If you ever see me at Oshkosh again, you'll know someone else is payin' the bills.
That's not because I don't like the EAA's annual aviation extravaganza, in fact, I love goin' to Oshkosh! I love seeing the terrific aircraft collections, meeting old friends, meeting Klyde Morris readers and doing all sorts of "Oshkosh" aviation stuff. The reason why I will not pay to go back and "do" Oshkosh ever again, is because I have been told, clearly, by the hag who sits upon high at Mt. AirIndenture, and who rules at her whim all that takes place among the building, the fly market and the poor souls who venture into that place each summer as vendors, that... my money is no good there.
Here is how my little air adventure into Oshkosh hell went... The year was 2003 and after several visits to AirIndenture for other people, I elected to have a Klyde Morris booth at the venture of '03. Of course I knew that there was a long-time pecking order in how things worked there, with one old crow who held all of the strings like a female Don Corleone of booths and buildings, and thus I expected to have to earn my way up over time. Yet when one pays good money for a place at an event, one expects that those running the show will at least be civil- hell, even the Godfather gave ya' kiss before he had ya' taken out and strangled with piano wire... not so at EAA and Oshkosh.
My disaster of 2003 began shortly after I arrived in the unpleasant village of Fon du Lac and the dumpster hotel disguised as an Econo Lodge. There we were told that they had no record of our reservation that we had made four months earlier. Additionally, the confirmation number that was on the printed copy of the reservation that we'd gotten from Travelocity was not even a number that Econo Lodge used. A few phone calls showed that our paperwork was indeed valid and a call to another Econo Lodge showed that the type of number we had was indeed one used by that chain. Still- we were seen as non-persons by the guy running the joint in the middle of that night- and this was especially so when he saw the rate that we'd gotten our room for... no, no... they never have that rate during Oshkosh. But... there was good news, he did have one uncleaned room open tonight and for about double our reservation rate, he's grudgingly give us that one. He was also kind enough to give us some semi-clean sheets to put on the bed ourselves. So, there we went, me and my 7 months pregnant wife, up to our not-clean room at twice the rate that we'd been confirmed for... we were loving it already. The following morning I raised a stink with the day management and they said they'd look into it... they did... that evening they dumped the story on me that several months ago, they had called my phone number to confirm the reservation, but the person who answered said that... I was dead. Great story... I'll bet it works every time they use it.
Yet- greater screw jobs were ahead as we were about to fall into the pit of human excrement known as being a vendor at Oshkosh.
We'd been granted a space in what is generally known as the "Fly Market" and is pretty much the ghetto you are placed into when you are new to the event. Of course I thought that I knew well the "market" area as I'd walked through it many times hunting for odds and ends and generally cool stuff. To me it was an absolutely acceptable place to start, however, I'd never been all the way out in the boondocks part of the market- I'd only walked through the parts of it where normal people stroll until they get tired or run out of water and die- our 2003 spot would be way beyond that point. We were, however, lucky enough to be within smelling distance of a huge bank of porta-potties and real close to parking for the other vendors- we were just not in a location where you can make any money. We were so far from civilization, that long-time Oshkosh attendees who knew me, and came looking for me could not find me.
No sooner did we get all set up with shirts, hats, CDs, glasses, Klyde dolls and all sorts of other cool stuff that no one would likely get to see, than our neighbor across the street fired up. It was the Westbend Cookwear Show! Yep- complete with loud speakers and free cold slaw, they boomed the show at us eight times a day for seven throbbing days. The people helping me had migraines, the few customers that we did see were sent packing, in fear that these hucksters were going to brainwash them into a skillet- everyone was tortured continuously by the cookin' show- everyone that is except me... I was already dead according to the Fon du Loc Econo Lodge, so it really didn't matter to me.
"And the Lord said: There is now Oshkosh and I shall let open the sky and the lightening will flash and the rains and thunder will come in the night and a great flood will be upon the market and all will be vanquished by the waters so as to pay for their sin of going to that place... except of course... for the Westbend Cookin' Show."
So it was that when we arrived at the tent the next morning, following one of those Oshkosh late night thunder storms, we found a lot of stuff soaked, and muddy. A whole display of iced tea glasses and coffee mugs, although located well inside the tent had somehow blown over and smashed. The worst thing was that a puddle the size of one of the local lakes had formed directly in front of our tent. So even if we did get any customers that day- they could not get to us! After contacting the AirIndenture people who were supposed to help us, we were told that they would come around "sometime" to dump wood chips on the puddle and restore access to our location. By that day's 7th showing of the Westbend Cookin' Show- we had our wood chips.
Perhaps just to forget how much money I was losing on this Air mis-Adventure, I took a walk through the buildings. We were three days into the event and I quickly took note that a lot of the booths in the buildings were left unoccupied. I counted more than a dozen empty spaces. When I returned to the ghetto I was talking to one of the other vendors and he informed me that if I went to the office and paid extra, I could get one of those empty spaces. I grabbed my credit card and sprinted to the office- there to learn the cold hard truth of how AirIndenture is really run.
Upon reaching the window through which all communication with the vendors takes place, I first encountered a sweet young lady. I asked if it was true that I could "buy-up" into a vacant indoor booth? She replied "Oh yes, you can do that." I passed my credit card through the slot and told here to charge me "Whatever it takes" to get me out of the Fly Market. She went into the back and was gone for a long, long time. When she returned she apologised and told me "Well, you can do that... but you can't." I asked for an explanation, but she could offer none. I asked who else I could talk to and she told me the decision had been made by the lady who oversaw the vendors- she gave me her phone number and half warned that if I really was sure wanted to call her that was the number. At that point I REALLY wanted to call her- but had no idea that doing so would be considered a sin so great.
You see... if, when dumb enough to actually pay to be a vendor at Oshkosh, you dare to speak with the wicked witch of the great white north, you will have angered her- because she is so high and mighty that in the act of speaking with a low life such as a vendor, she feels soiled. In our very brief conversation I was told that the reason why I could not get into a building was because "You're not a true aviation company- and we already have our quota of not true aviation companies in the buildings." When I pointed out that my cartoon strip only deals in aviation and aerospace subjects and that I have several million readers- nearly all of whom are in the aviation and aerospace industry, she replied "...well, then you are borderline- and we already have our quota of borderlines in the buildings." I asked if she was actually going to not take my money and leave those more than a dozen spots empty just based on that reasoning? She replied "Yes." and then followed up by saying that as far as she could see, it was unlikely that my company would "ever get into a building." In other words- just by asking the question, I'd pissed her off so she was now using her powers (which on a whim up-graded me from Not True to Borderline and could just as easily have reclassified me as True Aviation) to black-list me. Then she snidely asked if there was anything else she could do for me? I replied that I'd like to have her broomstick to take to the wizard so he could give me a brain.
When the week of hell finally expired, we broke our tent down along with everyone else who was in the ghetto. In all, my final calculation showed me some $3,000 in the hole due to my moronic decision to attend AirIndenture 2003. I am now forever marked as "Borderline" in the wicked witch of the great white north's big thick book of spells. You see, some people such as that have no real power or authority in the lives until that tiny space on the calendar that is the event over which they have always ruled. Then they become something beyond what they are the rest of the time- then they finally have their power once again... until the event is over. Thus I knew as I sailed upon the ferry BADGER on the way back across Lake Michigan that wiked witch of AirIndenture was deflating rapidly up there in the office "...what a world, what a world..." she'd hiss as she shrunk into the carpet in billow of green smoke. Oh, she'd be back- in fact she's probably there right now. The funniest part of this story took place six months later. The cruds at EAA's Oshkosh vendor's office had the nerve to actually call me and ask why I had not signed up for 2004! They were lucky that my wife took the call and not me. In 2006 I wrote the series of cartoons seen following this text- people thought it was original humor, but in fact it is based on actual events.
I was told recently that some big changes may soon take place at Air Indenture- I doubt that they'll be anything that could root out the wicked witch or her ilk. People like that are there until they die and then return just to haunt the place. Additionally, I will always carry the moniker of Borderline and the knowledge that I'll never get into a building and that my money is not good enough for the wicked witch, EAA or the Oshkosh event... if only I could have gotten her damned broomstick.