How many will you attend this year? Four seems to be about the annual average for us risky types.
Location, location, location: where a conference is held seems to matter as much as what it might hold. I have always thought it a sign of great transparency when insurance conferences are held in Las Vegas or Monte Carlo (which so many are) or Atlantic City (which so many aren't).
I do a live version of this column at insurance conferences, insulting industry mavens and poking fun at anyone within 40 feet. People seem to enjoy my "escaped lunatic" performance art, although some, who misunderestimate the risks I'm taking, stare in barely disguised disgust. And so life flew me, not long ago, to Las Vegas, whence I can dolefully report that the struggle between civilization and barbarism has been won by the barbarians. There is no hope for the human race; best we abandon the whole experiment.
Not wanting to embarrass the organizers of the particular conference in question, I'll identify neither it nor the first-class destination resort at which it was held. But I won't be going back to Lost Wages in this or any other lifetime. That's a promise.
I was last in Vegas in 1978, when it was an amiably vile smaller town. Now it's home to 2.4 million people, and Vegas today is a revolting exercise in parting suckers from their cash. You gamble, and usually lose, and then you're expected to eat $28 cheeseburgers and shop. This requires the most unattractive people to traipse wearily around the casinos, supposedly enjoying themselves but in fact sleep-walking in the land of excess.
The men are slobs, the women somewhat less appalling. The boys are empty-headed losers trying to look cool and the girls ... well, the girls are only distinguishable from the hookers because the hookers dress with a much greater sense of decorum.
Don't get me wrong. I like sleaze as much as the next man. I like a genuinely depraved, down-at-the-heels town, wait staff with vacant eyes, the whole suffused by a pervasive sense of despair. That's my idea of a good time.
Vegas is that, but pretends not to be that. It's all overkill, pretending to be class: country "music" blaring at you indoors and on the streets, good (i.e. expensive) food, shows by people you've never heard of (with seats at $250 and up)--in sum, too much of a bad thing.
Never, ever complain about a lack of service in Las Vegas. I did so, and an armed hotel goon squad appeared, as if from nowhere, threatening to beat me up. I kid you not. I came desperately close to being beaten to the consistency of corned cream for no reason whatsoever.
As the years have gone by, my opinion of insurance people has changed dramatically. I used to think they were all feeble, as most people do. But Vegas has taught me that they are shining beacons of professionalism and good taste.
There was once a debate as to whether public entertainment provided what people wanted, or if people simply accepted whatever was thrown at them. In Las Vegas, the debate is over: there is no difference. People want to be treated like vermin, apparently, and Vegas is keen to oblige.
God help us all.
ROGER CROMBIE is a Bermuda-based columnist for Risk & Insurance®.
May 1, 2010
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