Houston Day 1: Zip Ties, Scissors, and Yao Ming’s Blazer

I arrived in Houston today in advance of this weekend’s Archdiocesan Youth Conference (AYC) for the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston.  I am blessed to be serving as one of the 4 keynote speakers for AYC, which I learned is the biggest diocesan youth gathering in the United States aside from LA’s Youth Day.  And if the rest of my trip is anything like today was, I’m in for a memorable week!

Things got off to a great start when my lovely wife Gail brought me to the airport early in the morning.  Usually I take a taxi to YVR but with Gail being “off” for the summer, she offered to bring me.  Or perhaps she just wanted to make sure I got on the plane and was rid of me for a week!

I was checked in (not checked out) by a former neighbour of mine, so she switched my seat to the emergency exit row.  This won’t come as a surprise to those of you who know me well; I often remark of how I love being the short 5’6”guy with the extra leg-room while a 6’5” guy might be crammed in behind me.  She also gave me a zip tie to secure my luggage (more on this later).

Before I boarded my plane, I gave Bell Mobility a quick call to confirm that they had added a US texting plan for me as per my request from yesterday.  Good thing I did, as they had no record of my conversation with them the day prior, and therefore I would have been charged an arm and a leg (and likely a few other body parts) if I hadn’t had called again.  PHEW!

After two relatively uneventful flights (I had a quick stop over in Seattle), I arrived in Houston and was met with a combo of heat and humidity that blasted me in the face (thanks for the warning Kathy!).   I was met by Randy, an Associate Director of the Office of Youth Ministry, and he drove me to the conference hotel downtown.  We had a great chat on the way to the hotel, and found out we had a lot of things in common.

I went to drop off my suitcase and computer before heading out for dinner and told Randy I would be less than 5 minutes (he waited for me in the hotel lobby).  I intended to change my shirt and put my contacts in but I needed access to my suitcase.  Remember that zip tie I mentioned earlier?  Well, I had nothing to cut it with (my scissors were in my suitcase) so I proceeded to break 3 pens in trying to slice through it.  It was all for nought and I ran down to the lobby apologizing to Randy for my delay.

We met the rest of the crew at the House of Blues for dinner; there were about 40-50 people there…all having a hand in AYC.  Some were office staff, some were youth ministers, some were volunteers, and some were youth leaders.  I had a great time catching up with old friends and meeting new ones.  I had a nice chat with one person in particular: Leilani.  She is a Filipina who used to dance for the Houston Rockets’ dance team.  I told her that I used to date a Filipina who used to dance for the Vancouver Grizzlies’ dance team.  Surprisingly, Leilani didn’t get creeped out.   I consider that a success…haha.

What wasn’t a success was how my stomach reacted to my huge plate of jambalaya.  As we were getting ready to leave, I excused myself and paid a visit to the men’s room.  After what I thought was only a few minutes, I emerged from the bathroom to a standing ovation from the AYC crew.   I was slightly embarrassed at this first impression to say the least. 

As we walked back to the hotel, I was talking to some of the people about my zip tie incident.  As I turned back to Leilani, I was shocked to see her holding a rather large pair of scissors near my face.  Maybe she was creeped out after all.  She kindly offered me the scissors so I could access my suitcase.  I thanked for her thoughtful gesture while secretly wondering why she was wandering the streets of downtown Houston with a pair of scissors in her purse.

I sat in on their planning team meeting for an hour or so and it was fascinating and affirming to hear them talk about details for the next day.  Things like who gets radios, who’s doing security, and how they will handle requests for t-shirt exchanges.  It admittedly was nice being on the other “side” for once, as I’ve been in my fair share of these types of meetings back home.  There was a certain urgency yet calm in the room as they finalized details in anticipation of the 2,100 participants arriving the next day.

Before calling it a night, a few of us headed next door to the Toyota Center, home of the Houston Rockets.  We had a quick tour of the offices courtesy of Leilani (she is a senior promotions manager for the team) and we learned some neat insight into the workings of the team and the building.  I tried to impress the group by reminding them that the Rockets obtained point guard Steve Francis from the Vancouver Grizzlies in exchange for Michael Dickerson, Othella Harrington, Antoine Carr, Brent Price, and 2 draft picks in what was then the largest trade in NBA history.  Similar to Vancouver’s response to the Grizzlies, they didn’t seem to care.

Nevertheless, I felt like a kid in a candy store given my love of sports and my fascination with sports arenas.  I even got to try on Yao Ming’s blazer…it looked like a dress on me.  And a bright red one at that.

I’m thankful for the safe travel and for meeting some great people.   I can’t wait to see what this weekend holds for all of us.