it’s amazing how a small shoe can change your plans.

I was in Las Vegas for the 1995 Consumer Electronics Show.

Normally, I had a fairly iron-clad travel system.  I’d pack all my shit and drive to the long-term parking lot at Newark Airport.  They had just installed a monorail that would deliver me from the parking lot to the terminal, where I’d check my bag and then sit and wait.  I’d pick up a newspaper or a magazine or something, and then just sit by the gate.  When they started boarding passengers, I’d wait until the final boarding call, then get on the plane – this way, I wouldn’t have to wait until everyone sat down.  I could just go right to my seat.

Coming home, I’d do the same thing, but then I’d wait to get off the plane until everyone else had gotten off.  Then I’d walk into the terminal, find a place to get a cup of coffee or a beer, and sit down for a drink.  I’d take my time and finish up, and then walk to the baggage claim.  By that time, the crowd was gone, and my suitcase was usually  by itself, spinning around the carousel.  I’d snag my suitcase, hop on the monorail, and walk to my waiting car.

For one reason or another, this particular time I was attending the Winter CES show in Las Vegas, and Sandy dropped me off at the airport.

I went and did the show, which was interesting in and of itself.

My old boss approached me on the first day and said “I want you to pretend to be the electronics buyer at Home Depot, and go around to all our competitors’ booths, sit down with them, and get their best prices on their entire product line.  Tell them you’re thinking of bringing cellular into all your stores, and you want to go back to Corporate with everyone’s best price, so you can make a decision.”

I didn’t know how I felt about telling a complete lie like that.  I’m not a good liar.

Steve, the sales manager, made it even easier.  He presented me with the attendee badge for the person in question – the national electronics buyer for Home Depot.  The guy’s name was Ed Something-or-other.

“How did you get this?” I asked.

“He’s my friend.”

So I put on the badge and walked over to the booth of a small company – not even really a competitor.  I figured I’d try it on someone small, who wouldn’t know better.

It was a smash.  The company saw my badge, immediately grabbed their sales manager, and the two of us sat down and reviewed the company’s product list, prices, and incentives for buying.  I learned all about their technical specifications, testing procedures, and everything else there was to know.

I was like a spy.  Most of these people wouldn’t have known what I looked like – it was only my second trip to this particular show, and I had never met any of our competitors.  

I went to another company and did the same thing – same result.  By the end of the first day I had a giant bag filled with price lists and product line data for all the products of my smaller competitors.

On Day 2 it was time to hit the bigger ones.  For some, I wasn’t so lucky.  These sales managers were pros – they wanted to set up meetings to come back to “my” office, and I had to tell some tall tales in order to get even the smallest bit of information.  A few relented and gave me data, a few others pledged to ship it to me after the show was over, or to hand-deliver it.  One wanted to put together a full-fledged presentation.

But still, I had most of what I was asking for.

After most of the day was done, I had only one more company: our main competitor.  I walked into their booth and casually loitered around for a while, waiting for an inconspicuous looking booth monkey to come over to me.  When one finally arrived, I introduced “myself” and asked him if he could provide me with his cellular price list.  Since this was my biggest competitor, I didn’t want to play around, I just wanted to get their price list and go.

He wouldn’t have anything of it.  I was like a giant fish at the end of his line, and he wasn’t going to just let me go.

“Why don’t you stay right here; I’ll go get our Sales Manager?” he asked.

“I don’t think I need to talk with your Sales Manager,” I said.  

“He’s right over there,” he pointed.  “I can have him over here in two seconds.”

“You don’t need to waste your time,” I said.  I was trying to use the Jedi Mind Trick on him.  

It didn’t work.  But he trapped me, so I couldn’t sneak away while he was getting the sales manager.  He called over another guy, and struck up a conversation.  

“Ed here is from Home Depot,” the guy said.  I was starting to get a little sweaty.

“Really?” the second guy said.  “What do I have to do to get an appointment with your telephone buyer?”

Oh, shit.  This was getting crazy, quickly.  “Why don’t you give me your card, I’ll give it to the right people.”

“Who is your telephone buyer?” the guy asked.  “I can’t even get a name.

I think that’s when I realized it.  The rest was a foregone conclusion.  The first guy had snuck away during the uncomfortable conversation with the telephone guy, got the sales manager, and brought him back.

He introduced me.  “This is Ed, from Home Depot.”

The sales manager smiled a broad grin and extended his hand.  I took it, shook it, and listened as he said “Ed, it’s great to see you.  The desert air is doing wonders for you – you look about 20 years younger than you looked last week when I was with you in your office.” 

My heart nearly leapt out of my chest.  Still shaking his hand, I said “Okay, you got me.  I’m not from Home Depot.  My name is Matt Castaldi.  I’m a college student.  I’m doing a paper on the electronics business, and the profit margins that retailers make.  I figured that by disguising myself as a buyer at a major chain, I’d get your best possible price.”

Matt Castaldi was a made-up name that my friends and I used to use when we had imaginary wiffle ball leagues as kids.  Matt Castaldi was the best player.  He always led the league in home runs.  Matt Castaldi only exists in my mind, but whenever I need to come up with a phony name in a pinch, there he is: Number Twenty-Three, Matt Castaldi.

The sales manager kept smiling, kept holding my hand.  “Get out of my booth, and don’t let me see you back here or I will call security.”

The next day, the same sales manager stopped by my company’s booth to say hello to the CEO.  Of course he saw me there as well, chatting up customers.  “How’s the term paper coming along?” he asked.

Yeah.  It was awkward.

I didn’t have much luck in Las Vegas with this company.  

A story I neglected to tell in this entry, which is a very good story.  At least I don’t think I told it anywhere; I searched and can’t find it.  If I did tell it somewhere, it’s worth telling twice.

The executives at my company used to save all their health insurance claims during the year.  Then, each November, the company would have to hire temps because all the executives would submit their insurance claims at the same time.  Then, they’d take their reimbursement checks with them to Las Vegas for the Consumer Electronics Show.

My first year with the company, I was at a late meeting that didn’t end until well after midnight.  As I was walking toward the elevator in the casino, I saw the two owners of the company, sitting together at a blackjack table.  I decided to walk over and say goodnight to them, and as soon as I arrived at the table, the Vice President won a hand.

“Now, you can’t leave,” he said.  “You’re my good luck charm.”

As his official good luck charm, I sat by his side for an hour, during which time he lost $40,000.  In an hour, he’d lost more than my annual salary, at one table.

Then, he fired me.  He told me not to let him see me at our booth the next day.

The next day, at the booth, I realized he was serious when he approached me and told me to leave, and reminded me he had fired me.  My boss had to run interference.

It really seems like I told that story before on this blog somewhere, but I just can’t seem to find it.

The other thing that was interesting about this particular trip to CES was that the convention management, for some reason, decided that there was no room at the main convention center for the cellular companies.  There were too many of us, I guess.  So they stuck us over at the Sands convention center, on the top floor.  On the bottom floor of the same center, they had all the companies from the porn industry, which they kept separate from the main convention center because they wanted a family environment – or a business environment – at the main center.  So for a week, we shared a convention center with the porn business.  It was definitely interesting to see the stuffy executives from the cellular business, mingling with the porn stars that were signing autographs in the various booths, or just walking the floor.

Anyway, by the time the Vegas trip was over, I was exhausted and my nerves were shot.  Plus, I had that tired feeling you get when you’ve been tense for a while and you suddenly can relax.  I couldn’t wait to get off the plane and back to our apartment so I could decompress.

Unfortunately, though, I didn’t have my car.  Sandy had driven me to the airport.  So I was going to have to get off the plane and forego my entire routine – no coffee or beer while I waited for my baggage, no monorail to the long-term parking lot.  I was going to have to get off the plane, find Sandy, get my luggage, and then walk to wherever she parked her car.  At that point, the monorail was new, and not completely constructed – it didn’t go to the short-term or temporary parking lots at the airport.

So when I saw Sandy, I was exhausted, cranky, and not looking forward to the last leg of the trip, which involved waiting for my bag and then walking to the car.

All this dread and exhaustion, of course, immediately washed away when she reached into her coat pocket and handed me a brand-new, hand-knitted baby booty.

~ by Al on August 1, 2009.

3 Responses to “it’s amazing how a small shoe can change your plans.”

  1. I can’t believe how much crap you put up with at that job. I would have bailed much sooner.

  2. Oh, it gets so, so much worse.

  3. That job is a great source of comedy – for those of us reading, anyway. This part of the story in particular sounds like a lost Seinfeld episode.

    I’m pretty sure you didn’t write about your firing before – the whole blog is pretty fresh in my head, and I don’t remember that at all.

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