Some time's gone by, so I think I can talk about conference experience I had this year in a college town in the Northeast. I apologize ahead of time if this post seems labored and without a clear point. I traveled to the town by amtrak rail that connected with an amtrak-contracted bus line, and that was the part of the trip that I was most anxious about before leaving, but I needn't have been. The trip was smooth, the connection was easy, and to my delight, the bus terminal was less than a block from the hotel I'd booked. The hotel was only a ten minute walk to the conference site.
The panel I was on was high-energy, and even though our crowd was modest, the discussion was wide ranging and productive. Since the topic was mystery writing, one of the subjects that we discussed was how it felt to put characters in trouble. I've talked about this before, that it's not good enough just to bring your character to the brink of danger. You've got to push them into it and see what happens, which runs counter to our instincts. At the panel I specifically pointed out that, while we may think we want to have adventures, sane, mature people tend to avoid them in real life.
It's so easy to forget that fiction, gaming, etc., replaces experience, for better or worse.
On my final morning, I left my hotel early, and the desk clerk gave me a bagged breakfast of fruit, juice, water, and a granola bar. I walked to the bus terminal and settled in to read a book. There were a few people there, headed to New York, including a young man whose only luggage was a skateboard. My bus was headed to Philadelphia and was schedule to leave a little later. Everyone kept to themselves, playing on their phones or watching a morning show on the wall-mounted television, when a man walked in wearing what looked like a pressed t-shirt and carrying a paper grocery bag folded closed in a crisp seam. He was strongly built but his expression was terribly fragile. It was clear he had just been released from incarceration.
He was going to Philadelphia as well. He confirmed the departure time with the ticket clerk, and then attempted to settle down to wait, but that was nearly impossible. He shifted in his seat, got up and down, and asked me repetitive questions about what time it was, when the was was leaving, and where the bathrooms were. It was as if he couldn't hold onto information for more than a few minutes, but I realized he was just trying to be real again, to speak and be spoken to. He told me his name was Omar, and that he'd just finished a 26 month sentence. I congratulated him and gave him my bagged breakfast. Omar borrowed the skateboarder's phone to call his mother to let him know he was on his way home.
"No ma, I can't get excited. I don't want to be excited. That's what my cellie said, 'You excited to get out?' But I can't do that, I just need to relax. I was excited last time, and that didn't work."
When our bus came, he needed a lot of reassurance that it was the correct one. He did try to make two jokes. He said a few times so that anyone nearby could hear, "I was in 26 months, felt like 62." When the bus driver asked if everyone was comfortable, Omar said he was too cold, and the rest of the passengers overruled him--he had no way of knowing that the area had just endured a heatwave, so he said, "Unless one of you ladies wants to warm me up." When no one laughed, he shriveled into his seat.
We all got off one stop before his. I looked back to wave goodbye. He said, "Bless you," and he looked terrified.