One last day, and I am tired. I reflect on dinners with Chris, who alternates between being completely outraged by the things that are bothering me as well, and completely fed up. I admire his passion for it; I can’t really get that worked up about especially since I know I’m of limited means to do anything. I like a lot of things, and am having a great time even though I see troubles. Chris is a bit of a perfectionist, which both gives him the inability to enjoy things for what they are, but also much stronger ambition to change them.
Today is the game show, one of the highlights of LISA. I’m not of a mind to laugh at the moment, so I skip it, go back and pack my clothes for return on Saturday. The day is beautiful and the rest is welcome. I have a chance to re-charge, read a book a little while, play a game on the computer, watch the NBA preview for the weekend. The Patriots are playing Denver on Monday Night Football the next week.
I went to one last dinner with Chris, who had been somewhat abruptly ditched by people who probably didn’t notice what they were doing to him — and should have — and Skaar, who I hadn’t met until now. Skaar proved to be externally a gruff reserved Scandinavian and below that a man of sparking intelligence and humor with the most devastating one-liners of the conference, such as “Unfortunately, I don’t think he’s on drugs.”
The rack of lamb was marvelous, and we returned and hesitantly ended up in the party suite again. The crowd was subdued; everyone is over-LISAd. People drifted around and finished some alcohol; what is left could have still half filled the hottub. Whenever people started talking computers Patrick and I waved down the world. We piled on the couches, and I felt more secure and warm than I have all week. Patrick threatened to educate me using Beyoncé. I forgave him his Motown inclinations. Michigan does that to people.
It was a marvelous finish. I realized I was on vacation even though I did everything I set out to for Harvard’s sake and my job. I had a fantastic time, but only because I met LISA on my own terms, and not its own. It has problems, and I am more sad at them than angry; the sadness of personal helplessness — I don’t have time to run for the exec, nor would I be likely to win election if I did. But where I am helpless others may not be so.
I got to know Chris in particular a good deal better, and met and got to know new people in JD, Mark, Patrick, and others. I saw Peg, and had more fun with Lois than I have in months. I got to have a great conversation at the booth with Toni and then failed to recognize her with her fake teeth and Halloween costume the next night. There were many people I knew going in that I didn’t talk to much, and that was all right, because there were many I did.
Perhaps I’m used to dealing with much more stressful travel and much more intense interpersonal dances — when people are aware of issues they tend to get talked about more. Perhaps suffering through years of badly run tournaments meant that I could approach LISA and not have to worry about the vortex of towering self-made significance that many others are overwhelmed by. I knew when to take a break and when I should give things up, like staying up late Thursday or the Game Show.
The last night, Friday, I didn’t sleep. We stayed up the night, and then Chris suggested as we were drifting off that we clean up the room a little, which I found admirable. I hope Geoff woke up pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t a disaster; he suffered much to provide us that space. Chris and Patrick and I wandered to an all night restaurant and ate a vague meal at 5 AM until we had to go back and prepare for our respective flights.
As we left the parking lot of the other motel with the family restaurant, a line of fire trucks six football fields long were lining up and leaving the parking lot in a sort of formation. The flag at the motels and hotels were flying at half mast, and all the lit signs were thanking the firefighters and police officers, more than 5,000 last I heard, who had fought the fire’s spread. They hadn’t quite won, but they had outlasted.
And as the dawn broke and we began to split our ways for our flights home, I saw a parade of names on the doors of the fire trucks. Las Vegas Fire Department. Flagstaff Fire Department. Grand Canyon National Park Service. Los Angeles Fire Department, despite having fires of their own. Phoenix Fire Department. Mesa, AZ. Bullhead Creek, NV. Many others I didn’t recognize.
A parade of names, little banners of pride in cities and states that had answered the call of a desperate city burning. They merged onto the interstate as a smoke-seeded rain at last pelted down, the first light of dawn bleeding through the clouds, and went home.