Trade shows. If you’ve ever had to work at one, those two words will cause your feet to ache, your back to spasm, and your mind to atrophy. Trade shows—specifically, in my case, a motorcycle show in which I was stationed in a booth for a project I’m involved with—are tests of endurance, and like any endeavor that pushes you to the limit, at the end of the weekend you’ve run the physical and mental equivalent of a triathlon. Which doesn’t mean trade shows are not useful. For people like me, they’re where you meet the people who will, ultimately, determine the success or failure of your venture.
As writer, host, producer and presenter for a motorcycle-themed TV show, El Camino, it’s where I get to learn if what I’m doing resonates with the individual. Ratings—and the ratings are good—tell the larger picture. But it’s the one-on-one conversations that are the most edifying. And, at times, the most bizarre. (Incidentally, if you’re interested in checking out El Camino’s eight-episode first season, search “El Camino Motorcycle Television” on YouTube. I’d be honored if you did.)
One show-goer, a man who stood so close to me that I became transfixed by his dental work, gave me an impassioned plea that I should slow down. “Slow down?” I asked. “Yes,” he said. “You ride too quickly.” I asked him, firstly, how he could tell how quickly I was riding. “Too much lean angle,” he said. To which I replied that lean angle is not the only metric to determine speed. “You’re wrong,” he said. I explained, as gently as I could, that the radius of the corner has as much to do with lean angle as speed. “Have you ever ridden up or down a mountain road with switchback corners,” I asked. “Yes,” he said. “And I didn’t lean at all.”
At this point in the conversation, which had dragged-on for some minutes, a queue of people had formed behind him. Patient, kindly, erudite people who just wanted to say “Hey, good show,” or “You have a funny walk,” or “What do you think of that AGV helmet you wear?” But I couldn’t get to those people because I had this person in front of me, and he would not budge. What was I to do?
“Let me get this straight,” I continued, “You’re able to turn a motorcycle without leaning?” “Of course,” he said, “Below 20 miles-per-hour, leaning a motorcycle to turn is optional.” It was at precisely this point in our conversation that my back began to ever-so-gently protest. At first it was minor. Just a tingle. And as my back goes, so do I go. The man kept talking. I held up an index finger to the patient, kindly, erudite people gathered behind him. International code for “I’ll be right there.” The man was oblivious to this signal. I was convinced I could have whipped him with a very expensive O-ring chain and it would have made no difference. It was as my back went from tingle to spasm that my patience took my leave.
“You can’t turn a motorcycle without leaning it,” I said. “Try it. Just push your bike around your garage. You will lean it. It’s the way they work. What you’re telling me is as non-sensical as saying you can play a stringed instrument without strings. It can’t be done. Have a great day, sir.” With that I stepped past the man and introduced myself, with an apology for the delay, to the man next in line. But that wasn’t the end of it. Of course, that wasn’t the end of it. To men like this, there is no end.
The man, let’s call him Mr. Flagrant Violation, now did the unthinkable. He touched me. Not the light touch of kinship or friendship, but the firm grip that reminded me of the time, while in high-school, that I attempted to cozy-up to a certain young woman. This young woman, who had the adorable sickly-sweet smell of budget perfume, had a dog. A German shepherd. A very formidable German shepherd with a very powerful jaw. A jaw that clomped onto my ankle and that would not release until the young woman, who was now very much less desirable to me than she’d been only a few moments earlier, ran down to the kitchen for a bag of dog treats. Only she couldn’t find the dog treats. Not right away, anyway. In the end it all worked out. She and I never spoke again and, in time, the tooth marks on my ankle faded. Though never entirely.
Now back to the man. Who would not let go of my wrist.
“You need to let go of my wrist,” I said to Mr. Violation. He looked down as if he had no idea he was holding onto me. “Let go now,” I said, in a tone that suggested I would behead him had he not. He let go. But he would not go. I stepped to the side, raised my hands—as a conductor to an orchestra—and asked the six or seven patient, kindly, erudite people who were still waiting if they believed a motorcycle could be turned without leaning. Only something in my voice was slightly ragged, and the people who had gathered thought I was suggesting that a motorcycle could be turned without leaning. No, no, no I said, in many more convoluted words than that, “It’s not me, it’s him.” And then I pointed at him. And I looked absolutely stark raving mad. Of that there could be no doubt.
Still, Mr. Violation would not leave. I grabbed him (firmly) by the shoulders, turned him to the greater group, and encouraged him to offer his opinion on motorcycle dynamics to all. To my everlasting joy, there were assembled in this group some very fine minds. Minds much sounder than mine. And they patiently, in very fine language, explained to Mr. Violation why he was wrong. And, of course, Mr. Violation ignored very fine explanations as to why a motorcycle can’t be turned without leaning.
At this point in the conversation my back was screaming, my feet were sweating, and my brain—what remained of it—was sticking to the side of my skull due to dehydration. And since there’s only one way to combat dehydration, I excused myself from my post, left the El Camino booth in the hands of six or seven fully capable men who were animatedly arguing with one man who had clearly lost his mind, and went for a drink.
Not of water.
But of whiskey.