January 13, 2007
Vegas at Convention Time
In addition to everyone seeming to be so damn happy in Las Vegas, it is a place where you are reminded of all things American. Modern American.
In all of its insularness, it proves that in this part of the world, tacky tourism rules, gambling will always be lucrative, creating a false illusion of what is real elsewhere (Paris) works, and that when people are driven by fear, an unhealthy lifestyle and diet will dominate.
I dread my Vegas trips every year and yet, once I arrive and remember that there are many people I care who are subject to the same week of insanity I signed up for, the dread soon dissipates. An internal voice says, "it'll be alright, life is good.”
It's hard to consistently remain calm on the CES show floor or any convention show floor of this size when everyone around you is rushed, fatigued and wishing they were elsewhere.
They may have just come from a two hour cab wait, worse on a cool desert evening when you're not quite prepared for it. The sunny crisp days continue to fool us and we seem to forget about the cold evening desert temperatures despite the fact that we've experienced it time and time again.
It's hard to manage your time as you schlep from one meeting to the next. Regardless if they are across the street from each other or a mere two blocks away, it still takes you 30-45 minutes to get there by foot or vehicle.
Yet, with the chaos brings a delightful madness that continues to surprise over and over again, whether its passing Treasure Island and seeing the shooting water for the umpteenth time, or suddenly hearing Frank Sinatra's loud hovering voice engage you in Fly Me To the Moon when you least expect it, or running into an old friend from another country or state in a dark hotel bar at four in the morning as if you anticipated them all along.
Vegas at convention time is sprawling, vulgar, frenzied, noisy, gawdy and tiring combined with stimulating, entertaining, colorful and fun. Above it all, there is always a sense of unhealthy energy at every turn, more prominent inside casinos and more noticeable when your crowd leaves.
The gambling addicts are perched at the lucky machine they have chosen with a cigarette dangling from their mouth and a large vodka tonic on the shelf next to them, their eyes bulging with anticipation. It's sad, amusing and colorful all at the same time.
When your crowd leaves, you only see the smoke and the aloneness of each of them surround you, the aloneness of their eyes jump out longing to be met, the aloneness that brings them to Vegas to fill so many perceived voids in their daily lives.
I feel the aloneness of the city even when my crowd is with me. When 150,000 of your technology buds all gather within a three mile radius for a week, you're bound to run into someone you know in any hotel hallway, elevator, restaurant, bar, bistro or taxi.
I seem to know enough people who go to this annual event that I can exchange a hug or shake a hand on every corner. Yet, past them is the aloneness of Vegas, hidden among the noise and color of its shining glittering parade of dancing girls, blackjack tables and 24 hour hard liquor bars.
Everyone is moving from one place to another, like New York but not. In New York, there are many choices. People may be going to work, the theatre, their local café, corner grocery, or walking their dog.
In Vegas at convention time, each person you encounter only has time for 15-20 minute hellos at most and all of it is rushed and inauthentic somehow even if its not intended to be. There simply isn't enough time to engage even if they want to be genuine and present.
It begs the question - why not stay at home and make the conversation virtual in the remoteness of your own office or home? The goal at CES should be personal connection time, building relationships and trust with those you’ll either partner with, sell to or solicit money from….
This is part of the delight, the kind of surprise you experience as if at a summer camp or college reunion. Each year, we are hopefully a little wiser, sometimes we’re wearing a different corporate badge or none at all. Some are a little grayer, some no longer with us as the years pass.
Despite the things that have changed over the years, some things never do, like the booth-babe energy and glittery costumes, or lack thereof, on a stage set-up to be torn down a few days later. PC Magazine and CNET still have their open pavilion areas where editors interview vendors on camera, give awards, and throw after parties in a suite or casino bar.
There is also the press room, where you catch up with old friends, do email and write. Some will disagree however. A few of my press buddies argue that with the influx of bloggers, podcasters and vloggers, there is no physical space for "legitimate" press anymore. Inside and outside of the press room.
There used to be a food table, no more. Coffee is minimal, there are no bottles of soda or water and hard copy press kits are half what they were. Reporters and bloggers alike still stand in long lines to get their logo-filled backpacks, t-shirts, digital games on DVD, USB drives and flashing pens.
The fatique and intolerance increases as the prices go up, the cab lines grow longer and the ROI for many, shrinks. There are simply more effective means to reach customers and potential customers, yet there remains the draw of an event where you can get face time with some of the top worldwide innovators in one city at one time. A city, mind you, that never sleeps.
My favorite meetings are in the long stretch limos (gold if you can get them) as you drive around and around the convention center or from one casino hotel to the next. You watch the gaud from inside a clean long limo with tinted windows, dentist office music playing in the background.
On foot, it's an entirely different experience. As I walk along the strip, I pass the Flamingo and hear Free Fallin' blaring through an overhead speaker, another reminder of the city's unhealthy fabricated glow.
You can spot the tourists and most definitively can tell the difference between the tourist and the convention attendee. The tourist is looking up, their eyes wandering around them, side to side, awe struck by the campiness and gold.
The convention attendee is instead, looking down at their cell phone or blackberry, sending a text message or reading one. They often wear their badges into the night long after the halls shut their doors, and logos can be found on something they hold, whether it’s a pen, t-shirt or bag.
The dialogue is not about theatre, Elvis look-alikes, the latest show they just saw, or dinner at Olives, nor is it about the ceiling at Caesars or their latest loss at the Hard Rock or Tropicana.
For the convention crowd – this year -- iPhone dominates the discussion, as does the same ole same ole response, “I didn’t really see anything that blew me away this year.” I hear this year after year and yet what follows is a continuation of chatter about gadgets and toys, ranging from cell phones and HDTVs to iPod accessories and mobile games people are eager to try.
One voice around me wonders what Gates’ response was to Jobs keynote and the iPhone announcement. His buddy tries to get a connection on his Treo to give him the answer within seconds since the response couldn’t wait until a laptop browser was available.
Its important to engage in the glitter at least once, whether you're there for a convention or as a tourist. This year, I did manage to get at least one nice meal in at the top of Paris' Eiffel Tower on the strip.
Photos of the Las Vegas Paris taken by Doc
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If you want to read about CES food check out
Also, do you love typepad? I am thinking of switching since google is evil-doing my current host.
Posted by: Paul Matteucci | Jan 13, 2007 10:12:17 PM
Hey there Paul,
Yes, for now, Typepad is working for me. There are other things I'd like to be able to do or integrate but haven't had time to think about an export process or next steps, so alas, here I stay. In the past, I've used Pairnic and GoDaddy and am happy with both.
Posted by: Renee Blodgett | Jan 14, 2007 1:21:57 AM