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 (motorhomes, 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 has grown from 60 exhibitors and a small tent to this year’s 69,000 square foot fully carpeted indoor exhibit area at 700 South Central Blvd.
This year 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 been told that the best camp host company to work for would have a booth at the Big Tent. I was told I should go there to meet the boss in charge of staffing, that I’d be interviewed and probably hired on the spot.
It didn’t happen quite that way.
The big boss was there, but when I walked up, he was busy and barely spoke to me. He wasn’t unfriendly, just busy. I talked to another man who works for the company who told me to go to their website, see what jobs were available, fill out an online application, and wait for a phone interview. Why had I come to the Big Tent on opening day?
I’d arrived at the tent at 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, 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 (and won nothing more memorable than multiple decks of cards), so I’m sure my mailbox will shortly be full of casino propaganda.
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 nice midwestern man, 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 the freakin’ Family Dollar probably 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 is 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.
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 on 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.
The Big Tent (like Mardi Gras) is definitely something to see once, if one is in the right place at the right time. I’m not sure I would go there again. If I did go there again, I probably would not do so on opening day. And hopefully I’d own a working camera so I could get a photo of that man in the bed.
In 2016, I got a photo of the man in bed! Go here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2016/03/02/the-big-tent-2016/ to see it.
I love your comments on the Big Tent, Blaize. But I think maybe you confused RVing with full-timing? The majority of people who go to Quartzsite for this event are not full-timers, so they go back home to their cozy little (or big) houses with their new dish pads and bowl covers where they put their new make-up on their faces after a good night’s sleep on their new pillows. Have you ever been to a large county fair? (I qualify that with the words “large” because the smaller ones don’t have the same “big tents” full of vendors selling stuff.) I equate Q’s Big Tent with those large county fair big tents, where people buy stuff they don’t necessarily need simply because they can. Interesting experience, isn’t it?
Did you end up getting a job from one of your contacts at the Big Tent?
Yes, Lois, I think you are on to something as far as my confusion about RVing and full-timing. Of course, I know the difference, but I guess i was thinking most RVers in Quartzsite were full-timers. I can’t say I talked to any of those folks to find out what their lives are really like.
I have not been to any county fairs since a small one in Arkansas circa 1997, but I did attend the Arizona State Fair several years ago. When I walked through the Big Tent in Quartzsite, I was reminded of the midway (I think that’s what it was called) at the AZ State Fair. Both had vendors selling things that folks didn’t really need and/or could be bought at a normal store.
I’m glad you brought up fairs, because I’d meant to compare the Big Tent to the AZ State Fair, but I forgot.
I have not yet gotten a job from the Big Tent contact, but I have not yet given up hope.
I know you know the difference! I just meant to say that the majority of people in the desert during the winter are getting ready to head back to their homes right about now; they don’t live in their rigs full-time.
The Arizona state fair would be a good comparison. The only thing I can remember that I ever bought at a vendor’s tent at a big fair was a mop – many years ago! But I do know lots of people buy stuff that they love at those tents… and then again, there are lots of people just waiting to be parted from their dollars. 😀
I was definitely surprised by the hustlers. An ion bracelet? Really? Ha!
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