I’ve been on the road serving students, teachers, leaders and school districts for eight years. I travel a lot; I see a lot. I make friends in the moment, build relationships that outlast my contracts and witness horizons that offer me the breath-taking beauty this world has to offer.
I get paid to talk, which, in turn, means I listen. This doesn’t end with my school clients that have included schools from Compton, CA to the Bronx, NY and most places in between. I usually get to know those in the industries that work in the convention centers, hotels, restaurants and ride share services, as well as other travelers on the road. I’m genuinely interested in those in my presence, because, well, they are in my presence, and I see them. And if I see you, I simply cannot ignore you.
So, during my travels to the #ASCD23 Conference last week here’s a quick rundown of some of those I met outside the education field:
Antonio the Uber driver who took me on the first leg of my journey home: Convention Center to Denver International Airport. Our journey didn’t start out well, as he turned down a side street away from me while I waited curbside. No worries, I ran him down and he backed up to pick me up. Antonio, born in the Dominican Republic and who immigrated from St. John to Denver following a hurricane that destroyed the island country in 2017. Married with two young daughters and a lifelong Red Sox fan we talked the entire 35-minute drive about everything baseball.
The young man from Puerto Rico, who sadly I can’t remember his name and don’t want to do disservice by misnaming. Tight black hair with cool thick-rimmed glasses, he was scanning badges into the ballrooms where I was speaking. While I was excited to speak at ASCD, I drew the absolute last break out session time, Monday morning at 9 am, so I was hustling to get educators into my session by asking them to join me as they had five rooms to choose from. This young man saw me and actually suggested my session to those that were uncertain or who had signed up for a session that was cancelled. More than one person said to me, “The young man outside the ballroom recommended I come.” Well, I chatted with him before, during and after my presentation – had to run out and get water while I gave my group an activity – and invited him to sit. Afterwards, I thanked him and gave him my card. Another victim of a hurricane, he decided to leave Puerto Rico a few years ago and it was between Boston (where I’m from) and Denver. He decided to chose the mountains and loves his new Rocky Mountain home!
Gabriel was the tech man setting up the sound, computer and video capability in the five-room area I was in. About my age with a long, graying ponytail, Gabriel was chill. We talked about gardening from grey squash – which he favors over others – to marijuana – which is both legal to grow in Colorado and Massachusetts. We talked off and on for some time because I was in my session soooo early getting ready. He told me he grew up in Massachusetts and added that he had great interest in some of the education sessions because he missed school entirely from 2nd to 6th grade since, um, both his parents kidnapped during a long running custody dispute. We then talked about how he could relate to kids during the pandemic because he missed a lot of socialization time just like them. I’m never amazed at what people tell me because I show interest and listen without comment.
Paul was my bartender at dinner the first night at Corrine. Great place with delicious food and tasty cocktails, highly recommend it. We talked about what brought us both to Denver – conference for me; a sense of adventure from Miami with his girlfriend – one that decided to seek that adventure with someone else not long after Paul moved here, he said with a “that’s life” smile. Starting as a barback and moving up to waiter before getting behind the bar, Paul was a professional and personal bartender – one that watches YouTube videos on how to improve. I thought to myself that he must be tending bar for at least a few years, so I was surprised to hear he’d only taken the job four months ago. Experience is great, passion is better!
Jim was my seat mate at the bar for breakfast the day before I spoke and talk about passion! A consultant like me, but his line of work was specialized – expert witness for software patent lawsuits. (See, I meet the coolest people.) He talked about taking the leap from starting his own company to selling it and becoming a consultant with a young family and no guarantee of economic stability. For one-hour, it was like I was attending a masterclass on entrepreneurship for free! I could have sat and listened for a few more hours more, but we parted ways after we both finished the healthiest option for breakfast – oatmeal.
Monica was my waitress the morning of my presentation – quick breakfast at hotel before making my way to the Convention Center. I was furiously making last-minute notes while scarfing down a waffle with enough nervous energy to forgo my coffee. Monica with her pink hair and thick, Polish accent asked what I was doing scribbling in between bites. I told her. Monica offered that she loved elementary school, but that when she became a teenager, things changed. When I asked her to describe high school in one word, she didn’t hesitate, “Hell!” The work load was too heavy, the resources too scarce and the teachers just expected her to learn without asking for help. I asked her, “What would it have been like if her one word was joy?" She smiled wide, “Much better.”
I am so much better for having met and made these friendships in the moment with those that are paid to serve or on the road like me, that I find myself more complete for having known them for just a few minutes of my life. It reminds me of the relationships I made with my students, my staff and my current clients – that when we take the time to dig a little deeper and wonder about those we serve or are served by, a new world of wonder and connection develops beyond the bonds a job description or hierocracy. We simply see the human being making their way in the world seeking what we seek: a sense of belongingness from those around them.
I do find something magical about these experiences. I hope you did, too.