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Tech Industry

If it's Tuesday, you are hung over

Comdex is essentially a week-long event to acknowledge the importance of sales. Keynote speakers talk about the future, but most attendees have the foresight of two quarters.

Monday and Tuesday are night and day at Comdex.

On the first day of the show, hundreds of thousands of product managers, engineers, public relations representatives, and field sales representatives are bristling with energy to promote technology that will launch society at large into the new millennium.

And by Tuesday morning, everyone is red and blotchy and smells like cigarettes. People walk without bending their knees. Grownups accidentally try to drink out of their coffee stirrers. The business day starts at 8 a.m. and no one is awake until 1:00 p.m.

Convention buffoonery is difficult to avoid in Las Vegas. The common perception is that this is a gathering of highly intelligent, yet undersocialized, geeks. In reality, it is a worldwide gathering of backslapping goons, male and female yucksters who weren't smart enough to get into the graduate department in astrophysics, but were intelligent enough to dodge a life as a civil service employee. Comdex is essentially a week-long event to acknowledge the importance of sales. Keynote speakers talk about the future, but most attendees have the foresight of two quarters.

"Remember when Ralph's dad on Happy Days went away to conventions?" said one person, slightly dazed by the realization. "Now, I'm one of those guys."

"All we need now is a water balloon fight," said another in reply. It's not a gathering of the best and brightest. It's more like spring break with spread sheets.

By local standards, Comdex, which is the largest convention in North America, is a fairly tame event. "You know what we say. They come with $20 dollars in their pocket and a clean shirt and they leave with both," said Joe, one cab driver.

By some estimates, the visitors this week gamble only $31 on average each. (Vegas, of course, has its own ideas about decorum. A sign in one of the Le Cirque Restaurant in the upscale Bellagio Hotel read: "Appropriate attire required: Jacket required for men and no shorts allowed." A jacket and long pants?).

Still, they make up for it in sheer enthusiasm. Several attendees this very moment, for instance, are wearing software boxes as hats. Another thousand are standing on the street in front of the Treasure Island Casino watching a band of pirates sink a frigate flying the Union Jack in a live action show that takes place every hour. "Aye Mateys," the captain seems to say. "Keno for All."

It's not just the copier representatives and booth organizers that get into the act. Sunday, Steve Ballmer, president of Microsoft, could be seen ambling about the craps tables smoking cigarettes and barking out gambling tips. Bill Gates, his boss, was seen the next night with a body guard entourage and several female acolytes.

Dennis Rodman, meanwhile, was two blocks down the way, claiming that his marriage should be annulled because he was drunk. Once great entertainers like the B-52s and Ziggy Marley (whose most recent hit was the Cover Girl jingle) crank music away at various parties around town. Even John Martin, host of America's Most Wanted, showed up at an event. He was greeted with thunderous applause.

And it was almost time for another day.