Thanks to some insider info from that cool guy John "Mr. Oregon's Mt. Hood Territory" that we met at The Fair last August, Rob and I spent a super fun day wandering the ballroom in the Paris Hotel in Las Vegas as official attendees of the IAFE Annual Convention and Trade Show!!!! Can you believe it?!?
Wait, you don't seem nearly as excited as you should be.
Maybe this will help: IAFE = International Association of Fairs and Expositions. It is a group of people with THE BEST JOBS in the world! They all work for county and state fairs! And they meet every December to talk about how lucky they are! Or, at least that's what I assume they talk about since I wasn't allowed into any of their breakout sessions. Pesky membership rules, credentials, blah blah blah.
But I WAS allowed into was the trade show! A trade show of all things FAIR! I had no idea what to expect but I knew I had to go. And I managed to persuade Rob into going with me to take pictures and carry my stuff...you know, just like the Fair. Weeee!!!!
Ok, so are we on the same coming-out-of-our-skin-with-excitement page now?
I knew the experience was going to be memorable when it started before we even got there. We were waiting at Gate 14 for our flight to Vegas and Rob noticed a guy sporting a Seahawks sweatshirt and a jaunty hat. It was the hat that made me curious because, well, everyone should be a Seahawks fan. (Hi, Mom!)
"Is that the magician from the Fair??"
"Wow, maybe, but I'm not really sure. I'd know for sure if he was trying to cut off your hand."
Being the pair of introverts that we are, Rob and I kept staring and discussing. Rob told me to go ask the guy. I told Rob to go ask the guy. We did this through the pre-boarding announcements. Finally, I decided to be a grown up and approached the hatted man.
"Excuse me. Is your name Adam? Adam the Great? From the Clark County Fair?"
IT WAS! My first celebrity sighting at PDX!
We chatted for a bit and confirmed that Adam was going to the same convention we were. This was my first hint of what might greet me a few days later in the vendor booths in the Paris ballroom. (Insert foreshadowing music here.)
The morning of the trade show, I was up, ready, fed, and lurking around the ballroom entrance only 20 minutes early. I was proudly wearing my red convention badge and was giddy that I had listed my organization as "It's the FAIR!" -- a nod to the name of my blog for the local newspaper. It was the only legitimate Fair connection I could think of. Somehow "Insane Fair Fanatic and Milkshake Barn Groupie" didn't seem professional enough. Plus it was too long to fit on the badge.
The time finally arrived. We walked into the ballroom and were immediately greeted by a Coke fountain drink booth offering free samples. Free samples! Of Coke, Diet Coke, Coke Zero, Sprite, and Minute Maid Lemonade! Just like the free samples of water that Clark Public Utilities offers at their booth at our Fair...but sweeter and bubblier and more artificial! It was going to be a great day!!!
Sipping our aspartame, we headed to the far corner of the ballroom to systematically work our way through the 450 booths that awaited us. Three hours later, we were catching our breath on a really uncomfortable bench outside, watching the Fair People go by. Just like at our Fair!!
There are so many highlights, so much to say, so many brochures we brought home, so many photos. In no particular order, here's what the Fair Trade Show Experience was like (and yes, it was totally sustainable):
- It was by far the most sales-pitchy show I had ever been to. Pretty much everyone working their booths was eager to sell themselves and not the least bit shy about it. They were also all masters at reading the badges. Within seconds of passing near them, they greeted me by name and told me how much they liked Seattle (because if you live in Washington, what other cities are there?).
- The vendors were heavy on the entertainment that is booked at fairs. Think of all the shows that are at fairs (singers, magicians, hypnotists), along with the people who roam around and interact with guests, and that's who had rented little curtained booths in the ballroom. It was sort of like a menu of how to be entertained. The live owl on the woman's arm is scaring you? Ok, how about the next booth with a girl slathered in copper paint who stands as a statue? Not your thing? You like balloon animals? Cuz Steven is whipping them up in the next booth. How about celebrity impersonators? Danny DeVito and Robert De Niro are down the next aisle on the left. It was awesomely bizarre!
- It was a blast walking around the ballroom as all the entertainers were doing their thing. People were walking around on stilts, there was a huge zebra and robot and a guy dressed as a tree. There were acrobats and card tricks. People were eating popcorn and Dippin' Dots and drinking beer. And, if you listened closely enough to the casino outside the ballroom, there were even faint cheers and bells like on a midway. All that was missing was a demo derby and an elephant ear!
- After breaking a few hearts early in our rounds, Rob and I quickly learned to say, "Sorry, we don't book talent" early in any conversation. Personally, I was thrilled and complimented that I looked like someone who might have that power. But sadly, as soon as we made it clear that I was merely a blogger at best, I suddenly wasn't nearly as enthralling.
- Indeed, we would have wandered around the trade show a lot more if it weren't for the salivating nature of the booth folk. We both felt a lot like this:
- It was hard to really take it all in because we were constantly being noticed and approached and sold. In an analogy you'll only find here on Woodhaven Ramblings, walking around all the booths at the IAFE Convention was a lot like visiting the pyramids in Egypt with all of those incessant vendors insisting I buy a camel ride. As with the ancient wonders, I wasn't really able to fully take in the experience in the moment, what with being eyed as a walking stack of money.
|This is from a GEICO ad in 2012. Free elephant ear to anyone who can find me an image of the Roadrunner instead of the lizard.|
- It turns out the guy with the snake show hates snakes...but he loves what people are willing to pay to have snakes at their fair.
- Rob owned up to my being a blogger long before I did. I really thought I would just wander around inconspicuously. But, with the feeding frenzy, it became clear that wasn't going to happen. By the end of the day, I was A Blogger and was touched by the few vendor folks who thought it was cool. I was also impressed by the small handful who realized that a writer could still be useful even if she couldn't book talent. (Shout out to you faerie people and pirates!)
- The faerie people were very cool. They were one of those acts that walks around a fair to entertain and engage people. I noticed them right away because a mermaid turtle was giving a little girl a ride around the ballroom. (Awesome convention, right?) In chatting with the fine faerie folk, they also have a puppet stage that attaches to the turtle so they can do a roaming puppet show. How cool is that? You can check them out here.
- The pirates were very piratey. They were professional pirates...from Hollywood. I lost track of all of the credentials, but various crew members had been in all sorts of movies and such. What I liked most about them was they said they stay in costume and character for the duration of any fair they are hired for. So if they need to go to the grocery store or gas station, they do it as pirates so they can draw attention and tell people about the fair. I suggested to them that they not count on that working in Portland. So many pirates (and zombies) already randomly out for their errands because, well, Portland. (Check out the pirates here.)
- Aside from the entertainers, there were unexpected booths for the periphery of Putting on a Fair. Things like wheelchairs and strollers, barricades and fences, insurance, ribbons, tickets, payments systems.
- Rob noted that he had never seen so many ATMs at a convention before. We have no idea if any of them worked, but in Vegas perhaps having one every 100 feet isn't a bad business model.
- Trips and falls are the two biggest insurance claims for a fair. Golf carts are also a big hazard, as vendors don't always have the required experience to successfully zip around crowds of people to get more supplies. The carts are also often not well supervised; insurance claims for joy riding gone wrong are more common that you would think. And insuring the carnival rides? That's a whole other policy altogether. See how much we learned?!?
- Did I mention there was FREE BEER?? Brilliant! I had never heard of the brand (Leinenkugel from Wisconsin) but their Vanilla Porter was quite good. Word from some magicians was that at the end of each day, vendors are encouraged to come grab whatever beer is left over for the day. I could see that figuring into requested booth location for next year's trade show.
- There was also some live music. There was this quartet of guys from Georgia that sang acapella. They were fantastic. Their manager saw me trying to stealthily take a photo of them (I tell you, there was NO STEALTHINESS to be had at this convention!). So she came over and invited me to an afterparty meet-and-greet with them later that night in a suite at Bally's. I would be lying if I didn't say that made me feel like the coolest hip chick in the ballroom. And, naturally, I didn't go because, well, I don't book talent. Sigh.
- I got to shoot a rubber chicken through a cannon.
- It costs about $400,000 to buy one of those big food booths. That doesn't count the side areas for open-air BBQing of chicken and turkey legs and corn and such. No quote was provided...despite pleas for such...for setting up a booth in a backyard for a day.
- Once it was clear that I don't book talent, some folks relaxed and allowed themselves to chat more freely. For example, I learned that scheduling is one of the biggest challenges and priorities for any act. Trying to find events for the right dates in the right general geography is a huge headache. I also learned that some jugglers do science shows for schools during the off-fair season. And I learned that walking bent over on stilts as a zebra is a great core and ab work-out.
- I spotted a woman wearing the most adorable balloon bracelet so I asked her where she got it. I eventually found Steven and he made me a ladybug bracelet as Rob and I chatted with his mom...who is a hypnotist. We learned that Steven is in his early 30s and is finally coming to terms with the fact that his life's work should involve balloons. We were both very impressed with Steven...and the Ferris Wheel he made for a Ferris Wheel booth (missed that one!). Apparently it was the first wheel he had ever made.
Meanwhile, I managed to get the ladybug all the way home so I could take this picture:
- True to any exhibition hall at a fair, in addition to the card games, stilt walkers, balloon animals, pirates, and robots there were...Tempurpedic mattresses.
No amazing brooms or bathroom scum cleaner, though. And I never did find anyone who would clean my rings for me. Although, Steven's mom did use one of my rings to demonstrate how she uses mentalism in her hypnosis show. She put my ring under a cup, had me move it and a bunch of empty cups around, and she then used the energy she sensed from my ring to figure out which cup it was under. Cool! I never had that happen at the Advertising Research Foundation convention I used to go to way back when...
So wow, five pages later perhaps it is clear that the IAFE convention was unlike any convention I have ever attended. It was like a mini-fair, a little dose of Fair Fun to tide us fair lovers over to the summer. I am so thrilled I got to go! I'm not sure we will ever go again, though; going as fair groupie without an expense account is probably a one-time gig. But wow, what a hoot! And totally the most fun I have ever had in Las Vegas. And that's saying something!
Only 238 days 'til Fair!!