by Anonymous -
Special to the SGN
It was estimated that 70,000 Alcoholics, Al-Anons and Alateens were in Atlanta, GA, July 2-5, representing 90 countries, to celebrate the 80th birthday of Alcoholics Anonymous. Convention events were held at the Georgia World Congress Center, the Georgia Dome, Centennial Olympic Park and local hotels.
Nearly 800 speakers participated in topic meetings, panels, and special interest and regional meetings. Although most meetings were held in English, there were also meetings in Spanish, French, Italian, German, Japanese, Russian, Polish, Lithuanian, Swedish and American Sign Language.
Convention highlights included an evening 'Party in the Park' on Thursday and three 'Big Meetings' Friday through Sunday. During the exciting Friday night flag ceremony at the Georgia Dome, members from each participating country carried their national flags past cheering crowds, Cuba receiving a rousing round of applause and 'Hoorays.'
The International Convention takes place every five years in a different host city, always in North America since it was founded here in 1935, in Akron, Ohio. It always takes place over the July 4th holiday and began in 1950 in Cleveland, Ohio. In 1990, Seattle was privileged to host the 55th Birthday Convention. In 2020, Detroit, Michigan will be the host city and Vancouver, BC, Canada will have that distinction in 2025.
Thus far, there have been 14 conventions and I have had the honor of being able to attend half of those. My first convention was in Montreal in 1985. It happened to take place on the anniversary of my first A.A. birthday and I vowed to be there to celebrate. Every five years, I know that I will be in whatever host city is having the convention.
I happened to move to Seattle in 1989, so I had the gift of being able to volunteer for that. I was assigned a job for which I needed absolutely no orientation whatsoever. I got to tell people where to go! I have become the Miss Julie, Cruise Director, of my friends, making all flight arrangements and room reservations.
In Minneapolis, we took over a B&B. The owner sounded quite the ditz on the phone and I was afraid she might forget having made the deal with me. Also, I had negotiated 1999s room rates for July 2000. Every month, I would send her a greeting card for whatever occasion took place in that month. If there was no occasion, I would send a 'Thinking of You' card. When we arrived there, she had all the cards displayed on her piano. I start planning our trip a year in advance.
For the past three conventions, I discovered that the local colleges and universities rent their dorm rooms to tourists during the summer. They are clean, much cheaper than a hotel/motel and one can usually get meals in the dining hall at a reasonable rate as well. This year, I got four rooms, each with private bath and had an all-you-can-eat breakfast. We were at Georgia State University in mid-town Atlanta, just one block from their free streetcar line.
We left here on the red-eye on June 30, and arrived in Atlanta early July 1. I always like to go a couple of days before the convention starts and stay a few days after. That way, I can make a real vacation of it, get the lay of the land before and do some sightseeing after.
My friend from Kennesaw, GA, met my traveling companion and I at the airport and we all three waited for the fourth in our party to arrive from South Portland, Maine. I had met those two online and found out they would be there and they became part of the group. Another friend from Puerto Vallarta was to meet us, too, but he made his own arrangement.
We checked into our rooms and went downtown to eat and check in for the convention. The next day, we had a free day, did some sightseeing and went to Sober City, which is where you can buy drunk junk. In other words, souvenirs of the convention. I bought quite a bit because it's the best place to get sober gifts for birthdays and Christmas. That night, we went to a local Gay meeting, which was packed with conventioneers.
At the beginning of any meeting, it's customary to ask if there are any out of town visitors. Before an International, that custom is dispensed with since there wouldn't be time left for the actual meeting. The next day, the Convention began with the first of the Gay meetings taking place: Gay Alcoholic or Alcoholic Who Happens to be Gay. Unfortunately, a lot of us got there late and got locked out. Those in the hall, some 200 strong, had an impromptu meeting right there in the hallway and it turned out to be one of the best ever. Drunks are so resilient.
That afternoon, we went to Fox Bros. Bar-B-Que and had the best brisket and ribs. The homemade banana pudding was no slouch either. The Opening Ceremony in the Georgia Dome was that night. After all the flags had been marched in and set in their respective stands in front of the stage, it was time for the speakers. The highlight was the second speaker, Michael B. of California. He was a triple threat: a drunk, deaf and Gay.
On the way back to the dorm on the streetcar, it got stuck in traffic and it was packed. Fortunately, there was a group of hunky Irishmen on the streetcar and they entertained everyone with 'It's A Long Way To Tipperary.'
The next day was filled with more meetings, running into friends from Seattle, meeting new friends from around the world and the Old-Timers Meeting in the Georgia Dome that night. Anyone with 50 or more years of sobriety can put their name in a hat and 12 names are randomly drawn to speak for five minutes. They are dogged with that time, too, worse than the Oscars. One guy was just getting started good and was getting ready to sing a song when his mike went off and the applause sign came on. The audience tried to get the chair to let him finish, but she would have none of it.
The next morning was the final meeting in the Dome, the Spiritual Meeting. One of our group left the night before, the other had a plane to catch early that afternoon and the two Seattleites were just plain tired. We opted to sleep in, have a late breakfast and see our Maine friend off. Afterwards, we went to Centennial Olympic Park and watched the children run through the Olympic Rings sprinkler, much like our own International Fountain.
Sober City was breaking down but still trying to get rid of leftovers. I was able to score some great deals and must remember that for the one in Detroit. We went to a Caribbean restaurant near the dorm and had a great, inexpensive meal.
Our final full day on July 6, was taken up with a leisurely breakfast and a tour of the Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial. We saw his birthplace home, Ebenezer Baptist Church where his Grandfather, Father and King himself all preached, the eternal flame, his tomb and Coretta Scott King's tomb, walked through the Visitors Center and listened to recordings of his life. It was quite a spiritual and emotional experience. We had a wonderful meal at Pitty Pat's Porch, named after the Mary Beth Hughes character, Aunt Pitty Pat, in Gone With the Wind.
The next day was our last day with breakfast and a nice light rail ride to the airport. Their light rail is like ours, if you aren't going to the airport, it's useless. At least theirs goes into the airport!
I enjoy traveling, meeting new people, learning about new cultures and sightseeing.
Before I leave on a trip, I always put on clean linen and lay out fresh towels. It's always great to sleep in my own bed and dry off with my fresh towels.
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