CONSTRUCT 2011 in Chicago Through my Eyes

aka My First Trip to the Windy City

Despite the fact that I attended CONSTRUCT 2010 in April in Philly as an Expo attendee and became much more involved in my local Allentown CSI Chapter,since, I did not have my plans fully wrapped up until 48 hours before leaving on September 12th for Chicago. I told myself for months that I was going to Chicago, but it didn’t become a reality until I was boarded on a Southwest flight from PHL and headed to Midway. The flight was smooth and – get this – actually landed 15 minutes early at Midway.

Without a rental car and without my own beloved Civic, I was left to public transportation for the duration of my 6 day stay. I love big cities for their public transportation. I managed to get by with buses, the L, the Metra Train, taxis, a hotel shuttle bus and my feet. With only a few minor hiccups, I got around quite well. I stayed in Hyde Park, the South Side of Chicago, for budget reasons and with a Metra stop 2 blocks from the hotel and a stop in the McCormick Place, I really couldn’t complain.

I got in on Monday for one explicit reason and that was to catch a Chicago White Sox game at US Cellular Field. I have a goal to do every single major league ballpark in the Nation and I was not going to let my first trip to Chicago slip by without a game or two. I hoofed it about 3 miles to the park and caught a Tiger beatdown, as they beat the Palehose 14-4. I caught some batting practice, got a famous Comiskey Dog and took in a beautiful park on the South Side. After about 5 miles of walking that day, some while pulling my luggage, I decided to cab home.

Tuesday AM found me bright at early at the McCormick Place. A structure that sports 2.6 MILLION square feet of exhibit space. I don’t believe I’ve ever been in a space so large. Due to the time zone difference, my calendar had me onsite an hour early which let me to a quick bite at the on-site McDonalds. My Tuesday AM classes had me at “Submittals and Substitutions: What to Avoid for a Successful Project” and “Substitutions, Approved Equals and other Dirty Words”. By the time I broke for lunch on Tuesday morning, I was reminded of how CSI tells it ‘how it is supposed to be” and unfortunately, not always as it is. If, as a product rep, it was always like it is spelled out in the PRM or a project manual, my job would be a bit easier. Lunch found Rob Sarnoski and I taking a cab to Lou Malnati’s for some Chicago pizza and I can confirm what is rumored. The Chicago deep dish pizza is INCREDIBLE. It went down nicely with a few Goose Island Matilda’s – a Belgian Style Pale Ale.

A cab back and I was attending a class right up my alley – “Problems and Solutions with Concrete Floor Coverings and Coatings”. Being a sport flooring contractor, we face moisture issues every single day on the job and it’s not getting any easier. Hearing the attendees questions made me realize we certainly aren’t the only ones facing this problem.

Day 1 of classes ended which led to Night 1 of recreation. Rob and myself walked to Chinatown from McCormick. Big cities always blow me away how they can hold mini ethnic cities within themselves.

Thanks to the help of Google, we found a meal at Joy Yee’s Noodles and Dave Wrigley made his way out to meet us. Great food, good beer and great company made the night fly by and we shut down Joy Yee’s at 10:30 and made our way back to our respective hotels.

My Day 2 morning class was supplanted by Joy Davis’ “Social Media Fieldtrip” which I could just not pass up. As an active user of Twitter and Facebook, I wanted to see what Joy had up her sleeve. I’m glad I attended and was able to help out a fellow CSI member – Rick Gauthier, President of the Sacramento Chapter, in his introduction to Twitter.

The exhibit hall opened up on Wednesday at 11 and I made my way though the hall. The show floor was a buzz and it was great to see so much interaction between the attendees and exhibitors.

Wednesday afternoon led me to “Business Communication Skills that Matter Most: How to Speak and Still be Heard”. I am thankful that as a trained radio dj, I have been taught how to publicly speak. After sitting through numerous CSI programs and other presentations over the years, I only wish everyone had been trained in communication skills.

Wednesday night had the Allentown crew – Rob, Dave, Dave Fenstermacher and his wife Charlene, Lee Ann Slattery and myself met up at the famous House of Blues in the heart of downtown. As this was my first true trip into the center of town, I felt like a kid in candy store looking up at the skyscrapers. Face it, when you grow up outside of Burlington, VT and the largest building is 13 stories, it doesn’t take much to be a big building for me. We made our way into the House of Blues, caught some great solo blues from Pete Special and had a great meal. After was a treat, as rock band karaoke took the stage. Let me preface this by saying that as a DJ, I HATE karaoke. But, this rock trio, which looked like Green Day Jr., took the stage and threw down. They were having a blast on stage backing your same old karaoke singers.

4 of us closed down the House of Blues and cabbed our way home after midnight.

I think we were all operating a tad slow on Thursday morning as the 8am class started just a bit too early. However, Michael Chambers “Specifiers and Product Reps: Making the Most of the Partnership” was an incredible presentation. Top that off with Michael’s energy and sense of humor made this my most favorite class of CONSTRUCT. The same seminar room hosted by next session, Joy’s “Expanding your Reach with Social Media for AEC” which had me leading the TweetChat while Joy and Charles Hendricks led the full room on what exactly social media can do. A big break gave me time to walk around nearby Soldier Field.

My Thursday afternoon class was led by Brok Howard on “Wisemen Tales: WHat I Wish i Knew in my First Five Years”. This was a great presentation filled with quote from CSI Fellows that Brok interviewed personally. He recorded them via GoToMeeting and played back their actual voices.

I attended a CSI Practice Group reception in lieu of the Mid-Atlantic Business meeting which led me to dinner at Billy Goat’s Tavern (source of the Saturday Night Live “Cheeburger Cheerburg” Jon Belushi skit) and a relative early night in.

Friday morning was my last session with “What’s up with BOD (Basis of Design)”. Yet another reminder that CSI is ‘how it is supposed to be’. Sigh.

Friday afternoon was perhaps the treat of the week. I was fortunate enough to receive Wrigley Field tickets from an acquaintance. I took the L to the North Side and got to meet up with an old friend that I hadn’t seen in 10 years. A quick cup of coffee and a pastry was all we had time for and then I met Dave Wrigley at his namesake park. Less than 20 rows off the field, we were treated to an extra inning W from the Cubbies. An incredible park that made me truly understand the “friendly confines” moniker that it has been given.

Dave and I walked around the park and took in the sites a bit after before taking the L back to the City. The CSI gala was held Friday night, which I did not attend. I chose to walk the city a bit (as I moved to the Congress Hotel from Hyde Park) which led me to a Big Al’s italian beef sandwich. I didn’t know that this was a Chicago staple, but understand it now. A few drinks in the hotel lounge after topped off the evening.

Saturday morning and it was all time to go. I decided to cancel my flight plans and ride home with Dave Wrigley to keep him company. We were lucky enough to have a great day to drive and in a mere 11+ hours, I made it though Indiana and Ohio for the very first time and was home in Lititz and Dave was on the way back to his place.

All in all, Chicago and CONSTRUCT was better than I ever thought it could have been. Each class seemed better then the last and it ran without a hitch. I already have Phoenix on my radar for 2012 and if all goes to plan, I’ll have company on this one.

CSI Academies and San Diego is on my radar next!

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