…In Closing

Today was the closing ceremony for the 2013 American Planning Association in Chicago, Ill. I am going to spend this last planning blog discussing the last three conferences:

Denver – Denver was my second trip out west. For some strange reason, jet lag didn’t conquer me as much as it did in Seattle. Kevin and I took the Ski Train to Winter Park. After speaking with an older planner, who had made skiing his hobby, we thought that we would put aside our own reservations and give it a try. However, the Winter Park Trip was a comedy of errors. For one thing, the altitude in Knoxville has nothing on the Mile High City, and we actually became too ill to follow through on that ambition. I’m pretty sure that our limbs and backsides heaved a huge sigh of relief. We were content to watch skiers fly down the fluffy white snow from the huge floor to ceiling windows in the lodge. When we felt a little better, we found ourselves wondering around that shopping center that was in that Tyler Perry Movie, Why Did I Get Married. The second issue is that I tore my contact lens and was forced into wearing my glasses. I was not to happy having to attend the remainder of the conference looking like Mr. Magoo’s Sister.

Denver was like Chicago in that it had extreme weather. When we arrived in the city it was freezing cold and snow had recently fallen. Then practically the next day, we’re walking past a snow drift in 80 degree weather. Towards the end of the conference week, the weather had settled into mild temperatures. What I liked about Denver was its transportation system and its proximity to homes and businesses. Kevin and I found that we could travel practically everywhere using Denver Transit, which is its light-rail system.

‘Ms. M’ attended the Denver Conference accompanied by ‘Mr. D,’ who was also a planner. At this point we thought about creating a, “Finding a Planner Spouse” seminar and setting up a panel discussion. The four of us had a good time at dinner where I had learned of their upcoming nuptials. We also visited the African-American museum, where we found that Black people played a prominent role in the settlement of the West. *Singing Buffalo Soldiers*. If you ever visit Denver, I recommend dropping by the museum. Denver was indeed an enjoyable city to visit.

2007- Philadelphia – Kevin and I were pretty much on our own for this conference as most of our planner friends were unable to attend this conference. On the bright side, we were able to meet ‘Ms. D’ there. ‘Ms D’ and I became friends during a summer course in Historic Preservation. UNO hosted students from all over that summer. ‘Ms. D’ was from New York. It was a very eventful summer but I’ll save that for another blog post although I have talked about our Mississippi River Road trip in this post. To my delight, ‘Ms. D’ returned to New Orleans to obtain a Master’s Degree in Historic preservation from Tulane. From there she had gotten a job in Philadelphia (during the New York APA Conference actually) and had been in the city ever since. Anyway, I hadn’t seen ‘Ms. D’ since our wedding, so I was excited to see her during this conference. By Philadelphia, I was no longer practicing planning – see this post – so I waited for Kevin to attend his sessions and then the free time belonged to the two of us. Of course we visited Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell, but the highlight our sightseeing can be found in this previous blog.

So Philadelphia was the last conference Kevin and I attended. I do have one more conference to blog about, however.

2005 San Francisco – This was the conference to which I had most looked forward. Kevin and I had talked about going to San Francisco for years. From Kevin, I had heard it was a beautiful city to visit and I had never been to California. We did not make it to the San Francisco American Planning Association Conference, by the way. The conference had been held starting on March 19th. Our son was born nine days later…

Will Kevin and I ever attend an American Planning Association Conference again? That remains to be seen. But you may see us donning a name tag again or you just may see us wandering around a city where the conference is being held pointing out the neighborhoods and “ah-kitechture”. Maybe.

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2002- Chicago Changes

The Chicago American Planning Association Conference took place two months before our wedding. I would call Chicago a significant time for me. I’ll get to the point with this one.

1. I learned that Chicago has the most extreme weather of any place I have ever visited (“Cussin’ Cold” during the beginning of the week and hot as hades during the latter part).

2. It was the last conference where my name badge would read, “Sheryse Grant.”

3. It was the last conference that ‘Ms. A,’ ‘Ms. M,’ and I would attend a conference together.

4. We actually went to that night club that caught fire nine months later resulting in a deadly stampede.

5. I learned that Frank Lloyd Wright was a brilliant architect thanks to an awesome mobile workshop.

6. From the park to the hotel is an especially long walk…especially if you walk in the wrong direction.

7. I learned that Long Island Iced Tea is not my friend.

8. Most importantly, I was surrounded by people who love me, and I love them.

That’s pretty much all I have for that one…

2001 – New Orleans

NO

So I wonder if spotting the “Planner Uniform” of the blue blazer and the khaki pants (regardless of sex) will be turned into a drinking game…? I remember packing for the American Planning Association Conferences. Choosing my outfits was a careful experience. There would be three types of clothes that I would have to pack: 1) The Business Attire – Shirts of respectable length, pants suits, blouses, matching shoes, and purses. 2) Clothes for the Night Life – Dresses or nice slacks, blouses, and boots (I don’t do so well in heels). 3) Casual Wear – If we’re doing our traditional walking tour it was necessary to have jeans or casual pants with comfortable shoes. By the way, ‘Ms. M’ is always good at working an outfit.

Because I was attending the New Orleans APA Conference, my outfits required careful thought. Going back to New Orleans was like going to a family reunion. You know how it is when you haven’t seen certain family members for a while and you know they’re going to want to know what you’re doing or if you’ve changed in some way. Well I was different from the person that I was when I attended school. I think I had surprised Dr. John Wildgen (God rest his soul) the most. He told Kevin how I used to always attend class in a baseball cap. That was indeed my chosen uniform while at UNO – oversized jeans and a baseball cap. Now my old professor was seeing me in a short dress, boots, and a skull cap… I do have a purpose for talking about the clothes, so bear with me.

In my opinion, New Orleans had the best opening ceremony. Unfortunately, it was the only ceremony I remember. Memories of other ceremonies are lost in a haze of food, drink, music, and wall-to-wall planners. I can’t tell one from another. I remember the New Orleans opening ceremony because it was at the aquarium. I just love aquariums. My parents had taken me to practically every one in the northeast. In the future, Kevin will have taken me to every aquarium in the southeast. Anyway, there is nothing like selecting hors de vors and drink while being surrounded by neat, floating, seahorses and jellyfish.

My memories of New Orleans consist of the bowling party with Planning and the Black Community Division and our visits to the French Market, but it was the last day of the American Planning Association Conference that will stay with me forever. That morning Kevin and I had lunch at Zachary’s with ‘Ms. A,’ Ms. M,’ and another fellow planner. It had been the intention for Kevin and me to hit the road right after as it was a long drive back to Atlanta. After taking pictures on the porch and saying our goodbyes, I fully expected for us to head for the I-10 East and out of the city, but Kevin wanted to drive around some more and see New Orleans one last time. I didn’t blame him. After this conference, New Orleans became “our city.” I had already told him my dream of someday owning a house there. After driving the streets of downtown and the French Quarter, taking in the “ah-kit-techture,” we ended up back at Jackson Square. This is where Kevin and I got out of the car and we ended up in front of Saint Louis Cathedral. By then it started to rain, which was okay because I was in casual attire of a shirt, green jeans, and boots for the purpose of the trip home. I had added the baseball cap to protect mr hair from the rain. Kevin took me inside of the church. Ok, nice. Been inside before… Then Kevin took me outside of the church in the drizzle… Just as I really began to wonder what on earth was really going on, Kevin was on his knee on the wet concrete and he asked me to marry him. I got down on my knees and told him yes – me and my baseball cap. Suddenly, the audience that we didn’t even know that we had broke out in applause.

Needless to say, that New Orleans was the best conference I had ever attended.

2000 – New in New York

By the time the New York American Planning Association Conference rolled around, I was going strong in Anderson County, South Carolina. I was working with my partner in planning crime and an Alabama A and M Alumni, ‘Mr. C’. Between his Recreation Plan and my Housing Plan, we brought the South Carolina Up Country Planning to a stand still. Working in Anderson was an experience, I particularly remember traversing the hilly land (a serious contrast to the Low Country) to count cow pastures. Yes, cow pastures. It was rural planning at its finest. ‘Mr. C’ did not attend New York, although I had seen him at other conferences. I however, was excited to go. Kevin and I, newly dating, had traveled together flying into Laguardia Airport from Atlanta. I was able to attend the sessions during this conference, which I actually prefer. If asked to recall any of them, I will surely fail in this task so I will stick to the more memorable experiences that occurred in the Big Apple itself.

*I had to go all “Northern New Jersey” on the hotel clerk for refusing to accept my business credit card for the room. It could have all been cleared up with a simple phone call, but she didn’t want to deal with it being that it was nearing time for her to get off from work. I told her to “go home.” She didn’t want to go home because I told her to, so she decided to stay. Well I figured, since she was staying, she could handle my credit card situation. IJS…

*The first bite of food I got to eat was at an authentic New York Style Pizza. My mouth is watering as I am writing this. I might have to get a pizza later.

*Most of my mother’s family lives in New York, so I did get to visit a couple of my cousins and we had dinner at this African Named restaurant in the Village. I do remember dancing with Kevin in the restaurant although there was no dance floor.

*Kevin and I went with his friends to Chinatown. We had a good time. The last I was there, my uncle had taken us to see the chicken who beat everyone at tic, tack, toe (Don’t ask).

*Our group, which included Ms. A and Ms. M visited Malik Yoba’s Restaurant called the Soul Cafe on 42nd Street. I don’t remember the food but it was an excellent place to hang.

*Then there was Joe’s Album release party. I think it was on the East side, if I remember correctly. We saw the singer, Brandy while waiting in line to get in. How come Kevin called her name like he knew her and she turned and waved at him…? There was an incident where some fool decided to get a little grabby, but he got handled.

*We saw Madison Square Garden and the gigantic poster of Alan Houston.

*We’re planners, of course we had to visit one of Olmsted’s greatest creation – Central Park!

*Yankee stadium made the list. So did Times Square, FAO Schwartz, and the Statue of Liberty (from a distance).

*We made several trips to Harlem. We wanted to go to the Schomburg Center, but it was closed :(. We ate at Sylvia’s Restaurant. Excellent food and I’m having another mouth-watering moment. They tried to duplicate the restaurant in Atlanta, but in my opinion, there’s only one. In Uptown. Then there was the ‘oopsie’ on one of our Harlem trips when we took the 1,9 Subway rather than the 2,3. We ended up on an el on the wrong end of 125th and had to go past the Grant Housing Projects on our way to the Apollo Theater. There were some enjoyable performances… and there were performers that were questionable and were subsequently booed off the stage.

New York was indeed a memorable conference. That’s all I remember. Come on planners, fill in those bullets!

1999 – Simply Seattle

For some reason I do not remember a whole lot about the Seattle APA Conference. Maybe it was the fact that as a student delegate, I spent more time in meetings than in actual sessions. Personally, I would have preferred to go to the sessions. If you get into a good one, you can become inspired by a municipality or have a different perspective about an issue (The biggest topics back then were sprawl and air quality). At the very least you could admire graphics of the presentation because you know that we planners like pictures, graphs, and maps :). Anyway, good speakers were usually selected and it’s rare where I left a session asking myself if I could get back those two hours, although it has been known to happen. I think the other issue that I had during the Seattle Conference is that it was my second year at UNO and just before graduation. I was so stressed out because I had exams and my thesis, which seemed to be due at practically the same time. As I am writing this (while wrestling with a toddler), I do realize that do remember certain things from Seattle.

1) The Jet Lag – Seattle was the first time I had ever stepped foot on the West Coast. It had already been an adjustment going from East Coast to Central Time. So traveling from Central Time to West Coast time was no joke. I think that first day, my girls and I just collapsed in beds in our hotel room and slept for the rest of the evening.

2) Sightseeing – I know that we did some, but I can’t remember where. What sticks in my mind is the Fish Market and a Mexican Restaurant. Perhaps my girls can fill me in on the rest…?

3) The Party – Once again, UNO and all of the other universities were outnumbered by Alabama A and M (They knew how to represent). The conversations with the other students were great. Let me be real, I listened while my girls ‘Ms. A’ and ‘Ms. M’ conversed. (Refer to the first post – I’m the shy/reserved one). Unfortunately, I had to leave the mixer early when I grew ill.

4) Exams – Yes you read it right, I had a take-home exam that was due for Planning Theory the day after I returned from Seattle. I couldn’t stand that class. It may have actually been a good course with a different instructor but this dude loved giving out ‘Cs’ on G.P (I’m a teacher now and I still don’t find delight in failing my students) If you have ever attended Graduate School, then you know that you are only allowed two ‘Cs’ on your total transcript. I don’t like anyone who just plays with my grades because they can. Maybe others didn’t like that either because he’s no longer teaching at UNO.

5) My Cuz! – I have a first cousin who was attending the University of Washington at the time for his PHd. Of course I had to have breakfast with him.

6) Job Interview – I was a month away from graduation and I needed a job. That meant filling out applications. ‘Ms. M’ and I got a call from the planning director of Anderson, South Carolina for an interview. It must have gone well because a got a call for a second interview a week after graduation and the following week I was in Anderson working as a planner. Voila!

7) “My Wife and Kids” moment – Let me clarify. If you have ever seen the show “My Wife and Kids” with Damon Wayans and Tisha Campbell-Martin and then you know they went on a trip to Hawaii and what happened to them, happened to me. I misread my plane ticket. I thought I was leaving Seattle at 1:00 when it actually read that I was leaving at 11:00. If there are any airline people reading this, I’m gonna really need you to fix that printing on the ticket. It cannot just be a coincidence that this situation was put into a television sitcom, but I digress. At the APA Conference, no matter what part of the country (or the world) people are from, everyone leaves for the airport at practically the same time, which means that you are waiting forever for the airport shuttle. So by the time I found out that I misread my ticket and that I needed to get my backside to the airport pronto, I was at the end of a very long line of planners. Inevitably, I missed my plane. Fortunately, Seattle is ‘Ms A’s’ home and I was able to hang with her and ‘Ms. M’ who were staying an extra day. I wish I had that option but I had to return to New Orleans to turn in my final… I was able to get on a standby flight for later that afternoon, but as you know, if you are flying back from the West Coast, you are losing time. If there is a layover in that flight, you are pretty much screwed, which I was. I didn’t get back to New Orleans until the wee hours of the morning. Fortunately, I think I finished my final in Seattle. Nevertheless, I was falling asleep in Planning Theory.

8) The missing – Kevin was missing from this conference. When I saw him the following year at the Regional Conference in Atlanta, I let him know that I had been looking for him in Seattle. We have been together at conferences ever since.

So that’s all that I remember from the Seattle APA Conference. Friends, help me fill in the blanks.

1998 – Boston Beginnings

It all began with Boston. I was nervous about even going to this conference for the American Planning Association because with it being my first year in school, I wasn’t going to know anyone except for my girls. I met ‘Ms M’ at some crazy cult party in a pool hall off campus. We stepped out of there together before we were forced into drinking the Kool Aid…’Ms A’ came up to me at a meeting and let me know that she made it a point to speak to all the new Black students that she saw. She point-blank asked me my name and where I was from. It works for her because ‘Ms. A’ has some serious connections (She even went to school with one of my in-laws). Anyway, that’s was all she wrote as far as she and I were concerned. We’ve been friends ever since. The girls had attended before, so for them the APA conference was a matter of them reconnecting with old friends. I wasn’t outgoing at all, so I fully expected to be quivering in a corner somewhere waiting for the whole thing to be over. The first day, things went as expected as I awkwardly made my way into my first Planning and the Black Community Meeting. I say “awkwardly” because I was late. Really late. As a result of my lateness, I was doing the “Deacon Walk” – you know the walk where you bow down, stick that one finger in the air and tip toe to your destination as if invisible – to the only seat left in the small room. And it was in the front. I wanted to die right then. And then I saw him. The man on the dias. The man who was speaking. The man who I would someday marry…

I didn’t even think I would see Kevin again. I don’t even know why I thought that because between the job that I took earning extra money by holding up signs to signal people who bus to ride to the mobile workshop, hanging out in the lounge section of the hotel meeting more Alabama A and M folks than I could shake a stick at (Tell me, do you A and M folks still attend these conferences en masse?), and somehow landing a position as a student delegate for my region, I met a lot of folks that I still talk to today. I think I officially met Kevin the day after my first sighting and he and I went on a walking tour of Boston together. Ok slow your roll because we were not alone. Several others accompanied us on that particular tour, including my girls. I am not going to pretend that people have the patience to read all of the details of this conference so I will simply suggest that if you ever visit Boston, keep note of the following: The Hard Rock has great music. Don’t walk on cobblestones if you have recently been in a car accident. Stay away from inebriated people who may or may not be able to give you an internship unless you have a night and shining armor waiting in the wings to rescue you. Sure, swing by Harvard University Campus and take in the “ah-ki-tecture” (Yes, I can definitely pronounce it like that now since we’re talking about Boston!). Do visit Beacon Hill as it was the home to prominent Black figures in history. Single ladies, there was a particularly yummy park ranger that some of our group members thought deserved a second look. There may be a picture of him circulating somewhere…

I plan to return to Boston at some point. ‘Ms A’ just emailed the conference schedule and that conference will come around again in 2021. I would pretty much like to attend, but I’m hoping to get back to Boston before then, like when we go to Providence to visit my mother’s family. I want to do my walking tour again and would like to add the Old North Church to that list. What other places should I visit? So Boston started it all and since Boston, I have been hooked on conferences. Little did I know that once I ceased being a student, I would have to find creative ways to attend and now that I no longer practice, I have to follow the events via Twitter. Good thing that’s an option now, but it’s not the same thing as being there and connecting with old friends. Until next time. Check out what I have to say about Seattle.