As I attempted to pack away our Christmas decorations for another year — noticeably leaner since I finally purged multiple sets of lights that only lit partially — I nearly twisted my ankle, tripping over something strange in the corner of my basement.
Ah. A suitcase.
I nearly forgot what it was or how it was used.
It's been almost a year now since I've had the privilege to travel to cover a tire industry event.
That's a lot of things missed: testing the latest tire; networking; interviewing industry executives; and meeting and re-visiting with people just like you.
(I know what you're thinking ... a lot of missed free meals, too.)
The first two months of the new year are arguably the busiest for the tire trade press; for example, last year I took five trips myself before February had ended. And that doesn't count several others that our Tire Business staff attended.
At the time, I had no idea that the last February trip I took — I had the honor to serve as the keynote speaker at the Dunn Tire Dealer conference in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico — would be my last of 2020.
Back then, the coronavirus was just a faceless malady that sounded more like a beverage at a bar than a pandemic that would alter life as we know it.
We hadn't even considered canceling our reservations to the SEMA Show. November seemed like a long way away.
If you are like me, COVID-19 began as someone else's problem, some other state's affliction, a nightly news item that may or may not be real.
Until it is. Today, I suspect it would be difficult to find anyone who hasn't been touched by it, if not personally, then through family, friends and/or co-workers.
My wife and I recently attended the socially distanced funeral of a friend's father who died from the virus. My friend's mother had the virus but survives.
As the year wore on, it became clearer and clearer that travel would not resume anytime soon.
Now, almost a year later, most every industry event for the first six months of 2021 has been shelved, some for the second straight year.
Even though many of us have mastered the art of video conferencing — who among us was familiar with Zoom, Microsoft Teams and/or Webex pre-pandemic? — there is nothing quite like dealer conferences and trade shows.
Here's just a sampling of the some of the conferences and events that have been affected:
The Independent Tire Dealers Group (ITDG): The ITDG last held an annual conference in May 2019, when it celebrated in Punta Cana. It won't hold its next conference until April 2022 — at the Sheraton Grand in Nashville, Tenn.
That's the same site where the 2020 event had been planned.
"We are all anxious to get the 'Band of Brothers and Sisters' together again," the marketing group said. "Our plan is to hold some regional meetings as soon as possible and get some of our members together again."
K&M Tire: The wholesaler celebrated its 50th anniversary last year with a gala in Columbus, Ohio, but this year's event was held virtually, in late January.
The wholesaler is looking to hold next year's trade show in January 2022, in Kansas City, Mo.
Goodyear: The Goodyear Customer Conference, which was well attended last January in Dallas, migrated to the virtual realm last December, where it unveiled several new products for 2021.
There's been no word on the 2022 event.
Point S Tire & Automotive Service: The Portland, Ore.-based marketing group held last year's owners' meeting in San Diego, and it had announced then that the 2021 conference would be held in Hawaii.
Now, the group is making plans for a virtual conference this year, then will say aloha to Hawaii in 2022.
"We had a record year — sales and profits, expansion into new states," the group said. "Point S USA now spans coast-to-coast. We can't wait to celebrate together next year."
Tire Industry Association's OTR Conference: TIA held last last year's conference in Palm Springs, Calif., just before the pandemic was declared.
This year's conference, which was scheduled for mid-February in Tucson, Ariz., was canceled. Dates for the 2022 event, to be held next February, have yet to be released.
"We considered conducting the 2021 OTR Conference online, but one of the strengths of the event is the in-person interaction, which would be lost if the program was held virtually," TIA President Dan Nothdurft said. "We look forward to gathering together again in person once this pandemic subsides."
Tire Pros: American Tire Distributors' Tire Pros marketing group held its conference last year in Arizona. There's talk about a live conference later this fall, but nothing has been determined.
This list doesn't include some of the tire rollouts that have been held virtually this year, including two held by Nokian and one by Continental. The events were very well done, but it's just not the same as experiencing the product.
Other events set for later this year, such as the Latin American Tyre Conference (July, Panama) and the 2021 SEMA and AAPEX Shows (November, Las Vegas), remain scheduled.
As more and more vaccines become available across North America, let's hope all of us can resume some sort of normalcy.
My suitcase has a lot of trips left in it.