2005 CES: Stephen Mejias Day Three

"Don't be shy," Jon tells me.

Not knowing that he caught my bright green stare blazing trails around the world's largest television screens, through tangerine-colored plastic walls, and over hundreds of bobbing heads just to get at the long legs of the booth girls, I have no idea of what he's talking about. I give him a look that expresses my confusion; my face is an innocent, little question mark.

"I'm sure they're not doing anything tonight," he answers.

Funny guy, this Jon Iverson, is. And perceptive, too. While Jon certainly doesn't approve of the use of long legs and tight skirts to attract customers, it's an undeniable part of the Consumer Electronics Show. Especially here, at the Las Vegas Convention Center, where we've decided to spend our day.

Over the first couple of days here in Vegas, I kept hearing the Convention Center being referred to as "The Zoo." Being young and silly, I, of course, couldn't wait to see what was really happening at the zoo.

I wake up this morning, excited about it all.

The forecast is for rain, and the first drops are just starting to fall. We board the very rock'n'roll Primedia shuttle bus, with all of its green leather and wood paneling and bunk beds, at about 9:30am. It's a pleasant ride through Vegas' off-Strip streets, and 25 minutes later, we're parked at the back of the South Hall. A short run through the rain and we're in.

Through the glass doors and we're thrown into it. Whatever it is. I don't know what it is. It's the Las Vegas Convention Center during CES. Is it a zoo? No, it's not a zoo. It's something else. I don't know what it is. Immediately in front of us are what must be the world's tallest escalators—demon escalators—one going forever up, the other coming down to us, laughing at us. I can only imagine that the people riding them must have been coming and going for hours now. If I had seen this at any other place, under any other circumstances, I would have turned and run away, hoping to forever forget the sight. Instead, I let Jon lead the way. "He'll be my guide through this," I tell myself. "I'm not going off on my own this time."

Now, I haven't been to an actual zoo in quite awhile, but as I recall, the animals are usually housed behind thick planes of glass, or encaged, or chained up, or somehow kept at a safe distance. The Las Vegas Convention Center during CES is no zoo. It's wild and vast, space-aged and bizarre. It's a multi-colored, multi-layered, multi-multied JUNGLE. This is CE gone wild. The animals aren't behind anything. The animals are among us. We are the animals. I don't know where to look or what to do. Lucky for me, I don't have much choice: Once inside, you have to just go go go.

Parts of the floor are carpeted to resemble a city street, complete with broken yellow lines. I feel almost forced to follow the road, and I must go faster. I'm racing against everyone else who is here. But where are we going? Where is the finish line?

I see women dressed up as those blue moth-butterfly things with the rainbow colored wings that flitter about your computer screen. (You know the ones.)

I see people walking around with red and green inflated aliens attached to their backs. (It's amazing what people will take and carry around with them when it's given to them for free. I mean, what are you going to do with that alien when you get home?)

I see new cars with little baby television screens planted into the dashboards. ("What sense does that make at all?!" I cry. "It makes a ton of sense to the auto body repair shops," Jon says.)

I see 10'-foot tall robots built out of boom boxes. I see guitars with way too many necks for one person to play. I see display booths that look as though they've come right out of a set for the latest Darkness video. I'm afraid that if I step into the wrong spot, I'll be beamed up into outer space. Did I mention the aliens? Did I mention the women? And the noise. There is noise everywhere in this unreal city.

It occurs to me that there is no way in the world anyone would actually be able to listen to music here. "Why," I wonder, "would an audio manufacturer display products at the Convention Center rather than at the Alexis Park?" It seems that this whole venue is more about sight than sound.

Jon continues to lead. We make our way to the Primedia booth, where Merlene Brodie—our New York office mom and assistant to the Home Tech division's president, Adam Marder—is taking care of business. Soon, we're joined by VP, Tom Rousseau. Sales director, Keith Pray, arrives. Stereophile editor John Atkinson shows up. Here are sales reps, Cheryl Williams and Latarria Hardy. One by one, the whole gang is present. Things feel much more comfortable. I can breath a bit better. I turn to our laptops and log on to the Stereophile website to take my first looks at our CES reports. "Your name in lights," Jon smiles.

Directly adjacent to our booth is the Parasound display, where we meet with the company's president, Richard Schram. Jon asks on my behalf: "Why is it that an audio manufacturer would choose to display here rather than at the Alexis Park?"

"This is about business," Richard says. "This is about commerce."

While it seemed obvious to me that listening to music would be impossible under the circumstances of the Convention Center, Richard Schram makes the point that the first thing a manufacturer does during a demo at the Alexis Park is to apologize for the sound: "Though I'd love to give live demos all day long, I think that displaying at the Convention Center is my best opportunity to get a potential customer interested in the products. This is where we can get the customer interested enough to go listen at one of our dealers, and then get them to take the products home."

I see his point clearly, and though I have, in some sick way, enjoyed the chaos and sensory-overload of the Convention Center, I would much rather be back at the Alexis Park listening to music.

Hours later, Jon and I find ourselves back there. I make my way to the Stereophile room, enter like it's home, and sit down on the couch next to our marketing manager, Josh Heitsenrether. Handshakes, hellos, sighs of relief. "Are you just making your way back from the Convention Center?" Josh asks.

"Yes," I tell him.

"What did you think?"

I notice the women standing behind our display, selling Stereophile's CDs. They're talking about love. I smile: "It was a lot to see."