I don't do well in crowds. They give me a claustrophobic feeling and generally send my anxiety levels through the roof. It therefore makes perfect sense that my first pen show would be the largest pen show in the country (or the world, as their mostly horrible web site claims). Nothing like diving into the deep end, right?
It all came about one day in the Pen Addict Slack Group (join here but guard your wallet well). Fellow Slacker and (relative) local Dan(Don) was lamenting his inability to attend the show. In an uncharacteristically spontaneous move, I offered to drive us both there if he could get to me. Our original plan was to leave at ass o'clock on Friday morning, attend the show and the planned Pen Addict meetup, and then drive home at ass o'clock at night. The pieces were falling into place.
As the date approached, we both began to reconsider the wisdom of our plan. While we were too late to get the show rate for a room at the hotel, the regular rate didn't seem unreasonable, especially compared to the potential cost of losing our lives when I fell asleep at the wheel. So we booked a room for Thursday and Friday nights. And waited.
Eventually Thursday came and we were off. We hit some minor traffic, but otherwise the trip was uneventful. Once arrived at the hotel, we checked in, stashed our non-pen luggage in the room and headed to the bar.
To save myself the embarrassment and guilt over forgetting someone, I won't make a list of who was there; you know who you are. But hands were shook. Pens were swapped. Ink was sampled. There were Nakayas. There were Shinobii. And of course Pilots, Sailors, Pelikans, and other proper nouns. In all my excitement and inexperience I ended up taking very poor notes on what I actually tested. At around 12:30 they kicked us out of the bar so the cleaning crew could come in.
Friday was the day I did all of my shopping. Dan(Don) and I had an early, overpriced breakfast at the hotel buffet with Lori Todd of Franklin-Christoph. Before registration even opened, we were in the main show room, browsing and getting on nibmeisters' lists (where applicable). The main attraction seemed to be the prototypes being sold by Franklin-Christoph. The now-famous and much desired "Coke bottle" Model 66 was a favorite, but I settled on a Pocket 20 in Vintage Green with a steel Masuyama medium cursive italic nib.
After registration finally opened at around 10, most of the vendors were fully armed and operational. Dan(Don) and I walked around some more and found our way to the Edison Pens table. Prior to the show, they had released a preview video showing off the pens they were bringing. I caught sight of a shimmery green Pearlette. It's a pen that has long been on my wish list and I knew if it was still there when I walked by it would be coming home with me. It was and it did.
Our next visit was the Vanness Pens table, where I bought two bottles of Akkerman ink: #8 Diep Duinwaterblauw and #21 China Town Red on the recommendation of Mr. Brad Dowdy. Most of the rest of the day was spent bouncing back and forth between the Franklin-Christoph table, where I bought a bottle of their new Terra Firma ink and a Penvelope 6, and the Vanness table, where I trolled Brad and Jeffrey and bought a Nock Co Lookout in their new Forest/Sunshine colorway. And thus concluded my shopping day. I spent a fair amount of money, but I don't think I went crazy. There were trays and trays of Pelikans, both vintage and modern, but I didn't even look at a single one. I was too afraid of what I'd walk away with.
After the free happy hour provided by the show, it was time for the Pen Addict Meetup in The Sauna. There was pizza and lots of people. The Goulets were there and that caused quite a stir. Dan(Don) won a sweet bottle of Iroshizuku Shin-Kai engraved by Vanness Pens to commemorate the event. I threatened to steal it while he was sleeping, but didn't follow through. We all ended up in the bar again for more pen swapping and stories of the day's conquests. I was exhausted by 11 so I turned in a bit early and apparently missed quite a bit of fun.
Saturday was a day for doing one last lap of the show floor and saying goodbye. The place was packed. Fortunately we managed to find everybody but Leigh Reyes and Thomas Hall. They were at an Apple store getting Leigh's phone fixed. It took some minor convincing, but Dan(Don) got me to make a stop on our way out. We met up with Leigh and Thomas at a Barnes and Noble Starbucks near the Apple store and sat around chatting for a little over an hour. The calm, quiet atmosphere of the four of us sitting around a table seemed such a juxtaposition to the chaos and madness we had just left at the show. But it was the perfect ending.
We finally got on the road and Google Maps decided to take us the scenic route back to 95. On the plus side, we got to drive past the Pentagon, the Washington Monument, and the Jefferson Memorial. But all the while I kept asking, "Where the hell is she taking us??". Eventually we made it back to New Jersey, Dan(Don) got on his train and I headed home. The trip was over for us. Over the next day we both watched with a little sadness the updates the new friends we left behind in D.C. made to the various social networks. Next year, we're staying until Sunday.
I was asked what the highlight of the show was for me. It was all such a whirlwind that I hadn't really thought about it, but I eventually came up with an answer. It was Thursday night. We had just checked in and put our bags in our room. We went down to the bar to see who was about and found The Table. We didn't really know anybody. I sat down next to Thomas Hall, whom I had interacted with minimally in the Slack group or anywhere else previously, and he started talking to me like we had known each other for years. It was my official welcome into the pen show world and I will never forget it.