My 2012 NAHBS Experience

March 13th, 2012 by Don Walker

After what seemed like an entire month of being away from home (but was only two weeks), Lesley and I returned to our Buckner, KY homestead exhausted but content. This year we had the new NAHBS Sponsorship Manager, JC Breslin, along for the ride. It was an epic road trip to and fro with NAHBS sandwiched in the middle. This years show was a very good show, with record breaking attendance, good press, and a reunion with my industry friends. Despite the phenomenal weather, we saw over 8000 people. Typically shows have better attendance when conditions are cold or dreary outside but this year it was clear with highs in the sixties to low seventies all three days. The show was the icing on the cake after a rather precarious trip across the Wild West.


From Buckner to Sacramento in one piece;

We left at 5:30 AM on Friday the 24th of February, about ninety minutes later than I had hoped, as we had to make some adjustments inside the trailer for our luggage. The initial idea was to complete 2,250 miles in two days . We figured we would gain three hours during the drive, but pulling a fully loaded trailer has a few disadvantages. After what seemed like an eternity, we pulled into Denver at 11 PM. We checked into our rooms and went to the bar to grab a quick snack and a beer or two to help us drift off to sleep. Once we woke up the next morning, we did a site inspection of the hotel and convention center as we considered sites for 2013. We were quite impressed with the venues, completed our fact finding mission and got back in the truck to continue dragging the trailer towards Sacramento. Our last obstacle was the Rockies. As soon as we pulled out of town, I noticed that we had quite the cross wind while we were heading north. Once we crossed into Wyoming, the wind became more severe and we were turning west, so it became a headwind. A couple of hours later after a gas and bathroom stop, we found ourselves in the middle of whiteout conditions on the highway. The conditions were so bad, the highway patrol began closing down Interstate 80. The flashing lights and overhead sign said closed, but a few folks went around us, so I said, “I’m not going to get stuck in this hell-hole and lose more time on the road, lets hit it!” and followed four cars and a Semi-tractor-trailer under the flashing lights and obvious warning.  I’m not the most experienced driver in snow and icy conditions, I’ll admit, but I felt that losing time was the worst idea since we still had much work to do in Sacramento before the show. About twenty to thirty minutes into our death march, we were following a semi, making us the last of our convoy, when we saw the familiar flashing lights of a squad car ahead. “Oh Crap!,” I thought aloud and as we approached the lights at a snails pace, we could start to make out what was a jacknifed big rig on the road. It took up all but enough room to drive by it, and surprisingly, the officer waved us through.


Onward we drove, at 35 mph, west bound in the middle of nowhere. I wondered to myself why the officer didn’t stop our little convoy in our tracks and say “Can’t you all read? The road is closed!”, but it never happened.  In the middle of Wyoming, in the midst of a Biblical proportion snowstorm, with a 50+ mph headwind and a wind-chill that would make an Eskimo retreat to his igloo, I became a different man. It was my destiny to be in Sacramento for this show and I knew it. The fact that mother nature played her hand and we continued to forge ahead, unscathed, made it all the more obvious that this year’s NAHBS was not going to get the better of me. As we finally limped into Salt Lake City we decided it was best to get a good nights sleep and hit it hard one last time the next morning rather than press on to Elko, where I was sure that the same storm had dumped more snow and making travel even tougher.


The next morning, I knew it would be a fairly easy ten or so hours to my old hometown and that portion of the trip was fairly “normal”, if you consider a drive from SLC to Reno “normal”. We took turns driving with each gas stop. On February 26th, at 4:00PM, we arrived in Sacramento, checked into our rooms at the Hyatt Regency and went to the bar for some rest and a couple of drinks. There was some other party going on celebrating the Oscars or Grammys. An odd assortment of folks poured in and out of the nearby ballroom. It was not my type of party at all. However, being a people watcher my entire life, it made for some great entertainment while unwinding from our death defying drive.


NAHBS 2012

Finally, Thursday came, which is load in day for the show. We spent Monday through Wednesday running errands for the show. It was great to have an extra set of hands (JC) around to help. This year, we had a smaller loading dock than usual. We decided to spare our exhibitors from the mayhem of a free-for-all type of load in that happens every year and do it in order of booth size. The larger booths loaded in first, followed by the smaller ones all given a scheduled time. This seemed to reduce the amount of craziness from years past.  This system worked very well and I was loaded in and set up by 6 PM.  We headed on over to Mikes Bikes to see my old pal, Monty. We party hopped on over to the Artbike gathering at Hot Italian! (cool name, huh?) where we ran into the new NAHBS Official Beer rep, Chad of Oskar Blues Brewing from Denver Colorado. We immediately hit it off and posed for some Facebook photos. We could not party too long, we had to get ready for the opening of NAHBS 2012.


Friday morning I awoke to a loop of a great song in my head.  “This is the day” by The The and the line that I kept thinking of was “This is the day, your life will surely change. This is the day, when things fall into place.” I heard the song twice in the car on the way out to NAHBS and for some reason, that little lyric made a reassuring calmness to my morning. Every year I get stressed out and worked up about the show and all the work that needs to get done. I suffer minor heart attacks over these details but on this Friday morning, I felt nothing, no stress, no worries, nothing but a feeling of mellow calmness. For the first time in eight years, I wasn’t wound up worried or scared. The The’s little loop was a sign.  When the doors opened for media and industry at 9 AM, the show looked and felt like it was supposed to with a trickle of folks coming in. I was asked to come to the front registration area to sign some paperwork at 10:45AM, I saw a few folks in line and I got scared for a moment. I left the hall and went back to my room for a shirt change and in the few minutes I was gone, the line went out the door and around the building. This was only Friday, the best Friday in NAHBS history! I guess that song playing in my head happened for a reason!


Saturday; we ran out of wristbands. We had a record Saturday, too, but the best part of my day was my sister, Lori and her husband, Dan, bringing my mom to the show. They explained to her that everyone in the hall was smiling because of what I had done by making this show a reality. That nearly brought tears to my eyes to see my mom smile and say “you done good!” Later, when I was discussing this with Lori, she mentioned to me that she only wished our father could have been there to see the show I created. “He would have been so proud”, she said. Wow.


Sunday, was another recording breaking day with a shortage of wrist bands for the third straight day and an abundance of people in the halls. From time to time, we began to worry that the fire marshall would shut us down. Thankfully, this was not the case. We closed the doors to our show and exhaled a final breath.


The Sacramento Past;

We capped the weekend with our annual awards ceremony and as it  wrapped up, I had an unusual feeling. My homecoming for  NAHBS was uplifting. I felt completely at peace with Sacramento. This was an odd feeling because Sacramento and I have a “past”.


I left Sacramento in the 90s, never wanting to go back after my shop in Carmichael was burglarized leaving me with nothing but a milling machine and alignment table. They too would have been stolen but they were too heavy to haul off. When the SAC Sheriffs did finally serve the search warrant on the dirtbag who sacked my shop, it was too late; he already traded my stuff for drugs. The rest of the story goes like most comedy-of-errors.


The DA decided there was not enough evidence to charge perpetrator with the burglary, but they could charge him with receiving stolen property. The original judge in the case recuses himself from the case after I address the court, because he had a friend in Tahoe whose bike shop was burglarized and he felt he would not be impartial to the defendant. The defendant pleads out and is sentenced to 140 days in County jail and agrees to pay restitution.


This is where I  lost my faith in the criminal justice system. The perp served seventy-one days (just over half) of his sentence. When I went to his Probation Officer and presented him with the list of all the items stolen and the replacement value, he inquires, “What is this?” I respond quickly “It’s a list of all the items he stole from me and the cost to replace them” He looks back at me and asks, “What, you expect him to pay you back?” Naively, I  say “Well, he was ordered to pay restitution.” It is then, I was schooled as the PO explained,  “He doesn’t have to pay you that. Restitution is just a formality, a way for the victims to feel better. You want money from him, you sue him in a civil court”.  Do I feel better knowing that I’d never see a nickel from this person? The answer is hell no and I left California, never wanting to return.


Yet, here I am, seventeen years later back in Sacramento and I had such a great experience bringing the show there. I honestly believe I can look back and claim it as my hometown again. I was proud to do it and have closure to the disgruntled chapter of my previous Sacramento life


From Sacramento to Buckner in one piece;

The drive home was long but without any near death weather hazards. We drove in silence mostly because our voices were hoarse from the countless hours of non-stop talking at the show. I was okay with that. I had satellite radio to keep me entertained. The memories from NAHBS 2012 carried me for thousands of miles. I am so humbled that droves of Sacramentan’s came out for my little bike show. Well done Sacramento, well done and I thank you.