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Summer Conference

You Never Know....  You Might Look Up And Find a Chunk of the Blarney Stone.

Red Wasp ATE: Days Two & Three

By Freddie A. Bowles
Special Dispatch from Reno, Nevada

Another late evening in Reno. I’ve managed to break away from the activity for a moment’s reflection about the inner workings of the conference.

Those of us who are on planning committees arrive one, two, or even three days prior to the opening session. Each ATE conference has two conference co-chairs with four sub-committees: program, local arrangements, special events, and publicity. I was appointed to the special events committee, which is charged with arranging the president’s reception, the reception for the keynote speaker, and the farewell awards brunch on Wednesday.

The planning committee holds its first meeting a year out from the actual conference. We use the president-elect’s theme along with the host city’s most famous attractions to organize the special events. Each committee then coordinates its responsibilities with our Executive Director, David Ritchey, and the Meetings Coordinator, Billy Dixon.

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On Friday we gathered to stuff conference bags with programs, handouts, and other pertinent information relevant to our host city Reno and future conferences in Kansas City and Orlando. The special events group adjourned to President Digby’s suite to prepare the food for her Saturday evening reception.  Work?  Hardly.  For one who enjoys camaraderie and fellowship, it’s just plain fun. Under the adept organization of the special events co-chair Linda McKinney, we chopped, mixed, and stirred a multitude of fresh ingredients for the southwestern repast amid the laughter of friends and colleagues from across the lower 48.

Mission accomplished at the dinner hour, our first option to launch the evening’s festivities was cancelled due to rain showers. What a surprise to see rain in the high desert. Our small group of seven adults and three kids opted for a local cantina. After a refreshing repast of Mexican food, shared laughter and sampling of one another’s entrées, we strolled back to the hotel.

Flashing Lights, Clamorous Melodies

The immensity and import of the Nugget Hotel and Resort defies rational analysis when you find yourself snared in neon star the fantastical world of flashing lights and clamorous melodies on the casino floor, where the players shout and murmur while playing 21, roulette, black jack, Texas hold ‘em, and the thousands of slot machines. The casino features eight eateries, a cabaret stage, and a celebrity showroom. Rocker Peter Frampton performed on the main stage Friday night, but we missed the sold-out show, opting for a more physical challenge on the dance floor.

Our three youthful companions, Alex, Ali, and Cydney, preferred the swimming pool to hanging out with parents and old folks.  So we bid the little ones good night and found our way through the electric haze of casino wonderland to the cabaret stage, where The Steppen Stonz, a quartet featuring two outstanding vocalists, were entertaining revelers with a mix of disco and R&B.

The energy at a casino becomes an adult’s version of the excited energy of children at Disneyland — a fantasy land of hope, illusion, and excitement, exotic foods, non-stop entertainment, and the lure of instant wealth. We chose entertainment, and we danced and danced.... until the midnight hour reminded us that another day awaited our labor. We waved our goodbyes to the band, said our goodnights to friends, and took the quick ride up to our comfy rooms for a night’s rest in the Biggest Little City in the World.

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Day Three

On Saturday morning, the schedule free of meetings, we decided to explore Reno. Cathy and I were up early to take Bus 11 to downtown Reno. The Nugget is located in Sparks, about 20 minutes away. Emerging from the timeless universe of the casino, we strolled under the viaduct to Victoria Street and waited for the bus. I can never resist striking up a conversation on a journey, so we soon discovered that one of our fellow riders hailed from Reno. Asking for advice on what to see in Reno, she suggested the casinos. Duh! Silly us.

Vestiges of Downtown's Heyday
— And a Few Special Surprises.

Arriving at the downtown station in a sea of casinos, we strolled onto Virginia Street. The first landmark was the Victorian-styled Silver Legacy. We paused for a photo and continued past the Eldorado, the Virginian, and the famous 1935 Reno city sign, “The Biggest Little City in the World.” The city was quiet with only a few tourists strolling past the open doors of darkened casino floors and peeking in the shop windows at gaudy trinkets and t-shirts advertising Reno’s finest attractions.

The heyday of downtown Reno is a vague memory with only vestiges of previous grandeur. We passed dilapidated store fronts, vacated casinos, pawn shops, and an eatery or three. We wanted refreshments, but didn’t want to venture into a casino. We decided to continue our walk to the Truckee River, where a lovely pedestrian lane lined the shallow waterway, which was gurgling from recent rains. Lucky for us, the Dreamer’s Coffee House and Deli beckoned us to stop for the “best iced mocha ever,” according to Cathy. We didn’t linger. Our afternoon slate was full.

The return walk along Virginia Avenue was full of surprises. Reno this month is host to Hot August Nights, a celebration featuring vintage automobiles, and we were pleased to watch the spiffy restored cars and trucks roll proudly past on the wide street. Then a big surprise! Emerging from the façade of a shuttered casino was a huge rock. Not just any old rock, either, but a chunk of the Blarney Stone, all the way from Ireland. Legend has it that the rock is the only piece of the Blarney Stone to have ever left the Emerald Isle.

Yes, you know it. We rubbed the enchanted rock for good luck, just as the sign suggested. And lucky we were. Our next pause placed us in front of another marker. We were standing on the site of the tailor’s shop where the first pair of Levis was made. The tailor had an idea to reinforce the seams of miners’ workpants with copper rivets. He contacted Levi Strauss to send him some bolts of his heaviest denim, and lo and behold, bada bing/bada bang, the first pair of blue jeans was stitched right there on Virginia Street in Reno, Nevada. Was that not serendipitous, a bit of luck from the Blarney Stone?

Pressed for time, we strolled back to the bus station with intentions of finding The Legends shopping center, but the ride back took longer than anticipated. We arrived back at Sparks Station just in time for a quick lunch with Shirley, her daughter Ali, and Bill at Noodles in the Nugget.

Saturday afternoon was devoted to more planning committee meetings with an eye toward Kansas City in 2010 and another eye toward Orlando in 2011. The complexity of organizing a professional conference requires a cadre of dependable, resourceful individuals. I guess those dispositions come with teacher turf. Evidence? The success of each conference!

After progress reports from subcommittees, we reviewed procedures and plans for the next committee meeting in February 2010 at Chicago. The Kansas City committee has met three times, the Orlando committee once. Most of our plans will be finalized for Kansas City by the time we have our last meeting in Chicago. Then we will get “serious” about Orlando!

To show her appreciation for the planning committee’s labors, President Digby hosted a reception in her suite on Saturday night. Of course, the Reno Special Events sub-committee had a hand, in this case many hands, in planning for this, too. Aside from the fine appetizers and hors d’ouvres Lindy orchestrated, we also “suggested” western attire for the evening. For me, a good theme shouts “costume” and “characters,” so I corralled my posse of girlfriends to pose as saloon girls in authentic costumes. Miss Lizzy, Miss Jeanie, and Miss Junebug were accompanied by Sheriff Bill, who managed crowd control for the evening.

You quickly learn as an ATE member to persevere, as my ATE mentor Shirley reminds me. The afterhour events are just as critical as the scheduled meetings and banquets. After cleaning up President Digby’s room, a small group retired to the cabaret floor for another evening with the Steppen Stonz. A large contingent of Reno regulars had the same plan, so space on the dance floor was at a premium. No matter. We “monitored and adjusted,” and another evening ended with friends and colleagues in the timeless flow of casino wonderland.

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