Friday, August 17, 2007

APA Convention Journal (1)

I must have looked something like a homeless man. I was pushing a folding
hand-truck. Mounted on it was a stuffed big olive-drab backpack, the kind
with an aluminum frame. It had half a dozen pieces of white PVC pipe
sticking out of it, one of them taller than my head. A beat-up looking
piece of white cardboard was stuck between the backpack and the handle of
the hand truck. The rig was top heavy and threatened to come apart any
minute. A couple of times it did. My rig and I took up two seats and a
wheelchair space on the BART train. Some people looked away. Some people
looked at me with pity.

Moscone Convention Center is only a few blocks from the BART station in
downtown San Francisco. There was no missing the huge sign over the door:
approached the glass façade of the giant complex. There was a reason for my
stuffed backpack. The convention rulebook said that exhibitors had to hire
union labor to transport their exhibit rigs and materials into the hall.
I'm a former union man myself, Machinists and Steelworkers, and I have no
quarrel with that rule, in principle. But LifeRing operates on a shoestring
budget. With my lawyer eyes on, I saw a loophole in the union rule. You're
allowed to bring in, with your own hands, any exhibit that you can set up
inside half an hour without tools. You're allowed to bring in any amount of
material, such as books and pamphlets, that you can hand-carry in one trip.
I was ready to dismount the backpack from the hand truck, collapse the
truck, shoulder the pack, and hand-carry the whole rig into the hall, like a
hiker on the Pacific Crest trail, if challenged. I hoped it wouldn't come
to that, but I was ready.

Several hundred folks were already gathered in front of the convention
center door, waiting for registration to open at 3 p.m. No fewer than three
security guards held them back at the door. Pushing my rig, I headed
straight at the door. I was hot and sweaty and I wasn't going to wait in
that line! The nearest guard scoped me and my rig in half a second. "Aha, an
exhibitor," he said, and waved me through the door. I guess I wasn't the
only booth tenant from a shoestring operation.

Everything went like clockwork at the Exhibitor Registration booth. The
nice woman there remembered that we had talked on the phone. She had my
name badge ready. She took down the names of the other volunteers who would
come later: Gillian E., Craig O., and David F., and said she would get
badges made for them. Then I coolly wheeled my rig toward the gate of the
Exhibits Area, where a gray haired guard stood watch. He didn't know or
didn't care about the union rules regarding hand-carrying. "Watch out for
the carpet," he said, pointing to a newly laid patch of rug with a plastic
cover. "Thanks!" I said cheerily, and wheeled on it.

There were fork lifts and men on bicycles and carts with crates and people
stringing wires and others laying carpet or carrying furniture all around.
They ignored me. I threaded my way past the construction zones and found
our booth, No. 325. It's a corner location, which is nice. It's near the
Cyber-Café and the restrooms.

It took exactly ten minutes to set up our PVC
pipe display (no tools required). A LifeRing member in Denver made the big banner. Wilbur W. in Richmond CA made the two cardboard panels. I made the PVC rack. I spread our literature out on the table. Then I noticed that our booth had no chair. I was a bit tired and a chair would have been nice.

The company that runs the exhibit floor had its booth not far away. I ambled over and asked a pleasant looking clerk if she wouldn't mind telling
me where I could get a chair for our booth. Instead of pointing me to a
stack of unused chairs somewhere, she dove into her computer screen and
announced that we hadn't ordered a chair. Or a table. Or carpet. Or
anything. The table that was in our space was there by accident and was not
ours. If we wanted a rightful table and chair, there was a charge. Oh, and
the carpet. We had to pay for a carpet whether we wanted one or not.
Company rules. I winced and handed her the LifeRing credit card. Ouch.

Only minutes later, two very nice union men in their late 50s came to booth
No. 325, cleared the floor space and laid down blue plastic carpet. One saw
me taking photos of them at work and joked, "We get residuals, you know."
They brought a chair. I said I wanted to bring in a second chair of my own
tomorrow. One of them said, "Just carry it in. Don't worry about it. We
can see you're not Microsoft."

Another union guy, maybe in his 30s, looked at our literature and said,
"what's 'secular' recovery?" I explained it to him. He said he was on
break. We chatted about recovery things.

Ours wasn't the only PVC pipe display rig. In the booth directly behind
ours, a woman was assembling another home made PVC display -- admittedly
much slicker than mine. It advertised a back pain remedy. I began a slow
amble along the aisle. The third booth to our left belongs to Alcoholics
Anonymous. They have a table-mounted commercial display with "Alcoholics
Anonymous" in large letters, and an array of Big Books and AA brochures on
the table. Their booth was set up but nobody was staffing it at the moment.

The younger union guy who had chatted with me earlier swung by the AA both,
saw me, and said "There's your competition!" I laughed. Tomorrow could be fun.

Two rows away, NIDA (National Institute onDrug Abuse) had a double sized booth.

Hundreds of booths were in various stages of construction. In the other
half of the huge hall, hundreds of blank poster-frames were neatly arrayed,
waiting for the flood of scheduled poster sessions. In the outer hallway, I
picked up a copy of the APA Addiction newsletter. It is put out by APA
Section 50, Addictive Behaviors. Section 50 has approximately a thousand
members. There is also Section 28, devoted to pharmacological treatment of
substance abuse. I made a note to check that out later. By now,
registration was in full swing. Looks like a relaxed, informal crowd. The
Exhibit hall will open to the public at 9 tomorrow morning.

On the way home, a call was forwarded to my cell phone from the LifeRing 800
line, from a counselor at a clinic in San Diego. She wanted the workbook,
she wanted How Was Your Week, and the CD, and she wanted to start a meeting.
She said she has an MA in Psychology and had attended the two most recent
APA conventions, but couldn't make this one. She wished me luck.

(To be continued).

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