This isn’t the glamorous job you’ve heard it is to be a “speaker.”
People will say: “Oh, you get to travel!” Yes, we see the inside of planes, the inside of hotels, the inside of rental cars and shuttles. We don’t eat at the best restaurants in town because it’s very likely that the ONLY restaurants in town are Subway, McDonalds, Pizza Hut, and the local gas station. We drive 6-12 hours across regions of the country. We sometimes sleep in the rental car at the airport to avoid getting a hotel for just two hours before our flight and after a long drive. We have days where we wake up at 3 AM to catch the first flight and other days where we're awake until 3 AM driving between events. We have blow dried wet clothes. We have slept while parked in a cemetery. We are travel warriors for the sake of the Collegiate Empowerment Movement. Life on the road as a traveling edutainer isn’t always sexy, but it's worth it in the end.
Here's one story…
After wrapping up Orientation Leader Training on Tuesday, August 18th, 2015 at Onondaga Community College near Syracuse, NY, I was waiting for plane that would take me through LaGuardia airport in New York and to Miami for my next event. My flight got delayed one hour, and then 45 minutes, and then another half hour. It wasn't going to take off until after my LaGuardia flight, so clearly this wasn't going to work.
I walked up to the gate agent, calmly told him my situation, and asked what he could do for me. He put me on a flight that was departing within the next 40 minutes that would go through Atlanta and get me to Miami only an hour later than my original itinerary. I think him graciously and asked what what would happen to the other passengers; he said, "They're not getting to Miami tonight." I got the last seat on the plane for Atlanta because I asked for it.
Fast forward through the flight. As we are in the air approaching Atlanta, the pilot announced that we would have to circle Atlanta to wait for thunderstorms to pass. This meant another 40 minutes of flying around wastefully using expensive jet fuel. We landed with 15 minutes to spare before my next flight was going to depart for Miami, which meant I missed my opportunity for a sitdown dinner and had to eat some protein bars. With my luck, the flight was delayed about a half hour (which means I could've had a sitdown dinner) and I ended up arriving in Miami at 12:30 AM, two hours later than my original itinerary.
If you haven't been to the Miami airport before, it's pretty large and if you need a rental car, the rental car center which houses all rental car companies is more than a half mile train trip away, and the train is a 10 minute walk through the airport. By the time I finally got my car and arrived at my hotel, it was 1:15 AM.
The gentleman at the check-in counter politely let me know that this Courtyard Marriott at which I had my reservation was oversold and that he reserved and paid for a room for me at a different hotel due to the overbooking. The Springhill Suites (which is also owned by Marriott) was 15 minutes north, the same 15 minutes for which I just drove south from the airport. I politely asked why I was not notified of this hotel change as it is quite inconvenient being almost 30 minutes away from the University of Miami where I am working in two days on Thursday. (Yes, I flew to Miami one day early so that I could relax for half day in the midst of my six-day, four-event trip.) The gentleman did not have an answer for me and after a few minutes of begging and pleading, I took to my car and drove back north. After all was said and done and I checked in at the Springhill Suites by 1:45 AM.
Fast forward through Wednesday into Thursday. I arranged the audiovisual check for the University of Miami at 8 AM because the bank United Center was going to be occupied with students and lectures throughout the rest of the day until my 3:15 PM Maximize Your Buzz seminar. I didn't actually start the seminar until 3:35 PM because they were running late (which is absolutely normal during orientation season, and most schools need to plan for more flexibility throughout the day). This means that after connecting with my client, I didn't leave the school until 5:10 PM. My next flight was at 7:11 PM.
Again, if you've never been to Miami, then you wouldn't know Miami traffic at rush hour. I now have 90 minutes to drive 30 minutes to the airport in rush hour traffic, return the rental car at the rental car center which is a five minute train ride to the airport, and then walk ten minutes through the airport to the ticketing counter. After weaving and dodging traffic in Miami, driving down side streets to avoid the main highways, and getting gas which I nearly forgot to get, I arrived at the rental car station forgetting which rental car company I need to return the car too. There are three parking levels which have different rental agencies and of course, with my luck this week, I drove to the wrong one. I stepped out of my car, grab my laptop bag from the trunk, and checked which agency I need to return this car to as it's my fifth rental in a weeks’ time and they're all starting to blend together. I ultimately have to leave the rental car center to reenter, but there is no reenter point, so I drove the wrong way through a one-way exit to finally return the car, get on the train, walk 10 minutes on the moving walkways through the airport, get through security, and get to my gate at the airport...only to find that the flight was delayed by 45 minutes. Who has this kind of luck?!
I landed at BWI in Baltimore for my event on Friday at Stevenson University. All of the rental car companies are located off-site at their own facility, just like Miami, except here in Baltimore, one must take an eight-minute shuttle to get there. I waited 14 minutes for the first shuttle to arrive, which stopped two lanes across the street from me and another gentleman traveling in a business suit. The shuttle stopped for about eight seconds and then continued on. 16 minutes later (because I'm now looking at the time on my iPhone every 30 seconds) a second shuttle appears around the bend. I told the Business Suit Man that if this shuttle doesn't stop, I am hailing a cab. He told me that he's getting in the cab with me! The shuttle did stop even though it was near full and we finally got on after 30 minutes of waiting for the rental car shuttle.
We take the eight-minute trip to the rental car facility and I speed walked to get to the front of the line. To my expectation, there are already five other people in front of me waiting to get their cars. After I initialed all of the paperwork, the clerk told me that someone would help me get my car in the lot. I went to the lot and I should have expected this, but there was no one there. I didn't look at my clock this time, but it was at least five minutes until I found a human being who let me choose any car in the lot as if he really didn't care which car I took. I drove towards the exit and wouldn't you know, it was closed. Between the rental car shuttle, the facility, the parking lot, and the exit, this rental car companies are seriously understaffed at the Baltimore airport.
I had to drive out a different exit along with every other renter. Normally it only takes about 30 seconds to check out the paperwork and leave the facility, but for some reason, it took nearly 20 minutes for the eight cars in front of me to leave through the single exit. I got to my hotel in one piece that evening around 12 AM and had a wonderful Get A Life Outside The Classroom seminar at Stevenson University.
There was magically only one flight delay from Baltimore to Chicago. When I arrived in Chicago, I had planned to call the car service company that my client had arranged for me to be picked up from the airport and dropped off at my hotel. The number he provided in the itinerary was the number for the Office of Student Life… not the car service. Of course, he wasn't in his office at 6:30 PM nor did I have his cell phone number for unknown reasons. (We pretty much always happy mobile number of our clients.) I called my own car service and $70 later, I arrived at my hotel peacefully to run out my aggression on the treadmill.
Both of my uMeet and Get A Life seminars at Harper College the next day were pretty amazing and I had no trouble with the car service on the way back to the airport except that the driver herself was in her third car for the day due to multiple breakdowns. I am truly shocked that the limo did not break down while I was in it.
I have TSA Pre Check, which means I paid $80 to have the government do all sorts of background checks and fingerprinting so that I could skip long security lines, leave my laptop in the bag for the x-ray, and keep my sneakers on during the security process. The TSA pre-check stamp didn't show up on my mobile boarding pass and I was unable to retrieve my mobile boarding pass for this flight home.
I waited almost 15 minutes at the counter for the agent to print a ticket for me with my TSA Pre Check stamp on it, and instead, he handed me my ticket with four S's at the top of it. That means I'm a random security check. It also means that I had to wait in line for 25 minutes to go through security instead of skipping the line with Pre Check. As I got to the security officer, he saw the for S's on my ticket and requested a security check. I expected this but I did not expect to wait seven minutes for someone to come get me.
I was delighted that I was able to skip the long lines and go immediately through security, but I was unsure why the pat down was so personal and why I needed to turn on all of my electronic devices in front of security. They asked me if I had being out of the country recently, to which I replied "no." After my bags were searched and I was pat down, I was again and asked if I was out of the country. I was asked if I had any alerts at other airports. I was asked if I was in trouble with the government. To all of these questions, I replied "no," followed by "I have TSA Pre Check, so I have been pre-checked by the government. Why is this even happening?" After 20 minutes of additional screening, I was told to call TSA to understand why I was a security alert. (You should know that I am not a security threat. Just an alert.)
I had dinner at the airport and was about to board the plane when the gate agent took my ticket and asked me if I was checked by security because there was a big red box with some checks in it on her computer screen. At this point I didn't think I was going to get on the plane. That would've been the likely ending to this ridiculous trip. Instead, she printed me another ticket and I boarded the plane. Win!
There is some exciting news: as we were preparing to land in Philadelphia, a 17-year-old girl who is sitting next to me on the plane awoke from her nap, nearly jumped out of her seat, grabbed my arm, and shouted "Oh my God, where are we?!" I began laughing and responded, "We're on a plane." While I did try to convince her that we were landing in Alabama, we did have some delightful conversation. I finally landed in Philly to get home after this six-day a tornado of a trip.
You think it's over? Not so fast. Fast forward two days later when I call TSA. I was informed that she nor anyone else knows or would even be able to tell me why I am a security alert. She told me this might happen again, and if it does, I need to obtain a redress number from the government. Not only will I have a Pre Check number for expedited security, I would also have a redress number for clearing up any misidentification.
As I dictate this blog post, I'm currently in Connecticut for my next event exactly a week after my flight to Syracuse. I drove here from my home in South Jersey and didn't have any problems with flight delays, thunderstorms over airports, hotel overbookings, unstaffed rental car agencies, car trouble, or government security alerts.
Please, I beg of you: if you are one of our clients, pray for us, show up on time, be available for scheduled appointments, return our phone calls, have the tech ready when we arrive, and know that this is why we request snacks. This is what we sometimes go through in order to Help College Students Get What They Want & Need.
At Collegiate Empowerment, we don't do this for the money. We don't do this for the fame. We don't do this for our egos. And we don't do this for standing ovations, because if we receive one, we probably didn't do our job well enough facilitating an educational and conversational seminar experience.
We do this for the students, just like you do.