"Could I have another one of those chewy Sweet Tarts, please?", I asked while fighting the setting sun coming directly through the windshield. The trip had already been about three and a half hours, but great conversation and a constant onslaught of songs from Pennywise, Bad Religion, NOFX, The Bronx, Dropkick Murphys, Teenage Bottle Rocket, and many more had made the drive seem much shorter. With only about 45 more minutes to go, the excitement was starting to build. And then the phone rang...
On the other end of the line was Adam Juarez, asking where I was at. "Between Twentynine Palms and Yucca Valley, almost there," was my reply. After a quick conversation about our road trips thus far and an even quicker plan for a time later in the evening, we said our goodbyes and got back to the task at hand: getting to Palm Springs in one piece.
After three years, the Spring CUE Conference in Palm Springs, California, was IN PERSON from March 17-19. While the virtual events were still great experiences in 2020 and 2021, I NEEDED this conference for a lot of reasons. But rewind a few months back and I didn't think I was going to be able to make it. When originally looking at the dates and my calendar, I mistakenly thought that I was going to be in Reno for my daughter's dance competition on the same weekend as Spring CUE. Because of my mistake, I did not submit any sessions to present. However, once I realized that they would be on different weekends, I quickly signed up, booked a hotel, and asked a couple of colleagues if they would want to go as well. So after school on Tuesday, March 16, my colleagues, Jennifer Lee and Dana Cuni, and I loaded up my car and set out on the quiet ribbon of asphalt through the Mojave Preserve, through tiny hamlets like Kelso and Amboy (and past Amboy's $6.99/gallon gas), through Twentynine Palms and Yucca Valley, the gateway to Joshua Tree National Park, and on Palms Springs, the city in which I made my annual pilgrimage for many years before COVID-19 turned the world upside down.
|Deep in thought with Adam Juarez
So much of the ensuing three days are a blur to me. So much was going on, there were so many people that I hadn't seen in so long to see, and so many more people to meet, whether I had been connected with them virtually for years or connecting with some for the very first time. Because I can get a little longwinded in my words, I am going to bullet point my highlights from this year's conference:
- Wednesday nights in Palm Springs do not have an abundance of restaurants open, especially for delivery. However, this is where Joe Marquez, Adam Juarez, and I discovered how awesome the mini churros from Jack in the Box can be. Whether it was because we were that hungry or because they really are that good remains to be seen; I guess I need to make a JITB run sometime soon to find out...
- As a volunteer for badge pick up on Thursday morning of the conference, I needed to get down to the convention center by about 9:45 before doors opened to conference attendees at 10:00. I got down there about 8:45 and ran into a few people, thinking that I had about an hour to hang out. It's a good thing that I was there, along with a few other volunteers. The line for those waiting to get in was already several hundred by a little bit after 9:00, so many in fact that it was decided to open the doors early. Just seeing the smiles on all of the faces coming through was enough to put me in a good mood for the remainder of the conference!
- How did we eat at the conference in the past before DoorDash and UberEats were really a thing? For me, I either didn't eat or I packed some simple things like granola bars and beef jerky. The shawarma wrap and hummus I got delivered during a down period on day one were a lot better than snacks or the overpriced convention food!
- And speaking of food, how much money did I spend on dinner and drinks in the past? I don't have an answer to that, but thanks to generous vendors and their happy hours at various establishments around Palm Springs, I did not pay for a meal between Wednesday evening's Jack in the Box delivery (thank you to Adam Juarez for the shawarma delivery on Thursday) and pizza at Shakey's before we left town on Saturday
- The areas around the Palm Springs Convention Center and Renaissance Hotel are great for skateboarding, as Adam and I learned while cutting a promo video for Adam's CUE Board election (if you are a CUE member and haven't voted for the board elections yet, please do so!)
- While smaller this year, there was no shortage of great sessions, many of which were recorded so one could go back and watch at a later time; I'm still checking out sessions as I write this nearly two weeks after the conference began
- While knowing it had been three years since attending and seeing so many of my friends I have come to know over the years, it was like we had never been apart once we got together again! So many great conversations, hugs, high fives, and more were exchanged!
- Perhaps the biggest thing that did not change was the sleep that I needed when I got home. I fell asleep a little before 10 on Saturday night after I got home and rolled out of bed a little bit before 9 the next morning. My FitBit track 9 hours and 38 minutes of actual sleep during that period of time and rated the sleep that I got as excellent!