I just got into Austin, Texas, where I will be covering the annual Beltwide Cotton Conferences for the next three days.
Appropriately, the first person I met as I was checking into the hotel was Ron Smith, the legendary cotton entomologist from Auburn University.
Also appropriately, the hotel got our rooms mixed up. The young lady checking me in could not find the frequent visitor number I used when I made the reservation. I showed her my online check-in reminder and just happened to look over at the next counter, where the other Ron Smith was also checking in and also experiencing a little confusion about his reservation.
"Another Ron Smith is also checking in," I informed the young lady at the desk. At the same time, the other Ron Smith was asking for the room reserved in the name of the Alabama Ron Smith and not the Tennessee version.
We resolved the issue and we each headed to our appropriate rooms. This is not the first time hotels have mixed us up. For more than 40 years we have attended the Beltwide Cotton Conferences. I suppose we've both missed a few along the way, I probably have missed a few more than the entomologist Ron Smith. We've also attended other cotton meetings across the Belt during those four decades and on numerous occasions one of us was confused for the other. Once, he took two rooms, thinking the meeting hosts had assumed he was bringing his family and saved an extra one for him. When I showed up, my room was occupied. They found me another one.
This most recent encounter reminded me of the many Beltwide Cotton Conferences I've attended over the last four decades. It also reminded me of the many friends, the other Ron Smith among them, I have made through this and other such conferences.
I've written before that the annual Beltwide Cotton Conference is one part essential meeting for anyone interested in cotton and one part reunion.
I see people here I've known since the first one I attended, back in 1976, in Atlanta. I was an Extension editor at Clemson University at the time, and this was the biggest, most widely publicized meeting I had ever attended. I was a bit overwhelmed. Two years later, I was covering Beltwide for Southeast Farm Press.
I ran into Steve Brown, who was an Extension specialist for the University of Georgia during my tenure in that region, as the other Ron Smith and I were finalizing our check-in procedure.
I also took a few minutes to realize that this will likely the be the last Beltwide Cotton Conference I cover. I don't think it's a big secret that I plan to retire in July.
Maybe I'll drop in occasionally, just to confuse the hotel employees.