It’s that magical time of the year again, and we’re not talking Christmas here but the DEMA show! It’s the Diving Equipment and Manufacturers Association’s annual trade show, and it’s the biggest show in the world dedicated solely to scuba diving. I have been personally attending this show since 2000 and each year come away wiser, better trained, and enriched with even greater product knowledge and dive destination knowledge than I thought possible. This is good stuff!
This year I am wearing two hats at the show. First and foremost we are here representing the world’s oldest and largest adaptive scuba training organization, IAHD – the International Association for Handicapped Divers, and it’s American counterpart, IAHD-Americas. The DEMA show brings together under one roof thousands of instructors, dive center owners, and resort operators and is wonderful platform to spread the IAHD message to the masses. We’ve got a great booth location and hope to add a number of new instructors and dive centers to the growing IAHD family over the next four days. My second role here is to ‘press the flesh’, Indian Valley Scuba style. So many of our vendors and industry associates are here it is a social lovefest, reconnecting with old friends, making new ones, and putting faces to the emails that we have grown to live with daily.
So in addition to me splitting my time between IAHD and IVS roles, the rest of Indian Valley Scuba’s presence this year includes Jim Cormier, Brian LaSpino, Mike Petrochko, Dave Hartman and Sue Douglass. We’ve got people to see, places to go, training to conduct, deals to make, all sorts of activities to make for a very busy week. Brian & Mike flew in Monday in order to spend all day Tuesday in training seminars from Oceanic & OMS. Dave H arrived then too. Meanwhile Jim C has spent the last three days driving across America in the IVS truck & demo trailer, getting us 2,500 miles of roadside advertising exposure and making a few new friends along the way. I flew in to meet up with Jim and relieved him for the last 4 hours of driving – yes, what a saint I am!
Jim & I arrived in Vegas, checked in, and parked the truck and trailer for the night in a well-lit portion of the hotel parking lot, once again choosing a position that gave us maximum impact on the visual of all those great graphics we have. Now keep in mind we parked alongside trucks and trailers from all sorts of manufacturers and a few other local dive centers, so we were just “part of the scenery”. And boy did the rig look good there under the lights!
Well we all know that IVS has made a huge effort over the years to establish brand identity and be known as a dynamic dive center with plenty to offer. And to many, that is good news, as our diving family has grown in leaps and bounds, more and more divers flock to us and join us on trips, for training and for gear purchases, all under one great red roof in the center of the scuba diving universe, Harleysville, PA. All these are things that make folks smile, well at least most of the folks! While we believe in running and growing our business on positive energy and karma, never speaking of others in a negative term, it appears that not everyone is of the same philosophy. I suppose there will always be “haters” out there no matter what you do or how you do it. Some of you remember when we enjoyed a nice “keying” incident last year thanks to a local diver who wasn’t crazy about us (but of course wasn’t smart enough to check out the security camera that caught it all on film!). Last night though, we saw that sort of hate crime ramped up just a bit. This morning we were greeted with two nice bullet holes through the windows of the truck – friggin’ amazing, but true. No other vehicle around us was involved, and there was no break in, just a wild west sort of message that said someone loves Indian Valley Scuba, in a ‘Deliverance’ sort of way! I am taking that as a sort of compliment about how well we have marketed ourselves, to know we have stirred such passion, negative as it is, in a nameless, faceless competitor.
So first thing Wednesday a.m. we pull the bullet-riddled truck up to the convention center to unload our display. First I need to work my way through the registration and get my posse signed in early to help set up the booth. But of course, there are rules that must be followed and you know how I am with that! The gatekeeper nazi’s are adamant about not allowing my guys in, so I switch to Plan B. Checking my resources, I have a bag of caramel taffies in my backpack, so I amble my way over to the registration counter, make some small talk with the ladies there who are already being hassled by some belligerent vendors, and in my most sensitive way, let them know I feel their pain and agree via eye contact and gestures that some of these guys are jerks. OK, ice is broken, I pull out my bag of taffies, get them all a little sugar rush, we laugh, and I tell them “I’m not sure what happened but our badges were not mailed to us”. Of course I had my fingers crossed as I said that, but it worked! “What are their names”, my taffy-chewing new friend asks, and before you know it, I have early admission badges in hand and get my team in the gate. Meanwhile, the jerk is still up there arguing……
But we’re not quite done. We pull the truck up to the designated location, and as I reach for to unlock the trailer, I am immediately approached by a representative from Teamsters Local 530, who asks the obvious “what are you doing?”. Of course, I can’t just let that one pass, it’s too easy! So some sarcastic banter back & forth, another teamster or two gather around, and I sense that I will need to make some sort of concession here in order to accomplish the mission. So I switch gears, change tone of voice, put on my best puppy dog non-profit face, and share what the IAHD is all about, helping others, making smiles, we don’t make any money here at the show, we’re not like the manufacturers, blah, blah, blah. One of the senior guys leans over and says “How about $63 for us to unload one cartload of stuff for you?”. “What if it doesn’t fit on one cart”, I ask. With a knowing wink he says “I think we’ll make it work”. Done! Minutes later four teamsters are unloading our stuff, piled it on a couple of carts, carried our banners in hand, and our booth is set up! Well spent $63 and now I have some new friends in low places.
Oh well, incident and union involvement aside, we move on and the show gets off to a great start. So much to see and so many appointments, the hours whiz by. Quite a few dive centers are looking to come on board as IAHD training centers to accommodate this growing adaptive scuba market, and we are starting to fill up our training calendar for the first part of 2011. Very cool to see! Meanwhile Brian, Jim & Mike have been going from one training seminar to the next, bringing more technical knowledge and skills to IVS to further enhance our service department’s resources. IVS diver and WRL racer Mark Hughes joined our team for the day, and IAHD’s Klaas Brower and Fred Seibert flew in from the Netherlands to help staff the booth and coordinate our activities on both sides of the Atlantic.
The day done, it’s time to start on the all-important social circuit, and our first stop is the DAN booth where they have a live band, Greg from ScubaRadio is the emcee, mermaids are there, and the free food is out! From there it’s the NAUI party, where I tease them with what it would be like if IVS was a NAUI center – that’s good enough for unlimited food and drinks for the team! After that Joe Weatherby and I have a dinner meeting with representative of the island of Barbados who wish to bring both the IAHD and the Wreck Racing League to their beautiful country. It’s a very positive and productive session all around and a lot of progress is made on both items. And while we are there, Joe gets an email from the French dive magazine Plongeur, who wants to sponsor a WRL event in France in 2011. How very cool eh?
Thursday kicks off well, with more training seminars and meetings to attend, vendors to visit and interested parties to share the IAHD message with. The men are still busy with their seminars so I am lonely in the booth, but I manage to suffer on. More good connections and Brian is talking to even more manufacturers and bringing in more lines to IVS. The afternoon wraps up on a special note, with Jim Cormier being honored and award his Platinum Pro 5,000 Award from SSI, recognizing his 5,000+ dives and his contribution to the dive industry with his training, continuing education, and activities such as the annual clean-up dives he organizes each year on the Campbellford River. After that teary-eyed moment, we head over to the Poseidon party and mingle with the silent ones, our friends from Sweden, and we get to meet some other shop owners who carry the Poseidon line.
Of course our visit to the affair is not without controversy, as it is the position of Poseidon, backed by several training agencies, that instructors should offer students the opportunity to learn to dive on a rebreather right from the start. Well let me think about that for a split second….Not a chance at IVS!! Holy smokes, how much task loading and difficulty do we want to add to someone who is just learning how to defog a mask and at the same time learning to monitor the partial pressure of oxygen in the loop? Not in my lifetime, I tell them, and of course that goes over like a lead balloon! Can you imagine when this newly certified diver goes on a trip someone and does not have their machine, and a friend says “hey look at that beautiful reef, let’s get a dive in”, to which the rebreather diver must respond “I’m sorry, but I don’t know how to dive open circuit”. Geeeshh……shaking my head here! Baby steps, baby steps……
Now on a local note, I need to ship some items I picked up at the show for Ms Bev, so I head out to the local UPS store. I get to talking to Dave, the owner, and turns our he’s a diver, so we talk about the local diving. He relates how one of the coolest dives in Lake Mead is an old B-29 bomber. Back when this was first re-discovered in 1999 (the Navy knew it was there since it sunk in 1944), it was a technical dive at 180 feet to the very top of the tail section, and the cockpit was sitting at 260 ft. Now, due to the 10 year drought, the lake level is down about 125 feet and the B-29’s tail sits at a nice recreational depth of 55 feet! So much for selling tech diving in Lake Mead!! These guys are in sad need of global warming and the polar caps melting to re-fill the lake!
More great show time followed, more folks interested in getting on board the IAHD train, and Brian wheeling & dealing with our vendors like there’s no tomorrow! “Mini Me” sure makes me proud! More time spent with my European friends working to bring the ISO standards to IAHD and work towards a 10 year plan of growth on our way to being the dominant adaptive scuba training agency globally. Big goals, but we support them, and time will tell how well that all pans out, but boy are they pumped about it! We end the day with a nice dinner at the steakhouse, head over to the Venetian for some live music, and call it a day.
Saturday now and the last day of the show. Still so many to see, so the sneakers are tied tight cause they’re gonna get a few miles on them today for sure! Like a man possessed I cover aisle after aisle, all 38 of them. The show floor is over a 1/4 mile from end to end and each aisle has about 40 booths so it is quite the task to cover them all. But there is flesh to press, and deals still to be made, so I have at it, and thankfully come out quite successful by the end of the day. We book a Galapagos trip, start the process for an Africa trip, swing some sweet deals on our Bonaire trip, firm up some IAHD training, and spend a bunch of money on new products. What a day!
Finally the magic hour comes and it’s time to break the booth down and load out. Unlike the load in, we’ll complete this without the help of any organized labor, so team IVS gets it in motion and less than 20 minutes later the entire booth is on two carts and heading towards the elevator. Meanwhile the Australians have been busy breaking their booth down, and loading everything we store for them in the truck. Once outside and loaded, we head over to the shooting range, er, I mean the other parking lot, hook up the trailer and load everything for the long ride home. So while Jim & I are looking at the long ride home, Brian and Mike still have a few hours to kill before they catch the red-eye flight home at 1:00 a.m. so what better way to spend your time than with some indoor skydiving? Jim & I figure it is better to pass and get on our way home, so we bid farewell for now and fire up the truckster.
So, as Jake & Elwood would say, it’s 2,380 miles to home (that’s 4,028 kilometers for our Canadian readers, Jim reminds me), we’ve got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark, and we’re wearing sunglasses….hit it! And we’re off and running. Thirty-four hours of non-stop driving ahead of us, except for three special hours tomorrow evening when we stop someplace with cold beer and a big screen TV to cheer the Eagles on to victory over the Giants. Our ride home will take us past some great sights, the first being the Hoover Dam, but in the dark, it is not quite as dramatic. Ditto for the Grand Canyon, so let’s just focus on our driving. The elevation rises as we travel, and before you know it we are passing through the Arizona Divide at 7,300 ft of elevation. We stop for the first of many loads of fuel, and what an eye opener it is, as I step out of the truck in my thin Hawaiian shirt, perfect for Vegas, only to find it’s a tad more nippley here in the 34 degree air!! Smart move, packing all my clothes and my sweatshirt in the trailer….duh! It’s OK, I suffer through, we are fueled, and I finish my first four hour shift before turning the wheel over to Jim and lean back for a little power nap.
We hit a bit of rain during the night but overall it is thankfully an uneventful first night of travel. When morning comes we are three states and 10 hours closer to home …only 25 hours to go…woo hoo! Off the list..Nevada, Arizona, now New Mexico, so we’re in Texas, and you can’t pass through Texas without getting your kicks on Route 66, and what better way than a stop at the famous Cadillac Ranch! Pretty odd, ten old Cadillacs buried nose down in a cow pasture, complete with cows. Oh well, good photo op, and a chance to stretch our legs. OK, that’s off the Bucket List, so back on the road!!
Rolling, rolling…..the miles click by, so the cows, rest areas, and beautiful views of America. We’ve noticed a small problem with the trailer, seems that the screws that our sign guy pulled out for the lettering are all backing out. We’ve lost almost two dozen so far, so it’s time to stop at the Tulsa Home Depot and get some screws, double sided tape and thread adhesive. Like a well-oiled NASCAR pit crew, Jim & I rework the sheetmetal and get Team IVS back in the race east. We make it to Miami where it’s time for a mandatory NFL stop – the Eagles are coming on! That’s Miami, Oklahoma, in case you were wondering about our routing. Slowed down by traffic and an accident (involving others, not us) we are short on our goal of making it to Joplin, Missouri for the game, but Miami will do in a pinch. First we have to exit the turnpike, which had paid a $9.75 toll for earlier. We show our receipt at the Miami toll booth, and they refund $1.75 to us since we did not finish our ride down the ‘pike’. Strange but true. We ask the attendant where we can catch the game and he recommends a casino aobut five miles down the road, so in that direction we head.
We pull into the High Winds Casino and they’ve got six wide screen TV’s in the lounge and every one has the game on – we like this place! …..OK, now as Paul Harvey would say….the rest of the story……
Jim and I order a beer and some appetizers while the game gets underway. Now mind you there are approx. 30 seats at the bar with about 5 occupied, and a dozen tables, with a group of 4 at one, and Jim & I at the other. So you get a sense that the place is dead. I ask the bartender if it is OK if I use my computer and she says “of course”. So I pull it out of my backpack, she plugs it into an outlet for me, and I start to update the blog. Meanwhile Jim takes a picture of me hard at work, we chuckle, and get on with our game watching, beer drinking, appetizer munching and blogging. We’re there for over an hour, from the kickoff until the 10 minute mark of the second quarter, when a blue shirted security guy walks up and says “Sir, there are no computers allowed in the casino”. I said “we’re in the bar, and all I am doing is blogging and reading email”. He says “they’re concerned about folks hacking into the casino security so no computers are allowed.” “OK,” I say with a laugh, “I must look like a real threat here!” Never the less, I close the laptop, shut it down, he says thanks, and we get back to enjoying our drinks and the game. Lo and behold, five minutes later he returns, this time he says “sir, you have to put the camera away.” Now the camera has been sitting here the entire hour, untouched, except for that photo Jim took of me an hour ago, but I say “Sure, no problem, but why?” He says they are concerned with people taking pictures in the casino, and I inquire about the cell phone cameras that, let’s say, every single person here has tonite?? He misses the point, Jim puts the camera back into the backpack, and again we return to our quiet evening. I chuckle to Jim and ask if they have nothing better to do than watch the two guys in the bar, and with that, I slowly, discretely, raise a single digit flagpole salute in the middle of our table, never raising my arm above my head, just a quiet symbol of defiance between Jim & I. And back to our game…..but no, there will be no peace tonight, as now there are two blue shirts at the table, and I am informed in an official sounding voice “Sir, since you flipped the bird at the security camera we will have ask you to to leave the casino immediately.” I just about fall out of my chair laughing, but no, they are not kidding. Jim chuckles, they bring our tab, we settle up and head out of this joint, wiser, partially fed, and clearly amused. Security risk abated, the blue shirts return to their rounds.
So we are missing our game, and that is not a good thing. We drive back up the road and figure there has to be a sports bar in this little hamlet of Miami, so up the main drag we go. And back down the main drag we come, nary a bar of any sort in site. We decide to check out another casino, which seems to be the main source of employment and entertainment in this town. This time it’s the Little Miami indian reservation casino, and we park in the tiny lot, barely squeezing the truck and trailer in. Enter the casino, and it is more of a bingo hall with slot machines, and lots of scary looking local ladies checking out the “new meat” that just walked in. Jim’s a little nervous, but I reassure him that it’ll be OK, I am here to protect his virtues, and we march through, right up to the girl who is dutifully pulling the balls for the bingo. “Where’s the bar”, I ask, and she says “we don’t have one”. I probably should have picked up on that when we walked past the self-serve soda fountain right in the middle of the slot machines. “OK, where can we get a beer and watch the game”, I ask. She rattles off another two or three casinos and I have to ask her if there are any bars with TV’s in town, that are NOT casino’s. “Oh yeah”, she says, “Boomers is a bar”. We ask where it is, she says right at the light, we ask for more detail since we just drove through that light and surely did not see any neon beer signs. “It’s right at the Best Western”, she tells us, and a guy sitting at a slot machine pipes in and confirms that yes it’s right there at the Best Western. OK, sounds simple enough, and we head out, fire up the truck and go back to the light. There’s a Hampton Inn, Microtel, Budget Inn, another local place or two, but no Best Western at all. We pull into the Love’s gas station and Jim jumps out and asks the clerk. “Boomers is right back at the light, turn at the ‘Snack Attack’ and you can’t miss it”. Yeah right, we go back out, once down, and once back, utterly amazed that we cannot locate a bar that everyone is telling us is right here. We stop once more, at the Microtel, and the clerk confirms the Snack Attack location. Shaking our heads, we go at it once more, and sure enough, under the HUGE gas sign, behind the BIG lottery sign, is a tiny, unlit sign that says ‘Snak Attack’. We pull in and there is NO Best Western sign, and NO lights in the bar or name over the door, in fact is shut down. Great local info for sure! We decide to try one more casino, this time the Buffalo Run casino, so we see the sign, roll the window down to confirm with a local, it’s just a half mile down this dark road. One and a half miles later we see the inflatable teepee-like building on the right housing the casino, and we head on in. First we need to park, and there in front of the parking lot is a metal structure with a pipe hanging to make sure we are not too high. Wait a minute, the parking lot is a big open field. So the height limit would be something like the sky?? Whatever, but we don’t fit, so we drive 10 feet to the right and around the height checker and park the truck in the big open field. Geeesh. Into the casino we go, yes they have a bar, yes they have TV’s with the game on, so far so good. OK, I’ll roll the dice here and ask I ask April our bartender if it is OK if I work on my laptop and she says “sure, why not?”. Whoa, I am thinking, but Jim, ever the tactful one, says “we were just thrown out another casino for that!”. Thanks Jim, I am thinking. April says “wait a minute, let me check.” So sure enough, here comes a red coated security supervisor, and he says “what’s up?”. I re-state the question, asking if it is OK if I use my laptop here, and he says “Sure, I don’t see a problem with that, but you can’t do it at the bar. You need to move to a table”, and he points to a table that is about, oh, 7 feet away from the bar. I acknowledge the code speak, April carries our drinks to the “table”, and we are good to go. So here I sit, blogging away! Amazing stories of Oklahoma casino experiences, but true!
Finally the game comes to a conclusion, with the Eagles playing with our hearts and souls but finally emerging with a ‘W’ for the night. We settle our tab for $9.00 (yes, one dollar per pint of beer, a little more cost effective than it was in Vegas). We head back out to continue our road adventure, and Jim takes over at the helm. Once again we drive around the height limiting gate, get back onto the highway, re-pay our $1.75 that we were refunded, and see the last bit of Oklahoma before passing into Missouri. 13 hours to go, almost like a Key Largo road trip now!
Thirty five hours into our trip, and sometime during the night we get a bad load of diesel and suddenly our mileage drops to 6 1/2 MPG, with the truck slowing to 40 mph up the hills, and pouring smoke like we’re running on coal….definately injector fouling taking place here! I stop at a truck stop, walk in with my best 18-wheeler swagger, grab some injector cleaner off the shelf, bitch about bad fuel with some of my new buds there, and beat it back outside before they figure out I’m about 10 wheels short of a real trucker here! I slip the truckster a healthy dose, and within 75 miles we are as good as new! Whew! All sorts of bad visions going through my head there, but all good now.
Driver swapping continues, and I’m half-asleep (not behind the wheel this time) when I feel the rumble strips under the tires. I jolt awake, look at Jim, and he is fading. Like an NFL trainer, I know what to do, and reach into the console, grab a double-shot of 5 Hour Energy Boost, pop the top, and feed it to Jim like Gatorade! He perks right up and gets back in the game, and I ask what happened….turns out he was trying to do a Canadian conversion on his last dose, and didn’t realize that 5 did not convert to 6.4 hours. Math problem solved, I slip back into my slumber, knowing I’m in good and alert hands now. I also set my alarm for 4 1/2 hours to make sure I am up to administer his next dose!! During the night we pass through Indiana, Illinois, and Ohio.
While I was shopping at the truck stop, I picked up something else for us, and I present Jim his gift as the sun starts to come up and the cab begins to warm a bit. We’ve been traveling about 40 hours now, after spending all of Saturday in the trade show, and our shirts and body parts are starting to reek a bit. So I had bought a couple of air fresheners, and Jim’s wearing his around his neck (Canadian Pine scent) while I have mine on (citrus, so you can tell us apart). We look like a couple of rap stars with our bling on, but at least we can start breathing through our noses again, as we roll through upper Virginia and finally, we’re in Pennsylvania and home!