For the last 30-plus years late June or early July meant a road trip to the Mississippi Gulf Coast — New Orleans a couple of times, and Destin once — for the Mississippi Press Association’s annual summer convention. There’ll be no convention this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is certainly unfortunate that everything, somehow or the other, is adversely affected by COVID-19.
Back in the good ole days. The days before casinos, and then the horrible Hurricane Katrina, conventions were like great big “extended” family vacations. The old Biloxi hotels were some of the grandest around and geared toward families and fun.
The Mississippi Gulf Coast, though, has changed tremendously over the last 30 years. And not always for the better. Back in the ‘80s we still had the Broadwater and the Edgewater hotels and they had the little self-sufficient cottages scattered around the property. Those were my favorites.
One of them, I don’t recall which one — perhaps all of them — had a little swim up bar where you could order a frozen drink to help beat the summer heat.
Another had a small pool below the big pool and a waterfall flowing from the top one to the bottom one. That was a favorite swimming hole of my toddler daughter in the ‘90s.
Then came the casino boom and the old family friendly hotels slowly disappeared and we moved our conventions to The Grand Casino and Hotel for quite a few years. After that the luxurious Beau Rivage reined king of the coast and our convention moved there. As nice as it was, it was still a casino!
In 2005 Hurricane Katrina did her thing, the coast changed again in a way that none of us could have ever imagined and MPA was right there to help in the rebuilding. We did our part by not moving our convention away from the coast the following year as many others did. Instead we convened at the IP Casino and spent our money at the local restaurants that had found the means to reopen.
I remember driving down Beach Boulevard that year and being awed by the complete devastation from that storm nearly a year after she made landfall. And even though the IP was spared, it rained during the 2006 gathering of MPA and water ran pretty freely in the lobby.
In the following years we did leave the coast a couple of times when we met jointly with press associations from surrounding states, but we always returned to Biloxi, in recent years to the Golden Nugget where we were scheduled to gather this year.
Following Katrina, with that level of destruction, and our convention still going on as planned, most members of MPA felt nothing could stop us from getting together each year. If Katrina couldn’t do it nothing could!
Boy were we wrong in that assumption. This mysterious virus that is a plague on the world has stopped the 154th annual convention dead in its tracks.
Honestly, with age and other obligations, over the last few years the trek to the coast and the days of meetings and nights of socializing had become somewhat tiring and not something looked forward to nearly as much as it had been 20, or even 10 years ago. But getting together with old friends and business associates is still something I’ll miss. Strong handshakes, warm hugs, story telling, lies and laughter, I’ll miss that as well.
I won’t miss that old smoky casino, or that funky convention food that seemed to take over after the grand hotels fell to the wayside. Or, I suppose I might. I suppose I would still rather have creamed chicken something, or leathered beef medallions than no option at all!
I guess this is just another unfortunate turn of events brought on by COVID-19. It is something we should probably all start getting used to. The unfortunate turn of events, that is!