Though an epic winter storm was raging, the driver had decided to give the roads a try at sunrise. But he slid into a guardrail and smashed up the front end.
As a result, I wasn't going to get my exhibit.
Living in the blustery state of New York, I always feel lucky when my company sends me to a trade show down south in the winter. Our truck driver doesn't feel quite so lucky, however, because while I hop on a flight and step off into the sunshine, he must navigate our exhibit through a whole lot of bad-weather states to catch up with me.
I got a harsh reminder of his perils last year when we were headed to Houston for a show in February. I had a 10-by-20-foot booth that my company was using for the first time — a beautiful custom job with sleek counters and cool lighting. I watched as the crates containing the booth and our collateral were loaded onto the truck and waved goodbye as it set off on its 1,600-mile journey. The trip would take the driver the better part of three days, though I'd built in two extra days because the forecast had warned of a possible mid-Atlantic winter storm along the way.
Then I went home to pack, because I was going to depart two days early myself so I could soak up a little Texas warmth. The next day I headed to the airport to catch my flight, but was watching the TVs in the waiting areas with growing concern as meteorologists said a huge winter storm was bearing down on the Eastern Seaboard. I was getting out ahead of it, but I looked at the weather map of areas to be affected and thought about the truck and my beautiful exhibit. As luck would have it, the storm was pretty much forecasted to be across the entire route from New York to Texas, so I said a little prayer that the driver was making good time and would be out of danger before the storm hit.
Once I'd landed and checked into my hotel, I turned on the TV for a weather update, which was even worse than the last one. Now weather folks were using words like "epic" when they referred to the storm, so I called the shipping company to get an update on the truck's whereabouts. It was after-hours, so I had to leave a message, and then I hit the rack, hoping that I would wake up to good news.
But that didn't happen — not even close, actually. The top news in the morning was how a winter storm was grinding everything on the East Coast to a halt. The gal from the shipper called to say the truck driver was neck deep in it, but that he was staying on the road to try and punch through it before it got worse. He had also changed his route, she said, to go farther south through Atlanta to try to miss some of the brunt of what was coming.
I had two days until setup started, and all I could do was cross my fingers and wait. Everything I needed was on the truck, though I make a habit of traveling with graphics and collateral files on a thumb drive so I could at least reproduce those if for some reason the truck didn't make it.
To cover my bases, I contacted show services to ask about graphic printing and rental exhibits. It seems I was not the only person in that predicament, because the show services woman said her phone had been ringing off the hook all morning. She connected me to a printer who could turn around materials on a rush job, and gave me the rundown on some available rental properties. The problem was that I would have to reserve and pay for one to assure it would be available if I needed it, and I wasn't ready to give up hope on my freight delivery quite yet.
I was closer to surrender, however, when I caught up with an afternoon weather update and saw that Atlanta was supposed to get hammered by the storm. I called the shipping company back, but the woman had no update. I would have tried a relaxing walk in the sunshine to settle my nerves, but even Houston was hellishly cold from the weather front, and I was miserable.
The next morning, one day before setup, I learned my truck was still north of Atlanta, and that the driver had hunkered down at a motel because the roads were so treacherous. The setup window was three days long, so it was conceivable that if the driver left soon, he could have the booth to Houston in time to put it together.
Completely helpless, all I could do was stay glued to the TV in my room and wait. But watching all the storm stories was giving me an ulcer, so I decided to go sit in the hotel lounge and have a beer instead. Of course, all the bar's TVs had storm coverage on too. My only comfort was that people on either side of me at the bar were exhibitors in exactly the same boat I was, so we drowned our sorrows in beer and nightmare exhibition stories.
I called the shipper first thing the next morning and got my worst news so far. The driver, bless his heart, had decided to give the roads a try at sunrise, but he slid into a guardrail on the freeway in Atlanta and was at that moment sitting on the side of the road with a smashed up front end. The shipper said she was trying to find another driver to meet the truck and take the trailer but was having no luck given the road conditions.
With a sad heart, I bit the bullet and ordered a rental exhibit through show services. It was simple and passable, but nothing like my beautiful display now stranded on the side of the road. I didn't get my first choice for a design, but I was grateful that there was anything left after I'd optimistically dawdled on the decision. Then I contacted the print shop and ordered enough signage and literature to make it through the show.
Once the show started, it was clear that the storm had taken its toll on a number of exhibitors who had no display, and there were some booths that didn't even have exhibitors in them. Up until that point, I'd been bitter about my new display not being there. But seeing the struggles others had, I counted my blessings — having something I didn't love was an awful lot better than having nothing at all.
— Greg Razmin, account manager, Erickson and Associates, Syracuse, NY