Sunday, November 18, 2007

Finding Ballpoint Pens in the Fog

One of my wife’s relatives from Panama was in town this week for a convention. Raymond works in the entertainment business in Miami doing light shows, mostly for dance clubs. In his shows, he uses a lot of lasers and motion-controlled lighting synchronized to the pulsating rhythms of techno music. This business is considered part of the same industry that encompasses theatrical lighting, concert lighting and electronic advertising displays.

It also includes lighting for church productions, which are considered a form of theater. In fact, some churches have embraced the concept of worship as entertainment so strongly, there’s an entire sub-industry built around it.

Raymond gave us two tickets to attend the LDI convention, so my daughter and I went to see it. It was held at the Orange County Convention center, which is larger than most international airports. Because the LDI convention was taking place at the same time as an Auto Show, the parking lots were full. We had to park in the North Concourse parking lot and walk to the West Concourse for what felt like miles along an interminable elevated walkway. My knees were throbbing by the time we arrived.


The show was impressive because it revealed all of the machinery behind the entertainment industry. There were lots of booths devoted to the trusses used to hang theatrical lights, and the winches and hoists used to lift them into position. Nothing was omitted; the show covered everything from catwalks to gaffer’s tape. There were huge spotlights, underwater lights, digital projection systems, LED screens, lasers, artificial snowmaking equipment, theater curtains, and much more.

Several vendors had confetti-launching systems on display, which fired off at regular intervals. We stuck our heads behind one booth and found this poor guy sweeping it all up.


There was lots of fog-making machinery on display, some using liquid nitrogen, some using carbon dioxide, some using vaporized mineral oil. The entire exhibit floor was enveloped in a soupy fog, because it was being generated faster than the air conditioning equipment could suck it out.

All of this was fascinating, but I was just there for the ballpoint pens. Over the years, I’ve had occasion to attend numerous conventions of one sort or another, and one of the most appealing elements to me is all the free swag. “Swag” is the term that covers the little giveaway trinkets that vendors use to lure visitors to their booths. Sometimes swag is impressive; sometimes it’s just a piece of candy. Usually, it’s a ballpoint pen. We got lots of ballpoint pens.


When we left the show, I had been on my feet all day, and my ancient knees were positively screaming. I asked one of the convention center employees if there was a shuttle bus to the North Concourse parking lot. She directed us to a bus stop that was equally as far from us as the parking lot, so we walked all the way back. Next time I need a ballpoint pen, I think I’ll just buy one.

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