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Boat Shows: Show Me The Money

DATE POSTED:March 15, 2020
Gaining perspective at the Miami International Boat Show.
Gaining perspective at the Miami International Boat Show. (Tim Bower/)

I don’t regret bringing my friend Chuck Larson to the Miami International Boat Show. I usually return from my annual winter getaway with a swag bag full of ball caps and pens and koozies to hand out to the less-fortunate denizens of the Lake View Inn, who are stranded up north all winter.

One year, I gave Chuck a Pathfinder cap that he thought I got from Nissan, and I realized it was time Chuck gained a wider perspective on the world of boats. And so, last year, I secured a room with two beds and an all-access pass for Chuck, and we grabbed a nonstop from Milwaukee to sunny Florida. Chuck’s marine consciousness was indeed expanded, but in the process, he caused me to reflect a bit as well.

On the flight down, I was going over a spreadsheet charting all my boat-show assignments. On Thursday, I was booked from 7 a.m. until 8 p.m., attending press conferences at 15-minute time intervals and half-mile distance intervals, appearing as the “talent” in short videos, and posting to social media. Posting, posting, posting.

“Wow,” Chuck said. “They keep you pretty busy. Of course, you do get to be in Florida in February.”

He was right. One year, I landed in Miami, and it was 100 degrees warmer than in Wisconsin. Why would you buy a round-trip ticket? But the Miami show used to be more relaxing for those of us in the media. Back in the good-old days, the show was in Miami Beach, and fellow scribe Jim Youngs and I would stay at some seedy hotel on pre-gentrified South Beach. We’d enjoy breakfast at the News Cafe, watching fashion models linger over their coffee and cigarettes. Then we’d stroll to the convention center and look at stuff and talk to people, and work up some story ideas and an appetite, which we’d need later when someone would be sponsoring our dinner.

Today the show is on Virginia Key, and the internet and the cellphone have made it necessary for us to toil for 12 hours at the boat show.

“But it’s not really work,” Chuck said. “I mean, you’re not even getting dirty. If you were a dairy farmer, you might be sitting on a tractor this morning, spreading manure.”

Point taken.

As we walked the docks, Chuck was especially impressed with the luxury center-consoles rigged with four outboards, and he perked up when a boat-company president told me he “had a client from Texas hop in his Gulfstream this morning to come down and see our new 44 cat.” At day’s end, Chuck and I stood looking down at the marina lined with hundreds of boats.

“So, who is going to buy all of these boats?” Chuck asked. “I don’t personally know anybody who could afford most of these boats. Do you?”

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The same thought had occurred to me when our magazine office was in Manhattan. I’d gaze up at apartment buildings along Central Park and do the math. A million-dollar apartment, and how many in each building, and how many buildings. And they were all occupied.

“It’s just about the boats for me,” I said. “Most of the people who buy them share our passion for the water. They just have a bigger budget. And speaking of budgets, the food is usually good at the Mercury media party. Let’s go.”