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Forced patience

Have we as a culture really changed that much in 100 years? Have we really advanced as a society? Has technology really had the great impact we think it has?

Here I sit at McCarran Airport in Las Vegas waiting for my flight, which has been delayed by 90 minutes. Up and down the concourse, every gate is experiencing the same thing: weather-delayed travel.

It is an interesting study in social behavior to watch what people do with their newfound free time. The bank of pay phones sits empty, but cell phone and PDA use is prolific. Every other lap holds a laptop computer or iPad. People are checking e-mail, surfing the net or watching movies. There are a sprinkling of newspapers and books being read.

How different is this from years and generations past? Thirty years ago when I started traveling extensively for business, it was a little different. There were lines at the pay phones (no cell phones or PDAs), lots of Daytimers and Franklin planners (no laptops or iPads), and a smattering of books and papers. But it was mostly the same: people waiting for weather-delayed flights.

I pause and scan up and down the aisle. As I do, my mind transforms this place into a Greyhound bus station, circa 1960. Traveling salesmen (yes, mostly men) waiting for the next bus, delayed due to bad weather on the roads. There are lines at pay phones and lines at the news stand, people killing time in the bus station, waiting.

Again, I’m transported back in time; this time to a train station. It’s 1943. I see soldiers waiting for the train to take them to their point of departure to the war. The place is crowded with people, all waiting for trains that have been delayed by weather, all passing the time playing cards and reading their books and newspapers.

How far back does this go? Did people wait for delayed trains in Grand Central Station in New York in 1920? Surely they did. Did people wait for stage coaches in the Old West? Without a doubt. Depending on what part of the country they were in, weather delays were nothing compared to potential delays or cancellations due to bad ‘diplomatic relations’ with the local Native Americans.

So what’s really changed here? Stage coach, train, bus, plane. Telegraph, telephone, cell phone, iPad. Newspapers and planners and laptops. Big deal. I’m still waiting. Just as my ancestors did. I’m still at the mercy of weather-related delays. All the technology in the world hasn’t changed this basic situation.

So what will the future look like? Lines at spacecraft launch gates? Delays from meteor showers? Lines at the transporter station? Can weather delay it when I want you to beam me up, Scotty? What will we do in the future to kill time when we’re waiting? What new technology will we use to pass the time?

I realize that this train of thought appears to have absolutely nothing to do with the exhibit industry. Wrong. What are we all about? We are all about the tradeshow and getting everything to the show and ready for the show for the moment the show opens. Delays are not acceptable in our business. The show date doesn’t change just because your stuff, or people, didn’t get there because of some weather delay.

Over time, I have become acutely aware of my intolerance for delay. We work so hard to eliminate any chance of delay for our clients that it has become second nature to immediately begin looking at alternatives and plan Bs when faced with delays. We are paid to prevent delay. We are paid to make it happen when it is supposed to happen. It’s what we do well.

So here I sit, waiting through this delay, powerless to change the circumstances. It is not in me to just wait. I am trained by experience to immediately work to fix this. It is a strange side effect of working in our industry, this intolerance for delay. It bleeds into all facets of life, but is brought into the wide open in an airport terminal stuffed with fellow travelers enduring the same pain.

Hey, if nothing else, I’ve just killed an hour writing this column several weeks before it’s due. Hmmm…I wonder what I’ll do next time.

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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