Posted by Jenn Thorson at 7:38 AM Labels: hunger, logo t-shirts, mission impossible, peter graves, stress balls, swag, tradeshows
"Bring me back some Mardi Gras beads. Or a yo-yo. Or food. Or socks. Or a glass of wine."
Those were the marching orders to my colleague, Lars. And as the words escaped my lips and I watched his broad retreating back, I'd realized; only at a tradeshow could you request items of that level of diversity all at the same time.
"How about a stapler?... A golf club?... One of those little hotdogs wrapped in pastry?... An elephant.... A t-shirt reading 'Year 2000 Programmers Do It on Dates?'"
All was equally possible in the bright, shining world of Booth Scrounge.
Yes, for anyone who's ever worked a tradeshow booth, you know how it goes. You can be bitter rivals with another company, fighting it out tooth-and-nail for every lead. Ready to slash tires, kidnap grandmothers and slander favorite pets to get that extra competitive edge.
But when it comes to Booth Scrounge-- giveaway treasures like logo-imprinted stressballs, T-shirts, solar calculators, and bobbleheads-- things you'll take great care stowing in your luggage on the ride home so it can gather dust in your attic for the next decade-- why, the deep primal drive to Hunt and Gather supersedes all company loyalties...
And you cheerily approach your sworn enemies in an unspoken détante to exchange brand-emblazed mechanical pencils for magnetic chip clips.
It's an evolutionary need bigger than us. We are incapable of Swag Resistance.
For a number of years, I was the event planner for these shows. My job was to first make sure everything got there and was in its place... Then stand for eight to 12 hours a day straight, smile at people, hand out literature, and pretend I knew what I was talking about.
This meant that while the sales reps were wandering around free-range, meeting folks, making deals and even savoring daylight, I was seeing the back of the same event coordinator's head at the booth perpendicular to mine. As he stood there smiling, handing out literature, and pretending he knew what he was talking about.
It was a unifier between those skilled in my field.
Food sometimes involved brief planned lunches. But usually it involved whatever hors d'ouvres hired booth babes named Autumn and Fawn were out passing around, whatever I could pick-pocket from the promotional bags of potential customers when they weren't looking, and the occasional glass of wine one of our reps would retrieve for me.
Nothing like booth-tending and talking technology you don't quite understand with a couple of glasses of wine sloshing around in an empty stomach, let me tell ya.
"Wwwwwanna hear 'bout the Year Two-Thouuusshhhand problem, missshhter? Do I have some shhhoftware fer you!"
Anyway, my coworker Lars was a friend of mine, and pretty good about bringing me back tokens from the outside world to prove it still existed. So I had been fairly confident that he would, at the very least, retrieve me the wine, some nibblies, and the Mardi Gras beads I'd been coveting from a booth three aisles over.
It seemed like he was gone awhile, but then again, you tend to lose your sense of time when you spend hours on your feet under fluorescent lights staring at the same person's cowlick. Seasons could turn. Wars could start and end. The Pittsburgh Pirates could win the World Series.
Okay, well, not that last one. But those other things. Definitely.
And as summer slipped into fall and I was still standing there, I thought, in my nutrient-deprived brain, that I had started to hear the "Mission Impossible" theme.
Yes, Lalo Schifrin's catchy 60s television tune, ba-da-daaaaa, ba-da-daaaaaa, ba-da-daaaaing it's way into my consciousness.
I wasn't sure it was real or not. Delirium from the past three days had set in. But deciding that it was probably no stranger than the guy dressed as a caveman, passing out caveman's club rock-candy lollipops I saw earlier, I thought little more about it.
Until Lars popped his blond head around a corner, motioning and hissing at me, "Peter Graves, Peter Graves..."
My brain was still stuck on the fact Lars didn't seem to be carrying any Mardi Gras beads or tiny quiches. What had he been doing all this time if it wasn't out pilfering quality tradeshow tat-- Actually selling stuff?
"Mission Impossible," he said.
"Yes, I heard it."
"Jim Phelps," he told me.
"Is this some sort of booth trivia game?"
"Peter Graves," he insisted, and then vanished around the corner as suddenly as he'd appeared.
Well, there wasn't a single other one of our sales reps around for miles-- they'd vanished like migrating birds the moment they'd landed. And technically, we were not to leave the booth unmanned. (Or unwomaned in my case.)
But after a moment, as I wrenched my mind from the fact Lars still hadn't brought me any food and I was beadless, I decided I had just make the step out of our 10-by-10 and into No Man's Land.
First I saw Lars, standing around in a crowd with others. And before them, sitting on a stool at a booth and brandishing a microphone, was actor Peter Graves of Mission Impossible fame.
He was telling some sort of tale, presumably MI-related and, I imagine, connecting it in some grand metaphor to our competitor's Year 2000 software.
"See?" whispered Lars to me with a self-satisfied nod. "You thought I was making it up."
I hadn't thought, actually. My brainpower had died by hour six on Day Two.
What I did notice, however, was that on a table near the esteemed actor before us were a pile of mardi gras beads, a glass of wine, and a plate of flaky, savory hors d'oevres.
And that's when I realized. "The only Mission Impossible around here is getting something to eat," I whispered back. I shook my head at Lars, at the presentation, at the giant room of freedom and, apparently, a snack bar-- and hastened back to the captivity of our 10X10 where potential clients were now standing, helping themselves to literature and t-shirts.
Salesmen and actors: feh!...
At least the guy dressed as the Caveman had brought candy.
I was reminded of this tale by the recent unfortunate death of actor Peter Graves. Which is a loss, but at least it probably wasn't brought about by working on the tradeshow circuit without food.