He had arrived on time but it turned out that he was early. On-time is early in the Caribbean, but he was hoping that maybe the term would have meant something given the nature of the event. But it was already after 19:15 hours and the scene was, for the most part, void of people. He had to admit that the ambiance was classy - and was hopeful that maybe, just maybe, that would be a sign of things to come.
The elevated walkway was repurposed as a stage that stood three feet above the stretch of rough-textured sand, facing an absent audience flanked by the sea rendered invisible by the darkness of the moonless night. The area was illuminated by a series of elevated strobes on tripods indirectly focusing white lights upon the stage and seating for the expected crowd. The lighting to the left and right had cast alternating soft neon hues of blue, pink, white, and green along the seating perimeter which enclosed two sets of folding chairs arranged in ten rows of eight, each shrouded in a form-fitted white sleeve that added an element of sophistication. It looked like a bit too many, but then too, he was early, after all.
If asked one month ago about his plans for the upcoming weeks, he wouldn't have thought they would be anything impressive. But now, only a few days later, here he was, in Jamaica. A newspaper advertisement was brought to his attention two Sundays back, and he looked it over before promptly dismissing it. Too costly. No time. It was only after being pressed did he ask himself how badly he wanted to attend, if he needed to attend and he still wasn't sure. But when asked if he'd regret not attending, well, the answer was immediately apparent. He was able to shift some funds around and somehow the days opened up. He booked the flight.
People gradually started to arrive, and this allowed the kickoff to start only an hour later than advertised. After the typical boring slew of introductions and sappy words of thanks and appreciation, the main event finally got underway. The featured speaker that night was an open book, laying out his past struggles and present successes for all to see, using language at times that some would have scolded him for in private. But cuss words are sometimes the right words to describe the trials and frustrations of an ordeal. Doing something meaningful is usually as difficult as fuck, more so if few people get you, and downplaying that for the mere sake of being proper is to perform a disservice to oneself.
The schedule for the next day was full, and again he made the mistake of arriving early for the day's proceedings. And yet again, he was the first one there, although he wasn't sure that he was in the right place. There were neither signage nor directions, and the hotel staff seemed even more clueless than he when asked. The conference organizers arrived in their own time and fumbled with the keys to the auditorium - an ample, dark, musty, split-level arena with high ceilings and poor lighting outfitted with worn cushioned seats, cheap side tables, and a stage in dire need of overhauling. The setting was in stark contrast to the nature of what would be discussed over the next two days.
In all fairness, although initially chaotic, he found the agenda to be well-structured, and he was thankful for that. The sessions had been arranged as a series of fireside chats - groups of four or five discussing key topics. These, for the most part, were facilitated by moderators with the intellect, knowledge, and experience to manage the Q&A in a meaningful way. In essence, he had a second-row seat to the latest news and developments in the industry. But, sometimes, it was more than that. Several speakers shared personal stories - of doing brilliant work that no one would notice if done correctly; of using the tools at hand to create scalable solutions; of bringing people together; of pioneering new industries; of being scared and unsure of themselves; of changing direction and starting anew; of doing what was necessary; of patience and sacrifice; of failure, and ultimately, of success. And he appreciated that because these were the issues he had been struggling with as of late.
So he listened carefully. He took notes. And he studied the speakers and audience. The misgivings held and inconveniences endured till this point were momentarily put aside, for there was something to be gained in the here and now. Did he regret attending? At first, yes, but now, less so. The potential was there, he concluded, for this experience to constitute an important milestone in the times to come. And it was up to him to make the most of it.