I have survived my first industry tradeshow. Sure, I’ve worked on content for them before, but this was the first one where my presence was physically required.
I remember my dad constantly traveling to various “shows” across the country while I was growing up. As I stood my ground on the show floor this past week I imagined what it must have been like for GrampaStavo. Including the part where all of the parents stood around during slow periods discussing what they were going to bring home to their children. (Muppet winning items: Lion King shirts, paw prints and “I just can’t wait to be king,” and House of Blues shirt, “Blues Baby.”)
Interop 2011 was in Las Vegas. (“The leading business technology event with the most comprehensive IT conference and expo available” – tech/networking stuff.) While most of my colleagues set off to Sin City on Monday, I waited until the last minute and caught a 6:30 a.m. flight on Tuesday. (Jon works Monday nights and the muppets aren’t quite old enough to stay home alone.) I attempted to avoid any checked bags, but with the amount of electronic gear I had to tote along for work purposes the universe finally sighed, instructing me to “let it go…”
As I trekked through the airport, following the security theatre cattle call, stripping off my shoes, jacket and jewelry, unpacking my laptop bag and backpack – since all electronic gear must go through the scanner in its own individual bucket – I shuffled through the metal detector, redressed and remembered why I don’t like traveling. I soon realized that the dawn of a Tuesday was not the prime partying departure time for Vegas gangsters, gamblers and those out for a good time. Amid the constant drone of chatter about routers, IP phones and unified communication solutions, I boarded the nerd bird. We were off.
I stepped off the 737 into a terminal filled with an acrid cloud of stale cigarette smoke surrounding the flashing and dinging signature slot machines. As I made my way toward baggage claim, I was visually assaulted by billboards bearing half naked men and women – encouraging me to indulge my fantasy, peep at the tale with a tease or prepare to be thunderstruck by blokes from Down Under. I appreciated the irony of the current tourism pitch “What happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas” as I slung smartphones, video cameras and computers around my shoulders and prepared to share it all on various social media channels.
Good news! The airline didn’t lose my luggage. I am always filled with a sense of dread when I stand at baggage claim. The first bag will emerge onto the snaking conveyor belt and I inevitably experience the beginnings of an anxiety attack that I will be left with the choice to wear the same outfit for the duration of my trip or imitate one of the showgirls on display. But, not to worry. My bag toppled down the shoot and I staggered out to the Disneyland-like line winding around the curbside as arriving passengers waited for a cab to deliver us all to the Strip. “How many in your party? Line 9 please…”
I arrived at Mandalay Bay by 8 a.m. By 9 a.m., my video camera was out and people fled my path as though I was Moses parting the Red Sea. Feeling claustrophobic in a crowd? Whip out a high-def camera and announce you are producing a recap video. Poof! People be gone. But I was persistent; I followed people around until I wore them down and got my footage. At 4 p.m., I checked into my room on the 29th floor – with a fabulous view of the airport.
After the show, my boss took me and a colleague to the Bellagio for dinner. We dined at a fabulous Italian restaurant and toured the atrium. Brides in their gowns littered the aisles as photographers stumbled upon one another in their paths. (These groups did not run screaming from their glamour shots.) Being in Vegas, we got a little ca-razy. We ordered several rounds of drinks – iced tea, water and a coke, respectively – and headed out to watch the Bellagio fountains dance. The three of us stood up against the lagoon barriers and I pictured us the embodiment of Ocean’s 11 coolness as a giant stuffed M&M took photos with revelers drinking out of daiquiri-filled plastic Eiffel towers behind us.
We wandered along the Strip, chatting about the various hallucinogens many advertising agencies must be ingesting (this is what happens when a Marketing team goes out) and admiring the diversity of people-watching opportunities. On one corner, a man preached Jesus’ love and salvation from a bullhorn while a man on the opposite side of the street lamp passed out prostitute calling cards. Know your audience, I guess…
We marveled at the Prada shops on every corner (there may seriously be more Prada stores than Starbucks) and took in the architecture of the newest mega-resort, the Aria. The hotel is curved and seems to slant – skewering one’s perception. I found it a little trippy, so I can’t even imagine with the experience must be to someone who has recently imbibed several of the aforementioned plastic Eiffel tower beverages.
The following day was spent back at the conference. Check out #Interop on Twitter for some of the exciting conversation; I social media strategized my heart out. I had the opportunity to tour the show floor, where I discovered Watson blinking happily at the IBM booth. The very Watson of Jeopady fame (if you recall, Ken Jennings’ final Jeopardy answer noted, “I, for one, welcome our new computer overlords.”) I snapped a photo of the two of us together (he was rather handsome and touch-screeny – Watson, not Ken Jennings) and happily scurried back to my company’s booth to share my thrilling discovery. Apparently, I am one of few Jeopardy nerds, as no one else seemed as infatuated with the actual presence of our new computer overlord.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Destroy was babbling “mama.” Clearly he missed me as much as I missed all of my boys.
At the end of the show, I cabbed it back to the airport (where every single flight was sold out and overbooked as nerds scrambled to get back to their silicon chips of the valley). As we passed the infamous “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas, Nevada” sign, I noticed Big Bird meeting and greeting tourists. How fitting – sighting Sesame Street as I headed home.
“Mommy’s home!” I announced. And the muppets clapped.