“What’s that noise?” My new bride Susan was driving the Eagle demonstrator, and suddenly there was a fluttering noise. Looking up, I asked her how fast she was going. At 85 mph, an Eagle’s retractable step wobbled in the wind.
We were on our way to New Orleans for the 1986 UMA Expo. Always the romantic, I conned her into letting it double as our honeymoon, and as a wedding gift, I taught her how to drive a bus.
I’ve been to almost every Expo since 1979 and each has been unique, but 1986 was a vintage year. One exciting event occurred at three in the morning on the 13th floor of the Hyatt. A beloved pillar of the industry had locked himself out of his room and was stranded in his boxer shorts, behind a potted plant, at the entrance to the (glass) elevator. We all saw him in a new light.
Where the heck do you think I steal ideas for my scribblings? At Expo.
You won’t have to grit your teeth and read this column if you turn up in Fort Lauderdale and learn from your peers. There are structured educational opportunities on the agenda, but a ton of learning happens while folks are just hanging out.
A couple of thoughts. When you’re on the Expo floor, visit every booth. It isn’t that hard, and it’s easier to understand new products and concepts when you can see them. Ask questions. Besides, there’s lots of swag… and snacks.
Exhibitors are showing their “latest and greatest,” so it gives you a chance to see where technology is headed.
It’s also fun to keep score, because not every new gadget stands the test of time. It would be entertaining to list a few that went poopy, but then I might get beat up.
In the old days, the first thing I did after registering was to check out the list of attendees and note who was going to be around. I’d make a list of folks to see or meet for the first time face to face. Sometimes it was friends to catch up with, but also people I’d had only dealt with at a distance.
Perusing the guest list has another benefit. It can reduce the incidence of neurological flatulence… you know, where you see a familiar face, but their name doesn’t leap to mind.
One coach industry hallmark is that we are like a big family and Expo is a bit of a reunion. It’s an opportunity to meet folks we’ve only spoken to on the phone or emailed. In a business that thrives on relationships, connecting a face to electronic communication can make a big difference.
Take advantage of the legislative and educational sessions, too. Having a plan helps you get the most bang for your buck. If your company has several people attending, divvy them up.
This is your chance to find out what’s happening in other regions. Regulatory overreach and creative new taxes often start in distant jurisdictions. Like athlete’s foot, they can spread rapidly if not caught early.
One benefit of Expo is seeing your colleagues out of their natural habitat. In the early ’90s, several operators stole a 300 pound ice sculpture of an Eagle bus. They rolled it down the hotel’s corridor on a catering cart, weaseled their way into their favorite bus salesman’s room and dumped it on his bed. That was a great Expo. But the 1986 Expo remains my favorite because following that romantic honeymoon, Susan and I are still (miraculously) married. For some reason, though, she refuses to drive a bus anymore.