The Big Apple Heats Up for Expo

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Since it's certain to be the backdrop of every missive sent back from the Big Apple this week, let's start with the weather: It's hot.

Sticky, sweaty hot. Air conditioners drip ineffectively over doorways, bags of festering garbage steam and stink from street corners. Everyone - from sundressed and Bermuda-shorted tourists to suited businessmen and shirtless bums - moves slowly; glistening in the damp, dark air.

It's the same thick grayness that obscured the line between sea and sky last Friday, most likely causing JFK Jr. to lose track of his attitude and send his plane punching into the Atlantic. His disappearance and death are, like the air, hanging a heavy shroud over this City.

But in Manhattan, the ultimate intersection of American and international culture, the show always goes on. And this week, of course, that show not only includes the hustle and bustle of Broadway, Wall Street and Madison Avenue, but also what's shaping up to be the biggest Macworld Expo in years.

Out at the Javits Center, all the way west past the Port Authority bus station and the sad old taxi garages, past the cockroach-infested warehouses from which all street-corner pretzel and hotdog carts emerge, you can already pick up the Macintosh vibe: A huge, temporary Palm billboard drapes down the side of the brick building directly across 11th Avenue. Inside the hulking glass shell of the convention center itself, exhibitors are busy unpacking crates, assembling booths and booting rows of Macs of every flavor. Things look pretty ugly right now, but by tomorrow all the carpet will be laid and the booths will be remade into huge, colorful machines, all geared toward hawking the latest and greatest Mac wares.

Around town, in the hotels, restaurants and bars, pony-tailed programmers in jeans are popping up alongside the more traditionally attired midtown crowd. If you listen carefully, buzzwords like USB, P1, and Firewire are beginning to be bantered about as often as the usual Wall Street chatter.

And so excitement builds. A growing mass of potential energy waiting to become kinetic the instant Steve Jobs kicks off his keynote tomorrow AM. Until then, everyone remains focused on more basic needs: Avoiding crazed cab drivers. Dodging the crowds in Times Square. And most of all, keeping cool.

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