IMR: 2000: April: 12 — Wednesday, 11:16 p.m.
Our Apartment, Makiki, Hawai`i

Okay. That was a little tougher than I thought.

Absurd, it seems, that I always managed to keep my rambling wits about me when my job dragged me across an ocean or two — to Los Angeles, Hong Kong, or New Zealand — but when everything goes down just a few blocks away from where I live, I get knocked out for over a month.

But, frankly, comparing this meeting to any of the past three, or six, or twenty, even, is like comparing a supernova to a pocketful of firecrackers. Hands down the single largest project undertaken in the history of our little, previously completely unknown Honolulu office.

I might have been on the island, but I felt like I was on another planet. In many ways, I've been busy these last few weeks coming back to Earth, rejoining the rest of society. Rejoining my family. It feels as if I've been gone from my life for much longer than a month.

The best way I've got to describe the scope of this undertaking — and really, it's not a very good description — is this:

Imagine you're a small company of painters which, every year, is called out to a big construction site to put the final coat of paint on a giant skyscraper. Maybe you're also hired to put signs on the doors, and stick around to make sure the elevators work and that people get to the right place.

It's tough work. The people who come to the building are rather prominent muckety-mucks, and the surrounding city is counting on the structure to make them look good. But you've got your assignment, your part of the big picture to manage, and every year, the building opens on schedule, and people happily come and go.

Now imagine your little group of six dedicated workers is suddenly expected to build the entire building. In your home town. And paint it, hang signs, and move people around too, of course.

The very definition of insanity. A Herculean task.

But it's over. We survived. More nervous breakdowns than I've ever seen, sure, but once again no fatalities. A couple of painful miscues at the big opening at the Convention Center and a few missing chairs at the closing lu`au, but mostly an impressive show. Our 700 corporate bigwigs, trade ministers, and ambassadors (and a record number of their wives) left with smiles on their faces. In the final analysis, probably an A-minus versus our expectations, and a B-minus for our international organization.

Ugh. I hate to babble so much about this meeting. I'm trying to forget it, after all. And it's not like there's been any shortage of news elsewhere. I mean, the extent to which both the dailies were covering us was positively eerie. And when the Honolulu Weekly ran a cartoon mocking us I knew we'd reached critical media mass.

(Imagine my disgust when, finally able to catching up with the news after everything ended, I found a stack of newspapers with our meeting on the front page.)

But it's been my whole world for so long... And we're still recovering. The office is half empty most of the time, the rest of us moping around like wounded soldiers just back from 'Nam. War analogies have always been a part of our office lore, sure, but they've never felt so real.

The widely-reported return of this meeting to Hawai`i for the years 2002-2003 is still not a sure thing. Surely, as the state and local business community expects, we'll do everything we can to win our board of directors over.

But at this point my scratched-and-dented body won't be terribly crushed if PBEC 2000 is the last of our conferences to land in Hawaii for a long time.

Most of it is because I don't think I'd survive another one, sure. But...

One of the selling points of this whole thing was that we could "show the world that Hawai`i is ready to do serious business." And frankly, the only thing it's proven to me is that it's not. Honolulu has most of the good things that come with being a big city, but its held back by all the bad things that come with small towns.

Surely there were some remarkable companies and agencies that went above and beyond the call of duty, but for the most part this town is still living in denial, suffering from tunnel vision, and only maybe recovering from its decades-long recession in spite of itself.

When the HPU student newspaper takes a few well-aimed swings at our esteemed conference management company — ostensibly the biggest and best in the whole state — you know we've a long way to go.

Random High Points:

  • Our session on Corporate Responsibility, with two amazing speakers: John Paul DeJoria, of hair care fame, and Sir Peter Blake, America's Cup Champion and incoming executive at the Cousteau Society. Steve Forbes was great, too, going after Alan Greenspan and honestly evaluating Hawaii's business climate.

  • The entertainment we lined up, including the Makaha Sons, a celebrated Japanese violinist, and a world-famous Korean dance troupe. If I were a delegate, the Korean performance alone would be worth the $3,000 registration fee. (Okay, maybe not.)

  • Realizing halfway through the meeting how much a difference it made to trudge home to sleep — if even for only three-and-a-half hours — rather than tossing and turning in a hotel bed at the Hilton. Five minutes of spooning can undo a whole day of corrupted files and crashed servers.

  • Working with Hawaii Pacific University, and the nearly 100 volunteer students it provided to keep the underlying gears of the conference turning. From top to bottom, clearly a world-class institution, and one that makes painfully clear all the good things the University of Hawai`i is not.

  • Hooking up at the last minute with Burt Lum, whom I met last August, whose company made streaming video of many of the meeting's key sessions available on the web. My boss loved it. I still go back to watch the Korean dancers now and then.

  • Ken Dahl's "Amusement" editorial cartoon, probably the funniest skewering our organization has ever received.

Random Low Points:

  • The appalling way the newspapers blew Steve Forbes' comments on Hawaii's business potential out of proportion. You'd think he insulted someone's grandmother. He said Hawai`i has taken some "baby steps," but it's got lots of work left to do. Sounds reasonable, and dead on.

  • KGMB's coverage of Forbes' speech. Completely missing all of his main points (including the Hawai`i-bashing), focusing instead on an offhand comment about "computers the size of a speck of dust."

  • KITV's morning show interview with DeJoria, in which the ditzy "anchor" pretty much giggled the whole way through, forcing him to carry the entire segment.

  • The incomprehensible Letter to the Editor former Ka Leo colleague Joshua Cooper wrote to the Honolulu Weekly, finally making clear to me that he'll protest anything. (A fact known to just about anyone, but I've always been a little slow.)

Okay. I've got it all out of my system. Most of it, anyway.

Lots of wonderful, normal life stuff to report. For once. But it'll have to wait until tomorrow.

I've got a wife to snuggle.

© Ryan Kawailani Ozawa · E-Mail: · Created: 12 April 2000 · Last Modified: 13 April 2000