February 10, 2001

Beginning of the Road

By Dane Sorensen


It is hard for me to remember when exactly I have ever been on a business trip. The last time was probably around 1978. I was a manager of a photofinishing company and got permission to go to a big photo convention in Atlanta, Georgia. My place of work being a small company only offered time off with pay. My wife and I drove straight down to Atlanta stopping only a few hours when we napped in the car. We stayed with friends. It was a hard work and fun. I brought back lots of good ideas, but it still did not stop me from getting fired six months later. So I guess that took the romance out of business trips.

Even though I have been in business for myself since 1979, business trips never was high on my priority. The closest I could get to a business trip was to go to a regional trade show in St. Paul.

Now after 30 years I finally find myself in a new business that forces me to join the business traveling class. The whole idea of traveling for business seems a very foreign idea. It is hard to believe that most jet tickets are sold for just that reason. It is hard to believe that most hotel rooms are rented for that reason as well. Most Americans just donít realize there is a whole other world out there. For every item you see in a store there is a bevy of salemen or saleswomen behind it. Take any simple item such as a Bic Pen. There are sales people in charge of marketing Bic pens for every region of the country. The same goes for Barbie Dolls, hairpins, batteries, toilet cleaner and Spam. Thousand if not millions of people fly all over the country selling and representing these items. Their goal is to visit the buyers of these items and get local, regional, or national size orders.

For my business trip I got to go as the role of a buyer. Most of the time buyers just have to wait for the sales people to visit them. The only time that changes is a trade shows or trade conventions. With my import business I got to go to one of the biggest.

It was called the NAMM show and that stands for North American Music Manufacturers. It is a four day show in the Anaheim Convention Center. The main floor of this place could easily hold every store on Chapman and Sheridan and still have room to contain the school and our community college. It made the Minnesota State Fair look like the Embarrass Region Fair. The banner on the convention front could have covered Zupís parking lot.

A trip like this made me realize how big and rich this country is. Over 4000 companies were represented from all over the world. Guessing by the sound of it there are at least 1000 companies making drums. It was a very noisy affair. I had no idea how many companies make musical instruments. Nor was I prepared with the intensity and pace. From the moment we entered Laguardia Airport you can feel it. Thousands of salepeople dashing here and there with a cell phone constantly to one ear. Every now and then a confused family on vacation, but they were few and far between.

At the trade show it was the same thing. People in suits walking briskly here and there with cell phones glued to their ear. It struck me as almost funny to see dozens of sales people flip out their cellphones when they first get off a plane. It is like they need to hear a human voice from somewhere in order to feel secure. The airline rule against cell phone use on planes must really bug these people.

Another amazing thing to me was the vast change in how big cities function. LA is a different place than I remember it. There solution to traffic is to make regular city streets as wide as our Minneapolis freeways. I kid you not that I saw many 8 lane streets. One thing that is interesting about Los Angeles is that most of it isnít any talker than Ely. For the amount of people you would expect more high rises, but it looks like most Californians are smart enough to still not build high in earth quake territory. The LA skyline in the core downtown area looks smaller than St. Paul.

Perhaps the most odd areas where I saw progress, which perhaps shows there is a chance our race may survive, is in public restrooms. The best example I saw was in Richard M. Dalyís new and improved section of the Chicago Airport. The restrooms were clean and sanitary. Even the toilet was clean. The secret is advanced technology. Threaded on the toilet seat was a plastic wrap that ensured you sat on a germ free seat. Infrared sensors would cause the plastic shield to advance whenever anyone got off the throne. Sensors would also flush the john for you. It was amazing. I canít imagine it will be too long before we see such technology at Menards for our home.


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