Early January is always the shittiest time of the year for me because of the Consumer Electronics Show.
It’s thee biggest trade show of them all, and every freelancer with a vagina (and many without) within a 100-mile radius is sucked into its gaping fluorescent-lit maw in one capacity or another—usually to shill for some shitty product or other by luring unsuspecting geeks into booths, suites, and exhibits to look at and lust after the latest lamentable planned-obsolescent gadgetry.
It’s a HUGE production, staged at great cost to the exhibitors, and is traditionally a great boon to our local economy. Not only does Vegas get to gouge the 100,000+ attendees to the tune of $12 beers, $400 hotel rooms and $50 long-haul cab rides all week long…but us Vegas gash also gets a piece of the pie. Since CES is by and large a sausagefest, most companies hire T&A to stand around their booths, hold their signage at the airport, and even to come mingle at their after-hours receptions. It’s a great time to have a vagina…I guess.
Now if there are two things I hate in this world, they are 1) getting up early and 2) businesswear—and alas, CES demands both. In addition, there’s the insane traffic, the parking nightmares, and the extreme fatigue since I usually have two or more jobs going at once during that week. In other words… FIRST WORLD PROBLEMS!
Since it’s only a four-day show, I usually just suck it up and deal with it…although the dread of CES week starts creeping into my life shortly after Christmas. I hate it that much. Yet, as a full-time freelancer, I feel unable to turn it down, since it’s usually a pretty good chunk of change.
People are always asking me how much money I make as a booth hostess. Answer: not enough! It seems like a really easy gig: stand around looking cute all day. But that’s not all there is to it. First off, looking cute at 8AM is a real chore, and maintaining cuteness under the harsh glare of fluorescent lighting in a freezing-cold expo hall for nine hours is even harder! Then there’s the fact that standing in one place doing nothing is perhaps the hardest thing on Earth to do without one’s brain breaking.
Some clients give you busy work, like, “Hand out these light-up dice!” which at least gives you something to focus on, and takes your eyes off the clock. But I’ve had other gigs where I literally did nothing but hold a sign all day, while trying to look cute and alert….and that is torture! Then, at the same time, many clients expect you to memorize their whole sales spiel and to really care if Joe Laptop buys 10,000 units of their 2013 Widget, and they make you feel guilty if they’re not making their sales goals for the show. Because I am a conscientious person, this last one gets me every time. I can’t tell you how many sad-sack Willy Lomans I’ve worked for—and bled for, in my heart.
Here is my personal CES history:
2000: Before I moved to Vegas, I worked as a secretary for IBM in California, and they brought me out to Vegas one year as the receptionist for their booth. I think I used to earn $13/hour, plus they paid my hotel, airfare, meals and expenses. Since I was not hired specifically for the show, this doesn’t really count…but it’s interesting to note the price point.
2005: client was Sirius Satellite Radio. I was booked thru an agency and made $17/hour to stand in the lobby of the Bellagio and hold a sign all….day….long (to point clients in the right direction of Sirius’s meeting rooms).
2006: client was Imation. I was booked thru an agency and made somewhere around $250/day…for the same basic sign-holding shtick, only this time, I got to escort clients up to the meeting rooms instead of just standing there all day. I remember it being like a 12-hour day with very few breaks, though. That’s another thing; as a 1099 employee, I guess labor laws don’t apply, so you don’t always get a 15 every 4 hours nor an hour lunch every 8 hours. And that can be a HUGE deal when wearing high heels on a marble floor all day.
2007: client was Netgear. This was a great gig, thru an agency—I made about $240/day, got to SIT at a reception desk wearing a cozy Netgear sweater, handing out light-up Netgear dice. CAKE! I <3 Netgear to this day!
2008: client was Nokia. Another great gig thru an agency, but I found it on craigslist. We made $40/hour, plus $25 per diem, for 10-hour days which consisted of our wearing Nokia-branded tracksuits and hanging around out in front of the Convention Center urging passersby to check out the new Nokia phones. It was cold, but they provided long underwear and free Nike tennis. I <3 Nokia!
2009: I got wise and bailed on CES to work the Adult Expo instead. I worked for Audigier Condoms, which paid me somewhere around $250/day to lay on a bed, in a bikini, and tell people about the condoms. Mostly, I just posed for photos. BEST. GIG. EVER!
2010: Stayed at the Adult Expo to work for AVN magazine—I don’t remember exactly, but it was somewhere around $30/hour to hand out copies of their mag to show-goers. Easy, but boring…and standing in heels all day.
2011 & 2012: They moved the Adult Expo to the following week, so I was back at CES again. Both years I worked for an unnamed super-high-end audio designer for $200/day, standing in the doorway to their suite at the Venetian, urging passing audiophiles to “come in and hear some really great tube audio.”
My client this year was a group of really nice high-end audio salespeople, headed up by the inventor of their product line—a tall, gaunt, charmingly eccentric, Tolkien-esque Englishman with abominable personal habits and a fabulous disregard for the fawning of his geeky fan base. Audio nerds would come by to pay their respects, and he would sort of absentmindedly stare off into the distance while offering a half-hearted handshake and a distracted “Yes, yes, very good.” He was fabulous! One of those super-intelligent Asperger’s types. (I took this into account when he slapped my ass one day and told me that I have “quite a good chunk of meat” on me. Those krayyyyyyzy eccentric Englishmen!)
But even more interesting were the high-end audio nerds who flocked to see him. Apparently high-end audio is still a really big thing, though I guess not so much as back in the day—nowadays we’re happy with our shitty mp3s and have little need for extravagant hi-fi systems and whatnot. But there is still a segment of the population who buys $60,000 speakers and set them a certain distance away from the walls, etc., for optimal sound. Interestingly, in my experience most of these audiophiles were Swedish and/or Jewish, and nearly ALL of them are male—so much so that there’s even a term in audiophile circles called “WAF:” Wife Acceptance Factor. As in, “These new speakers have a pretty good WAF, since they’re under $10k, have a sleek modern finish and don’t need to be set in the middle of the living room for good sound quality.” (Wives, you see, take issue with shit such as unsightly $60,000 speakers sitting out in the middle of the room.)
Working the show as a sort of honeypot used to lure in passersby, I had to wonder what my own WAF was. Fairly high, probably, since this client had me dress fairly conservatively in what’s known as “business sexy,” and since I have no cleavage to display, anyway.