He had already been awake when his phone started blaring on the nightstand. A reflexive swipe of the screen silenced the irritating noise. There was no telling how long he had been awake. He was troubled when he went to bed, and the same issue prevented any possibility of meaningful sleep. The directive had come down to him from a “higher up.” It was something he had never considered doing before. With his toothbrush in hand, he checked himself in the mirror. He asked himself, “When the time comes, can I really pull the trigger?”
In another state, in another time zone, her day was already in full gear. Per their agreement, it was her husband’s turn to take the kids to school today. The drive-through line at Starbucks had her order ready this time, so she was able to get to the office early. That was advantageous since this day was not like every other day. She had pulled the trigger several times before. Still, she had to remind herself of that. From her computer screen, she read the fine print one more time. Suddenly, she thought she heard something from the next room. She flipped the laptop closed, silently stepped from behind her desk, and went to her office door. No one was there yet, at least that she could see. Just to be sure, she closed her door and went back to her computer. The deadline to comply was today. It was now or never. The “complete registration” button seemed innocuous enough. She thought for another second, took a breath, and clicked it. She had made the commitment.
His confirmation was returned later that day. The cold hard facts had reached his inbox. There would be no turning back. More doubts ran through his head. Do I keep this to myself? There have to be others who have done this and lived to tell about it. I don’t know what to bring or how to pack. Will this change me forever?
When it came to packing, she was a veteran. Past experience had shown that traveling light was key. One small bag kept the TSA authorities happy and less likely to do a random check. She had said goodbye to the kids when they went to bed the night before. Planting a kiss on her sleeping husband’s cheek, she quietly slipped out of the house. They knew Mom had worked as an engineer but were only vaguely aware of her “other” work. The train station was only a block away. She would be at the airport in 15 minutes.
It was a direct flight, fairly smooth—a little turbulence over the Rockies, but nothing compared with the turbulence in his gut. He was still not sure he had made the right decision. Sure, there would be some real benefits in it if he could just get through it. The landscape loomed closer through his window and helped take his mind off things for a while. Over the PA, and barely audible over the engine noise, a flight attendant announced their final descent into Seattle-Tacoma.
The plane finally pulled into Gate A1 after a grueling cross-country journey. She was more than ready to deplane. When the seat belt sign went off, she jumped up, grabbed her bag from the overhead compartment, and stood in the aisle waiting for the herd of travelers ahead of her to thin out. Once in the terminal, she looked for signs to baggage claim. That’s where the premium Uber pickup was located. As she headed to the baggage claim area, she thought she had noticed someone following her. Probably just her imagination. She decided to duck into the restroom as a precaution.
Maybe he had overpacked, but he always liked to play things safe. He slung his overstuffed backpack over his shoulder and went to retrieve his suitcase, now arriving at baggage claim three. He thought he saw a woman glance back at him several times. It could have been his imagination. He wondered if she thought he was attractive. That probably was his imagination. Did she know why he was here? That had to be it. He watched her disappear into the restroom and continued on to retrieve his bag.
She checked in at the hotel, grabbed a late lunch, and decided to fulfill the first step of her mission. At 3:30, there was a relatively short line to deal with. That process took no time at all. With her materials in hand, she thanked the staff for their efficiency and turned to head to the elevators. In the line next to hers, a face caught her eye. It was a somehow familiar face, but she didn’t immediately place it. At the same time, a flash of recognition crossed the young man’s face. Then it hit her.
She approached him and said, “Have you been following me?”
“Ummmm, no.” he stammered, “I’m just here to register for the Tech Symposium.”
His mind went back to the airport, to the baggage claim encounter, to the woman he thought had been watching him. It was her.
“It looks like we’re here for the same thing then. Is this your first time?” she asked.
He felt like the newbie that he was, saying, “Is it that obvious?”
The two continued talking and realized they were on the same mission. Yes, he was a newbie, while she was a seasoned ASPE veteran. He admitted that he had no idea what to do or what to expect. She graciously offered to give him a few pointers. She walked him through the seminars and advised him as to which she thought would help him most in his job. He was wavering on going to the Product Show, but she quickly set him straight on that.
“It’s important for the exhibitors to get a good turnout at their booths,” she told him. “They have invested a lot of time and expense to be here. Besides that, it would be a great opportunity to get hands-on exposure to the things that you specify.”
He thanked her and said maybe he’d bump into her again that weekend. They went their separate ways. He thought that he was lucky to have met such a nice ASPE member who took the time to help him out and put his mind at ease. She wondered if he would take her advice at all. That was confirmed when she saw him on the Product Show floor. She moved at an efficient pace, stopping where she wanted. He was going much more slowly. He seemed to be stopping at every booth, engaging the exhibitors, holding every product, grabbing literature, grabbing treats.
Sunday was get-away day. The Symposium was over. The newbie and the veteran made their trips home and returned to their respective lives and careers—not quite as exciting as an ASPE adventure, but hey, it pays the bills.
She picked up her Starbucks, and as she sat at her computer, she smiled. It felt good knowing she had helped a fellow ASPE member get through his first Symposium.
In another time zone, a young man woke early again. Not because he had a troubled mind—this time it was because he was excited. He was energized. He could not wait to get to his office and put all of his newly discovered knowledge to work. He smiled and thought to himself, “I’m glad I did pull the trigger.”
The story above probably seems like a real departure from my usual Pipeline article. It’s not a suspense story. It’s not even a true story. But it could be. If you made it through the whole thing, maybe it strikes a chord with you—from one side or the other. Stay tuned for the October article, coming soon to a computer near you.
Relative to nothing, I do have one parting thought I’d like to add. To that one particular son of a son of a sailor, thank you for everything, you will be missed. Until next month, fins up.