It's Jan. 5, 2009, and I'm at the Beltwide Cotton Conferences. It's in San Antonio this year so I haven't gotten lost — if you don't count the 30 minutes I wasted trying to find the hotel. I've stayed in this place at least half-a-dozen times and I swear they move it every year.
But I finally found it, am ensconced in my room and assume someone downstairs made a huge mistake and put me in a suite reserved for the president of some small country. If I died tonight and went to heaven I'd probably be disappointed in the accommodations. I'll just have to make do.
The conference actually starts tomorrow, the beginning of the busiest week of the year. The days are long; the nights are short; the food is rich; and the antacids are necessary. A few aspirins might come in handy, too.
But this year I am prepared. I've done my pre-Beltwide training regimen, a five-week course of exercises designed to get me in shape for four days of stress, sleep deprivation and gluttony.
Beltwide coming hard on the heels of Christmas and New Years is a big advantage. I've been stressed out since early December, so another four days will be as easy as finding a free drink in a hotel full of industry receptions with open bars.
The holidays also help me get in shape for the gluttony aspect. I've eaten way too much rich food and fruitcake for the past month so my digestive system is fine-tuned for the four-day indulgence of shrimp cocktail, barbecue, fajitas and polish sausages. I'll consume Tums like they were M&Ms and swig Alka Seltzer as if it were my mother-in-law's iced tea.
I've also prepared myself to stay awake in afternoon meetings that follow heavy lunches. For the past month I've devoted at least an hour every afternoon to seminar attention training (SAT). I sit at my desk, turn off the lights, and play self-improvement tapes. I figure if I can stay awake through that regimen I'll be able to pay attention to any discussion of the life cycle of lygus in South Texas cotton fields.
I've put my hand in a vise and squeezed it until I felt like screaming every day for a month to prepare for shaking hands with about 1,000 of my closest friends.
I've visited hospital pneumonia wards to acquaint my immune system with all manner of vile virus and bacterial infections. I've also been to several family gatherings that included small children with runny noses. This year I will not contract a cold at Beltwide!
I've stood on concrete for hours at a time, shifting my weight from one foot to another as the pain in one becomes almost unbearable. (Christmas shopping is another excellent training option for foot pain simulation. Marathon shopping trips also get one accustomed to lower back pain.)
I've practiced smiling a lot the past few weeks, genuinely happy to see folks I haven't seen in months, so I'm ready for the non-stop grinning I do at Beltwide. Tomorrow I'll start seeing folks in hallways, at local restaurants and in meetings that I haven't run into since the last Beltwide. I'll be happy to visit a bit, catch up on a year's worth of activities and vow to be better at keeping in touch.
I'm in shape. I'm honed. I'm pumped.
Beltwide starts tomorrow. Let the games begin!