I blame it on my dad.
When I was young, I remember going downstairs into our basement rec room, where my dad had wallpapered one part with maps, and on the large U.S. map he would draw lines where he had driven. Even at a young age, I remember there being a lot of lines on that map. And every time we took a family vacation, he would add lines on the map showing the new places we’d been.
Fast forward to 1981 when I went on my first show, he gave me a large U.S. map and said I needed to start my own map. That map still hangs on the wall in my study at home and has gathered quite a few lines. But I took it one more step – I set up a spreadsheet where I could track the destination, the airline, the air miles, the rental car and car miles for every trip. Who knew in 1981 that this document would grow to be 50 pages long and average 20 trips per year? Who knew that I would have to add a world map to include destinations outside the U.S.? And in December of this year, I reached one million miles of travel.
His desire to wander was passed down to me. His fascination with studying maps and plotting routes on the ‘blue highways’ of our nation has infected me (on old school maps, red lines were Interstate highways and blue lines were back roads). I still carry paper maps in my car and would much rather look at one of those than an electronic one.
My family calls me JimPS. They don’t need a GPS; they just ask me how to get there, wherever there may be. My son calls me from Kansas City, where he got lost in the wrong part of town. My daughter calls and wants to tell a friend how to negotiate downtown Chicago. I can’t help it; it’s part of my DNA.
I consider myself fortunate; even blessed. A million miles of travel is a lot airplanes and airports and TSA screenings and rental cars and gas station rest rooms. But it is also meeting a lot of people, and seeing a lot of cool places and getting to experience some amazing things.
Taking my I&D supervisor to see the Grand Canyon on a day off during a long show in Las Vegas. Seeing Elton John, Sting, John Mellencamp and Tim McGraw – to name a few – play private concerts at client events. Watching planes race (yes, race) at the Reno Air Races with a client. Getting to go to the Barrett-Jackson auto auction in Scottsdale with two good friends. Hanging with my team and watching the sun set over the Pacific Ocean from our client’s rental house in Mission Beach.
There are way too many memories and way too many good stories and way too many cool places to go through them all here. Bar Harbor, Maine. Machinaw Island, Mich. The Olympic Peninsula in Washington. Yosemite National Park. However, if I had to pick one region of the country to call a favorite, it would be the Southwest. I love the vast open spaces, the dramatic scenery, the incredible sunsets.
Perusing the list of airlines and car models on my spreadsheet is like a peek into the history of transportation. Who remembers these airlines: Air 1, America West, Braniff, Eastern, Jet America, Ozark, Republic and TWA? And when was the last time you drove a Baretta, Lumina, Concorde, Intrepid, Tempo, Ciera or Sunbird?
Above all of this, though, are the people I’ve met, the friends I’ve made and the good memories that come with that. I can’t count the number of friends and acquaintances who bring smiles to my face when I walk into a convention center anywhere in this country. Sharing a beer and a meal and great conversation with friends at the end of a long day is the greatest reward, and those are the memories I cherish the most.
My father passed 16 years ago, but my mother still lives in the house I grew up in. And his map is still on the wall in the basement. When I was there recently I stopped to study the map again. After 30 years of traveling as much as I have, there are still places on his map that I have not been. I stand there and study those routes, and wonder what he saw along those roads and who he met along the way. I guess those will have to be part of my next million…
See you on the show floor.
Jim Obermeyer has been in the tradeshow industry over 30 years, both as a corporate tradeshow manager and exhibit house executive. He is a partner in the tradeshow and event marketing firm Reveal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.