Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Reflections on 5 Miles a Day

I’m out of practice.

I thought I’d be asleep by the time the train reached Crestwood Monday morning on my way into the city, but I was still awake, thanks in no small degree to two phone calls from Marty who wanted to know, one, if I had made the 8:01 (I had), and, two, if I were asleep (not if I keep getting buzzed by your calls, Marty).

Actually, even without Marty’s devoted (or should that be demented) interest in my comings and goings, I would not have been asleep. I failed to take into account that without a monthly commuter ticket to hold in my hand, I had to stay awake for the conductor to punch my return-trip ticket, and he never made it to my seat until after we passed Crestwood.

I was determined to get some winks in, but try as I might to enter deep sleep, I could only drift in and out of a foggy haze.

Once at Javits Center, I embarked on a routine only slightly different than the one I practiced 30 other times at the annual convention of the National Retail Federation. I walked around, showing the flag, that is, my face, to any and all who would recognize me or I would recognize. In the past, I was drumming up business and editorial contacts for my magazine. Once found, I would pass on the information to the appropriate staff member. These last two days I was keeping my personal heritage alive, just in case someone saw value in me. I’m happy to report, some actually did express interest. Perhaps Gilda will get her wish and I’ll start contributing positively again to our household.

Monday and Tuesday, I walked five miles each day, traversing round and round the convention center. Those who have worked trade shows know that it is a truism that no matter how many people are in attendance—and the NRF show attracted some 18,500—you always seem to see the same people again and again. Unless, of course, you’re looking for that one person whom you can never bump into.

To physically survive a large trade show, you have to act like a shark. You must keep moving or you’ll quickly realize your back, legs and feet are killing you.

Without specific appointments, I meandered the 30 aisles of the show at random, weaving in and out, serendipitously meeting old friends. For the first time ever, actually it happened three times over the two days, total strangers told me my name was misspelled on my show badge. They assumed I was from Forester Research, a well known technology consultancy. They were disappointed to find out I was with (rather, I was) The Forseter Group, a newly organized communications consulting organization.

Several times I was asked if I was wearing socks. Slowly but surely word of my sartorial freedom is getting around. Universally, everyone who asked what I was doing these days reacted with envy when told, “I do what I want to, not what I have to.”

On a positive note, the convention exuded signs of pending economic recovery. Retail company attendance was up 27% from a year ago, the NRF said. Overall attendance had rebounded to 2008 levels. Traffic on the convention floor was strong and steady. The buzz was positive. Retailers seemed poised to spend money.

On a negative note, the show again confirmed the sorry state of executive diversity among retailers and suppliers. In two days I observed fewer than a score of Afro-American executives, about the same number of Hispanics, slightly more Asian. This is an appalling record for an industry dependent on these ethnic groups for labor and customer bases.

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