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A First-Timer's Report of IWF '98

BY SAM GAZDZIAK

 

For months, when people found out that I was going to IWF, they would always give me the same piece of advice: "Wear comfortable shoes." After hearing this for the 15th time, I started getting a little nervous. What did they know about this show that I didn't? Just out of curiosity, I bought a pedometer to see if this show would live up to the hype everyone was giving it. So armed with what I'd hoped were comfortable shoes, I set out on my first trip to IWF.

 

Wednesday, August 19 -- Arrival in Atlanta
I found out how many people are involved in woodworking early on my trip. The flight attendant on our plane saw all of the W&WP T-shirts our staff was wearing and greeted us by saying she was a woodworker, too. To wish us well on our trip, she bought every woodworker on board a free drink. A Bloody Mary at 9:45? Why not? As a journalist, I have been trained to not turn down free food or drink when they are offered.

After arriving at our hotel, two co-workers and I decide to explore Atlanta's MARTA rail system. As we approached the token machines, a man shuffled over and told us that those machines were broken. Not to worry, though. We could pay him, and he would get us through the gate. Seemed like a great idea, even though he didn't have any ID saying he was a MARTA employee. He sure seemed helpful, though. We weren't suspicious when he took our $2 and didn't offer any change back. We weren't even suspicious when a loud, long buzzer sounded as he held the handicapped-access gate open for us. It wasn't until we were in the station that some woman told us we could "get in trouble" for not paying for the train. Apparently, we had just given some strange guy $6 to get us in the MARTA station. Maybe the Bloody Mary for breakfast wasn't that great of an idea. So, within two hours of arriving in town, three people from the big city (well, one's from Green Bay) got rooked like we just got off the bus from Mayberry. Welcome to Atlanta, Gomer.

 

Thursday, August 20 -- Day 1
Miles walked: 10.82
I taxied to the Georgia World Congress Center. I was afraid to go on MARTA again; either the Atlanta Transit task force or a dozen more panhandlers would be lying in wait for me. I got to the GWCC early, so I explored, trying to get my bearings. Didn't help. I'm still wandering around the corridors in the east wing, map in hand, looking in vain for a booth that was invariably over in the west wing. I walked by the booths lining the walls on the second floor so many times that I could have given their sales pitch to prospective customers.

I also became aware of the freebies prevalent at the show. It seemed like every company was offering something to try and get people to look in their booth, from candy to plastic cups. And it worked. I don't know what I needed with a wooden golf club with a ball glued to the head or 30 plastic bags, but I suddenly wanted them. I had enough registration badge holders to keep me attached to all my credentials if I had walked through a tornado. Other companies will tempt people with the prospects of a free meal. From Jet Equipment's 40th Anniversary breakfast to an IWF press luncheon to Pattern Systems' dinner reception, I didn't pay for any food. Like the saying goes, "If you give it away, they will come."

One of my assignments was to cover the student Design Emphasis competition. Congratulations goes out to Mark Krasne of the University of Kansas, who was the winner in the ready-to-assemble category. Mark wasn't there, because it was his first day of school. But from one Jayhawk to another, you did a great job. Rock Chalk.

 

Friday, August 21 -- Day 2
Miles walked: 5.58
I have come to the unfortunate conclusion that my shoes are just not that comfortable. They work fine at the office, when I'm sitting at my computer or walking to the coffee machines. But to get up and walk around for eight hours straight, they're useless. Dr. Schoal's or a foot masseuse could set up a booth here and do a great business. I'm putting in a suggestion that roller blades be considered acceptable footwear. Rolling is bound to be easier than walking, even if it's on carpet. Most of the mileage today came from walking the machinery hall in the west wing, a mammoth room that was easily as large as my high school. What's more, it was connected to the Georgia Dome, so you have about 40 aisles of machinery and tools altogether. It's enough to make a marathon walker stumble.

One of the machinery representatives told me she saw a spark detection company with the slogan, "Out, damned spark," a play on "Out, damned spot." More people thought it was a reference to Monica Lewinsky than MacBeth.

 

Saturday, August 22 -- Day 3
Miles walked: 9.25
While freebies are one way to get people into a company's booth, offering seating is how to get them to stay for awhile. Flakeboard Co. Ltd. came up with a great idea. Its booth was designed as a sports bar, complete with a bar and stools. One of the reps told me that people kept coming to the bar to order a drink. They found that the drinks were free (and nonalcoholic), and as long as they were sitting at the bar, they could read Flakeboard's brochures.

By now, with a briefcase and camera bag slung over each shoulder, my spine has compressed two inches since Wednesday. I'm also trying to walk on the parts of my feet that aren't sore, so I now resemble an overburdened pack mule with a broken leg as I lumber through the halls of the Congress Center. Many of the people I talk to also have that I'm-glad-I'm-here-but-I'm-glad-it's-almost-over look in their eyes. The show has been a great success, they say. Though a few companies who are in the more out-of-the-way rooms would like to get better booth positions. Apparently, there's a line of succession for prime booth real estate that rivals that of the English monarchy. In either case, you must wait for either death or abdication.

I talked fellow editor Larry Adams and a couple of Atlanta friends into going to Dave & Busters in Marietta after the show ended. For the uninitiated, it's the Mall of America of video arcades. Nothing like senseless video game destruction to relieve stress, especially near the end of a four-day trade show. While I was easily whipped at some martial-arts fighting game, I got my revenge by winning a game of Battletech, a robot combat simulator. I destroyed Larry twice and someone named Candie five times. Candie, if you're reading this, it wasn't personal. You just kept popping into my cross hairs.

 

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