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Model Event

Auto club drives into Mesa, Ariz., for branding and bingo.

By Jackie Dishner

PRODDED THROUGH A CATTLE CHUTE INGRESS at the Phoenix Marriott Mesa (Arizona) hotel, guests had no idea they’d be branded. But as they entered the ballroom—some dressed in suggested Western attire—a volunteer "cowpoke" stamped the backs of their hands with the association’s oval logo. They were also handed a Bingo card.

"What’s this?" George Edworthy heard asked almost each time a person came through the makeshift chute at the 51st Annual Model A Ford Club of America membership meeting in December 2008. A retired optometrist from Canada who lives part time in Mesa, Edworthy co-chaired the event, aided by six committee members from the host, Model A Restorers Club of Arizona.

"We decided it would be a Western-style party, and you had to go through the cattle chute to get inside the 'corral.’ We just wanted to do things differently than we had in the past," according to Edworthy, who says his group sought help from the Mesa CVB to make sure it overcame its biggest challenge—encouraging attendees to mingle with members outside of their own chapters. He thought a Bingo game might be the answer.

But the sales staff at the Marriott didn’t quite know how to turn the game into something useful, so they introduced Edworthy to Pam Williams, a convention sales manager at the Mesa CVB, who worked right across the street. She quickly came up with a solution.

"No one wants to tell you they’re having a problem with communication, but these folks were very, very worried about this and wanted to make a concerted effort to overcome that challenge," Williams said.

Most people sit with friends or colleagues they know, says co-chairman Bert Diehl Jr., the current representative for the East Coast Model A Restorers Club of America. "It’s a natural human trait. But we wanted to get people talking to one another, so they’d make new acquaintances."

It took less than 20 minutes for Williams to show the group a mock-up game she designed. Then, she left her audience alone in a CVB conference room where they devised their own rendition to ensure that the 265 mostly retired guests who were flying—or bringing Model A cars—in from all over North America would mingle.

All those colorful historic automobiles—red sport coupes, green roadsters, yellow trucks, blue leatherbacks—might have posed a problem as well, security and otherwise. But not in Mesa, where 500 free parking spaces hidden off main streets left downtown quite attractive—especially when the Model A cars arrived, creating a John Dillinger-like movie atmosphere. Part of the fun even included costumes—some members showed up in vintage attire, sporting suspenders, plaid slacks and mustaches.

The biggest concern remained networking. Past hosts had been unsuccessful at creating an atmosphere encouraging communication beyond the clique. Inside a building, without a Model A, they stick to their own.

Hotel staff created space that forced circulation: a Southwestern buffet in the hallway, a bar in the ballroom, round tables scattered throughout. The layout led people around for food and drink. And above all the white noise, guests heard the occasional cattle call.

And the revamped Bingo game turned up the excitement. As guests arrived and received cards, they were told what to do: Find members in sombreros for stickers to place in the squares.

The cards were fashioned with the words "Model A Ford Bingo" across the top, the four major car makes across one side and the four years they were made across the other. Guests had to fill all 16 spaces. Instead of yelling out Bingo, they shouted, "Ahooga,"

"Many of the people attending our meeting were competitive, so we had no problem with getting folks to participate in the Bingo game," Diehl said. "It was over before I knew it."

Edworthy says sombreros made the game too easy, but it worked and prizes were awarded. Williams created gift certificates for free tours, dinners and golf packages—all provided by Mesa CVB—to be used with scheduled weekend events. The game was so popular that Edworthy extended it until he ran out of prizes. Then, he gave away the sombreros.

"They were a hit. It wasn’t the cars, it was the sombreros that we bought at the dollar store," he said.

Diehl thought the event so successful that he’s working with Williams again; this time he’s bringing his Model T club to town. One+

JACKIE DISHNER is a Phoenix-based freelance writer and author of Backroads & Byways of Arizona.

What’s New in Arizona
• The four-story, 150-room Hyatt Place Phoenix/Mesa will open in April. Located on 250 acres along the Rio Salado with easy access to Mesa, Tempe and Scottsdale, the hotel will offer space for small corporate and executive meetings as well as training classes.
• Maricopa County Parks has opened the Nature Center at Usery Mountain Regional Park. It offers stargazing, ranger-led hikes and a souvenir shop. Programs will include sunrise yoga, blacklight scorpion hunts and lessons on edible desert plants.
Rockin’ R Ranch now features Hollywood-created The Howdy! Dinner Show & Extravaganza. Group rates are available for this family entertainment experience that includes Gold Rush-era costumes and performances in which the audience is encouraged to participate.

Transportation Tips
• For the budget-conscious, Allegiant Air, a Las Vegas-based airline, offers low-cost, nonstop service to and from 20 cities into Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport.
• Use the new Valley Metro Light Rail transit system with Mesa’s new Buzz shuttle to get around in downtown Mesa. The closest light rail stop, about two miles from the Phoenix Marriott Mesa hotel downtown, is at Sycamore and Main streets. Plan ahead—it could be an hour ride or more—and take it west to downtown Phoenix and catch a professional basketball or baseball game. All-day passes suggested.

Fun Facts
• Located 12 miles east of Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, Mesa is the third largest city in Arizona and is home to Major League Baseball’s Chicago Cubs Cactus League spring training.
• Arizona’s only family-owned and -operated working olive mill and farm, the Queen Creek Olive Mill, is located just east of Mesa. Both Italian- and Spanish-style olives grow here at the base of the San Tan Mountains and are used to produce extra virgin olive oil and blends.
• Although the Hohokam Indians were the original settlers here more than 2,000 years ago, it was the Mormon pioneers who gave the city its name. Mesa was incorporated in 1883, and its most notable landmark is The Arizona Temple.