2011.07.07 Sampling an elevated state of networking

Written by David Green.

By COLLEEN LEDDY

I grew up in a five-story apartment building with no elevator. Consequently, I don’t have any innate rules of elevator etiquette ingrained in my brain.

Riding an elevator always entails a certain amount of awkwardness as you try not to look too closely at others or appear too standoffish. Depending on how many floors you’re traveling, there’s not a whole lot of time to engage in conversation—but then there’s that awkward silence if you don’t.

Elevator interactions were a big part of the American Library Association conference for me and Kym Ries when we were in New Orleans last week.

Kym and I were headed for dinner at The Gumbo Shop when we stepped into the elevator our second evening. A few floors down a beautiful young African American woman wearing a strikingly beautiful white blouse got on. There were one or two other women on the elevator and we all remarked on the blouse’s beauty. 

The other women, however, didn’t end up in a cab with the White Bloused Woman bound for an ALA-sponsored multi-cultural meeting at the Hilton Riverside. I’m not entirely sure how, but Kym and I did.

I think it was food. The prospect of good free food—multi-cultural free food, no less—was strong so we threw caution to the wind and hopped in a cab with Alys, the White Bloused Woman. 

It wasn’t just the promise of free food, of course. In trying to convince us we should join her at the Hilton event, Alys had pointed out that networking and meeting new people was one of the purposes of the conference. 

When we finally arrived at the meeting room (with a bunch more women in tow...Alys was a little like the Pied Piper) it was clear it was about the food—or lack thereof.

Kym and I immediately zeroed in on the sectioned dish of potato chips, pretzels, corn chips and popcorn at the first table we spied, while Alys checked in and asked where the food table was.

Imagine our disappointment when we learned the snack tables were it. Still, we cruised from table to table hoping against hope for something more substantial and tried to avoid the people selling raffle tickets for prizes we didn’t want.

When we informed Alys we were taking off in search of dinner, she was sincerely sorry about the lack of real food and insisted on coming with us. Off we went to The Gumbo Shop where we enjoyed an entertaining meal—capped by me spilling mashed potatoes and gravy—on her beautiful white blouse.

A couple days later as we were headed downstairs for breakfast, Kym remembered something she’d forgotten in the room just as the elevator arrived. It was the day of our presentation so I went ahead to breakfast. It made sense, we didn’t want to be late and I take longer to eat—especially since our hotel’s continental breakfast included some of the best pastries ever, gigantic bowls of fresh fruit—pineapple, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, watermelon, oranges—and freshly squeezed orange juice plus cereals and bagels that I never even touched. Why eat bagels when delectable pastries are on the agenda?

Our hotel doesn’t normally offer free continental breakfast. It was a perk to make up for their three restaurants being unavailable through November due to remodeling. So, instead of just bellying up to the fruit bowls, we had to wait for a hostess to seat us at cloth-covered tables and a waitress to bring water and coffee.

There was another banquet room that had been set aside especially for those guests attending the ALA conference, but Kym had scoped it out the first morning and discovered the pickings were slimmer at that site. We just left off our name tags and turned our ALA tote bags around so we wouldn’t be easily identified at the better breakfast site.

Anyway, I was coasting down when the elevator stopped, and a young man walked on.

“How are you liking the conference?” he asked.

“How can you tell I’m attending the conference?” I asked. “I didn’t even put my name tag on!”

He pointed to the dead giveaway bright red ALA tote bag.

We chatted the rest of the ride and I expected him to head for the front door as I headed for the breakfast room. But he followed me—like a lost puppy, I thought—all the way to breakfast. Turns out he didn’t even know the hotel had set up a special ALA breakfast area; he’d been eating at the good spot all along too.

Inviting him to join us for breakfast seemed like the polite thing to do...even though I wasn’t sure if Kym would want to kill me. Kym was actually delighted and spent breakfast talking with Berend about some kind of Google presentation he would be doing. 

Meanwhile, I gorged on those pastries—and concentrated on not spilling raspberries all over Berend’s shirt.

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