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Column: Just going along for the ride

I just got back from Panama City, Florida, where Farm Press honored three peanut growers at the annual Southern Peanut Farmers’ Federation conference. Hockley County, Texas, farmer Rex Carr, manager of White Face Farms out near Levelland, did the Southwest proud with his 2004 production efficiency.

Robbie Umphlett, Gates, North Carolina, and Fenn Farms (Lee, and sons Jim and Will), Clayton, Alabama, also had impressive credentials and were excellent representatives of the Virginia/Carolina area and the Lower Southeast.

I learned a lot. One of the most important lessons from this particular event is the discovery of one more thing I’m not good at. This list, by the way, grows significantly every year and includes but is not limited to: managing money in any amount, singing in church choirs or any public gathering and following directions.

Now, add to those areas of inexpertise arranging transportation. I will get you stranded, it seems, though in my own defense it was not actually my fault.

This year I continued a tradition of taking the Southwest Peanut Profitability Award winner (Rex and Sue) to dinner one evening during the conference and found the North Carolina couple (Robbie and Connie) also free for dinner. That’s six folk, counting my intern and me. I asked my publisher and editorial director to come along and they allowed as how they would and brought one of our advertising salesmen. Based on my rudimentary math skills that makes about nine. I didn’t want to split everyone up and risk getting several lost, so I arranged for a shuttle to pick us up and retrieve us after dinner. Sounded like a good plan at the time.

The shuttle driver arrived on time, guiding a cavernous vehicle capable of hauling a dozen cowboys, with spurs and hats, with a steer or two. Plenty of room, but no air conditioning. (For those of you unfamiliar with Panama City, Florida, in July, weather conditions include hot and humid. A 95-degree temperature accompanied by 95 percent humidity is not an odd weather phenomenon.)

The driver suggested we slip by their office and exchange the oversized oven for a smaller, cooler vehicle.

Good plan, but our publisher and sales rep were following in a car and when the driver peeled out of the hotel parking lot she left them in her dust. By the time we made two sharp turns and pulled into the shuttle company headquarters where we switched to a smaller and different colored vehicle, they had no chance of catching us.

Witnesses will confirm that I suggested that the driver slow down lest we lose the rest of our party. That’s about when she took a right turn on an estimated two wheels. I gave up. We, those of us in the smaller but cooler van, made it to the restaurant, where the driver took all my cash, leaving me wondering how I would pay for the return trip. It was not an issue.

“Call about 30 minutes before pickup,” the driver suggested as she handed me a business card.

Dinner was delightful: great food, wonderful ambience, good company (The publisher and sales rep using skills developed during previous careers in the CIA joined us before salad was served.).

Following dessert (scrumptious key lime pie) I called the shuttle company. “Be right there,” the dispatcher said.

We sat and digested for about 20 minutes and then meandered out to the parking lot. We meandered about 30 more minutes, waiting for a van. I called again. Busy. Redial. Busy. Redial harder. Still busy. I wait a few minutes longer and call again. Busy. Redial. It rings.

“We’ve been waiting on a shuttle for more than an hour (only a slight exaggeration),” I informed the dispatcher.

“We’re backed up but we’ll have a van over right away.”

“How right away?” I asked.

“About 15 minutes.”

I reported this good news to the group, now absent our publisher and sales rep, who, as you will recall, had a car and were most likely asleep by now.

About 15 minutes passed and another 15 after that. Someone suggested I find another ride. Good idea. I went into the restaurant but no one was on front-desk duty. Apparently, they saw me coming.

Then an old acquaintance, Howard Valentine with the American Peanut Council, came out, saw the despondent look on my face and surmised that I needed assistance. He suggested that we wait until he dropped his riders off and then he’d come back for us.

Good man, Howard. I got his cell number in the unlikely event that the shuttle showed up while he was gone. Hah.

We waited a bit more and Tyron Spearman, publisher of peanut market news out of Tifton, Georgia, who I’ve known since I started working with Farm Press back more years than either of us likes to admit, came out, surmised the same thing as Howard and suggested that he and his crew had enough vehicles to get all seven of us back to the hotel.

We divvied ourselves up, two to one car, three to another and two more with yet another vehicle. I called Howard, by the way, and saved him from making a useless trip back to the restaurant.

I didn’t call the shuttle service, however, to let them know we no longer needed a ride. It must have slipped my mind.

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