Final Reflections on My First CPAC

If someone had told me at the outset just how blown away I’d be by this experience, I don’t know that I’d have believed them.  Although, come to think of it, someone did, and I guess I didn’t.  But these are the sorts of things you just don’t really get until you experience them for yourself.  

Let me acknowledge right here and now, I realize that much of my “blogging” about it has been little more than storytelling.  But, frankly, that’s what it was intended to be.  I’m no ace reporter or journ-o-list.  I’m just a “civilian”, relatively new to the cause, even newer to the Blogosphere.  And my aim was to give as full and accurate accounting of my “adventure” as I could — so that I could remember it, so that those who shared it with me could be acknowledged, and so that those observing might be intrigued enough to get involved and start attending these sorts of things themselves.  Hopefully, I’ve achieved that in at least some small measure.

Before I set out on this great adventure, I read this very helpful guide from Jimmie Bise, Jr. (@Jimmiebjr): The Rookies Rough Guide to CPAC 2012 .  With Jimmie’s permission, I’d like to revisit several of his suggestions, and examine where I fell short.  And perhaps share some additional lessons I learned.  Jimmie’s first recommendation:

Dress for Success…and Comfort.

He makes the point that a lot of walking is called for, and stiletto heels probably aren’t the wisest of choice for ladies (nor are brand new dress shoes for men).  I took heed of his advice, and only brought my “low” heels for dress shoes — comfortable black, strappy numbers I’ve had for years and could honestly run in if it became necessary.  This would have been fine, had Saturday night not ended with a 45+ minute trudge through downtown DC in cold and snow.  (I’ll revisit this issue in a bit.)

Jimmie also wisely points out that, “Ultra-mini skirts that show off your well-toned legs are good for the after-parties, but not for six hours of sitting in speeches and panel discussions. Business or business casual is the order of the day, at least until the sun goes down.”  I took this advice, as well, and went with business casual for the Conference, and dressier attire for evening events.  Not sure that any of us anticipated #Trollopgate.  All I can say is I see both sides of it, and, well, that’s all I’m going to say about that.

You Can’t Do It All, So Plan Ahead.

All one had to do was scan the jam-packed agenda to realize that planning wisely was a good idea.  Jimmie gave some fantastic suggestions of how best to accomplish this, and I did my utmost to follow them.  Went through the list carefully with my handy-dandy highlighter while on the plane.  Prioritized.  I thought I was good to go.  That fell apart early, though, due to my inability to figure out where I wanted to settle, where I could settle and what exactly I wanted my role as blogger to be.  Having experienced it now, I think I’ll have a better plan for the future.  One other thing that must be taken into account: The number of people you will run into and want to stop and spend time with.  Also, the sleep-deprivation will catch up with you quickly and make sitting still for any length of time to listen to speeches a dicey proposition.  I guess that’s two other things, isn’t it?   Anyway – Jimmie’s absolutely right.  You need a well-thought-out game plan.

Love the Nightlife, but Not too Much.

I’d laugh, but…he is so very right about this.  And I am so very…not adept at this.  I think, in retrospect, it would be ideal to try and shoot for a reasonable curfew the first two nights.  That way, you’d at least have a fighting chance at surviving through until Sunday.  But, recognizing that life and stuff isn’t always accommodating of this, I also highly recommend stocking up on sleep in the nights preceding your trip, and accepting that you’re probably going to need a day or two after (at least) to recoup some zzzzz’s, as well.

As for the other aspect of the nightlife — yes, alcohol abounds.  And if you’re someone who has trouble with your regulator switch, well, you’re probably going to have trouble.  As Jimmie said, know your limits.  I would add: Don’t just know them – respect them.  You’ll respect yourself a lot more the next day if you do.  Also, not a bad idea to keep a trusted friend nearby whenever possible.  One who knows their own limits, and isn’t afraid to tell you when you’re exceeding yours.  


Jimmie also makes the fantastic suggestion to bring along some energy bars.  This was an invaluable lesson I learned many years ago on a Bachelorette Party in Cancun. Having a stash of breakfast bars with me on that trip saved my life.  But it applied for the Conference, as well.  You’d think in a big hotel in a busy business district, food would rarely be an issue.  And it’s not, insofar as food is not hard to find.  What is hard is finding the time to sit down to regular meals.  People and events will pull you in so many different directions, you may well find yourself skipping meals.  Even when you plan to meet friends for breakfast, lunch, dinner, what have you, those plans can often fall through.  Always good to have a backup plan, even if it’s not nearly so exciting as dining with friends.  

Now, for some of my own observations, reflections….

Save Up.

If you see a conference like CPAC in your future, start planning now.  Sock away every little bit extra you can, because between airfare, hotel fare, cab fare and food and drinks, it adds up quickly.  Also, if you’re trying to save money, it isn’t an absolute must that you stay at the conference hotel.  It’s certainly convenient!  But you can Priceline it and find some nice hotels close by for considerably less.  As I mentioned, the Hilton DuPont Circle was a very nice place to stay for my first night and very reasonable, compliments of Priceline.  

Choose Your Destination Airport Wisely.

This isn’t a biggie, but it wasn’t until after my flight was booked that I realized that getting from Dulles to Downtown D.C. isn’t all that easy/inexpensive.  If nothing else, the cab ride into town gave me a great chance to bond with @Chris_Mayer over our near-death experience.  Still, it would have been easier and a bit cheaper to get to where I needed to be from Reagan or BWI.  

Registration and Credentials.

Whether you’re registering solely as a Conference attendee, or applying for Bloggers’ Credentials, I highly recommend checking in as soon as you possibly can.  If you arrive the evening before the Conference, pick up your packet/lanyard then.  If you wait until the morning the Conference starts, be prepared to stand in a very long line.  If you plan on applying for Bloggers’ Credentials, do so early. Also, it’s helpful if you’ve had an entry by-lined by one of the better-known sites.  Not mandatory, but you’ll increase the likelihood of receiving full Credentials, along with access to the Bloggers’ Lounge.  Also not necessary in order to enjoy the experience, but a good place from which to observe and blog. 

This leads me to a bigger point: Give some serious thought to what you want to do with this opportunity.  I honestly had no idea going into it.  I’ve always loved writing, but I’ve only recently started tackling politics and more substantive issues.  And even then, I tend to stay within the comfort zone of “writing what I know,” which translates primarily into offering my personal observations on political issues and events.  That’s all well and good, but mostly, it’s just me venting and scratching that writing itch.  If your aim is to take a more serious approach, be prepared to do your research, and map out not only the presentations you want to attend, but the political people you want to meet.  If you want to start landing interviews with the political class, you’re going to have to do the legwork well before arriving at an event such as this.  And, by all means, ask the “veterans” for advice.  There are some wonderful folks out there who’ll happily offer suggestions and serve as mentors.  Just be sure to show your gratitude and acknowledge those who do.  

Bottom line, do give it some thought and planning ahead of time.  Make the most of what really is an amazing opportunity. 

Technical Difficulties. 

It’s inevitable – pack thousands of people into a hotel, many of whom are desperately seeking a Wi-Fi signal and you’re bound to have issues.  Be prepared for it.  Get used to it.  Use your 3G (or 4G) capabilities when possible.  Bring a wall-charger with you everywhere.  And be prepared to pay $14-15 a day if you want Wi-Fi in your room.  Even when you have the proper access code(s), know and accept that the signal will be shoddy at times.  It’s not the end of the world.  Use network-down time to network with humans.  

Capture the Moment. 

You will meet a gabillion people — some “famous,” some friend, some both.  Don’t forget to snag pics when you can.  I can’t believe how many people I was so happy to finally see in person and yet let get away without posing for a quick pic with them or snapping a group shot.   Kicking myself for that still.  Also, consider bringing a better quality camera than just your iPhone.  Far too many of the shots I got were fuzzy, out-of-focus, blurs.  (Okay, some of that may just be my poor photography skills, but still, a better quality camera wouldn’t hurt.) 

Further, if you opt to take videos, remember the mic is hot.  Anything you have to say will serve as narration for what you see.  

Know Where You’re Going and How You’re Going to Get Back. 

If you plan to head out on the town, familiarize yourself with the area ahead of time.  Look at a map.  Have an idea of where you’ll be. Also, arrange for a cab or some other ride to take you back ahead of time.  Don’t leave it to chance like we did.   Store a couple cab company numbers in your phone, and while you’re at it, make sure you have the numbers of all your companions.  Lastly, as silly as it may sound, employ the Buddy System.  Or, in the immortal words of Jester, “Never, never leave your wingman!” (Okay – this is sage advice for going out on the town at any point in time, but it’s especially true when you’re in an unfamiliar city with semi-unfamiliar people.)

Prepare Yourself for Post-Parting Depression.

I already alluded to it in my previous post, but again, silly as it sounds, parting is indeed sweet sorrow.  Part of it is the realization you won’t see many of these people with whom you’ve bonded again for months, maybe not even for another year.  Part of it is the knowledge that you’ll soon have to return to “the real world.”  And part of it is coming down from a several day adrenaline rush.  These elements all combine and can do a serious number on your psyche.  Even assuming you manage to escape the dreaded “CPAC Plague” — and many do not — you’ll still feel emotionally and physically drained for several days after your return.  

Give yourself time to decompress.  Schedule some fun, relaxing outings with family or friends.  Also, look ahead to future conferences you may be interested in and able to attend.  Planning for those will give you something else to look forward to and help minimize the inevitable let-down.  It’s the same as with any vacation, really.  It’s just that there’s a bit of an added emotional component.  At least if you’re a sap like me. 

Be Thankful.

Lastly, take a step back and be glad, be thankful, to live in this country; to have the amazing opportunities we have; and to be able to participate in events such as this.  Take the lessons learned and the connections made home with you and find a way to put them to use in your community and in your daily life.  Most of us can only hope to make small differences, at best.  But we can make them.  And when we find ways, through experiences like this, to work with others of like-mind, sometimes, we can even make not-so-small ones. 

One last big thank you to each and every one of you who helped make this the fantastic, amazing experience it was.  Unforgettable. 


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