By Ted Kruckel
On paper, I had no reason to be miserable. I was at a party, hosted and attended by old friends, nestled at the base of an architectural landmark, being handed food and drink of unquestionable quality. Yet somehow I felt the scene wasn't clicking. I realized that I wanted to sit down and have a cigarette.
Well, of course you couldn't do either of these things. Not because of the smoking laws, which are a little draconian, not to mention un-American. This was an outdoor party with a nosmoking policy. And the three sofas and handful of caf? tables and chairs were all taken. Looked nice though. I was just about to get snarly about hosts who don't take their guests' needs into account, when I realized, “Oh, it's like a museum. I bet they have rules.” So the location, while lovely, had its limits, as many do.
How many times have you heard, “They've never let this place be used for an event before"? Often there's a reason. Hosts and sponsors like to use unusual places because doing so makes them look like they have clout and imagination. Independent event planners like exclusive and remote locations because the extra demands allow them to charge higher fees.
Sometimes it works, and you stand on some promontory with a bird's-eye view, thinking, “See ye gods what I have wrought.” But who wants to hear about that? Instead, as a cautionary tale, I offer some reconnaitre des events pass? where aiming lower might have been fine.
ICE ICE BABY
At the Food & Wine Festival in Aspen one year, there was a luncheon to explain how ice wine is made. Ice wine is very good, which may explain why I forget exactly how it's made…something about ice and mountains. Anyway, to emphasize the idea, the June luncheon was held under a canopy at the summit of Ajax Mountain. (This was before it had the big club facility.) Well, the novelty wore off when it snowed. As squash-ball-size clumps of wet snow fell on muddy turf, even the bravest souls started wondering, “What the hell am I doing up here?” Some went right back down. To me, it was just like the ice palace in Dr. Zhivago, and I loved it. But I was getting paid for it.
I don't know what made me think closing down the Main Concourse of Grand Central Terminal for a party (not just Vanderbilt Hall, which lots of people use now) would be a good idea. But here's what I learned when I did it 10 years ago:
“SO THIS IS THE TALE OF OUR CASTAWAYS...”
Here's the setting: Al Capone's 110-foot, all-wood cabin cruiser, redubbed Americana. If there is better paneling on any boat, I haven't seen it. (Paco Rabanne's was close.) We had caviar, lots of it. Oysters provided by Petrossian. A Seagram's corporate sponsorship, which in those days got you the best of everything, and lots of it. Perfect weather. A full house of important guests, including Robert De Niro. A fashion show, reggae band, and DJ.
Well, the lesson here is you are never the biggest fish in the sea that is New York. After chugging up the river, our captain told us that the Coast Guard was closing off our return route because some big bank was doing a Grucci fireworks show at the South Street Seaport.
We could circle and enjoy the fireworks, then head back on the planned course, or soldier on all the way over the top of Manhattan. Either way, a three-hour tour became a five-hour tour. “Don't worry,” the captain consoled me. “We won't charge you any more rental time.”
Well, he did charge me for gas. And the waiters had to be paid for their time, as did the models if they were smart enough to ask. (About half did.) Did I mention that the docking fees tripled? At least the free champers was poured copiously, and most guests were having a great time.
Or so it seemed. My first inkling that all was not right in Capone's paradise was a pretty young girl who complained that her boyfriend had thrown her shoe overboard. Could we send a diver? Then I saw one host executive making out with a married fashion designer. And the guests who weren't imbibing quickly noticed that we were going in circles and started looking at their watches.
I tried to keep a brave face as we docked and people leaped dangerously from the unmoored stern, desperate to escape my cruise and annoyed that their prearranged cars had long since departed.
Surprisingly, many of the evening's passengers still speak to me. Judy Lotas and Joanna Patton of L&P Advertising, my ad agency at the time, over lunch recently said they had fun. But, of course, they were getting paid for it.
Columnist Ted Kruckel is an experienced and opinionated former event and PR pro who ran events for 20 years for high-profile clients like Vanity Fair, Elle Decor, Christian Dior, and Carolina Herrera. He shuttered his firm, Ted Inc., in 2003. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.