AdWeek: An Awkward Prologue
After a 4:00 AM dash through the dark, followed by a five-hour bus ride, followed by an eight-block trek with a Streetwise Manhattan map, I've crossed the threshold of the Paley Center and made it to the Promised Land: Advertising Week 2007 in NYC.
Paley's squeak-shined glass windows have become giant YouTube stations. Beyond the lobby, thoughts about marketing by great men and civilians line the walls. The whole set-up fills my eyes with De Beers quality tears. (This may be less of an emotional reaction than exhaustion resulting from insomnia, and the fact that I haven't eaten.)
Apparently members of the press were only able to pick up their passes yesterday morning. This is disappointing. I call Blake the press pass guy. Blake is warm, pleasant and, in fact, female. "I'll bring you your pass around 1:00," she says.
Bummer. It's 10:00 AM, my first session's at 2:30, and I've still got a gigantic duffel bag with me. In a sea of suits I am the one jean jacket. And I'm sweaty and gross, and did I mention I've got a gigantic duffel bag with me?
I look, quite frankly, like an asshole. It's like a scene from Pretty Woman but 10 times worse.
An AdWeek director takes notice of me - possibly to throw me out - but goes the motions of asking who I'm with. I tell her the whole sad story, then I decide to head to my hotel until my press pass arrives.
"That doesn't make any sense," she says. And in a fit of unexpected kindness (or worship - or pity?) she adds, "Have a seat, I'll find you a workstation where you can set up and put down your belongings."
I take a seat beside one of the AdWeek volunteers, who has been charged with guarding the door and handing out programs. He's a happy-enough-looking dude. I turn to him, introduce myself and say, "So, you're volunteering for AdWeek?"
Hesitation. "I am here to ensure your every need is met," he says mechanically. His eyes dart around furtively. He presses the tips of his fingers together. "I'm new," he adds slowly.
"Um, awesome," I say. "So are you with AdWeek or are you doing this for school or...?"
"I've heard there are volunteer opportunities," he steamrolls loudly. "I don't know about unpaid ones. I don't know anything about that."
"Cool." I pause to work out where in fuck-all I went wrong. Are we even speaking English? "So what's it been like so far, are you enjoying--"
"Look." This is the first hard statement he's made since we shook hands. "If you're going to do a story on me, I'd appreciate if you tell me."
"I'm sorry...?" I'm appalled, genuinely hurt and confused, but he cannot admire his handiwork because he's already turned away. "Sir, I don't know what I did to make you feel like..."
He starts to whistle. He won't look at me.
We've reverted back to the sandbox. With that, I decide I'm going to do a story on him. This is that.
"Do you mind if I plug in my computer?" I say to no one in particular.
"I'll have to ask my manager," he says icily. The manager is a woman named Erin, who has been talking with the AdWeek director about where to station me.
"Sure, do what you want," Erin says, waving her hand in my direction.
I open my laptop and start screwing around on the 'net. The spazzed volunteer keeps looking for excuses to walk behind me and glance hard at what I'm doing while appearing nonchalant.
Later the AdWeek director returns and invites me into the Darfur session at noon.
"It really doesn't make sense for you to go back to your hotel and come here again anyway," she says with a warm smile. I love her. I would pledge my allegiance to her.
I ask her if she's sure, and she says everything will be fine.
Saving Darfur. SCORE!
That's how I currently find myself sitting in a large theatre below the camera guy (Richie; he likes photography), watching pictures of George Clooney and hungry-looking children dart by on a gigantic projector, at the very beginning of the Saving Darfur session.
I'll tell you how it goes.