09 September 2013

Convention time!

Each year, as the annual CSI convention approaches, I can't help but think back to other conventions. I haven't been to all of them since I became a member in 1987, but I haven't missed too many, either. I suppose you could say they're all the same, and in many respects, they are, but each has its unique experiences. My first convention was in Chicago, in 1990; more on that later. The second was in San Diego, in 1991. I had never been to California before, and I discovered why everyone wants to live there. My third convention was in San Francisco, in 1994. It was the first time I brought my family along, and since then, my wife has gone each time, and one or both of our children - and their spouses - made it to a few more.

Many of today's CSI members missed the good old days. The education sessions and exhibit hall are much the same, but there were a lot more extracurricular activities many years ago. I'm going to reminisce about a couple of my early conventions, starting with Chicago.

The year was 1990. The Institute president was S. Steve Blumenthal. The president of the host chapter was Gary Betts, who later went on to be president of the Institute.
  • Keynote speakers: Studs Terkel, Willard Scott. These names don't mean much today, but they were big names then. Terkel was an author, historian, actor, and broadcaster, who had been blacklisted during the McCarthy era. Scott also is an author and actor, as well as a comedian. And, he was the creator of the original Ronald McDonald, and played the part in 1963.
  • Preconvention tours: Underwriters Laboratory, "Chicago Architecture Seen From the Chicago River".
  • Hotel (double occupancy): Chicago Marriott, $113, Hyatt Regency, $110, McCormick Center, $106; Lenox Suites, $109.
  • Interesting programs: Editing On-Screen, Integration of CAD Drawings and Specifications; CSI Format for Mechanical and Electrical Specifications. (Aren't we still working on those?)
  • Registration:$160.
  • Travel, from Minneapolis: $75, motor coach direct to hotel, refreshments included.
A brochure produced by the Chicago chapter offered some interesting statistics about CSI conventions. According to the brochure, the third national CSI convention was held in Chicago in 1959; there were 100 exhibit booths. In 1970, Chicago again hosted the annual convention, this time with 256 exhibit booths. In 1990, the convention returned to Chicago. For the first time, the number of exhibit booths exceeded 1,000 exhibit booths, and a new attendance record of 10,650 was set, a record that stands to this day.

I had been a CSI member for three years, but this was my first trip to the annual convention. The Minneapolis-St. Paul chapter set up a package deal including both lodging and transportation, and we sent a busload of delegates. We left at at 7:30 a.m., 28 June, and returned about 1:00 a.m. Sunday morning, after the banquet.

The show was only three days, running from Friday, 29 June through Sunday, 1 July. A newbie specifier, I had a hard time deciding which programs to attend. The exhibit space in McCormack Place was unbelievable! I started off stuffing my shoulder bag full of literature and soon acquired another; by the time I got to the end of the first aisle, the bags were bursting, and I could hardly drag them around the corner. Fortunately, someone told me the manufacturers would send information by mail.

The two big Saturday night events were hosted by Sherwin-Williams and Dover (now ThyssenKrupp). The Sherwin-Williams event was a dessert party that filled an entire ballroom; chocolate-dipped strawberries were featured, and appeared on the invitations, which included a metal pin.

The night ended with the Dover party, which included refreshments and a live band. This was my first encounter with convention mixers and hospitality suites, and it was also the first time I had seen some of our more esteemed members - and their spouses - in a non-business setting. I learned that these stuffed-shirt, tightly-wound, tie-wearing people had another side; I was shocked to see them toss aside their jackets and ties and dance till the wee hours of the morning. Although I had known many of our members who went to Chicago, the convention solidified many relationships that remain today.

CSI's annual convention is always a great place to find out what's new in construction products, to learn from experts, and, just as important, to renew old friendships and find out how other members are trying to solve the same problems we face every day.

There's been a lot of talk about the impending death of trades shows, but it's hard to imagine a replacement. How else could you see so many products in a short time, talk with the manufacturers' reps, and hold the products in your hands? As much as we like to be efficient and schedule all of our meetings, there are times when a chance encounter will lead to more knowledge and more contacts. It has been suggested that products be grouped by type. That would make it easier to compare similar products, but I like the random nature of the exhibit floor. I mark up a map to make sure I get to specific booths, but otherwise I just wander through the aisles, wondering what I'll see around the next corner.

For your amusement, I'm including several pages from brochures from the 1990 convention. If you click on any of the pictures in this blog, they open up larger so you can read them more easily.

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