How One Bold Adventurer Survived the Opening of Exhibit Hall at Convention (We Think)

running of bulls

At approximately 8:35 pm on the evening of Thursday, November 14, a sheath of papers and an undeveloped roll of film were recovered by a custodian working in the Posters section of the Exhibit Hall at McCormick Place in Chicago. Tucked snugly under a (still warm) seat cushion, the yellowed, tattered handwritten manuscript and frayed film were rushed to the Leader’s office in Rockville, where they were subject to the most intense scrutiny and interrogation. Satisfied with the integrity of contents, astonished at the revelations contained therein, and aflame with ardent desire to share a unique eyewitness account of a quintessential ASHA convention event, the Leader presents the discovered manuscript in its entirety. For intelligibility, we’ve translated from the original Most Distant, Really Dullest, and Certainly Deadest Tongue.

DEAREST READER: Months of arduous sojourn across twilight epochs and treacherous terrain have brought me to this place, this moment, to this gathering of likeminded intrepid explorers poised to shatter the boundaries of convention and assail terra incognita. Mine is a wandering soul consumed by curiosity and troubled by siren calls beckoning through forbidden entryways. Standing and milling with hundreds of students and professionals outside the Exhibit Hall before it opens on the first day of ASHA convention, I am at last after all these long years among my own kind, again. We all want in, through that entrance blocked by McCormick Place staff. Right now. We’re just not always sure of the reason.

Someone pray tell—why are we here, waiting?

Huddled on the carpet some 20 feet away from the others, three students rapid-fire last night’s anecdotes and today’s possibilities while flipping through convention programs. Purses, askew tote bags and half-drunk cups of coffee ring them. Hmmm…perhaps their obviously keen attention to detail lends insights into why hundreds of us are all just, well, standing here ready to spring into whoknowswhat beyond yonder guarded entranceway.

After a lengthy, cross-city quest for a men’s restroom to change from elegant breeches and ruffles into roughen jeans and a too-plain button down shirt, I approach, ever hopeful, pen poised.

“So, are you waiting to get into the Exhibit Hall?”

Two nods, one dismissive glance back to the program.

“If you don’t mind me asking, why?”

Smiles and a chorus of replies. “I hear there’s lots of cool stuff in there—giveaways.” “My friend’s in charge of a poster session.” “I want to visit the bookstore.”

The latter speaker pauses, leaning forward. “We didn’t realize,” she hiss-whispers, “that there’d be so many people here when it opens!”

“Um…” I try to reassure. “You do know it’s open for all of convention, right?”

Shrugs. Blank stares. Heads return to programs and chatter resumes.

gary1

I next squirm, dodge, and dart my way mightily to the front, hoping to converse with those possessing a vast reservoir of experience with such opening day events. One of the security staff is more than happy to chat.

(Me out of breath after crowd-tunneling extravaganza) “Why…in the world…are there so many people waiting… to get in?”

(Chuckle) “It’s always this way, sir.”

“Any reason for it?”

(Slight shake of head and sigh). “It’s just the way these things go.” (Mt. Vesuvius yell eruption) “MAKE SURE YOU ALL HAVE YOUR BADGES READY FOR INSPECTION!!!”

I scuttle-crawl away, none-the-wiser and God help me, somewhat deafened.

gary2

It’s now about 10 minutes before the opening of the Exhibit Hall, and a most fascinating ritual is occurring. The crowd without prompting or dispute is self-organizing into a single, momentously long, serpentine line that curls and stretches into the distance across the palatial hall. Sitters and standers fall into place; no disputes, just a low murmur of expectancy rippling up and down the line. Calling upon fifth-column skills well-honed for decades in His Majesty’s Most Glorious Topsy-Turvy Revolution, I slip into line, one-third back, without incident.

There’s still time to uncover the answer.  Hmm…perhaps another direction. My laborious research en route here did uncover the venerable Black Friday tradition of frenzied mob trampling while seizing limited time deals. Maybe exhibitors likewise promise opening hour deals?

“Hey, is anyone here to nab a bargain?” I call forward and back.

Universal acknowledgment of query but a stunning silence of reply. A few shakes of heads; one roll of eyes.

Dearest reader, I…still don’t understand. But, what the heck, let’s go along for the ride.

gary3

11 am, zero hour. The line begins moving into the Exhibit Hall past security staff…steady…steady…the quick-stepping of hundreds of feet…we’re a millipede slowly picking up steam…and then the hounds unleash. Back segments of the line press forward and come alongside; we’re now four—nay, eight—across and coming on strong.

Faster. Faster. Oh boy.

A backpack-toting student a few millipede steps in front turns to me, brown eyes flashing and giggling. “Hey mister, you know why we’re here?? Because…it’s FUN!” Bursts of laughter.

We’ve just zipped past security and through the entranceway…rows upon rows of exhibits (staffed by some who seem rather startled by the human torrent) flash by to the right.

Goodness—most of us are surging left, a millipede in mad pursuit of the Poster sessions. Or NSLHA. Sustenance, perhaps? Wafts of downright delicious offerings pour in from 2 o’clock.

Pant. Pant. Fasterfasterfaster.  Woops–someone’s foot. Ouch—stand back, good sir. I must confess it’s most difficult to pen this narrative and properly capture visuals while honoring the press and pace of the crowd.

Oh my God, I can’t believe it! There’s hundreds of–

The narrative unfortunately breaks off at this point. The Leader has no reason to suspect that the author came to a grim, bone-crunching, nasty little end. We suspect that the tantalizing offerings of the Exhibit Hall were enough to draw him away from his sordid tale.

Gary Dunham, PhD, is the director of publications at ASHA. He can be reached at gdunham@asha.org.