Last month a friend asked if I wanted to participate in a webcast. Or rather, she inquired, “What do you know about Chicago’s parking problems?” Though I haven’t been a Chicago resident for several years, I am well versed in how annoying everyone finds the new parking meters that make you pay day, night, or national holiday. Even I find it aggravating to pony up five bucks for two hours when I come to visit, but it beats any parking garage in the city. To give you an idea of how atrocious the parking garage situation is in Chicago, my father has told me at least a half-dozen times about the historic day when he wasn’t forced to pay a $13 tab for a grand total of 10 minutes in an Old Town garage. Apparently getting off the hook for a parking garage fee is more wondrous than turning water into wine. Or perhaps he retells the tale so often because the only reason he was downtown was to pick up something for me, and I should be continually reminded of the grave financial danger he miraculously averted.
But back to the parking meters. The short version of the story is that they suck, too. About four years ago when Mayor Daley was halfway out the retirement door, he decided that it would be a good idea to sell the city’s parking meter system to a foreign interest that could charge whatever they wanted whenever they wanted… for the next 75 years. Moreover, none of the revenue would be pumped back into the local economy. So yeah, some people are still a little grumpy about this deal.
Though for the record, I’m really not one for politics. Sure, I have very strong opinions, which I often cannot back up with actual facts – I’m an American, right? – but usually I try to keep my nose out of all that political mumbo jumbo. However, the allure of having my 15 minutes of webcast fame was just too much to resist. I enthusiastically told my friend that I would love to join in the political discourse.
The morning of the webcast, I was a mess. I was sweaty and fidgety and not at all happy that I had agreed to this thing. Truth is, I’m not a political person or a public speaker. I can write and rewrite to my heart’s content, but you can never erase spoken words. I had a strong premonition that either I would say something very stupid or have someone call me out on my ignorance for the entire world to see. Plus, I hate the way my face looks on webcam.
But a promise is a promise. I couldn’t bow out now. So I made my way to my friend’s office and was quickly set up in one of the conference rooms. They did the requisite tech checks for both audio and video, and everything seemed ready to go. Including my bowels.
The webcast was about all the American cities that are in financial crisis. I was one of a half-dozen speakers, plus a mediator. Oh, and I was also way down on the VIP totem pole. The mayor of Stockton was among the list of participants, so needless to say, I had some time to kill before they would be calling on me to join the conversation. I was totally fine with that.
The webcast started out well. The moderator was awesome, and I immediately found myself drawn into the conversation of the leading panelists. In fact, a part of me was getting more excited than nauseated at the thought of adding my two cents. Now that I was actually there, listening to the debate, I became way more relaxed about the whole thing. And if I did suck, I just wouldn’t let anyone know about it. Except for my father, who by DNA mandate must love me even when I make a fool of myself, and my boyfriend, who I figured might as well know sooner than later that I tend to make a fool of myself, I made certain not to tell another soul about my webcast invite.
My friend had informed me ahead of time that the webcast would last about 30 minutes. I checked the clock; we were already 10 minutes in. I assumed I would be introduced at any moment, and boy was I ready… I had been rehearsing my opening line since that morning and felt pretty confident I would nail it.
Then suddenly, some random dude walked into the conference room. Without saying a word to me, he peered at my laptop screen and started waving his hands in front of it. I was utterly confused… and annoyed. Um, did he not know I was about to make my webcast debut? That’s when he turned to me and asked if I could hear and see the other participants. Was this a trick question? Yes. Of course. Now get out of my eye line, sir. He then informed me that the control room couldn’t get my webcam to work. Though it performed flawlessly less than an hour earlier, the stupid thing was apparently broken. The dude then turned on his heel and exited the room.
So now what? I looked back at the clock. Another five minutes had gone by. Time was running out. I tried to compose myself and get back into the conversation. I had missed the last few points that the other panelists had made; if they called on me now, I definitely would look like a moron.
Didn’t matter. The powers that be never got my webcam to work, and I dejectedly sat in the conference room as if my father had given me a timeout. And like every other brat who gets a timeout, I busted out of there as soon as the webcast came to an end. In fact, my friend was nearly running after me apologizing as I headed for the exit and found the nearest Starbucks to comfort myself with a venti Frappuccino.
In retrospect, I suppose it was for the best. While I was secretly hoping to show off my brilliant oratory skills the likes of which no one has seen since the days of Lincoln, the more probable outcome was that I would sound like Miss South Carolina… And as Mark Twain once said, “It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt.”