Okay, finally I’m writing about this. I had an awesome time and I’m so glad I went even if no one could come with me this year.
Driving up was pretty uneventful, though like I said the hotel was super sketchy. Not “hourly rates” sketchy but more along the lines of “this looks super sketchy, I bet I can afford to stay in it then.” The room was surprisingly clean and didn’t have used condoms in the trash or anything, but the heat was not very good and the refrigerator was noisy and woke me up. Supposedly there was WiFi, but they didn’t give me the password for it and I couldn’t find it anywhere in the room so I was forced to use my phone’s data package. After my arrival I looked up the hotel’s rating on Yelp; it is 1.5 stars.
Checkout time was 11:00, but the event didn’t start till 1:00 p.m. and I was super tired so I took the opportunity to sleep in. I had literally just stepped out of the shower when the manager hammered on the door and shouted “Checkout time!”
“I’m gonna be late,” I called through the door. “I’ll pay the late check-out fee.”
“Pay me now!” he demanded. “I have to go.”
I had assumed they would charge it to my card, and I had pre-paid so they had the information, but I guess not. I muttergrumbled, threw a robe on, opened the door and handed him a $20 bill. He shoved it in his pocket and walked away WITHOUT A WORD. I knew the late check-out fee was $10 and I thought: “Wait…did I just get robbed? Did this jerk just steal $10 from me?” But when I actually did check out at the desk, they gave me my $10 back so it was all good. Also, I accidentally left my cell phone charger behind in my room and didn’t realize it till after the event was over. I called the hotel and they had the charger at the front desk and the staff had not stolen it so that was also good. No sign of bedbugs or fleas infesting me or my clothes either so that’s good too.
Marsha Loritz, the wonderful person who is the primary organizer of the event, gave me a big hug when she saw me and thanked me so much for coming again and traveling all this way. She’d set up a lovely display table for me with information about the Charley Project and printouts of some Charley Project cases from Wisconsin. I set out business cards and explained to the people who stopped by my table what the Charley Project does, emphasizing the whole “publicity vehicle” aspect of it and how, when it comes to solving cases, Charley is kind of a link in a chain of people working together to come to the conclusion.
(My favorite example: a guy disappears from Texas, gets run over by a truck two days later in Arizona, is unidentified, the state of Arizona lists him as a John Doe, I list him on the Charley Project, and ten years later a woman in Ireland looks at the John Doe in Arizona and the Charley Project case in Texas and realizes this is the same man. This is the true glory of the internet, people! Masses of people around the world who don’t know each other connecting various separate bits of information and working together towards a common goal.)
I was between Amber Wilde‘s family’s table and the Polly Klaas Foundation‘s table. I know Marsha had deliberately put me next to Amber’s family because they wanted to talk to me, but mostly we wound up talking to each other about our respective pets.
Gene Cloud‘s family had been there last year but weren’t this year. I remember them particularly because they showed up dressed in traditional Native American clothing and jewelry. (Gene is a Ho-Chunk Indian.) However, DonaMae Bourgeois Bayerl‘s sister and daughter were there; I’m pretty sure they weren’t there last year. They didn’t know me or what the Charley Project was. I explained who I was, what I did and why, and DonaMae’s sister took hold of my hands and squeezed them and thanked me for my efforts. It was very touching.
The event was held at the Brown County Sheriff’s Office this year so there were lots of cops milling around. It turned out to be a good thing. As things were wrapping up, Amber Wilde’s grandma fell down. She was standing behind me and I don’t know why she fell, but she grabbed my arm on the way and almost pulled me down with her. She seemed fine but “80-something lady falls down on concrete floor” can be a serious matter. Fortunately there were many first responders present! Amber’s grandma ended up being hauled off to ER for a checkup. I hope she’s okay. She seemed to be, though; she got up after the fall and sat down on a chair until the ambulance arrived.
Also present were a few politicians, including the mayor of Green Bay and a Wisconsin state representative whose name I can’t remember. I talked to the state representative. I told him about my site and about Charley Ross’s story. Then we discussed the student loan crisis. He told me his niece was $100k in the hole at 8% interest and he was trying to do something about it.
There were some people from a search-and-rescue dog group there. They brought three dogs: two Dutch Shepherds and a Golden Retriever. The dogs all went around and hammed it up for petting and ear-fluffles and treats. I had met one of the of the Dutch Shepherds the previous year. Her name is Riken and this year I got my picture taken with her and her handler. Riken’s handler, incidentally, gave me her contact info. She says she lives like 50 miles away from Green Bay so it’s not practical to crash at her house, but if I come next year to let her know and she’ll help me find a better hotel to stay in.
There was a table for Project Jason, although the founder, the indomitable Kelly Murphy, was unable to be present. I sang Kelly Murphy and Project Jason’s praises to a few people and got my picture taken with their mascot, Miles Superbear, whilst giving Miles bunny ears with my fingers.
Several people gave speeches. The Polly Klaas Foundation lady talked about internet safety and the dangers of kids being online and meeting adult strangers and getting sex-trafficked and sex-torted and so on. Families of missing people spoke about their loss and Marsha gave them all yellow roses.
The weather outside was terrible: it was like 45 degrees, the sky was Tupperwear-gray and it was spitting rain. Fortunately, however, unlike last year, the wind cooperated during the balloon release. The balloons had missing people’s names and pictures on tags attached to the strings. I was randomly handed Marsha Loritz’s mom’s balloon to release and felt slightly honored to get it.
Finally it was time to hit the road, and I said goodbye to various people, packed my stuff and left.
Unfortunately, as I was at the event I realized both my back and my head hurt quite a lot. (Yeah, you know the Great Headache Crisis? Sometimes that headache comes back and kicks me around for a few days, then mysteriously vanishes again. Shrug.) I was able to distract myself talking to everyone and didn’t pay much attention to the pain while I was there, but once in the car it was pretty hard not to. Soon I realized my back hurt a lot worse than my head did. A long drive across multiple states did not help, and I did not have any medicine for it (I carry ibuprofen in my purse but that didn’t touch it) and by the time I got home I was in so much pain I was weeping.
I staggered inside, leaving my suitcase in the trunk, smeared multiple applications of Tiger Baum extra strength pain relieving ointment on my back, and went to sleep. Woke up 14 hours later feeling fine. I guess I just needed a rest.
Thanks so much for inviting me, Marsha! It was an honor to be there among all those wonderful people.