Monday, December 28, 2009

My MS Story Chapter 24- Life’s Little Indignities

Small White butterfly (Pieris rapae)
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
“Humility is the ability to give up your pride and still retain your dignity.”

- Vanna Bonta

In the spring of 2005 our company merged with one from the West Coast. We were both very profitable and fast growing entities, which meant that we could afford to pull together the entire group for a long weekend. This gathering was ostensibly for team building, bBut what I remember most about the weekend was the staggering amount of alcohol consumed.  I can't recommend a party weekend as the most economical or otherwise prudent way to bring two groups of people together to bond. But for this youthful crowd, it was a stroke of genius.  

On a Friday night in October of 2005, we descended upon Callaway Gardens, in Pine Mountain, Georgia. We arrived as two disparate groups who were very suspicious of one another, as we had been bitter competitors in our previous corporate lives. After the meeting we were at least drinking buddies, and that is saying something. I know there were a number of people- the responsible adults - who turned in early and did not participate in the revelry. But they were in the minority. Most people remember it as an epic weekend. Some people don’t remember much about it at all.

I was concerned about mobility issues that I might encounter at this retreat, so I spoke with the meeting coordinator a few weeks ahead of time. Callaway Gardens is a sprawling complex. Our cabins would be in one area; the meeting rooms would be another. We would be tackling outdoor activities in a completely separate corner of the complex. She assured me that my mobility issues were being taken into account. We decided that I would rent a scooter to use on some of the longer walks at the resort. It turned out that two other employees had also mentioned mobility issues, so I volunteered to coordinate the rental of three scooters for the weekend.

When we arrived at Callaway Gardens the scooters were waiting for us. Unfortunately, only two of them were operational. We did a quick assessment and decided that Margo and I needed them the most. Steve had a bad knee, but volunteered to tough it out.

The first evening of dining and drinking went well for me. The only problem was sleeping. We were allowed to choose our own roommates if we so desired. Jeff, my best work buddy, and I decided to room together. But I didn't know about his snoring problem. Man, can that guy cut the zzz’s! The first night of sleep was fitful, but I think the alcohol helped. On the second night I slept on the couch in the living room instead.

After breakfast on Saturday we were instructed to gather at the front of the main building to board buses that would take us to the other end of the resort for the day’s activities. Although I had been told that the buses could accommodate scooters, this was not the case. Being the troopers that we were, Margo and I said that we would just drive our scooters down the road and meet everybody at the destination.

We were handed maps, and instructed on where we would all meet for the group photo. Margo and I set out down the road in our scooters (these were private paved roads around the complex). Before long the buses passed us. People waved to us. I really shouldn’t have, but nevertheless I did feel conspicuous zipping along at 5 mph in my scooter while everybody else except Margo was merrily transported to the destination on buses, like normal people. But I didn't say anything. Let’s call this Indignity Number 1.

Then we literally came to a fork in the road. We chose the road “less travelled by” and it sure made all the difference. When we finally got to the end of the road, there was nobody there. I looked down the hill. I could see people unloading from the buses at the location we would have gone to if we had taken the road more travelled. I should probably stop making my directional decisions based on a Robert Frost poem.

It would have taken us a long time to backtrack to the fork in the road and correct our error. But I noticed a promising path that worked its way down the hill, in the general direction of the buses. Margo and I set out along the path in our three wheeled scooters. It turned out to be another bad move- frying pan into the fire. The path ended about halfway down the hill, and there we sat. We observed from a distance as the other 150 or so folks all posed for the group picture.

Today, this photo is a highly revered and sentimental reminder of that magical weekend. It is proof of who was present for the now legendary meeting, and who the original members of the merged company were. Only Margo, me, and a couple of people nursing their hangovers were missing. The photo still hangs in a special place at the office. I have little doubt that one day it will be displayed in the Smithsonian Museum, in Washington, D.C. The caption will read- “The Coolest Corporate Retreat Ever”. My future grandchildren will exchange knowing glances with one another when Grandpa tells them that he was actually there- just didn’t make the photo.  “Sure Grandpa, did you walk on the moon too?”  Nudge, nudge, chuckle, grin.

Little shit-heads.
Back at Callaway Gardens, some folks eventually took notice of our dilemma and walked up the hillside to help us out. Missing the group photo and being assisted down the hill were Indignity Numbers 2 and 2a.

We then broke into our scavenger hunt teams- maybe six or eight people per group. Our task was to find boxes that had been hidden at various locations. I set out with my group in search of our boxes. It quickly became obvious to me that the boxes weren't hidden in the middle of the road, so I couldn't really be of much help in my scooter. I retired prematurely (hmm, is there a pattern here?) to the location where we were supposed to meet at the end of the scavenger hunt. Also present were twisted-ankle-guy, way-too-hung-over-guy, and eventually Margo. Not being able to help my team out in the scavenger hunt was Indignity Number 3.
After the conclusion of the scavenger hunt we were given the afternoon off to explore whatever part of Callaway Gardens we were interested in. Margo and I, and a few others, decided to visit the Butterfly Conservatory and an exhibit of live birds of prey. This was very interesting stuff. I give Callaway Gardens high marks as a destination for these types of meetings. .

Eventually it was time to return to our cabins and prepare for dinner. There were shuttle buses running, so Margo and I told our walking friends to just grab a shuttle and we would catch up with them at dinner.

With maps in hand, we set out for home in our scooters. Very soon, though, we both realized that we were running dangerously low on battery power. When we were just outside Margo’s cabin, her scooter died. Mine still had a little power, so I maneuvered it behind Margo, and pushed her and her scooter the last 50 feet or so into her cabin. I'll refer to this as Indignity Number 4.

We both charged our batteries and had no more mobility problems that weekend- no more indignities.

I've become accustomed to suffering various public indignities like I did that weekend. It's just part of my life now. I would be lying if I said that my self confidence is so highly developed that these situations no longer bother me, but I am improving all the time.

When I end up in a mobility predicament, which I occasionally do because I refuse to make my home into a cocoon, my situation may appear pathetic to the casual observer. But it’s only pathetic if I take myself too seriously.

As Vanna Bonta suggests in her quote at the top of this post, I’ve found that exercising a certain amount of humility is the best tool for surviving life’s little indignities.
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  1. Your retreat story really brought up some bad memories.

    At my current job, I've managed to avoid a number of team building and "fun" activities that revolve around inaccessible physical activities. I've irritated the people who organize other activities (like the time the shuttle astronauts came to talk to us) to the point where they call me first to tell me they're going to make the activity accessible. Unfortunately, "accessible" frequently means a plywood path laid to a single destination within a larger inaccessible area, but I figure it's still progress.

    Every month or so I agonize over what to do about my small (about 6 people) management group's "Happy Friday", held in people's inaccessible houses. I waffle between allowing myself to be carried in and not going. I still don't have a good solution, partly because there's a really big difference between friends (yeah, ok, we're friends, I'll let you guys carry me) and co-workers (trying to maintain a professional profile here!).

    It's tough.

  2. that was an interesting trip. i actually think given the general feelings between the companies a GOOD drunk was what was needed.
    hope/think that i was part of indiginity 2a.

  3. Katja,

    Yes, the meaning of the word "accessible" is definitely in the eyes of the beholder, yet activity organizers toss it around as if it were an absolute.

    I've had most of my Happy Friday's over the years at the local tavern, not at coworker's homes. Is that an option for you guys?


    If I remember correctly you led the team up the side of the hill to rescue Margo and I. You would have made a good Marine. 2a was unfortunate, but much better than being left there all day!

  4. Hi Mitch,
    Sorry I have been late in getting around to comment. I am finally getting caught up.

    This is a great post. I understand every word of it - been there...done that. We learn to live with those indignities, but I don't know if we ever fully accept them. I am past the point of caring what people think when they see me using my scooter. I still feel a little left out of the picture though when everyone else is enjoying the view up high and I am looking at butts blocking my view. That is an inconsiderate indignity. We could probably write a book full of indignities. I have a bunch. More funny than sad. I am a demolition derby scooter driver. I have ran over my fair share of walkers and I have always been sober.

  5. Hey Mitch,

    As a fellow alum of that Georgia retreat I am appreciative of your high regard for the event and the photo, even if there is a hint of sarcasm in there. Your perspective on the event and the indignities were enlightening as I was either too nieve or wise to the things we take for granted in life. The euphoric feeling most of us had probably had something to do with that.

    If you had the iBOT that weekend I wonder if the experience would have been slightly different.

    Happy New Year My Friend!

  6. Rae,

    Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I've run over my share of toes too. I did have one drunk driving scooter accident, but I'll leave that story for another post (no serious injuries!).


    Glad you read this post. Thanks for helping me photograph the photograph the other day. I don't know where you thought you saw any level of sarcasm though :-). If I had the iBot with me that weekend I would have been a rock star!

  7. Another great post, Mitch. Accessibility is always relative. What was accessible for me in a manual wheelchair may or may not be accessible in a scooter, or in my power chair. And that's just mobility limitations.

    As you say, even a place that is accessible may be a whole 'nother experience to those of us who are sitting down. Aside from the butt-level viewpoint, navigating in a crowd can be claustrophobic, and people don't see you but they get really cranky if you run over their toes in a 300 pound power chair.

    I keep going back and rereading your quote about humility. I guess I'm not humble enough yet!

  8. Zoom,

    Glad you liked the post. Regarding Bonta's quote- I'm not sure that it's absolutely true either, but it serves its purpose if it at least makes you think about humility, dignity, and pride.

  9. Was linked to your blog via Gotham. Enjoyed your posting, which shows your dignity throughout this experience. Thanks.

  10. Hi Mitch,
    Please visit my blog and pick up your award.
    Best wishes for this New Year.

  11. Marge,

    I am humbled that Gotham Writers Workshop placed a link to Enjoying the Ride at their website. I took the "Intro to Blogging" class there this summer and I guess the instructor liked what I came up with. The class was very well done. I'm glad you stopped by and introduced yourself. Thanks for the kind comment.


    Thanks so much for the award. You are a very kind soul.

  12. So glad I found your blog....I live near Calloway Gardens, it is beautiful. I love riding the paths with my power chair.

  13. Kim,

    Thanks for stopping by. I think I would enjoy a return visit to Callaway Gardens with my iBOT, instead of that rental scooter.