I was on the upper ballroom level, when I heard the commotion. Looking over the bannister, I saw a crowd of people pressing forward near the escalators that led down to the trade show. A voice announced the ribbon cutting, and I saw a large pair of scissors cut into the air and the rapid fire blinking of camera flashes.
And then... drums, horns, strings... it was "The Mission", the theme to the NBC Nightly News! I was galvanized! News was happening, and I was missing it! I rushed down the steps and weaved my way through the crowd to see who had cut the ribbon.
It was the man himself, Juan Valdez, looking very dapper, but sans burro. I guess there aren't many places to take a burro for a restroom break in the middle of Long Beach. Anyway, I raised my camera inquiringly, and Juan graciously obliged, turning to me and flashing his famous, suave smile. I snapped a shot and nodded my thanks with a grin.
As I was checking the results, I noticed in the corner of my eye a group of convention workers talking excitedly in Spanish. A woman in the group shyly sidled over to me and said, "Excuse me, but who is that?"
I hesitated for a second, wondering if she wanted his real name. I'd read it somewhere, but forgotten it. I grinned knowingly and said, "Well, it's Juan Valdez!"
"Ah," she replied. "But... who IS he?"
I mentally slapped my forehead as I saw the light. They'd never seen Juan Valdez before. They saw us all making a fuss over Sr. Valdez and wanted very much to know who this clearly very important South American man was. Who could I say Juan Valdez was?
"Er... he's a symbol," I offered lamely. "A symbol of coffee."
"Ah!" She smiled gratefully and stepped back to her friends to explain. I slunk off down the escalator, feeling vaguely as if I'd done someone an injustice. I just wasn't sure if it was to the workers, Juan Valdez, or specialty coffee.