Part #1: Getting there, Thursday and Friday morning.
The flight out was uneventful though it was late getting into LGA. By the time that I got checked into my hotel it was nearly 1:00 AM, then I couldn't sleep. I woke-up a little late then some woman stole my taxicab so I had to ride the 8th Avenue subway up to Columbus Circle then walk a fair distance. I know that I need some exercise, but it was getting a bit ridiculous when I finally got there. The guard at the reception desk welcomed me to the conference and pointed me to the elevators. When I arrived on the 6th floor Dale English welcomed me right away, then it was right into Mike Lew's group maybe 20 minutes late, though I missed the opening address.
There were a number of MS guys in Mike Lew's group, most of whom I was expecting, though seeing Larry and Lewis was an added bonus. I took my place and announced that I was the "infamous" Trucker 51 from Denver, and right away it seemed that half of the crowd knew me. Mike's group was a bit overbooked, but another therapist that knows Mike helped facilitate the group, so somehow we managed. There were a few empty chairs left in the room, we probably could have handled a few more people too, though I don't think that the air-conditioning system could have, as it was really struggling to keep up with the load as the outside temperature rose into the low 70s.
Right off there were a couple of New Zealanders that were really friendly, plus Alastair Hilton, another Brit who was also quite friendly, and their immediate friendship set the tone for the next few days. Robert Berube was also there from Canada, he was another very friendly guy who I had previously met on Facebook. Gavin (Logan) and Ryan (Riley) were there, as were Ron, Andy (Nevragan), and Jay (Gentle Soul). In our first one-on-one I got to meet and talk at length with Mike's assistant Jeff Conway, in the afternoon one-on-one I got to meet Mike (Needtobefreed), a newer MS siteuser, and felt that our time together was productive. I went to lunch at Jake's Irish Pub with Larry, Lewis, and Gavin, and we were late getting back, where I totally straight-faced used my "woman stole my taxicab" excuse for the 2nd time, which brought a big laugh from the group. It was such a good joke that Mike used it again later. As we gave our closing thoughts, I lived-up to my "Director of Recreation" position and announced that I had arranged a group dinner at a 5-star hotel 25 blocks from the Conference. After 30 minutes of group interaction and again failing to get a taxicab, Gavin and I led a group of 12 guys on the long walk off to the subway for a ride to 34th St and Herald Square. Have you ever been on a NYC subway in midtown in rush hour??? It was quite an experience for all of us, trapped like rats in the huge surging throng.
I really had no idea what to expect when we arrived at the Hotel Metro, but I had made a group dinner reservation there and had requested a private dining room. From the information on their website, they looked like a highend hotel property. We came in and were led right to their private dining room, where Remy and Castle awaited us. Shortly after arrival Steve Bevan showed-up with one of his group members from England, and suddenly we had 17 guys, all jabbering away. Poor Ryan insisted on leaving to catch a train a half-hour later, but the rest of us enjoyed a decent dinner in an above-average setting with quality service at a moderate price. Our bill came to $780. Several of us stayed talking until 9:00 and then it was back to my hotel. Thanks Jason, my hotel was really a good value for $99/night!!!
I stayed at the nearly new Candlewood Suites hotel on 39th Street between 8th and 9th Avenue. It is sort of an unusual property, in that it shares the same building with both a Holiday Inn Select and a Hampton Inn. My room (#1401) had a 37-inch flatscreen, a full kitchen including a fullsize refrigerator, 2-burner cooktop, a built-in microwave, and a dishwasher, with free internet that I didn't use. My room had a nice recliner, a 2-person dining and work table, individually-controllable AC and heat, and a quality queen pillowtop bed, like I said, almost brand-new. The subway was a few blocks away either north or south, this hotel would be a great place for anyone arriving into Penn Station too, as it is just 5 blocks north of the station.
Friday my luck changed, and I caught a cab right away and arrived at John Jay almost on-time. Ryan had given me a personal letter that he had hoped to get to Theo Fleury, the former NHL hockey star who spoke at the morning address. After the morning address concluded I did meet Mr Fluery, got to talk with him for a minute, and he took Ryan's letter. I then bought a couple of copies of his book and he wrote a personal message to Ryan in one of them before autographing it. So that portion of my day went unbelievably well, and Ryan will get a gift that he will remember of a long time. I wrote "Trucker Mark" on my nametag and was really surprised at just how many people in attendance knew me by my site username.
My basic goal from the outset had been to meet some of the people in attendance, a goal which I greatly exceeded right from the start. I ended-up meeting probably 40-50 people during my 3 days there, in fact, most of them were really happy to meet me, more than half of whom were therapists, MS staff, even staff members from other support organizations all over the world. I did really well meeting people, such a good job that I skipped-out on the Friday morning movie that I had been signed-up for, instead meeting several more people and catching-up with a few that I had met on Thursday too. I had a lot of fun meeting all of the people there that I did. All through the Conference I kept bumping into Jim (Geeders), Ron (Sans Logos), Andy (Nevragan), our site Administrator John (Walkingsouth), Ken Singer, and Gavin, plus Ken Followell and a couple of MS BoD members repeatedly too. I learned a whole lot just through my personal interaction with everyone in attendance there. My personal experience was very positive through the Friday lunch, where I met Ken and John, and Ken gave me an autographed copy of his new book, EVICTING THE PERPETRATOR, hoping to replace the pdf copy that I used to write my review in the recent MS newsletter. It seemed that every time that I went out to the sidewalk for a smoke that Gavin or Robert Berube or one of the New Zealanders would be outside too, the conference was a really friendly place, sorry that those of you who didn't make it missed the level of camaraderie and understanding that was present there.
Stay tuned for Part Two, Friday afternoon and Saturday, it is getting late here.
Thanks again for the book Ken,
"We stay here, we die here. We've got to keep moving". Trucker Mark