Saturday, October 23, 2010

Southwest Fox 2010: Getting Ready

As per usual, Rick Schummer, his wife Therese, Tamar Granor, her husband Marshal, and I arrived in Phoenix on Tuesday, Oct. 12 to get ready for this year’s Southwest Fox conference. We spent Tuesday doing our usual errands: picking up shirts (speaker shirts, conference t-shirts, and polo shirts for those who’d ordered them), picking up sign boards for the rooms, etc. We also met Harold Wong of Microsoft to pick up some giveaways he offered us: a wireless keyboard and mouse, a copy of Windows 7, pens, etc.

While it seemed like we were doing our usual things this year, there were some differences. The main one is that I was keeping a big secret from Rick: while I’d previously told him that Lisa Slater Nicholls was the recipient of the 2010 FoxPro Lifetime Achievement Award, I didn’t tell him that he was also a recipient. This lead to a little bit of anxiety for me: I ordered the awards for the Lifetime Achievement recipients but also for the VFPX Administrators Award, which he was going to hand out. All of our materials are shipped to Frank Perez Sr. (the father of Frank Perez, one of Rick’s employees), who lives in the Phoenix area. Frank Sr. usually delivers the items Tuesday night. Last year, Rick didn’t call me when Frank Sr. arrived and instead loaded everything into his room. I was worried that Rick would see the awards box, open it, and spoil the surprise. Fortunately, Rick and Therese’s room was pretty full with boxes of shirts and materials they’d brought, so I innocently volunteered my room to hold the stuff Frank delivered. Besides, I told Rick, I needed to inventory the raffle prizes sent by the various sponsors.

I was also planning to keep it a secret from Therese, but a golden opportunity presented itself: Rick’s parents, Phil and Carole, were also in Phoenix so they could go to Sedona with Rick and Therese after the conference. It would be perfect if his parents could be there when I presented the award to Rick, so I told Therese about it and she promised to make sure they were at the closing session.

With all the plans in place, we went for a great dinner at the Cheesecake Factory (becoming a Tuesday night tradition with us), including Rick’s parents and Rick Strahl, who was in town for his pre-conference West Wind Web Connection training. As usual, we all turned in early because we had a long day; in Rick’s case, there was no Monday night as he didn’t sleep at all getting ready to leave.

We started Wednesday with a very nice breakfast at the hotel, then met the hotel staff for a briefing. I was a little nervous (which as you may start to realize was an ongoing thing for me this year) because we’d changed hotels very late in the game due to financial problems at our previous location. We’d been at the Arizona Golf Resort the past three years and their excellent service and commitment to ensuring things were perfect for us set the bar very high. That coupled with the fact that the new location, the Legado Hotel and SanTan Conference Center, had only been open for two months and we were their first large conference made me wonder how things would turn out. However, I was impressed at our meeting with the staff: in addition to the people we’d be dealing with daily (Monique, the head of catering, Keith, the operations manager, and the chef whose name I unfortunately forget), the general manager of the hotel and the owner of the property were both there.

We then started organizing for the conference: getting binders put together (we only needed 25 this year because most people went for the green option: the online conference guide), getting projectors set up, assembling bags, going over the opening and closing session contents, and so forth. We also discovered the first benefit of the new location: it’s very close to a large mall with a ton of restaurants, and there’s a free shuttle to and from the mall. We had a very nice lunch at the Paradise Bakery, which specializes in sandwiches, soup, and salads.

We spent the afternoon continuing our preparations, and started to see how committed the staff was to making sure things went well for us. In fact, over the next few days, we discovered that many of the staff worked longer hours than we did. We joked that they must have cots set up because we’d see Monique and Keith before 7:00 a.m. and after 10:00 p.m. at the conference center.

That evening, we met some of the attendees and speakers who started to arrive for the pre-conference day. We ended going out for dinner with a fairly large group at the Brio Italian restaurant at the mall. The meal and company were excellent. Thanks to Dave Hanna for being a good sport, making multiple trips between the hotel and mall with his car to accommodate all of us.

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