Digressions & Diatribes

by Kort E Patterson, Editor

Report From the 2003 AGA

Once again, the irresistible allure of spending four days in the company of Illians from around the world enticed me into leaving the comfortable familiarity of my network connected hermitage, and suffer the travails of travel to Chicago. Traveling is a major inconvenience for me these days, and the Intertel AGA is the only distant event I find worth all the planning and effort required to attend.

I'd been a member for years before I made it to my first AGA and found out what I'd been missing. I've been to every one since. Only an AGA offers the good times and intellectual stimulation of "extended partying" with fellow Illians from around the world. In between AGAs, the next best alternative is spending an evening with fellow Illians at our local quarterly parties.

Four days might seem like forever in other circumstances, but they always pass too quickly at AGAs. By Sunday I knew intellectually that I had a variety of good reasons to be eager to return home. But I only started feeling anxious to get home after being obliged by the relentless tyranny of the clock to bid adieu to the last few stragglers in the hospitality suite, and depart for the airport.

The hotel was arguably comfortable and well equipped with the sorts of things typical travelers seem to value - chairs, hair dryer, clothes iron, coffee maker, alarm clock - none of which were of use to me. My room was equipped with broadband internet service, but my last laptop was a '386 and burned out long ago - and none of my current desktop systems would fit in my carry-on luggage.

I had "e-tickets" and only carry-on luggage both ways, and so got to miss the long lines at the United ticket counters. Actual "security time" didn't change much for me. However, the process has gotten much less efficient for the vast majority of travelers since the feds took over, so I ended up waiting in long lines of more conventional travelers who used to get out of my way much more quickly. At the Portland airport there were two lines, each at least 50 yards long, waiting to get to the security checkpoint. Getting through security itself wasn't too bad - only a couple of minutes longer than the "normals", and much shorter than those selected for extra scrutiny.

The metal buttons in my utilitarian clothing have always set off metal detectors, requiring the security staff to give me the once over even though they don't expect to find anything. In one of the many logical paradoxes of our time, I expect to be searched making it unlikely I'll be carrying anything likely to be detected by that search. A real bad guy carrying something that might be detected by a search would try to avoid attracting the attention of security - to appear to be not worth searching. So those who appear the most innocent now get searched the most carefully.

I got to the airport two hours early as recommended, but didn't need anywhere near that much time even with the long lines. I spent at least an hour in each direction killing time wandering around the airport waiting to board.

In spite of fear-mongering newspaper headlines about the "war" between the management and employees of the airline I was traveling, and articles about malfunctions in new high tech entertainment systems causing problems with the rudder and elevator controls, my flights were smooth and uneventful. Both flights were in fully booked Airbus A320s. I landed within ten minutes of the scheduled arrival time in both directions.

As I've marveled following every AGA I've attended, once again the diverse mixture of members, brought together through our common interest in Intertel, provided a most interesting social dynamic. For example, where else could I enjoy exploring the surprising number of areas of agreement I share with a retired Chicago cop - as well gain useful insights into our differences? (If only all of the cops I've encountered had been as rational and enlightened as our member ex-cop!)

Of course, the reverse perspective is probably a better example. I arguably exercise significantly less restraint in the expression of my individualism than most. The fact that my fellow Illians tolerate - and even give every indication of welcoming - my presence is a fair measure of the friendly camaraderie at an AGA.

A variety of expeditions set off from the hospitality suite, venturing into the urban wilderness of Chicago in search of fabled restaurants, museums, and stores. Fortunately, our intrepid troops were led by native guides skilled in deciphering the cryptic runes of train schedules and street signs. According to the whispered rumors I heard, nearly all of the adventurers made it back alive, and some of the expeditions actually made it to their intended destinations.

The expedition I joined lost most of its members along the way, but a brave few of us soldiered on to the end. We started out taking the train into the city. After a walk through the concrete canyons, we boarded a bus for a two hour tour. Along the way we stopped at the Lincoln Park Conservatory to admire the ferns and orchids. Following the tour we rode a trolley to the Shedd Aquarium for lunch. After lunch (which we were assured didn't include former exhibits), many of our number decided to return to the AGA hotel. The rest of us continued on to the Art Institute of Chicago, where we wandered until closing time.

We enjoyed five presentations this year in addition to the keynote speaker at the banquet. As usual, the presentations introduced me to unexpectedly fascinating areas of knowledge outside of my usual interests, and neither the audience or presenters were finished when their allocated time had slipped by.

This year our horizons where expanded by learning what it was like to travel in Mongolia, and to serve in Wrigleyville's Engine 78 (the fire station located in the shadow of Chicago's Wrigley Field ballpark). We also learned how music "works" in terms of physics, mathematics, and aesthetics. Entertainment was provided by a presentation of bloopers found in major movies from Star Wars to The Wizard of Oz, and by three members of the band "O VAD YA" playing samples of their original music.

The keynote speaker following the banquet this year was Steve Cushing, the host of the nationally syndicated radio show "Blues Before Sunrise". His enthusiastic presentation on the early history and evolution of the blues included digital copies of some very rare early recordings that had originally been released on records made from shellac. Of the limited number that were originally pressed, many had been recycled to be made into other records, and the remaining few would have been too valuable to risk playing.

In addition to board games and jigsaw puzzles, the amusements in the hospitality suite this year included a collective coloring project - a table size montage of circus themed caricatures. Lourie "encouraged" everyone to color in a small part of the picture, and initial their work. Typical of Illians, many found the original dozen colored pens too restrictive. The playful effort proceeded much more smoothly after the limited color selection was enhanced with a set of pens offering fifty colors. We only finished part of the picture, and Lourie has promised/threatened to keep bringing it to future AGAs until it's finished.

Next year's AGA will be in Las Vegas. Looking forward to seeing you there!

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