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I’m flying over Lake Erie, somewhere between Cleveland and Toledo, en route to Houston.
No, all those numbers don’t mean I’m playing Yahtzee, online Bingo or Craps but ‘watching’ the thrilling denouement to the New Zealand v West Indies World Cup cricket match back in the UK, courtesy of British Airway’s onboard WiFi and ESPCricinfo.com’s brilliant live feed.
30 minutes ago we had it in the bag. Now, thanks to an extraordinary display of big hitting by Carlos Braithwaite of the West Indies, it looks like our bag has just been snatched from our hands.
A moment ago it was 33 runs to get off 18 balls and only one wicket remaining. Now it’s just 8 from 12.
In between watching cricket and (increasingly) cursing my screen, I’m busy in The Moodie Davitt Interim BA197 Bureau prepping for next week’s Airport Food & Beverage (FAB) Conference & Awards in Dallas, Texas. I’m headed for the Lone Star state today, first stop Houston to catch up with the OTG team and see some of their brilliant F&B operations at George Bush Intercontinental Airport. Then it’s a short flight to Dallas on Monday for our annual food-focused event.
FAB is one of the things I’m proudest of among our various achievements over the past 17 years. Back in 2010 when we launched the event, there was no dedicated conference nor awards for the burgeoning airport F&B sector. And there nearly wasn’t even after we announced it. The first FAB was set to be held at Manchester Airport in September 2010 but the not insignificant matter of me being struck down with stomach cancer that summer meant we had to postpone it to January 2011.
I remember the event well. How could I forget it? I was three days out of the chemotherapy programme that had followed my gastrectomy (stomach removal) in October 2010. I was physically and mentally shattered. But the show had to go on. The event was hosted at Manchester Airport’s Concorde Conference Centre, so named because it has a real Concorde stationed within the conference hall. What a great location for our inaugural event.
Except when the heating fails for the first time in the hall’s history. In January. In the North of England. I recall to this day delivering my opening remarks and feeling desperately cold on stage. I thought it was the still lingering chemo effects. Then I noticed people in the audience suffering – not, for once, from my speech but from the cold.
The engineers were duly called while we pondered desperately where to hold the awards gala dinner that evening (due to take place in the same location) if they could not fix the problem. And there were still a day and a half’s conference proceedings to get through.
Desperate times call for desperate measures. With no easy fix in sight there was only one thing for it. Airline blankets! And so FAB 2011 became affectionately known as the Frozen Food & Beverage Conference as delegates sat stoically listening to presentations while wrapped in blankets more commonly used at 35,000 feet. Among the first decisions I made after that event was to move FAB to a summer timing. We did and we’ve never looked back since. This year is a notable landmark as we bring FAB to the USA for the first time, courtesy of the outstanding management team at Dallas Fort Worth International Airport.
No, that’s not a reference to the hotel where I am staying in Houston but the abbreviation for wicket. As in cricket wicket. As in the final wicket of the West Indies’ innings. As in the fact that New Zealand has just snatched its bag back from the interloper. Carlos Braithwaite has just holed out to a Kiwi fielder after a momentous century that took the West Indies to the brink of an astonishing victory. Sport, like life, can be very cruel.
This is my first visit to the Lone Star state, and I’m looking forward to it immensely. Oddly enough, the only year since 2011 that we did not hold FAB was in 2015 when the company was briefly (and unhappily) under external ownership – of a Texan businessman called John Harlan Wampler, who decided that FAB had no future.
Well it did and it has. In 2016, back under our original ownership, we relaunched FAB and both we and the event have never looked back.
This experience of Texas will be much more pleasant. After Houston and OTG, I’ve got some important personal business to deal with in Dallas and then it’s full-on preparation for the big event on Wednesday and Thursday. Like a certain Carlos Braithwaite’s innings today, it’s going to be FAB-ulous.
Footnote: I have arrived at George Bush Intercontinental Airport feeling both both inspired and savvy about the week ahead. Hip, tasty and funky? Not me, for sure, but for FAB at least the sign is right on the money.