Remembering ISA2017 - Baltimore

Four years ago I traveled to ISA 2017 in Baltimore. Flying in from Kazakhstan through Germany meant that the best and cheapest way to fly was into Washington, DC. I ordered a Super Shuttle bus from Washington (IAD) to my hotel in Baltimore. I had reserved my hotel in Baltimore using a travel website - also to save a bit of money. My travel budget at NU covered the international flight, but usually not a lot more. I had found a good budget motel in a chain I had stayed at before that was only a few blocks from the convention center. Within walking distance. That is usually how I do conferences, so things seemed ready to go.

After flying for about 17 hours (but about 24 hours worth of travel with layover and airport check in in Kazakhstan), I arrived at Dulles, got through customs, got my van, and was on my way to Baltimore.

It was a nice sunny spring day - much warmer than the winter weather I had left in Kazakhstan. I enjoyed the drive and just kind of let myself daydream as we were in transit. As we exited the freeway into downtown Baltimore, I paid attention to the surroundings, looking at the ball field and seeing the conference center and hotel where the conference would take place. We turned and drove a few blocks away from the waterfront and the shuttle stopped at the curb. I got out and grabbed my bags, tipped the driver, and looked up.

My driver pulled away. The hotel was still under construction. It was about 4:30 in the afternoon and the afternoon was quickly fading. I was in the right spot, but the hotel was not operational.

So I stood there on the street for a few minutes, like a dope, not knowing what to do. I hadn’t set my phone plan to roam internationally before I left or put extra money on my SIM card, so I had no internet. I had two large suitcases - brought with because my wife had ordered a bunch of things for me to bring home. Ordered them to be delivered to the hotel address. I had also ordered a new laptop computer. I was tired after traveling so far. I was hungry, too. After standing for a few minutes, I took a little walk around the corner to see if maybe the hotel had another entrance that was open. It was closed. The construction workers had gone home and boarded up for the day.

Across the street was a church that must have served as a shelter because men started lining up around the block. A small nervous man came out of a dry cleaner next to the hotel. He looked at me, shook his head and looked around. He came over and said: “You need to leave here.” I told him that I was from out of town (obvious in retrospect) and that I had booked the hotel. I didn’t know what to do. “You cannot stay here. It will be dark soon. You must go!”

I told him thank you and okay. The waterfront was about four blocks down from me. I walked in that direction dragging my suitcases behind me. I stopped in at a McDonald’s and got a quick bite to eat and used the wifi to send a quick message to Yulia that I was stranded. It was about 6:30 a.m. in Kazakhstan so I wasn’t sure if she would be up yet.

I looked up some hotels on my phone. The internet was slow and my battery was dying. I hadn’t charged it during my flight as I usually did, so it was about gone. Without much to go on, I simply had to find a place to stay for the night. I walked down the street as the afternoon slipped into a brief twilight. I saw a hotel - a Days Inn - ahead and stopped in. They had one room available. “Sorry we are booked through the weekend after tomorrow. There’s a conference in town.” I booked the room for the night, dropped my bags in my room, and then went to the business center to use the computer.

It turns out that the hotel had called me in the middle of the night as I was sleeping before I left Kazakhstan. I used a US Google voice number. They left a message, but it didn’t come through until I had been connected to wi-fi at the hotel for about twenty minutes. The message simply said, “We have information concerning your upcoming stay at our hotel.”

My computer was supposed to be delivered to the hotel that day. Fedex had written that since they couldn’t get a signature, I could pick it up at the nearest Fedex store with a valid id. That was only about six blocks away. I grabbed my sweater and headed there. My computer was there, and I kept it close to my body as I quickly walked the six blocks back to my hotel.

I got in touch of my wife, who was able to use her skills to book me a room for the next day through the end of the conference. I was able to reschedule my pickup from the Super Shuttle to get me from my new hotel. The only thing left to do was to attend the conference and to track down the 10 separate packages from Amazon that had been sent by UPS and USPS to arrive at the hotel that was still under construction.

I honestly don’t remember a lot about the conference. I presented a paper that is morphed into a different project, one that I am currently working on for this year’s virtual ISA-Las Vegas Conference. I remember that I saw some of my friends and had some dinners, but the rest of the conference was a blur of tracking down packages. I spent time at the main Baltimore post office (3 packages) at the main UPS sorting facility (about twenty minutes down the road toward Towson), and at the sister hotel that was part of the chain. The manager there had picked up some of the packages that had been dropped in the lobby of the other hotel when the construction manager called him.

We ended up getting everything we had ordered. I noted that we had ordered a lot of things. One of those things were new ice skates for my four daughters who were taking figure skating lessons back home. I came home a hero.

I also came home a little bit wiser about booking hotels. After that experience I always wrote the hotel the week before the reservation to confirm that everything was okay. I’ve been a lot of hairy situations in my life, but the absolute feeling of helplessness that descended on me as I stood in front of my hotel in the quickly fading February light of 2017 was memorable. In many ways it taught me to be grateful for things when they work, but to be prepared for when they don’t. It was pretty good preparation for 2020.