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Restless Feet in the North Country.

Scorpio Sphinx ATE Conference 7-30-05

By Freddie A. Bowles
Posted from Bismarck, North Dakota

Once again I'm in a capital city. This trip brings me to the North Country, a far (and fair) piece from the south central state of Arkansas. Bismarck, North Dakota, lies barely over a hundred miles from the Canadian border states of Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Montana shares a state line to the west, Minnesota to the east, and South Dakota to the south.

Don't Let Dark Beat You Home
From a Breezy "Dakota" Excursion.

legendaryAccording to the 2000 census, 633,837 folks inhabit the state. The Dakota Territory, founded in 1861, was named after the Dakota Indian tribe. The word "Dakota" is a Sioux word meaning "friends" or "allies," according to 50states.com (retrieved 28 July 2005 from www.50states.com). North Dakota became the 39th state to enter the union in 1889.

I've come to Bismarck named after the German chancellor Otto von Bismarck for the 2005 Association of Teacher Educators (ATE) Summer Conference, arriving early to participate in the Academy Leadership events as a nominee for the 2006 cohort group.

The trip commenced in Arkansas on Thursday the 28th with an 11:30 a.m. flight to Minneapolis, where I was surprised to find several fellow members in the Association of Teacher Educators (ATE) waiting to board the same flight to Bismarck. Terrell Peace from Huntington University in Indiana found me first. His seatmates included two of my former colleagues, Debbie Barnes and Terry James from the University of Central Arkansas. Terry is ATE president elect for 2007. Debbie is a Leadership Academy cohort from the first group of initiates in 2004. Several other familiar colleagues swept by and waved as we began to board an overbooked mid-afternoon flight. My fellow seatmate was also with the ATE conference. Paul Paese hails from Southwest Texas State University and is the 2006 College / University Representative for the organization.

Movin' to the Beat of Curiosity.

My mama always said I have "restless feet" and she is right. I usually jump at the chance to take a trip. Curiosity keeps my feet moving.

I've never visited this part of our vast land before. My overseas trips have led me far afield, around the world and back it seems, but my travels in the United States are comparatively limited. I couldn't pass up the opportunity to participate in ATE's Leadership Academy. Nor could I miss the chance to hear presentations from a dedicated team of educational professionals revolving around the theme set by our current president, P. Rudy Mattai: Advocacy Through Engagement: The School-Community Collaborative Imperative in Educating ALL Children. The conference location was "icing on the cake."

The journey from Minneapolis to Bismarck lasted longer than the anticipated one hour because the plane's near-maximum weight prompted the pilots to refigure their take-off calculations. skyAfter almost a half-hour on the tarmac (I was sitting next to the jet engine), the figures were recalibrated and off we went. We actually arrived at the Bismarck airport, smaller than Northwest Regional in Arkansas, only five minutes late. (Aeronautical mysteries never cease.) Terrell phoned the hotel for the shuttle while the rest of our group waited on luggage.

A Visit from Murphy.

Now I'm assuming everyone knows Murphy. He is the lawgiver for error and futility. Succinctly stated, his law reminds us of the occasional folly of human endeavor: "If anything can go wrong, it will."

Murphy shows up at the most inopportune times to throw a wrench in the works. I guess Murphy had a date with me because my luggage never arrived. As the shuttle parted with half our group, I submitted my ticket and baggage claim information at the Northwest Airlines counter. The counter agent assured me that the bag would arrive on one of the next two flights. Somewhat amused by Murphy's surprise visit, I walked back to my companions, Debbie and Terrell, in time to catch the next shuttle to the Bismarck city center.

The shuttle trip took less time than a good conversation. Shuttle driver Bob provided running commentary on the attractions of Bismarck a mall across from our hotel (including a Wal-Mart), the zoo (the camels should be out), the population (around 56,000), the new road (finished in October), and the offer to be our driver whenever and wherever we wanted to go (on duty until 2:00 a.m.).

Bob says, "Dine at the Bistro."

After a quick and seamless check-in, Debbie, Terrell, and I decided to meet for dinner at one of Bob's suggested dining establishments, "once we got unpacked." Easy for them to say. Easy for me to do, too. Having no luggage, I was momentarily liberated from one of the mundane orders of the business traveler's day. I was able to fire-up the laptop and forage for an Internet connection before the dinner bell rang.

Within the hour, Debbie called. She had tracked down another of our group, Nancy Gallavan, one of my newest colleagues at the University of Arkansas. The four of us met in the lobby. We hailed Bob to crank-up the shuttle for a short jaunt to the Bistro, an Italian-themed restaurant in the downtown area. Everyone was famished.

First came the obligatory foccacia and olive oil, but the olive oil came with a twist a line of grated parmesan separated the oil from an aromatic, slightly sweet, but pungent balsamic vinegar. One small loaf of the herbal staff of life barely whetted our appetites, so we called for round two.

Murphy didn't show-up for dinner, but I did find it amusing that in the last ten days, I had dined at three Italian restaurantsolive oil and bread the Macaroni Grill in Little Rock with Joe Givens, a friend on summer leave from his teaching post in the United Arab Emirates; Mary Maestri's, a Tontitown icon near Fayetteville, where I shared a scrumptious repast with my dear spouse, Ebenezer, and fellow PhD students, Jean Dockers and Chris Young; and the Bistro in Bismarck with fellow ATE members Debbie, Nancy and Terrell.

Penne pasta and exotic pizzas quickly followed our second foccacia. The dessert menu, which appeared in imagination as an appealing array before the entrees were devoured, had lost favor by the end of the main courses. The world of Italian cuisine was just too much with us.

Cold Stone Cherry Cheesecake.

Instead, we favored a walk to Cold Stone Creamery, an ice cream chain outlet where you choose a flavor of ice cream to mix with your choice of toppings. So what's unusual about that? Nothing obvious, but at Cold Stone the ice cream is mixed with the toppings on a cold granite counter. The servers use two stainless steel scoops to rapidly mix the customer's choices. Anything with cherry catches my eye, so I opted for the cherry cheesecake. "Oh, my goodness," Shirley Temple would have exclaimed in a long-ago movie. I had a moment there! And lo and behold if we didn't run into more ATE ice cream lovers, Eileen Westerman and companions. Conference discussion was interspersed with murmurs of culinary appreciation as we savoured our scoops of fruit, flavorings, and frozen creme.

Nancy, our fearless leader for this excursion on foot, demonstrated her skills as scout and trail blazer (she had arrived earlier in the day to walk about the mall area on various and sundry missions for the organization) by guiding us along a winding path behind almost every building in the mall area to reach our ice-cream destination.

skyWe teased her relentlessly about the short, scenic route, but the walk was well worth the meander. A slightly nippy, breezy evening air invigorated our pace, but the most glorious part was the sky, an expansive azure palette dotted with billowing cumulus clouds, backlit with hues of mauve and raspberry.

Our last stop was a grocery store. Again, Nancy led the way even within the store! How much fun can a grocery store visit be? To four university teachers, it turned into a verbal adventure. A simple commentary on yogurt styles led to a five-minute dialogue of innuendo and satire. We were still giggling when we left.

Dark Wasn't Gonna Git Me.

"Don't let dark drive you home," my grandma and mama used to admonish visitors. Up here in the North Country, the sky clings to its sunlight a bit longer than in the southern climes, so we entered the store around sunset and made it back to the hotel before dark could "git us." We said our farewells in the lobby and dispersed to our rooms.

Guess who met me at my hotel door? Murphy! My key card failed to open the door. I supposed I had forgotten my room number, so I walked down the hall to ask Terrell for confirmation of my room number. Yep, I had it right, so I deposited my groceries in Terrell's arms while I trudged back down to the lobby.

I guess Murphy had a moment of remorse. In the lobby I spied a taxi driver, delivering my wayward luggage. The evening would end with a sigh of relief and a moment of gratitude. I got my key and returned to Terrell's room with my surprise - luggage from the skies! And a bag of groceries to boot. All's well that ends well in Bismarck, North Dakota.

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