conventions

The Consumer Electronics Show gets underway

January 8, 2009: 11:08 AM ET

hestonVegas, January 8 -- You wouldn't believe the portions they serve you here. It's almost like they sit planning the menu for people who are looking to keep their weight at a nice, round 300 pounds. Who wants a pizza with scalloped potatoes on it? It's the house specialty where we had dinner last night. The drinks are small and expensive. A vast majority of the waiters look like potential chorus girls or Chippendales. The others appear to be eunuchs from the local sultan's harem. 

The night before the convention was scheduled to start, the casinos looked pretty empty to me. At the Palazzo, there was one poker table working. No Hollywood, Bollywood or Silicon Valley royalty seemed to be in evidence. At my hotel, the slots were occupied only by the usual assortment of sad, droopy gray people, their cigarettes mostly ash hanging from the corners of their mouths, giving the enormous, ridiculously gaudy emporium the air of an extremely tricked-out Trailways bus terminal. There was plenty of traffic outside, though. So maybe today will be different and the town will explode with nerdish life. 

There are, of course, as is traditional for this week, two conventions in town - the Consumer Electronics Show, which is my focal point on this iteration of my journey through life - and the Adult Video gathering. The plane on the way from LA was thus filled to capacity with an extremely bifurcated group of individuals. There were the sometimes rumpled, sometimes crisp graduates of their high-school audio-visual club, with assorted peppering of sleek media and internet business executives, and then there were the tattooed, the augmented, the highly scented, spangled and perhaps too-juicy.

I was on an aisle seat sort of up front of the plane. My associate and traveling companion, who I'll call Ted, was on the window. Between us, at the very last minute, plopped down a pneumatic six-foot tall, platinum blond young woman, dressed all in black, with glitter on her fingernails, which were not of organic material and were so long she had to employ special means to manipulate her touch-screen IPod.  She spoke a very plump, expressive Russian on her cell phone until we took off. Then she read Cosmo. Several articles appeared to be more interesting than the ones in my Economist, but she was flipping the pages too fast for me to really follow them very well. 

It's not a coincidence that the porn industry meets at the same precise time as the wonks fly in for their annual tech fest. Somebody from the adult business obviously figured out some time ago that it would be wise to hold their extravaganza right now, when the town teemed with guys who spent the best years of their lives with their hands on their joysticks. 

My pal Weaver told me yesterday that "nobody goes to CES on Wednesday," so maybe the scene will change today. Sources say that the meet is going to be somewhat smaller this year, with slightly less hotness. That wouldn't surprise me. First of all, conventions like this one have a life span. A few years ago, you couldn't get in the door at COMDEX. Now it's gone. For years, I attended a gigantic raving bacchanal that was host to some of the greatest extreme depredation I have ever enjoyed in the world of business. At its height, it was in New Orleans. Man, was that fun. Then it moved here to Vegas. Time passed. The business changed. Now it's pretty much a ghost town, with tumbleweeds rolling between the booths, which are mostly filled with guys from Sri Lanka handing out complimentary flash drives. Stuff still gets done there. But a party it's not. 

And then there's this little recession we've got going on. 

So I kind of wonder what it will be like to stand in the middle of the CES floor this morning and feel the vibe. Last time I was here it was like a cross between the bar in Star Wars and the Golden Calf scene in The Ten Commandments. I'll keep you posted.

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