Jamming at Javits: Day 1

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Ahhh, New York... The sites, the sounds, ever-present the smells of urine and fish. It truly is a hell of a town. I'm staying at the posh Millennium Hotel in Times Square, courtesy of my employer. Times Square these days is a lot like the Las Vegas strip -- if you took away everything fun on the strip and jacked up the price of coffee to $7 a cup, that is.

Having not ventured out of the area too much over the weekend, I decided that I would walk to the Javits Center. I figured the 15-block walk would do me good, and give me a chance to see some of the city beyond the touristy schmaltz of Times Square. I was also hoping to find the "real" Expo, the behind-the-show goings on that surely were more interesting than a week of seminars and vendor demos. Maybe I'd run into a Mac luminary and we'd be able to talk, one on one, before trade show mayhem descended.

So after forcing down a $22 breakfast at Broadway tourist trap (which left me pondering the question: "Are these eggs?"), I set out to see what this Macworld Expo thing is all about. Onward ho!

It wasn't until I got to Central Park that I realized I had gone the wrong way. Suddenly my 15-block walk was closer to 30. Good thing I left early. I should have expected something like this, being an Alabama native and naturally prone to confusion in large cities. But I pressed on undaunted, knowing I wold be one of the first media types on the scene, and might therefore be privy to some insider information. Visions of conversations with Steve Jobs -- "Oh, hi, Steve, I was just getting a Coke. Wanna chill?" -- danced in my head.

A little over an hour after I set out, I was passing geeks in dot-com shirts trundling gear down 34th Street and I knew I was in the right area. At 34th and 11th Avenue, I came upon a giant blue translucent arrow over the words "The Future of Computing is Right Around the Corner."

Now I may not be the swiftest ship in the fleet, but I'm no dummy. Computers + translucent + blue = Apple! I had arrived! The ad turned out to be one for VA Linux, and I concluded that the blue box is about as original as a beige one these days. But nonetheless, the sign steered me towards Javits, and I was happy to arrive at last.

As a first-timer, I wasn't too sure what to expect. Certainly not the Javits Center. I always assumed real-estate was too expensive in New York City for anything like Javits, a sprawling palace of glass and steel that looks like it would be more at home in Los Angeles or Dallas.

The first thing I saw inside the center was row-upon row of iMac kiosks; no surprises there. But when I went to pick up my badge holder and get the skinny on the show, I quickly noticed that no one could tell me what to do or where to go. At every turn I was directed to another booth, another room, another floor. I began to suspect that Kafka scripted my entire morning.

I was told I was too early and that there was nothing to see. "Hogwash," I thought, and began using my investigative journalism skills to poke around the center. I bluffed my way onto the floor and began nosing around, hoping to find something interesting. A case of translucent mouse pads? A clutch of renegade programmers planning on installing bizarre devices? Apple employees revealing all the exciting new developments in casual conversation? But Alas, all I discovered was row upon row of enormous packing crates and several potential OSHA violations.

Finally, I returned to the reception area and asked a woman at an information both what there was to see.

"We're not, like, really open yet," she said. "So there's not, like, too much to see right now." Then she spied my media badge and her eyes lit up. "You know, you could, like, go to the press conference room, or something. It's, like, down the stairs at the end of the hall."

The press area -- surprise, surprise -- wasn't open yet either. There weren't even any reporters for me to report on.

I found myself wanting to crack open those giant boxes with the names of Mac developers stenciled on them. Although I know about some of the new products and developments, I hardly know them all. A little investigative nosing around wouldn't hurt, would it? Given the odds of getting caught with a box cutter in one hand and my media pass in the other, the answer was yes.

Getting a complete product survey have to wait for Wednesday, when Expo officially kicks off. Maybe there will be something more to report tomorrow. Trade shows like this don't just come together in two days. There has to be something behind the scenes. Or does there?

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