Coming into last week’s AHR Expo, I wrote that “I’m half expecting to walk into the Dallas Convention Center on Monday morning and see Godzilla, Bigfoot, and the Loch Ness Monster. Because that’s how big this event seems — it, like all those monsters, has been built up to near mythical proportions.”
Well, this #AHRRookie can tell you that every bit of that statement, of all the fears I had coming in, ended up being absolutely, positively, no doubt about it, 100 percent true. Except the actual monsters, of course.
In my past, I’ve covered an NCAA Final Four with nearly 50,000 people in attendance, I’ve covered the bonanza that is professional wrestling, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a bigger circus, and I say that as endearingly as possible, than the AHR Expo.
When I entered the convention center that Monday morning, I thought to myself, “OK, this isn’t so big.” Then I left the concourse and entered the actual convention hall, and I wish I had my own personal photographer so I could accurately depict how far my jaw dropped. I mean, I’m 6-foot-1 and I had to pick it up off the ground. I was floored by the size and scope of the Expo.
The week was filled with a lot of fun. I met a good man named Jeff, who works for a manufacturer’s rep, on my connecting flight from Atlanta to Dallas, and I met a lot of very nice, helpful people at the booths. As an #AHRRookie, I really appreciated the people who took time to thoughtfully explain how their products work in as easy-to-understand way as possible.
I also enjoyed bringing home a bag of random items I picked up while touring the floor. I got this awesome LG cowboy hat stress ball on my desk now. Bitzer had a great cloth wipe for your smartphone, and, of the booths I saw, Ideal Tape Co. gave away the best pen, a nice Bic GripRoller. And, of course, I now have about eight more reusable bags that will accompany me to the grocery store on a regular basis.
Even though my feet and shins still hurt considerably from the show floor (major props to the people who had extra-foamy carpet installed in their booths), I was still able to take in some of Dallas’ sights and sounds because, surprisingly, my tennis shoes were much more comfortable than my dress shoes.
Outside of the Expo, though, I had some interesting times in Dallas.
After our staff meeting Sunday, I wanted to go and see where John F. Kennedy was assassinated. So I went and toured The Sixth Floor Museum and saw the actual spot on the road where it happened, which was something else.
After that, I decided to go on a quest to find a new belt, since I realized Saturday, upon arrival, that I’d forgotten one and would have to pay the Idiot Tax — once again — to buy a new one. Super. I like to think I’m a pretty smart guy, but I swear I forget something on every other trip. The Idiot Tax has afforded me a pair of dress shoes in Columbus, Ohio, and, believe it or not, I previously pawned up some loot for a new belt on a trip to St. Louis. I just can’t make this stuff up.
Luckily, I didn’t have to go far, as about 20 paces from the museum, I walked past some random cowboy shop called “Wild Wild West.” I knew I was in for a doozy here. Let me tell you, this place had some of the most conservative belts I’ve ever seen. No rhinestones, no giant belt buckles, completely appropriate for business attire. Joking. This place was just about the most ridiculous shop I’d ever seen. I was finally able to find the most conservative belt there, complete with a price tag of $34.99, and, oh yeah, no returns, only exchanges. So, the government has nothing on my uncanny ability to cost myself a few bucks. And, let me tell you, the Idiot Tax stings just as much now as it did the first time I had to pay it.
My misfortune continued Tuesday, as I ventured out into the wild again. This time, my destination: the post office, to mail some postcards to my fiancée and parents. I’d never done this before and I figured it would be a good way to see the city. Of course, this turned into a big fiasco.
After jotting down some walking directions I started out on my walk. Pretty much the whole time we were there, the wind was whipping something fierce. And I learned one of many lessons — don’t walk by anything with water. Luckily, I’ve found this video: (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i_Ft2mahdRo)
As I’m walking by on the sidewalk, a big wind gust rips right over these little ponds and does a superb job of soaking me. As I see the water coming, I dash behind one of those cylinder street billboards for cover, but it was too late.
As I continue to cower, hoping another gust doesn’t come, a local couple walks past me (having seen the whole thing, including the flying water and possibly my feminine yelp), so I tell them, “Yes, I am hiding.” They laugh and I decided it’s probably time to move on.
Google Maps, however, had a different plan, because the street I was supposed to turn on is named differently in Dallas. So I almost walked to Fort Worth before turning back. As I’m walking, I keep stealing glances at the sky, which is growing progressively darker, backed by increasing wind gusts. I put my sunglasses on to protect my eyes from incoming dirt, dust and pebbles.
So as I get about two blocks from the post office, it starts to rain. As I get about 50 yards away, it starts pouring. Beautiful. Thank you, Weather.com for your forecast that was off by about two hours. I write and mail my postcards and it’s still pouring. No end in sight. Fantastic. So I stand outside under an overhang, pondering my next move. After about 15 minutes of constant pouring rain and no cabs in sight, I finally decide to just go ahead and walk back. Luckily, a cab came to my rescue. Well, that’s $8 I’ll never get back.
So, the week seemingly has come to an end and on Wednesday, two coworkers and I leave the Expo at about 3 p.m. and head to DFW to catch our flights. We have a hilarious cabbie, who boasts about the “half-naked” patrons attending the Lady Gaga concert the night before. Then, no more than 30 seconds after he sees a fellow cab driver almost pick off several pedestrians (“Cab drivers!” he says), he runs a red light. Big surprise.
We make it to the airport in one piece, thankfully, and head to check-in. I have to go to Atlanta to catch a connecting flight back to Detroit. And, we’re off to a great stop as, to my surprise, my flight is delayed. But, no problem, I have more than 90 minutes between flights. Scheduled to leave at 5:15 p.m., the plane doesn’t end up actually departing until 7 p.m., thanks to the crack Delta ground staff at DFW, which somehow neglected to fuel up the plane.
Making my 9:55 p.m. connection flight was not looking good, especially after landing and being told we had to sit on the tarmac for 20 minutes because our gate was occupied. So after a mild freak out, and not getting to the gate until 10:35 p.m., I’m told the plane is still on the landing. Gleefully, I’m given a new boarding pass and told to sit wherever. So I pick an exit row seat (although, in hindsight, first class would have been a better choice). Questioning why the aircraft was still in Atlanta, I was (not so) surprised to find out the flight remained grounded because one of the exit indicators in the exit row was missing the plastic cap that says “Exit.” So we wait. And wait. And wait some more for the crack Delta ground staff (see a pattern here?) to find a new plastic sign at one of the world’s largest airports, and one of Delta’s biggest hubs. Half anticipating a crash; we finally end up taking off at 11:30 p.m.
I’m welcomed back to Detroit at 1:30 a.m. and, as I roll up to baggage claim to get my luggage, which I had to check because of all my accumulated literature and swag from the Expo, I’m left waiting again. The carousel goes and goes and goes. Then it stops. No bag. Ugh.
So I head to the Delta baggage office with three others who were doing the same DFW-ATL-DTW trip. Turns out, the crack Delta ground staff in Atlanta forgot to put our bags on the flight to Detroit, despite the plane not leaving for about 90 minutes after the flight from Dallas landed. But hey, they offered me a $25 Delta credit for their total incompetency. Thanks, but no thanks.
So finally, my AHR Expo trip ended at about 2:30 a.m. when I finally got home, but didn’t conclude until the following afternoon when my beloved baggage finally arrived.
I learned many a lesson during my first AHR Expo and plan on coming back better the second time around when I’m an #AHRSophomore. It’s a completely different experience than I’ve ever been a part of, and was more intense than I’d anticipated. But all in all, I can’t believe how much I learned while I was there and am very thankful to have had the experience (minus Delta’s horrible hazing). See you next year!