I had just been griping that I never see anyone I know at MLA when, for the second time in 24 hours, a total stranger sitting nearby looked me straight in the nametag and then held her nametag up to my eyes. The first time this happened, I finally met the chair of my panel; this time, it was JM, who blogs over at Battle of the Ants. The funny thing is that I had just been trying to call her on the phone and when she didn't answer, I grabbed the first available chair in the Hilton lobby--and sat down right next to her. Small world.
Given the large number of people here, I'm always surprised at how few look familiar. The passing crowd blurs into a sea of black and gray, my eye drawn to the occasional flashes of color; instead of faces, I see a brilliant orange bow-tie, a pair of sunshine-yellow pants, and slick pink spike heels. A woman in the lobby asked if a particular distinguished-looking fellow might be Stanley Fish, and when I said I couldn't tell, she said, "Lean over there and read his nametag." But the print is so small that I can't get close enough to read the names without feeling as if I'm preparing to plunge into a stranger's chest, an uncomfortable prospect for a reserved midwesterner.
Fortunately, others are less shy. I had a terrific chat with JM today--something that wouldn't have happened if she hadn't noticed my nametag.