Taking place this week is the International Conference of the International Association of Business Communicators. It's the most important professional conference for the most impotent professional communicators. And it's in San Diego.
Do I wish I were there?
I do not.
(Yes I do.)
I remember my first IABC conference. It was in Boston, during one weird week in June, 1994. On the way from Logan Airport to the hotel, the Ragan editorial entourage was caught in the Boston Gay Pride Parade. "The fucking Gay Parade?" bellowed our incredulous senior editor, to an equally mystified police officer. (Back then, it was news to most people that gay people lived in Boston; we thought they were all in New York and San Francisco.)
The first night we were there, my roommate Steve Crescenzo and I consumed an unfathomable amount of clams, and Guiness beer. The former had their effect on me, causing an unspeakable hazmat situation in my bed. Think, Exxon Valdez. The latter had its effect on Steve, who required an emergency wake-up call notifying him that the keynote speech he was there to cover was underway.
The same week, another editor's wife had an aneurism and nearly died, I got married, and in my honeymoon bed listened to live radio coverage of O.J. Simpson being followed around Los Angeles in a white Bronco.
That's what I think of when I think of IABC.
But we could handle it. We were in our twenties.
But we got older, and IABC never conferences never got any saner. In Toronto one year, Steve fell out of a parked airplane straight down to the tarmac. In Los Angeles another year, I made such an angry, drunken fool of myself at a dinner, that the next day I needed to create an alter-ego named "Mickey" to blame it on. There are IABCers who still know who Mickey is, and recoil at the name.
Steve created an online communication community where there was none, by galvanizing just about everyone in the business in a common rage—against him. They were reacting to "Fear and Loathing at the IABC International Conference," an article I had commissioned him to write, for the Journal of Employee Communication Management. I can't remember much about the piece now, but it was 6,000 words long and began with Steve threatening to strangle a flight attendant with his seat belt.
Once in Dallas, another colleague and I found our midnight way to the grassy knoll, and the moment we found the Zapruder viewpoint, a black limosine passed slowly before us, left to right, and then disappeared under the overpass. So mystical an experience was this, that Ed and I were later nearly arrested for singing the National Anthem at the top of our lungs, in our hotel room.
As I look back over the IABC conferences I've attended, I remember late-night pool swimming-pool sneak-ins, crying rookie writers and a weird all-night TV-watching session with Steve, during which he compared the two of us to "the old grandparents in the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory."
And afterward, always: The inevitable confrontation titled, The Crumpled Receipts, and the Grumpy CFO. "You stupid asses," he would begin.
And I haven't even brought up the annual Sunday night shenanigans at the Canadian hospitality suite.
"It was midnight on Sunday, June 4, in Vancouver, and people were dancing with foam moose antlers on their heads," began my Ragan Report coverage of the 2006 show, one of the last I attended.
People were signing International Association of Business Communicators' Chairman Warren Bickford's T-shirt, with Bickford in it. And a woman was standing before PR consultant Charles Pizzo with a pleading look on her face and a big red wine stain on her Edmonton Oilers hockey sweater.
The notorious annual party at the Canadian hospitality suite was in full swing, and the IABC's 2006 International Conference had officially started. Over the next three days, almost 1,500 communicators would spend three days communing, kibitzing, laughing and even crying together. It was the usual IABC love fest—at least as emotional as intellectual, as important as a symbol of professional togetherness as an honest-to-goodness professional development opportunity.
"Cold water," Pizzo advised the woman.
I could use some of that right now.
Next year, the IABC show is here in Chicago.
I'll be able to walk there (in my Writing Boots).
It's walking home that'll be the trick.