|Cichlidots at the toga party at ACA 2006 Chicago.|
Dateline July 20 - 24, 2006, Chicago Illinois. Anticipation for the American Cichlid Association’s annual convention is always high, but this year it was even higher! The Greater Chicago Cichlid Association is well known for putting on memorable cichlid events, right here; smack in the middle of a cichlid hotbed. People have been buzzing about this convention for more than a year, anticipating the cichlids, the speakers, the show and of course the marathon cichlid auction. I was so excited that I went on Tuesday this year and arrived at the Sheraton Hotel in Arlington Heights that afternoon. I wanted to start the weekend early and to catch up with other cichlid friends from the United States, Canada, México, England and Europe.
The Greater Chicago Cichlid Association was led by cichlidiot Rick Borstein. This Chicago group is no stranger to putting on cichlid events. Every Memorial Day weekend they put on the Cichlid Classic, which is the second largest yearly cichlid affair behind the ACA. Call them gluttons for punishment, but this is the 3rd time they have hosted the ACA’s annual convention. Borstein is a machine, he addressed every possible detail, the convention website was brilliant; it included updates, tips and even frequently asked questions. He was backed up by amazing crews, who each had their own assignments, from the show to the auction and everywhere else in between.
Wednesday afternoon the registration desk opened and there were plenty of people picking up their packets, which included a 10-pound gift bag. This year there was a wide assortment of foods, conditioners, the Tropical Fish Hobbyist convention issue, and a Zoomed floating log, the total retail value had to be more then the cost of registration, what a bonus! The nametags included the schedule on the back, and names in large print for blind people like me!
Thursday - The first side trip; Chicago Boating Tour, left the hotel at 8:30 am. Meanwhile the show room was filling up with entries, and the hotel was filling up with cichlid enthusiasts. Through the lobby and down a long hallway you entered into the cichlid zone. It began with the exhibitor’s room where vendors displayed their wares, offering everything you need to be a successful fish keeper. Down the hall was the registration area, and further yet the show room and speaker room. Down stairs were the rooms for rental tanks. Most people use these tanks to sell fish they have brought, but you could also reserve tanks for housing fish you purchased over the weekend. Back up stairs by the main speaker room, was the Guy D. Jordan bulletin board, already covered with lists of fishes available from convention goers.
Later that afternoon, the first event on the agenda was the opportunity to meet the Board of Trustee members and committee chairman that run the day in and day out duties of the ACA. Apparently the general membership is satisfied in the direction they are going as only a handful of people showed up. The main discussion revolved around the announcement of the Trading Post going electronic. This will insure that these time sensitive listings will be out to the membership quicker, and save costs on printing and mailing.
Right on schedule, Randy Carey kicked off an exciting evening with a stellar lineup of speakers. Carey, who is well known for his expertise on Characins, reminded us that cichlids are also abundant in the same waters. He focused on the Rio Negro and Project Piaba. Next on the list was the ever-popular Ad Konings, the room was packed as he mesmerized us with Feather Fins from Lake Tanganyika, and it was spectacular! When it ended, everyone left the room to hunt for foae, furcifer, boops, etc. Then it was time for on of my favorites, Juan Miguel Artigas Azas, with the latest on the genus Herichthys. His photos are amazing, especially when these cichlids are showing their courtship and breeding dress colors. To finish off the evening, Eric Hanneman, Rusty Wessel and Joe Middleton took the crowd to Guatemala, each giving a different aspect of a collecting trip and the cichlid fauna, it was good, but it was long, and went well past 1:00 am. Then it was off to the hospitality room to see old friends and make new ones.
Friday - The side trip was to the Shedd Aquarium downtown Chicago, a large crowd left for the tour at 8:30 am. Talks began at 11:00 am with Ted Judy on the Pelvicachromis, a popular group of dwarf cichlids found in the rivers of West Africa. Followed by Mo Devlin, many Central and South American cichlid keepers are familiar with his great photos on different cichlid forums, but they were bigger then life in his wonderful presentation. Dr. Mark Mitchell talked on Discus Health and Dr. Uwe Romer talked about Apistogramma. All were excellent talks and well attended.
The Babes In The Cichlid Hobby had their Silent Auction up and running early Friday afternoon. It is a cichlid flea market where all the items are fish related and all donated by cichlid hobbyists. You never know what might show up, from rare fish books, fish jewelry, art, clothing, collectibles, etc. All of the proceeds are donated to cichlid research and cichlid conservation.
Late afternoon Ad Konings gave his second talk on the feeding techniques of Malawi cichlids, again an interesting topic and great photos. Dr. Joseph Snoeks followed him on Cichlids, Science and Africa, it was very scientific, but the serious hobbyist relishes this type of talk and leaves wanting more.
Downstairs in the Lake Michigan room the Guy D. Jordan Oral Auction was getting ready to start at 9:30 PM. The word around the convention was "don’t miss the oral auction." Armed with rare and unusual fish donated by the Florida Fish Farmers and the Shedd Aquarium, the Babes In The Cichlid Hobby work their magic. It is fast paced, action packed 2-hour auction with cichlids, entertainment and refreshments. It’s not your typical club auction, and it is scheduled late in evening for a reason. Auctioneers Caroline Estes and Robin Schadle, supported by all girl runners, were able to raise $5,000.00 for cichlid research and cichlid conservation. The Bermuda contingency well known for their own cichlid fundraisers served the crowd their famous "Dark & Stormies" a concoction made from Bermudan rum and ginger beer. It was plain to see that everyone who attended had a great time.
Appropriately, after the Oral Auction the crowd moved up stairs for a "Club Snail Talk" by Joe Middleton. He has a disgusting sense of humor and lots of funny compromising photos of the who’s who in the ACA, so it’s an amusing presentation. The evening was capped off by a visit to a crowded hospitality room; apparently cichlid people don’t need sleep!
Saturday - Beginning at an early 8:00 am, Dick Au started off the morning with his textbook talk covering how to be successful with discus. Joseph Snoeks was next with more information about the Rift Lake Cichlids and his scientific studies. Juan Miguel Artigas Azas spoke about Thorichthys a popular genus from Central America. The afternoon speakers where Dr. Uwe Romer covering new updates on the genus Apistogramma and Dr. Phil Willink spoke on biodiversity and conservation of South American Fishes. It was a full day of excellent speakers, and the large crowds confirmed their popularity.
Beside this great lineup of speakers there were plenty of other things going on today. You could roam the hallways looking for your target cichlid, most hobbyists had tanks set up in their rooms, and left the doors open so you could stop in and take a look. If you had a car or knew someone with one, you could visit some of the locals and see their fish rooms. The hotel was close to the train station, so finding your way to the Shedd Aquarium or a White Sox baseball game was easy. The hotel had a shuttle bus to a giant shopping center that was close by; if you were not as interested in cichlids as the people you came with! The Babes In The Cichlid Hobby Silent Auction was also up and going, the amount of fish related items to bid on was over whelming. However the largest attraction was the Cichlid Show, it was full of great looking cichlids, and this was a very popular place to hang out and discuss who you thought might end up with the coveted Best Of Show Award. The Midwest is known for their fantastic fish shows and this one will go down as one of the best in the ACA.
At 6:30 pm the cocktail party for the awards banquet began, this is a special dinner for a several reasons; it allows the Chairman of the ACA to speak directly to the convention attendees about the state of the ACA. It is an opportunity to thank people for their contributions to the ACA and the hobby during the year. It is where the winners of the show are announced. This year in an effort to shorten up the banquet, the business of the ACA, announcements and yearly awards were given while dinner was served. No one could hear what was being said, and sadly people who donated their time and effort to the ACA during the year were not properly recognized. The highlight of the banquet was everyone’s favorite Wayne Leibel who totally entertained the crowd with his mythical collecting trip to the elusive Lago de los illusiones, in the Heiko-mobile. The banquet ended with the show results, the Best Of Show went to Ron Georgeone with an outstanding specimen; Aulonocara sp. "lwanda".
As the crowd left, they made one last stop in the show room to see all the winners. It was also time to check your bids at the silent auction and don your Toga or PJ’s before heading to the hospitality room. It was another late night in Chicago!
Sunday - This area is well known for their huge auctions that last well into the night. It was estimated that there were 2,000 bags of cichlids, and it was projected to go past Midnite. The dry goods auction began at 9:00 AM and fish were going by 11, the room was packed and there were lots of hobbyists going through the piles of bagged fish located in the back of the room. The prices started out high, but as the crowd thinned the prices came down to what they should be.
All day people are saying good-bye to old friends and the new ones made over the weekend. Plans are made to meet at the next ACA, or other fish events that will follow, as well as future trades for fish and promises to keep in touch. First timers who came for the fish, leave with new friends and realize it is not the cichlids, but the people you meet that are the real reason to return next year. The comradery is evident; after all spending time with people who share your same obsession can be a rewarding and a motivating experience. I couldn’t wait to get home and work with my new cichlids.
At 8:00 pm the die-hards were still paying close attention to each bag up for auction. The Babes In The Cichlid Hobby Banquet, a no host last dinner of sorts, was spread out around the Sports Bar at the hotel. For those who couldn’t bear to leave the auction room, you could order food to go. Mike and Robin Schadle, along with Caroline Estes rotated the auctioneering duties, with help from a never-ending group of runners mostly from the Chicago club, for around 17-1/2 hours. The last bag went at 2:30 AM, and another ACA convention was in the history books.
And what a good one it was, great speakers on key cichlid topics, a killer show, a huge auction and lots of interesting people. It was by far the largest ACA convention to date, Congrats to the Chicago group! They are to be commended for a seamless weekend; I give it 5 gold stars!! *****
Get ready Sacramento; ACA is on their way!