Well, being in Florida has been something of an eye opener. For one thing, I got to try Vietnamese food for the first time (highly recommended). For another, every 4th person asks me (after looking at my conference badge) where in Arkansas I practice (isn't this the south? Aren't people down here supposed to know that Arkansas is abbreviated AR? And no, Arizona is NOT AR, it's AZ). For a third thing, No, I do NOT know Sarah Palin personally. And for a fourth, it's quite chilly here by Floridian standards: low to mid-40's in the daytime, with a thin sharp breeze half the time; low 30's at night. Looking around you see plants whose caretakers have carefully shrouded them in sheets to protect them from the cold. Considering that it was 45 and RAINING the night I left AK (with a high temp of 52 degrees that day), I feel a bit upside down on the weather. I feel like I've left Alaska so I could enjoy more winter.
As for the meeting... first, the exhibit hall. There are actually two, in different hotels; one is of reasonable size, about the area of a pair of football field, packed full of people, products and services, and intensive information about products and services. The other is of impressive acreage and overwhelming content. The exhibit halls are like trick or treating for vets. Nearly every booth has candy or pens (or both), plus or minus other goodies... coffee cups, tote bags, balls that light up when you bounce them, stuffed animals, leashes, water bottles, bottled water, magnets, big clips, magnetic big clips, lanyards, key rings, bottle openers, post-it notes, free samples of products.... you can herniate yourself. Someone could make a killing providing sherpa services to carry all the loot. There are also numerous opportunities to win high end toys (laptops, iPods, iPhones, texts) and some lesser toys (scrubs, hats, gym bags, crocs.) Some of those you earn an opportunity to enter a drawing for; others you acquire by attending a little mini lecture at the booth. You can actually get quite an education at some of the booths; the exhibit halls can be another lecture in and of themselves.
They've arranged the food just the opposite way of the exhibit halls, perhaps to even out the attendance at each: the good buffet is with the smaller hall, the hot dog and chips one is at the larger hall. I personally have objections to paying $8 for a hot dog (Eight DOLLARS for a hot dog?!? I ASK you!) so we went back to the other hall every day for lunch. Handily, there is a $75 allowance on the badge for food, so we ate well at lunch, anyway, without it costing us anything above what we have already paid to attend.
The lectures have so far been good... by two lecturers in particular: one, a cardiologist out of U Penn, whose every word was gold; the other, Marty Becker - who, apart from being a wonderful lecturer, has a certain celebrity cachet, evidently, as he often shows up on Martha Stewart and Good Morning America and the like; he's a very good speaker, so I see why they want him. I'm confident that there will be more sterling lectures to come; at a meeting this size there always are, and there are certain lecturers from whom you know you will get good value, so those are always worth attending. Sometimes even if the subject matter doesn't seem like it ought to be that exciting.
One thing that is rather cool is that now everyone has little electronic scanners so they can scan your badge; this records your attendance at lectures and allows representatives of various companies to get your information should you be interested, say, in a digital X-ray unit or a blood analyst or a new software system (or what have you.) Other fun highlights have included the free massages in the indoor park they constructed for us (complete with plants, a tiny toy duck pond, booths full of vet-oriented games, and a live puppy, who seemed to be enjoying the attention of all the passing vets who were sucked inexorably into the irresistible vortex of his puppyness), and running into (almost literally) a doctor who practices about 20 miles from me. I was pretty much NOT expecting to run into another Alaskan here, but I guess it really IS a small world any more.
Lowlights have been few, but DID (most unfortunately) include me catching a cold from my room mate (or else from the same source that she caught it from, although her symptoms broke before mine did.) Oh, goodie. I get to ride on a plane with a massive head cold. My seatmates are going to be SO happy. Not.
The other lowlight has been a complete inability to sleep for more than two hours at a stretch. This has the advantage of allowing me to wake up at 1 a.m. and watch lectures (a limited program of which is broadcast 24/7 on the conference channel). It has the disadvantage that I don't think I've ever been this tired. I've been doing on-call for 15 years and though I've had many days and night when I was exhausted, I don't think it's ever gone this deep. Oh, well. The attendant hallucinations are entertaining, at least.
One of the best parts was having a chance to catch up with my friend RG, one of my best pals from vet school. We shared a very comfortable suite where we could hang out in the evenings, chit chatting about lectures and our lives and mutual friends. It is also approximaely 1,000,000 times more fun to trick or treat in the exhibit hall if you go with a friend, for some reason. In part, four eyes are better than two, so we have better cool pen location skills (the ones that have a little light inside so you can see what you're writing in a dark lecture hall are the best.) In part, at booths where there is something interesting to be learned, having two sets of brains and experience allows you to learn more, based on the questions asked from two differing perspectives. In part, it's just more fun. At any rate, if you're going to go to Sea World for a meeting-sponsored evening, and it's cold enough to see your breath, it's more enjoyable to bitch about the chill with a good friend. It was wonderful to see RG, regardless of the moral support on general grousing. It reminded me why we became friends in the first place, and why we stayed friends through all the stresses of vet school and our lives beyond.
So, next stop: Julie's farm, where I will be reunited with my stock dog and where you will all want to kill me because I did not bring along my digital camera to take pictures.