My flight to Las Vegas was leaving early the next morning. But it wasn’t the actual flight I was fretting about. It was the day itself — Dec. 1, 1994. A few weeks earlier, I’d interviewed for the associate editor position on BodyShop Business. And tomorrow, my official first day on the job, I was flying to Las Vegas for NACE. Talk about baptism by fire. My knowledge of the collision repair industry was minimal at best. I’d once wrecked my parents’ Volvo, but I didn’t think that counted as "industry experience."
When I arrived in Las Vegas, the rest of the BSB staff was busy attending seminars and meeting with industry acquaintances (of which I had none), so I was left to fend for myself. I unpacked, grabbed lunch and waited for somebody, anybody to claim me as one of their own. It wasn’t long before I met up with everyone, including Georgina, and had my first assignment: setting up the exhibit booth. The exhibition didn’t officially start until the next day, so the hall was pretty much a mess (since I was new and wasn’t sure how the staff would react, I contained my nervous urge to clean and organize the aisles). This wasn’t such a bad first day, I thought.
Boy, was I in for a reality check.
Day two consisted of standing in the booth, handing out magazines and fielding questions for which I had no answers. I smiled a lot and people seemed to be OK with that. As the day wore on and my feet began to ache, I realized that most of the show attendees didn’t expect me to know much about the industry. My simple presence was all they noticed — and needed.
When two seemingly nice attendees stopped at the BSB booth to chat, I tried my best to appear intelligent and industry savvy. But my efforts went unnoticed.
"You can tell it’s been a good year because the bimbos are back," said one of the men, referring to the bikini-clad women who were signing calendars and handing out freebies — something the show apparently lacked the year before. Smiling, the other man agreed.
I, on the other hand, was dumfounded — which, like my intelligence, went unnoticed. The two men eventually wandered off (apparently I wasn’t showing enough skin to keep their interest), leaving me to dwell on their comment.
On day three, I encountered much of the same thing — men who didn’t expect me to know anything about the industry. It didn’t take long for me to be annoyed. By the time I got to a business cocktail party later that evening, I was seriously debating whether I’d be packing my Samsonite for the next NACE.
Georgina and I found comfort in finger food, until another seemingly nice shop owner struck up a conversation. During the next few minutes — as Georgina and I stood in disbelief — he proceeded to label us as food. Georgina, with her dark hair and "exotic features," was like a piece of spicy lasagna. Donning a bright smile and rosy cheeks, I was likened to a juicy red apple. Before things got any further out of hand, we less-than-politely excused ourselves and sought refuge with another staff member.
Unfortunately, refuge wasn’t what we found. The male staff member was talking with another man about an article. After Georgina and I were introduced, the man commented to our male counterpart that it must be nice to work with two such lovely women. Then he leaned over and said, "They’re nice window dressing, but don’t send them to do the story."
Despite the experience of my first few days on the job, I gave the industry a chance — and continued packing my suitcase for NACE for another seven years. I’m happy to say, I was never again compared to a piece of fruit, and each year I heard less and less about the "bimbos" — no matter how good a year it was. I’ve learned a lot about this industry, can answer just about any question someone throws my way and have made numerous industry acquaintances of my own.
We’ve come a long way, buddy.
Despite our progress, I won’t be returning to Las Vegas for this year’s NACE. My first baby is due Dec. 1 (I seem to have an affinity for that date), and I’ve decided to become a full-time mom. I’d like to think that as another female editor takes my place and heads to NACE, she won’t be compared to a piece of fruit or dismissed as window dressing.
I know this industry isn’t perfect. (What industry is?) But I hope that after I leave, it will keep changing for the better.