Every year a select crew from Midwest Photo Exchange battles the odds and travels forth to New York City for the PhotoPlus Expo, one of the biggest and best photography conventions in the world. Our resident lighting expert Hurley detailed in the experience in the following firsthand travelogue, and Kelsey provided some photos from the event. Prepare to enter the mind of a man driven mad by PhotoPlus.
The day I was scheduled to leave for New York, I woke up at 5 A.M. and reviewed my pre-trip checklist.
Gym bag full of clothes? Check.
Camera bag? Check
Backpack of Nutri-Grain bars and jelly sandwiches? Check.
Keys? Keys? WHERE ARE MY KEYS?! (Of course they’re in my pocket.)
I arrived at the store, well before the sun was up, to the idling diesel smell of our loyal truck (which has been to more shows than I can count) chugging happily in its parking spot, beckoning us to chase the sunrise. To give you an accurate perspective, it’s a Big Freaking Truck, with an appropriately Big Freaking Trailer attached. Steve Warren and I decided to take turns at the wheel during our eight-hour trip to New York, and once again we reviewed the “pre-flight” checklist (you can never have too many checklists for Photo Plus):
Bags loaded? Check.
Backpack of snacks? Check.
Dubstep CDs? Check.
Keys? . . . KEYS? (Again, they’re in my pocket; you think I would learn by now, right?)
We hit the open road before sunrise. Route 70 can be quite a beautiful sight with the sun coming up. Steve took the first driving shift, and I told myself I was going to take care of some work emails. (Yeah, right.) Instead we ended up venting about crappy cars, awesome cars, and my favorite topic: motorcycles.
We switched seats at a Sheetz in New Stanton, Pennsylvania, and it was my turn to drive. I know this will come back to bite me somehow, but I love driving this truck. It was only when I wanted to go faster that I realized, “Oh hey, there is a trailer back there full of stuff that can break. So we shall not speed!” (Well, not as much as I normally do.) Not only because there is a trailer, but also because of the Pennsylvania fuzz eagle-eyeing us Ohioans through his reflective aviators. (Or he could’ve just been jealous of the delicious pretzel I bought at Sheetz.)
New Jersey was not quite what I expected. It was actually quite beautiful to drive through, and Snooki was not around every corner, but I swore I could still smell a fair amount of hairspray. As we approached NYC, traffic went from bad to worse to just plain nuts. If you own a brake shop in New York, you are set for life. New Jersey drivers didn’t seem to understand the concept of assured clear distance, or they have just modified it to approximately 3 inches from the car in front of you. Our diesel freight train is not equipped for this kind of bumper-to-bumper driving, so when we left space on the road in front of us, it became instantly packed with cars, each jockeying to squeeze in. If you look closely on the passenger side of the truck, you can see where my fingernails have dug into the door. At that point, I was really hoping our hotel was right around the corner. Finally, after many profanities, we managed to get to off the insane freeway and onto the insane city streets. Yay! More stressed out drivers! Eventually, we found the hotel. (Well, it was more like “TURN HERE TURN HERE THE HOTEL THE HOTEL!”)
The hotel desk was deserted as we walked up. What I mean is that there were people at the desk and the lights were on but nobody was home. Like, mentally. Steve, after a few attempts, managed to convince the concierge to let us check into our room. I had never been so happy to see a hotel bed in my life. After running a few miles to stretch my legs, and eating a bag of tabasco potato chips, it was time to pass out.
The next morning was manual labor time. Basically, any time we travel to an event like Photo Plus, we like to set up a mini-store on the tradeshow floor. This entails taking all the products off the trailer, bringing them into the convention center, building an incredibly elaborate on-site booth, and making a small storefront. This is yet another thing that I love doing that makes me seem crazy to other people. The harder I work, the happier I am. The less I have to do, the more restless I become. The rest of the show crew (who were lucky enough to fly into New York) arrived at the hotel, and it was unloading time at the Javits Center. For those who’ve never been to Photo Plus, the Javits Center is a huge glass building, towering in front of us. Opening the doors was like stepping into a foreign world, something akin to an angry, loud, chaotic Narnia.
We couldn’t park close to the Javits Center, so we had run down the street with totes packed onto our trusty Magliner hand truck. We begin the first run, then another, then another, playing Frogger with angry taxis while hauling three hundred pounds of photo equipment on a cart. If it was a game show, it would have been called “Can You Make It to the Sidewalk Without Dying or Breaking Anything?” Maybe not the catchiest title, but definitely an accurate one.
Load after Frogging load we hauled our wares into the center. At this point, I wasn’t sure where all my energy was coming from, though it could have been attributed to the three Gatorades and the Philly Cheese Steak I ate for lunch, my typical tradeshow diet. As I go back out, I see a pile of bags on the sidewalk next to our truck and I have to remind myself that jumping into it would be frowned upon. Watching my cohorts pile themselves up with bags then try to make their way to the convention center never ceases to be a source of great hilarity to me. It’s like the Tenba rack in our store grew legs and walked away or, more accurately, stumbled up the escalator.
When we finally have all our gear in the convention center, the real madness began. Ken and Moishe set out the plans for us and started pointing out where we were to put the mounds of totes. I put in my headphones, turn the volume to max, and build a grid wall (our home-away-from-home sales rack solution) like mad. Next are baker’s racks for tripods, then stacking box after box on these magically built shelves.
Another task was helping LumoPro, with whom we were sharing our booth space, set up their display. Mat Marrash, LumoPro’s product manager, asked me to mount a C-stand pole to the grid rack meant to hold a 4×6 softbox that contains the advertising for LumoPro, so I did what any sane person would do and brought out the gaffer tape and zip ties. Mat panicked, fearing that I would drop the entire rigging on someone, or at least that the zip ties needed to be reinforced But let it be known that I once fixed a broken SUV radiator with bailing twine and duct tape. For me, this DIY marketing display was child’s play, but I decided to mess with Mat and pretended like the entire thing was going to fall on someone. He did not find this amusing.
We worked like dogs until 9 PM, stacking, pegging or piling as much product as we could into our relatively tiny booth. By now, I was finally running out of energy. Thankfully, Moishe commanded us to stop and we grateful minions did just that and returned to the van to head back to the hotel. Forget food. I really just wanted to sleep.
The next morning we woke at 6 AM and, while the spirit was willing, I can’t say my body was too thrilled about having to be awake, let alone moving. Not even for breakfast.
Fortunately, the second day of set up is generally much easier than the first. While Steve grabbed some breakfast, I did my morning routine of push-ups, trying to get moving. After, I made it to the lobby in just enough time to jump in the van. Unsurprisingly perhaps, no one is terribly awake or talkative yet. Another day in show paradise.
The second day went much more smoothly. It was a constant stream of pricing items and putting everything in it final place. We worked so diligently that we even got out early. Score.
On the first actual day of the show, I was beginning to get nervous, so I energize with three jelly sandwiches (I have a peanut allergy, which is why PB&J is just J). Before we know it, it was 10 AM, the tradeshow was open and customers are upon us. Traffic started off slow, but before long we’re swamped. The lines at the front counter are longer than what we usually experience on a Saturday back home. I mean that there were at least three people per sales associate at all times, shoving products at us and asking for prices. I tried to help out at the registers whenever I had a free moment, but I was talking to what seemed like an endless stream of people about our lighting selection. One lesson I learned very quickly is that you have to be able to shout back the answers to three questions at once, while keeping smile on your face. Sometimes this is like getting punched in the face and then being asked to borrow five dollars. But it’s my job. And it’s fun.
Several times, I tried to run to the restroom, but I was walled in by customers. When I do finally escape, I have to jog because someone was following me to the restroom, still asking questions. But, as one friendly New Yorker put it, “Yous never gonna get out of here being so nice to us, we love you,” and that comment alone made it all worth it.
Besides, that night was family dinner night, which is when Moishe takes us all out to a great Italian restaurant and pays the bill. Just a reminder of why I love working for this company: they actually care about their employees. If we ever needed anything, all we would have to do is ask. I love working here, stress and all; and the dinner was delicious!
Friday morning rolled around, bringing with it another morning of waiting in line at Starbucks longer than Columbus rush hour traffic would ever take me. All for tea and coffee. When I got to the booth, all the computers were beeping in protest of being awake this early. On the plus side, the computers had not crashed on us yet. Not once! This was a show record apparently, and I could see Steve Warren breathing a sigh of relief. Once the tradeshow floor opened, we were once again greeted by a steady wall of people, and the madness was once again upon us. The cool thing about the second day is that we had already made friends! People from the previous day remembered my name and returned to say hi and buy more stuff. By then, New Yorkers were beginning to grow on me. (I could better decipher their exotic use of the English language, for one.) The second day went by much easier for everyone. I smiled like a madman and helped as many customers as I could, and actually had time to sneak off for a sandwich. A plain jelly sandwich had never, ever tasted so good.
That night I met my cousin, a Broadway dancer, in Times Square. It was nice being able to spend a night enjoying this amazing city. We ran all around New York and ate at a build-your-own-burger place called The Counter. Unsurprisingly, it was a very good burger. When I returned to the hotel, it was midnight and I was ten pounds heavier I’m sure.
Saturday was the last day of the show. By the third day, the people you meet at the show are basically your new best friends. Plus, they know what they are looking for and don’t mess around, which is always appreciated amidst the madness of Photo Plus.
The big push for the last day of the show is moving every piece of product we can. Obviously, duh, we’re a business and we need to make money. But an added incentive is that the more we sell, the less I have to carry to the truck, and as much as I love lifting things up and putting them down somewhere else, I was understandably pretty beat by Saturday evening
When the show winds down, we literally had to shut the computers off to convince people the show was over. We grabbed some totes from the truck, and it was back to the game of human Frogger. I won’t bore you with all the details at this point, but I will say, we loaded that Big Freaking Truck and Trailer as fast as humanly possible and made our escape from the Javits Center.
On Sunday, Steve and I headed directly for the truck and stepped on the gas. As twisted as this is, I already missed Photo Plus: the action, the movement, and the constant yelling. I was already missing the madness, the excitement. On the other hand, I missed home. The Ohio border had never looked better.