Raleigh Pen Show (2010)

Road trips and pen shows go hand in hand for me.  Given a choice, I’d rather drive than fly to a pen show.  Flights are a hassle.  Early arrival at the airport, flight connections (there are few direct flights from Albany), and getting to the hotel by cab or airport shuttle usually adds up to a few hours difference between flying and driving.  Besides, a ten to twelve hour drive doesn’t seem all that bad to me.  I’ve grown accustomed to being by myself.  I’ve been on the road most of my adult life and since I retired, I have to admit that I miss road trips.  Since Raleigh is about a twelve hour drive the choice was easy: I packed the trunk, made a few sandwiches, and left the house early with a hot thermos of coffee and some bottles of water.

I left early so that I would beat the traffic around D.C. and I made good time down the New York State Thruway.  I picked up 287 and headed south on Interstate 95.  Never count your chickens before they hatch…a tractor trailer turned over between Baltimore and Washington and backed up traffic for more than an hour.

The road opened up immediately after I passed the tanker still spewing its contents on the side Interstate 95.  I got through the beltway and down to Richmond Virginia without much difficulty and reached the Embassy Suites at a reasonable time late in the afternoon.  Two tanks of gas for the entire trip down; twenty-five gallons of gasoline was, I suspect, less fuel than what my seat would have burned in a jet airplane.  Still, it is a luxury to travel in a car anywhere one pleases to go.

The show is almost universally known as the Raleigh Pen Show, but its formal name is the Triangle Pen Show and it is actually held in Carey, close to Raleigh and Durham in an area known as the Research Triangle.  The Embassy Suites Hotel is the perfect venue for this show.  It is spacious, clean, reasonably priced, with friendly considerate staff and very nice large suites.  Full breakfast and Happy Hour are included in the rates.  And at this particular Embassy Suites the outside gated area adjacent to the pool is where many of the show goers meet for after hour cigars and pen talk.

I doubt most pen collectors ever attend a pen show- a shame because pen shows are an excellent way to meet other collectors and to develop connections that can last a lifetime.  As for acquiring pens- if one were to factor in expenses- transportation costs, hotel stay, meals, etc. - the per pen cost may be higher than pens purchased elsewhere.  Yet at pen shows there is much to be gained by collectors who value the experience of talking with and making connections with other collectors.  If a pen show is within a few hours drive, there really is no excuse for pen lovers not to drop by. 

Terry Mawhorter is one of the most experienced pen show organizers in the business.  With the help of friends and family, Terry makes sure that there are enough seminars and activities to keep pen lovers busy for the entire weekend.  You can’t help but have a good time at Raleigh or at the Columbus Pen Show held in November.  Terry knows what counts, and there are pizza and pastry parties and a high quality pen auction- an event that is loved by veteran pen collectors, and one that has disappeared from most pen shows.  But not at Raleigh or at the Columbus show in November.  This year at Raleigh, I picked up some great pens including an oversized Wahl deco banded pen and pencil set and a Sheaffer PFM V set that I intended for the quarterly.  However, I’m not sure that I will be able to give up either of these two sets! 

Most people think of a pen show in terms of what happens on the floor of the ball room from between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m.  I will suggest that there is a lot more to the pen show experience than this.  Of course, individual expectations and the goals a collector sets have a lot to do with how successful a pen show experience can be.  Any collector skillful at trading and negotiating will make out like a bandit at a pen show.  Collectors who interact with and befriend other collectors will make out even better.      

Raleigh was a successful show for me for many reasons.  I didn’t sell more than a few pens the entire weekend, but I did some trading and as I mentioned I picked up some great pens at the auction and on the showroom floor.  More importantly, I was able to spend time with friends that I get to see only once or twice a year.  

I packed up Monday morning and planned to leave the hotel early, wanting to take the long way through the Blue Mountain Parkway as far as possible.  It was something I had thought of doing for a long time, so I set the Garmin and pointed the car west knowing that I would intersect the Parkway at some point.  There was no hurry, and I passed through farmland and small towns, and knew that driving through the countryside was a much better proposition than flying by the landscape on an Interstate highway.  

I reached the Parkway late in the morning and almost immediately took a detour to one of the lookouts. I couldn’t believe the view.  I didn’t exceed thirty-five miles an hour on the winding road that crested the mountain tops.  Everywhere I looked, extraordinary vistas opened and stretched to the horizon on both sides of the roadway.  I checked the map early in the afternoon and was surprised at how far south I still was.  I had more than five hundred miles to go.  Yet I could not get myself to leave the Parkway and drive home on Rte 81.  I stopped at a lodge for lunch, waiting more than an hour for a Reuben sandwich.  The young waitress who stopped by several times to fill my coffee cup was in tears.  Staring out the window at the lodge, I realized that I wouldn’t make it home until after 1a.m. in the morning, and yet I knew the ride would be worth the extra hours.

I stayed on the Parkway road for several more hours and got home after three a.m. It was a great trip and one of the most enjoyable shows for me so far this year.  I’m lucky that I am able to combine a pen show with a road trip like this one.  Being alone on the road may not be for everyone, but it certainly works for me.