ADHA and NEHA: A Travel Diary

(Editor’s note: In addition to Paul King, APP President James Weber will also be contributing to BME on what will hopefully be a regular basis. As a means of staying abreast of and maintaining healthy relationships with various spheres in the medical community, APP members can often be found at conventions and conferences that may not ostensibly relate directly to piercing itself. In this piece, James visits two such conferences.)

Thursday, June 19

6 a.m., Philadelphia, PA: My alarm goes off. My lover/ride-to-the-airport doesn’t even move. I have to get up now to make my 8:20 flight. I wonder why I agree to do these conferences.

8 a.m., Philadelphia International Airport (PHL): My flight is delayed one hour. Shit.

11:15 a.m., Tucson International Airport (TUS): Since my first flight was delayed, my one-hour layover is now a 15-minute layover. I grab a disgusting chicken sandwich from the only food counter without a line, grab a bottle of water and run to my flight. I’m so hungry I’m angry, and I’m really wondering why I do these conferences.

Photo credit: James Weber

2 p.m., Albuquerque International Sunport (ABQ): I finally land. The chicken sandwich sits like a weight in my stomach; I managed to sleep very little on either of my flights; it feels wonderful to get off the plane. Crystal’s employee, Angela, picks me up at the airport, curbside. In her silver Honda Civic she has the huge box with the booth and a second large box with the art for the booth filling the back seat, pushing our seats forward. The trunk is filled with nine boxes of brochures, posters, magazines, pens, stickers and everything else needed to set up the APP booth. We have three hours to get to the convention center and set up everything for the exposition at the American Dental Hygienist’s Association (ADHA) conference, which starts tomorrow.

It’s hot as hell. It was light jacket weather when I left Philadelphia, and it’s in the mid-nineties here now. Angela and I drive around and finally find a place to unload. The boxes, while not too unwieldy in moderate weather, are unbearably heavy in the heat. I wait on the sidewalk in the hot sun with the boxes while Angela parks the car.

The booth set-up is easy; I’ve done it often enough, and air conditioning makes anything easier. We escape by about 4 p.m. and head to Evolution, where Crystal warmly greets me in the parking lot in back — I feel a lot better. We head to her house — it is very red — and then go out to eat. She goes out, and I stay at her apartment to check my email; I’m soon asleep on her sofa.

Photo credit: James Weber

Friday, June 20

6 a.m.: I’m awake. My body still thinks it’s in Philadelphia — actually, I don’t think my body knows where the hell it is.

9 a.m.: Crystal and I arrive — a little late — to the convention center. The expo is already overflowing with people as we make our way to the booth and hastily set up the APP material: brochures, including four new Spanish-language ones; posters; procedure manuals, both hard copy and disc; pens and stickers; and about ten different issues of The Point. (The back issues of The Point are always eye-catching, and make me very proud.) As we set up, we’re swamped with people asking questions, wanting information, thanking us for being there. I remember: this is why I love these conferences.

10 a.m.: As a representative from the ADHA introduces herself — thanking us once again for being there — a small gaggle of people slowly walks towards us, deferentially surrounding an old woman as she makes her way down the aisle. As she comes nearer, I am told, with a tone of reverence, that the woman making her way to us is the “Queen of the dental hygienists.” Before she could say more, the woman reaches us and is ushered behind our table and into our booth space. Evidently, the juxtaposition of a septuagenarian dental hygienist posing with two tattooed and pierced exhibiters is a photo opportunity not to be missed.

She poses, flanked by Crystal and I, while our picture is taken. After the first set of photos, she looks at the booth behind her to see where she is — not out of mental frailty, but as someone important enough that they were used to being shuttled from one photo opportunity to the next without having to concern herself with more than being diplomatic. We were motioned together for a second set of photos, and as my hand brushes against hers she grabs it and holds it tightly with the kind of clasp that can only come from someone older, someone who has no time for worrying about misunderstanding, who holds your hand as though there could be no other reason for that grip than pure warmth and understanding. I immediately know why everyone held her in such regard, why she commanded such respect. After the pictures are taken, she turns to me and says, simply but earnestly, “I don’t like tongue piercings.” She says it in such a way that I don’t hold it against her, as I know she doesn’t hold it against me.

She then slowly walks away, followed by her entourage, her court. This was my experience meeting Dr. Esther Wilkins.

Photo credit: James Weber

Saturday, June 21

10 a.m.: Crystal and I arrive just as the exposition hall opens on the second day.

From the several ADHA representatives that stop by the booth, we get information on attendance: There are approximately 1,300 attendees this year — the highest figure they’ve ever had, with 300 of those being students — up from about 100 last year.

The response we receive is amazing. It may have been the increase in attendance, the spike in the number of students, or the fact this is our second time exhibiting, but people are very enthusiastic about our presence there.

(It’s also worth noting that, with the huge booths from Colgate, Johnson and Johnson [makers of Listerine], Tom’s of Maine, etc., and dozens of other manufacturers selling everything from medical instruments to office lighting, we’re the only booth not selling anything — not anything besides information.)

The encouraging part of the day isn’t talking to new people — to people that haven’t heard of us — but to people who already have. Repeatedly, people come up and talk about how they had done a presentation on the topic of piercing for their school, for other students, at a local health conference, for the local health board; how they had been involved in education on some level and how invaluable our material was to them.

4 p.m.: Angela helps me break down the booth and pack up for the next leg of the trip — Tucson.

Photo credit: James Weber

Sunday, June 22

6:30 a.m.: As Crystal and I are driving to pick up the rental car we run out of gas. Completely. The car simply sputters and dies as we’re going down the road. It seems that Crystal has been hanging her ADHA badge on the steering column — over the fuel gauge — and she simply hasn’t noticed how little gas we had left. Luckily, the two-lane access road is deserted (it’s early Sunday morning) and the car comes to a stop at the curb about a quarter-mile from the rental car lot. While Crystal waits for her business partner/ex-husband to come with gas (we owe him a BIG favor), I hoof it to the lot and pick up the car. Crystal joins me shortly, we transfer the booth and boxes to the rental and I’m back on the road a little after 7 a.m.

12 p.m.: I’ve been barreling through the desert for five hours. My only stop was a Denny’s in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. My soundtrack so far has consisted of Hank Williams, the O’ Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack and Bob Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde and Highway 61 Revisited. Things are good — until I realize the fuel gauge is on “E.” Fuck — twice in one day. I hear Caitlin in my head: After I told her the drive would be an “adventure,” she replied that it’s only fun until you run out of gas on the highway 50 miles from anywhere in the hot sun and they find you dead on the side of the road, your corpse picked over by vultures. (Actually, she didn’t mention the vultures, but they were certainly implied.)

The last sign I remember seeing was a “Last Rest Stop For 78 Miles” sign. How long ago was that? I’m going a steady 90 mph now and sweating, a little from the nervousness but more from the fact that I’ve turned off the air to conserve gas, and it’s 105 degrees outside. And I have no cell phone reception out here.

I finally see a sign: “Wilcox — 10 miles.” Please let me make it. Please, please, please, please … I make it the 10 miles to the exit, and I see another sign: “Wilcox – 4 miles.” It seems it was 10 miles to the exit. Shit. I make it to what I assume is Main Street — Wilcox isn’t much more than a stop on the highway — and with great relief I roll into a gas station. Whew …

2 p.m.: I arrive at the Tucson airport as Didier’s plane from San Diego is landing. We have three hours to find the convention hotel and set up the booth.

3 p.m.: We find the convention hotel — it’s a huge Hilton “resort” — and we find the hotel where we are registered. They were supposed to be close, but are four miles apart. It’s now 110 degrees. We decide to hold on to the rental car.

4 p.m.: We arrive at the expo hall. The other exhibitors give us “the eye” as we set up. It’s the annual meeting of NEHA, the National Environmental Health Association, and the hall is full of health inspectors and others who deal with public health and policy. It’s the APP’s first time here, and we’re not quite sure what to expect. They don’t know what to make of us either. We quickly set up the booth and the table and high-tail it out of there. We have to be back for the expo opening and “party” at 6 p.m., and we’re already exhausted and drenched in sweat. It’s 112 degrees outside.

6 p.m.: Didier and I open the doors and walk into the expo hall, and it’s like the scene out of Animal House where they go to the bar in the “wrong” part of town: Conversation stops and all eyes are on us. (I imagine the silverware dropping and a needle going “scrrrrrrtt” over a record as the music stops.) It’s a long walk from the doors to the table …

We set ourselves up and wait. (We’re right in front of the door — you can’t overlook us.)
The attendees start to slowly trickle in, and then we are deluged with people. Everyone, it seems, is working on legislation/policy/protocol in their state/county/city dealing with body piercing. We give away the majority of our material in two hours. They love The Point. They grab handfuls of the brochures. They take the CD manuals like they’ve been handed the scriptures. (Well, that may be a bit of an exaggeration, but they are incredibly appreciative.)

I meet a health inspector from Florida who I’ve previously talked to only by phone. I talk to inspectors from Colorado and Albuquerque that have already worked with APP representatives on policy. I talk to people who have never heard of us but promise to contact us — and they will.

It was absolutely amazing, and this was only the first three hours.

9 p.m.: The expo closes, and Didier and I grab our things and head back to our hotel, as the floor opens again on Monday at 8 a.m. It is a little cooler outside — only 103 degrees.

Photo credit: James Weber

Monday, June 23

8 a.m.: After a hurried breakfast at the hotel consisting of a precooked omelette and stale pastries, Didier and I arrive at the opening of the expo. Most other attendees are complaining about the early start time. I, however, am still on East Coast time; I was up at 4:30 a.m.

The second day is much less busy than opening night, but the people to whom Didier and I speak at length are no less appreciative of our presence or the work we do. We meet with representatives from Arizona, New Mexico, Florida, Alaska, Georgia, New Jersey, Washington DC, Utah, Minnesota, Oregon, Washington, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arkansas, Massachusetts, Alabama, Indiana, Michigan, New York, Maryland, Ohio, Illinois, Nebraska, Colorado, Montana, British Colombia and Great Britain. (This may not be a complete list, but it’s what Didier and I could recall after brainstorming in our hotel room.) Many of these people are directly responsible for either the inspection of body art establishments or the policies or legislation that governs and informs those inspections.

The most memorable thing I hear comes from a woman from Montana, who talks about regulations and inspections in her state. She thanks us for our efforts as an organization and closes by saying, “We couldn’t have done it without your help,” which just about knocks me over.

The stated mission of the APP is to disseminate information about body piercing to piercers, health care professionals, legislators, and the general public. As piercers, we will most likely never all fly the same flag, and the crusade to educate the public is just at the beginning of a long and hard road. But health care professionals now know who we are and where to find us; my trips to the annual conferences of APHA (the American Public Health Association), ACHA (the American College Health Association), and ADHA (the American Dental Hygienists’ Association) have proven that to me. The reception that Didier and I received at NEHA showed that we are succeeding with legislators as well. “We couldn’t have done it without your help” speaks volumes.

2 p.m.: The expo closes, and Didier and I pack up the booth and load the car. (The temperature gauge in the car says 116 degrees; we can’t tell if that means outside or inside the car.) We head to the Post Office to ship what few supplies we have left to San Diego along with the booth in preparation for the APHA conference at the end of October, and then drive the hour to the airport for Didier to catch his flight. I don’t leave until tomorrow morning, so after dinner I head back to the hotel to finish my blog of the trip and prepare for an early bedtime. I will not be leaving the comfort of the room or the air conditioning again until I leave for the airport tomorrow morning — I have to return the rental car before 6 a.m., so I’ll be up at 4:30 yet again.

Photo credit: James Weber

While this may not be the typical experience manning the APP booth at health conferences, it’s certainly not unusual. As part of our outreach to the medical community, the APP has a yearly presence at the annual conferences for the American Public Health Association (APHA) and the American College Health Association (ACHA). As of last year we added attendance at the American Dental Health Association (ADHA) conference, and this year was our first time at the National Environmental Health Association (NEHA) conference as well. While there is a significant time commitment involved in volunteering (and with my new duties as President I may not be able to attend as many in the future as I may have hoped) they are tremendously rewarding, for they give you the opportunity to talk face-to-face with people who are directly affected by the outreach we do, the material we provide, and the education we offer. Like most work on behalf of the APP, it can be incredibly hard, but the rewards more than make up for it. Many thanks to all who have helped represent the APP all over the country through the years, and thanks in advance to those set to do it in the future.]

Copyright © The Association of Professional Piercers. Reprinted on BME with permission. Articles in this column are published simultaneously in The Point: The Quarterly Journal of the Association of Professional Piercers. PDFs of back issues are available for free download at, and subscriptions are available by contacting the APP office at [email protected].

Please consider buying a membership to BME so we can continue bringing you articles like this one.

11 thoughts on “ADHA and NEHA: A Travel Diary

  1. Having not read the entire article yet, I would just like to say (for what it’s worth) that adding APP staff to write for BME seems like a very clever idea.. 🙂

  2. Really interesting article – it’s especially good to hear about all the positive things people had to say to you. I do somtimes get the impression the majority of healthcare professionals (certainly in the UK, at any rate) are dead set against body modification (and particularly piercings), but this paints a very different picture.

    I’m looking forward to some of the future articles 🙂

  3. Thanks for posting this and PLEASE! more articles from the APP! I’m glad to know that they’re being so forward in their efforts to educate!

  4. Criticism can be both positive and/or negative. I often tend to criticize the APP – in this case all of my criticism for endeavors of these sorts and writing about them for BME is of the former type. Good work and good article.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *