Start: July 14, Atlanta
Finish: July 21, Santa Elena
Number of PowerPoint Slides Seen: Thousands
Number of Prescription Drugs Received: 4
Number One Question of the Week: “Why is Jessica in Atlanta?”
Number Two Question of the Week: “Hey Jessica, aren’t you supposed to be in South America or something?”
Hi friends. I know I don’t write many trip updates, but I was alone on this venture, so here it is, coming to you from the great state of Georgia.
Before I became a digital nomad a good part of my freelance business was designing onscreen graphics for big conferences. Part of this job entails traveling onsite and being available for last minute changes. My biggest client is, of course, Microsoft.
This year, I was contacted to work onsite again at the biggest show of the year. They offered to fly me from wherever I was in South America, and even covered an extra night hotel accommodation so I could buy things, like business appropriate shoes. (Yes, my clients are awesome.)
As soon as we got Blue out of the slammer I booked tickets from Medellin to Atlanta. And then the Amazon.com spending spree began. After a week or recieving boxes, here's what my hotel looked like.
I stood in the extra long customs line for nearly an hour, listening to the returning group of high school students in front of me compare the number of emails they received on their 2 week vacation. (1024 was the winner.) The immigration officer and I argued over the semantics on the customs form. “Is the primary purpose of your trip business?” I checked yes.
He questions me, “You are travelling on business?”
“Yes, I am going to Atlanta to work at an event.”
“But all of this travel to all of these countries?” And he points to the scribbled list of where I had been since last leaving the US.
“No, sir. I went to these countries for fun.”
“Ok, but you checked here that you are travelling on business.”
“Yes, sir. The only reason I am returning today is for business.”
“Yes, but we don’t care about why you are returning, only why you left.”
Well then shouldn’t the damn question read, “what WAS the primary purpose of your trip? Be nice, don’t argue with the man who has the entry stamp.
“I understand, sorry for the confusion.” Stamp. Stamp. Move along.
The TV in the boarding area blared the latest breaking news story. “Are your daughter’s hair ties dangerous to her health?” This is why noise cancelling headphones are so popular.
I made it to Atlanta and checked into my hotel. I think I’m going to have a meltdown before I even start working.
Downtown Atlanta. Not a bad place. I went walking the night I arrived to look for some new shoes that hadn’t been subjected to nine months of camping. Google Maps showed a mall a half mile away. Excellent.
Unfortunately, in my search for “shoe stores” I failed to add “middle-aged white woman”. Choices ranged from leopard-print stiletto heels to hot pink thigh-high boots, with nothing less extreme in between.
Thankfully I found time to stop for a delicious pile of baby back ribs on a bed of rice and beans. Served from a festival tent by a big black guy with a thick Louisiana accent who called me “Darlin.’” Now this is the Atlanta that I love.
Day 2: I take a taxi to the Walmart two miles away. Find size 11 shoes. (Yes, I have monstrous feet, don’t judge me.) But the shoes are extra wide, like most things in Walmart. I reason that for $13 I can stuff toilet paper in them to keep them from falling off.
Next mission: setup a pre-paid cell phone. I go to the electronics counter and try to explain what a SIM card is. I beat my head on the metaphorical wall. And then envision beating the employees head on the actual counter. It makes me feel better.
Two hours, three phone calls to AT&T and $55 later, I have a working prepaid smartphone. Why is this easier in Central American countries where no one speaks English?
Next stop: the clinic across the street. Not because of injuries from beating the crap out of incompetent Walmart employees, but for shooting back and leg pain that has been plaguing me since Guatemala.
Two hours in the waiting room. Ten minutes with the doctor. Diagnosis: Sciatica.
“Congratulations. You have a pinched nerve.”
No shit. Tell me something I don’t know.
“It will heal itself.”
Really. Why the hell hasn’t it done that in the last 4 months?
“I’m going to give you four prescriptions.”
Seriously? And I thought it was easy to get drugs in Colombia.
“The first three are for pain. Naproxen for swelling. Trama-dol for severe pain. And this other one is a muscle relaxant.”
Ok. And the fourth.
“Steroids. They will help strengthen your back.”
Yay. Any side effects?
“Ummmm. Well. They could make you really really ANGRY.”
Whatever. I’m already a bitch.
“I would not take them in any stressful situations.”
Yes, because putting on a show in front of 14,000 people is not at all stressful. Start steroids next week. Check.
Back to Walmart. Pick up the drugs. Try not to get into a fist fight.
Work starts bright and early Monday morning. Five days. That’s my schedule.
Unfortunately this event is internal and so in reality I can tell you dreadfully little about what is going on.
What I can say, is that this event is huge. The audience is roughly 14,000. And the show is long. Two days long. With precious little time for all the extraordinary things that need to happen on stage. I’ll leave the “extraordinary” part up to your imagination. But here’s what the stage looks like.
There are more than 1,000 crew members. All I get to do is make one little PowerPoint for one executive. In fact, I didn’t even design this PowerPoint. My amazing colleague back in Seattle did. I’m just here to make edits. And yet, I never worked less than a 12 hour day.
The show for me is shockingly uneventful. I work my hours, pick up boxes of Amazon goodies the guys keep ordering (including a 5qt. cast iron dutch oven, mold killer, insect repellent, and a titanium spork with chopsticks attached, brilliantly named the KungFoon). Meanwhile I try my best to remember the toilet paper goes in the toilet--not in the garbage, $4 is an acceptable price for coffee and that if I don’t like the temperature in my room I can use the thermostat.
The rest of my time is spent plugging away on slides in the PowerPoint edit room. In actuality, it’s the visiting teams’ locker room. Convenient if you need to use the bathroom and don’t mind the rest of the room listening in.
There are about 15 of us working here. Quite possibly the 15 hardest working people I have ever met. Usually with little sleep, and sometimes with no sleep. The show must go on.
Thankfully, there is always an after party.
It’s funny how the word “home” has so many meanings. The rest of the crew gets on a plane back to their Seattle apartments, to get a days’ rest before heading off to next weeks’ show.
I leave my work clothes on a neat pile on my hotel bed with a note that says “Free”, then stuff the new dutch oven and DEET supply into my duffle bag and take the next flight back to Colombia.
One show is enough for me. Jessica out.