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Friday, April 14, 2006

I'm not in Kansas anymore

(bad pun, I know)

Flew to Topeka, Kansas via US Airways on April 3rd. On my connecting flight in exciting Cleveland (sarcasm), the guy in the seat next to me was mad at something or someone. He was dressed in jeans and t-shirt with a baseball cap. Real classy. I was by the window and had the air going on my face. He turned to me and snapped, "Are you going to leave the air on like that the whole flight?"

I looked at him with wide, innocent eyes. "I can move it a bit for you," I said and turned the air more towards the window, but did not turn it so the air flow was reduced. Jerk. He spent the rest of the flight hogging the armrest, flexing and unflexing his fists and generally being mad at the world. I curled up as close to the window as I could and listened to my book on tape.

Landed in Kansas City, Missouri early. Small airport! So small, the gates are smack dab right there and when you exit, you're in baggage claim. No going down stairs.

I got my bags (to date, US Airways has been superb in not losing my bags and their service is always wonderful) and tried to figure out which of the waiting people was the KBI agent coming to escort me to my hotel. I was expecting a guy, but this woman about my height came up to me. She looked like a dark-haired Scully (X-Files, for those of you who are going, Huh?). She grabbed one of my bags and we went to her car, standard issue Impala. For the life of me, I can't remember her name (bad Jayne), but she was hysterical. We swapped "war" stories and before I knew it, the hour trip to the hotel flew by. I also talked to agent Ezell Monts aka EZ Monts. He said he was going to be driving me back to the airport on Thursday. He sounded like a funny guy. Hey, when your nickname is EZ. . .

The Capitol Plaza Hotel in Topeka is nifty. My room was on the sixth floor and there was a goody bag waiting for me. It was filled with a bottle of water, snacks from the local Frito-Lay plant, a candle and some brochures. I love when I get these - much better than getting the usual convention bag which I always end up giving away.

I went downstairs to register and meet Cassie Douglas, who had booked me for the 2006 Annual Crime Victim's Right Conference. We hugged and I got a bag (groan).

I ate dinner in the hotel restaurant and I swear to God it took two hours. When I asked the waitress for a dessert menu, she looked at me like I was crazy and told me hardly anyone ever ordered dessert. I almost paid up right then and there, but decided to try the lemon cake, which was good (and not stale, as I'd feared). Weird.

The next morning I waited to meet Governor Kathleen Sebelius and give her a copy of my book. She was very gracious (and very pretty) and we chatted for a bit. I stayed through her keynote, then headed to a workshop I was interested in attending, Forensic Homicide Autopsy, given by the Chief Medical Examiner, Mary H. Dudley. I have always been curious to know whether TV shows like CSI and Bones are accurate.

Guess what? They're not. The first thing she told us was that all the gizmos, like the PDA that one show ME uses to take photos with and to find bodies with infrared don't even exist.

She took us step by step through the procedures she goes through from the crime scene to testifying in the court case. The case she used as an example was one involving the murderers the Carr brothers. I encourage you to go to the link to read about this horrific crime and how the only living witness survived.

The presentation was very clinical and not gory whatsoever. Some of the photos of the bodies were disturbing, but it was all done in a very professional way. Honestly, the photo that almost made me cry was the one of the scotty dog that was killed by one of the brothers when they went back to the house to ransack and steal things. They shot the dog in the head, like their other victims. As a dog owner, this photo really bothered me.

Had lunch at the conference and met some of other speakers, then I played hooky the rest of the day. I changed my clothes and took the hotel courtesy van to Forbes Field to the Combat Air Museum. The first thing I asked the retired vet at the counter was if they had any P-51 Mustangs, my favorite WWII aircraft. He was surprised, but said they did not. He gave me a brochure and floor plan for the two hangars and I was off.

The displays were interesting, although some things were hard to read because of age (I really hope they update some of the paper signs). The aircraft were amazing. There were some from WWII, Korean and Vietnam wars and Desert Storm, as well as some that had appeared in movies, including The Misfits starring Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable. The propeller was beautiful.

I discovered I had a little tour guide towards the end, an orange tabby who had the loudest purr of any cat I've known. He followed me and let me rub his tummy and head and into the gift shop. Turns out he'd been there since he was a kitten when he showed up and never left. He's 12 years old now. I called Chris because there were some books I thought he'd want, so I got the titles he needed and then picked up a t-shirt for me.

A woman came in, who was on the staff and she asked if she could ask me something. Sure! "What is a lone woman doing in a combat air museum?"

I laughed and said I was into WWII aircraft. The retired vet told her how I'd asked about the P-51 first thing. She said she was glad to see another female, usually it was men who came to the museum.

I got my ride back to the hotel, had another leisurely (long) dinner, then crashed.

The next morning, I was doing two talks - the first was a keynote about how I'd been stalked online. The room was filled with over 400 folks and I sold all the books I'd brought and took orders for more. I headed over to my workshop room where I'd speak for an hour and a half about cyberstalking, kids and teen safety and more. It turned out that not only were the seats filled, but there were people standing and sitting in the back. I got a lot of great questions, did a TV interview, ate a quick lunch, then changed my clothes and played hooky again.

This time, I walked to the local Harley Davidson dealership. Why? They have a museum in the basement, which is free! I was totally fascinated - they had a HD motorcycle from 1930 that was in wonderful condition. It was a small museum, but well laid out with loads of vintage "hogs," clothing, souvenirs, and more. Very interesting.

Special Agent EZ called me and told me, "Why am I not surprised you're at the Harley Davidson museum?" Ohhhh, cheeky. He said he'd be over in 10 minutes to meet me and give me the 25 cent tour of Topeka. Cool!

I wandered back upstairs and saw a tall black man in a suit. I said, "Are you EZ?" He burst out laughing. I told him I kept going up to men at the conference asking, "I'm looking for a man who's EZ" and kept getting room keys. He laughed harder. We got along fine.

His issued car was not comfy in the front seat, what with the radios and stuff. Hmph. But he did drive me through Topeka, from the old downtown to the new part where the shopping malls are. He dropped me back off at the hotel and I headed upstairs to catch up on emails and get ready for dinner. Bones and Lost were on and I wanted to eat early.

I ordered half a bottle of wine and only had one glass with dinner, so took the rest with me to my room. As I got to the elevator, a half dozen National Guard guys in uniform were getting on. They ushered me in and saw my bottle and glass. I completely forgot what t-shirt I was wearing. It was a DOJ seal on the front and on the back is written "DOD Cyber Crime Response Team."

I eyed them all as I got on and said firmly, "Don't even think about it."

They laughed and got quiet as I turned my back to them. I heard one whisper to the other, "We'd better watch out, she may go all Jackie Chan on us."

Ha! It was fun.

The next morning, while I was checking out, one of the hotel staff ran up to me and told me she'd seen me on TV and that her grandmother had been in my talk and loved it. A fan!

EZ picked me up and we had a neat time driving to the airport. He told me about cases he'd worked on, including the BTK serial killer and some others. When we got to the airport, he put on his flashing lights and helped me get my bags out, then gave me a huge hug. I hope I get back there again!

The flights home were delayed a total of a half hour, which wasn't bad. I was tired, but happy to be home.

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