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July 8, 2003

21st YAL National Conference Wrap-Up

For those of you who didn't make it to the YAL Conference, or if you're already forgetting what took place, below is a day-by-day recap of what you missed. We'd be lying if we said we made it to everything or even that we showed up on time and stayed to the end of all the events. 

Friday, July 4, 2003

After a short trip up Route 95, we arrived in Baltimore just in time for the first workshop discussions. We decided that we would attend the session on Capitalism, saving the lighter topics of Yiayiaology and Astrology and the Occult for later. Maybe it was because it was the first session of the day, or maybe it was because we came in a few minutes late, but honestly we were struggling to see how this session, run by two stockbrokers, was on point for a YAL conference. Sure we talked about greed some, but we figured the discussion would include more aspects of being an good Orthodox Christian while still having money (i.e., charity, philanthropy, etc.) We can say that we left there with some good advice as to where we should put our money.

Not having looked at the schedule too closely, we were surprised to find out that lunch was early at 11:30. Having skipped the night before, we figured that this was the first chance we had to really sit down and meet some new people, so we sat at a table with no one else at it, and let everyone else fit in. We met two women from New Jersey and two others from D.C., proving to us that you can still meet new people from your own hometown at one of these conferences. 

If the colossal contingent of clergy wasn't enough to remind us that we were at a national YAL conference, and not just a YAL-sponsored party weekend, the choice of a fasting-friendly for Friday entrée, three pillows of pasta with stripes on it filled with mushrooms, put everyone on notice that this wasn't just going to be all fun and games. The highlight of the lunch was the speech on the challenges we faced as young adults - everything from career choices, pressure from our parents to get married, and other topics that were hitting too close to home - that produced laughs from most, and poking, prodding and kicking under the table, from others. 

After lunch, a discussion on Yiayiaology was just the thing that we needed to get the afternoon started right. Now for those of you who weren't at the conference, or didn't attend this event, Yiayiaology is the collection of superstitions passed down from your yiayia that just don't jive with Orthodox teaching. But let's face it, if your yiayia says it, who are you to question it? There were questions on fasting, on marriage and sexual relations, on baptizing children, etc. I guess what we learned throughout the discussion were two things: 1) Your yiayia is almost always wrong and 2) A cool Greek Orthodox priest will work with you on a lot of things even if he wouldn't advocate it in the first place. 

The last workshop we sat in on was on Astrology and the Occult. After learning everyone's sign, we were entertained by a very animated Fr. Mark from New York City, who reminded us of a famous Hollywood actor doing an impersonation of another famous Hollywood actor, but we just couldn't place our finger on who either of them were. It was interesting to learn that priests are just like us in that they can get stuck in a rut of going through the motions at church, something he challenged us all not to do during the church services this weekend. 

After the last workshop it was the first free time we had all day. Having procrastinated in getting a room at the host hotel we needed to go check in at the Wyndham Inner Harbor, which at five blocks from the Renaissance Harborplace was not really at the Inner Harbor at all. We relaxed at our hotel for a while and then got ready for dinner and fireworks later. 

After walking to dinner in Little Italy (we would have needed to drive to Greektown), we got a good spot in the Inner Harbor to watch the fireworks. Used to the fireworks at the Washington Monument, we were struggling to master the concept of fireworks from multiple launch sites, particularly when they weren't coordinated whatsoever. We almost got whiplash turning our heads from one side of the harbor to the other, and while the fireworks closer to the Renaissance were smaller, they were a lot louder and complex than the traditional ones across the way. 

Everyone pretty much walked over straight from the fireworks to go to the Greek Night with DJ Pantelis back at the hotel. There seemed to be two events happening simultaneously that night - the Greek night inside the ballroom, and the people just hanging out in the lobby outside. With so much of the action outside, you knew that there were people who didn't even bother to pay the a la carte $15 to get in the actual Greek Night itself. Once everyone did come inside, the Greek night raged until 3:00 in the morning; the only thing that stopped it from going until 5:00, was the lights coming on. 

The walk back to our hotel was all kinds of crazy with all of Baltimore out late celebrating our Nation's Independence. One group of young Baltimorean women decided to celebrate their independence by smacking each other upside the head, which was much more entertaining to watch than the Greek-on-Greek violence that takes place after some Greek Nights. (By the way, we would have been shocked to have seen something like that at a YAL conference.)

Saturday July 5, 2003

We woke up and joined our fellow YALers at the service project at Ronald McDonald house. The mission: make pancakes, eggs, sausage, and hash browns for the children and their parents. We figured with so many Greeks in the kitchen, this would be an easy task, and slowly but surely we served these kids and their folks a wonderful, if not nutritious breakfast. (It was bad enough that we were using traditional McDonald's sausage patties and hash browns, let alone offering the kids toaster tarts and apple turnovers we bought at the store.) Afterwards a wild and crazy bingo game broke out with us intent that every kid in there win at least once, so we were looking over their shoulders and calling out numbers on their cards just they could all leave the game winners. 

By far the best meal of the whole weekend took place at the crabfeast at St. Demetrios. First of all, you couldn't beat the location, a church in the woods. Second of all, the YAL committee gave us our registration fee's worth of burgers, dogs, roast beef, turkey, cole slaw, corn, desserts, and oh yeah, crabs. We were surprised actually that 1) There were so many crabs, and 2) that people actually got into eating them. It didn't matter if it was a Greek guy or a Greek girl, they were taking the hammer to those little guys and not caring what their hands looked like or smelled like by the end of it. 

We have to admit we skipped the church service with the Archbishop at St. Demetrios. Too many crabs and 95 degree temperatures and a general feeling of needing a shower made us go back to our hotel to relax for a bit before the Orioles game.

That was the best Orioles game we'd been to ever. As DC area sports fans, we're used to the high probability of a disappointing loss every time we actually get a chance to see our home teams in person these days (Redskins, Wizards, Caps, Orioles, it doesn't matter). So to see a 9 run explosion out of the Orioles was great. It was fun being in a section with mostly Greeks, because you could do things that would otherwise seem lame, like start a wave that at its height actually made it around the ballpark twice. The great irony was that it was actually Latino night at the yard, with Latin rhythms being played between innings. We wondered how many more Greeks it would have taken to make it Greek night at the yard. 

Speaking of Greek Night, the next event was the Greek Night featuring Baltimore's own Neo Kyma at the Have a Nice Day Café at the Powerplant Live.  Another strong crowd was present, as hundreds of Greeks spilled out of The Last Decade room into the main part of the club, comingling the Zempekiko with good old '70s Disco.  

Sunday, July 6, 2003

It wouldn't have been a YAL conference without a good old fashioned Sunday Church service in the largest Greek Orthodox church in Baltimore, Annunciation. The fact that the Archbishop was presiding over the service made people actually get up and make it to church pretty much on time, which was impressive given how long the Greek Night lasted the night before. There were several priests, a new Metropolitan for the Diocese of New Jersey, and even a Catholic Cardinal sitting in on the service. (It almost looked like a giant chess set.) The Archbishop's remarks on letting go of your anxiety was a great way to start the day.

Now the only problem we had the entire weekend was the fact that it was now Sunday, we had work to go to tomorrow, so we wouldn't be spending the night, but we had to surrender our hotel room at noon. Not wanting to impose on our new out of town friends for use of a shower and a place to change, (although we appreciated the offer) we decided to drive 45 minutes back to DC to relax for the afternoon before returning for the banquet in the evening. 

We got to the banquet around 7:30 just as they were about to start dinner. We were surprised to see how many people actually stayed for it, from the DC/Baltimore area and from out of town. We met two girls from the DC/Baltimore area, a couple of guys from Toronto, and a guy and a girl from Myrtle Beach at our table. (The guy and girl from Myrtle Beach were pretty hard to miss because everyone at our table agreed that she looked like one of the Corrs and he looked like Colin Farrell, with a pretty convincing Irish accent to boot.) It was hard telling about 500 Greek-Americans that they couldn't attack the salad on the plates in front of them until after a series of pre-dinner speeches. The look on everyone's face when they brought out two pieces of meat on two slices of tomato with a little bit of sauce after the salad was classic. Given Friday's lunch portion, everyone thought that this was indeed the entrée. We held out hope that the inclusion of a third fork wasn't an accident, and a sigh of relief filled the room when they announced over the microphone that this was actually an appetizer. 

The after dinner speeches by everyone, but particularly the Archbishop were great. It turns out that the Orioles game the night before was the first time the Archbishop had attended a baseball game. We nearly lost it when he made a reference to Orioles fans screaming "Oh!" during the National Anthem, and comparing it to a church ritual. 

All the speeches and photo opportunities were over around 10:00, when Zephyros finally hit the stage. Now we have been to many Greek dances before in our lives, but we don't think we had ever seen as many people at once on the dance floor as there were during the first few minutes of that dance. There were only like 10 or 20% of the people who weren't dancing. We wished we were able to stay, but with our day jobs to go to the next day, we left around 11:30 and went home, exhausted, but glad that we had gotten the chance to spend the weekend with our fellow YALers from around the country. 

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