2013-01-31 / Views

From the Braver Institute

At the time of this writing I am sitting in a hotel room. I am attending a conference at which I shouldn’t be. It’s not that this conference is bad or boring (at least not as boring as it could be), it is just that it’s not exactly germane to what I do, though not completely unrelated. I agreed to go because someone had to do it.

Life is full of times where we have to do things that no one else can or is willing to do.

It reminds me of the first conference I ever went to.

Years ago I did a stint as the world’s worst car salesman. My good friend Ezra Hammer and I worked for the same dealership. The two of us had been selected to attend an Isuzu truck conference in Milwaukee. At the time we thought we had been chosen—out of all the other salesmen who had been there a lot longer than we had— because we would best represent our dealership, and we would also be the most likely to benefit from a conference. We were important. We were twenty-one.

Knowing what I know now, I realize we were chosen for the conference because no one else wanted to be there.

The dealership sent us off with pockets full of cash and instructions to go to the Holiday Inn in Milwaukee. The conference was being held at the hotel and we had a room reserved for us. We had no idea where the hotel was, but we didn’t need to know where it was because we were twenty-one, and when you are twenty-one you can navigate by the seat of your pants. Back in those days the closest thing we had to GPS was an outdated map and our ability to look around for signs that said things like “Holiday Inn.”

I drove because I was more familiar with Wisconsin and I was comfortable with their traffic lights on both sides of an intersection instead of just above the center of the intersection like we were used to in Michigan. The last time Ez and I were in Wisconsin together, he was driving and he stopped in the middle of an intersection because the light on the far side of it was red. We were almost killed and I wasn’t going to let that happen again. Besides, I had been through Milwaukee once or twice before, which pretty much made me an expert on getting around the place.

The trip to Milwaukee was uneventful and we had no trouble finding our hotel. It was a big, multi-story Holiday Inn just off of the freeway near downtown. We found our way to the parking lot and went inside to check in. This particular hotel was the most elegant Holiday Inn I had ever seen, and I was looking forward to staying there.

As you might expect, our names weren’t in their reservation book nor was the name of our dealership, and none of the staff knew anything about an Isuzu truck conference.

Half an hour on the phone with the dealership produced nothing. We were weighing our options when one of the hotel staff asked if we were supposed to go to the other Holiday Inn. They informed us that there was another one further south on US 41.

This Holiday Inn was the right one, of course.

We found our room and then prepared for the pre-conference, meet-and-greet reception by putting on our best car salesmen neckties.

Not being quite sure of protocol, we did what any twenty-one year old car salesmen would do at such an event—we started eating hors d’oeuvres and drinking lots of free booze.

For some reason I was surprised to see a whole lot of Japanese Isuzu executives at this shindig. I knew very well that Isuzu was a Japanese company, but I really didn’t expect to see corporate bigwigs in Milwaukee. One of them came up to me and introduced himself. In broken English he asked where I was from and how Isuzu truck sales were going. I told him that I was from the U.P. (being too young to realize that the rest of the planet had no clue what those initials stand for), and that the Isuzu Trooper seemed to be a decent truck and as far as I knew it was selling well. He gave me the blank look of someone who had no idea what I was talking about. I suspected that he didn’t have a firm grasp of the language.

It soon became clear that this party was a drag. It was nothing but a bunch of stuffed shirts talking about sales numbers. Thankfully there was more booze.

We met a guy from Normal, Illinois who seemed to share our opinion of the rest of the crowd and our appreciation for free booze. He told us that he really wasn’t here for the conference exactly. He had been asked by his dealership to drive a Mitsubishi truck to the conference so the Isuzu people could see how it stacked up (his dealership sold both lines).

That is when I found out why the Japanese executive looked at me like some kind of alien. It turned out that the conference was for medium-duty, commercial Isuzu trucks. We only sold Isuzu pickups and suvs—light-duty trucks. We had no business being there at all.

When the reception was over we did what anyone in our situation would do—we went to the hotel bar to continue drinking. Since there was no real reason to get up in the morning, we drank until the bar closed.

The next morning, aided by hangovers, we made the decision to head back home.

All-in-all my first conference was a good time. A free trip to Milwaukee, free food, free booze, and a day away from work. It was everything a good conference should be. Unfortunately, none of them have been that way since.

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