NOT-AT-ALL PARENTHETICAL WARNING: If you don't like True Confessions, please go away now. I'm being me now, and getting into some strange emotional territory.
The last evening of any of the trips I've taken for work is an odd experience. There is always some relief that it's over, and that the next day will see you reunited with familiar surroundings. There's knowledge that the current free ride is over, too, and you'll have the airplane ride home to think about what life is like without special passes, free lodgings -- though the Daytona Beach Days Inn is surely the most forgettable place I've been put up in during my 21 years of this gig -- and, most of all, free food. Good food, too.
And it means parting with friends I see only on such trips.
There was an odd element this time. A very nice lady whom I have long admired was not far away and, though we had never actually met (unless you consider the odd phone call, some online discussions and reading each others' journals "meeting") this seemed a perfect opportunity to get together.
What I did not take into account was that I would essentially spend almost all my waking hours within the confines of Daytona Speedway. No chance to sneak away for a visit. Given her schedule and mine, there was a strong chance we couldn't make it happen.
So I took the somewhat drastic step of asking my hosts if she could join us for the final night's dinner, which would be less formal -- and less car-centric, I hoped -- than those of the previous nights. As I am generally the least demanding of
CONVOLUTED PARENTHETICAL RAMBLING EXPLANATION: I have done this exact thing before, but always with women I've known for a long time. Even so, the first time I've always been afraid they would be bored, not approved of, or simply not blend into the somewhat strange milieu I work in. I've wondered that about one or two who would certainly have been in such a position had they stayed around long enough, too. It's an extension of my personal not-fitting-in fears. And, perhaps, a feeling that an unhappy guest could not only screw up the evening, but perhaps make my colleagues and hosts look at me a bit differently.
Is this weird? I don't know.
Anyway, we arranged to meet at my "luxury" lodgings and go for a drink before hitting the dinner. She had no idea -- I hope -- of my concerns, my fear that she would not fit in, would end up, like a character in some strange experimental play, sitting in the center of the room with ghostly figures wandering silently around her as if she didn't exist.
But enough of that. When she arrived, it was affection at first sight. Everything I believed -- and hoped -- about her proved true within seconds. She took me to one of her favorite "watering holes" which, coincidentally, gave me the first ocean view I had during the trip. She made me feel comfortable. And happy. I didn't have to think about Porsches for the first time in almost five days, didn't have to play Big-Time-Journalist. I was human again.
In time, of course, we had to head for dinner, and the nagging itch reappeared. I've always liked intelligent, up-front women; would my associates -- and, let it be said, friends -- feel the same about this one?
They would. And they did. "Ish" was by far the youngest, brightest and most attractive** woman in the room. And the most charming. She has an important characteristic of a great reporter*: she's able to get people to want to answer questions, allied with her genuine liking for them as human beings. She got to talking to a gentleman I didn't know sitting across from us, who turned out to be a racing driver I watched doing his stuff (and admired) for years. Her warmth made us friends instantly.
At one point, I left the room and, when I returned, found another writer talking intensely to her. Heck, everyone who met her seemed to feel a need to talk to her.
And me? I was feeling like the proverbial million dollars. Who would not in my position? I had brought someone super-special into the room. Had the dinner gone on longer, I have no doubt she would have had everyone -- all 50 or more people -- telling her their stories.
As we were leaving, the PR guy who had agreed to let her "crash" the dinner thanked her for coming. And meant it. I've known him for years, and can read his face and tone of voice. To anyone else, he would have said something more non-committal and polite.
We went back to the bar at the beach for a last drink. I was wishing the evening would never end, frankly.
I write all this because, as those of you have been longtime readers will know, I have had some rather poor experiences with women in the past few years. I needed proof that I could spend an evening with one who could enjoy meeting people I like, and comport herself with wit and sheer brilliance. And she delivered, more spectacularly than I could have hoped.
ANOTHER PARENTHETICAL CONFESSIONAL-TYPE THOUGHT: Naturally, it also helped that she seemed to enjoy being with me, too....
Does this sound sappy? It isn't, really. I simply have never known a woman (or a man, though that is less interesting to me, of course) who had the gifts "Ish" displayed. I was jealous in a sense, by her ability to turn strangers into friends, and delighted that she was willing to spend an evening with us.
It's curious, and difficult, to admit that a reasonably casual evening could be the high point of what was, all in all, a pretty dandy trip. But it was, and I owe it all to her.
She may never know what scars she erased from my psyche. It's not something I can admit easily. Sometimes, I simply need to feel appreciated for who I am, in a way that has nothing to do with what my job lets me experience.
If this sounds like a mushy love message, so be it. In seven hours, she did more for me than the woman whom I adored, whom I thought was going to be with me forever. I needed to feel human, and male, again. I needed to feel liked, appreciated and cared about by someone for whom I could do nothing, work-wise. "Ish" did that, and with seeming ease.
And for doing so, I will always appreciate her.
I can't believe that I am about to post this. But I know magic when I see it, and I must credit her for being magical.
Thank you, dear "Ish."
* Damn, I envy her for that!
** Make that beautiful!