I always talk too much, write too much, and research too much. Here’s a an early draft of a piece published in The Rake, just for fun.
The blonde girls handing out the plastic bags inside the door of the “25th Annual Cycle World International Motorcycle Show” are wearing tight, Star Trek-like green and black mini dresses, nude panty hose and knee-high platform boots. They look like they’re playing dress-up and discreetly try to tug their skirts down a little. We’ve paid $12 to ogle toys which cost ten thousand times that much and can’t even be used for another three months. The only thing to take home would be a bag full of promotional souvenirs, or “swag.”The Minneapolis Convention Center auditorium is a circus of brand names—Kawasaki, Suzuki, Ducati, Moto Primo, Vanson, BMW, Buell, and, of course, the elephant in the tent, Harley-Davidson. Most of the vendors let their booths do the talking, like the one with the red and blue bursts that read “Special Show Deals” and “Register to Win” in front of the “Ride Guide to America” stand. With a plain tan ballcap stitched with “Field Rep” and a big, grey, woolly beard resting on his ample chest, the salesman sits passively behind his wheeled cart. He catches a few eyes, but the his expression is as blank as the faces that glance and pass him in five steps. A man wearing racing stripes on his promotional windbreaker and his own ballcap stops to chat before walking off with a few samples maps.
The big dealers at the center of the arena let the bikes sell themselves. Visitors ponder and mount the newest models. The Ducati, BMW, MV Augusta, and Aprilia booths attract guys like the two silver-haired gentlemen in turtlenecks. They look like surgeons the way they examine and discreetly consult on the preview model of the 2007 Ducati S4R Testastretta. The price of a new Testastretta is about three times as much as my eight-year-old Ducati.
Though the European bikes are popular with aficionados, the real track champs are the Japanese bikes like Kawasaki, Honda and Suzuki. There are plenty of young men gathering around their favorites, fantasizing. The bruisers and cruisers—the bikes with trunks, stereos, landing and reverse gears—seem to be popular with older couples or solo riders with girth enough for two.
The most interesting vendors are the ones who hunker on the perimeter like hyenas waiting for the lions to finish eating. They are the dreamers, inventors, the small business owners who earn their way up, one measly sale at a time. The more aggressive among them dart out into the passing crowds, hoping to catch a slow-moving, weaker member of the herd.
“Say, I noticed you have some sunglasses there, if you have just a minute–” He comes at me with a spray bottle like a perfume salesgirl, but I duck and dodge. Safely out of range, my friend confides that her husband got hooked earlier. “And you know what?” she whispered, “He said his glasses were the cleanest they’ve ever been.”
Here are the jewelry booths, the motorcycle associations and schools, the vintage bike clubs, racks of patches, sunglasses and bandanas. You can buy innovative new map holders, wireless headsets, neck warmers and “Rok Straps, the ultimate adjustable elastic strap.” Nothing beats the guy I saw a few months ago at the Home and Garden Show. The inventor, owner and lone salesman stood next to his product: a six-foot tall, fake boulder for kids to hide in during winter while waiting for the school bus. He looked really depressed.
I take a quick scan to see how much swag people are getting. Nothing. Everyone’s empty. I don’t even have a free pen. I notice I did score a free brochure for insurance. But that was stuffed into the bag before I got it.
The we come to the worst possible location in the very back of the hall. There are spectators standing three-deep and pushing to get closer. Above them, on a platform, stands a man with his shirtsleeves rolled up, his face red and moist from the hot work lights flooding the stage. He is talking into the round foam ball of the microphone on his headset and he manages to somehow make eye contact with everyone and no one all at once. He is Super Shammy Man.
“Folks, you’ve probably seen something like this on TV, but I can guarantee,” he said firmly, punctuating each syllable with a finger jab and a direct look into the face of every, single, person, he saw, “You have never seen the Super Shammy.”
All around him were countertops piled high with bright yellow clothes the size of a large bathroom rug. Behind him were neatly stacked rolls of the Super Shammy. In front of him was a black counter top with a piece of deep pile rug on it. He grabs one of several large water bottles from his side and soaks the carpeting. As he talks, he holds a handful of smaller samples—samples!—which he deals out to outstretched hands. “As you can see, folks, the Super Shammy isn’t just absorbent, it’s super absorbent,” and he drops a sample onto the carpeting and lifts it high so everyone can see. As if that weren’t enough, he goes on to mop up all the water around the carpet, too. Then, holding the little piece of fabric with its impossibly suspended volume of liquid out where everyone can see it, he sets a simple rubber pan filled with grey water in the middle of the counter and squeezes. The stream is endless. The crowd is completely silent. Even with the sound of the roaring stunt bike demonstration going on, Super Shammy Man’s audience hears nothing but that nasty, unwanted liquid trickling into that pan.
He continued his sermon, making sure to make eye contact with every single person while appearing to see no one as he reeled off his patter.
“Folks,” he said, ignoring all the empty hands thrust out for samples of the miraculous fabric, “How many of you are familiar with the name Mercedes-Benz?” Everyone, including the small children peering over the side of the demonstration table, raises their hands. “What would you think if you found out that every single Mercedes-Benz that rolls of the factory floor comes equipped with a Super Shammy?”
He doesn’t wait for an answer. “If you only leave with one thing today, here it is and it’s worth it’s weight in gold.”
Before I have time to decipher that—is he talking about dry weight, or wet?—he’s working the crowd. “It’s not just for sunglasses, spills and shiny shoes. The Super Shammy is great for”—he catches me taking his picture—“cameras, like yours, honey.” “What about the bathroom, the kid’s room, the boat, the RV, the soccer game?” He doesn’t even bother to adjust his script to the motorcycle show and goes on selling like guys did in the old days. When it was safe for the Lady of The House to open her door to a strange man, maybe even take him to the bedroom for a little “private demonstration” like in those old Playboy cartoons.
I don’t get a chance to get his name, this salesman with the Canadian accent. When I try to track him down, I discover the Super Shammy is made by The Fuller Brush Company, the company that jammed so many worn-down soles into housewives’ doors. On the list of exhibitor’s, the booth is listed simply as number 147, with no further information. The event coordinators know nothing.
So I go home with my Trick or Treat bag full of garbage and two small, yellow pieces of cloths saturated with tradition.