Seems like it always happens when folks start discussing winter in Quartzsite, Arizona. Someone mentions the Big Tent, and someone else says What’s that? Other folks in the conversation jump in and start trying to explain things and mayhem occurs.
Ok, so I’ve never actually seen mayhem occur during a discussion of the Big Tent, but I know that lots of people who’ve never been to Quartzsite in the winter aren’t quite sure what it’s all about. In the interest of public information, I’ve made today bonus blog Saturday, and I’ll again share what I wrote about the Big Tent in 2015 and 2016. You’re welcome.
“The Big Tent” is what folks call it, but the actual name of the event is The Quartzsite Sports, Vacation & RV Show. It’s been held every year since 1984, although the location within the town has changed several times. People travel to Quartzsite in their RVs (motor homes, vans, campers, fifth wheels, etc.) from all over the country to enjoy the warm Arizona weather and see what’s new in the Big Tent.
The Quartzsite Sports, Vacation & RV Show started with 60 exhibitors and a small tent. In 2015 it had grown to a 69,000 square foot fully carpeted indoor exhibit area at 700 South Central Blvd.
In 2015 the Big Tent was open January 17th through 25th. I visited it on the Saturday opening day and on Tuesday the 20th.
I went to the Big Tent the first time because I was trying to get a job as a camp host. I’d arrived at the tent about ten minutes early, but nobody was getting in early that morning. The line started moving at exactly nine o’clock. By the time I got inside, the place was already packed.
I wasn’t surprised to see RV park booths, RV insurance booths, booths staffed with folks trying to convince people to drive their RVs north to Canada and south to Mexico. I wasn’t surprised to see an Arizona State Parks booth, a KOA campground booth, and a Good Sam’s Club booth.
Several casinos had booths too, complete with wheels to spin. Spin the wheel, win a prize, but not until one coughed up one’s name, mailing address, email address, and phone number. I tried to win several times but scored nothing more memorable than multiple decks of cards.
Several booths were dedicated to recruiting work campers. One of those booths belonged to Workamper News, the website to check out (I was told at the RTR) to get hooked up with work camping opportunities. Amazon.com was present, recruiting for its CamperForce. The sugar beet harvest people were there too, and I had a nice talk with a very pleasant man from the Midwest, but quickly realized that sugar beet harvest work is too strenuous for me. Several companies looking to hire camp hosts were also in the Big Tent.
I was surprised to see multiple booths selling pillows. I understand that RVers use pillows. But why would someone buy pillows at at sports, vacation, and RV show? Wal-Mart sells pillows. Kmart sells pillows. Sears and JCPenney and probably the freakin’ Family Dollar sell pillows. Pillows can be ordered from Amazon.com. Why were these RV show pillows so special? I don’t know because I did not stop at any of the many pillow booths and discuss the desirability of their pillows.
On a related note, the funniest thing I saw in a booth was a man lying in a bed on a platform a couple of feet off the floor. He was selling some special RV bedding, and he was demonstrating this bedding by lying in a bed. The big come-on with this bedding was that one wouldn’t have to make the bed if one had this bedding. Basically, the bedding was a double sleeping bag placed on top of a mattress. There was no tucking of sheets and blankets because this item was a blanket pouch. Is making an RV bed so difficult that people would rather sleep in a double sleeping bag? In any case, whenever I saw this grown man lying down in bed while trying to convince people to buy his wares, it cracked me up. Unfortunately, I did not have a camera to take his photo.
I was also surprised to see people in so many booths trying to sell kitchen gadgets. I do understand that RVs have kitchens, which might lead RVers to buy kitchen gadgets, but it seems like those items too are available in just about any regular store. Do people get caught up in the frenzy of shopping at the Big Tent, only to wake up to reality later and find their yellow freebie KOA tote bag full of silicone bowl covers and long skinny plastic chip clips?
The least explicable booths were those selling makeup, hand creme, and jewelry (especially an “ion” bracelet some lady tried to slip on my wrist). I didn’t stop at any of those booths, but from my cruise past, I didn’t see anything that looked unique or revolutionary.
My favorite booth was the one run by Minute Rice. There was a wheel to spin and prizes to win. When I spun the wheel, it stopped on “emery board.” Boring! However, the nice ladies were also giving out two-packs of the precooked, microwaveable rice. There was even a choice: white, brown, or jasmine. And they didn’t want my email address!
I know I mentioned it was crowded in that tent, but let me just say again, the place was packed. At one point, the crowd in the aisle was at a complete standstill. There was a tall young man next to me, and I asked him what he saw up ahead. He said it was just a bunch of people standing still. As soon as I made it out of that quagmire (without ever seeing a reason for movement to have ceased), I ducked out of the next exit door into the sunshine. There were more booths on the outside around the perimeter of the Big Tent, but nothing held my attention long enough for me to stop.
When I went back the following Tuesday (because I was in the area to purchase items from several of the booths in the Tyson Wells shopping area), the Big Tent was mostly the same. The Minute Rice ladies were gone (they must have run out of rice), but I made up for it by playing a couple of fun and silly games at the Progressive booth, where the workers were a bunch of young gals dressed like Flo! There (thankfully) weren’t as many people in the Big Tent, so we all had a little more elbow room.
As I left the area, I decided The Big Tent (like Mardi Gras) is definitely something to see once, if one is in the right place at the right time. I wasn’t sure I’d visit the Big Tent again, but I knew if I did, it wouldn’t be on opening day. I hoped if I did go back, I’d own a working camera so I could get a photo of that man in the bed.
In 2016, I did visit the Big Tent again, but not on opening day. There was no need for that. I wasn’t looking for a summer job because I already had one lined up, and I wanted to avoid filling the van with unnecessary items, even if they were freebies. I believe I went on the Wednesday after opening day, on my last day in Quartzsite.
Again, no one was being let in before the official opening time of 9am. I milled about outside the north entrance with the other early birds. While I was waiting, I got a text from my friend Tina who was at the Big Tent to look for a job. She met me at the north entrance, and we walked in together at nine on the dot.
There weren’t very many people browsing through the tent that day, so there was plenty of elbow room.
We hadn’t gotten past very many booths when a guy working for Direct TV tried to waylay us. Who provides cable in your home? the guy asked. Oh, I said casually, I don’t have a home. Tina snickered and the guy was quietly confused just long enough for us to escape.
The next guy who tried to interrupt our rambling was in a booth with hair-salon chairs. He called out aggressively, Ladies, what appliances do you use to style your hair? I told him, I don’t style my hair. It does whatever it wants. He didn’t know what to say to that, and we walked on.
One good-looking young East Indian man with a British accent drew me right into his booth. It was a large booth, and there were several salespeople in it trying to sell reusable heating pads. The pads were pretty cool There was a metal disc in them and when the disc was clicked, the goo inside the pad got hot. The pads could also be used cold by placing them in the refrigerator for a couple of hours. The young man was trying REALLY hard to sell the product to me. I finally had to tell him I wasn’t going to buy anything, but said he was doing a great job. We sort of squeezed each other’s hand in farewell, which made me a little giddy.
I got excited when I saw a sign with my name on it. Well, it was sort of my name. When I asked the man standing behind the table if I could take a photo of the sign, he insisted on putting the product beside it. Well, ok. I tried to explain to him that my name is Blaize, and I like to take photos of signs with my name on it. He only seemed concerned with showing off the product, which I guess makes sense because it’s his job to sell the stuff. I know nothing about the quality of Micro-Blaze, so I cannot recommend it. However, readers, you now know it exists.
Just down from the Micro-Blaze booth, I saw the salesman I’d been thinking about all year, the man selling RV bedding.
In 2015, I sadly had no camera to take a photo of the salesman and his wares, but in 2016, I was prepared. I walked up to the man and said hi. He said hi to me and started telling me about his special sheets. He sounded super sad. He sounded like a robotic recording. He sounded like a super sad robotic recording. The way he gave his speech about his special RV bedding did not make me want to buy his product. The way he gave his speech almost made me want to cry. I don’t know if he was having a bad day or if he was just generally tired, but his enthusiasm level was way low. I asked him if I could take his photo, and he said yes.
This guy, even though he seemed really down, was the high point of the Big Tent for me. I walked around after I talked to him, got a bright yellow (and cheaply made) tote bag from KOA and played a sort of slot machine game with the Flo lookalikes at the Progressive booth, but nothing made me happier than finally getting a photo of that guy.
Now you know a little bit about what goes on at the Big Tent so you can decide for yourself if you want to check it out.