I'm very excited to be off to the 2009 AMIA Conference in St Louis -- not just because of the conference, but also because I'm looking forward to being in St Louis (though maybe not looking forward to how many times I'll have to hear people singing "Meet Me in St Louis"...). Raised on the west coast and living on the east coast, I've always had the sense that I could never live in the midwest because I wouldn't be able to live that far away from an ocean.
I'm sure that's just one of those silly, illogical rules I made up at some point, but even if it is true, I'm glad to be visiting the midwest. My first AMIA was Minneapolis in 2004. My first thought upon considering attending was, "Hm. Minnesota in November. Hm." But it was 2am, I was groggy from working on my thesis for 12 hours straight, and The Pixies were playing in St Paul the week of the conference. I bought my plane and concert tickets and went back to writing.
When I arrived at the conference I was unaffiliated, I knew no one there, and I was staying in a hotel about 2 miles from the conference hotel, which I walked to every morning to save money. Needless to say, I had a fabulous time.
Novice and experienced conference goers spoke to me out of the blue (though wearing my Pixies shirt the day after the conference helped a little), everyone was kind and interested, and the programming from avant garde & restoration screenings to the panels were a revelation to me.
But I was equally grateful for the chance to experience the city. Wandering near and far to find the many museums, happening upon a pho restaurant the night I was feeling under the weather, my early morning trek past the Metrodome in the quiet cold, admiring the industrial brick buildings and classic signage, taking the bus in the dark to St Paul... Every day was something new mixed with the slowly familiar.
Minneapolis in the winter is not what most people associate with "enchanting," but I was smitten. If I hadn't have been trying to move to New York or LA I would have been tempted to start looking for work in Minneapolis. The conference is a touchstone for me, but the city and my memories created there are gemstones.
There are often grumblings about the locations the Conference Committee chooses, that they aren't sunny destinations or don't always seem to be very happening locales. But just like we talk about every piece of media deserving preservation efforts, so too does every city offer precious experiences to those who take the time to inspect more closely. In my short AMIA experience, the Conference Committee and the members in the host cities have done a wonderful job of selecting and creating access to locations that offer up deep culture & history, and Culture & History. Here's to another great one!
--- Joshua Ranger