Friday, August 20, 2004

Capitalism on Display

I come to you this morning from an exhibitor's booth at The Summer Green Show being held at the Coliseum in Greensboro, NC. To give you an idea of what is happening, try to picture a convention center chock full of trees, plants, and flowers, along with tractors, mowers, cultivators, and spreaders, as well as every imaginable form of mulch, fertilizer, gardening accessory, fountain, and the like. You have the picture. In all, there are a few hundred companies plying their wares here.

At the last trade show I attended in Philadelphia a few weeks ago, I struck up a conversation with a woman from Arlington, Virginia (across the river from Washington D.C.) who described the area she lived in as a liberal enclave in an otherwise backward Republican state. I had known her for all of two minutes and we were having a discussion about President Bush. She seemed to have this need to determine the depth of my intellect on the basis of where I stood on her sliding scale of political awareness. At a nursery and landscaping trade show.

That is the sort of thing that goes on at these events. A few minutes ago I was listening to a group of four men with their special North Carolina accent in the next booth telling trout fishing stories. And a young man just left here after telling me all about his mother’s stained glass artwork and his father’s wood burning hobby. You want to use sandalwood if you’re going to burn designs into wood. The grain is closer. I’m going to probably remember that.

Folks here also renew friendships. Many of the exhibitors will attend all the shows in the area throughout the year and most will see their regular customers walk up throughout the day. We are all trying to sell our goods and we are, in many cases, competing with one another. But here we are all friends. And some of the friendships go way back.

If you remember the stories from a hundred years ago about the good ol’ boys getting together in the small town square on a summer afternoon to talk about the weather and the quality of the hay harvest, that same thing goes on here. There is a whole lot of discussion about the important things in life – and there is a little business conducted as well.

I mentioned the liberal woman from Northern Virginia for another reason. She proceeded to tell me that the United States of America was going to go to hell in a hand basket if George W. Bush got reelected. And she was visibly disturbed by the idea. I wanted to tell her, “Go away, you batty old woman.”

But what I told her was, “America is doing just fine. And will continue to do well regardless of who gets elected. I prefer Bush over Kerry, but I know that life as we know it is not going to end if the people in this country choose John Kerry.”

“Look around you,” I said. The place was jammed with hundreds and hundreds of exhibitors and customers. “This is what America is all about. All these people are trying their best, in their own individual ways, to get ahead; to thrive; to provide, at the end of the day, food for the table and a roof over the kids’ heads.” Capitalism at its essence.

The look on her face told me that I had, by taking a departure from the normal political discussion, thrown her off guard. And she knew I was right. I could have gotten into a discussion about budget deficits and the war in Iraq, but the alarm she expressed about Bush told me that (in addition to wasting my time knowing that she is one of those Bush-haters we hear so much about) she needed a good dose of reality. She was an exhibitor there too and was selling her wares. I found out afterward that she is actually quite successful and brings in a handsome annual income from her commission sales business. Go figure.

Anyway, I’m going to get back to doing what I came here to do. Before the end of the day, I’m hoping to come upon someone who can help me with rebuilding a 52 year old carburetor.