Late nights, leftovers and plastic plates: Traveling with the debate team

Karen Meir, BP

Sarah Soroudi, Staff Writer

From the moment Shalhevet’s 26 debaters stepped off of the airplane at Dulles Airport in Washington D.C., they knew the conference wasn’t going to be easy, and not only the debating. The long hours, the stress of presenting a bill, hoping to tour Washington and even simply trying to stay awake were all going to be a challenge.

It was obvious that food – and not just a daily stop at Starbucks — would be a main focus of the trip.

After taking the red-eye from Los Angeles on Wednesday night, Nov. 25,  they poured into the lobby of the Grand Hyatt Hotel and since their rooms were not yet ready, team advisor Mr. Chris Buckley led them into a conference room two floors below the lobby.  It was already set up just for the Shalhevet delegation with tables, chairs and plenty of snacks to munch on.

For the next six hours, the students either stayed in this room and worked on their bills, or went out to tour the city — but only after having gobbled granola bars, bagels and cream cheese, and going through packs of Swedish fish brought by junior David Rokah as if there was no tomorrow.

Over the next four days, it became increasingly clear that eating was also a way students coped when they were nervous or bored. When someone just wanted to pass the time, he or she would pick up a plastic plate and fork and have yet another snack. Other stress relievers included pacing up and down the halls, more sightseeing, or re-reading Harry Potter books.

Since all the food had to be trucked in from kosher caterers in Maryland, it was served in Mr. Buckley’s room, not at a restaurant with tables.  Through his always-open doorway the smell of chicken, lasagna, tuna, Israeli salad, green beans and couscous wafted through the hallway, competing with the noise level for the attention of a slightly annoyed security guard. Students were constantly walking in and out of Mr. Buckley’s room in their (mostly fake) Uggs, slippers or loafers, scarfing down more food.

Semi-cooked or out of a plastic container wrapped in tape, with a bag of chips and half a pickle next to it, whether they liked it or not, everyone choked it down. No matter whether they’d lost or won a debate within their committee, or how desperately they wanted to tour another monument, one thing all the delegates could turn to was food.

All the eating on the trip did seem to make everyone closer. Eating at the weirdest hours, or even watching senior Toby Bern and junior Deanna Grunfeld gobble down leftover barbeque chicken wings at the airport, definitely helped people to connect with one another — even if it was over a plate of unappetizing food.