Pretty interesting write-up, Bryan. I have several thoughts but only time to write one of them right now.
One is that I shoot events where I'm often not known except by the organizers. I know this sounds like ego, but the people I shoot notice the camera/lens combination and when it looks professional, you get access to shoot shots others don't.
I shot a waterski show Friday night in Wisconsin and the contestants were always competing for my attention to get me to take a photo of them. In this case, they invited me out on the dock and loved posing for this shot before their big performance, because they wanted a professional photo. My camera looks the part.