Thursday, October 18, 2012

Southern Comfort

On the final night of the largest transgender gathering in the US, I sat in the grand ballroom and took off my new red heels to rest my sore feet.  I looked around at the beautiful people having the time of their lives dressed up and dancing like it was prom again.  For most, I’m sure this was a whole lot better.   Being able to be yourself, without the fear of ridicule should be a joyous occasion, but I found myself, as I often do, alone.  I felt like a stranger in a strange and wonderful world. 

What was I thinking?  I had only come out and started hormones a year ago.  But there I was, four days earlier, traveling alone to the infamous Southern Comfort Conference in Atlanta.  I had successfully navigated TSA in New Hampshire and even baggage claim at the busiest airport in the world.  The next test was public transportation, another of many firsts as Gia.  A BART train from the airport to the Hilton for only $2.50 was my ride.  There would be no carriage and horses for this Cinderella.   Atlanta was certainly not Portland, and this was to be an experience to remember. 

While I felt confident about my identity, especially around my hometown, this journey was a whole new experience for me; even my luggage was an issue. My suitcase was cumbersome and weighed close to 40 lbs., mostly because of all the shoes I packed.  This made the bag top heavy and difficult to maneuver.  Half way up the steep escalator from the airport to the train, my suitcase slipped off the step.  In an instant, my bag and me were tumbling down the metal stairs towards the other travelers.  A large handsome man caught my fall.  I was fortunate, yet felt like a fool.  Who was this clumsy girl with the huge blue bag?  The people on the escalator were sweet and asked if I was okay.  I kept my head down and whispered, “I’m fine”, and quickly repositioned my bag.  With my makeup fading after a long day, I turned around and hid my red and tired face. 

Minutes later I was safely on the train headed north to Dunwoody Station.  There were no seats for the long ride clear across town, so I stood, trying to balance my handbag, carry-on, and suitcase with poise.  Nearing the end of the hour-long ride, the train suddenly braked as we were approaching the second to last stop.  Again I tumbled with my bags, this time forward.  Trying to stay composed, I muttered that I must have packed too many shoes. A few female travelers, who witnessed my complete lack of grace, helped me to my feet and shared with me a life lesson, pack two shoes, one black and one brown.  Words to live by. 

Checking in at the Hilton was thankfully uneventful.  The conference was being held at the neighboring Crown Plaza, but it was booked solid, which I think was fitting for me.   I’ve often felt like an island to people around me, and being separate from the event, actually gave me a sense of normalcy.  After a long day of traveling that began in Manchester and a run with Joan Benoit, I was starving.  I changed into jeans, a sweatshirt, and flip flops, then caught the hotel shuttle to a near-bye shopping plaza for dinner and groceries.  The driver was young and helpful.  He even asked to wait, but I let him go and told him I would walk back the few blocks.  He promised it was a “safe” neighborhood.  I ordered Chinese take out and quickly picked up a few essentials at the adjacent Publix market: wine, bottled water, and fruit for my hotel room.  With my plastic bags in hand, I picked up my dumplings and lo mien and enjoyed the walk in the warm Atlanta air back to the hotel.  I was called to by someone from a vehicle, but I knew better to keep my head down a just keep walking.  After a few bites of dinner and a glass of chardonnay, I felt exhausted and my tired eyes told me it was time for bed.  Tomorrow was going to be a big day. 

As the Georgia sun peaked through the curtains the next morning and I tried to enjoy a cup of hotel room coffee in bed, but I had little time to relax.  I still had to get dressed and travel to the conference and register by 9am.  I quickly chose a comfortable outfit.  A cute orange dress, black cardigan, and converse sneakers I thought would be fitting.  I packed my carry bag and shuttled my way to the conference hotel.  The five-minute ride in the light of day gave me a clear view of my surroundings.  A huge shopping mall, numerous plazas, twenty story office buildings, hotels, busy streets, and highways in every direction, clearly I wasn’t in Maine anymore. 

We pulled up to the Crown Plaza’s grand entrance, complete with beautiful plants, chairs, tables all neatly arranged under a sheltered greeting area.  I thanked the driver and left a few dollars in the tip basket.  I was running late, so I swiftly made my way through the revolving doors to the waiting lobby.  I emerged on the other side feeling slightly dazed from the van ride, the bright southern sun, and spinning entrance.   Slowly I looked around and felt like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, stepping through a door to a magical world. 

Part 2 coming soon.