One of my favorite aspects of being a travel writer is getting to meet new, fascinating and passionate people. Typically, they are the owners of restaurants, B & Bs or historians and tour guides at attractions of all kinds. On my most recent trip to Canton and Cleveland, Ohio, however, the travel/tourism staff members themselves were the ones who impressed me with their professionalism, their work ethic, their knowledge and their courtesy. You might think, “Well, that’s just part of their job.” And, in some ways, you’d be right. But, five people I met in Ohio definitely went “above and beyond” their formal job description. In my opinion, they “went the second mile,” and I was the grateful beneficiary.
In Canton, I encountered Tonja Marshall, the Executive Vice President for Marketing and Communications at Visit Canton. She supervised the necessary details of my trip and devised an itinerary that made sure I saw as much as possible in the time I was in her city. But, here is where she “went beyond.” One attraction on the itinerary was a visit to the Gervasi Vineyard. I wrote about it here on Monday’s blog. It turned out to be a wonderful few hours, and I’m very glad I went. But, I was nervous about it. I don’t apologize or regret my decision to abstain from drinking alcohol, but I didn’t want to cause embarrassment or awkwardness for Visit Canton, for Gervasi Vineyard or for my fellow travel writers in the process. I had communicated with Tonja before I arrived that I was looking forward to seeing the vineyard but that I didn’t drink alcohol, but I had no idea how that scenario would play out. When we got to the wine-tasting event, we were seated in an amazing room with a stunning chandelier made out of wine bottles. Understandably, this place was ALL IN in terms of wine. Imagine me fidgeting and perspiring a bit by now. But, no, as the various wines were served to my fellow travel writers, I was never even offered a glass. My water glass was kept full, but no wine appeared at my place setting. What a huge relief! Tonja had discreetly and carefully handled the situation for me. I didn’t have to say or do anything. She made the experience easy, relaxing and extremely enjoyable. Thank you, Tonja.
Later that same afternoon, our group traveled to Cleveland where we were joined by four more travel writers. That is where I met the staff of Destination Cleveland/TheCLE/ThisisCLE/ThisisCleveland or whatever name you want to give them. 🙂
Kristen Jantonio, Communications Specialist, was indeed a “special communicator” before I set foot in her town. My emails received her prompt attention, and she patiently answered all my questions. (That’s saying a lot when your nickname is “The Queen of Questions.”) I mostly think of Kristen as the person responsible for an exquisite night of dinner at LockKeepers and a concert by the Cleveland Symphony at Blossom Music Center. She saw my elation at having such a wonderful experience. She joined us on other tours and helped me set up my very first Uber appointment, too, but I see her face when I think of that music. Thank you, Kristen.
Nick Urig, Communications Manager, led an informative walking tour of downtown Cleveland, showed us the ropes for ordering dinner at The Greenhouse Tavern and took us to breakfast at the West Side Market Cafe. That is where Nick REALLY came through for me personally. I saw pierogis on the menu (not for breakfast, of course, but yet it was on the menu). And I had never tried a pierogi. Not only did Nick goodnaturedly explain the making of and various types of pierogis, he ordered some for our table, and I got to taste my very first one. It was great! I’m ready for another one! And, as a side note, Nick is tall, attractive and exceedingly polite. I felt safe in that big city when he was with us. That’s huge when you’re a prissy Baby Boomer from Alabama traveling without your husband. Know what I mean? Thank you, Nick.
Stephanie Sheeley, Communications Coordinator, is a fun-loving young woman with a mass of shiny black curls and what I would call “statement fingernails.” Last week they were long and yellow. I found her to be very self-confident. That trait came through one morning when she walked out the door of her house, only later to discover that the zipper on her dress was broken. Her exposed skin in the back didn’t slow her down one bit. She carried on as if nothing was wrong. She also gave me some helpful hints about the hair of my own Ethiopian granddaughter. In other words, she related to me as a person, not just as part of her job, and I liked that a lot. Thank you, Stephanie.
Emily Lauer, Senior Director of PR/Communications, was the one I got to spend the most one-on-one time with. The two of us attended the Indians/Orioles baseball game on a warm Friday night at Progressive Field. That girl knows her Indians!!! She taught me about the HotDog Relay — when the mustard, ketchup and onions race from 3rd base to 1st base. She knew the names and a good bit of the history of each player. She pointed out the guy way up in the stands behind the outfield who played the drum to encourage every Indian batter — and has been doing that same thing for FORTY YEARS!!! She sang along with me to “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” and “Hang on, Sloopy.” She let me talk about my family and show her pictures of my new house, and I heard some about her life and career path. She walked for blocks and blocks with a cast shoring up her sprained ankle and then chauffeured me back safely to my hotel after the Indians pulled out the win. I hope I wasn’t too boring of a companion, but mostly I know Emily went out of her way to be nice and to be sure I had a great time — which I truly did. Thank you, Emily.
I wish I had gotten pictures of all these special people. I do have pictures of them in my mental images of Canton and Cleveland.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus talked a lot about doing the unexpected things, about going beyond what is required, about being exceptionally generous and kind. “Love your enemies.” “Pray for those who persecute you.” “If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also.” And the admonition that applies today: “And whoever shall force you to go one mile, go with him two.” (all verses found in Matthew 5)
I’m so glad I got to visit a part of the country I’d never seen before, but mostly I am glad I got to meet these people who made a deep impression and represented their organizations so very well.