WPA Redux


(Caution: Some photos in this post look graphic, though they are all simulations. None of the blood and gore is real.)

I hadn’t planned on going to WPA again this year. After last year in Appleton, I decided I needed to finish my work-in-progress before I went to any more workshops or conferences. But then my local Sisters-in-Crime chapter, Capitol Crimes, held a raffle in June for a WPA registration, courtesy of its founder and organizer, Lee Lofland, who is also a member. Naturally enough, when to my surprise I won, I decided that the world was telling me I needed to go to Wisconsin this summer.

With my June registration (WPA sign-ups opened in March), I was too late for any of the prior-registration-required workshops, like the hands-on driving and shooting sessions, but there was still plenty to attract my attention. My manuscript is not a police procedural, but it does contain a murder (or two), so I still want to get the law enforcement parts right. And for the next books, I’ll need a bit of fire and EMS information, so WPA had plenty for me in the formal sessions held at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College (NWTC), and unlike last year, I managed to keep my lecture sessions to the mornings and hands-on sessions for the afternoons, so I entirely avoided that after-lunch sleepiness.

Among the highlights:

  • Jerry Johnson’s session on Defense and Arrest Tactics (DAAT) taught me something I didn’t know about the stance that law enforcement officers use in reaction to a physical threat, which I can use in contrast to the stances commonly used by fencers, so that alone made my trip worthwhile.
  • In his Courtroom Testimony workshop, Kevin Rathburn gave a great illustration of how good cross-examination can shred a witness’s original testimony.
  • John Flannery’s Blood Spatter workshop, where he showed us (with appropriate warnings) crime scene photos, and then took us into a homicide scene he’d set up, apparently to demonstrate to us all how much we didn’t notice when we were actively looking for what was important instead of for everything that was there to be seen.
  • Hollie Bauer, who runs the Health Simulator at NWTC, and her crew gave us the opportunity to intubate and bag mannikins, stick IVs into a mannikin arm and into chicken bone (because if you can’t get a vein, you can get meds into the system via bone marrow), and even (with needle and airtube into a nice hunk of meat and a duct-taped balloon) relieve the pressure of a pneumothorax.
  • The man I shall forever think of as TourniquetMan!, Nathan Riehl, completely revised my tourniquet-related first-aid knowledge (tourniquets are essential when the alternative is bleeding out within 3–5 minutes, and one should never loosen them once applied until patient is under proper medical care). We learned to improvise tourniquets with fabric and sticks or scissors, and to apply actual made-for-the-purpose tourniquets, and then got to try out our skills crawling in on an amputated mannikin in Nathan’s trailer full of simulated smoke and loud music. (I’m pretty sure my guy bled out, since I had my tourniquet turned the wrong way round and had a hard time tightening it. But fortunately, the mannikin was only bleeding water, so it wasn’t nearly as messy as it felt.) After everybody had their turn, Nathan cleared out the fog and let us take photos of the mannikin.

Hollie and Nathan turned out to be the ringleaders of what WPA fondly refers to as “announcements,” held each morning before the workshop sessions begin. On Friday morning, we got off our buses from the hotel to see a (Hollie-coordinated, we learned later) head-on collision scene, which eventually included multiple victim actors (including the corpse on the hood, who most of us assumed was a mannikin until his foot eventually twitched), two ambulances, a fire truck, DWI testing, and a life-flight helicopter. And once it was all over—in about 35 minutes, though it felt more like an hour and a half—everybody came back to answer questions about what they were doing and why.

For the Saturday morning announcements, we all traipsed into a lovely semicircular lecture hall (the NWTC facilities were uniformly impressive) for what looked to be a lecture with slides from Nathan on EMS procedure and turned out to be an active-knifer scenario. (He said later they’d originally thought to do an active-shooter simulation, but decided that was too risky with concealed carry being legal in Wisconsin.) His slide presentation was interrupted by shouting and then a man who’d been stabbed in the chest came through the door. Nathan started emergency care and then recruited volunteers and coordinated care for the additional victims as they came in through other doors as the attacker moved through the building. Then came the police, who held us at gunpoint with our hands interlaced on top of our heads until they could clear the room and ensure that the attacker was not among us (or the medical caregivers). Even knowing this was a training simulation, there was an amazing amount of adrenalin at work in that hall. And of course, once Nathan ended the scenario, everybody lined up to show their equipment and take questions.

The Sunday morning panel (“announcement”-free, which is probably a good thing, given how much info we’d already been trying to absorb) was, as was the case last year, another highlight, and a great way to top off the weekend. All of the available workshop presenters and speakers participate, both to answer questions (though unlike last year, the first question wasn’t “I need to blow up a lakeside cabin remotely, so what kind of explosive should I use?”) and reflect generally on the experience. The fabulous Colleen Belongea (a huge hit at last year’s WPA, when she was a full-time Green Bay police officer and part-time instructor, she’s now a full-time NWTC instructor) told us how much she enjoys WPA because of the difficult questions we writers always ask. “You ask questions that make me think. It’s changed the way I teach, the questions I now ask recruits, to make them think.”


And for those of you who share my reluctant fascination with the carpet patterns used in public spaces, Green Bay was full of them:

Catching Up on JOs

A strange Junior Olympics indeed.

Historically, JOs has been an easy and pleasant tournament from the BC point of view. The events are big, but until the Junior Team events were added, there were only three events per day—not a tough tournament to manage at all. Even with teams, it’s not a complicated event to run.

This year, though, we seem to have passed a tipping point: the events weren’t just large—they were huge, and came with the accompaniment of large numbers of testy spectators. (For purposes of this discussion, you may assume “spectators” = “parents + coaches,” with the emphasis on the former.) More on the atmosphere at JOs (or at least a specific aspect of it) in a day or two.

Otherwise, I’m choosing—mostly for my own sanity—to blog only the scenic parts of the trip to Baltimore.

More often than not, my flights leave at 6:00 or 6:30 am, which means I get to get up at 2:30 or so to get to the airport in time.  (This assumes I bother to go to bed in the first place—I’m a night owl and often don’t get to bed until 1:00 or 1:30 am, anyway, so going to bed to get up in an hour or two often seems silly.) Once I get to the airport, I wait around for Peet’s to open at 5:00 am, get my mocha, and keep myself awake until boarding, after which I spend most of the flight sleeping. Though I usually choose a window seat, there’s often not much to see, because the view mostly looks like this:

laxbwi 10

or this:


But I’ve been lucky with my plane travel this season. Either I’ve flown in a day early for setup or I’ve not had to arrive before the eve of the tournament, so I’ve been able to leave home after sunrise. Not only have I been traveling during daylight, but the weather has been spectacular, justifying those window seats.

To Baltimore, there was first a short hop to LAX:

From LAX, there was desert and Rockies and plains (and then it got dark, but I prefer the western geography, anyway):

I suppose it was only to be expected that after a day staring at wide open spaces, I’d be so startled by the optically distracting hotel hallway—I was half-convinced it was all an illusion with mirrors:

hallwayI was tickled, though, to learn that my 15th-floor room overlooked Camden Yards. I looked forward to seeing a great view of the ballpark when I got up the next morning. Then, of course, I remembered—I was working a tournament and getting up at 5:30 am for breakfast at 6:00. It would be dark when I left. And we expected late nights every night, so it would be dark again by the time I got back to the hotel. I checked every night, just in case the park lights needed to be tested or something, but this was the view every night and morning:


But then I remembered—I’d changed my return flight in order to be able to attend the Tuesday morning board meeting. Not only could I sleep in an hour or two, but I’d finally have my daylight view of Camden Yards—barely:

Finally—inevitably—I offer the Baltimore carpet collection:

Ah, Milwaukee . . .

The Hilton looked pretty for the holidays.

The Hilton looked pretty for the holidays.

I was doomed to disappointment, I suppose, because my expectations were too high. And given how smoothly the first two national tournaments this season went (aside from being just plain too big), we were due for a weird one.

Milwaukee is the place where USA Fencing saved the big bucks feeding officials the season we weren’t paid until the following summer. The catered lunches for officials were astonishingly bad (see BC Diary: Officials Cuisine and BC Diary: Cuisine, Part 2), but the concession food was remarkably good that time—hand-formed burgers, made-to-order panini, lots of sausages and brats—so I was looking forward to the experiment of using concession vouchers for officials’ lunches.

Unfortunately, the available food concessions did not include the same food items as during our previous Milwaukee visit, so the food was disappointing. I can’t say I missed the catered lunches much—the never-ending cycle of BBQ, Italian, Mexican, and cold cuts gets a bit grim after a couple of tournaments, and the food’s never good enough to justify the $30-35 per person we’re usually charged. The $15 food vouchers we got this time were a reasonable experiment for our budget-constrained season, even if I didn’t get the fabulous panini I’d been expecting. The next test may be actual cash, so we won’t have to spend it all at once.

Mildly disappointing lunches are not so bad, though, when the days end by 6:30 or 7:30 pm, and there’s not only time to go out for decent dinners every night, but even an officials-only holiday event hosted by Val Belmonte, the new USA Fencing CEO. As Wes Glon noted at the event, it’s the first time in most of our memories that the association has done something explicitly to thank the volunteer officials who make our tournaments happen.

Up on the BC stage, we experimented with our reduced staffing and worked on the best ways to keep events running smoothly with fewer people working. The December NAC, with all those Veteran age-level events,  was a much better test than last month’s tournament was. We had a few bumpy stretches but managed to make everything work (and took lots of notes for the next one). But this NAC was just one of those odd ones, with lots of little weird incidents—no big disasters, but enough peculiarities to add up to less fun than it should have been.

On the other hand, Milwaukee was full of astonishing additions to my carpet pattern collection:

On the way home, I got one of the goofier Southwest flight crews I’ve run into for a long while—one of the flight attendants (with a pretty decent voice, even) sang a song for those stuck in B and E seats:

Looking for first class . . .

All I got was this lousy C boarding pass . . .

Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right of me,

Here I am, stuck in the middle with you.

And the captain, an elegant older woman, came out and gave a little welcome speech complimenting us on our “exquisite” taste in airlines; she was kind enough (without chattering on and on like some do) to identify a few geographic locations for us on the way, too:

Like the captain said in her little talk, a gorgeous day for flying.

Random Thoughts From JOs

I always have mixed feeling about the Junior Olympics. Neither daughter ever particularly enjoyed fencing at JOs when they were competing—somehow JOs was always more stressful and less fun than any other national tournament.

On the other hand, it’s an easy tournament to work—the events are large, but there aren’t that many each day. On the other other hand, there’s always the board meeting at JOs, which this year met both Saturday and Sunday evenings. By the time the board finished its last agenda item at 11:35 Sunday night, I was the only spectator left. (I’m told that the executive session that followed lasted another hour or so after that.)

• Fencing Time is coming along, and we’re getting used to it. I’ve become accustomed enough to using the Bout ID to find bouts in the tables now that I don’t need the bracket/bout number combination I used to rely on in XSeed. (But it’s still nice having lots of options for finding things.

• We discovered that the framing of the ad section on the fencing results website took over the entire screen on iOS and some other mobile devices when zoomed. (That’s now been fixed.)

• I was disappointed I wasn’t able to get to Squatters or one of the other brewpubs in Salt Lake. In the pre-Winter Olympics days decades ago when I lived in Utah, one could not buy alcohol easily in restaurants and I was looking forward to seeing more cosmopolitan dining. But between attending the board meeting sessions and working my events, I wasn’t able to get out much for evening meals. Oh, well–maybe next time.

• The Salt Palace turned out to be a smaller variation on the Georgia World Congress Center–a short walk from the hotel, followed by a long, long walk inside to get to the farthest possible hall at the other end of the building. But the walk back and forth inspired me to begin a collection I’ve considered starting for years—Convention Center Carpet Patterns:



For years I’ve marveled at the complicated multicolored carpet patterns to be found in public spaces. I assume the garish mix of colors and abstract designs are meant to minimize the visibility of debris and deterioration, and I’m always curious how such patterns would look in smaller spaces. None are anything I’d like to see in a residential eating space, that’s for sure.

Can’t wait to see what new visions in carpet await in Cincinnati.