Our Man in Paris, Part Four: Badges? We Don't Need No Stinking Badges

Hello. My name is Andrew Gore.

Oh, I realize I don't look like Andrew Gore. And I don't sound like him. And I certainly can't claim to have his expertise, knowledge, street smarts, and exemplary management skills ( Boss: please read that last sentence again prior to my annual performance review. Thanks. -- Phil ). But rest assured, my name is most definitely Andrew Gore.

It says so right here on my Apple Expo badge.

It was supposed to be The Boss and not me who went on this fool's errand to Paris--he had all his credentials and badges and everything. He was set to travel to Paris where he would perform the same vital duties of Boss-hood that he carries off with aplomb every day. I'm unclear as to what these are, but The Boss assures me that they are very, very important, and I'm not one to contradict him.

But he's not here, and I am. And, since I learned I was coming here long after you could register, I ended up swiping The Boss's badge. And that's how I came to be known round these parts as Andrew Gore.

I just tell people I won his badge off him in a fistfight.

There's only one problem with being Andrew Gore. His exhibitor's badge -- the same piece of blue-colored plastic that gets The Boss inside the expo hall while the common rabble mills about outside--did not guarantee me a seat at Steve Jobs's keynote speech.

I learned this when I arrived at the Palais de Congres to take my non-existent reserved seat.

Now, let's put this seemingly insignificant crisis in the proper context. The Boss has just spent an estimated half-a-billion dollars sending me to Paris at the last second. What is the main reason I'm here? To cover the keynote speech. Now imagine the look on The Boss's face if he learns that I wasn't able to make it into the speech, and instead, just went back to the hotel to watch the French language version of Entertainment Tonight .

Actually, I think he'd take it all in stride. After he killed me with his bare hands, of course.

Fortunately, in what has to be a one-time freak occurence for me, I had a back-up plan in place. Apple's European Web site allowed you to register for the keynote speech. I did this on a whim last Thursday, just in case. All I had to do to get the necessary green-colored badge was to show up at the Palais de Congres with my confirmation e-mail from Apple in hand.

I don't think I have to tell you that Apple -- or at least its hirelings -- did not have any record of my registration in their no doubt comprehensive database.

So if I wanted to get into the keynote -- and I think my future employment at Macworld hinged upon that desire -- I would have to do some pretty fast talking.

The problem here is that the person I would have to do the fast talking to understood very little of my talking, fast or otherwise. I think we've more than erased any doubts about my mastery of the French language.

Which means I had to play an elaborate game of charades -- jumping and cavorting and gesticulating wildly in the hopes that someone somewhere would conclude, "He's far too crazy not to let in."

I think the lovely Apple gatekeeper was sympathetic to my plight. After all, how can one forge an Apple confirmation e-mail... unless one were to sit down with an e-mail client and send himself the letter, but I really didn't feel obliged to bring up that little detail. So she began to ask me questions. In French.

The seventh grade counsellor who warned me against that hasty decision to take Spanish classes is somewhere laughing at me.

I think I held up rather well under the circumstance -- stuck in a foreign land, unfamiliar with the local lingo, forced to explain myself to a woman who neither seemed to understand my plight nor give a good goshdarn either way. I babbled. I babbled incessantly and without shame until passersby begged me to stop.

And then I babbled some more.

Eventually, the woman managed to convey that all that stood between me and admittance into the event I flew halfway across the globe to cover was infomation about my "societe." Which would have been ducky, if I knew what that meant. Is she asking about where I live? The company I keep? My membership in the Libertarian Party?

I started babbling again.

That's when my deliverance came, in the form of a young woman standing behind me who up until that moment had been speaking German.

"She wants to know if you have a business card," the woman said in English more flawless than mine.

God bless the nation of Germany and all its fine citizens!

I happened to have a business card--several actually--and within minutes, my information was typed into a computer and my name was printed out on one of those sought-after green-colored badges. Sure, they spelled my name "Michael Phillips," but what the hell. What are they going to do -- throw me into Apple Expo jail for having the wrong name on my badge?

Wait a minute. This is an Apple-run event. They might just do that.

The rest of the morning was anti-climactic from a "How Phil Tricked A Gullible Frenchwoman Into Letting Him Attend The Keynote" point of a view, though rather significant if it's the OS X beta and new iBooks that you care about. Still, we've covered that part of the story already.

For me, the interesting part about the keynote -- besides all that iBook stuff, I mean -- was where I sat. Normally, as a credentialed member of the fourth estate, I'm sealed off with the rest of the press corps. This particular morning, however, the run-around over my registration woes meant that I would sit among the civilians--in other words, the folks whose opinions will make or break Apple.

Sitting amongst other reporters can be an exercise in cognitive dissonance. With several notable exceptions, the reporters who attend Steve Jobs speeches can be sorted into two groups: the too-hip-for-the-room mainstream media who are irritated that this assignment is cutting into time they could be spending as pundits on cable news channels and the Apple groupies who squeal like schoolgirls if Steve Jobs so much as bats an eye. You generate certain impressions sitting in a mix like that, and they're not always accurate ones.

But sitting with actual Mac users, especially the very demonstrative European crowd, you got a pretty good sense of what flew and what flopped. The crowd cheered the news they liked and hooted down what they didn't. And if all I had to do to gain that kind of perspective was to spend a few heart-stopping moments haggling with an Apple clerk over my registration, well then it was a small price to pay.

The other noticeable thing about the keynote was what didn't happen--namely, a disruptive demonstration by British Mac users over Apple's perceived slights and reputed arrogance.

The demonstration got called off earlier this week, when Apple's European arm agreed to meet with the organizers to discuss their grievances. But the question remains: is Apple arrogant? Does it listen to its customers?

You could make a pretty fair argument against the computer maker on both counts. A number of resellers will certainly vouch to the arrogance issue, of the record anyhow. And my Macworld U.K. colleague Simon Jary certainly makes a strong case about Apple's misdeeds across the pond.

But at the risk of saying something nice about Apple, let's consider a few things. First, any large company gets knocked for being arrogant -- it comes with the territory. Besides, anyone who owns a set of Firestone tires could probably give a far more convincing polemic about the perils of corporate arrogance than could the most aggrieved Mac user.

Second, Apple rose to the position it holds today thanks in some part to a healthy arrogance. You don't try weird, wonderful, innovative stuff -- personal computers for the common man with far-out colors and instructions so simple that even a first-rate idgit like me can use them -- by fretting too much when people criticize you. A condition of the creative mind is that you ultimately believe that the decision you made is the right one, even when everyone else is telling you differently. Especially when everyone else is telling you differently.

And finally, Apple does listen. Not always immediately and not always well, but it listens nevertheless. People griped about the OS X's Finder and the look and feel of the Dock; Apple tinkered with it. Everyone railed against Apple's horrific hockey-puck mice. The company jettisoned them--years after the fact, but jettisoned them regardless. In a day and age when most companies could have covered their ears and gone about their business, that should count for something.

Anyhow, just a few random thoughts to intersperse with my usual fluff and gibberish (See, I listen to reader feedback too...). It's nothing I have any full-blown theories about, just a few idle musings to pass the time here in gay Par-ree.

Besides, if you don't agree with my opinion, you can't blame me. My name's Andrew Gore.

I have the Apple Expo badge to prove it.

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