The Fall & Rise of Harley-Davidson

Well the title isn’t completely accurate but if you read this story, you’ll understand.

Once upon a time back in 2001, my company, Rooster AV Services, was providing equipment and technicians for a corporate event at  The Drake Hotel in Chicago.  The gear setup for the meeting consistedDrake Hotel.jpg of a sound system (wireless lav mic and podium mic), large projection screen and a brand new state-of-the-art, hi-res data projector setup for front-screen projection and placed on a cart in the center aisle.  The room was setup in rounds,seating eight people each, with a center aisle and a stage with podium at the room’s front.  Now, if you are at all familiar with the Drake and its grand ballroom, you remember that at that time, the room (and Hotel) were both 4-star, but very old.  The ballroom floor was hardwood with a huge carpet laying over the top, but not attached to the floor….more like a huge rug.  I think that the hotel staff figured the weight of this “rug”, the tables, chairs and attendees would be enough to secure the carpet in place when needed.

Our client (a national truck leasing firm) had booked the then president of Harley-Davidson to be the opening guest lecturer during an early breakfast meeting.  Upon his arrival, the lecturer from H-D thought it would be a great idea to position a brand new motorcycle at the back of the room.  Harley Davidson LogoThen when ready and after his introduction, he would hop on the bike, fire it up and proceed up the center aisle, stop in front of the stage and begin the program.  Now remember, our spanking new projector (one of only two we owned and available in Chicago at that time) was positioned in that center aisle.

Well I guess it was a little early for the hotel staff or maybe they had not slammed their morning coffee yet, but problems were on the horizon.  When the guest lecturer mounted and started the bike, everyone in the audience came to attention as the show was about to begin.  He gave the bike some gas, let out the clutch and slowly released the brakes.  But he appeared to be getting nowhere.  The anticipation was mounting and so was the volume from the bike’s huge v-twin engine.  Frankly, it was kinda cool and loud as hell.  He then hit the gas!  Well, as you might guess, the bike started to move, but the rear wheel was pulling the huge rug under the bike.  In a split second, tons of rug had been pulled under the bike.  People’s chairs were moving, tables were collapsing and we were all getting very nervous.  Seconds later with the bike still running, he loses control and, as if on autopilot, the bike proceeds up the center aisle with him still barely on it, but not at all in control.  About 3/4 of the way up the aisle he falls off.  The bike keeps going and starts to smash into tables and chairs with people running for cover.  Luckily, one of my technicians was stationed in the aisle next to the projector and pushes it and the cart out of the way, barely avoiding a collision with the out-of-control bike.  This motorcycle truly had a mind of its own.  Finally, the bike hits a front table and bounces into the stage at almost full throttle.  Mr. Harley-Davidson (sorry, can’t remember his name), gets up, gathers himself and shuts off the bike.  He then climbs on the stage while the hotel staff quickly reassembles the room, refreshes all of the attendee’s bacon supply and my technician repositions the projector.

With everyone saying “WTF”, the vibe cools-off in a couple of minutes and the presentation begins.  His first PowerPoint slide is projected onto the screen and as if by design its titled “The Rise & Fall of Harley-Davidson”.  Well, that brought a huge amount of laughter to the whole room.  He then stated “I couldn’t have planned this any better if I tried”.  You could see he was very scared, rather flustered, with both he and the hotel staff knowing they dodged a bullet.  Thankfully, nobody was hurt other than a few chairs and of course the rug.  Well Luck was with everyone that morning and the projector Gods spared my equipment.