One can learn so much from taxi drivers. Often enough they are folks who have lived for years in the cities they travel. They know history, and back roads, and the best places to find some decently priced Thai food. They’re hardworking and no bullsh*t, and I’m the passenger who, like it or not, usually strikes up a conversation with them.
Me: “Mandalay Bay Convention Center, please.”
Disgruntled Cabbie: “You here for da Jewelry Convention?”
Me: “Oh, heavens no. I’m currently writing an erotic coffee table book about the country’s most promiscuous convention attendees. I’m calling it… ‘The Book of More Men: A Lady’s Guide to Multiple Partners at Trade Shows’ and, well, I need to do a little *research* if you (giggles) know what I’m saying…”
Disgruntled Cabbie: “…………………………………………………((crickets))…………………………………………….….”
Me: (clears throat) “Yes, actually. Yes. I’m here for the jewelry convention.”
Disgruntled Cabbie: “Okay, so what you want to do is tell whoevah is drivin’ da cab to not take the strip if you’re gonna be goin’ back and forph between da Wynn and da Mandalay, ya got it? Tell ‘em to take Industrial. Dey gotta take Industrial or else you’re gonna get stuck, ya got it?”
Me: “Okay. I Got it.”
Us: ((silence for a good four minutes))
Me: “So, um, where’s the best place to get cheap Thai food around here?”
DC: “Okay. Here we go, Mandalay Bay Convention Center. Good luck wit dat coffee house thingy. Swipe your card. Have a good show.”
Me: “That’s what I thought.”
When I got to the newly renovated Prestige pavilion, our team was hard at work. The booth, thanks to Jodi, Myriam, and Tatiana, was already looking splendid. Our new West Coast AE, Chris, arrived shortly after I did and we continued to work like busy little bees (pun intended) until the cases were set up and the line was prepared. The countdown to JCK 2014 was officially on, and I had a big event to get to and forty-five minutes to prepare.
Prior to my arrival in Vegas I had received an email from Rio Tinto’s North American VP of Marketing, Brandee Dallow. Brandee asked if I was available to attend the Diamond Empowerment Fund’s “Diamonds in the Sky – Las Vegas” gala at the Four Seasons on Thursday evening, as she would like me to come as the guest of Rio Tinto. After reluctantly clearing my schedule which had been previously filled with “nothing” from 6:15 p.m. to 7:45 p.m., followed by “boredom” from 7:45 p.m. until 10:30 p.m., I graciously accepted the invitation and then danced around my bedroom like I’d just found out that my real parents were Kennedys.
With short notice and an emptyish wallet, I opted to pack and ultimately wear a tea-length Donna Ricco red halter dress that had been hanging in my closet, unworn, for a year. With ten minutes gone and no time for a disco nap, I did my best impersonation of a refreshed woman who had taken a shower, before heading down the elevator to walk the smoke-filled casino path from THEHotel to the Four Seasons, praying, all the while, that my both my deodorant and my eyelids would hold up.
I had two invitations with me. The first was for the actual event, and the second was a private pre-event for guests of Rio Tinto as well as VIPs. This was cool. I figured I could get there and settle myself in first. You know… relax, make friends. Do what I was comfortable doing… networking. That is, until I started to get closer to the ballroom, and realized that everyone in front of me was either in a tuxedo or a ball gown. Ummmmm, what did I miss here? I’m underdressed! WTF!? I’m NEVER underdressed. Holy crap holy crap holy crap. I can’t turn back now, there are people behind me. People I know! They’ve already seen me. Holy crap, uh, okay. Keep calm. OH, there’s a guy. He looks nice. He’s middle-aged. He’s in a tux, but he seems real. OKAY. HE MADE EYE CONTACT WITH ME. Okay. Okay. I have no choice now. I’ll talk to him. Here I go. I’m going over to this nice man now. Walking over. Here I go. Almost there. Aaaaaaaannnnnnd, speak.
Me: “HI!!!” (That was way too loud, nutcase.) “I mean, hello. Hi. Could you tell me where I need to go for this (shoving what is now a slightly wrinkled laser jet printed invitation into his hand), please?”
Lovely Tuxedoed Gentleman: (smiling. Because OF COURSE HE IS) “Yes, yes, no problem. Just follow those folks right there, and then make the left. The VIP room is the first door.”
Me: (a little more calmly) “Okay. Thanks very much. Thank you. I’m a little nervous.”
Lovely Tuxedoed Gentleman: “It’s all good. You’re fine. You’re just fine. Don’t be nervous. Have a good time.”
Me: (Walking away) “Thank you. I really appreciate it.”
(Walk, walk, walk, walk, walk, walk, walk, walk, walk…..walk………walk……walk more slowly…..slowly……. stop…. turn around….. walk back…… walk back…. walk back, walk… back, walk back, walk back, walk back, walk back, walk back… back to the Lovely Tuxedoed Gentleman.)
Me: (Whispering) “Hi. Me again. Um… how do I look? Do you think I’m underdressed?”
Lovely Tuxedoed Gentleman: (Whispering back) “Not in the least. You look fabulous. Go enjoy.”
And with those words I felt completely at ease in my skin, until, of course, I made the left turn where I was supposed to and almost walked into rap icon and media mogul, Russell Simmons. This… this is going to be a long night. I knew I should have taken a shower.
The room was small and filled wall-to-wall with men. Men in tuxes. Men in suits. American men. African men. Asian men. Indian men. Men of all shapes and sizes, and very few women. I usually like it when I stand out, but the bright red dress and heels I was wearing made me a 6’3” crimson-colored distraction. There was a bit of an E.F. Hutton moment when I first entered the room, and man, I have never felt so out of place in my life. I scoured the pack looking for even the slightest hint of a familiar face, but nothing. I had nothing. So I found a table in the center of the room next to a woman who was clearly a photographer. I felt like I’d be safe there for a moment, at least long enough for me to text to my husband that I almost ran over Russell Simmons.
“Babe….. I… wish…. you…. were…. here…. right…… now…. I…. feel…. so…. intimidated…… oh…. and…. Russell…. Simmons….. is….. here….. in…… a…. tux…. why….. did…. you…. let…. me…. wear….. that…. red…. dress…… I…. knew….. I….. should…… have…. gone……. with……”
(interrupted by sudden pain)
Woman Who Stepped On My Foot: “Oh, I’m so sorry. Are you all right?”
Me: “Oh, no, I’m fine. It’s fine. I have big feet. It happens all the time.”
(back to texting)
“…… okay……. Jaime……. King…… just… stepped…. on… my…. foot…. and…….. it…. hurts…. but…. she… apologized…. to….. me…… who…..the…..ef…. am…. I…. right… now……???”
As I finished my text I noticed that the photographer was staring at me, probably because I was the only idiot rude enough to be on my telephone, texting.
Me: “Sorry. I know this is rude. I just was texting my husband to tell him that I’m in the same room with Russell Simmons. You know. A little star struck, I guess.”
Photographer: “I’m not star struck. You want to text your husband a picture of you with Russell?”
And before I had the chance to even respond, she called him over and said “take a picture with this young lady so she can send it to her husband.” Russell graciously obliged, nodded, and carried on with his Simmonsly duties.
Photographer: “Who else you want a picture with? Did you meet Dr. Ben? Dr. Benjamin Chavis, former Executive Director of the NAACP and prominent civil rights leader? Here, let me get him for you. (Calling across the room,) Dr. Ben! Dr. Ben! Come meet this young lady…”
And walking in my direction was none other than the kind-faced Lovely Tuxedoed Gentleman who I had naively asked earlier if I had been underdressed. I was ashamed of myself that I didn’t recognize the man in front of me, but he, because of the type of person he is, didn’t let it bother him. We spoke for a few minutes until he was whisked away to do more important things, and that’s when I decided it was time to mingle amongst the non-VIP’s, as I didn’t think my heart could handle any more.
Billy Furman! OH, THANK G-D, that’s Billy Furman! I have never been so happy to see that tiny man in my life. And there’s Mark Smelzer, and Diane Warga-Arias, and, oh, there’s Andrea Hanson, again. And my good buddy, Craig Selimotic Danforth, in a tuxedo, of course… I’m pretty sure he wears them to bed. He must own like nine of them or something. There’s Natalie Bos, I recognize her, and Matthew Tratner, m’kay, that’s cool. AMANDA GIZZI!! She looks gorgeous. Okay, whew, now I feel at home. My people are here. I can breathe once more. Man, I needed these faces. I am thrilled out of my mind to see these faces.
By the time I had set my sights on Brandee it was almost time to be formally seated. Since Rio Tinto was one of the three main sponsors of the event, their table was fairly close to the stage. As I walked past many of my friends and colleagues to get to table 17, I could hear Bob Uecker’s voice ringing in my head…
I’ll be honest… it made me laugh to myself. And after one or four scotches, I was feelingly final like I was (hiccup) relaxing down.
Seated to my right was Ben Lewis, Rio Tinto’s Antwerp-based Customer Accounts Manager, and I’m pretty sure that he was strategically put there for my enjoyment because he and I had a buh-last all night. Across from me sat JCK’s Victoria Gomelsky (whaddup, Vic!) as well as Melissa Bernardo, and of course, the lovely Ms. Dallow was seated to my left. The event itself consisted of an awards ceremony wherein the Global Diamond Industry Achievement Award was presented to H.E. President Ian Khama and the Government of the Republic of Botswana. It also had a live auction and concert by none other than Grammy Award-winning artist, Chaka Kahn. The event – the first of its kind on U.S. soil – raised over one million dollars and will benefit the “Diamonds Do Good” mission.
It was an evening that I won’t soon forget, and I am ever grateful to my hosts, Rio Tinto, for allowing me to represent the blogger community at their table. More about Rio Tinto’s “Oculus Rift” technology introduced at JCK will be talked about in an upcoming post, but for right now, I’m going to keep the people stories going before I get into the brand and product posts down the road.
And with this post as well as yesterday’s, the stories of day 1 in Las Vegas come to an end. I ate. I danced. I high-fived Chaka Kahn. I mingled with super models and rubbed elbows with heads of state. I took selfies, met dignitaries, and wore beautiful jewelry by the wonderful GUMUCHIAN. I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it, and my wish is for you to stick around longer so that you can see where the rest of the week took me.