Fear and Loathing at Overseas Exhibitions
Duncan Fry / Dunk’s World
Fear and Loathing at Overseas exhibitions
Where the Hell’s our stand gone?
When you tell people you’re off to Amsterdam, or Los Angeles, or Frankfurt, or Nashville to work at an exhibition, they nearly always say, “Enjoy the holiday!” Hah. Dream on baby! It’s as far from a holiday as you can get.
Yes, it can be fun – after all, life is what you make it – but the whole process of getting everything organised and set up is nothing but worry until the stand is ready and the show actually starts.
Up till that time it’s ulcer territory. Will the stuff for the stand turn up in time? Undamaged? Will the hotel have lost your booking? Will you have to sleep under one of the bridges? Up at 6, in bed at 11.30 or later, up again at 6, and repeat as required each day until the show ends.
Out of the hotel at 10 am, then maybe a day wandering around aimlessly until your flight leaves at 11 pm, with all the shops shut because it’s Sunday.
Quite a few years ago ARX had a booth at the NSCA exhibition in Nashville. We drew straws at work to see who would go, and, as luck would have it, I lost! The other boys figured that I had the highest tolerance for country music anyway, having once worked for RCA, the musical home of Dolly Parton and other country notables!
So, off I went, stopping at LA to pick up the late (and much missed) Algis Renkus, our US VP of operations, and then zipping over to Nashville. Either Nashville has a really short runway, or we landed halfway along it! The plane hit the deck with a bang, the pilot slammed on the anchors and did a sudden 180 degree turn so fast that I thought it was going to flip over!
People screamed, luggage burst out of the overhead lockers, crashed to the floor and bounced along the aisle. I nearly spilled my drink! I should have taken this as a warning not to trust the airline.
It was night by the time we arrived, so we checked into our cheap motel.
In the morning we wandered down to the convention centre at the Opryland Hotel where the show would be, to check out our booth. Well, the spot was all laid out but there was no sign of our roadcases containing our display racks. Luckily we were a day early, so we had plenty of time to track things down. Or so I thought.
I rang the airline. I had all the appropriate Air Waybill numbers for the shipment, which had left our LA office a week beforehand, on an overnight delivery to Nashville. The airline lady was very polite. “Well, Mr Fry, we do have a record of the shipment leaving, but unfortunately we don’t appear to have a record of it arriving anywhere!”
Here I was, 12,000 km from home at enormous expense, ready to spend 4 days manning a booth with nothing on display except me! Well, I suppose I could hand out business cards! I asked the lady to check it out, reminded her the show started tomorrow morning, and that there was very little chance of them getting paid if the displays didn’t arrive in time. I said I’d call her in a couple of hours.
“OK, Mr Fry. Thank you for using United. Have a nice day.”
Yes, it would be a great day, worrying about whether we would have anything to show. I would really enjoy myself! I collected Algis from his room, and we wandered down the road to have a couple of heart starters and some good ol’ down home cookin’ at Lard Lad burgers.
Burping away happily, I went back to the motel and called the airline again.
“Oh, Mr Fry, good news” she chortled. “We know where your boxes are. They’re in Chicago!”
“Oh, that’s great news,” I replied, but the sarcasm was lost on her.
“Unfortunately the show’s in Nashville. When are they going to be here?”
“Well,” she says, “There is a slight problem. We know they’re in the Chicago warehouse, but we can’t find them. And, it’s the weekend coming up, and a change of shift, but don’t worry, we’ll certainly have them for you next week.”
I gritted my teeth.
“Lady, the show finishes this Saturday. If they’re not here before the show starts tomorrow, you can keep them!” There was a short silence while she absorbed this. We agreed to speak again in an hour. I called three more times, but there was still no news. And by now it was night-time.
“Well, Mr Fry, I’m going off my shift now. I’ll give the night shift operator your number; can she call you tonight if we have any news?”
“Look, she can call me anytime up till tomorrow morning. I don’t care what time, just find the stuff.”
I settled down to sleep that night with my favourite jetlag cure – a bottle of Baileys and a bucket of ice. Nature’s own remedy! At 3 am the phone rang. No prize for guessing who it was – the airline night operator.
“Yeth?” I said, my tongue unaccountably furry! “Mr Fry, we’ve located your shipment, and it will be on the morning flight from Chicago.”
“What time does that get to Nashville?” I croaked.
“At 9.30 am,” she replied.
“Thankth.” I replied and hung up.
Well, things were going to be tight. The show started at 10 and the airport was a fair distance from town. Still, at least they had found the bloody stuff.
I called the freight desk at the exhibition, since they always work all night before the show, and explained the situation.
“Could they pick up the shipment for me, and if so, how much?”
“Well now, that’s 2 guys, and a truck, at special double secret overtime (or something like that!), plus show handling charge of $150. Let’s say $450 all up.” I choked on my wake-up Baileys.
“And what if I get it myself?” I asked.
“We’d still have to charge you the $150 handling charge from the doorway to your booth. Union rules, you know.”
“Thanks, I’ll be in touch” I said, and hung up.
Union rules? In a pig’s arse. Union greed would be a more accurate term. I had no intention of paying anything of the kind. I called Algis, woke him up and we organised a plan.
Bright and early next morning I called a taxi company, told them I needed a station wagon at nine o’clock to go to the airport. After a quick breakfast I looked outside, and there he was, bang on time.
I brushed the crumbs off my Trade Show special suit, and we headed off to the airport freight depot. After waiting for about 20 minutes (with the meter running!) they finally released the boxes at about a quarter to 10. I offered the driver another $20 if he could get me to the exhibition before 10 o’clock. I was hardly in the taxi door before he floored it and off we went!
All these exhibition places have emergency exits that can only be opened from the inside, so at 10 o’clock we pulled up outside the exhibition centre, tyres still smoking. I told the driver to blow the horn, an emergency door opened, and Algis leaned out and waved to us.
We unloaded the boxes, I paid the driver, and trundled the roadcases in to the show just as the first visitors started to pour in through the main entrance. By 10.15 we were totally set up and handing out brochures. We had made it.
And people think all we do is just stand there!
There was one souvenir of Nashville that I regret not buying.
One day at the Bottle Shop near the motel I saw jars of a colourless liquid not unlike lighter fuel. It was Corn Liquor, a legal (tax paid) version of moonshine.
And the sticker on the jar said ‘Guaranteed FRESH – less than 14 days old!’ Sounded great, so I thought I’d get some on the day we left.
Unfortunately we left on a Sunday, and the bottle shop was closed. A pity, because I’m sure a few jars of corn liquor would have made the flight back to Australia just one happy blur. Still, maybe next time!