Peering into the hotel banquet room, I wasn’t sure what to expect. My blue name sticker freshly pressed onto my shirt, I had stepped off a commuter jet into a rain-soaked Atlanta spring day just an hour or so earlier. Would anyone recognize me? The introvert in me quietly pleaded: Please, go back up to the room…This place is overwhelming!
The banquet room – the smaller of two, it turns out – was packed with people flanking tables covered in pens, inks, paper, cases and tools. Excited conversation filled the air as groups clustered around displays of new models and vintage collections alike. Taking a step into the room, I watched people’s faces: Smiles, laughter, curiosity, focus. A few more steps: Faces I recognized, vendors whose hand-written notes have accompanied my purchases from their stores. One step more: a glance caught from one online friend unfolds into a welcoming smile and an outstretched hand…
A Whirlwind Welcome
As it turned out, the Nock Co. table wound up straight across from the entrance to this, the Atlanta Pen show. As I arrived, three new friends made me feel instantly at home. After exchanging hearty handshakes and introductions with Jeff, Kasey and my soon-to-be-roommate Joe, the day shifted into overdrive. I admired the spread of beautiful Nock gear, then made my way toward the Andersons, where Lisa recognized me with a big hug and a slew of first-timer advice: Comfy shoes. Take it slow. Get the lay of the land. Ask questions! Try things!
From there, I made my way to Franklin Christoph’s beautiful full-wall spread. As I stood and nearly drooled over the display, a pair of hearty hands snapped me back to reality as they clapped onto my shoulders: I spun directly into a bear hug from Brad Dowdy, the Pen Addict himself, and enthusiastic welcomes from Myke Hurley and Ana Reinert – whose crowdsourced visits were made possible by the very community I was now experiencing first-hand.
More hugs, handshakes and welcomes would follow in short order, as would my first pen purchase of the show: A Franklin-Christoph Clipless Model 20 Marietta – though I had trouble choosing from the 20-or-so nib options – my hands were shaking from excitement (and perhaps some hunger, too). After chomping a granola bar1 and walking around a bit more, I returned and settled on a simple steel medium. Watching Jim, their craftsman-in-residence, set up the pen for me was a special treat.
The Sassafras Spring Fling
Once the show’s first day wound down and Joe and I got our room arrangements straightened away, I got my first real sense of just how quickly time flies at a pen show. We headed for the lobby and joined Myke to fill the last three seats on the shuttle to Nock Co. headquarters and the “Sassafrass Spring Fling“.
What followed was five solid hours of fun, food, drinks and even more new friendships. It was a treat to meet so many of the bloggers I follow and fellow fans I’ve chattered with on the Pen Addict Slack. It was an even bigger treat that they considered me one of their own.
Highlights of the evening included sewing demos, a welcome speech from Brad, a raffle officiated by Jeff “Beardwicki”, a visit from his wife and new baby son, and Nakaya demos and hands-on time with the remarkable Leigh Reyes – who managed to join us all the way from Manila, Philippines!
Though we returned to the hotel around midnight, the fun wasn’t over – we noticed some friendly faces at the Waffle House next door to the hotel, and headed over for some late-night diner food (good) and late-night diner conversation (even better).
Day Two, or, Awesome 2.0
Rested and refreshed (thanks to some curious coffee from Kasey and a visit to the breakfast buffet), Joe and I hit the floor and quickly joined the weekend pass-holders already browsing. Despite being a relatively small show, the selection was astounding – certainly not the least bit owing to this being my first pen show experience! After circling each room once or twice, I connected with a few others for some enablement-fueled purchases.
First came a bottle of P.W. Akkerman Diep-Duinwaterblauw blue-black ink, which Brad reviewed. I connected with that color in particular, though, on seeing it in person. Not long after came a handsome-looking gray-and-brown Parker Vacumatic, followed by a hefty pad of Franklin-Christoph sugar cane paper that would come in very handy later in the evening. I rounded out the haul with an orange-and-gray Nock Fodderstack XL.
A highlight of the day, however, was lunch time – and it had little to do with pens. After grabbing a sandwich together and talking pens with Doug, I joined Sarah (of Candyspotting) and Jeff (of Draft Evolution) for a walk to the Chattahoochee River and a great hike around Powers Island. We explored the things growing there and the views out onto the river, talked about our careers and families, sympathized with each-others’ introversion, and shared our reverence for the pen community. Though I’m sure I spent much of the time gushing, I hope I’m not the only one of us that felt it was a just-slightly-profound shared experience.
Meeting the Master
As we walked back into the hotel from the Powers Island excursion, my phone rang – it was time for my appointment with famed nib-meister Mike Masuyama! Fortunately, I’d gotten onto his list the day before; it was already after 3PM and many of the remaining Saturday appointments would be pushed to Sunday.
If you’ve seen the (excellent) documentary film Jiro Dreams of Sushi, you know the dedication that Masuyama puts into grinding fountain pen nibs. He studied under Nobuyoshi Nagahara of Sailor Pens for over 20 years, and has probably been tuning nibs since before I was born. I asked him about an architect grind and sheepishly handed over a “humble” TWSBI Diamond 580. Mike, a fantastically friendly man, smiled warmly and reached into his apron, handing me his own 580 ground to a cursive italic point. “Try it! It’s a great pen!” he encouraged as he slid some paper across the table.
I watched, fascinated, for the next 45 minutes as Mike patiently worked on my pen, swapping out tools, stopping to inspect it with the loupe that hung around his neck, and dipping it in ink for a test run. Much like a dentist uses carbon paper to find grind points between one’s teeth, he had me write on sandpaper to find exactly where my grip places the nib on the page.
My 580 turned out wonderfully, and Mike also smoothed and tuned my Kaweco Liliput Fireblue – both will surely become favorites in my growing stable of pens, not only because they’re now great writers, but certainly for the memories they hold of this very special experience.
Pens and Pints
Not long after Mike finished my nib work – and Myke gave the newly-architect-ized 580 a try – it was time for day two of the show to wind down. With wallets a bit lighter and pen cases a bit fuller, the group retreated to the hotel bar, commandeering a long table and chairs. By the time I arrived, the group was already passing around inks, dipping pens, and testing out new finds and favorites alike.
Before too long, Leigh Reyes and Thomas Hall arrived, once again breaking out an astounding collection of Japanese urushi lacquer pens that are as rare as they are beautiful. As the hosts who brought us all here recorded Episode 150 of The Pen Addict in a nearby conference room, we eagerly dipped these handmade masterpieces and reveled in their feel on the page.
As the evening wore on, we broke for dinner, then returned to our table and got right back to the fun. Matthew introduced the group to folded nibs, while Leigh broke out oblique calligraphy pens, watercolors, and a fascinating set of Barch-Payzant lettering pens – whose distant cousins are likely to be the next addition to my collection!
After ducking out for their own dinner, our podcasting friends Brad, Myke and Ana returned, joining in for beers, conversation and laughter. Being there, laughing along with them, felt equal parts surreal and strange – these voices have accompanied me for countless hours as I drive, walk the dog, cook and work, but now we were meeting for the first time. Though in this circle they are nothing short of celebrities, I felt like this weekend was my backstage pass to visit old friends.
What seemed like a few minutes later – but was probably an hour or more – the great people from Franklin-Christoph and Van-Ness Pens joined us, Matthew treated us to more fun with folding nibs, and Ana finally got her hands on some Nakayas…
Before I even realized it, amidst the friendly conversations and excitement of trying out amazing new things (Pilot M90, anyone?), it was AM. Very AM. Long past last-call, with tired legs and satisfied yawns, we shuffled to the elevators. It had been a long day, but a great one full of new experiences and new friends.
Sunday morning came with a jolt – a cold jolt – as the hotel’s hot water was far less-than-hot. A bit before 7, I quietly packed the last of my gear and headed for the lobby, one Uber ride away from my 9:15 flight home. Breakfast could wait until I got into the terminal – my main concern was getting through security with that strange-looking bottle of Akkerman ink. Fortunately no explanations or begging were needed, and I hunted down food as I pulled my shoes back on…
There wasn’t much time for quiet reflection at the airport, but I enjoyed watching the Georgia rain streak down the windows as I ate and sipped my coffee. I watched a flightline worker sit on the big jetway tire beyond the window, drinking from a chunky thermal mug, as I marveled at the combination of community, blessings and good fortune that landed me in Atlanta for such an amazing weekend. I thought about the warm welcome I’d received here, and the warm welcome I’d soon encounter back in Rochester.
Three short hours later, after hugs and kisses and welcome-homes, I stood rolling a baseball back and forth to my 2-year-old son. My thoughts wandered to future shows when he might join me, peering up wide-eyed over the edges of the tables like the handful of young’ns I saw in Atlanta. Maybe he’ll shake some of the same hands or hug some of the same people I met this weekend – regular folks who share an uncommon interest, and proudly count themselves among one of the greatest, most welcoming and most uplifting communities anywhere: the Pen Addicts.
Pen show tip: Bring food. Remember to eat it. ↩