Classic. Distinguished. Stately.
It says, “Give me my swag, a canvas tote filled with flash drives and drink tickets, and be quick about it before I give you a really hard stare and completely ignore your vendor booth.”
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It says, “I keep it real for all my homies down at central purchasing/accounts receivable/digital ad revenue.”
Really, there are few things a human being can set their internal compass by, few events or times in which there are indisputable facts that play out with 99.72 percent accuracy, and that’s the proven theory that come conference time, the blazers get pulled from the dry-cleaning bags and people lose their freakin’ minds.
Seeing is believing, as I did earlier this week, when 600 or 700 people spread out over a San Antonio, Texas, resort attended symposiums from industries as varied as newspaper and media, pharmaceuticals and what I think was an insurance gathering.
It was hard to keep it all straight, but it involved a lot of shoptalk, Bill Brasky-like bluster over cocktails, and themed parties, one of which included watching men and women painfully don cowboy boots and jeans, skillfully negotiating rows of steno-powered chafing dishes and a mechanical bull while trying not to spill a drop of all that free booze.
It’s a lemming-like life for the conference wag, some weird Bizarro World where there is a standard uniform and a standard language of braggadocio of past sales victories and sexual exploits, or how this J.W. Marriott stacks up to that one, room service and all.
Being part of a media fellowship, I commented to several associates about not getting the memo outlining the preferred attire. Traveling the three levels of escalators to the bottom floors where the media/newspaper industry Key Executives Mega-Conference was like watching that documentary series, “Planet Earth” narrated by Sigourney Weaver.
In her husky, sultry voice, Weaver could conceivably be describing the migration of hundreds of male species in navy blue plumage, most accented in muted browns, some in smoky grays, all with pale-colored puffed-out chests, most with close-cropped white or salt-and-pepper crests, moving in tandem toward the Starbucks stand, with a mass convergence in the opposite direction when bagels were spotted.
At the end of the conference day, when the beasts stripped away the regalia and gathered around the watering hole, vying for a space at the bar and locking horns over the favor of the fairer sex, the nocturnal pattern of ritual inebriation began, spilling out onto the wider resort grounds.
The weaker of the species stumbled into elevators to call it a night, while the stronger headed out in packs of taxis and hotel shuttles, looking for prey among the natives.
I witnessed some of the craftiest and most cunning of all, the alpha males, young and virile, who stayed behind to sow the seeds of excess and explore the mating possibilities of their fellow travelers, like the two drunken conference-goers who disappeared into the hotel gym steam room late one night as I worked out. I stayed there 20 more minutes and left before they did.
It’s a wild environment, rife with clichés, stereotypes and what seems to be the strange idea that whatever drudgery they are presently involved with can be solved at the breakfast buffet line where a blackout from the evening before has erased the memory banks … until next year.
The mark of any good conference is just how many business cards and unrealistic connections can be brought back to the senior vice president of sales/business relations without him really knowing that the last three days was nothing but an exercise in expensing meals, fighting hangovers and suppressing a guilty conscience.
Conferences are a business unto themselves, and business is good … ask the amorous couple in the steam room.