he Plant City Holiday Inn, out in the middle of nowhere, Florida. Thursday night, the first night of the National Model Railroad Association. And as mentioned in this BLOG, I was slated to give a speech about my small model railroad and how to hold operations on it.
It’s 6:45pm, fifteen minutes until go-time. Outside of my wife getting the handouts ready and the twenty-five empty chairs, it’s just me and my layout (propped on an easel). Two scenarios are running through my mind.
I’d like to think the second option is true but I have also experienced a horrible public speaking event at the library (for my book tour) when friends, family, and coworkers stayed away in droves, leaving me hanging. Nightmare fuel.
6:57. Door opens.
They start coming in. More and more. Eventually the room is packed, many many people, all attentive and looking up at my little layout on display, and me, all alone in the front.
A moment of fear. I’m looking into fifty eyeballs.
I’ve practiced this fucker over and over (see my link above). I’m ready. I’m good.
I greased into it. I didn’t face away while pointing at the layout. I didn’t stutter or stammer. I didn’t mess with powerpoint. Even with the mask, I projected my voice. I met people’s eyes. And (with the mask) I put a smile in my voice . This was all about fun.
And I knocked it out of the park. I paused for questions. I moved about the room. When I showed things, I held them out towards the audience, walking them about so everyone could see. I knocked out occasional questions. And the critical piece of the talk, the working interlocking tower that makes the Tuscarora Branch Line unique, that brought actual gasps and murmurs from the watchers. I talked for forty-five minutes and held their attention – nobody left. And in the end, I answered the questions with honesty and humor. It was perhaps the best speech I’ve ever given.
I was thinking of doing an ops session that that didn’t feel right – it was 9pm and people were a bit tired. Instead, I picked up the vibe in the audience – the interlocking tower was something they wanted to see. That said, I pulled the layout down, put it on the table, hooked up the tower and the power (thank goodness I remembered to bring an extension cord) and lit it up.
The tower failed to book. The voice stuttered, the usual false-start.
I’ve seen it do this once or twice before – usually the system just hasn’t charged up. It just takes a second repowering to initialize it.
Which I did. And it failed.
I started it five times in a row, giving longer start cycles. Each time it failed. Egg on my face after talking it up, but the crowd was sympathetic – model railroaders are used to classic fails when visitors come or in mid-session.
The sixth (and final) attempt – the system came up.
Okay, so I could show it. They loved the working signals, the sounds, the entire idea of it. The speech ended on a high note. I’m totally happy about how it went down.
Mentioned it to my tech-guy, Steve (who built it). Yes, maybe there was a charging failure and bad luck involved. But at the club next Monday we simply could not get the system to come up at all. Booted and booted and booted. Turns out that the bouncing of I-4 (always a chaotic ride) made one of the solder joints come loose. By pushing it with a screwdriver, we got the system to come right up. Of course, that meant I was extremely lucky that it came up at all. Out of something like a combined twenty attempts, I got it to just come up in a critical moment. Whew.
So the speech was well received. I was asked to give an encore on Saturday night but couldn’t (other convention commitments). And I’ve been asked to give it at Protorails in January (that will be tough – I need to host the Deland show over the same weekend). So we’ll see.
All I can say is, I came, I saw, I kicked its ass!
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