Linda Stamper Boyne: Maui, Moab … Dayton?
Vail, CO, Colorado
The day the mountain closes feels a lot like the last day of school. No one really gets anything done, there’s a general giddiness mixed with sadness for the end of the year, exhaustion mixed with a great sense of anticipation for what’s to come: time off.
Anyone who has been tethered by work all winter is unleashed as soon as the ski resorts close. You hear people talking about going to Mexico, Florida, Hawaii, Costa Rica.
Surf, sand and sun seem to be the desired location for those weary of cold temps, shoveling snow and rocks hitting the windshield.
So in what exotic locale did I find myself as soon as Beaver Creek shut down their lifts? Dayton, Ohio. Oh, yes! Dayton. Not Cleveland or Columbus, but Dayton.
Why, I’m sure you’re thinking, would a nice girl like me choose to vacation in Dayton, Ohio? Did I have a burning desire to see the birthplace of aviation, tour the Wright brother’s bike shop? Did I desperately want to see the intersection of I-70 and I-75?
No, not particularly. I went for a humor writers’ conference.
More specifically, it was the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop. Now, there seems to be a distinct age division, somewhere around 37, between those who show a spark of recognition when that name is mentioned and appreciate why I schlepped across the country to Dayton for this event and those who look at me and say, “Who’s Erma Bombeck?”
Erma was a humorist with syndicated columns in 4,000 newspapers from 1965 until her death in 1996. She was a regular contributor to Good Morning America from the mid-’70s through the mid-’80s. She wrote numerous books of humorous essays, many of which my mom read aloud to us in the car on family trips. There were many occasions she had to stop reading because we were all laughing so hard she needed to wipe away tears and compose herself.
Erma wrote about the humor in the everyday family life in the suburbs, motherhood, being a wife. She was the first of her kind, blazing a trail for female writers during a time when women weren’t always given the opportunity. And she is one of the people who influenced me as a writer.
The conference made it worth sacrificing a palm tree vacation. I’ve never been to a conference with such a positive feeling, so light-hearted.
Sitting in a room with 350 humor writers, well, I haven’t laughed this much since my last girls weekend. Everyone was primed to laugh. The keynote speakers, writers themselves, felt it too. Let’s just say we were a very receptive audience.
Gail Collins, editor of The New York Times editorial page, began her lunchtime talk by recognizing that she was probably the least funny person in the room. But shortly after that statement, she garnered a huge laugh with a slip of the tongue. When telling a story about the Jamestown settlement, she accidentally sent a ship of columnists instead of colonists across the ocean. She stopped to laugh, really hard, with the rest of us at her own mistake, finally getting out the words, “Oh, God, can you imagining anything more terrifying than being stuck on a boat crossing the Atlantic with a bunch of columnists?”
This set off another roar of laughter, as a majority of us in the room, including Gail herself, are columnists.
Bill Scheft, longtime writer for David Letterman as well as columnist for Sports Illustrated and author of several novels, was shocked and genuinely overwhelmed by the uproarious laughter and standing ovations he received with his stories of stand up comedy, writing and life.
At one point, he confessed, “My gigs never go like this. Usually it’s two question about me, 18 about Dave.” He was so affected by the night and the enormously warm reception that he wrote about it on his blog days later, still in a state of disbelief.
Mo Rocca and a crew from CBS Sunday Morning captured the conference in all its glory for a segment on Erma Bombeck to run on Mother’s Day. Apropos for one of America’s best known moms.
What I took away was that a vacation need not involve sunscreen to be restorative. And who would have thought I’d find that in Dayton?
Linda Stamper Boyne of Edwards can be contacted through firstname.lastname@example.org