June 20, 2006
What Happened In Vegas...
Above (clockwise from top left): my home last week, the Mandalay Bay Hotel; fake-Paris at night; the Brooklyn Bridge replica at New York, New York.
I work on an island, metaphorically speaking – you catch a glimpse of my immediate surroundings two posts back when I rode the highway home on my bike. And though the environment has its obvious charms and assets, a detraction is always the sense of isolation that can occasionally creep in – both in a literal sense (come wintertime) and in relation to my line of work and its industry in general. A solid cure to both ills was last week's visit to the 2006 HOW Design Conference in Las Vegas. And traveling from Winnipeg to Nevada, a more obvious case of extremes there could not be.
Preparation for the trip began in earnest only a few days before the event, and alongside the conference itself was the added bonus of a real Vegas wedding, that of Philadelphia designer and close Howie* compadre Melissa and her newfangled ideal husband Rob. Perhaps more daunting was the prospect of heading to Las Vegas late Sunday night without officially having a place to stay; I was at the mercy (and above-and-beyond kindness) of Dave, a Baltimore Howie and the one most responsible for helping craft my request to go. Things have a way of working out though, and by the end of the night I was situated right in the guts of the conference hotel, the gargantuan Mandalay Bay Hotel & Convention Center with a swell chap with a rental car who snored only while drunk (Calvin, another attendee who crashed in our pad on the Wednesday night, is a whole other story – this man buzzsaws California redwoods in his sleep). Dave and I managed to squeeze in an up-and-down cruise of the Strip before we realized what hour it was in our own respective time zones, but to get a true appreciation of why the town is what it is, the nighttime cruise is essential. Las Vegas is absolute excess.
* Howie: (n) graphic designer/sympathizer who inhabits HOW magazine's online forums.
Above (clockwise from top left): Me and the princess meet at the Venitian; with Melissa and Keith; with the talented Nathan Santistevan; roommate Dave shows he's taken.
The conference itself (for me) started Monday evening – so the day itself was my sole opportunity to play tourist. And my initiation to the spectacle, along with bride-to-be Melissa, started with a Vegas staple: the breakfast buffet (meals during the week were varied, rarely regular, and the main reason I returned home at the end of the week with a mad crave-on for healthy food). Within a matter of hours we had thoroughly wet our feet in Las Vegas culture, including being badgered for a California time-share, being accused by security of abandoning our 'son' at the monorail turnstile (really a wandering toddler who set off the didn't-pay alarm) and learning that the only way to escape the clutches of a casino is to head for the one scrap of natural light one can find. I also partook in a green tea frappuccino from a distinctly-Vegas joint called Starbucks, my first experience in such a place (have you been?). By late afternoon we had scoped out a few of the massive hotel complexes that line the Strip, and then it was time to get to a pre-arranged gathering of Howies before the opening keynote. It was there I began to meet face-to-face, one after the other, a small army of folks I had only conversed with online over the past year and a half. It's a strange and curious dynamic, to meet people this way; previous online conversations act like training wheels, so that when it comes time to finally get together the barriers, awkward small-talk and pretenses are left behind. All post-conference festivities for a healthy group of us were held at Nine Fine Irishmen, the mock-Irish pub next to the mock-Brooklyn Bridge at the mock-New York-themed hotel. And it was here that the bonds began to forge for evenings to come.
The conference's opening keynote address by speaker/juggler (for lack of a better word, and a sometimes clumsy combo) Michael Moschen may not have been the best choice to kick off an event of this magnitude - and that’s all I'll say about that. Tuesday's opening keynote by Andy Stefanovich was energetic, leaning toward a strong inspirational/motivational bent. But by this point, many were eager to hop into their respective individually-selected sessions, and over the course of the next few days, these make the conference actually go – many quite admirably, like Minneapolis designer Chank Diesel's seminar on typography, a quality refresher on the principles of design by Will Lidwell and a session headed up by the incomparable Ze Frank. The Thursday closing keynote by Sally Hogshead also provided a healthy jolt and a bombastic means to a proper sendoff. A personal highlight was making it to the Type Directors Club exhibition room, which was stuffed – stuffed! – with award-winning work featuring prominent use of typography. A Wednesday night closing gala gave attendees a chance to let loose and attire themselves in their favourite vintage Vegas gear. Howies were well represented, styling as pimps, mobsters, cigarette girls, brides (guess who?) and a va-va-voom showgirl tossed in for good measure.
Above (clockwise from top left): packin' 'em in at Will Lidwell's session; Howies gather between Tuesday sessions; Keith and Brandon kick it at the pub; Maria applies Dave's makeup for the Wednesday gala.
My new Philadelphia amigo Keith Bowman went so far as to say that Nine Fine Irishmen is where the real HOW Conference took place. It was here where Howies converged for three (or in his case, four) consecutive nights to gather our senses, get acquainted, deprive ourselves of sleep and nutrition and empty the joint of all the cider they had on tap (true story). This is where the what-happens-in-Vegas credo might very well apply.
Thursday brought with it the conference wrap-up and the wedding, which was – ironically enough – webcast. Melissa ditched her gala bride outfit for the real thing, and the event went hitchless, even if I did nearly miss the thing getting lost on the MGM casino floor, running to find the chapel in time like Benjamin in The Graduate. Lousy casinos; you're lucky enough to find a map inside one of these behemoths, but good luck getting one with a You Are Here sticker on it. But I digress.
The wedding was followed by a swanky meal and an evening high above the city lights in one of MGM's upscale (and I mean upscale) SkyLofts – essentially the definition of opulence. And I'm told, when among opulence, one must party like a rock star – and the invited few did not disappoint. But again, what happens in Vegas ... happened to such an hour that it was not worth sleeping, which I did not do until the following evening back in Winnipeg, two rough flights later, for many peaceful hours.
Above (clockwise from top left): Arizona Brandon relaxes in the SkyLoft; Steve and Keith discuss music; the newlyweds and the iconic Las Vegas sign; Melissa and Amy successfully locate their groove.
A result of many months (bordering on years) of lobbying and concessions, my trip to the conference could not have been made possible without the combined generous nature of my roommate Dave (and by extension, his workplace), my department and company. I returned tired, but more importantly, more inspired, prepared and recharged than I can recall in some time. Also to the Howies I met and can now recognize in a line-up: Amy, Brandon, Jen, Maria, Jamel, RJ, Calvin, Prax, Loren, Nick, Nathan, Erics 1 and 2 (both big and bald, they could not have made it more difficult), Steve, Steph, Michelle, Jason, Cheryl, Junia, Cherrill, Mary, Keith and Melissa – special thanks go out to you all.
Created by Jeope at 21:22