Trade shows can be a challenge for even the strongest and the fittest, what with trudging along labyrinthine hallways and standing through endless conversations. Now imagine the prospect of doing it in a wheelchair, thanks to a freshly, and severely, sprained ankle. That’s what faced Rick Mischel, senior vice president of acquisitions and senior vice president of home entertainment at LIVE Entertainment, earlier this year when he injured himself while preparing to leave for four days of NATPE. Needless to say, the experience gave him a whole new perspective.
* * *
NATPE. The name conjures up bustling convention halls, wanna-be talk show hosts clamoring to clear their shows, costumed cartoon characters walking the halls, and long lines at concession stands and entrance halls.
For me, however, NATPE now has a different connotation.
It all began with a foolish plan. The evening before my departure from Los Angeles for NATPE, I needed to lend my motorcycle to a friend. Unfortunately, I keep my motorcycle at the house of another friend, who was out, and I did not have his keys. In a bungled attempt at breaking and entering, I jumped off a ledge and fell directly on my left ankle.
The first thought that went through my head was, ‘I think I’ll just stay here on the cement floor for the next three or four days until the pain g’es away.’ My next thought was, ‘I’d better change my flight to New Orleans because I will not be going to NATPE tomorrow.’ Two days later, after a trip to the emergency room and the digestion of several different types of anti-inflammatories and painkillers, I arrived in New Orleans ready to begin my NATPE ’97 experience.
Luckily for me, and unfortunately for her, my assistant had recently been promoted to coordinator of family entertainment and was attending her first NATPE with me. I immediately placed her in charge of my transportation through the convention floor. The first indication that something was different came when the guard at the entrance hall cleared the ruthless morning crowd and allowed me to proceed.
Each day brought more of these pleasant surprises. As my coordinator wheeled me through the aisles of the convention center, I was greeted by sellers and buyers alike with a common refrain: ‘Rick, what happened? Are you going to be okay?’ These expressions of concern were very welcome, though I found myself inventing a different story for each person who inquired about my injury. I told one anecdote about saving a moose while helicopter skiing. This story was popular with my Canadian suppliers. I had another version about motorcycle racing in the deserts of California. And there was still another scenario for my French colleagues about the huge fight I had with an unnamed competitor over a particular high-quality French animated program.
There were also many things missing from my usual NATPE experience. The sore feet associated with traversing miles of convention aisles were gone. While my coordinator’s biceps were hardened by three days of pushing my wheelchair, I, on the other hand, simply watched the feverish pace around me. I also missed the gamut of NATPE parties. Because I was concerned I might harm my ankle through exposure to the fervent dancing of NATPE colleagues, I decided to stay out of the party fray. This afforded me eight hours of sleep per night (unheard of at previous markets).
Perhaps the best consequence of my accident was the courtesy and patience with which all of my appointments treated me. I recognized again, in a way I hadn’t previously, how people in our business are genuinely warm and caring and do understand the value of relationships, both personal and professional. That point was brought home when I spotted Jerry Sachs, who is recovering from a recent stroke, at his stand in his wheelchair. ‘Jerry, I wasn’t going to let you be the only one to get all the attention at NATPE,’ I quipped. He looked at me in my wheelchair and gave me that trademark smile that has for years delighted so many buyers and sellers in the children’s television business.
I left New Orleans with a much greater empathy for those who are disabled or injured and unable to walk. Even with current advances in accommodating the disabled, the journey in a wheelchair is a difficult one. While I have taken a somewhat humorous look at my experience at NATPE, for those who use a wheelchair everyday, the challenges are formidable and ever-present. NATPE showed me, however, that those challenges can be met with the caring and understanding that is widespread among the individuals who make up the children’s television programming business.