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It’s Showtime!

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Rituals and traditions have been special to me since early childhood. This feeling was imparted to me largely by my father, who was always looking for an excuse for a special occasion. (And if I’m honest, to down some cold ones.) Whether it was his annual pig roast — where he’d dig a hole, light a fire and then bury an entire swine in wet burlap for 10 hours — or the crab feasts we’d have on summer holiday weekends with neighbors, Dad reveled in tradition.

Today, I carry the torch for tradition with my annual Christmas Eve cioppino night for 12, my July Fourth smoked pork butt and brisket spreads, my springtime soft crab dinners, various crab feasts and other excuses to have a good time with the neighbors. Food, like boats, has always been a staple of my favorite traditions.

One of the earliest rituals I can remember enjoying with my father was attending my first United States Powerboat Show in Annapolis, Md., in 1976. The carefully followed ritual began by picking up my dad’s best friend and continued with a stop at the liquor store for beer and ice to fill the Coleman cooler, attending the show, and then savoring a bucket of fried chicken with the ice-cold beer at a nearby state park afterward. (No, beer was not allowed at the park, but that didn’t stop my dad and his friend from enjoying the suds and fried chicken after the show.)

For me, the boat show was magical. As we walked the docks, I saw opportunities for adventures with Dad — everything from offshore fishing to coastal crabbing and flounder pounding. The best part was watching my father’s eyes light up with visions of the same sort of capers spiraling around in my own gray matter.

Our last show together was in 1984, when I became too cool to hang out with Dad. By some sort of serendipity, in 1990, I found myself immersed in the middle of the same show; I’d taken a job that spring at a ship supply store on the city docks where the show is hosted. The powerboat show, along with the back-to-back sailboat show, marked two of the biggest weeks for our store each year and set us up for the long, cold winter ahead. Also on order was unlimited overtime pay, which was a big score for a 20-year-old living on a sailboat.

The best part? This time, I was an insider with VIP access to the docks and tents as the whole spectacle was being set up. The show badge made me feel like a celebrity at the hippest club in town. Of all the memories I carry from 11 years working at Fawcett Boat Supplies, taking part in the fall boat shows are among my fondest.

But the show memories didn’t stop there. In 2003, I talked my way into a job as an associate editor (that meant book shipper and receptionist) at Waterway Guide and got to work inside the shows again, this time peddling cruising guides under the big tent. I felt as special as I had back in 1990.

Then, in 2004, my boss asked, “Do you want to go to the Miami show for us? You’d set up the booth and sell books.” It was my first big business trip, and to say I was gobsmacked when I walked onto the show floor is an understatement. I arrived thinking that the Annapolis shows were the end-all, be-all of boat shows. Never had I seen a production like Miami. I remember standing in the middle of the convention center, dodging forklifts, in a trancelike state. It was at that moment when I knew I wanted to be a marine journalist, with access to cover these events and dig inside the gears of the marine industry.

This year, I’m attending my first Metstrade in Amsterdam. I’ve heard for years about the gargantuan show from colleagues and friends who often say that words can’t sufficiently describe the vastness of the RAI Convention Center. I’ve been told the only event that holds a candle to Metstrade is boot Düsseldorf. I can’t wait.

And I wonder if I’ll be able to get fried chicken and Budweiser there. I’ll let you know. 

This article was originally published in the September 2022 issue.

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