It Began In Topeka, Part 2

The old men were cooler than me.

We climbed into the minivan, with room for two up front, two in the second row, and one person in the back with the luggage. I’m not luggage, but because I was a person with low self-esteem, I noticed myself automatically choosing to sit the rear without even being asked. Best to avoid conflict, you see (that’s the unspoken, unconscious motivation). I told myself, in justification (yeah right) that I was the youngest so I ought to sit back there. Which is b.s., but even I sometimes tried to salvage my pride, even while doing something unnecessarily submissive.

(Bear in mind, I’m not whining and not trying to sound all woe-is-me, but just trying to describe things as accurately as I can).

My flight had landed in Kansas City, where I was supposed to hook up with several other people from other plants who were attending the training. We were to rendezvous at the rental car office. There were five of us that would be riding together from KC to Topeka. I had the name of one of the men I was to meet, but not the other 3. I had never met any of them, since they worked for an entirely different contractor that just happened to be sending people to be trained on the same system at the same time. There would be people at the training from my company from other plants but they were coming in to KC at a different time – so of course, hey George, you don’t mind do you, riding with these fellows, we know one of them really well and he’s a great guy.

So, I was supposed to meet up with four men whom I’d never met, and I didn’t know what what any of them looked like. I was in the awkward position (the first of several) of having to stand there in the office for a while, looking over the people there and trying to guess which ones I should approach and ask if they were Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John (which is what I’ll call them here). The situation was fodder for my self-consciousness and shyness. The Gatekeeper (what I call my inner critical voice) was chattering away making me feel even more awkward, fear of embarrassment, of revealing how lost I felt, how out of my depth socially. I maintained my composure, of course. I always do. (Composure, or repression?)

It actually worked out without much embarrassment, since three of them came into the rental office together, one of whom was Matthew, who turned out to know how to recognize me, and who also was sort of the elder leader of our pack. Elder. They were pretty much all elder – Matthew and Mark being 60-70, Luke about 50, and John mid-40’s. I was 30-something (physically; about 16 in terms of life experience).

They all knew each other. Have you ever been in one of those situations in which you’re put with a group of people who all know each other and get along well and have lots of in-jokes and mutual experience with one another, but not you?

Matthew tried including me, asking a few personal questions, etc. I tried to answer him in my typical friendly but evasive kind of way – avoiding revealing much, unable to think of much to say, but also worried about being guilty of alienating them or letting them down, by not smiling and joking and being “fun”. That’s what the ride was like – worse than it really had to be. But hell, I often feel like that even when I’m with people I do know (AVPD symptom alert!).

By now, you really ought to be thinking lighten up, dude. Of course, if I could just lighten up then I wouldn’t have any disorders, would I? (Or, if you’re House, you could say “They’ve got pills for that.”)

Matthew’s eyesight was pretty poor in the dark and he missed our exit off of I-470, so we had to drive around a bit before finding our hotel. The guys razzed him about that and he took it good-naturedly. He actually turned out to be a very nice man, though easily frustrated. Mark was almost morbidly obese and he carried a handicap parking tag with him even though he wasn’t the one who was driving (?!), and by hanging it on the van’s rearview mirror we were able to park in handicap spots wherever we went. Pretty cool.

And ahhh, The Residence Inn by Marriott. Damn. My hotel room was bigger and better furnished than the house I was renting back home. (One of the few things about the trip that wouldn’t bring about a depressive episode). It really was laid out like a luxury apartment, with it’s own kitchen (not a kitchenette, a kitchen, with a full-sized refrigerator, an oven and a freakin’ dishwasher(!); a living room and separate bedroom with its own TV. I could even order groceries to be delivered to the room.

 The trip was funded by the federal government. Sheesh.

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