The Loews Hotel in Philadelphia's business district was full of Marines on the Saturday night before RIMS 2005 got underway. Dozens of spit-polished military men handled parking and roamed the halls with guns and musical instruments. It was as if martial law had been declared by Glenn Miller.
Against this backdrop, Lloyd's of London, that austere institution, delivered a small promotional package to the exterior door handles of the RIMS delegates. Along with the usual promotional flotsam and jetsam was a credit card good for one massage. We paused to think, and in the end, ran out of time to use the card. Lucky, really. How hard it would be to explain to the loved ones we left behind on the home front: "I was just having a massage in Philadelphia, dear, when the Marines burst in ?"
W. C. Fields famously said: "I was in Philadelphia once; it was closed." Perhaps he was attending RIMS 1911, or perhaps he was just there on a Sunday morning. In a downtown core stuffed bumper to bumper with history and the Ben Franklin industry--with its own mint, very impressive--Philadelphia was indeed closed for much of Sunday. For an hour's walk in every direction, it was Day of the Living Dead. We make lovely cities and few live in them. Instead, they populate Stepford-style suburbs. Why? Lower perceived risk. We are all risk managers these days.
On Sunday night, at the RIMS ball at the Marriott dressed in all our finery, Harold Melvin's
Blue Notes were belting out the tunes, but the noise of conversation in a cavernous room more or less equaled them out, making for an overall deafening midrange buzzing sound that made everything difficult.
There was little discussion around the booths this year of California workers' comp, the intermittently distressing D&O market, new accounting standards or even the effects of Cyclone Erwin.
The main topic of conversation was AIG, and by extension the work Eliot Spitzer is doing to destabilize an industry that sells stability. AIG and the departure of Maurice "Hank" Greenberg were more or less the only things anyone wanted to talk about.
A consensus seemed to form around the question of who was really harmed. The answer may lie in the receivables problem that hung like a dark, unnoticed cloud over the North Americans gathered in Philly.
At one point a rumor spread like wildfire through the conference hall: Greenberg and the boys were reportedly in Bermuda, forming a new insurer, to be called B.I.G.
Of the RIMS annual convention gestalt, the big question was: Hawaii?
Next year's bash is to be held in Honolulu, which is quite far from the East Coast and almost as far from the West Coast and halfway to Australia. Would RIMS attract sufficient numbers to make Hawaii worthwhile? The answer is that they probably will. It'll be tiki torches and grass skirts akimbo. Insurance people are notoriously weak in the face of such provocation.
At the trade show all week was a lady who portrayed the Statue of Liberty. She wore coppergreen
facepaint to match her flowing robes, and carried the requisite torch and book. She was on duty at Liberty Mutual's stand, available for photography, humorous or otherwise.
Although it felt vaguely sacrilegious, the Statue posed for some photographs with us in a peculiarly relaxed manner. Portraying the Statue is a full-time job for the lady beneath the greasepaint, Jennifer Stewart, who inadvertently kicked off a theme that would dominate RIMS 2005 when she revealed that she had previously worked with schizophrenics. She did seem curiously at ease with the insurance crowd. Miss Stewart's work is life, imitating art, promoting insurance.
Elsewhere, a gaming theme was apparent. A full-blown pool table appeared at one of the booths, and attorneys Eisenstein Malanchuk ran a blackjack table off to one side, with casino-style chips and a croupier in a bow tie. The table was genuine, but the chips had no par value. On two occasions, a Risk & Insurance® reporter, starting with just three chips, parlayed them into a giant pile, beating the odds again and again. He may have had 150 chips at one point. The game wasn't fixed. Our man just couldn't lose for trying. Other players came and went. Whole days came and went, and still our man could not lose. The attorneys had brought five extra cases of chips, just in case, but at the last didn't need them. One grand folly saw the whole pile lost the first time, and the need to go lie down cost an equally ridiculous number of chips the second time. Roll on, RIMS in Las Vegas.
The highlight of the Philly event was the appearance of a Beluga whale in the Delaware River at breakfast time on Tuesday. The creature, dubbed Helis, was well off its beaten path for the time of year, but still able to drop in at RIMS, presumably to discuss marine business. No Elvis sightings, though.
The loss of Hunter S. Thompson, the gonzo journalist, not long before RIMS may have had something to do with a scene that unfolded on the Tuesday morning.
The Bermuda team arrived promptly for its annual visit to the main hall. Premier, Finance Minister, gumment people, regulators, attendants--all headed off for a walkabout tour of the floor. They arrived, after a while, at the twostory booth of Lloyd's of London.
As the Bermuda delegation met with senior Lloyd's officials in an off the- record powwow, an observer of the scene said: "Here is the reality of the public and private sectors working together for the common weal made flesh."
Surprised by this burst of eloquence, his colleague replied: "I dunno. I'm an attorney."
At this historic moment (we are held to a higher journalistic standard than Dr. Thompson; what follows is true), a giant hip-hop bunny appeared behind the Premier and Bob McGowan, the Head Waiter at Lloyd's, as they posed for photographs.
McGowan is a Lloyd's security man in real life, who wears an olde worlde bright red costume and probably has a wacky hat somewhere. The Head Waiter thing dates back to the days of the Lloyd's coffee shop. The smart money said McGowan couldn't make a latte to save his life.
As the Premier shook the Head Waiter's hand, the bunny looked around a little, nervously. He had a numbered shirt on, like a football player, and underneath was almost certainly a person in a bunny suit. Then, yes, Virginia, the bunny hopped away.
We were able to purchase lattes elsewhere, in an indoor market near the enormous convention center that dominates the heart of Philly. Like comedian Eddy Izzard, we took our coffee the way we take our women ? strong and in a plastic cup. Or in this case, a paper cup. Each of our coffee cups had a cardboard holder wrapped around it, to make holding the cup less painful.
Halfway around the wrapper was printed an ad for a new drug called Seroquel, which we discovered later is used to treat psychotic disorders, including schizophrenia and acute mania. First the Statue of Liberty, now this. The message was crystal clear.
The other half of the cardboard wrapper said: "Welcome to the 155th American Psychiatric Convention."
ROGER CROMBIE, a writer, editor and former accountant, is a regular columnist for Risk
& Insurance®. He also covers issues on alternative risk.
July 1, 2005
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