30 Years Of Snapshots Forever In The Credit Union Album
Credit unions have checked out of the Washington Hilton after 30 years, which is a mighty long stay in a hotel. Paid the bill. Said their good-byes. Hilton GAC vets will take with them a million snapshots, forever remembering...
The unseasonably cold weather. The unseasonably warm weather. Not knowing which to pack for...Seeing familiar faces on the escalator on the way down to the trade show. Seeing the same faces on the way back up. Forgetting the same people's names both ways...The Marine Band. Navy Federal execs. An Army of lobbyists. A (Hot) Air Force of congressmen...The long banks of pay phones where once attendees stood in line and then shoulder to shoulder with a finger in one ear to call the office. The same banks of payphones standing empty now, silent sentinels to history and technology. Hundreds of folks walking by staring at cigarette pack-sized devices and asking a question that would have gotten stares at GAC 20 years ago: "Do you have a signal?"...The oval shaped main ballroom whose walls have absorbed three decades of cheers and the tears, ovations and oh no's, the inspiring and the insipid...The blue curtains that flank a stage behind which hidden conference planners have pointed at their watches repeatedly as speakers morphed into virtuosos of verbosity, convinced the audience they can't see from their side of the stage lights is hanging on every word. Audiences just wishing this guy would shut the heck up...The single-ply bathroom tissue used as soundproofing between rooms at the Hilton, where the room temperature would have Satan checking out early because it's just too hot...The vestibule built to protect presidents entering and exiting limousines after John Hinckley shot President Reagan just outside the Hilton...The fleet of buses driving endless loops between conference hotels. The bus drivers patiently answering for the upteen-billionth time, "Does this bus go to...?" which is printed right there for all to see on the side of the bus. Knowing the bus driver is wondering if he shouldn't withdraw his savings from the local credit union if these are the people in charge...Experts from the Fed demonstrating how 2,000 words and 15 minutes can be used to say with great conviction, absolutely nothing. We think. Perhaps. On the other hand...Popcorn in the exhibit hall salvaged from the previous GAC, perhaps even the original meeting...The women working the coat check room who seem to have shrunk to fit their surroundings...The forced intimacy of a smoke-filled, MIA waitress, raucous McClellan's lobby bar (named for a Civil War General who could have never imagined that 150 years later the new Army of the Potomac would wear suit jackets and eat expense-account lunches) that for three days turns into "America's Credit Union Club."...The other grizzled groups of smokers puffing away in the sleet and snow, never wearing jackets and apparently resigned to knowing that if one thing doesn't get you, the other will...Congressmen who know credit unions and speak with conviction and knowledge. Congressmen who have aides whispering in their ears as they approach the stage, "No, no, not labor unions, CREDIT unions."...The worn burgundy carpet crushed by a million heels...Meeting engaged board members and volunteers who know the issues and are CUs' best lobbyists. Overhearing other directors observe they don't know what all this talk of CURIA is, as they served there long enough during the war...The Concourse Deli, where America's not-for-profit credit unions confront the very much for-profit menu prices...The restaurants along Connecticut Ave., where the best part of the menu is that it's within walking distance of the Hilton. Suspecting the concierge recommended the joint because of an entrenched custom in Washington-back-scratching...Thinking you've found every ethnic restaurant choice imaginable, except maybe Burmese. Then finding a Burmese place...The joy of sneaking out for a few hours to take in one of the outstanding museums. The agony of discovering there's a school field trip there on the same day...Walking 10 blocks in any direction before noticing you're still wearing your conference name tag and look like an out-of-town doofus...The lobby-level restaurant that ought to just be named, the "Thisledew," as in, "Do you want to walk down the street and find a place to grab some lunch?" "No, this'll do."...Vendors cast out to the "bubble," fearing they will be all alone for three days only to discover that if you have a tschotchke to give away, credit union folk will find you...The noise of a big city, the quiet neighborhoods hidden away across the street...Dupont Circle, Lafayette Square, the Federal Triangle...Operation This and Operation That...The Supreme Silence a court decision can bring about...The thunderous roar a "Speaker" can bring...The long curving hallways created by the Hilton's unique design...Discovering you can have déjà vu all over again, and again and again.
Frank J. Diekmann is publisher of the Credit Union Journal and can be reached at fdiekmann