Monday, August 12, 2013

ATL!

The last leg of my time in Georgia:  meeting up with Steve in Atlanta and attending the ASAE Annual Meeting & Exposition with him.  (ASAE = American Society of Association Executives…yes, a trade association for people who run/work in trade associations!)
           
The night before the meetings started, Steve and I went to Turner Field to catch an Atlanta Braves game.  I’m not exactly a Braves fan, but I must say that I’m a fan of their fans for sure. Perhaps it was coincidence, or perhaps it was remnants of southern manners, but the people in our immediate area (behind the third base dugout) were polite and drama-free.  Beyond that, while the fan-favorite “tomahawk chop” is controversial to some and looks silly on TV to others, in person, it’s rather stirring to hear a stadium reverberate with a steady drumbeat and watch thousands of people move their arms in synch.  Food note: Steve had a very-good-for-the-ballpark burger from H&F.  Braves crushed the Rockies! 

The next day, poor Steve was in meetings all day, and I was free.  Emboldened by my survival of the mountains of Georgia, I decided to brave public transportation on my own…hello, MARTA!  Why, I scarcely recognize you as a subway—you’re so clean! And I figured out how to buy a farecard all myself! And I understood every word spoken on the train speaker!  And there were no delays!  And your escalators all worked!  Okay, enough: suffice to say that in my limited experience, this train system was 1000x better than metro in DC.  (Don’t you love when someone rides a train for 8 stops total, not in rush hour, and is an expert?)

Anyway, I went to the High Museum of Art, which I thought was all-over beautiful, the art inside and the modern and edgily-angled building housing it.  Around DC, if you simply breathe the word “Vermeer,” hordes show up…the High was hosting a special exhibition of Dutch paintings including Vermeer’s famous “Girl with a Pearl Earring,” so I didn’t know what to expect.  What I got was a thoughtful exhibit in bustling rooms that never veered into claustrophobia—and even several minutes all alone with “Girl with a Pearl Earring.”  (Okay, there was a guard eyeing me, but better him than a crowd of people buzzing with the overly-loud volume on their audio-guides.)  I also admired the lovely collection of decorative arts and the contemporary rooms.  (Here’s one favorite, trickier than it appears, and here’s another that is so simple as to be stunning when displayed perfectly as the High does.)

We were treated to a wonderful dinner for the ASAE board of directors—thanks, Steve, for all those meetings you attended while I was looking at art!—and especially notable was a “muddle your own cocktail” bar during the reception.  Roughly 10 different ingredients were available—i.e. berries, peaches, ginger, basil, mint, cucumber—and several spirits—whiskey, vodka, rum, bourbon, lemonade—along with a professional bartender to offer advice on ingredients and technique.  (Proud moment for Steve, who smacked his basil before dropping it into the shaker, totally impressing the bartender!)  I made myself a mixture of peaches, simple syrup [sugar water], and ginger, and the bartender steered me away from busying it up with mint and advised whiskey; the results were YUM! (Thank you for sponsoring this dinner, Hyatt Hotels!)

A free afternoon the following day, so we slept in and—alas!—restaurants in Atlanta don’t seem to think people want to eat LUNCH on Saturdays so many of our options were closed.  Don’t cry for us, though, as we ended up at brunch at Parish, which was delightful: fried green tomatoes Benedict for me and fried chicken Benedict for Steve.  The hollandaise sauce was light and lemony, almost making me approve of brunch as a concept.

The ASAE meeting started in earnest that night, and let me tell you, if you ever work in an association or are married to someone who does, I suggest getting yourself to this annual meeting.  There are about 5000 attendees—which certainly isn’t excessive by convention standards; AWP has 10,000 attendees—but because these people are decision-makers in a variety of trade associations that have literally ZILLIONS of meetings and conventions, the association execs here are treated like royalty by the host city.  I wrote last year about our trip to the meeting in Dallas…and I can say again that the city of Atlanta went waaaay beyond the call of duty to put on a good show for everyone.  (So, while I’m not a decision-maker, I will confidently go on record as saying that Atlanta would be a great place for a meeting.)

Our opening night featured an extravaganza centered around the Georgia Aquarium, the World of Coke, and an outdoor concert by the Go-Go’s.  Don’t forget the open bar and mountains of food (does anyone else think it’s wrong to eat fish at an aquarium?).  Oh—this is FOLLOWING the special reception sponsored by the Omni Hotel where there were stations throughout the ballroom representing the various college football conference with special food and drinks representative of each geographic area.  It makes sense because A) College football is a religion in the south (you can bet the SEC table got the rich and fancy shrimp and grits dish!) and B) the College Football Hall of Fame is coming to Atlanta in the coming year.  While Steve was rocking out to the Go-Go’s, I needed some peace and quiet (remember I’d been living alone in a cabin in the woods for 3 weeks?!) and I spent much of my time at the Aquarium, watching the truly amazing whale sharks drift through their tank, which holds 6 million gallons of water and is the size of…a football field!

The next morning was the opening breakfast, and I was especially interested in the guest speaker, Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.  Her main point is that there are more introverts than meets the eye; many of us train ourselves to act more extroverted because the world rewards gregariousness more than thoughtful reticence…and yet introverts have many successes, too (Einstein, anyone?) and are valuable in the business world (and, I suppose, elsewhere!).  She also offered some helpful tips to both sides of the coin about dealing with the other, and coping with life as an introvert (i.e. it’s okay to step aside and watch whale sharks swim if that’s what you need to do).

Another business speaker that I thought was interesting was John Spence, author of Awesomely Simple:  Essential Business Strategies for Turning Ideas into Action.  I find that listening and watching a truly professional speaker offers insight into how to be a better speaker/teacher myself, and I try not to be an automatic snob when it comes to business or business books:  the guy had some good ideas that apply beyond the business world and he knows how to communicate and motivate.  I was surprised at how much I enjoyed his talk and at how much I learned.  (Uh-oh…could this mean Power Point for my craft talk at Converse in January??!?)

And while we’re speaking of speakers, I was also taken with Dan Heath, the closing speaker, author of Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Work and Life, who talked about how to make more effective decisions.  He had a good mix of personal and business anecdotes that made us understand how to step back from the emotions of decision-making and why it’s important to widen your view of the choices.  My favorite tip:  when tangling with a tough choice, ask yourself what you would advise your best friend to do.  Often, we’re inclined to be bolder with others than with ourselves.

I have to admire the people manning the booths in the Exhibit Hall:  they were incredibly peppy, creative, and fun.  There were also a lot of great giveaways…bourbon at the Louisville, Kentucky. booth; mimosas at the New Orleans booth; Oregon pinot noir at the Portland, OR, booth; craft beers at the Grand Rapids, Michigan, booth [yes, who knew that Grand Rapids was a major center for craft beer??].  Not that this was a drunk-fest!  I was also pleased to win an adorable stuffed moose at the Anchorage, Alaska, booth and to get a jar of southwest spices from Milwaukee, WI (going with the “spice up your meeting” theme).  Perhaps my favorite booth was Omaha, Nebraska, which was running a trivia contest.  While I try to hold back in my role as a spouse/guest, I leapt at the chance to compete in a round of six…and knew I HAD to win because I knew I wanted my name up there on the screen in the “high scores” list.  (Competitive, much?)  My plan worked—I won—and the Omaha, NE, plan worked too, as I spent the rest of my time in Atlanta telling everyone that I had (for a while) the 8th highest score in the Omaha trivia game and that I had won my attractive blue tote bag from the super-wonderful people in the Omaha booth and that Omaha would surely be a great place to hold a meeting.

Apropos of nothing but my blurry memory thinking of this just now, I must thank the Marriott for the amazing party they put on, with a DJ who got everyone dancing to a selection of songs that encompassed “Brick House” to “I Will Survive” to Sir Mix-a-Lot.  And a Cosmo bar!

Back to the business at hand:  I got to watch Steve speak on stage at the Awards Breakfast (which, I humbly suggest, should NOT start at the ghastly hour of 7 AM), and I got to see him on a video presentation at the final luncheon.  A star is born!

Perhaps the most magical event of the gathering was on Monday night:  We were all invited to a party at the Fox Theatre, a lovingly-restored movie palace that must be seen to be believed.  There’s a picture on the website, but at my first glimpse of the starlit ceiling in the 4000+ theatre, I gasped at how magically beautiful it is.  An idea of how special the place is that not only did our 20-something tour guide say that she’d been angling for a year to get a job working in the theatre, the elevator operator, an older woman, said that she volunteered for 10 years before working here.  It is such a beautiful, not-of-this-world place that one simply wants to be part of it.  Special twist on the night:  guests were invited to sing karaoke to a live band ON THE MAIN STAGE (oh, how very, very brave! [and, for some, dare I say foolish?]).  And super-special twist on the night:  Mary Wilson, of the Supremes, sang a concert on the small dance-floor stage, for a rabid audience of about 300, and we were right up there in the first row!  I could see the sweat on her brow except that she was so amazing she didn’t sweat a drop…despite the fact that she was giving it her diva-ish all!  A fabulous performer—a total professional, with a delightfully modest streak as well: when we screamed for an encore, she actually didn’t have one prepared so she simply sang the first song again.

As Steve and I did last year, we slipped away on the last night for a quiet dinner, heading to 4th & Swift, for a memorable meal.  The cocktails were so incredible, I had to have two (HAD to!):  one was made with smoked peaches, and the other featured mescal (which, I promise you, is going to be the next Big Thing).  I had the famous “Three Piggies” as an entrée, pork loin, pork sausage, and the MOST delectable fried pork skins you can imagine.  Forget that bagged orange Styrofoam from truck stops…these were so light you’d never recognize “pig” or “fried.”  Steve had a perfectly cooked steak, and our favorite appetizer was a special, a thin piece of veal, lightly cooked, with an incredible tuna sauce.  Fried okra was also a highlight: a light, crispy batter on a whole piece of okra. All lovely!

So hard to tear ourselves away from fabulous Atlanta. Our only solace was that we were headed to Charlotte, NC, for an eating tour of—you’ll never guess—hamburgers!  To be continued—!!


Work-in-Progress

DC-area author Leslie Pietrzyk explores the creative process and all things literary.