The Stories You Don’t Write

I just settled into my seat on Delta 1483 headed to Atlanta … for the 32nd time. Yes, that’s right, this is my 32nd year of consecutive attendance at this show. If there is someone out there who has attended more consecutive shows, I have yet to find them—though I think Dan DeGorter has been to more overall shows, just not consecutively. As one of my co-workers said “I don’t know whether to envy you or pity you.” They have a point. You decide.

This year’s event is back at the site of the first one in which I participated in 1981, though in those days the whole event, including the trade show, was held at the Marriott. For the next three days I’ll be hanging out around booth 708 and will be providing updates about the industry and products throughout the week. So for today, I just want to share with you some of my winners in different categories over the years. Please recall that for many years I worked for the organization putting on the show and for a few of the years I ran the show so some of the “moments” might not be those of a typical attendee. Here goes:

Most surprising show: Atlanta, 1981 which was my first. It was surprising because, at the tender age of 22, I had never really stayed in a “business” hotel before. I remember getting a look at the glass elevator going up the side of the Marriott and saying to my mother, “Mom, it’s like Disneyland for adults.”

Funniest moment at a show: occurred the year we had former President Gerald R. Ford speak and, just minutes before the introduction, the staff person (who shall remain nameless) doing the introduction did a deep knee bend to shed some nerves and instead shed the seam of the back of his pants. Yup, split ‘em right open on stage. There was a lot of rushing around to try and get another pair of pants in time but to no avail. If you were to look at the video of that event, even today, you would see him backing off the stage literally. We were never allowed to speak of this moment, until now of course, but I am still not naming names.

Most embarrassing moment at the show –self: Believe me, there’s a lot from which to choose, but you always remember your first. That year, the association executive director (who left soon after) rented costumes for the staff so the ladies could dress up like Southern belles of Tara and greet attendees. I still have the picture and no, I’m not sharing it.

Most embarrassing moment of the show—other: Ah, this is another one I can’t talk about. Just suffice it to say it involved a well-known attendee in his underwear banging on staff members hotel doors in the middle of the night. Not sharing the question he was asking either.

Most unique moment of the show: Atlanta in 2007 during which I attended a reception at the Atlanta aquarium in front of the three story high tank that held the Beluga whales. The belugas evidently believed in free love because they were engaging in some very, shall we say, amorous, behavior right before our eyes. Slowly, ever so slowly, everyone who looked up at them, gasped and stopped talking until there was total silence, with a couple hundred people looking up and two happy Belugas looking down.

Most memorable show: it’s a toss up between Houston in 1998 during which I actually got lost in the George Brown Convention Center on my way to run an awards ceremony or New Orleans 1990 when I felt like my life was saved.

Saddest moment at the show: the death of one of our attendees during the big closing country western-themed dinner in San Antonio in 1983. What I most remember about that evening was how the EMTs and the hotel staff knew each other by name. “You guys friends?” I asked one of the first responders. “Well, we know each other pretty well because we are here all the time. You get a lot of people out of town eating too much and exerting themselves too much and … well, let’s just say we are here all the time.” That was quite a lesson.

Most memorable speaker in a good way: Orlando 1982 during which Jim Palmer, then at the height of both his pitching and Jockey underwear modeling fame played to record crowds. Who knew the glass industry had more women in it than men? It did that day.

Most memorable speaker in a bad way: The very, very big-name-big-time-author business guru who gave us some prima donna demands and treated most of the staff like proverbial dirt then, without missing a beat, went on stage to talk about how important your staff is to your success and how the customer is key to your business. I think he forgot our staff was his customer.

Moment that describes perfectly what running a show is like: Orlando in 1990 at the end of which one attendee came up to me and told me that the event was the absolute best he had ever attended but the chicken served at the closing dinner was awful … followed by another attendee two minutes later who told me this was the worst convention he had ever attended but at least the chicken we had for dinner was good. No lie.

Okay the plane is about to land … on to a great show and some new memories to boot.