I find clarity in the strangest places. Attempting to find my way home post-Snowmageddoen, I was cooling my heels in an airport terminal, pondering the never-ending wonders I had witnessed during three days of excitement at the 2011 International Air-Conditioning, Heating, Refrigerating Exposition (AHR Expo) held Jan. 31 to Feb. 2 at the Las Vegas Convention Center in Las Vegas. Tired, hungry, and irritated, I suddenly found my “a-ha!” moment, and my view of the buildings industry snapped into focus in one golden moment of lucidity.

I had never felt exhilarated about the prospect of traveling hundreds of miles to run around a convention center at breakneck speed, pouring over thousands of buildings-related manufacturers, associations, products, and services. It’s a large amount of extremely hard work for what, in the past, seemed like a rather small return. To be quite honest, I had always been more comfortable during social-networking events, where typically I’m not expected to be an authority on the inner workings of a chiller plant or understand the intricacies of thermodynamics.

Let’s face it, no little girl grows up yearning to be an editor of a magazine focusing on large, non-residential mechanical systems. Some of us wanted to be world-traveling cinematographers, classic French pastry chefs, or U.S. Air Force helicopter pilots. Hulking slabs of working metal simply aren’t sexy. Thinking about the 2-ton boiler in my office building’s basement just doesn’t get my motor running.

But this year—during my fifth trip to the AHR Expo—I finally got the point. This year, I saw and experienced some things that made me realize how interesting, important, and—wait for it—fun this industry can be.

To wit: Eaton Corp. retrofitted one of those carnival cash-grab machines with the company’s own motors and controls for what was pretty much the coolest free-giveaway stunt I’ve ever seen. General Tools was showing a clip of the TV show “Bones,” on which one of the characters used the company’s video-inspection system to investigate a half-buried skeleton for clues. At Dynamic Air Quality Solutions’ booth, I learned how the company’s air filters were involved in the 2001 anthrax clean-up effort at the Brentwood Post Office in Washington, D.C.

And that’s just a taste of what was available for perusal and discussion at the AHR Expo. Obviously, the product manufacturers of the buildings industry are hard at work making our lives not only more comfortable, but safer and more compelling.

I may be drop-dead exhausted after experiencing three days of the largest HVACR event hosted in the craziest city in the United States, but somehow I feel re-energized. I don’t care if it makes me sound like a nerd: I was fired up about getting out of bed and driving into work this morning.

With what turned out to have been the AHR Expo’s largest western event in its 80-year history, 54,000 registered HVACR professionals apparently understood its significance, too. I’m just embarrassed it took me this long.

Send comments and suggestions to megan.spencer@penton.com.