It was the summer of 1984. Vanessa Williams surrendered her Miss America crown after appearing in Penthouse, the Soviet submarine K-278 Komsomolets submerged to a record depth of 1,020 meters, and Ray Parker's "Ghostbusters" was at the top of the Billboard charts. As for me, I was 16 and full of hopes and dreams that have long since been squashed and ground into a fine dust. I had been a member of IPMS Ocala (Florida) for a couple of years and had heard about something called the IPMS National Convention, so when the guys talked about its being held in Atlanta, I was more than a little interested in going.
I was earning $3.60/hour at Kash 'n' Karry, so money was tight. Going by myself was out of the question. I had to rely on the generosity of a club member to extend an invitation, but with most of them making a family vacation out of the trip, my options were shrinking. Lucky for me one of the members was single and had plans to go, and he invited me to tag along. Unfortunately, like me, he was short of funds, too, so he told me we’d have to “wing it” in terms of accommodations. No problem; I was young and free of any standards, so I would manage. If teens just two years older than me could backpack through Europe, surely I could make an eight-hour trip to a city just one state away.
Jim showed up Thursday morning to pick me up…in a white van. Yes, a creepy white van. The kind of van usually owned by ne'er-do-wells. I wasn’t sure whether it would make the trip (in fact, I seem to remember it overheating on the return leg), but again, young and adventurous, right?
Fortunately the trip to Atlanta was uneventful, and on entering the convention hotel parking lot we immediately knew we were at the correct hotel when we saw guys walking around with their arms full of models. To this day, when I arrive at a contest I eagerly look for that first guy to confirm I'm at the right place.
Inside it was like Christmas morning. Everything I’d been enjoying about the hobby for the last few years was multiplied by a factor of ten. What I remember most about the contest was the quality of the models. Not to take away anything from my friends in my old club, but the models in the Nats were far beyond anything I’d seen before.
Models were everywhere, from the contest room to the vendors room. In fact, the hotel couldn’t accommodate the many vendors that had arrived, so a dozen or more guys were stacking kits in their hotel rooms, and the attendees were walking down the halls going room to room to browse and mingle. I remember there being a ton of bargains, which is rare these days. I think I went home with 30 kits and probably spent less than $100 on them. Yeah, times have changed!
Those hotel rooms were the closest we got to fine accommodations that weekend. Jim and I wound up sleeping, you guessed it, in the back of his van. He parked in a remote spot of the hotel parking lot, and we saved ourselves $200. Looking back it was incredibly strange, but teenagers do all sorts of crazy things without thinking twice.
Several months later I was surprised to see in the IPMS Update (the forerunner of the Journal) that I was caught in a candid shot in Atlanta. That's me on the right, with my giant, old lady, flower shopping bag my mother had given me. No, I will not be using that bag in Loveland!