Me and Roger Maris Hit 61

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Having just returned from last week’s Vision Expo West in Las Vegas, I feel a kinship with legendary New York Yankees slugger Roger Maris. Like Maris, I hit 61 this year. That’s 61 Vision Expos, including both East and West. Granted, there are differences between Roger and me. It took me 32 years to hit my mark and he needed only one season to hit his record-breaking 61 home runs and surpass Babe Ruth (although it took Maris 162 games and Ruth did it in 154, hence the famous asterisk in the record books next to Maris’ number.) But 61 is still an impressive number, any way you look at it.

I also know there are others who share my distinction, and have even got me beat by a couple of Expos. By my count, there have been 63 Vision Expos since the first one in New York in 1986 and first West Coast show, in Long Beach, California, two years later. Anybody who has been to 60 or more Expos deserves some kind of recognition. The show’s management should give us special badges and throw us a party.

Reflecting on all the time I’ve spent traipsing up and down the Expo aisles, visiting the Suites and going to countless parties, press conferences and events brought to mind a VM column I wrote some years ago. My observations haven’t changed much, so I offer it to you again, with some minor edits.

Return to Expo City

As I return from International Vision Expo West, I find myself reflecting on the show and how it’s changed over the years. Although I missed the very first Vision Expo in New York in 1986, I’ve covered nearly every Expo since then, both East and West. Over the course of some 61 shows I’ve filled dozens of notebooks, taken thousands of photos and written countless stories about the companies, products and people that all make up the Expo experience.

What I always find remarkable—and this goes for any trade show—is that Vision Expo is essentially a temporary city. Vision Expo City exists for only three days, twice a year. But during that brief time it is much like any other city. There are streets and avenues laid out in a practical grid and dotted with restaurants, shops and familiar landmarks. It has traffic and even traffic jams. Like any great city, it’s both a center of commerce and a center of learning. And it’s always filled with the sound of voices that resonate in many accents and languages.

All cities are the sum of their neighborhoods, and Expo City is no exception. Because it’s an optical city, though, its neighborhoods have distinctive and unifying optical characteristics. There’s no mistaking when you enter Frameville, Lensland, Instrument Alley or any other part of town.

Walking from one neighborhood to another, I always get the sense that many of the inhabitants are a bit provincial. They tend to stick around their block and don’t get around to visiting other neighborhoods too often. It wouldn’t hurt them to take a stroll around town once in a while.

Best of all is visiting with the familiar neighborhood characters. We’ve all seen them, show after show, year after year, standing in their booths, keeping a watch over the neighborhood comings and goings. Sadly, some of them have passed on, though they remain in our memories.

A few years ago, some pundits predicted that virtual trade shows would replace real trade shows. Just stay home and click through a virtual tour of the exhibits, they said.

Well, they were wrong. The virtual experience can’t compete with the dynamic, in-person experience. You can’t press the flesh on-line, or feel the merchandise or get the pulse of the industry. There’s also no substitute for the feeling of belonging to a community that occurs when you step into the Expo exhibit hall and are surrounded by thousands of people who are all there for the same reasons as you.

In the end, it’s all about business. There is simply no other way to generate the millions of dollars of revenue for this industry than to have a three-day trade show twice a year. To borrow a line from a famous song, when it comes to Vision Expo, there’s no business like show business.

To catch up on the news from Vision Expo West, click on the following links to the Show Dailies digital editions—September 19, 2019, September 20, 2019, and September 21, 2019. And to see who made it to all the parties at Vision Expo, click here for a link to an exclusive VM slideshow.