There were scads of us---at least 50,000--- probably a lot more. All of us were issued name tags with green neck holders. Everywhere one traveled in San Antonio, there was a sea of name tags and green neck holders. That name tag told me instantly where my new friend was from. I was told that about 90 countries were represented. This was graphically and emotionally depicted Friday night at the opening ceremony SanAntonioConventionAlamoeDomewhen flag bearers from those 90 something countries paraded on the stage to the enthusiastic applause of 50,000 plus of us cheering in the Alamodome. It was expected that when the flags of Mexico, Canada and the United States came forth the crowd would go wild but only at an assembly of A.A.s would you get a rousing, deafening clamor when one Islamic Republic was mentioned. We all knew in our heart of hearts how important it was for the alcoholics of that country to now have this program of recovery. It must have been a hard fought battle to get it started.

We took over downtown San Antonio in what was reported in the local newspapers as the biggest event of its kind in the city's history. With it came lines for everything---long lines for meals, long lines for souvenirs, long lines for Starbucks. It took quite a while to enter and exit the stadium. BUT this A.A. didn't hear one complaint nor did he utter one. Being surrounded by others of this great fellowship, we laughed. We made new friends. We knew we would be finally seated for a meal, we'd get in and out of the stadium and that Starbucks coffee would come soon enough. Such is the power of 50,000 of us gathered together. This writer overheard one San Antonio policeman being asked by another "are there any problems?" To which he replied "well a few jaywalkers, that's about it" and he chuckled. Our attitude was infectious I am sure. Although inundated by A.A.s like swarming bees, waiters, waitresses and service people of all varieties responded in kind with cheeriness. I don't think this was acting, this was the direct result of us carrying a message. We were not a gang of hooligans, even those jaywalkers among us---and I put myself on that list. The only people grumbling might have been the owners of saloons and liquor stores. One enterprising bar owner had a handmade sign out front "Escape the Heat! Non-alcoholic beer here".TheBeerSIgn Somehow I doubt if there were many takers on that. Other merchants adopted a "if you can't beat them join them" attitude and gift shops were offering souvenirs with A.A. slogans on them. So you could buy a huge sombrero, an Alamo knick knack or a Let Go Let God scarf. Ah the best of all possible worlds.

This Long Island A.A. arrived a few days early and sampled the local meetings. One in particular that started at 7:00am was a good indicator of the Texas brand of Alcoholics Anonymous. I was greeted with hugs and handshakes. All they talked about was the International Convention. There was so much excitement in that room. Many in that room had offered their services to be volunteers. In a few days I was to find out there were 4,000 volunteers for the Convention. You couldn't miss them—they all wore green and white t-shirts with the word VOLUNTEER in big letters and the numbers 2010 on the reverse. They were ever present offering assistance and directions---and usually a hardy handshake, a pat on the back or a hug. Even though I got to San Antonio a few days early, I was told volunteers were out in force at the airport with signs saying "Welcome Friends of Bill W."" What a great way to arrive!

We early birds registered on Wednesday which gave us ample time to scope out the layout. The hub of much of the activity was the Henry Gonzalez Convention Center, a huge complex where registration was held and the bulk of the meetings were held. Registration was a snap and the convention center seemed to be one of the few places that didn't seem to have much in the way of lines. The volunteers were—as always –on hand to steer us to the right booths. It was very obvious much thought and planning went into getting things to run so smoothly. The A.A. World Services Archives was a walk away from registration and a fine job indeed was done by that group. This writer had the good fortune to volunteer with the Archives again as he had at the World Convention in 2005 and meet up with Noela and A.A.'s Archivist, Michelle, both of whom he knew from visits to Manhattan. It was great talking to them again and great talking to all the world travelers who strolled in to look at the items on display. Quite a few A.A.s from Long island came up to say hello. It does the heart good to see how many expressed an interest in saving our history.

There were other locations in San Antonio for convention activity. Several hotels offered programming. The Hilton Palacio del Rio had round the clock marathon meetings starting at Midnight on Friday morning. The Grand Hyatt, Marriott Riverwalk, and Westin Riverwalk all offered hospitality suites—as did the Hilton. Walking into any of them was like crashing a party—instant friends. People were handing out pinback buttons. There were banners to sign. There were little snacks to nosh on. Tons of laughter, The Florida hospitality suite had life size cutouts of Dr. Bob and Bill W. dressed in Hawaiian shirts and sunglassesBill and Dr.Bob. All you had to do is stand behind them and someone could snap your photo for posterity. Of course, our good friends from S.E.N.Y. had a hospitality suite. It was wonderful seeing Larry and Amy Lynn, whom this A.A. remembers from the great work they do with their Archives.

With registrationRegistration Sign out of the way, it was time to explore San Antonio a little. It's a great city, home of the Alamo. During the next few days, more A.A.s surrounded the Alamo than did Santa Anna's troops back in 1836. However, our intentions were far more peaceful. The Riverwalk is another great local attraction---a network of waterways beautifully created with shops and restaurants on both sides. Many of us opted to take the narrated boat ride. Some of us also opted to take in the only downtown afternoon Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. Called the Travis Park Group, it normally accommodated a small devoted group of between 6 and 12 each day. Well the day I went there were over 300 of us! We spilled out into two rooms, so the dilemma was brought to the pastor's attention and we were allowed to use the church itself. It was a great meeting and we were told the group daily would do a 50-50 with the money collected in the basket. 50 percent for the group's expenses and 50 percent to the church. Well the church hit the jackpot this week. That evening a few us took in the play, Bill W. and Dr. Bob, which happened to be playing down the road a spell. Great performances! I missed the show when it played a few years ago off Broadway. Even though I knew how the play ends it still was a great theatrical experience.

The theme of this year's convention was A Vision for You and the kick-off event was the Thursday night Party in the Park. The weather was not wholly cooperative with us, with scattered rain trying its darnedest to put the damper on our spirits. You think that stopped us? If long lines at Starbucks didn't do it, the rain stood no chance at all. We all moved inside the convention center and boogied the night away to the accompaniment of a great rock band. Any outsiders looking at the hundreds (thousands?) of us having a grand old time would have thought for sure we must be on something. Now that is some vision for you, especially those in the throes of this horrible disease. It is possible to have tons of fun, to lead a productive happy life without ever having to drink again. That vision seemed impossible to this dancing fool once upon a time. No more. The sky's the limit in sobriety.

The meetings began Friday. From 9:00am until 5:00pm, there was some kind of topic meeting going on. There were many choices to choose from at the massive convention center. At 9:30 on Friday for example, one could opt for Anonymity: Our Spiritual Foundation, Carrying the Message to Older Alcoholics, Fear as A Stepping Stone, Lesbian/Gays in A.A., Let It Begin With Me, Letting Go of Old Ideas, Tolerance and Trust or Young People in A.A. Nice selections to ponder and if other people were like me, it was like trying to pick a meal at a favorite restaurant. You know there are all good…but which one? I'd waver back and forth. I'll go to this one---er---well maybe that one and on and on. I could observe people everywhere poring over their programs faced with the same quandary. To add to the dilemma, however there were other meetings scheduled at the Hilton Palacio Del Rio. Plus there was the Al-Anon scheduling all day long at the Marriott River Center. Let's not forget the Grapevine plays throughout the day at the Hilton El Mirador. People who think this recovery business is easy, don't know the half of it. The one reassuring fact was there was no way of making a poor choice. The speakers were outstanding. It might be a good idea right now to mention that there were also French and Spanish sessions every time slot with German, Italian, Polish and Japanese interspersed.

Friday night brought us all into the Alamodome. Hooting and hollering, it was a joy to behold the raw enthusiasm. At various points we were all doing the wave as it went around this huge stadium. Imagine if you will a championship game of some sorts without any rowdy, obnoxious behavior. 50,000 plus people and not a single beer sale. That has to be some type of record. As a group we were respectful of others but enjoying ourselves to the fullest.

As mentioned earlier, the Friday night big event had the very moving flag presentation where 90 flag bearers from 90 countries paraded forth down on the stage. It is truly amazing how two people bonding way back in 1935 out of desperation to stop drinking has evolved into this world wide phenomenon. After the flags came three wonderful speakers sharing experience, strength and hope. This tired A.A. went back to his hotel room, passing up the opportunity of another night of music and boogieing, feeling a spiritual high but the body just couldn't take any more. That was enough for one day and happily so. Saturday kicked off another round of meetings. This intrepid traveler trekked from the convention center to the various hotels to check out both the A.A. and Al Anon offerings with a few stops in the hospitality rooms along the way. Sometime in the afternoon the notorious hot San Antonian heat appeared, complete with sun and hot is not quite the word to describe. Ironically I was to find out when I got home that Long island was braced in the middle of a heat wave. Did that stop us? Of course not. A few of us decided to take in the views, do some shopping, grab a bite to eat and make friends. Great ways to recharge the battery while awaiting tonight's Alamodrome events.

Once again this ocean of people entered the Alamodrome. The programming was to start at 8:00pm but some of us were entering three hours early---many learned from the night before if you didn't show up early you ended up in the nose bleed section of the bleachers. Not that anyone would be unable to view the proceedings. Giant screens projected everything. A balloon was floating around to pass it on. Down on the floor, an ICYPAA banner was being snaked through the crowds. It was wonderful to see all these young people enjoying life with this unbridled enthusiasm. The young people were a contrast to all the old timers who were the focus of tonight's happenings. Here was A.A.'s past and future combined in the glorious present.

We were told that 575 people seated down in the reserved section had more than 40 year's sobriety. Ten of these would have their names selected from a hat and be invited up to speak for 10 minutes each. But first there would be the countdown. We ran the gamut from three days---who received a rousing ovation---to sixty three years. We would find out that many more people than those seated down below had more than forty years. There was one with fifty plus years in my section way, way up there. As the emcee announced the years over the loud speaker…"forty-nine, fifty, fifty one…" we were going wild cheering this man on. I think somewhere around fifty one he sat down. It was amazing. A few of us were also cheering on Jimmy C. from East Northport Valley with 40 years, hoping he might be one of the chosen speakers. He wasn't but those who were each gave short drunkalogs. Some were hilarious. Some were very touching. All were inspiring. I doubt if there any of us who walked out of that stadium unmoved by this incredible experience.

All things must pass. This A.A. from Long Island had an early flight booked for Sunday morning and would miss the closing ceremony. There was no sense letting this narrative just end abruptly like a cliffhanger, so I found someone who did attend the last day. Walter from St. James related that the final event had several more speakers. What he did say was that there were gospel singers the likes of which he had never heard before. 'It was like having the hair at the back of my head stand up on edge".

Every five years, Alcoholics Anonymous celebrates its founding with an incredible party. In 2015 Atlanta, Georgia will be hosting this shindig. Here's hoping all of you can head down south them and join in our grand birthday celebration. From up above two fellows named Dr. Bob and Bill W., no doubt are looking down, shaking their heads and saying "who would have thought". While scads of us are looking up in the direction of those two guys looking down and saying: "thanks guys, you saved my life". See y'all in Atlanta

 

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