"Americans are joiners.

"And every association has its conventions, conferences, retreats, assemblies, seminars, convocations, or meetings.

"Every city in the United States has a complex of convention facilities, and these facilities are associated with some kind of entertainment district. Las Vegas and Disneyworld/Orlando are extreme examples, but almost every city worth its salt has a convention center of some kind, connected to the development of the Old Town or the riverfront or some theme such as the Wild West or country music — something combining play and nostalgia.

"Convention centers have become a version of the medieval cathedral, which was built with some religious purpose, of course, but of equal importance, to give status to the community, to provide jobs, to attract trade fairs, tourists, and business.

"Convention centers are the basilicas of secular religion.

"What's this all about?

"We associate with other people like us to affirm ourselves. We come for people reasons, not professional reasons. Loneliness is one great burden of being a solitary human being. To spend time in the company of others who have our concerns, values, interests, beliefs, or occupation is to get confirmation of who we are — to feel connected to a larger image of ourselves.

"It's true that many gatherings seem concerned only with business — with products, sales, and economic gain. What's wrong with that? What we do for a living defines much of who we are, and being with other people who make and sell potato peelers or whatever is no less important to those who come together than any other event that draws people together. The judgment of the value of the convention is made by those who are involved, not outsiders who see only the surface.

"Consider the typical annual convention of any association.

"On the surface of it, we come together to accomplish work, to share ideas, to make plans to lobby society or government on our common behalf. Every gathering, regardless of size, has a formal agenda — a program. Every gathering has business to do, speakers to hear, products to consider, and officers to elect. This work is the stated justification for the gathering. Serious purpose. A way of saying to ourselves that who we are and what we do is important.

"Less publicly apparent is another agenda. We go to get away from home and office — to get a break from the ruts and be off the hook of daily routine. We go to see friends and comrades or be with wives and husbands, or to get away from same. We go to play golf or be a bit of a tourist — to see New Orleans or San Francisco or wherever.

"We go to get new ideas, new energy, confirmation of who we are and what we do. This is recreation. A serious word — re-creation — a re-newal of self. If a convention is truly successful, this is what happened to you."