Kalamazoo! First Timers’ Guide

02 May

I mentioned in my Kalamazoo recruitment post that I’d be posting a first-timers guide for those attending this year’s International Congress on Medieval Studies. We’re only about 10 days away – I think it’s time.

This post will be much shorter than I’d originally intended as there is an excellent post on this very topic over at I’m going to “throw in” a couple of other things I’ve found helpful but I strongly suggest you read that post.

Don’t forget to pack your program book! And in your carry-on bag. I’ve never forgotten mine and they may have some provision for folks who forget theirs but those things cost a few bucks to print and it is the single most essential item to help guide you through the Congress. I don’t think I can stress this enough.

Next, on the weather. As the post says, weather can be extremely variable this time of year in Michigan. It’s very much a transition period between seasons. And even “normal” weather (whatever that is) is extremely variable. You could have frost in the morning, you could have daytime temperatures struggling to get above 50 (10 degrees C) or you could have daytime temps in the mid-80’s (30 C). Or both. Last year it started off warm and fairly humid, a front went through (I believe Friday night) and for the rest of the conference we wore jackets – or at least sweatshirts. Now I’m all for folks supporting WMU by having to buy additional clothes at the campus bookstore, but that may cut into your book-buying budget.

If you’re a weather aficionado, this site will help explain in more detail what I’m talking about. You’ll notice that under “Daily Station Normals” for Kalamazoo the mid-May nightly lows are around 48-49 (9 C) and the highs around 71-72 (22 C). And that’s the normals. You can also check out the frost/freeze data. Kalamazoo doesn’t have a listing (unless there’s a station with a different name in the city) but Battle Creek’s about 20 miles (30 km) east at the same latitude – and it has a 50% chance of the last frost date being May 13. So there’s a good chance there will be at least one very cool morning.

I use the layer system myself and make sure I have something I can stuff extra clothes into if the sessions I’m attending are over in the Fetzer/Schneider/Bernhard area. It isn’t that long of a walk back to the dorms but I’m getting older – I don’t want to make it just to ditch a sweatshirt.

While you’re at Congress you may want to sleep some. I’ve reached the age where good sleep has become essential (though I occasionally yearn for the time when I could go on 3-4 hours a night). The post gives better information on the dorms than I ever could. I have also never met the person I’m sharing a bathroom with. I’ll verify the poor quality of the blankets and pillows however the nice thing is, with two beds, you get 2 of everything. I’ve found that the pillows are OK if I use both to sleep with. Now I’m within driving distance so I throw all kinds of stuff in my car “just in case.” But if you’re flying, consider whether you want a pillow taking up space that could be used to take books home.

These are dorm rooms – rudimentary heating which you have no control over and the walls are typical dorm walls. The one item I personally can’t do without is a small fan. Beyond circulation, it also gives me some “white noise” to help mask some of the other sounds. Last year I didn’t sleep real well because I was right over the dorm entrance but if I hadn’t had the fan it would have been much worse.

The mattresses are the standard foam dorm ones. They don’t bother me but friends of mine have said bringing an air mattress can help if you’re sensitive to that. The good thing is an uninflated air mattress makes a very small package.

I raved about the books in my earlier post but will restrain myself to a couple of comments here. Even if you aren’t planning on buying books, or the price is more than you can handle, make sure you visit the exhibits and pick up publisher/bookseller catalogs. There’s typically a conference discount so later if you win the lottery or an unknown rich uncle leaves you some money you can save a few bucks – and frequently some less expensive books they didn’t bring are in the catalog anyway. Also, if you purchase a display copy of a book make sure and check with the seller to see if they’ll be around Sunday. Some tear down their booths Saturday evening so you’ll need to pick your book up by then. They will ship them to you if you forget.

If you’re a coffee person, there is free coffee just outside the exhibit hall. In past years that stuff has been pretty bad but for some reason last year it was very drinkable (kudos to whoever drew coffee duty last year). If you eat breakfasts in the dining hall, which I usually do, there’s also mediocre coffee there. I’ve been known to drive to a Starbucks a couple of miles down the road. In case you can’t tell, I’m a coffee person. ;)

Finally, remember your cell phone etiquette. It could help save your life – or at least a part of it. As an amateur who is pretty useless in Latin or Greek, I frequently introduce myself to people at K’zoo as being “the least intelligent person here.” Since pretty much everyone on the planet wouldn’t have done this, I offer the following story in support of this statement.

Last year I had to run back to Indiana on Friday for something work-related. Kind of sucked but it was just an unfortunate situation – nothing to complain about. Things happen. Anyway, I drive back and get back just in time to attend an evening session, “Carolingian Monastic Spirituality”, sponsored by the Institute of Cistercian Studies. This was one of those extremely serious, somber sessions – and quite good. It was well-attended with many clergy in attendance – Catholic Priests, Cistercians, etc. When presenters talked, everyone listened. In complete silence. Without even moving – they must practice that in seminary. Rustling clothes would have sounded like a hurricane.

About 20 minutes into the session I realize I hadn’t turned my cell phone off – or even set it on stun. I’m in the middle of a row with a Catholic priest on one side of me, a Cistercian in full garb on the other. If I turn off the phone it sings a little jingle and even turning down the ringer means beeps. I thought about excusing myself to go outside and turn it off – but then I’d have had to crowd back through the row to sit down. So there I sat for the next hour-and-a-half, just waiting for it to ring (fortunately it never did).

When I die the date on my headstone will be at least two and maybe as much as five years earlier than it would have been – all due to my personal idiocy. I could literally feel my life leaking away as I sat there. I’m usually very conscious of my cell phone and make sure to turn it off – it’s very disrespectful to do otherwise. But I blew it here. At least my ringtone wasn’t AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell.” If anyone ever tries to deny my “least intelligent” statement, I have firm, undeniable proof.

Have fun at K’zoo everyone – maybe I’ll run into you there. Or if you happen to ask a somewhat fat guy wearing a baseball cap what he does and he mentions himself as “the least intelligent person here” who does this for a hobby, you’ll have a good idea who you’re talking to. I may try to do some blogging from there but that’ll depend on time. If you need to contact me (or are interested in a Starbucks run) send me an e-mail.

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Posted by on May 2, 2010 in Conferences


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