Wednesday, June 18, 2003

California HSP Gathering recap, Part I

I suppose sometimes I get into the "Little Pessimist" mode-- but I sat here last Wednesday, reminding myself that I have gone to any number of workshops and seminars, and I have-- at best-- come away with a "decent" feeling about the event. Let's face it, I have no anxiety issues with "groups," it's just that I never really seem to "connect," and I grow disappointed that I am truly "alone" in the world. A part of me certainly was open to the idea that I would connect with a few of the HSPs, but I also had the fear that I might just end up among this group of "hysterical whiners," proving once again that I am truly "too weird" to relate to any particular group.

The trip from Austin to California seemed filled with "signs"-- and not good ones, at that. The SuperShuttle driver was late; it turned out she was a rookie in her first week, fumbling about with maps, circling around neighborhoods. I got to put the benefit of having lived in this town for over 20 years to use, guiding us to other pickups, and showing her ways around the worst morning traffic snarls, so we did get to the airport on schedule. The first leg, from Austin to Denver, was uneventful... until we got to the gate... and just sat. Then the pilot got on the PA and announced that they were having some trouble extending the jetway, but that it would be fixed "momentarily." About 10 minutes later, he got back on and announced that a "jetway mechanic" was now on-site-- but if the problem couldn't be fixed, we'd have to be towed to a new gate... meanwhile, the clock ticks. Another 10 minutes; another announcement-- a set of stairs has been ordered, and we'll leave the plane through the left exit, and enter the terminal via the fire escape. Which we do-- and following which I am making a mad dash to the SFO flight.

Of course, just as I walk (run) up, I hear the announcement that the flight is now part of a "ground hold" in San Francisco-- the cloud cover has settled on the ground there, and we're being "held" for an hour. Both a sense of relief, but my anxiety also ratchets up a notch since Sheri-- my carpool partner-- is now going to be sitting there, waiting for me to arrive.

I am reminded that I still live in a small town. We may have an airport with the only runway in the "middle states" that's long enough to land a 747 with the space shuttle strapped on top, but nobody flies "big" planes in there. Certainly not an A340 stuffed to the gills with 370 passengers-- I am really not at home anymore, it feels more like I'm going to Europe.

We got in about an hour late, but due to a series of good breaks (sitting in the front of the plane, running into open elevators, catching the airport train right as it rolled in) I got to the car rental only 45 minutes later than expected. Then I had an argument with the counter clerk as to whether or not I could rent a car and pay with a debit card. No sign of Sheri. Sheri was my carpooling partner. A little persuasive sales technique on the counter clerk, and I'm good to go. Fortunately, Sheri has her cell phone, and calls the counter, while I am standing there-- we meet, down by the cars.

Walker Creek Ranch is about 60 miles from SFO. I am reminded of California traffic-- it takes nearly 2 1/2 hours to get there, on a Thursday afternoon. I am also reminded that 101 runs right through downtown as surface streets. I am also amazed that you can have a place so remote, so close to San Francisco-- the Apple Market (the closest grocery) is 17 miles from WCR, along narrow winding 2-lane roads through the "Golden Hills" of Northern California. It's an amazingly beautiful setting, for an HSP retreat. Sheri is a bit distressed-- she had visions of something cushier, a bit more "Club-Med-ish." It's clean, but spartan-- bathrooms down the hall; someone (turns out to be Jacquelyn, our "intrepid leader") has scratched out a paper sign that said "Women's" and hand written "Co-ed." That will be the butt of many jokes and comments, during the coming days.

And then I start meeting some of the other HSPs. There's an anticipation in the air-- a cross between a feeling of caution and openness... as if nobody can quite believe this is "for real." At 4:30, a group of us strike off for a hike to Turtle Pond-- a small lake not far from the ranch... quiet conversations start. That was the first "aha" moment for me-- everybody speaks softly; no loud voices, no in-your-face-ness. Some, like Richard, have been to all the Gatherings-- most others are here for the first time.

By dinner, 20-some people have arrived-- dinner is served in the dining hall, which is the only building on the "campus" that actually resembles a rustic Colorado cabin on steroids. In the "new tradition" of retreats, the food is superb, and in no way "institutional"-- much of it grown locally, on the ranch. "Ranch mom" Susie bids us welcome. She's actually younger than the general late-30's to 50's range of the HSPs. A group of 100 3rd graders will be leaving in the morning, so we'll have much more peace, then. She warns us to keep the doors closed, as "the skunks are very curious."

After dinner, we meet in the room where all the workshops and breakout sessions will take place. Jacquelyn Strickland bids us welcome, and outlines a bit of what we can expect, house rules, and so forth. There are only three extraverts, and she is one of them. We're asked to introduce ourselves to the group-- as often has been the case in my life, I become one of the ones tasked with getting the ball rolling. Eventually, everybody relaxes... HSPs from Canada, Alaska, Florida, Michigan, Missouri, Washington, Oregon, Colorado and Austin, TX. And a bunch from the Bay Area. We learn two things, that will set the tone for the rest of the Gathering: (1) HSPs are not timely and (2) there isn't time enough. The opening session runs so long that the next day's schedule is already being rearranged. Jacquelyn predicts that by Sunday, anyone observing us would think we were a group of extremely gregarious friends who've known each other all our lives.

(more to follow)

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