Monday, March 23, 2009

MATS: Fade to Black, It's a Wrap

After my two-year absence from the carpeted halls of the Mid-America Trucking Show and some anticipation, I can say that I was pleasantly surprised. With the ever-constant news of the down economy, the terrible trucking conditions of low rates, scarce freight and an overall mood of sour business, what I came away with was far different.

What I saw was a large crowd of people, truckers and families, suppliers and manufacturers with a major spark of enthusiasm. I saw and heard people who are tired of hearing how bad it is, when in fact many are still doing pretty well. What I heard from many was that perhaps we should stop listening to the doomsayers and go out and buy some American products and put Americans back to work.

I heard vendors say that sales are actually pretty good and that it was worth their time, effort and money to be there. I saw customers carting off bumpers and fridges and signing deals for APUs. OEMs made some dramatic presentations, particularly the Rock Star treatment International gave its new Harley Davidson-branded LoneStar. A brilliant piece of marketing.

I met many, many friends, and some of them I never even knew I had. Readers of my columns over the years, folks I have run with or had coffee with. So many came up to say hello or called my name. I am very flattered and humbled to have met so many very kind people. And not one wanted to kick my butt over a disagreement (this time).

I had the great honor of chasing media events with Jami Jones, Paul Abelson, Sandi Soendker, Mark Reddig, Suzanne Stempinski, Reed Black and Bill Hudgins. In addition to stuffing my brain to overload capacity with all of the best of the new technology and products, I had the pleasure of watching the masters of trucking journalism work their craft. In addition, I had several opportunities to hang out at the OOIDA booth and talk to members, both old and new, plus shoot the breeze with Todd Spencer and Jim Johnston.

In addition, I also had a great time out at the Papa Johns Stadium parking area where good friend Ron Mermis was set up with OOIDA’s NASCAR simulator. Plus there was a flatbed-equipped soundstage where performers got up to pick, grin and entertain a great crowd of folks. With the smell of BBQ smoke and the sounds of music and laughter, it was a sign that spring is finally here. And, maybe, just maybe, much of that doom and gloom is behind us.

I didn’t hear of any truckers asking for a stimulus package. I didn’t see anyone with their hand out, except for when the pork chop sammiches were being doled out. I didn’t hear anyone on the down side. Considering how tough it has been for the past year or so, I was quite amazed. But not really. If the rest of the country can be gauged by truckers, I would say we will be OK pretty soon.

Could it have been bigger or better? Maybe. There were some displays and manufacturers who were missing, but the spaces were filled with a really cool selection of vintage and antique trucks. And as Suzanne and I found out with what we called the 20-foot rule, we could not walk 20 feet without running into someone we knew. At times we were down to the 5-foot rule and just enjoyed visiting with so many great folks.

If you missed it, well, all I can say is there are only 359 more days until MATS.

Dave Sweetman

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