2016 LA Pen Show Day 4: Sunday and Final Thoughts

And, at last, it arrived: the day at the LA International Pen Show for the public.

The day arrived, as such days often do in La-La-Land, with sunlight peeking in through the curtains. I knew I was going to want a large breakfast, so I partook of the hotel’s breakfast buffet (mmmm, bacon) and then headed up to the show floor. I arrived by 8:30, and there was a small line forming. The public wasn’t allowed to enter the show floor until 10AM, so I took advantage of the extra time to walk around the show floor a bit and wish the various vendors and friends a good show with the promised crush of people who were supposed to be arriving soon.

By 10 AM, the line for entry wound out the lobby doors, down the sidewalk of the driveway, and across the street a block. I was on the show floor for most of the morning, so I didn’t track the movement of the line, but it seemed to move pretty quickly, and the show floor started to fill up. As I had spent the last two and a half days wandering around the show and looking at what was available, there wasn’t a lot I wanted to see pen-wise. I was mostly there for the atmosphere.

The show floor was busy, but not as cramped as I seem to remember from my time in DC. The crush of people was less of a crush and more of a mild squeeze. I was thrilled to meet a lot of folks who recognized me from my YouTube videos and said hi. (One of my favorites were Steve and his son Jake, who was in his early teens. Jake had been watching a lot of my videos and his dad had brought him to the show. I LOVE seeing young people getting into the hobby. It gives me so much hope for the future of our esoteric little obsession!)

I had a great time playing around at the ink station that Ricky had brought from the San Francisco pen show for the Vanness table so they could allow people to test a lot of their inks. I spent a chunk of time at the Chatterley Luxuries table, as they hadn’t set up prior to Sunday, and Bryant is always a good source of the fancy pens of the sort I like to buy. I browsed some of the Delta offerings at the Yafa tables, and asked a couple of other vendors about flexible music nibs. It was a pleasant day.

At lunch, I wandered back to the strip mall with my Kindle and went back to the Teriyaki joint: not so much because they had good food, but more because it was inexpensive and they had their Diet Coke dispenser out in the restaurant, so I could go nuts with the refills. (Despite my naps, I was starting to run on fumes by the end of Sunday.)

As the last two hours of the show wound down, I knew I wanted to make at least one more purchase. I had spent the last couple of days hemming and hawing over whether or not I was going to buy a Stylo-Art and/or an Eboya pen. Brad (from The Pen Addict) and I had been talking all weekend about how tempted we were by the offerings and had been teasing each other into buying something. So, with 90 minutes left before the show officially closed down for the day, I purchased a beautiful pen made from a highly figured ash wood, dyed green, and then lacquered over with urushi. The pen accepts sections from Pilot pens with #10 nibs, so I had them put in a broad nib, and it immediately wrote like a dream: no adjustment required. I was pretty darn thrilled with my final pen purchase of the show. (Brad ended up buying a pen from them as well if memory serves.)

Since I was right next door, I also stopped back by the Vanness table to pick up another couple bottles of KWZ ink. I have become a huge fan of KWZ inks since I got my first bottle back in DC, and I’m now up to eight colors, both iron gall and regular.

A couple more hands to shake, and the curtain closed on the 2016 LA International Pen show. I ended up with 11 pens, and (completely coincidentally) 11 bottles of ink. I went back to my room to unload the remainder of my stash, then went back down to the floor to help break down the Vanness table and load everything out to the car. Afterwards, a group of us went to the wood-fired pizza place across the street from the hotel for some yummy pizza (where I got a magical magnetic set of silverware that stuck together) then back to the hotel. Everyone was knackered (I love that word!) by the end of the day, so we just sat in the lounge of the lobby and chatted until about 11PM, at which point, everyone was ready to head to bed. I spent about an hour packing up my suitcase, and crashed into bed.

It's MAAAAAGIC! (Actually, it's just magnets. But still, weird, right?)

It’s MAAAAAGIC! (Actually, it’s just magnets. But still, weird, right?)

Monday & Final Thoughts:

I found myself wide awake before the sun was up on Monday. (I always sleep poorly the night before traveling for some reason.) I decided to take advantage of the elliptical machines in the hotel fitness center one last time, so I took the elevator down to the basement and did a nice 40-minute workout before heading back up to the room to shower. I finished packing, ate my last granola bar, and hauled my stuff down to the lobby. Brad and I shared a cab to LAX, and my time in Los Angeles was over.

For each action, there is an equal-but-opposite reaction, according to the laws of physics. If my enjoyment of the Seattle airport on Day One is my “action,” then my utter loathing of LAX would be my equal-but-opposite reaction. What an ugly rat’s nest of an airport. No thought to design, traffic flow, functionality, or aesthetics: it’s truly one of the worst airports I’ve ever attempted to navigate in my life. I eventually found a nice (but rather pricey) restaurant called Campanile where I had some lovely salmon with mashed potatoes and charred broccolini, and finished off the meal with a delicious apple cobbler a la mode. (And, of course, several glasses of Diet Coke.) Then I hacked my way back to my ugly terminal and took an uneventful flight home, picked up my dog, and prepared to go back to work the following day.

My trip to the LA Pen Show was, to be honest, something of a disappointment. I was able to find several pens and inks, and I met some really great people. But compared to the DC Show, I found my experience in LA left me wanting. I’ve struggled with how to express the “why” of my disappointment without offending a whole bunch of people, but I’m not sure it can be done, so I’m just going to dive in.

When I attended DC, it was my first pen show, and I had no idea what to expect. What I found was a group of enthusiastic and dedicated pen people who had as much fun sharing their knowledge and sharing each others’ company as they did playing with their pens. Age, gender, color, nationality, experience level: none of it mattered. As one of my local pen friends (who I met at the DC Show) put it, “It was truly magical.” My father and I were both welcomed like we had been part of the group for years. There was an air of energy, excitement, and enthusiasm that permeated the proceedings. Every night there were dozens of people gathering together and sharing the hobby. It was so much fun.

Los Angeles, by comparison, felt almost lethargic. The aforementioned management issues certainly played a role in this difference. The LA show, from the moment I arrived until the moment I left, felt exclusive rather than inclusive. The aura was one where, “you’re not part of the old guard, and we don’t like the way you’re changing our hobby.” That sounds a bit melodramatic, I realize, but I actually got a 15-minute lecture from one of the crotchety old men behind their table about how bloggers and YouTubers like me and my ilk are ruining the hobby. “It used to be that you knew everyone in the room, and you could trust everyone to know what they were talking about,” he told me. He didn’t like that younger people were showing up and asking questions. He, in essence, said that he wished they could maintain their “inner circle” vibe without all these meddlesome kids getting in the mix.

But even the rantings of one crotchety old malcontent aside, I felt the difference over and over again. A lot of the older vendors were supremely unfriendly. I’d stand at their table looking over their collections, and there was never so much as a “hello” or “anything you’re looking for?” They’d look right through me like I wasn’t there. Other times, when I took the initiative and asked about certain pens, they would grunt only the tersest of answers, offering next to no information. There were several older folks there who put up signs saying “PLEASE DON’T TOUCH PENS” who would then act as though you were a criminal if you asked to take a closer look at something they were offering. Even in the bar after the show each night, there was no mingling of groups. The “us vs. them” mentality was far more prevalent than I had expected after my DC experience.

I also believe it is a serious mistake to hold the show’s public day on Sunday rather than both Saturday and Sunday. Based on accounts I have heard from a few people, the owner of the show refuses to even consider changing the public day. The show, in its current implementation, benefits the small trader with several folders full of vintage pens they can haul back to their room each night over retailers with large setups needing several tables. Changing the public day would be more beneficial to retailers with large setups who travel across the country with cases upon cases of product to sell. It would be more beneficial to manufacturers who are looking to announce and showcase new pens or raise brand awareness. As it is, most of them don’t start setting up until Saturday afternoon, leaving the show feeling a lot more empty than it should.

The lack of organization around table setup and lack of foresight around giving those retailers ways of securing their inventory at night could also be easily resolved with a bit of forethought. As it stands now, this is a show that feels far more catered toward the vintage offerings. There’s nothing wrong with this, per se, but there is also no reason why, with a bit of compromise, the show couldn’t be tweaked to support both and draw in even larger crowds as a result.

The LA show (really, nearly every pen show) could also use a major technological update. What passes for a show website these days is criminal. (Especially the website for DC.) I don’t understand how it’s even possible to run a show this large without online registration, the ability to pay via a card, or a computer at the front desk. A bit of technology and some better organization, and this show could have been a much smoother experience. (But that’s just the MBA in project management talking.)

In the end, the refrain I heard over and over again from vendor, exhibitor, and trader alike was, “If there was a competing show out here on the west coast at around the same time, I’d go to that one in a heartbeat instead.” The LA Show is one of the larger shows in the US, but I’m led to believe that ranking is in the number of attendees, not in the number of tables available. It seems to me that there’s an ample opportunity to improve the experience for both vintage traders and retailers of new pens, ink, and paper with some format tweaks. There should be a way to encourage integration of the old-timers and the new and young. If we want this community to continue thrive and grow, there needs to be a real effort made to bring these groups together, combining long-held knowledge with a modern means of spreading that knowledge. DC seemed to get the mix right. LA really, really didn’t. And until it does, I’m not really tempted to return.