Wednesday, August 31, 2011
The Arkansas Traveler
So, where are all the hot springs?
Oh, I see. There's a town in Arkansas called Hot Springs. Sorry. My bad.
OK, then, where are all the little rocks?
Better little rocks than kidney stones, I suppose.
I finally made it to the state capital of Arkansas last week to attend the 38th annual convention of the American Association of Kidney Patients (AAKP), my reward for winning the Renal Network's 2011 Robert Felter Memorial Award. And I hope that the citizens of the great state of Arkansas and the South in general understand that all those disparaging, smartyboots comments I've made in previous blog posts about taking this trip were simply for comedic effect and never intended to be taken at face value.
But seriously, folks, I found Little Rock to be a quaint and captivating little American city, filled with some of the most disarmingly friendly people one could ever wish to meet. Southern hospitality is alive, well, and living in a land that celebrates Bill Clinton and feral hogs, not necessarily in that order.
It is the smallest town ever to host the kidney conference. I asked Jerome Bailey, communications manager for AAKP, if this was the first time the convention ever had been held outside the organization's home state of Florida.
"Oh, no!" he replied. "We've held it in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Chicago...."
Nice award. Wrong year. I coulda had Vegas!
I was impressed by signs in Little Rock National Airport informing arriving visitors of "Airport Angels" scattered throughout the terminal who were ready to offer directions, answer questions and generally act as ambassadors for their beloved village.
At Detroit Metro Airport, the only angels you're likely to see are Hell's.
This is the lobby of the hotel where the convention was held, the historic Peabody, billed as the most lavish accommodations in the state.
The lobby alone is enough to dispel whatever stereotypes I may have held about Little Rock. The Peabody is opulent, its rooms upscale. As you may know, however, in summer Southern Heat is far different from Northern Heat. In August, Northern Heat feels like a thick wool blanket wrapped around your entire body. Southern Heat is the same blanket, but soaked in hot water and pressed against your face as well.
To compensate – and possibly to appease us cranky Northerners – the interior of the Peabody was air conditioned to a temperature somewhere around sub-Arctic. Never have I been so cold in a large building before. By the second day, at every session I was wearing the heavy sweatshirt I was so thankful I had packed.
The Peabody chain, as you might know, is world renowned for its Peabody ducks, a tradition begun in Little Rock. Every day, promptly at 11 a.m., a flock of five ducks waddle down a red carpet and dive into the hotel's lobby pool, where they flap and frolic until 5 p.m. when they return to their evening quarters with much pomp and fanfare.
A word to the wise: If dining in the hotel restaurant, never ask for the roast duck entrée. Bad form.
I did make it to the William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum, which as you can imagine is a source of great pride to the local citizenry.
Regardless of your political leanings, you should visit presidential libraries whenever you get the chance, if for no other reason than to touch a period of American history. The Clinton museum was hosting an Elvis Presley exhibit, which if you remember Bill Clinton makes complete sense. The museum also has on display the saxophone Clinton played on The Arsenio Hall Show the night he essentially secured the nation's black vote.
However, I looked all over for the one thing I really wanted to see, but never found it: the definition of what "is" is.
The three-day convention offered breakout sessions with titles like "Preparing Yourself for Dialysis" and "The National Kidney Registry: Understanding the Kidney Exchange Program." They were extremely informative, but no more so than my fellow attendees.
Here I am with my new friend Brad Mayfield. (No relation to the late R&B immortal Curtis, as far as he knows.) Brad and I talked at length about our individual journeys. I got to ask him how it felt to receive a kidney transplant, lose it through organ rejection and then rebound, physically and emotionally.
The greatest component of the AAKP convention was the feeling of being surrounded by hundreds of people who could relate exactly to what you've been going through. I met people who have been on dialysis for 30, 40 years and are still going strong.
No place for a scintilla of self-pity here. What's that old saying, "I cried because I had no shoes until I met a man with no feet?"
Just call me Shoeless Jim.