by Dan Spoone
I’m excited! It’s been two long years since we have all had the opportunity to gather in person at an ACB conference and convention. This gave me a chance to reflect on my truly first in-person convention in Orlando in 2009. Leslie and I attended the Orlando convention in 1998, but this was only a fly-by with visits to the welcome party, the pool and lots of affiliate parties. I had to go back to work during the week, so the experience was that of a continuous cocktail party.
However, when the ACB convention came back to Orlando in 2009, the Spoone family was all in! My dad paired with Jay Bader to coordinate the door prizes. Our local chapter hosted the welcome party, with Larry Turnbull and Debbie Hazelton spinning the vinyl as dancing DJ’s. Patti Land, Leslie Spoone and Sheila Young were the party hosts with lots of hugs, and Mike Godino, ACB treasurer, was leading a rowdy group of New Yorkers enjoying the festivities.
Leslie and I had spent our time studying the registration form, and we signed up for 18 breakout sessions, all with their own individual tickets. We only made it to about half of the events, and came home with a fist of unused tickets. Rookie mistake!
Mitch Pomerantz, ACB president, led an exciting opening session, and Marlaina Lieberg, ACB’s secretary, had us all in stitches with the affiliate roll call. Leslie’s sister, Anita Stone, joined us from San Francisco, and the three of us were blown away by all the energy, vitality and laughter throughout the hotel resort. There were blind people everywhere. We owned the place. It was so amazing to be in an environment where we were in the majority. There were large print numbers on each hallway, volunteers to point you in the right direction, a hum of braille printers as Sharon produced the daily newspaper. There were so many guide dogs. We met Tim and Maria from Scoop Masters at the RSVA Poker Night. Everywhere we turned there was someone new to meet and a chance to make a new friend.
We stopped at the pizza and ice cream shop one night for a pepperoni pizza. I served Leslie, Anita and myself up a couple of slices each and put the open box on the extra chair to make room at the table. Anita said, “Spoone, give me another slice. I’m really hungry.” “Sorry, Anita,” I said, “the dog just grabbed the last two slices.” Anita was telling this story on the airplane ride back to San Francisco and the guide dog owner was sitting in the row in front of her and apologized for his dog and he bought her a rum and Coke. He said he was so embarrassed he just kept on walking and didn’t look back. They had a big laugh and talked and drank all the way back to California.
No doubt, the highlight of the week was the auction on Wednesday night. The ballroom was lined with tables full of all kinds of goodies from around the country. Jeff Thom, Paul Edwards and Brenda Dillon were the auctioneers. Everyone was enjoying an adult beverage, and the bidding was frantic. Leslie, Anita and I were pretty intimidated by the scene, but we were laughing and thoroughly enjoying ourselves. Leslie got sleepy about 11 o’clock and headed up to the room. She told me not to get too crazy with the bidding and spend all of our money. Anita and I hung in there to the final bid at around 2 a.m. We were having some drinks and really enjoying the excitement. When the final item was sold, Anita and I headed to the table to claim our hard-fought prizes. My final tally was 5 Pittsburgh Steeler shirts (I’m not even a fan), a three-day ski weekend in Colorado Springs with the Paralympic trainers (I don’t know how to ski), a braille book on iPhones for Dummies (I did not read braille) and a five-night trip to Nashville to see the Grand Ole Opry, lunch at Cracker Barrel with Opry host Mike Terri and a dinner with the Dillons. We woke Leslie up as we quietly snuck into the room. “How did it go?” she asked, “Great!” I answered. “You didn’t go crazy, did you?” Leslie mumbled. “We had a great time,” I replied. It was time for the big reveal. “Honey, I did put $1,650 on our American Express card, but we have vacation trips to Colorado and Nashville.”
Leslie was not very happy at the time, but we now look back on that night as the event that changed our lives with ACB. Brenda and Dan hosted a wonderful dinner on Halloween in the fall of 2009. We had chili and apple pie, sang songs, handed out candy, played games and became friends. Brenda invited Leslie to join the auction committee and Dan invited me to join the Resource Development Committee, and our journey of service in ACB began.
My strong hope is that each of you can make it to Omaha this summer. Leslie and I look forward to giving each of you a big hug and sharing some new memories. It’s time to reconnect. I’m looking forward to going to a July 4th baseball game, taking a dinner cruise down the Missouri River, exploring the Lewis and Clark Trail, and being in an environment where we are in the majority. We will have a wonderful time with our first hybrid convention. There will be lots to do for those in-person and participating virtually. See you in Omaha or on the ACB Media Network. Hip, hip, hooray for ACB!