Sunday, July 11, 2010

New Friends, Old Friends, and Teddy Bears

Just because I like to torture myself on vacations, I decided to go to the American Council for the Blind convention in Phoenix, AZ. Actually, one of my oldest friends had been talking about going to this convention all year; last year really. It takes a while to save up money for these things. Anywho, in the weeks leading up to the convention the person who she would be sharing a room with backed out on her, leaving her without a roommate and a rather hefty room bill. She was suddenly unsure of whether she would be able to go and was upset. So, I stepped in and said, "You can use me as a roommate. We haven't seen each other in two years." Then in a small panic, because I HAD NOT been saving up for this, I began stuffing money away in order to pay for half the room. All of that aside, I'm here, and have been having a grand ole time with my friend, and all of her friends.

Yesterday was an all day event, in which I got to meet three wonderful little girls who all have partial or no ability to see. Their particular disorder can also cause behavioral issues, which was present, but to a MUCH lesser extent than I've seen in perfectly healthy children. They were great, and we all had a ball. Our small troop of 12 got together in the lobby of our hotel at 9 a.m. where we all climbed into cars and headed out for breakfast at an IHOPS. We got lost for 20 minutes, then pulled into an IHOPs we found at random, and it turned out to be the right one. I could be getting the facts wrong here, but in my defense I was in the back of a large vehicle with a hot Guide Dog, and two little girls who talk a lot. We laughed a lot too. The food was good, and then we left for the Stuffington Bear Factory.

And here's the proof. We all crawled out of the car and hustled inside as fast as possible. Our arrival was slightly after 11 a.m., but it was already 112 outside and some of the girls aren't heat tolerant at all. There was also the guide dogs who were (and still are if we don't put their boots on) burning the heck out of their paws walking from the parking lot to the front door. There was a slight wait for the rest of the party to figure out where the factory was. That ended when we were told that the rest of the party was already there and waiting on US. Um.. ooops.

Right inside the front door the kids quickly discovered the giant bear. This thing made everyone look like they were in miniature. I forgot to ask if it had a name, but I'm guessing he does. He's just too cool not to have a name. Of course the girls were all over the bear in under 2 seconds, laying on his legs, pulling on his arms and they got in trouble for trying to shimmy up onto his head. There are signs to either side that tell you not to crawl on his head. I suspect that kids have been lost to the large crevasse that is the hole between the back of Big Bear's head, and the corner of the room.

This situation was remedied fairly quickly when our tour guide showed up and said,"Okay, if you could follow me this way we'll get this party started." or something to that effect. I didn't take a picture of him. Sorry. But he did give us a wonderful tour of the back room where they stuff all the creatures for orders. There was an order of German Shepherds with collars reading Champ for the Vice Pres. Apparently they are for a program running somewhere, but since my brain is reenacting the last gasps of a beached fish, I can't remember what it was.

They have a rather surprisingly small work staff, but he said that if they get a huge amount of orders, they sometimes double the staff as needed, but apparently the usual number back here is 8 people. They also use old fashioned sewing machines, because they're made of metal components rather than plastic, which can break off easily into a random stuffed toy. Since their goal isn't to maim the general public, they stick to the metal machines. Surprisingly, parts for their machines are still being manufactured in the U.S. and are readily available for order on-line. You can see part of one in the picture to the left.

They had an entire wall devoted to plastic fur. You can see the bolts of fur along the back wall in every shade of color and texture you can think of. I will confess to taking this picture because I swear this Teddy Bear is smiling at me and even if he wasn't, he's just too damned cute. They literally had bears and other stuffed animals of a fake nature piled everywhere on tables, bins and in some cases; floors. Thus we have the teddy bear with half made teddy bears on one side, made teddy bears in his lap, and.... I lost track of everything that was to his right. This company does put a lot of work into these bears though, and they pay some serious attention to the seams and stitching. They showed us the stuffing machine first. It's a large machine that sort of looks like a circus box car, with a tube sticking out one side. You take your stitched, but hollow bear and stick him on the tube, step on a peddle, and the machine starts stuffing the bear for you. All you do is move the bear around to make sure all the limbs and body have filled out. It was damned fast. Stitching up the Bear's back was even faster. Then they use a little vacuum with a comb to suck up stray fuzz, and pull the fur that got suck in the stitches free. Which means you don't see the seams as much. The last step is to give your bear an air bath. They have a pressurized air system that you just run the bear under. It blows away any random fluff left over. The best part of this entire process is that you get to do this all yourself. Yes, I have another Teddy Bear and I MADE this one!!

After we were done, our very kind driver took us all back to the hotel, were we all pretended to be dead for a while, before we met back in the lobby for a dinner run. We went out to a very good Mexican restaurant and had lots of fun telling stories. There was also a walking band that would go from table to table and play different songs in spanish. Really cool experience. It was late when we got back to the hotel and we collapsed in the room.

In fact, this is basically what we did when we got there.
Fargo gave us all a good example to follow. :)

I'll see about posting again, but considering the hotel is charging an arm and a leg for internet service, my posting will all depend on whether or not I can get to the Starbucks!


Callie said...

Wow! Sounds like so much fun!
You got to make a bear!
Neat photos!
Everything must be great except for the 100+ temps and no internet. Hope you get to spend some time at Starbucks.

Little Messy Missy said...

What a great trip! I can image the girls climbing on that big old bear and the dogs with hot paws trying to get across the parking lot!! I LOVE Mexican food, it is my favorite, so far, ethnic food...the hotter the better.

Mary Guido said...

I can't wait to see your bear!