Day 1 of the Airports Council International-North America annual meeting in San Jose: This convention center is a huge sprawling entity ironically ensconced in the middle of a very compact walkable city.

Look! There’s Angela Gittens, Director General of ACI International and a friend of ENR. But I hesitate to bother her. Last time I saw her, she threatened to strangle me if I didn’t write an article about APEX, ACI’s now-2-year-old program to investigate causes and cures for runway incursion incidents around the world. She was joking – I think.

Featured speaker: Jim Collins, the motivational speaker and author of books like “Great By Choice.” What makes a leader not just good but great, he tells the airport leaders in the audience, is “getting people to want to follow you,” to realize that “if I seek credit for all the good things that are going to happen, then they will not happen,” and “to get your employees to follow a cause” above and beyond following you.

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He was so mesmerizing that I thought: “If he had a cult, I’d join it.”

Then I met one of the “uncredited” leaders of a cause – Roger Johnson, deputy executive director of airport development at Los Angeles International Airport. The lunch, brokered by Ginger Evans, senior vice president with Parsons, centered on LAX’s extraordinary effort to modernize. “We’ve spent $4 billion in the last 4 years,” he told me. “Last summer we had $4 million in construction happening every day, and it’s still $3 million a day today.”

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 He noted how the economist Thomas Friedman referred to LAX as a place that just has had too many facelifts and can't hide its wrinkles anymore. “My goal in life is to put his words on a cookie, invite him to our grand opening ceremony and make him eat that cookie,” said the ebullient Johnson.

 Future ENR story: Check.

 Day 2: Session on efforts to implement NextGen satellite-based air traffic control. The engineering world speaks in acronyms. So does the aviation world. So airport engineers just double that level. Jim Crites, the intrepid and innovative vice president of operations at Dallas-Fort Worth airport (another leader who fits Jim Collins’ definition) moderated. I listened intently. “We’ re redesigning airspace now...E-Ram is replacing...FAA...CSPR...PRM...SITS and STARS...OAPM...R-NAV... PBMs ... these are game changers.”

Brain officially drowned in alphabet soup: Check.

Look, there’s Deborah Ale Flint, director of aviation for Oakland airport. Dynamic, statuesque, she hugs me as eager consultants hover near, waiting for me to go away.

There's Ben Lao, globe-trotting sporty-spectacles-sporting airport consultant who isn't afraid to speak his mind. He's lucky I'm a nice reporter who doesn't quote him. But I love hearing his stories of dealing with airports around the world.

Exhibit hall - heavier on the airport suppliers - of chairs, signs, security-related things, concessions than on airport construction. A Starbucks bar - and a real bar, serving this: 

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It just came out sideways on the camera. I wasn't keeling over. Really!

Day 3: Final Session, on Making The Airport a Destination, Not a Departure Point. What’s this? There’s a mobile bar at the back of the room, serving wine and beer! A nifty way to celebrate the end of the conference and give a nod to the idea that airport facilities can be places of recreation.

Who knew Zurich Airport hosted kid’s birthday parties? They’re booked through 2014 and they’re making a nice bit of revenue off it. Speaking by videoconferencing, the presenters then (it was in the wee hours for them) pulled out a bottle of wine in a spirit of kinship.

At the closing night party I end up at the impromptu “press table” with Airport Business magazine reporters. We agree: it’s a fun time to be covering airports. But then, it never wasn’t.