The 2017 National Conference for the National Association of Campus Activities (NACA) was held in the Inner Harbor of Baltimore, Maryland. I had never been to Baltimore and was really looking forward to explore a new city. The preparation for a business trip always has me nervous. There is a mountain of paperwork required along with a lengthy list of signatures to be collected in order for a state run university to travel. Once that was done, the next issue was mentally preparing to be the chaperone for students that are only a few years younger than myself.
We departed the Monroe Regional Airport at 6am and headed to Atlanta. The TSA was nice to me, and that set the trip off on a good foot. The layover in Atlanta was minimal. My family always joked that when a person dies, even their soul has to stop through Atlanta on their way to Heaven. I believe it. It’s fascinating to look at the departure boards and see of the destinations that folks are headed to in each corner of the globe.
Once we landed in Baltimore, we caught an Uber to the hotel, dropped off our bags and then headed out to the convention center to check in to the conference. My first impression of Baltimore from the walk was pleasant. There was no humidity, the air was clean, and the city didn’t stink. I reckon there were no landfills or paper mills sandwiching this part of the city as Monroe has to deal with daily. The NACA staff and volunteers were friendly, we received some welcome goodies and set off to our first event of the night.
Each day of NACA is broken up into a few sections. First there are two educational sessions where the group splits up and heads to different classes based on their role within the organization. After this, the group rendezvous for a showcase. The showcases feature musicians, comedians, magicians, and other entertainers who perform 10 minute previews of their acts. This is neat because attendees get to do research while being entertained. Each performer plugs their company and which booth you can attend during marketplace. The marketplaces or “Camps”, as they call them, are comic-con-like set up of isles of booths where agents and entertainers are there to greet you, share merchandise, and attempt to sell you into booking them. Luckily for me, working for a state run institution means that I cannot book people in this style, so I can use that as an excuse not to be pressured and just swap emails and business cards.
Lunches and dinners are delegated on your own (with the exception of a pretty decent boxed lunch on the last day). During our whole stay in Baltimore where we had to eat out for almost every meal, I did not encounter any foods less than delicious. The service, however, was terrible. I guess it’s a difference in culture in the northeast versus the south, but the waiters and waitresses in Baltimore were horrible. No smiles, no jokes, and lectures about how paying six different tickets with cash is the worst. Sorry, but the school gave us cash for food so
we have to use that, and I do not want to go through collecting money from 5 students who are hard-up for cash and dealing with who’s change is who’s; that is the staff’s job. Look, I get it… waiting is a difficult job, but common courtesy doesn’t cost anything. I have a different opinion on wait staff and tipping than most folks, and won’t bother typing that out here. We did have one really nice waitress who was kind, quick, and efficient. The only problem with her is that we were eating at Dick’s Last Resort, where the staff is supposed to be rude, cussing, and her niceness kind of took away from that experience as we watched other tables getting the full treatment.
This was my third trip to the NACA national conference, and I think it was my favorite. The classes I attended on leadership, teamwork, and how to improve campus activities was invaluable. The students I took with me also really enjoyed their classes. The worst complaint anyone had was that the presentation was try, but even with that, the information learned was useful. I have a notebook of ideas on activities to bring, acts to book, and some personal lessons on how to improve myself in this job that I am excited to bring back to the school.
On our last day, we had some time to get out and explore the city. I got to tour the USS Constellation, which is one of the two remaining sailing warships from America’s infancy. Touring this ship was an absolutely amazing experience and along with my tour of the USS Constitution in Boston a few years ago, completed my journey of touring the remaining vessels. Along with the admission to the USS Constellation, I also got access to tour one of the other historic ships in the harbor. I decided to tour the USS Torsk, which is a war submarine. I had never been on a sub before and was looking forward to it quite a bit. I’ll never go on another submarine. Don’t get me wrong, it was neat and all that, but it was so incredibly tiny and cramped. I have such a magnificent new-found respect for the crew of a submarine. They endure tough conditions to complete their missions and deserve the upmost respect. Nevertheless, it was a cool experience and I’m glad I went. We also walked around the harbor area and saw some neat stuff, and trekked up to the top of Federal Hill where we found an awe-inspiring view of the city.
Of all the sites we toured, two of them stood out above the rest. The first was the Edgar Allen Poe house. We walked the mile and a half through the city to see Poe’s house. Turns out that the museum was closed and we had to walk through some of the most dangerous blocks of Baltimore. It was very uncomfortable to walk through some of the neighborhoods we did in order to get there, so I ordered an Uber to take us back. After picking us up, the driver asked us why the hell we walked through there and asked if we were aware those were the neighborhoods where the Baltimore Riots took place just two years earlier. A lot the sites we saw on the way to Poe’s made sense after that. I said a little prayer of thanks for our safety.
The second, and most moving attraction of my time in Baltimore was to see the memorial in front of the Baltimore World Trade Center. In front of the building was a huge marble block that held one of the warped and burnt beams from the 9/11 World Trade Center attack in New York City. Seeing the size of this steel beam, and the twists and breaks in the metal along with scorch marks was a lot to take in. Inscribed in the marble was the names of all of the Maryland residents that lost their lives that day. The moments I was at that memorial were sad, but meaningful. It was a site and experience I will never forget.
Now we are on the plane back to Monroe. The students and I left as six acquaintances and colleagues, and I feel as if we are returning as a close-knit team that is ready to take our Campus Activities Board to a new level when they take office this summer. I have spent time reflecting on my first trip to NACA as student, and it helped shape my career path to where I am now the Advisor for the very board that first made me feel at home in Monroe. The experience has had beautiful circularity and I’m looking forward to the next trip around.