Sunday, April 15, 2007

Back in blue

On the way back to my room last night, my skin glowing red, I dig into my swim shorts pocket for my room key and find a sea shell probably from the last time I was here.

Us midwesterners can't comprehend non-stop sunshine. We can dream about it, and we can visit it, and we can even imagine it coming to our own state. But to live here? Unthinkable. Too much pastel color. Too many smiles and sweet drinks with fruit.

I told someone yesterday that bankers go to cold places, like North Dakota, for meetings to justify a suit and tie. Credit union folks dress down, drink often, and are far more laid-back then your typical financial professional. It could be the deeper relationship we have with our members. After all, statistics and surveys consistently show a credit union/member relationship is one of the most loyal in all of capitalism. When you have people giving their money with such reverence and love, why dress fancy? We've got nothing to prove. The trust is already there.

And it's with great trust that American 1 sent me down here to collect the award. I like to tell people I've learned more in the four years I've been here than I ever did in all the years at school, and it's true. I do use the stuff I learned at Adrian, but this "real world" everyone keeps talking about isn't so bad - not when you really are rewarded for hard work.

Work has always supported and rewarded my efforts, and I appreciate that more than I can say. Kristi, my boss, has to make it a point to embarrass me by saying I can't ever go anywhere, and that we make such a great team. I've been well treated by the credit union: concert and Tigers tickets, training seminars and classes, a car loan, decent pay, my Rotary membership, and now this, my trip to sunny Orlando to learn about credit cards and collect my award.

I really appreciate all of it.

Friday at Epcot Judi, Chris and I took a trip Around the World. I guess it's a process, pretty well known, where you stop at each of the country stations at the park and sample the booze. Mexico, China, Norway, sub-Saharan Africa, France, Germany, Japan, Morocco, America - they're all there, and each has a nice restaurant with plenty of drinks to choose from. We barely made it to Canada, the last stop (see above), before the park closed at 9 p.m.

The cool part about each station was that the workers were actually from the representative country. The Norwegians were blue-eyed and blonde-haired (except for one brunette beauty, who still had the dazzling blue eyes), and I talked with a Canadian law student who helped me sing a verse from the Hip's "New Orleans is Sinking." She also gave me the only Labatt available in Florida.

Having sampled the world's drinks, and passing out on the bus ride home, Friday was an early night for me.

Judi and Chris? They kept going until 2 a.m. They're pros - experts at this credit union conference game, and they showed me a thing or two about partying with co-op comrades.

The gala awards dinner last night was a hit. I worried about the dress code, but my Hawaiian shirt fit right in. The dueling pianos couldn't compete with the great conversation and the sparkles of light dancing off my award. It was a work of art, as was the production of the night: open bar, concert-style lights and sound, and great food.

Our country really is an amazing place, because people can be so different and we're actually curious about the differences. Mormon or Michigander, we won't cut your head off because of diversity. I like visiting with people from other states because, as a traveler, I like to get a feel for what the place is like. And part of that is getting to know the people. Steve, the guy from east Alabama, spoke eloquently (drawl included) of the SEC's superiority over any other college conference. Rich, the manufacturer salesman from Chicago, showed off his accent and love of '60s and '70s pop songs. A lot of ladies from Pennsylvania were worried about going home for fear of the Nor'easter moving in.

My own trip home was smooth sailing, and the first class seat sure helped. Flying first class is one of those things on the "Must do before you die" list, like seeing the Grand Canyon or traveling to Europe. Spacious seats, free food, and quick on-and-off service. And no screaming kids.

As I type this I'm flying somewhere over Georgia or Tennessee, and there's nothing but clouds. I've never been able to see this part of the country from the air, unfortunately, and it's giving me a sign of things to come when I get home. The weather says 50 degrees, and I'm already missing the warm Florida sun that put me to sleep when I was pool-side yesterday afternoon. I won't be thinking of pools in Michigan until at least late May or June, and even then a pina colada probably won't taste the same. Not without UB40 or the Beach Boys playing in the background.

Tomorrow life as we know it begins again, and I'll try to use the knowledge I've gained and the energy I've fostered to make a difference at work at apply all the cool stuff I learned.

Goodbye dream vacation. Hello Jackson.

[As always, check the Flickr account for more pics]

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