It was well past midnight and we had had way too much to drink. My wife, Sheri, and I were joined by great friends and perennial late-night troublemakers, Amy and Paul. We were on a mission of mischievous amusement, and the rules and gates at the fancy resort were not going to stand in our way. “I think they were trying to have sex,” whispered Amy. “Well, they should know better,” I said. “It is two-o-clock in the morning. This hot tub is closed. They shouldn’t have sex in the hot tub we are breaking into,” I said justifying the coital interruption my posse of inebriated bread-bakers caused for the couple that fled into the darkness. “Come on, get in,” I continued undeterred by the lateness of the hour or the disruption we were causing. “Paul – find the timer and turn on the bubbles. Who’s got that last bottle of wine? Pass it my way!”
Attending our company convention was our annual pilgrimage to a beautiful resort destination at a property we couldn’t afford to drink with our comrades in the bread business. My wife, Sheri, and I own a whole grain bread bakery, and this was our once-a-year boondoggle. Every year, we left the kids and all of our worries at home and jetted off to a warm tropical or desert resort destination. For three magnificent days, we drank torrents of alcohol and laughed like our responsibilities would never again emerge. Sometimes we must have imagined if we drank enough, surely we could wash our burdens away. As the years passed, I learned that such self-medication was temporary and my anxiety would return with a vengeance.
Like most boondoggles, the convention had a stated business purpose that my friends and I only saw as a nuisance. There were meetings and presentations and blah, blah, blah that only delayed the start of the drinking. At least, the formal program of events caused a drinking delay for most in attendance. More than once, my plastic lidded to-go coffee cup contained hoppy-amber refreshment. I even used a paper sleeve to protect my hands from the “hot coffee” in order to complete my rouse.
I sat in the convention hall with my nametag dangling from the lanyard around my neck with my spiral-bound meeting itinerary complete with blank pages for note-taking and sipped my morning beer while trying to resist the temptation to jab my ballpoint pen in my eye to alleviate the boredom. Amy’s husband, Mitch, leaned over and whispered in my ear. “Do you think Nido will tell the story about the baby bird he nursed back to health or the one about chopping down the tree blocking his view of prosperity this year?” he asked. The company chairman had only had two stories of inspiration, and I think he often lost track of which one he had told at the previous year’s event.
During breaks, I would sprint back to my room because the coffee pots outside the convention hall did not have my blend. With my beer cup, I mean coffee cup, reloaded, my friends and I would have a rousing game of “Bullshit Bingo” during the next educational session where in we connected catch-phrases and industry-jargon on homemade bingo boards as a keynote speaker or company bigwig enlightened us with three – or was it five – easy steps to a prosperous future. Words like “synergy” and phrases like “outside-the-box” would find us marking our boards. It might not have been for the intended reason, but at least we were paying attention.
At one of our first conventions, Sheri and I blew-off the meeting schedule altogether. We walked the beach in La Jolla and felt the cool morning ocean breeze challenge our windbreakers. The ocean-side cliffs were steep and jagged and breathtaking. After miles of dancing with the tide as we walked aimlessly along the water-packed sand, we were desperately in need of refreshment. We found a café on a pier overlooking the Pacific and drank and talked and laughed for hours. I had probably two beers to every one of Sheri’s sea-breezes. We drank through a shift change giving us a second server to enchant with our semi-lucid ramblings. The hours melted away as we held hands and lived an afternoon of leisure that our family and work responsibilities seldom allowed.
We stumbled out of a cab and back into our hotel room just in time to clean up and dress for the convention closing ceremonies. In a fleeting moment of clarity, we decided we were far too drunk to join the other slightly intoxicated convention goers and passed out in bed. Looking back, it was one of the best drinking days I have ever had with my wife. It was one of the rare times that we were carefree simultaneously and our wistful moods took us in the same cheery direction.
At another convention in Marco Island, we drank on the beach all day while playing sand volleyball and splashing in the waves. Late at night, when all the responsible convention attendees were in their rooms considering questions they might ask the speakers in the morning, Sheri, Amy, Paul and I led an expedition of a dozen or so to break into the outdoor pool on the edge of the beach.
Earlier that day, a lifeguard had told me I was too old to use the corkscrew pool slide. I was crushed. That slide looked like big fun. Now, long after the pool gates had been locked and under cover of darkness, we were going down that slide. Since none of us were in bathing suits, we would complete the adventure in our skivvies without a shred of modesty, or sobriety, in the group.
At the resort on which we descended in Tucson, javelinas resembling little boars roamed the property late at night as Sheri, Amy, Paul and I stumbled from the dinner party to the after-hours party in the CEO’s suite. Twenty out-of-tune bakers belted out the lyrics to “Piano Man” while our good friend, Monica, tickled the ivories on the grand piano that the hotel staff began to regret leaving in the massive suit. We sang and danced until we drank the memories into a blurry darkness. It was as much fun as I have ever had with my clothes on.
On one convention trip to an island off the coast of San Diego, we stayed at the historic Hotel Del Coronado. The resort manager was not amused at my question. When she came to our suite in the late afternoon to ask us to “keep it down” in response to noise complaints from neighboring hotel guests, I ask how many warnings we could receive before being evicted from the property. There were fifteen bread-heads on our balcony that could comfortably accommodate six, and there was not a sober person among us. I remain very proud that our cocktail hour was so festive as to earn us a pre-dinner noise complain. Never let it be said that I didn’t accomplish anything worthwhile at annual convention.
At my final convention in Palm Desert, I definitely went out with a flurry. It was after midnight when I rallied Sheri, Amy, Paul, Joshua and Taylor over the wrought-iron fence that protected the pool area. We learned several important things through our haze of intoxication that night. We learned that when the “lazy river” water circulation system is off, making the trek in tubes without the help of the water current is a lot of work. We also learned that diving down a dry waterslide with bare, dry skin leaves a series of nasty and unexplainable rug burns. We were exhausted and looked like we had wrecked while driving motorcycles naked on linoleum floors. Still, we made it all the way around the lazy river, and we skidded painfully down the waterslide to the cool refreshment below. We were feeling no pain. At least, not until the morning.
The three days of partying never disappointed. But as the years wore on, the end of convention brought me higher and higher levels of despair. The transition from boondoggle back to responsibility became unbearable. As we sat by the pool the morning of our departure from Tucson, I whined to Sheri, Amy and Mitch that I wanted just one more day. They all agreed wistfully, but they didn’t understand the cloud of depression that was overwhelming me. As the budding alcoholic in the group, my misery at the thought of a return to reality was paralyzing. All three of my fellow travelers looked at me in pathetic disgust as I drank four leftover beers in the backseat of the car on the way to the airport. I loved my job. I loved my home. Above all, I loved my kids. But the thought of turning off the spigot of free-flowing alcohol was more than I could bear.
Alcohol brought me great joy. Despite the uninhibited bliss that can be found in the bottom of a bottle, alas, alcohol is a depressant. Years of heavy drinking warped my mind leading to massive bouts of depression.
On the last night of convention, as the party raged on, no one wanted it to end. But when the morning came, everyone made a smooth transition back into the real world. Everyone, it seemed, except for me.