Monday, June 6
Below our shuddering plane wing, rust red plateaus and dinosaur footprints pock the earth. A voice overhead announces we're flying over the Grand Canyon—take a look if you're near a window. I crane my neck from my aisle seat and sure enough, there's a huge fault in the rocky surface. As seen from so high above, it resembles a crack in dry dirt. For miles on all sides of this horizontal slat reside nuanced formations, of dust, clay, and limestone, carved by the centuries, built from the ravages of long-ago rivers and the mysteries of tectonic force. And all anyone glances at from their skyward vista is the biggest, the deepest, the one with the obvious name.
My friend's new address says Los Angeles, but Los Angeles is a big place. I walk one half-mile down Mentone Avenue, turn right on Venice, and wait for the #733. Once on, I stand for 20 minutes, looking for Figueroa Boulevard on the street signs through the blurry bus windows, until I realize the storefronts are still clean and the overcast sky is up ahead. I find a seat and wait another 25 minutes, until I see the skyscrapers. The Convention Center sneaks up on me. I get off; the bus driver beeps his horn. I look back and he points to the left. That way. I give him the thumbs-up, and wait for the little man to turn white, which makes two of us.
In front of the West Hall Lobby entrance, desiccated bodies prowl over the massive girders. As a promotion for id Software's new first-person shooter Rage, enemies from the apocalyptic shooter are set up prowling along the thick white cylinders over the main door. Two workers in black T-shirts and crew cuts stand atop a JLG hydraulic lift, affixing the monsters with tape and glue. One monster is causing problems; the same worker has been playing with its right hand for nearly 10 minutes, poking and prodding the foam digits. The hand's fingers keep unfolding, splaying outward, as if waving a cheery hello to the passers-by. That the creature has no nose, dead-white ping-pong-ball eyes, and withering torso flesh weakens the gesture's unintended gaiety. Finally, success: the worker grips and curls the fingers again, mushing them down into a tight, sturdy fist.
The halls are scattered with mild activity. People with different-colored badges walk languidly, chattering in groups of two or six. No one is running yet. Down a hall, someone whistles a tuneless melody. Attire labels us all. Two gentlemen walk past; one wears a Tube Hero shirt, the other with a Wolfire logo on his back. They intersect with three ladies, mocha-skinned and wearing short black skirts, black heels covering a crescendo of ankle-heights from left to right. Each holds what appears to be a white lab coat over their arm—props for tomorrow? Tube Hero walks on without asking, lacking curiosity or chutzpah or both. As do I.
The Staples Center, home to the city's NBA teams, sits kitty-corner from the convention halls. Seven giant teardrop sculptures, formed of mesh and steel, dig into the cement at 45-degree angles in front of the main entrance. I walk along the sidewalk, moving against pedestrian traffic. A window display catches my eye: inside, a collection of basketball cards, boardgames, and coin-op amusements. Baffle Ball has a metal crank and a push-button on the outside of a small box, inside of which a small silver thimble awaits. “How many baskets can you make?” it asks. “10 shots—Only 1 cent.” The boardgame Home Court Basketball features Charley Eckman, “coach of the world famous Zollner Pistons.” A Harlem Globetrotters game by Milton Bradley (ages 8-12) describes its elegant play mechanics on the side of its cardboard box. “OBJECT: Collect 3 basketballs of one color to score points.”
Not 50 paces south, a Mack truck unloads an authentic tank, emblazoned with a decal for “WorldOfTanks.com,” in front of the convention entrance. A photographer with a European accent zooms in, focusing on the treads.
A short man with sun-wrinkled skin talks into his hand-radio, asking what to do. They've been securing posters for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim along a set of glass windows, and pulling off the periphery of tape leaves a sticky film on the glass. It's 5:00 p.m. on Monday; somewhere, Sony executives begin to apologize. Tomorrow, after the final major press conference, where Nintendo will unveil the successor to its Wii console, the Expo Floor opens at noon. Overhearing the problem, I ask him what their plan is to clean up the tape.
“We're working that out right now,” he says. His eyes hide behind tinted wraparound sunglasses. A beige fedora shades his forehead. “We'll find some solution. 'Goof off' might work.”
He tells me he works for the Expo. Been putting in 10- to 12-hour days all last week. Be here tonight until midnight, probably.
“It's crunch time,” he says.
I let the man do his job.