Digressions & Diatribes

by Kort E Patterson, Editor

Report From The 2002 AGA

I generally try to avoid traveling, but I make an exception for the Intertel AGA. Albuquerque was my fourth AGA, and each one has left me looking forward to the next. The welcome I experienced at my first AGA was warm and friendly, and the increasing familiarity with fellow members I've gained over successive AGAs just enhances the experience.

An AGA brings together a very diverse group, with our shared involvement in Intertel providing enough common ground to also share our differences. It isn't necessary to agree with someone on every issue to find them an interesting and/or entertaining dinner partner, or participant in a fluid conversation that will likely evolve in directions that surprise everyone involved. There are lots of things to talk about more interesting than simply restating our already exhaustively explored intractable differences. I doubt anyone went home with their basic world-view significantly altered, but I'd be willing to bet all of us had our perspectives expanded and enhanced in unexpected ways by our fellow members. I know I have - at every AGA I've attended.

Mixing a presenter with a deep commitment to his topic and an attentive audience of Illians eager to absorb what he has to say also seems to encourage some interesting dynamics. We've explored some fairly obscure topics at AGAs, so maybe it's just finally finding someone willing to listen that encourages the enthusiasm we've enjoyed in our speakers/presenters. But whatever the underlying dynamic, the payoff from my perspective is that "lightweights" like me get to vicariously experience from the perspective of the presenter just a bit of what he finds so interesting. What might have been just a dull dry boring lecture for another audience, becomes a fascinating window into the subject through the eyes of someone who has spent a lifetime exploring it.

This year was no exception. Once again we were exposed to a subject outside of my usual interests, and once again I found it time well spent. This year it was an introduction to petroglyphs by Dr. Milford Fletcher. Dr. Fletcher has been interested in petroglyphs for 40 years, and we were treated to some of the highlights of what it's taken him of a lifetime of study to learn.

As the retired but still active Chief Scientist of the Southwest Region of the National Park Service, Dr. Fletcher arranged for our group to be guided by both himself and a very pleasant and well informed member of the Park Service staff. I suspect that thanks to Dr. Fletcher's "political pull" and our eager attentiveness, we got the "deluxe" tour.

A major dinner expedition was assembled Friday evening to ride a cable tram up a local mountain to the restaurant at the top. Starting from Albuquerque, which is already around 5000 feet above sea level, we climbed to an altitude of 2 miles. The restaurant was high enough to be almost 40F degrees cooler than down in the city, and not that far below the point where oxygen masks or a pressurized cabin would be required in an airplane. The views from the tram and at the top were pretty spectacular - both before and after the sun went down.

My interest in games and puzzles is limited to kibitzing and "people watching" the social dynamics that evolve between players, but the ones in the hospitality suite seemed to get plenty of use. The most popular seemed to be a pair of games I'd never encountered before.

The card game seemed to be a cross between scrabble and gin rummy, and required players to be able to spell - which made it even more inappropriate for someone like me. But there always seemed to be enough good spellers around to make up a lively game.

The other was a fiendishly complex board game concealed within the apparent simplicity of placing a handful of wooden pieces in a row or square on a playing field offering only 16 positions. Lurking on the periphery while Gert Mittring and John Maxwell discussed the underlying logic and math of the game greatly increased my appreciation of the many layers of factors and strategy involved.

The most popular puzzles appeared to be group efforts with an assortment of different individuals contributing over several days.

As usual, my hardest problem was keeping track of time with so many attractive distractions vying for my attention. Getting up in the morning for the trip to Riconada Canyon to view petroglyphs, or to attend the executive board meeting required remembering to go to bed at a reasonable hour the night before. I'd intended to recharge my camera battery before the banquet, but had to scramble just to change into my "formal overalls" after losing track of the time while engrossed in a conversation about computers with one of the well behaved younger attendees. If his mother hadn't been there to make sure he was ready on time, I might have missed the banquet altogether!

Sunday afternoon came all too quickly, but the pain of parting was soothed considerably by the pleasure of having fellow Illians as traveling companions on the way home.

The 2003 AGA will be in the Chicago area. Hope to see you there!

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