Trade Show Blues

DUELLING PISTOL
…and a John Fox Twigg duelling pistol, circa 1775. He finds it very restful.

by Terry Wieland

Let me be clear: This piece is not about Covid-19 or any of its (seemingly) myriad variants, although the dreaded virus does play a role.

Had everything gone according to plan, I would be writing this from the annual Dallas Safari Club convention. This would have been the first trade show or similar gathering I have attended since — when was it now? Ah, yes:  2019, the NRA, Indianapolis. How could I forget? It poured rain, taxis were impossible, I walked everywhere with a bad hip and water squelching through my shoes, and the hotel charged me $38 a day just for parking. Parking! And I was already paying two hundred bucks a night for the room.

Instead of looking at miracle red-dot sights and the latest in tactical Tupperware, Wieland is surrounded with guns, like this beautifully restored E.M. Reilly…

If you are getting the sense that I hate trade shows and conventions of every stripe, you’re right. NRA, SCI, DSC, and — ugh! worst of all — the SHOT Show. Miles and miles of aisles and aisles, filled with product booths of two kinds: Those in which I have no interest, and those in which I do have an interest but where there is a long line of people waiting to see someone — anyone —and if you haven’t made an appointment months ahead, forget it.

There was a time, in the dim distant past, when I looked forward to these shows, especially Safari Club when it was held in Reno, and the American Custom Gunmakers Guild exhibition was on at the same time, at the Silver Legacy. That was a fun show — like old-home week, but with the prospect of a superb ribeye at Sterling’s, or a hot-beef sandwich at the anachronistic Liberty Belle on one corner of the convention-center parking lot.

Rifle
…this lovely Stevens Model 51 Schützen rifle…

The owners of the Liberty Belle flatly refused to sell when the city was renovating the Reno convention center, and there it sat, in all its 19th-century gold-rush original-saloon glory, serving decent meals (real food!) at regular prices. There was always a line to get in for lunch, but it was a line I didn’t mind standing in.

Reno had another hidden benefit. Because of snow in the mountains, which occurred with alarming regularity, we often found ourselves stranded in the airport departure lounge with, it seemed, half the professional hunters in Africa. You could strike up a conversation with a perfect stranger and find yourself invited to hunt red lechwe in the Okavango or chase nyala in Natal.

…an ancient German Martini-action Schützen…

The turning point came in 2004, at a SHOT Show in Las Vegas, possibly my least favorite city in the world. I’d flown in and was attending a presentation lunch when I suddenly started to feel dreadful. Not gradually bad, but suddenly, dizzyingly, horrible. I lurched out and made it back to my hotel — just — where I ended up lying in bed for the next two days. I’ll spare you the grisly details.

Turned out I was not the only one, and the cause was some germ floating around inside airplanes, which are essentially flying disease incubators. Ever since, I have driven anywhere I can find a road, eschewing airports, airplanes, the TSA, airline schedulers, and airplane seats that now resemble a cross between a straitjacket and the iron maiden.

Which brings us back to Covid-19, and particularly the especially transmittable Omicron variety. Barring absolute necessity, like flying to Switzerland for a heart transplant, why would anyone even get on a plane these days? 

As it turned out, a lot of people decided not to, and even more had it decided for them, either by governments that prohibited travelers from particular areas (like Southern Africa) or airlines that cancelled flights. As a result, almost everyone I intended to see at the Dallas Safari Club convention was either a definite or probable no-show.

Which, it occurred to me, let me off the hook. I cancelled my hotel reservation (along with its extortionate daily parking fee) and settled in to get some work done. As someone who actually had the dreaded virus a year ago, I feel I have the right to say something nice about it: Anything that saves me from attending a trade show can’t be all bad.

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Gray’s Shooting Editor Terry Wieland can be found holed up with books, guns, Sibelius, and French Roast.  He calls it prudence.  We call it malingering.