This week was MD&M East at the Javits Center here in NYC, so I stopped by for some face time with a few of my medical device clients, got to handle some of the incredible sci-fi contraptions that we translate about, and then walked the floor, doing the meet and greet, prospecting among the booths (I am way too cheap to rent a booth), which naturally got me thinking about haunted houses.
Richard Wiseman is one of a number of researchers who have investigated what makes haunted places feel haunted. If you don’t believe in ghosts, why are you more likely to get a chill down your spine in one place than another? Magnetism, infrasound, psychological factors, whatever, some places are just more shivery than others, and that’s why we call them haunted. I’ve noticed the same unexplained phenomena on trade show floors since the downturn. Parental Advisory: Scary Trade Show stories may not be appropriate for younger viewers.
Not that I’ve ever seen some rep handing out spooky business cards, no haunted furniture, no dust-covered skeletons. Something far creepier. Bad coffee. Bright fluorescent lights far overhead shining soullessly across the bald heads filling archipelagos of curtains and signage, each booth a little brand island populated by sales guys and sales engineers and sales associates tempting passersby with eye candy, and bowls of candy like little eyes, and the little eyes of the sales guys, squinting and sizing, and it’s so, so, what? Not a haunting, not even a flaunting like it was back in the good old days, and a lot more girthlings than guantlings. It’s most of all daunting, if the rhyming device employed in this sentence is to be carried through to its bitter end.
Dauntingly, everyone wants to be somewhere else. The engineers want to be engineering over their spreadsheets, the salesmen want to be pinging back at their desks, and all would rather die a thousand virtual deaths at the hands of their sons on Xbox than drink overpriced cocktails in some Times Square hotel bar. Yet all are bound to their booths by the powerful enchantments of management wizards.
Am I mirroring? Yes. This is a blog, so call it a fun-house mirror. Like most everyone else, I hate working the floor. But I lurch from booth to booth draped in the heavy, ghostly chains of commerce, because I am too cheap to rent a booth. Nothing looks more pathetic to me than a translation services booth.
Despite my good intentions, I didn’t have the heart to research beforehand, so I picked prospects based on signage. I began my intro with one likely suspect, and suddenly a witch jumped out of a curtained corner. “I do all the translation here! German, French, Greek. I do it all!”
“Gee, I guess I should hire you to work for me,” I said, which is my exit line when talking to an amateur who thinks they know what we are doing, but doesn’t.
But I couldn’t leave the field without receiving a parting shot. “But that could change…perhaps you have other ways you wish to use your time…”
I laughed. “No. It will never change. I won’t bullshit you. We will never use your service! All these other guys say, ‘OK, I’ll take your card, I’ll give it to the right guy,’ or whatever, even though they are just going to toss it in the trash as soon as you round the corner. But I won’t do that.”
“Thanks. I guess that concludes my pitch. So how’s the show working out for you this year?”
“I’ve been picking up on that. When the sales guy tells you he’s doing ‘OK’ in that certain tone, you can tell he’s not making his numbers.”
“See? Bullshit! I told you I wouldn’t bullshit you!”
I felt for her, for pitiful me too, for all my sales brothers and sisters caught up in this daunting venture. So as my demeanor changed, they began to bare their blackened sales souls to me. “My feet hurt.” “I want to get out of this booth, but I can’t leave.” “This show is costing me too much money.” “I hate the Yankees!” That last disclosure was a bit too much for even my newfound empathy, so it was time to go.
On the bright side, I did get a free Wiffle ball and bat from the New England Business Development Council, which they assured me had no connection to the Red Sox.
See you at the show next year!