IMR: 1998: October: 18 — Sunday, 11:57 p.m. (PST)
Century Plaza Hotel and Tower, Los Angeles, California

Four days down, one to go.

Today's proceedings ended at 2 p.m. And there was only one meeting. Yet, I dare say it was the roughest day of the entire conference.

This morning, all the delegates — after several days of subcommittee meetings — got together to review everything that was discussed and decided and passed it along to the executive board for approval. The mood was serious, and everyone was in coats and ties.

Sounds dry, long, and boring. But it was absolute chaos.

Of course, it wasn't crazy at all for most of the delegates. But for our office, which was charged with keeping things straight behind the scenes, it was insane.

Things were immediately off to a bad start. The hotel staff, which up until today had been unfailingly reliable, ended up letting us down when it counted. The audiovisual manager simply failed to show up, causing a great deal of panic and ultimately prompting the hotel manager to order the locks on the equipment cabinets broken off.

Then the sound engineer, suddenly asked to fill in for his boss and get the projectors and screens set up, didn't have a chance to test the microphones, making the first twenty minutes of the meeting a nightmare of feedback and shouts of "I can't hear you!"

[ Cedar Room ]Meanwhile, throughout it all, every time a delegate brought up a specific document or suggested an amendment to a policy paper, my coworkers and I were charged with running them back to the office, making the changes, running off 80 copies, and racing back to get it in everyone's hands while the topic was still on the table.

Even though we'd brought stacks of reports and papers that we knew they'd need (copied, collated and stapled over the past several days), they'd ultimately end up looking for something else. And even though the various statements were supposed to be in semi-final form by today's meeting, delegates chimed in with sometimes major changes. At the storm's peak, we had both copiers churning nonstop, and burned through two cases of paper (that's 20 reams, or 5,000 sheets) in under 40 minutes.

Finally, just when things started to settle, I ended up having to dart over at the last minute and help one of the committees set up a laptop-to-projector PowerPoint presentation, literally while the entire meeting stopped and waited. While I was fumbling with cords and one of those infuriating eraser-button mice, I thought I was going to have a heart attack.

And remember, my primary duty was to take pictures. Somehow on top of everything, I still snapped a good 70 shots. (Tomorrow we'll whittle them down to 10.)

Things were basically jumbled overall, and tensions were high. Everyone, including myself, was in super support staff mode, tight-lipped and moving fast. It was amazing, and a little terrifying, to watch everyone perform under pressure.

I was later told that the IGM, the major annual meeting, is four times as big and ten times as exhausting. "You're on your feet 20 hours a day, no kidding," said Lovisa,the only surviving intern from last year's IGM in Chile.

More stressful than today? I tremble at the thought. (I also discovered that the meeting in Sydney, Australia is in 2000. Next May, it's Hong Kong.)

Despite the constant high-gear pace, though, I'm extremely grateful to be here. At today's meeting alone, I learned gobs and gobs of stuff about the IMF, WTO, APEC, and other "acronymizations." I've chatted with directors from Motorola, Ericsson, and Compaq, and sat in on presentations on e-commerce and intellectual property law. And I got amazing insights into regional politics, from Malaysia to Russia to China.

Seriously, I'm awed. People pay big bucks to study these things in books at business schools. This office is paying me to be exposed to it directly.

After things wrapped, thankfully, the cool down was so refreshing you could practically feel the weight of the day's tensions tumbling out of the air. As the delegates headed off, many stopped in to say thanks and even taking pictures of us. People who hadn't cracked a smile all weekend were laughing and patting people on the back.

Eventually we started to break down the office (tomorrow's conference will be partially coordinated by another agency), and there was suddenly talk of — gasp! — leaving the hotel premises. Dinner at a local sushi place, and a short drive around Santa Monica.

We actually had a couple of hours to kill before dinner, so I joined Lovisa and Lacene on a short shopping expedition. The destination? Macy's, right across the street.

We wandered all three floors, checking out clothes. Nice stuff. Overall, though, the place felt a lot like Liberty House. Only with three times the selection and reasonable prices.

We headed back, and after taking care of some last minute business, we were off.

Los Angeles, if you haven't heard, is not a city for the fainthearted. We drove all over the place looking for a small sushi bar called (I think) Haras, a trip that took us alternately through some great and not-so-great areas of town. And after we finally found the place, we were told it would be "only" a one hour wait.

So we decided to look for another restaurant, this one recommended by the hotel concierge. The problem there was that we didn't have a name. Just a location and the phrase "$17 all you can eat."

Suffice it to say, there was more circling and peering out windows. We ended up parking and trying to find the place on foot. Believe it or not, we stumbled across a sushi restaurant, but not the right one. The parking valet was kind enough to point us in the right direction.

It was called "The Lighthouse," billed primarily as a seafood restaurant. (We actually looked at it as we drove past, but didn't think it was the right place.) Most of the people there seemed to be targeting the lobster and crab, but our group hovered constantly around the sushi bar.

Unlike the penny-pinching variety in Honolulu, this all-you-can-eat establishment carried every variety. The serving area looked like one of those "types of sushi" posters you see on the walls of lesser sushi joints. They had nigiri with every kind of fish, squid, tako, crab, and even marinated mushrooms and other unusual toppings. There was a mountain of seared sashimi and other side delicacies, too. A small flask of hot, sinus-clearing sake was ordered and served.

I went back to the sushi bar three times. I'm still stuffed silly.

We even had a little live entertainment during our meal. At one point, a man who had snuck in and seated himself tried to sneak out without paying for what he'd eaten. The cashier started squawking, and in seconds half a dozen sushi chefs in aprons and tall white hats were running out the door.

They argued outside our window for some time (we could only see lots of bobbing hats), and people gathered on the street to watch the odd spectacle of an tall, angry man surrounded by six Japanese chefs. They nearly came to blows, and for a while there we were holding our breath.

Fortunately, the cavalry arrived, first on bike then in cruisers. The chefs returned to work and the would-be sushi snatcher was arrested and carted away.

[ Promenade ]After dinner, we decided to walk around. We were one block away from the Santa Monica Prominade, also known as 3rd Street, so we headed over to see the sights.

Even at 10 p.m. the walking mall was bustling. It was like Kalakaua Avenue, but without the cars, prostitutes, or annoying hucksters. That is to say, even though most of the stores were closed, the real attraction was clearly the dizzying array of street performers. Sure they were still passing hats, but they were actually talented, too.

Well, most of them.

[ Psychic Cat ]There were a couple of amazing tap dancers, a Sinatra impersonator, a couple of stand-up comedians, and face painters, among others. But the more memorable folks turned out to be the strangest. From the midget playing a miniature drum set and singing far off key, to the guy who insisted his cats could tell the future.

I was curious about his act, but the whole setup was just a little creepy. I figured I'd best keep walking, lest I break down and attempt to liberate the poor exploited felines.

Eventually we were back on the streets, and at one point a guy in a Dracula costume beckoned us across the street. It was a huge haunted house. But just as everyone was psyched to try it out, we discovered that per-person admission was $10. When we walked away, someone called out, "Don't you want to be scared?"

"We were," I muttered. "Scared away by your ticket price."

Then, too soon, it was time to call it a night. I admired no fewer than five huge Apple iMac billboards on the drive back to the hotel. I'm glad we don't have billboards in Honolulu, but sometimes — just sometimes — they're actually interesting to look at.


© Ryan Kawailani Ozawa · E-Mail: · Created: 18 October 1998 · Last Modified: 22 October 1998