Monday, October 4, 2010

Building Rome in a Day: The Grand Tasting Tent

The soft tones of the trombone cut through the screech of the screaming subway train, melancholy sounds from a melancholy man. His crooked smile matched his rusted horn, warped bell and bent slide. Was it really a surprise that everything he played was so hauntingly perfect?

On the surface above the 14th Street station, biting winds were unforgiving to pedestrians walking under umbrellas, cold but energetic, happy for a break from the once steady downpour that eased to an equally steady drizzle. The scene was like something captured in a movie, set in Ireland but filmed in Canada, beautiful but not quite real.
Gray, haze, traffic and waves not far away on the Hudson. And through it all, I could tell that something good is about to happen.

The Grand Tasting is the Food Network Wine and Food Festival's signature event opening a dreamscape for foodies and industry pros. It is spread across four weekend sessions in an 800 foot long tent, featuring promotions, free food and beverage samples, and cooking demonstrations from some of the finest retailers and restaurants in NYC. It's a temple for all things culinary. And today, I both watched and participating in the building of that temple from the ground up.

My task as a Volunteer Team Leader was not at all insignificant leading a small team ranging from 4-7 people depending on the temperature and time of day, measuring and marketing every booth, display and table space for over 600 vendors and sponsors. The volunteer staff was very good (mostly) showing tenacity, professionalism and the type of refreshing energy and commitment that makes events like this one so special. We had our ups and downs, mostly ups, before the volunteers left one by one into the haze in search of more comfortable places.

But my recollections are mostly about the surroundings and crews that are constructing this event, people that, if they do their jobs right, will never be seen or even considered by the average festival guest. The evening security guard with a handshake so strong I thought my fingers would crack, whose warm smile and generosity with his time were shared frequently with crew members needing access to our gated lot. The tent and signage/electrical crews, bundled up in thick jackets and yellow ponchos, huddling around wood crates with venue diagrams, schedules and notes creating a jigsaw puzzle that they attacked with ease. In a matter of hours, an open space on Pier 54 had windows, doors, skylights, electrical sources... and that's only what I witnessed this day. The Operations Director and Event Producer, managing people and expectations, vendors, sponsors, staff, volunteers, city regulations, and a complicated pizza order with speed, grace and humility. I can only take these snapshots because a thorough description would take too much space.

I am proud of everything that my team and I accomplished today but this post is for all those people that make events such as this one run, rain or shine. The security guard told me, as he unlocked and unwound the chains securing our gate, "You know, it's almost always like this... a few rainy, miserable days. But you know what? It's going to be a beautiful weekend."

And that's exactly the thought that dominated my thoughts as I sat in a foldout lounge chair with cup holders, bundled so tightly in my jacket that I might have been mistaken for Kenny (from South Park) if we were a bit closer to Halloween. The conditions were brutal but the promise of everything that comes next is nothing short of thrilling. I can't wait until my next shift on Thursday.

1 comment: