Over the years, my work has led me to spend more and more time at the Palais des Congrès de Montreal – specifically, at the job fairs that are usually hosted there. Attending these fairs usually means I have to speak for an entire day to an almost endless sea of people. Though eventually exhausting, this is something I absolutely love to do. It’s kind of like those for-fun sci-fi convention interviews I used to film, except it’s practically non-stop, and it’s about introducing people to services that may be useful to them, as opposed to making them laugh. The key to my enjoyment, I think, is that I genuinely love the services I represent.
So anyway, back in June 2015, I was scheduled to attend two back-to-back fairs at the Palais des Congrès de Montreal. The first was a well-known, big fair, and the other was a smaller fair that was being organized by an organization in Montreal. The smaller fair was free, since it was the first time they were doing it, and they mentioned having a complementary service to help transfer booths from the big fair to the smaller fair, in another part of the Palais. This, was an interesting option.
Usually, I am always present to the take apart the booth, but this time around, I knew I’d have to leave early due to another event I had scheduled, conflicting with the big fair. A colleague would be alone for the last hour, to both dismantle and move the booth. While fully possible to accomplish, it was still a bit challenging to do alone. Because of this complication, we gratefully agreed to the smaller fair’s offer to assist in the transition – it got us out of a bind. (To this day, I consider this a great strategic move on the part of the organizers – they timed it so it’s right after the big fair, which is convenient to begin with, but then they top that convenience by eliminating the challenge of re-locating exhibitor’s setups. Smart.)
With that in place, let’s fast forward to the last day of the big fair – a woman walked over to our booth, and introduced herself. We’ll call her Susan. Susan was a representative from the smaller fair, and wanted to meet me specifically, since I’d be an exhibitor the next day, manning the booth solo. She double-checked that we did in fact want the free service to transfer our stuff, which I confirmed, and asked her, to be certain, “when I arrive at the Palais, what do I do? Simply ask the staff I encounter where to go, and they’ll let me know?”. She replied saying it’s as simple as going to the main floor, and everything will be obvious and clear. Good. Hours later, I left the big fair, and my co-worker stayed to hand over the booth to the guys from the smaller fair. By the end of the night, I had received confirmation from my co-worker that the gear had been handed over to the reps from the smaller fair.
The next morning, I timed my departure from home so that I’d have enough time to stop by my client’s workplace to pick up some needed materials, while also leaving enough time for me to set up the booth, since I figured it would need to be put together again. After picking up the required materials, I hopped on the metro, and headed towards the Palais. I was wearing a black suit with a white shirt, and was carrying a heavy laptop bag that hung over one of my shoulders, and a backpack, also pretty heavy, on my back. I also had a bottle of water, one I planned to use at the fair.
So I travelled, via metro, to the Palais des Congrès as planned, with enough time to set up the booth and to prepare things before visitors arrived. As discussed the previous day with Susan, I walked up to Palais staff and asked about the fair I was planning to attend. To my surprise, the staff member looked puzzled, and said that as far as he knew, there was no such fair taking place there. He pointed me to an info booth on a higher floor, letting me know that the woman there would know if anything like that existed.
Concerned, I called my client to confirm that I had the right location. Everyone agreed that the Palais was the right location, from the documentation they’d received, but they were also equally concerned given the staff reactions. My colleagues told me to hang on, that they’d call the organization that was hosting it directly, so we’d know for sure. After hanging up, I sought out the info booth lady that I was referred to, and before long, we were both googling, trying to find more info about the fair online. While we were doing so, I got a call from my coworkers. They confirmed what I was beginning to suspect via googling, that the location was the organization’s actual address, not the Palais as we all misunderstood. The info desk lady had also been reaching the same conclusion.
In a flash, I stepped outside, hailed a taxi, threw my stuff in the backseat, sat down, and told the driver the address I wanted to get to. Roughly 30 seconds after he started moving, I told him that by the way, I’d have to pay with credit card, or debit. The driver informed me that cards probably wouldn’t work, as he was having problems with his card reader, and likely wouldn’t be able to process it. He mentioned something about having battery issues, and then said I wouldn’t have to worry about it, since it’s roughly 10$.
I looked in my wallet, concerned, as I knew that I didn’t have much cash on me. As I did so, I audibly told the driver what I had in there. Five dollars, two dollars, one American dollar (not sure why, but okay), some change. Seeing that I didn’t have ten dollars, I told the driver that he might want to stop the cab and let me out, given my lack of cash. Despite my insistence, he told me not to worry about it, we’d figure something out. I assumed in the moment he would try to make his card reader work in the off chance it did, or something… wasn’t sure. ಠ_ಠ.
Next thing I knew, we reached the destination, and the fare totalled a measly 12$. Normally, a fairly simple amount – in this case, too much. I asked the driver if he wanted to at least try the card reader in case the battery worked all of a sudden (he had doubt before), but he denied, and said not to bother, it wouldn’t work. I reminded him then and there that I didn’t have 12$, and offered to pay him whatever I found in my wallet – which, as you read before, was roughly 8$ including a random American dollar. (Why on this day, no where near a vacation, did I have an American dollar in my wallet? Who knew.)
As I handed him the money, it occurred to me: I needed a receipt. After all, my presence at the smaller fair was for my client – the taxi ride was theirs to reimburse. It occurred to me, however, that it would be a tad bit awkward to ask for a receipt when I didn’t even pay the guy enough for the fare. He was already being a nice guy, and what would he actually put, anyway? A partial payment? It was odd, so I didn’t even bother.
I gathered my things, stepped out of the cab, and as it drove away, there stood the organization – through the glass of the building, my destination, at long last. I glanced at my watch, and noticed I had 20 mins to spare, despite the chaos of the morning.
Then, I realized something. I didn’t have my laptop bag with me… I had forgotten it in the cab. My head snapped towards the taxi, but just as it did, he passed one green light, and was heading for another set of lights. I realized this would be my only chance… I didn’t even have a receipt by which to identify the taxi that had dropped me off. So I started to run like a lunatic down the street, as if my life depended on it, in a black and white suit. The cab, meanwhile, made it to the other set of lights, which were red. It was clear he wanted to turn right, and if he did that, given the distance, I knew I would lose him. I ran faster, my backpack bouncing against my back, water bottle in my left hand.
That’s when the light turned green. The cab I was racing after had only one car ahead of him, and it was starting to turn. I wouldn’t be able to make it, despite the extreme amount of effort I was putting into running with all my gear. I saw a woman on the street ahead of me, and yelled ahead, yes, just like in the movies, “Stop that taxi!”, as I continued my sprint. I couldn’t even tell you exactly how she did it, given how heavily I was running, but this woman, amazingly, stopped the taxi.
A few seconds later, I caught up. The driver rolled down the passenger window, and had this look on his face, a mix of complete puzzlement and confusion. I said, completely out of breath, “my bag….. I forgot…… my bag.” I then looked around through the back window in search of my lost baggage, and that’s when it hit me. There was nothing in the back seat. I was wearing the bag the entire time.
When I exited the taxi earlier, the bag was likely leaning against me in a way where I didn’t feel the weight against me, and as such, I felt like it was missing. Embarrassed, still breathing heavy, I lowered myself to his passenger window again and said, without hesitation, “I’m sorry, it’s not there. I’m an idiot. So sorry.”
As the taxi left, I stood back up, catching my breath. The woman that helped me stop the taxi approached, and said, “Man, that was intense. Just like in the movies.” I laughed, and said if she knew the whole story, it would be one hell of a tale. She smiled, and crossed the street, resuming her life, and I proceeded to walk back towards the goal, the organization’s entrance. I laughed at the morning I was having, and couldn’t help but kick myself a little bit for, you know, not noticing that the thing was securely strapped to me the entire time.
I soon found myself facing the organization’s building, and after a brief second outside to catch my breath, I entered, and was greeted by its friendly staff. I was shown that there were sandwiches, coffee, cookies, nice things like that for exhibitors to munch on. Given the chaos that led to me breaching their doors, food was the last thing on my mind – but I appreciated they had such offerings. I could feel the sweat under my white shirt, and I was thankful for my suit, as it would help mask that. I was also still sort of catching my breath from the run, but I didn’t want to delay setting up the booth. They brought me to my booth, which was in a great location, right beyond the front door. I set things up, and after the core elements were in place, I decided it was time for a washroom break.
In the washroom, I had to do the best that I could to wipe myself down, given how sweaty I had become from the run. I really didn’t want to be greeting potential clientele looking like I had been body building all morning. I cleaned up, made sure I was looking presentable all things considered, and headed back to my post.
The fair was organized so that waves of visitors would come down, at given times, and since I was at the front, that meant there would be downtime as the traffic progressed into the fair, in between waves. An hour or so later, having spoken to a few different people about my client’s services, the contrast of morning versus afternoon really struck me. Here I was, calmly discussing my client’s services with people, where, just an hour before, right on the street near the entrance, I had been running, screaming for someone to stop a taxi… to retrieve an imaginary bag. The contrast really made me laugh. I’d been chatting with the other booths in my area, and figured I might as well bring others in on the story, while we were without visitors, in between waves.
It seems I wasn’t the only one to appreciate the humor – the story was a huge hit. One particular representative said it was the best story he had heard in the last 10 years, which was pretty cool to hear. It wasn’t the most enjoyable morning for me, but I’d always been the one to try to find humor in all events, and I was happy to see others did as well. Eventually, the Director of Communications of the organization came by. One of the representatives that knew my story insisted that I should tell it one more time, for the director’s enjoyment. Yet again, it was met with a great response, and for the rest of the day, numerous derivative jokes were made, all of which were enjoyed. I was reminded multiple times, playfully, that I need to be careful to not forget my bag when I was leaving the fair.
After the fair ended, we migrated to a local lounge, where we all networked, and every now and then, jokes were made about my adventures. I made some really great connections that day for my client, they got sign-ups, and though it wasn’t originally intended – I had a really unique story to that allowed me to bond with a bunch of potential contacts. I walked out of that bar that night really content with the connections I made, the laughter that was shared, all of it.
For a while, that was it. The story stayed with those that I shared, but it wasn’t yet unleashed here – I kept it to myself. A few months ago, I went to another fair, and while setting up the booth prior to the doors being opened, I was approached by someone, very cheerfully: “This guy! This guy has the best stories!” The director. After all that time, he remembered, and still enjoyed it.