As Labor Day weekend approaches, I reflect on the era when the Monday after Labor Day meant the opening of the SAE Off-Highway Show in Milwaukee. The first time I attended an SAE Off-Highway Show was in 1981, during my first year as an editor. I worked for a different magazine then, Power Transmission Design, and that trip left quite an impression. A new chief editor had just been appointed to PTD, and after becoming acclimated to her new position, she realized that no editor had yet been assigned to cover the Off-Highway Show. So the week just before the show, I was instructed to arrange travel arrangements to attend.
The show was doing pretty well then, so there wasn’t a hotel room to be had in downtown Milwaukee. This meant I’d have to rent a car and stay on the outskirts of town somewhere. No problem. After many attempts, I finally landed a room — at the 40 Winks Motel.
I arrived at the 40 Winks, then drove downtown the next morning to attend an editor’s breakfast and press conference. About ten of us were seated at a table, and most of these guys obviously knew each other. Now keep in mind, I only 27 at the time, and had only been an editor for a few months. Prior to that, I didn’t know the difference between a font and a sidebar, so I felt a little intimidated and apprehensive. But I don’t remember doing or saying anything to embarrass myself.
Eventually, the conversation drifted to where each person was staying. One guy made some remarks about his room at the Hyatt. The man to his left was staying at the Marc Plaza. A couple others were at the Pfister. Each man took his turn, moving clockwise around the table. I remember thinking (or maybe it was a silent prayer), “Please let the conversation switch to something else before it’s my turn. I don’t want to say I’m at the 40 Winks.” Fortunately, the topic of conversation did change before it was my “turn,” so I was off the hook.
I had a pleasant stay at the 40 Winks and have even gone back a couple times. It seemed like a ma-and-pa operation at the time, and has gone through at least one expansion — so they must be doing something right. Unfortunately, I don't have many business trips to Milwaukee any more; the last one was probably 10 years ago. I remember seeing a sign at the 40 Winks about rooms with water beds. So the last I stayed at the 40 Winks, I requested a room with a water bed. The bed was comfortable enough, but I couldn't help but think what must've gone on in that room after seeing the giant mirror mounted onto the ceiling!