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Empty nesting

I’m writing this on a Sunday evening in a hotel room in Dallas. I’m here with a new client, at the first show we are doing for them. We’re two-thirds of the way through install and everything is going according to plan. Being here for this is absolutely necessary to solidify our relationship with this client.

Unfortunately, this is also the weekend my oldest son is cleaning out his bedroom (and most likely my workshop and bar) and moving into an apartment. He couldn’t arrange a different date for the move, and I couldn’t convince show management to change the dates of the show.

My wife and I knew this was coming. We were actually encouraging it. It is time for him to move on, to explore life on his own, to learn some of those life lessons you can only experience away from home.  He’s excited and of course, fearless.

In about two months, our other child will be moving away to begin her college career. We are very excited for her. She is ready to be done with high school, and ready to move on and move out. She will be in a great environment, and my wife and I are looking forward to watching her grow and change.

However, what we knew was coming and have talked about many times is suddenly happening now. We are facing, for the first time in a very long time, a chance to be together on our own. In 30 years of marriage, I haven’t had my wife to myself in 23 years. I’m not sure what to do with this. Well, actually, I do have a few ideas…

One of my first thoughts: finally, I’ll be able to take advantage of the Companion Pass that Southwest Airlines keeps giving me. Back when we were first married and I was traveling a lot in my corporate tradeshow manager position, she always thought I was out having all the fun. In her mind, I was traveling to all these great cities, seeing sights, eating out.

She wanted to go and see what I really did. So I took her with me to a show. In Chicago. In February. She got up with me at 6:00 a.m. We were in the hall by 7:30 a.m. at McCormick Place. She was okay until 8:00 a.m., when they opened the big doors on the lake side and the wind blew into the hall and the temperature in there went from cool to frigid.

She wanted to go back to the hotel. I made her stay with me all day so she could see how much fun I have when I’m on the road. For lunch, we dined on the fine cuisine served on the roach coach. We lounged on crates. She hasn’t been back since.

Actually, she is excited about the opportunity to just have the freedom to be able to travel with me if she wants to. And that’s great with me. However, and I’m not sure this thought has crossed her mind yet, when she doesn’t go with me, she will be home alone. Not just alone without a husband, but alone without both kids as well.

That thought has already got me thinking about how to shorten some of my trips. I love this business and I love what happens on the show floor: the relationships with clients, with our suppliers, with industry friends all grow stronger out on the show. But for me, the relationship that must remain the strongest is the one I have with my wife.

We are heading into a new era in our marriage, and I have a feeling I am heading into a new era in how I handle business travel as well. This new, empty nest experience will most likely mean some changes. And like any change of this magnitude, it will take some time to work it all out. I just know one thing: This time when I take her out, it’s going to be San Diego on a sunny, 75-degree day. I’m letting her sleep in and then head for the beach. And when I’m done working, we’ll find a nice place in the Gaslamp District to enjoy dinner outside.

Or maybe the Riverwalk in San Antonio, Texas. Or the Garden District in New Orleans. Or Belmont Shore in LA. Or Greenville Ave. right here in Dallas. Maybe this empty nest thing won’t be so tough to do.

See you on the show floor…

Jim Obermeyer has been in the tradeshow industry 30 years, both as a corporate trade show manager and exhibit house executive. He is a partner in the trade show and event marketing firm Reveal. He can be reached at jobermeyer@revealexhibits.com.

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