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Like a kid in a candy store

R. Kevin Clark
Editor, APWA Reporter

Once a year I get to go to heaven. Well, okay, not the real heaven, but the next best thing.

For me that's when the golf show swings through Kansas City each year. You see, I happen to love the game, even though I'm a lousy golfer. Just how lousy I'm not going to say, and I must confess to being a trifle sensitive about my escalating handicap. In fact, if you happen to bump into me at Congress and ask about my handicap, I'm afraid we'll have to escort you out of the convention center.

The fact is, going to a big-time golf show is a thrill for any golfer, regardless of handicap. The moment I walked into that big hall recently I felt like a kid in a candy store. For starters, hundreds of vendors were set up in their booths, and were more than willing to discuss and demonstrate everything from the latest golf clubs ("You'll never slice one again with this baby") to putting greens and bunkers that can be constructed in our own backyards (well, for the more well-heeled of the attendees, maybe).

There were plenty of educational sessions to benefit everyone as well. To the delight of the average hacker like yours truly, most of these sessions were taught by PGA teaching professionals. One of the excellent sessions I attended dealt with how to knock it close from greenside bunkers—a curious selection for me, admittedly, as the course I usually play is devoid of bunkers (I go to pieces when my spikes touch sand). But it was an enlightening session nonetheless.

There were more actual hands-on activities than you could shake a seven-iron at. My favorite was the "driving range"—actually a large area enclosed by nets—that was set up in the northeast corner of the huge facility. It was here that anyone interested in testing out the latest drivers with clubheads the size of basketballs could step up and show everyone their skills. My own "exhibition" was going just fine until I shanked one that actually went outside the net and nearly wiped out a group of people standing by a doorway. Realizing the organizers' liability insurance probably didn't cover that kind of mishap, I elected to make that my last shot of the day.

The best part about being at the show, at least for me, was the opportunity to talk with people who love golf as much as I do. The networking, the camaraderie if you will, made attending the event a pleasure. Within minutes of meeting folks for the first time I sometimes felt like I'd known them for years, just because we shared a mutual interest and affection for this crazy game. Sort of like Jerry Seinfeld's description of little kids who meet for the first time—when they discover they share a love for cherry cola, they instantly become best friends.

Let's see now: hundreds of exhibits and educational sessions; demonstrations and hands-on activities; and networking and developing relationships. Does any of this sound familiar?

Well, for those of you who have been to the aforesaid Congress, it should. And for you public works professionals who have yet to attend a Congress but would like to—well, I can only tell you that once you're there, you, too, will feel like a kid in a candy store.

The exhibit floor by itself brings members back to Congress year after year. This September in Kansas City there will be more than 100,000 square feet of exhibits where you can view the latest technology and get the expertise from the people who provide that technology to the industry. This equipment show gathers together the greatest, most diversified collection of public works equipment under a single roof on this continent. It truly is one-stop shopping, where virtually every need that is covered in the public works profession is represented on the floor. (Who knows—one idea alone might save your community thousands of dollars.)

The educational program at Congress also makes a huge impression on the attendees. This year there will be more than 150 educational sessions, plus Super Sessions, Roundtable Discussions, Pre- and Post-Congress Workshops, and Technical and Optional Tours (the wrap on this month's issue covers them in detail). Like the educational sessions at the golf show, these sessions are taught by experts in their respective areas—a real benefit to Congress attendees. With so many sessions being presented, the educational program offers the attendees a virtual smorgasbord of topics—from the narrowest to the broadest—from which to choose.

Perhaps the most significant reason to attend our annual conference concerns networking. More than anything, Congress provides the opportunity for public works professionals to gather once a year and discuss the issues relative to public works. To be able to develop relationships with people who have similar interests as you in either the public works profession or the specific trade in which you work is a tremendous benefit. And keep in mind that there are plenty of opportunities at Congress—including the Get Acquainted Party and the Banquet—for renewing old friendships and making new ones.

Ultimately, let me ask you to think about it this way: There will be a total of 52 weeks in 2002. Why not spend just one of them in Kansas City in September? In the whole scheme of things, one week in 52 seems pretty minor. And it could be the best decision you make this year—that particular week will be informative, educational, and a lot of fun to boot. But don't just take my word for it—thousands of annual Congressgoers would attest to that.

Of course, as a side benefit to attending Congress in Kansas City, there's always the barbecue and jazz that our city has to offer. But we'll save that for another issue of the Reporter.

If you haven't already done so, plan now to attend Congress in Kansas City, September 22-25. More than a slogan, Congress truly is The Best Show in Public Works. And for public works professionals, it may be the next best thing to heaven.

For all the details on Congress and to register on-line visit APWA's web resource at www.apwa.net.