Talk about perfect timing on this question, I have just returned from the 1994 ACA Convention in San Antonio. Please let me share my thoughts with you.....
FELLOWSHIP, FRIENDSHIP, COMRADERY - Whatever you want to call it, this is the reason I want to return each year. It is the people that I have met and the friends that I have made, that mean more to me than anything else. Even though I only get to see most of them once a year, the bond is strong and you can't wait to hear about the updates in their lives, be it their fish or their families.
First time convention attendees are able to grasp this concept after the first day, because you feel like you have known them forever. When a member of your locality wins a prize at the show, you feel as though you have won!! Yet you cheer for everyone! I know this little deep and heavy for ASK PAM!!! .... but it is this comradery that holds us all together and has made me friends that I will have for a lifetime.
Most ACA members eagerly tell you how they spawned a certain species, or what problems they have working with other species. You can pick up all sorts of tips from a variety of members on different methods of maintaining, breeding and enjoying all cichlid fishes! There is a wealth of information that you will never find in the books, just waiting to be shared. It is always great to be able to confirm your own theories by hearing someone else say they think the same way you do!
As the ACA liaison for FISHNET one of the events I always attend is the "Face to Face" meeting on Friday afternoon. We all met in the bar and tried to guess who everyone was!! Of course several of us had met before, but we had quite a few who were first timers. It is really wonderful to be able to have a face to go with the name. We are used to typing at each other and in person we are able to talk faster than we type, so it was hard to get a word in edgewise.
HOSPITALITY - Texas out did themselves!! The Hospitality Suite was definitely the place to be on Friday and Saturday nights. They had a large suite on the 9th floor, with bedrooms on both ends, a great kitchen area that was jammed with people filling their empty glasses with either light or dark beer. Off the main room was a balcony, which was perfect for us smokers, with a wonderful view of the pool below. The room was cleverly decorated with a collection of FISH T-shirts belonging to Caroline Estes. There were plenty of deep conversations to join, and of course there was lots of bull going around too. You know how it is when you get a group of mainly men together, they all have to top the story. * grin! * Having rooms off the main one was great, in case you needed a quieter place, to carry on a serious discussion or plan a strategy. I only saw one physical confrontation, and of course the girls won!!
THE FISH ROOM - This fish room was in a great place, with plenty of space. Although the show was a little smaller this year than usual, there were still some great fish being displayed. I like to just sit in the fish room and watch the people go by. I must have spent 3 -4 hours in there Friday night, while everyone else was scrambling to talks or Study Groups. I was hanging out with fellow Club Snail members in a sort of recruitment gauntlet. It was entirely too much fun!
Sunday morning I crawled out of bed to go down and catch my fish for the auction. This is really when I missed my Fin-Mate the most, it is hard labor bagging by yourself!!
SPEAKERS - The speakers are really the gravy of the whole event. This year there was a good line up. Where else are you going to be able to find a more knowledgeable group of people gathered in one place. Jack Wattley on Discus, Heiko Bleher on New Discoveries of Dwarf Cichlids from Central and West Africa, Steve Somermeyer on Lake Malawi and Lake Tanganyika, Jeff Cardwell on Cichlid Collecting Across South America, Juan Miguel Artigas Azas on The Cichlids of Mexico, Frank Warzel on Pike Cichlids of the Genus Crenicichla and of course my all time favorite Ad Konings on Malawi Cichlids and at the Banquet he spoke again on Lake Tanganyika. This is a typical line up, it is an opportunity to listen to people you have only read or heard about. It is the way to find out the latest about your favorite cichlids.
FISH IN THE ROOMS - It is always hard to explain to people who have never attended one of these events about all the fish trading that goes on in the hallways, rooms and parking lot!! The bulletin board was filled with a wide selection of fish available from people attending. Whether you are looking to buy or just want to look, it is always fun to check out what everyone has. The prices are usually reasonable, and it is always wise to purchase something you might be interested in. These fish usually go fast and if they don't, they end up in the auction, and you will probably pay more than what the asking price was. To me, it is like going to the candy store, I want everything I see. I found some great deals and ended up with several different varieties of Malawians and Tanganyikans that were F-1's, with out blowing the budget.
FIELD TRIPS - This year the Texan's offered you the opportunity to go and catch your own cichlids. I decided that I would rather sit in the bar, then sit in the sun, and get hot, wet and dirty. However many chose to take advantage of this chance to pretend they were Jaap-Jan DeGreef, Heiko Bleher, or Ad Konings and collect fish!! It was the talk of the weekend, and I can't wait to see the pictures!!
T-SHIRTS - Several clubs and individuals are selling T-shirts through out the weekend. I have absolutely no control when it comes to a T-shirt with a fish on it, especially if that fish is a cichlid!! I have never attempted to keep Apistogramma, but heck that didn't keep me from buying T-shirt with them on it!! I haven't kept Discus in years, but that T-shirt was so nice I couldn't leave with out one!! Some are so cool that I have to buy two or more, for fear that I'll wear one out, or worse yet Gary will use it to paint the Pigeon Loft. I actually bought more T-shirts this year than bags of fish!! Well it least they won't die!!
AUCTION - Anyone who know me, knows I live for the Auction. There is just something about sitting on your butt for 8 - 9 hours (in the hardest chairs ever) fearful to get up and even go to the bathroom thinking I may miss a bag of fish I can't live without. Of course there are some good deals! The beginning of the auction was typical, everyone is nervous and the prices are erratic, but after the first hour or so we were settled down into a good auction. The prices were reasonable to high. I came home with several good deals, and some neat fish to add to my collection. It is hard work paying attention to what species is being auctioned off, how many are in the bag, and what is a reasonable price. Many people try to come up and talk to me during the auction and I am constantly interrupting everyone, saying "Whats that?", "How many are in the bag?", "What is 6 times $3.00?"!! My math brain cells were burned up last night in the hospitality room!! I stayed until the last bag was sold, and as a tear slowly ran down my cheek I realized the weekend was finally over.
So I say to you, if you remotely like fish, beer, shooting the breeze, beer, buying fish you can't find in your area, Cactus Juice, chatting with "who's who" in the Cichlid world, beer, making fish connections, and finding friends for life, then you should definitely try to make it to one of these phenomenal events. It is not too early to start making plans for next year!!