One thing dominated my whole trip and colored my perceptions of everything else, and that was that I had headaches pretty much the whole time, ranging from mildly annoying to so bad it wasn't possible to actually enjoy anything. There were good things about the trip, and there were unfortunate things about it, and it's hard for me to tell how I would balance those things if I had been feeling normal, but the way I actually experienced it the trip was a big disappointment.
By the time I staggered off the shuttle after the hour-long ride to the Frontier, I had pretty much had it for Wednesday.
Thursday I got up later than I'd planned, to discover that around 20 of the refrigerator magnets I brought along to sell for EFRC had gone missing. Partly my fault, for having left them on the table in the hospitality room without a sign saying that they were for sale; some people may have thought I meant them to be free. That evening we had a "welcome" reception, with lamer-than-I-expected hors d'oeuvres. The only high point was that Fred, who didn't believe in wearing his badge and whose last name didn't stick the one time I heard it, brought a two month old caracal who was fairly friendly and handleable and of course extremely cute. One of the major disappointments of the weekend was that that was the only exotic cat anyone brought.
Friday was the day scheduled to see things in Las Vegas. We started out with the biggest disappointment of the whole trip: our private behind-the-scenes tour of Siegfried and Roy's Secret Garden ended up not getting to see anything but the normal public areas, because the person who was supposed to be giving us the behind-the-scenes tour wasn't there and the people who ended up in charge of us didn't have the authority to take us where we were supposed to go. I'm waiting for a public explanation and apology on that one. Then we took the monorail from the Mirage to the MGM Grand, for lunch at the Rainforest Cafe and a visit to the Lion Habitat. I was a lot happier about the Lion Habitat that with the Secret Garden, because at the latter, we hadn't been promised anything more than the ordinary public experience, so I was free to concentrate on what the tourists were supposed to see, which is pretty cool. Then we went to the Tropicana for the Rick Thomas show, which is very well staged and entertaining, even though you don't get to see nearly as much of his tigers as I'd like to. That was the end of the planned activities; I tagged along with a group of people, sightseeing on the Strip, taking in free shows, shopping at the Endangered Species Store in the Desert Passage, and by the time we made it back to the hotel it was 11:30 and I was beat.
Saturday was the speakers' presentations, beginning with Rick Thomas, who gave a very moving presentation about his own history working with cats and some of his views about commercial exploitation of cats. I think he's very serious both about treating his own cats right and about helping cats in general, and I have hopes he'll be able to be a real help in the fight. The other speakers were interesting and informative, even if they don't have the charisma Rick Thomas has; unfortunately, the schedule slipped so badly that, even though one of the speakers had been unable to attend, another one was unable to give her talk.
The Saturday night banquet went fairly well. The food was was good by banquet standards, and pretty good by absolute standards. The awards were short, since there's only one real award that matters; Tracy Wilson won the Lottie award for outstanding service to exotic cats, and it's clearly well deserved, given that she's led multiple tours to Ecuador, done lots of other work to support the Playa de Oro Reserva de Tigrillos, and kept on improving the husbandry course, going beyond expectation in both halves of her role as Director of Education and Conservation even while her husband is in Iraq and she's been suffering from a debilitating disease that would leave most people a wreck. The auction was long (despite my initial hopes that it would be short, based on a pretty small amount of stuff that had been on display earlier in the convention) and disorganized, but eventually ended. I hope to provide some help next year in getting the auction organized more like an SF convention art auction, but part of the problem is that JB Anderson is a great guy and a tolerable MC, but he's not a good auctioneer. I wonder if we could find someone better and ease JB out of the role without offending him.
The location of next year's convention was also announced at the banquet: Miami. Given that the convention will be held at the same time next year, I can only wonder what they were smoking. 105° temperatures in Las Vegas were unpleasant, but 105° temperatures with 105% humidity in Miami will mean no outdoor activities at all. Combining the weather with the fact that it's about the only place east of the Rockies that's not reasonably drivable (and what my coworker Lippold says is the worst airport in the country), it will take a lot to get me to go next year.
The Sunday farewell breakfast provided awful food (pre-assembled plates of bacon, eggs, and hash browns) in an unpleasant setting (it was served in Gilley's, the bar), but I did manage to make arrangements to share a taxi to the airport. After checking out of the hotel, it seemed like the airport would be a better place to sit around and read than the casino, and there wasn't enough time to really do anything and still have as much time as you're supposed to allow for getting through security; plus, I didn't want to try wandering around Las Vegas with my luggage.
I didn't manage to meet Steven Brust; the early part of the trip when I had time, I was feeling much too miserable; later, when I might have considered doing something that wasn't absolutely necessary, I didn't have any free time except late at night; and the convention activities started too early in the morning once things got going to try to do anything late at night, since I was already having enough trouble without going seriously short on sleep.