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Conventions: Symptoms of electile dysfunction?

I thought I lived in a house, but now know I was living under a rock – at least when it came to the great American institution of conventions. Until recently, all I encountered were the conventions put on by elephants and donkeys – the political conventions – which I discovered as a kid watching snowy TV pictures coming in under a set of rabbit ears.

Viewing the vintage political conventions of both parties – well, that was when I starting doubting the intelligence of adults – all those silly hats and the cheering of feel-good speeches whose content was as light as a passing cloud. (I had a content detector even back in 6th grade.) I thought some of the speakers made Milton Berle look like Socrates. So, back in grade school, I developed a prejudice against conventions. The behavior of conventioneering adults made me not look forward to growing up.

The Changing of a Mind



There’s nothing like actual experience to change a mind harboring a fossil prejudice. Last week, at the national convention of the AARP in Washington, I learned there are interesting conventions, meetings where people actually learn things and come out at the end better for the experience. OK, pooped from all the walking and the over-stimulation of 30,000 new buddies, but better.

Maybe I should get out of the house more, but I was blown away by the grandly scaled and beautiful Washington convention center. Imagine an exhibition floor as large as seven football fields and that was just the bottom floor. There were others that harbored a ballroom and a theater, meeting rooms, lounges, grand art-filled halls and most important, enough bathrooms so that one never ever had to wait. (Men may not get this, but women know the importance of no-wait rest rooms.)




So What Was There for the Learning?

What wasn’t there? You could learn about budget travel and retiring abroad, about foods that will keep you young, about fixing your digital photos and also about online dating, cruising in China, senior sex from Dr. Ruth in person and so much more, it would take all of today’s paper to relate. But if you wanted to find your dream job, learn about current brain research, catch up on what’s new in eye care, find out what to see in Ireland or where to take an art course in Mexico, someone was there to tell you.

There were sections on tech – computers lined up classroom style if you wanted to learn to use one better (or at all). Also, representatives from about every government agency you could name, plus info on Medicare literacy, financial smarts, building communities for successful aging and lots of fun stuff besides. Example: There was a three-band night club the first evening just to get people rocking and rolling, but by dinnertime all I wanted was a room service cheeseburger and bed. (If there is a late night party to poop, just ask me.)

Celebrity City

Now, if you wanted to see Paul Simon in concert or perhaps Natalie Cole, Ramsey Lewis or Chicago, you could. Regis Philbin was there as were Shirley MacLaine, Maya Angelou, Quincy Jones and the newly famous Young@Heart Chorus, average age 81. Martina Navratilova was present to start off your morning with a fitness session and Chaka Khan was there to sing goodnight. Even Grass Valley had its reps: Both Carole Carson and I gave speeches and were interviewed by John Palmer on Retirement Living Television, though the expo was so big, Carole and I never saw each other.

I did get to meet about 1,894 other people, mostly at Gallo’s Livingston Cellars booth, where, as a spokesperson, I helped introduce many Easterners to the virtues of California wine and, as an author, inflicted all who showed up with my book, Hot Granny. I also met the people who run AARP publications, so now there are faces on the masthead names that put together the magazine appearing regularly in our mailboxes.

But, by Saturday afternoon, with a tropical storm adding its own excitements, people began tearing down the hundreds of exhibits on the Expo floor. It was as if an entire city was being dismantled. However, like Brigadoon, AARP’s National Event and Expo will rise again in 2009 – this time in Las Vegas.

So, next year, I’m saving October 22-24 for a (gulp!) convention. You can find out more at aarp.org/events or call 1-800-883-2784.

And now I’ve got to go vacuum my office. The floor is littered with discarded opinions.

Mel Walsh is a gerontologist and certifiable geezerina. Her book of advice for older women, Hot Granny, is available at The Book Seller in Grass Valley and online at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.


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