That thing you’re doing with your feet – what’s that called?

Apparently nobody WALKS in downtown Dallas. Correction – nobody even goes outside! At first I thought I was just imagining things when I asked people if the b&b was within walking distance of downtown and they just looked at me incredulously like I’d just asked if I could bite their kneecaps. “You want to WALK downtown?” Hmm…. apparently walking is for sissies.

Not to be deterred, I walked anyway. And, in almost a Twilight Zone surrealness (I’m sure that’s not a word, but whatever) I was stunningly alone on the streets. The first night, I chalked it up to the fact that it was Sunday evening and I was primarily walking through the business district. But even when I walked past hotels and rows of apartment buildings there was NO ONE outside. For most of the walk, for as far as I could look, I was the only pedestrian. Not surprisingly, in the first 10 minutes alone, two out-of-towners stopped to ask me directions because I was the only person they could see. Pity the poor Russian backpacker who was looking for a cheap hotel – he’s probably still looking.

On Monday, I thought surely things would be different. But no – more of the same. Nobody. Anywhere. Okay, so perhaps it’s because it’s grey and rainy today. But Tuesday, when the sun came out, more of the same. I walked through the heart of the business district at lunch time, and you could have shot a cannon and not hit anyone. I sat by a fountain where there were hoardes of benches to sit on (the kind of place that would have been buzzing with hot dog vendors and office workers with cabin fever in downtown Winnipeg on a sunny Spring day), and I was all alone. Not a soul anywhere.

Where IS everyone? They make it LOOK like there are people downtown. There are lots of schwanky office towers and parking lots full of high-end vehicles, but there are no people.

At 4:00, when I walked back to the b&b, I thought “surely now, when people are going home, there will be few people on the street”. But no, other than a few smokers, a couple of people who’d stepped outside to get better cell phone reception, and a few blue collar workers who had to take transit (gasp! practically unheard of around here), I was still alone. I have no idea how people get from the office to the vehicle – perhaps they have underground tunnels.

I headed for the area on the map that looked like the only green space downtown. Maybe in a park… Oops. No more park. Just a massive construction site. I guess they don’t need greenspace if nobody goes outside.

Bizarre. Tonight, I finally found a little more buzz in the West Village (close to my b&b), the place where the well-heeled go to be seen. I found a lovely bookstore and another lovely restaurant, so I’ve had another refreshing evening. But I don’t think I need to come back to Dallas again any time soon. At least not downtown. I prefer a place with a little more pulse. This place reminds me of a story I wrote in junior high about a space alien who arrives on earth and thinks that the vehicles are the earthlings because he never sees any people. GET OUT OF YOUR CARS PEOPLE – there’s life to be lived! What a surreal contrast this has been to my last trip! In Ethiopia, in what seemed like the most remote place imaginable, you could stop the vehicle and within minutes be surrounded by people. Though that can get overwhelming too, I think I’m more at home there.

In other news – the conference was much of the same. A few mediocre speakers, a few really bad ones, and one or two that are worth remembering. Lance Armstrong is much better than I expected. I just thought of him as an arrogant s.o.b., but he’s actually a passionate, inspiring, and easy-to-listen-to speaker.

I’ve lit my little candle, I’ve got some good music on, and I’m enjoying my last night in this lovely room. Tomorrow I meet my family in Minneapolis. Yay! Sweet dreams.

The good, the bad, and the… well, let’s just say “the corporate”

My first hour in Dallas almost made up for a disappointing beginning. The bed and breakfast is delightful and proof positive that it pays to do your homework. Love it. LOVE it! The handmade quilt, the four poster bed, the wicker chaise lounge I’m currently reclining on – I can’t imagine why anyone would choose a big box hotel over this place!
Bed and Breakfast in Dallas

And, just like I’d hoped, I found the perfect out-of-the-way restaurant that wouldn’t have been on any “recommended restaurants” list in the conference handouts. Nikkolini’s Organicity. Perfectly lovely. I almost cried when I sat down at the little round table under the tree and watched the trolley go by. It felt a little like God whispered in my ear “this is a gift to you – be refreshed.” It was perfect – a folksy organic Greek restaurant that serves the most amazing food I can imagine tasting at a restaurant. (Liz – all I had to do was walk to the end of the street to find a place that serves amazing vegetarian food! No steak to be found!)
Nikkolini Organicity

By the end of lunch, I’d practically been adopted by Gino and Olina, the owners of the restaurant. When I came back later, after attending the first session at the conference, I walked in and Jeff, the very friendly waiter who embraces the world with open arms, shouted into the kitchen “Olina! Gino! Heather from Canada came back!” Gino came out and I said “Hey Gino – I’m tired and I just want to go back to my room to crash. Can you make me something quick and vegetarian to take out?” “Certainly!” Gino said, and disappeared into the kitchen. Five minutes later, he emerged with some amazing hummus and veggie wrap and what I think was polenta on the side. Oh my… all I can say is YUM!
Gino and Olina - owners of Nikkolini Organicity
(Gino and Olina in front of one of Gino’s paintings)

I took the trolley downtown, and, just like I expected, the trolley driver was as about as perfect as could be. Charming, funny, and a fountain of information about all things trolley. And to think I would have missed it if I’d stayed in one of the conference-recommended hotels!

Trolley driver in Dallas

And the conference… well, let’s see, what can I say… It’s very big, very corporate, very American (no offence to my American friends, of course – but can you remind your country-mates that you are NOT the centre of the world?), and, um… well, let’s just say it should have been sub-titled “How to manipulate rich people out of their money in ten easy lessons”. So far, it has reminded me that I am not a “real” fundraiser – I suck at corporate networking, I hate doing “the ask”, I don’t want to spend time at fancy galas trying to impress rich people, and I don’t golf. I don’t even know the language these people speak!

AFP Conference

Future posts may be called “10 sure-fire ways to deliver a truly awful powerpoint presentation” and “why it’s better to walk a mile in the rain than get stuck in a corporate networking event, even though the denim conference tote bag stains your clothes” (yes, Michele, denim) and “has every fundraiser in this @*&^%!! place forgotten the biblical principle of the widow’s mite?” and “how you can feel more culture shock in a room full of people from your own continent than in Ethiopia”.

Ah, but it’s not ALL bad. Hearing Chip Heath speak was almost worth the price of admission. I would have bought his book, but it was sold out about half an hour after he presented. Craig Kielburger was a close second. Even Brooke Shields surprised me – she’s pretty down-to-earth and she had some touching personal stories to share. Oh, and I had a wonderful moment when a woman looked at me with a familiar “deer in the headlights” look and said “oh my gosh – I had no idea how out of place I’d feel here! That exhibition hall terrifies me! They’re vultures in there!” Yes, even here, there are kindred spirits.

I’d love to be out wandering right now (the b&b is in a lovely neighbourhood with lots of character), but it’s raining and I got soaked when I ran screaming from the networking event. Okay, so I wasn’t screaming, but I did have a mini panic attack after only half an hour of putting on a fake smile and introducing myself to a bunch of people who really didn’t care who I was because I am of no corporate use to them. (It was a Canadian reception, and I thought it would at least be nice to be in a room full of people who didn’t look at me with a blank stare when I said I’m from Winnipeg. Who knew I’d only last half an hour?)

I had no idea this post would be so long. Sorry. Guess I just had to unload a little.

Just one last thing… I think I’ll give this place a pass – it might not look good on my expense acount.
Idle Rich Pub

No more boxes!

Something wasn’t sitting right. I wasn’t looking forward to this business trip as much as I usually do. Part of it was the fact that I’ll be attending a fundraising conference, and fundraising is my least favourite part of my job, so I’m not expecting to be overly inspired. But there was something more. Whenever I looked over my plans, or clicked on the hotel website where I was booked, I felt this odd achey feeling that I couldn’t quite put my finger on.

Then I had one of those eureka moments. I figured it out. I was accepting the status quo and this was shaping up to be one of those “big-box” business trips. You know the feeling you get when you’ve been shopping at too many big box stores and you haven’t had a chance to see anything unique or original for a long time and your heart aches for the tiny grocery store or gift shop on the corner where you can have delightful conversation and pick up something that’s handmade or fair trade or at least a little more original than what everyone has? You don’t know that feeling? Well pay more attention next time you go shopping, because I’ll bet you’ll come home feeling different if you skip some of those big box stores next Saturday and visit at least one little Mom ‘n Pop shop.

Back to my trip… That’s the feeling I was getting when I considered this trip. I’d accepted the status quo. I didn’t know anything about downtown Dallas, so I’d simply accepted the cheapest hotel on the list of recommendations from the conference. It was feeling like a piece of my soul was about to be sucked out through my corporate credit card. Like a good little corporate drone, I would shuffle from the airport box to the airplane box to the taxi box to the generic corporate hotel box to the conference shuttle box to the sterile conference room box to the chain restaurant box, blah, blah, blah. Stop, stop, STOP! I don’t fit cleanly in all those boxes! I have to get out!

I used to do alot more of this kind of travel when I worked for the government. I’d go to conferences in big cities, stay in a generic hotel somewhere, spend my days in generic conference rooms and go home without ever feeling like my soul had breathed. To be honest, when you do nothing but visit big boxes, you could be in any city in North America and not really know the difference. Is this Toronto or Edmonton? I forget. Hmmm…. it’s April, so it must be Toronto.

I don’t usually settle for boxes anymore. Whenever I can, I do a little homework and find a unique local establishment, like a bed and breakfast or a restored country inn. When I’m there, I talk to the local propietor and find out the best local restaurants and funky shops that no corporate hotel would every recommend. That’s why I had this uneasy feeling about this trip. I hadn’t done my homework.

Now I’m happy to report, I did my homework and I’m tossing the box as far away as I can. I’ve found a bed and breakfast in a lovely restored inn in a funky neighbourhood. (No, I can’t tell you exactly which b&b, in case you’re a crazy stalker who’s got a thing for overweight middle-aged white chicks from Canada.) It’s not as convenient as the big box hotel I had originally booked, but the plus side of that is that I get to take the heritage trolley (for free!) from a block away from my b&b to within walking distance of my conference.

When I get there, I’ll have a chat with the proprietor, and I’m sure I’ll find some artsy shops and funky restaurants in the neighbourhood. At night, I’ll snuggle under my handmade quilt in my cast-iron bed and I’ll have sweet dreams. In the morning, I’ll eat a big breakfast at the antique dining room table, and then I’ll head out to catch my trolley. I might even chat with the volunteer trolley conductor who’s passionate about trolley cars. And when I’m at the conference, I’ll skip all the workshops that talk about how to maximize your charity golf game, or how to manipulate evil rich people out of their hoards of money, and instead I’ll go to those that have words like “community” and “giving circle” in the title.

I’ll tell you all about it when I get back. Woohoo! This is shaping up to be a good trip after all!

Going to Dallas

Early next week, I’ll be spending a few days at a conference in Dallas. I don’t have alot of time to do the tourist thing, but I should be able to at least escape for a few evenings of wandering around the heart of the city. I’ve never been there before, so I thought I’d ask… does anyone have any suggestions for some “must see” landmarks or “must eat at” restaurants in Dallas? I’m staying downtown (not far from the convention centre), and mostly I’ll just be on foot, so keep that in mind.

If you had a free evening in Dallas, what would YOU do?

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