The hot Texas sun is shining through a glass dome atrium above, giving me the feeling of being outdoors. There are festive Alice in Wonderland decorations and lively music all around, with food in abundance and drinks filled before they ever have a chance to become empty. I’m spending every waking minute doing the part of my job that I love the most. It sounds like a worker’s paradise, but I’m trapped!
I can’t help but feel like a lab rat in a sophisticated experiment to determine how well I can find my way through the maze. The dome overhead starts to take on a strange resemblance to my childhood pet gerbil’s exercise ball. I slowly begin to realize that the river winding through the lobby, the distressed façade on the wall beside the elevators, and the balconies that grace 1/2 the hotel rooms in the place are an elaborate mind game, to make me forget that I’m stuck here for the duration of my visit to Grapevine, TX.
Once a year I’m the Photography Lead at a national conference, leading a team of 6 other Photographers, and traveling with 20+ company representatives. We stay at some kind of resort, with a rather large conference center attached. FedEx is on site, there’s an exercise room, a spa, numerous restaurants and bars, and even a Starbucks. Meals are eaten on site, and easily charged to the room for the purposes of tracking work expenses. We keep a tight schedule, sometimes photographing from 7 am until after 11 pm. We cover every event, from start to finish, so as the lead I’m the first one in and the last one out. I don’t have a car, or a bicycle. I’m essentially trapped.
There’s a beautiful pool, with cascading water, a fully stocked pool bar, with friendly bartenders ready to mix up a frozen adult beverage, and a hot tub that would feel fantastic at the end of the day. The pool area is open until midnight, but between Friday to Wednesday I don’t have the opportunity to set foot outside of the building complex. This is a completely different sort of travel than my usual tour of my region. If I’m not careful it can easily become a bit claustrophobic. All accommodations are taken care of for me, and there are families and vacationing couples paying an enormous amount of money to stay here, but I’ll working through most of it.
Luckily, I love the work I’m here to do.
The atmosphere is relaxed and intensely festive at the same time. It reminds me of the 5 teen summers I spent working at Brookfield Zoo, selling balloons in the shape of a dolphin and tiger masks with an elastic string. It’s a bit chaotic, like the years in college when I was surrounded by groups of school kids, on field trips, swarming the Streets of Old Milwaukee, at the Milwaukee Public Museum. There’s a familiar, yet peculiar feeling when you are hard at work and everyone around you is vacationing, spending the day out with family, or on some sort of retreat. I’m sure the seasonal lifeguards, concession stand workers, parking lot attendants & ticket takers at waterparks and concert venues across the Midwest know exactly what I’m talking about.
But I remind myself that I’m being paid to stay at this resort, with a room that has a balcony overlooking the large atrium, with its live trees and lovely landscaping. I’m on the clock as I listen to live music, tapping my foot to country tunes and upbeat cover songs that get people up out of their seats at wedding receptions. I’m earning a paycheck as I mingle with conference attendees, having cheese plates and glasses of wine thrust in my direction. There’s not much to complain about, other than feet that constantly ache, and blisters caused by running from one side of the complex and back 20x before dinner. Dinner isn’t the end of the workday – my team is photographing the banquet, featured speakers, and live music that follows.
When it’s time to clock out, for the day, I might as well explore the resort, and what it has to offer. The resort is rather good at what they do, making you feel like you have choices in which restaurant to eat at, providing multiple bars, roaming entertainers, and something for guests of any age.
Down the rabbit hole: Alice, Through the Looking Glass
The Gaylord Texan has been transformed into a complex exhibit: there are live paintings, a scavenger hunt, a nightly laser light show set to music, elaborate sand artists, and balloon sculptures for the kids. The theme includes a large-scale checker board, with red and black pieces the size of large pizzas – the chess featured in Alice’s story might have been a bit too involved for casual vacationers. There’s art all around, which I enjoy exploring.
The resort is on to something – there’s fantasy and mystery in Alice’s bizarre adventures, and a lot of media coverage this year, with the latest movie coming out. It stars Jonny Depp, with the film molded by the twisted mind of Tim Burton, and distributed by Disney, who is known for appealing to adult audiences while entertaining their youngest viewers. The film is sure to be a success, but I wonder if we need another Alice in Wonderland film. The crowd at the resort seems to be on board with the classic theme.
I’d consider getting a pedicure or a massage at the resort’s spa, but the $50 price tag for the basic “On the Go” pedicure (plus tip), and the $200 they are asking for the hot stone massage, is just a bit outside of my budget for today. My toes and aching muscles can wait for a more reasonably priced treatment back home. Perhaps I’ll just go back to Thailand, where I had some type of massage daily for about $20 USD or less.
Between the cowboy wrangling cattle above the bar, the carpet that looks like someone spewed tacky western hats and boots, and the country music overhead, you definitely feel like you’re in Texas. The local Texans who are working with me for the week chuckle at the stereotypes that are so abundant. Not everyone in Texas is into such things, they insist!
On this trip I wouldn’t know what’s typically “Texan”, since the shuttle that took me from the airport to the hotel is the same one that will make the return trip. There’s no question that I’ll need to make a return visit, to really experience Texas. A recent trip to Corpus Cristi, with its waterside dining and glowing sunsets, doesn’t seem representative either.
An earlier Texas memory includes being pulled over on my way through the Northern tip of the state, while following historic Route 66 all the way from Chicago to California. On that trip the police were kind enough to let me off the hook, with a warning, when I was pulled over in both directions. I’d worry that I’m on someone’s list of drivers to look out for. . . but I think they have bigger reasons to be “on the lookout”. I’ll keep that in mind when I return next time.
Join me on my next adventure,