Wednesday, July 11, 2007

I retreat!

As many of you know, I have a rather sensitive B.S.-o-meter. That is, in the words of Lily Tomlin, "No matter how cynical I get, I can never keep up." I'm not a particularly touchy-feely type, don't like to "network" and am not particularly into smalltalk. I'd rather not say anything if I had a choice to give an undeserved compliment. I'd give away used cars and wear flipflops to the White House. You get the idea. So here are the pluses and minuses of an annual exercise in B.S. to which I'm subjected each year: the annual employee "staff retreat."

My colleagues and I "engage" in this day-and-a-half affair at the university's pastoral Gainey Conference Center on the outskirts of Owatonna, Minn. Usually we talk about our department's plans and goals, university issues and challenges and other meaty stuff. Sometimes it can be pretty useful. Most of the time, not. But I'll admit I love to go (totally out of character for me, see above) because the Gainey chef prepares awesome food, the booze is free and I get my once-a-year opportunity to go bowling in a real bowling alley. Oh, and I almost forgot: I get a whole bed to myself on retreat night, complete with TV remote. So I hog both sides of the bed, snore without interruption and watch all the "Sex and the City" I can stay awake for. Then I sleep in, have a huge Gainey dining room breakfast and get to work about noon.

This year, I was a little more impatient than usual with the whole thing. We had all the plans-and-goals talks, but we had a guest speaker, a marketing futurist who ironically seemed ill prepared. About all I remember is her telling us how excited she was to be there and commenting on our "wonderful energy." Gush. Ick. She wore an up-to-there black sleeveless dress with a peek-a-boo neckline and stilettos (hello, inappropriate!) to show off her great legs. OK, so I sound jealous. Maybe so, but I still wouldn't have worn that getup to a professional meeting. During part of her presentation she showed us the "Mentos and Diet Coke" video. Big whoop. Saw that at least two years ago. I can't imagine how much we paid her. Nothin', I hope, because that's what she delivered. A big fat zero. If I made money that way, I'd feel guilty.

Next, we invited a university staffer for a little presentation on "Learning to Love Mondays." Its message: Motivation comes from within. You can't motivate someone. You can learn what motivates them, but you can't "make them" motivated. No shit. But it was pretty good compared to the morning sexpot's exercise.

After we got all the other presentations and work stuff done, we had -- you guessed it -- a happy hour-and-a-half and another great meal. And instead of going bowling, our Owatonna-native co-workers arranged for a crazy scavenger hunt through their lovely town. Picture this: four carloads of very competitive and professional adults plied by a little alcohol, chasing through the streets of a small town with cameras, photographing themselves next to landmarks in a race to return first to the starting point. The town's residents, not to mention the police, must not have been amused. But we were. It was a blast -- really! Most fun I've had at a meeting like this in years. Next time, I'm wearing tennis shoes and bringing a water pistol to fend off other competitors who a.) laid on our car hood to prevent us from leaving for our next photo op before they could; b.) zig-zagged so we couldn't pass them on a city street; c.) sped -- in a car -- on a city sidewalk; and c.) nearly wrestled me to the ground to prevent me from getting a photo. So I didn't get to go bowling. Things were looking up.

This morning we took a tour of an Owatonna treasure, the old Farmer's National Bank building, now a Wells Fargo bank. Designed by Prairie School architect Louis Sullivan in 1908, it's spectacular -- a must-see spot in the city. Arrange a tour if you go. The bank has a marvelous guide who knows the place inside and out. Here are some photos I found online. I couldn't do it justice myself. Maybe this is where we should have started the retreat in the first place.

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