… and boy do our feet hurt.
First and foremost I want to thank my wife Carrie, and Tony Montuori for helping out — it would not have been possible to do this event without their help. This was a 4-day show for us, in a huge convention center with concrete floors. Lots of walking, even more standing, and always on one of the hardest surfaces known to man. The Walter Washington Convention Center fills three city blocks, and is a Union-controlled shop. This meant that nothing larger than a backpack could be carried onto the exhibition floor by anyone other than a teamster, and that all of the booth setups (walls, electrical, etc) had to be done by one union or another.
Thursday — Move In
You can’t just arrive at the convention center and expect to unload your van. You have to be marshaled, first. In this case, that meant driving to one of the parking lots at RFK stadium, checking in, getting assigned a number, and (possibly) waiting your turn to head to the convention center. We got to RFK around 10am, then drove around it searching for the marshaling lot, which we eventually found by accident. After waiting in line for 5 minutes, I was given paperwork and a number, and directed to head to the convention center. To get to the loading docks, you have to find the loading entrance (it’s on L street) and then you drive into the bowels of the convention center. Once there, you’re directed to park, then the teamsters look at your paperwork, decide to write up a second copy, and get confused, and eventually haul your stuff (in our case, 8 large Tupperware bins, a bag of pool noodles, and a roll of carpet) to somewhere close to your booth. At which point, Carrie took the van to park it.
When we got to our booth, we discovered that the bins and everything weren’t too far away. Our booth was actually 4 booths (20’x20′), facing a major walkway … but the booth itself had been setup in the wrong place. This meant that we would have to wait for the union guys to reset the booth in the correct location, and wire it for power. That killed a couple of hours, but gave us time to go out and get lunch.
By 1pm we were set up and building. We decided to build a T-shaped machine, with the top of the ‘T’ facing the walkway, and the base of the ‘T’ nearest to the tables with the parts bins. Once the framework was assembled, we added elevators, and stunts along the center of the ‘T’. By 7pm we were done for the day, so we headed home.
Friday — Building and Sneak Preview
By 9am we were back in the booth, adding track and stunts to the machine. There was a rumor that President Obama was going to come to the Festival in the afternoon (he did, but he didn’t walk the exhibition hall) so we worked furiously to link all of the sections of the machine. At the same time, bus loads of students from area schools came in to see the displays, including us. Usually we’re used to seeing kids and parents; these were large groups, typically supervised by a couple of teachers/chaperons, and no time to really learn how to work with the machine, but instead asking lots of questions and occasionally wanting to do an interview. Around 2pm the crowds started to die down, and we could work on the machine in relative peace. By 7pm the machine was largely complete, and, with the exception of one section, didn’t see many changes for the rest of the weekend.
Saturday — The Mob Arrives
Back again at 9am with another helper (Shaune Lee), we tuned up the machine, and awaited the onslaught, which was quick to appear. The families came in waves, but at peak times the kids were surrounding the machine 4 and 5 deep. Almost the only thing we had the breath to say was “You can look as close as you like, but please don’t touch the machine. If you find a marble on the floor, you can place it on the big track at the bottom of the machine.” This went on until 6pm, when we unplugged the machine. Remarkably, no one got hurt, and there wasn’t any significant breakage, though we did have to replace one of the chain drive motors (it was stalling too much).
Sunday — The Last Day
By this point, we were all dragging, and so we got to the exhibition hall around 9:30am. Sunday was much like Saturday, though the official stop time was 4pm, when again, we pulled the plug on the machine. I went over to the show offices to schedule a move-out time, only to be told that I would have to drive all the way out to RFK to schedule to get marshaled, the same as Thursday. Grumbling we packed up the machine, then off I went to RFK, where I was told (once again) that I had the wrong paperwork, yada yada, here’s your number, and race back to the convention center. After jockeying around and dodging a big rig, we got loaded and went home, to sleep and rest our feet.
It really was a good time, but the crowds were overwhelming at times. I seriously needed more Chaos Wranglers, and I should have gotten low curtains around the entire booth, to better manage the crowds. On the other hand, the machine ran well, and everyone seemed to enjoy the show. I need to upload photos and edit videos, but that will have to wait for the weekend.
Comments Off on The 2012 USA Science and Engineering Festival was a great success …