This article was written by Dennis Powell. For the original version visit: http://www.athensnews.com/ohio/article-43407-want-to-try-long-dis.html
You may have wondered at one time or another about space flight.
By this I do not mean little hops to low Earth orbit, which is barely space at all, but instead the years-, decades-, even generations-long flights to locations outside our solar system.
Much speculation has been devoted to this topic, all in the realm of science fiction – even that done by scientists is at this point science fiction. Some of the speculation puts the passengers who will populate the far-away planet into a kind of suspended animation (and in movies, this usually goes terribly wrong, leaving one person or a handful of persons all alone in distant space). Some of it has everyone alive and awake, living in conditions we might expect aboard a Russian diesel submarine.
And some proposes enormous spaceships, with fields of growing plants metabolizing carbon dioxide and light into oxygen and food for the journey and providing pleasant places to stroll during the long, long space flight. There might be waterfalls, gathering places, activities suited to a small (or not-so-small) community.
I’ve recently had the opportunity to think about that kind of spaceship, for I have witnessed the closest thing we have to it on our planet today: I have been to a convention.
You, too, may have been to a convention. There are lots of them. Most industries and associations have conventions. There even is an industry made up of people who speak at conventions.
That is a fairly easy profession. Every convention offers about a dozen speeches, usually called “sessions,” on “the state of the industry,” how to get people who owe you money to pay you, how to borrow money at favorable rates, and so on. These topics tend to be industry-agnostic. By changing a few words, the speech for the society of liquid-waste-disposal executives would be just fine for, say, the organization of business incubators (presuming there still is one; I know there used to be).
There are so many conventions that there is probably a convention of the convention industry. Or rather “convention professionals,” as they surely would call themselves.
Conventions have, yes, speeches in common. They also have locations in common. Organizations tend to hold their conventions in exotic or desirable locales – New Orleans, or Miami, Austin perhaps – but if my experience is exemplary, it doesn’t matter where the conventions are.
Here’s why: the convention I attended was in Nashville. Nashville is an interesting place, but if the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center had been located in a bubble in the midst of a toxic-waste dump it would have made no difference. As with an intergalactic spaceship, once one enters, one does not leave.
My colleagues and I arrived on Saturday afternoon and remained there until convention’s end Wednesday morning. That an interesting city was located nearby made no difference, because nobody saw it. (The lone nods toward Nashvilleness were the presence in one of many long corridors of an air studio of the famous WSM Radio, expensive souvenirs that alluded to country music, and expensive drinks that could be purchased in expensive cowboy-boot-shaped plastic mugs that were yours to keep.)
Like the long-haul space vehicles destined to carry humanity to planets unknown, the place is self-contained (by design, I think, the better to relieve you of your money). It covers about 180 acres. It has miles of corridors; I imagine you could run a marathon there without ever going outside and without visiting the same place twice.
It has four jungles, one for each of the connected sections, which are called “Cascades,” “Garden Conservatory,” “Magnolia,” and “Delta.” So there’s room for exercise – indeed, exercise is a requirement; going from one’s room to one’s convention involves a hefty hike and the possibility of getting lost, perhaps forever. (I wondered if search parties were sent out each night to recover the lost and the dead, though the latter might well be consumed immediately by the jungles. Indeed, I bet the warm, moist jungles are a real microbes’ delight during flu season or during outbreaks of other bugs we hear about from time to time. That is another issue not unknown to science fiction.)
There were several conventions underway while we were there, the attendees distinguished by the different styles of name tags worn about the neck. The different conventions offered a variety of entertainment, too. One, something having to do with (deliberately) non-profit companies, placed its live bands in the hallway, where they could be enjoyed by all. Others offered country rockers at deafening volume, making conversing even with the person next to you difficult. This could be trouble during a long space adventure, causing tension between those who get tinnitus and those who do not.
Though I suspect the real concern would be warfare between, say, the Magnolias and the Deltas. The Magnolias have the radio station, while the Deltas have the hamburger joint (pickles are an extra 75 cents and no, I didn’t make that up). The Deltas have an island, though there are many walkways over it, so it’s not especially defensible.
Or it might be that after a few generations, space travelers would get used to the place.
Just as convention speakers surely get used to conventions. Though I do wonder if sometimes they get confused, the way rock bands occasionally do, and begin their presentations by shouting, “Hello, National Cabbage Growers Alliance!” when they’re speaking instead to the American Society of Scrap Metal Collectors. After which that suspended-animation thing would probably sound pretty good.
Editor’s note: Dennis E. Powell was an award-winning reporter in New York and elsewhere before moving to Ohio and becoming a full-time crackpot. His column appears on Mondays. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.