this guy? Totally doable.
A three hour layover this time, but after that first flight I was happy to have the extra time on the ground. Then it was back to Dulles, where the Green Lot shuttle was waiting as if just for me. The car was still there, it started right up, and I headed for home. Managed to not miss the turn off onto Route 28 South, as I usually do, and had a pleasant drive home. The cats were happy to see me. It was now past two in the morning. Drat. Had to go teach in a few hours. Oh well.