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Counselor Senior Editor Michele Bell's slanted view of the world.

Going With the Flow

Filed under: Personal, Travel

What’s that saying about the best laid plans? Well, in my case this summer, they went to hell in a handbasket. As with every summer, I was planning to spend weekends in my beloved Avalon, NJ (“the sunny place for shady people,” as W. Somerset Maugham once said about the French Riviera), attend the SAAC Show (one of my favorites) and then spend a week in Europe at the end of August with my pal Hillary Braubitz, ASI’s award-winning senior designer who lays out our magazines, at the brand-new Pro10 Show (a collaboration of PSI and its competitor, Pro8) in Amsterdam, followed by a weekend in Paris. Sounds fabulous, right? 

Enter my mother, Judge Judye (she doesn’t sit on the bench, but is judgmental!) who decided to have an elective surgery at Tampa General (she and my stepfather live in Sanibel, FL) on June 30. The surgery was considered a success, but complications set in and she had to have a second surgery on July 1. Upon speaking to the doctors and my stepfather (who has the early signs of dementia), I immediately flew in from Philly on July 2, and have been here ever since. 

It’s amazing how quickly you can adjust to a new reality. For the last month, my stepdad and I spend eight to nine hours a day in my mom’s room at Tampa General and our evenings at the hotel. Remember the famous children’s story of “Eloise living at the Plaza in New York”? My version is, “Michele at the Embassy Suites in Tampa.” That the hotel staff has been phenomenally hospitable, gracious and accommodating has made this whole experience that much easier. If there was ever a case for exceptional customer service winning someone over for life, it’s me and my new devotion to the Embassy Suites. 

What’s been interesting to see, because the hotel is situated right next to the Tampa Convention Center, is the different trade-show groups and conference attendees who have come and gone. The good news? They all love ad specialties. What types of ad specialties they love varies according to the personalities of the groups. For example, the Convention of Physical Therapists went nuts for stress balls of all shapes and sizes; the meeting of Anime and Comic Book fans (which sold out my hotel), whose demographic is over-stimulated Gen Y-ers, got their freak on for bright, shiny, blinky items; the Florida Bar Association had its law students taking the bar exam at the Convention Center last week, so they craved pens, notepads, USB drives and coffee for late-night, last-minute cram sessions. The Stephenson family reunion (with over 200 people in attendance!) snapped up custom T-shirts, caps and slankets, all bearing a familial logo designed by a family member, and digital photo frames. And, the guests who attended the huge wedding held at the Convention Center (and corresponding cocktail parties by the pool and brunches at the hotel) were treated to gift bags filled with logoed, personalized candy, bottled water, beach towels, lip balm and sunscreen. 

And in answer to the question, “Do recipients take their giveaways with them or leave them in their hotel rooms?” I’ll share with you what one of the physical therapy attendees told me in the elevator one day: “I’d leave my husband behind before leaving the bag of goodies I’ve collected at this show!”

The doctors tell me that my mom, who has been making excellent progress in the last 10 days, may be able to go home on August 9 (my birthday, ironically). Until then, I’ll be here – splitting my time between Tampa General (like the Embassy Suites, another extraordinary staff) and the hotel. How do I get by? As Ringo famously said, with a little help from my friends: 

  • First and foremost, a huge shout-out to Sharon (Biernat, with the Chicago-based distributor Creative Promotions) and Jilly (Albers, with Counselor Top 40 distributor WorkflowOne). Sharon and Jilly … always my girls. Sharon sent a huge box of my favorite foods and an excellent bottle of wine to the hotel (which arrived on a day when I REALLY needed cheering up); Jilly guest blogged for me (during the worst of my mom’s hospital stay when she was in the Trauma ICU for a week) from the ASI Chicago Show when I couldn’t. 
  • To PPAI’s Paul Bellantone, who follows me on Twitter and therefore knew of my extended stay here in Tampa and the reason for it. An avid music fan like me, he took the time to send me a link to a site that lists all concerts that are happening in Tampa for the month, in case I was able to get away and have some fun time, if even for a night. So sweet. 
  • To Dennis Sherman, who lives here in Tampa and regularly asks if he can take me out for breakfast, lunch or dinner, just to give me a break. I don’t have the time for that, but if I did, I’d go. I so appreciate the gesture. 
  • To Tom Riordan, president of Maple Ridge Farms, who – when I’ve ordered gift baskets to be sent to the hospital staff here at Tampa General – has chosen the most impressive and delicious food treats the company has to offer. 
  • To Christian Brandt, executive director of distributor sales at ASI, who has repeatedly offered to fly to Tampa, at a moment’s notice, if I need him and to transfer to me (though it’s not possible) his vacation time. 
  • To the management of ASI who has been unwaveringly supportive, patient and understanding of my need to be here, and my editorial colleagues, who have picked up the slack in my absence – especially my boss, Senior Vice President of Professional Development and Editor-in-Chief, Melinda Ligos, whose preternatural sense of calm lets me know everything will be OK. There are no words for how grateful I am.
  • And last but not least, to my BFF Jeremy Young – one of ASI’s IT guys – who has sent me countless packages from Amazon, containing books that have kept me sane throughout this ordeal, and even homemade cookies from his mom. He’ll hate this, but his empathy has shown me he’s not the cranky, cantankerous misanthrope he pretends to be. 😉 

More soon from sunny Florida where – on the upside – it’s actually cooler than it’s been in Philly! 




  1. Sharon Biernat Says:


    We all love you and want you and your mom home. You are a wonderful daughter and friend!

    Monday August 2, 2010
  2. Paula Gossett Says:

    Michele, I’m a 2 hour drive away…what can I do to help?

    Monday August 9, 2010
  3. Michele Bell Says:

    Thank you so much for the kind and gracious offer to help, Paula. You exemplify what I love most about the industry — its familial nature! ; ) My mom is doing MUCH better and her doctors assure me that she will finally be released after 40 days in Tampa General either Thursday or Friday. Woo Hoo! I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your offer, though!

    Thanks, too, to all of you who sent personal notes and calls of support to me throughout this ordeal. It was also much appreciated and really cheered me up!

    Incidentally, everyone: In the continuing revolving door of people attending conferences and conventions who are guests here at the Embassy Suites — my home for the last 35 days while in Tampa — the one held over the weekend took the cake: Fetishists. Kid. You. Not. Oy gevault, says this shiksa! ; )

    Monday August 9, 2010
  4. Larry Basinait Says:

    This place just doesn’t have the same spark when you’re not here. Get your mother back on track, and come back to us!

    Wednesday August 11, 2010
  5. Michele Bell Says:

    Thanks so much for the sweet sentiment, Basinaitor!!! ; ) Miss you guys too! Hopefully, my mom will be released from the hospital on Friday or Saturday, and then I’ll only be here in FL for a few more weeks. Talk soon, M

    Wednesday August 11, 2010
  6. Dennis Sherman Says:

    Tampa won’t be the same without you! – Glad your Mom is doing better!

    Thursday August 12, 2010
  7. Scott Wood Says:

    You are a great daughter to do what you are doing, You are lucky to have a Fablous support system. Be yourself and love you.Glad things are going the right direction now. Keep us posted!

    Thursday August 26, 2010

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