Over the years I’ve been to enough food, travel, and job expos to know that expos really aren’t my thing. They’re always overcrowded and too warm, they’re mostly occupied by aggressive vendors who adopt the “hard sell” mode of marketing, and I’ve never once came out of an expo with anything substantial enough to feel that it had been worth my time. But there’s one thing that keeps me coming back: the potential promise of free stuff.
I, like most people, love free stuff. Swag bags full of tacky tchotchkes, poorly performing pens, and magnets featuring companies I’ll never contact that won’t even stick to my stainless steel fridge? I want it. Free food samples, even if it’s just a wintergreen LifeSaver? I need it. A discount off a full-priced product or service just for attending this event? Not as good as something free, but I’ll take it. A drawing to enter to win something free and fabulous? I came prepared with a sheet of my return address labels; sign me up!
So with this starry-eyed vision of freebies galore, I signed Remus and myself up to attend a wedding expo at a downtown Chicago hotel. An impressive list of DJs, caterers, photographers, dress shops, and bakeries were listed to attend, so maybe if we found vendors we liked we would get a discounted rate to hire them for our wedding. At the very least I figured we would get some free cake out of attending.
My first warning that this expo would not be what I was hoping for came before we even entered the main room. Set up right outside of the main entrance/exit doors was a local photographer who glommed onto us on our way in. Oozing smarmy charm, he asked us all about our vision for our wedding day, and when we told him the venue we had chosen he excitedly bragged about how he shot weddings there all the time, pulled out a sample photo album taken there, and name-dropped the venue manager in case we didn’t believe he was actually familiar with the place.
“You see this shot? I’m actually lying on my stomach in the aisle to get this shot of them exchanging vows. That’s how committed I am to capturing perfect moments; I will lie down on the floor to get them.”
OK…I don’t anticipate we’ll ask our photographer to roll around on the ground for us, but good to know that you’d be game…
He continued to flip through the album, showing us various shots he could mimic for us in that same space, and waxing poetic about his epic use of natural light. To my amateur eye, the photos looked fine, though nothing spectacular, but his pushiness alone was turning me off bit by bit with each passing second. Then he clinched the “never gonna get it” deal when he got to the final page of the album that featured the photographers credits.
Along with his photo and bio, there was a headshot of a woman on the page.
“That’s my ex-partner,” he explained. “And my ex-fiancée.” This second part was said with such disdain that I’m sure wherever that woman is now she felt a chill go down her spine. And why he felt the need to share this level of detail with us, I can’t imagine, when it would have been much simpler to say, “This is someone I used to work with,” or even simpler than that to say nothing at all.
“Oh, that must have been awkward, to lose both your fiancée and your business partner,” Remus politely commented.
“Eh, whatever. She was fucking crazy, anyway. Better off without her!”
And I was done. No way in hell was I any longer going to entertain having the day celebrating our love and commitment include a man who would openly--to clients!--describe the person he once planned to spend his life with as “fucking crazy” and as being “better off without her.” He could be willing to lie on the third rail of the Blue line to get the most epic of photos and I still wouldn’t have hired him.
“Well, it’s been nice talking to you, but we need to get inside.” I started sidestepping toward the entrance while frantically making “get the hell away from here” eyes at Remus.
“Wait! Let me get your contact info! You and I need to talk more.”
“We’ll hit you on the way out.” He was right by the door; we would inevitably have to cruise by him again.
“I’ll be looking for you! We need to nail this thing down!”
The rest of our wedding expo experience was downhill from there. There was the DJ company spokeswoman who looked like one of Hugh Hefner’s Girls Next Door and couldn’t even answer the most basic of questions like, “what’s the average rate for a full night of DJ service?”
There was the all-in-one company (wedding planners, DJs, lighting, and photographers) who apparently let someone’s high school daughter be their front person, who robotically read without pause or eye contact--through a mouthful of metal braces--their templated sales pitch script.
There was the custom suits joint who couldn’t wrap their heads around the fact that we weren’t having groomsmen and only Remus would be the one in need of some natty threads, so they kept trying to sell us on the package deal we could get for “all your groomsmen” if we had them create the groom’s suit, despite our continued reminders that, “We’ll only need one suit. One. For him. His suit. He’s the only one suiting up.”
There was the Florida travel booth who wouldn’t stop trying to sell us on attending one of their time share pitches for a chance to win a free honeymoon in Florida, despite our assurances that we weren’t interested in time shares, time share pitches, or Florida in general.
And worst of all, there was the wedding cake bakery who ran out of cake samples before we even got there. What kind of bakery attends a day-long expo and doesn’t plan to bring enough cake?!
The only swag we collected was business cards and fliers for wedding vendors we would never contact, and as we approached the exit doors we remembered that the original photographer we met was waiting to pounce on the other side. Using my ninja-like skills, I sidled up to the door to peek out and saw that he was currently engaged with another couple. When he turned his back to grab a sample album (hopefully the one featuring his crazy bitch ex!) I signaled to Remus to “GO!” and we hustled out the door, down the hall, and into the elevator bay without looking back.
I recently reached out to our venue’s preferred décor vendor to set up a time to talk about adding some decorative touches to the space for our big day. They replied that they’ll be at a wedding expo at our venue at the end of January, so we should come talk to them there when we can be in the actual space.
Great. Looking forward to it. I hope there’s free cake this time.