I was cleaning ancient clothes out of the spare room closet (as one does every ten years or so whether it needs to be done or not) and came across an artifact I had completely forgotten. It’s a suit bag. Remember suit bags? Remember when people wore suits for things other than weddings and funerals? The suit bag was key for business travel (for men anyway). It could go in the overhead bin or back when this was a thing, could be hung up in a little cupboard at the front of the plane that seemed to be there specifically for this purpose.
Anyhow, this particular suit bag, made from a very heavy woven cotton fabric, has an embroidered logo that says Electronic Commerce World. This jogged the dust bunnies deep in the recesses of my memory. Electronic Commerce World used to be an annual conference held in the U.S. The focus of the conference was, you guessed it, electronic commerce, otherwise known as a new fangled technology called “ecommerce” that was going to revolutionize life as we know it. The internet helped me figure out when I must have attended this. The consensus from the Wayback Machine was 1998.
You may be wondering why I was there. I wondered the same thing. Then I remembered I was there as a featured speaker to talk about something called electronic data interchange (EDI). According to Wikipedia: “EDI provides a technical basis for automated commercial “conversations” between two entities, either internal or external. The term EDI encompasses the entire electronic data interchange process, including the transmission, message flow, document format, and software used to interpret the documents.” Easy for them to say.
As I dug further into the far reaches of my last-century mind, I recalled that I was not actually the originally scheduled speaker for this event. One of my colleagues was unable to fulfill the gig and like a good runner-up, I stepped in. I was supplied with a PowerPoint deck I had not really seen nor digested and a few post-it notes to guide my forty-five-minute (plus Q&A!!) talk about EDI. To my credit, I could spell it.
I arrived at the speaker check-in counter and was gifted with a canvas bag full of sponsor advertising along with the branded suit bag. Back then (and it’s still true), I was renowned among my peers for how light I travelled. Plus, since I was the wrong gender for needing a suit bag (tells you a lot about the demographic of Electronic Commerce World attendees that they would think a suit bag was coveted swag), I thought about giving it back. But then I thought maybe that would be ungrateful. So I didn’t.
The conference was in Denver. The conference centre and hotel I was staying at was right downtown. I had spent some quality time at the Denver airport many times but had never actually seen the city, so that was a bonus. When I got back to the hotel at the end of the day with my throbbing “conference feet” (what you get when standing on concrete floors covered with a millimeter of carpet), I headed up to my room for some well-deserved rest. I opened the door and wondered whether I was in the right place. There was a gift basket the size of a laundry hamper on the bed. There was a card attached. It did not say “compliments of Electronic Commerce World.” It did not say “thanks for finally coming to Denver.” It did not even bear the name of the colleague I pinch-hit for. Instead, it said: “Thanks for your generous support for the Denver Children’s Hospital.”
That particular weekend (forgot to mention, not only did I volunteer to fumble my way through a presentation I had no business presenting, I did it on a Saturday on my own time), there was a gala fundraising dinner at the hotel for said hospital. My room was probably designated for some swanky donor who either did not show up or declined to take advantage of bunking at the hotel for the night. I deconstructed the gift basket. There was Dom Perignon, brie, Wensleydale, Roquefort, Irish cheddar, crackers, foie gras, smoked trout, caviar, a baguette (still warm), hot pepper jelly, scones, clotted cream, strawberry preserves, fig jam, prosciutto, Hungarian salami, and other stuff. You get the idea. And I was not going to look this gift horse in the mouth.
I was flying back on the Sunday. Luckily, in 1998, liquids were not a problem on planes. But I only had a laptop case, into which I had stashed a clean pair of underwear. No way all that stuff was going to fit. Aha! A suit bag! I loaded it with the ill-gotten bounty.
I filled in the customs form on the plane. It asked if I had any dairy. Or meat. (For some reason it did not care about cured fish or fish eggs.) I boldly selected no to these questions, hoping one of the cute little beagles that sniff the luggage would not smell my salami. They didn’t. All in all, it was a productive trip. And somehow that suit bag, having served its one and only purpose, survived in my possession (and was moved a minimum of six times) for twenty-five years. Happy spring cleaning!