February 6, 2009

Yesterday was the first day of the Techology, Entertainment and Design convention here in Long Beach. Crazy thinkers like Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey, Liz Coleman, Gever Tully, Jay Walker and Barry Schwartz used to travel to Monterey once a year to give 18-minute speeches that blow invite-only audience members’ collective minds.  But apparently, they’ve outgrown their central California digs and have–for some reason–decided that my town is the place to be for forward-thinking and future-planning. That means that all the aforementioned intellectual celebrities are here–walking my streets and drinking at my bars. Eric and his friends almost went to a party at Smooth’s down on Pine last night but the guest list ended up excluding those that live within five blocks and would stick out like sore, un-educated thumbs.

The front page of the Press Telegram proclaims that “Bill and TED are in Long Beach,” even though Gates just talked about his new vision of philanthropy and how it will revolutionize Africa the same way Windows did to computers (even going so far as to open a jar of mosquitos in the convention center to prove a point?).

Although I do love the $200,000 electric cars unnecessarily roaming around the streets confusing everybody that lives above 3rd Street, I’m not sure if Long Beach is really the place to be setting on a pedestel as an example of elite-level thinking and definitely not the place most-deserving of being graced with such. On the surface, we’ve seem to have built up a pretty little downtown area near the convention center and it sways anime-lovers and fashion jewelry makers alike to have their annual gatherings there. The hotels and bars and restaurants and the harbor and a movie theater with a Borders and a Laugh Factory across the street says to event organizers: this town must really have its shit together. If they had done an ounce of market research, they would have found that the area is a complete disaster as far as both the citizens and the city is concerned. The Pike at Rainbow Harbor–a multi-million dollar project attempting to regain the glory of the original Coney Island of the West Coast–remains half empty, occupied by barely a Coldstone’s Creamery and the Segway Store. Shoreline Village is only cool because they still have an arcade. And the only reason the restaurants down at Alamitos Bay get anyone to eat there is because the Aquarium is open on the weekends. That entire area south of Ocean is a giant tourist trap that represents Long Beach as a comeback kid who can take a city of crime and Snoop Dogg and turn it into a corporation-filled downtown where rich white thinkers are not afraid to host one of the most important conferences of the year.

But really, the only thing that’s changed in Long Beach is that the Redevelopment Agency–which is comprised of a bunch of Orange County fat cats–has falsely assessed the needs of the area and built these tan stucco monstrosities based on Irvine corporate appeal only to discover, after-the-fact, that no one that lives here will ever hang out at The Pike or go to Pine Street (unless there’s a chance of seeing Bill Gates). But I guess that’s what this whole convention is really about–presenting the aura of having all the answers but really having your head up your ass (or down in Orange County).

The world’s greatest minds, as chosen by themselves, gather together in a convention that only other great minds, as chosen by themselves, can attend. They’ve picked the best location, the best theme (this year’s is “Rebirth”), the most important issues facing our society today and the most exhilirating speeches to get the solutions across. They are the ones that are choosing our future and deciding which $200,000 eco-friendly car we should buy. This weekend, the people staying at the Hilton, Radisson and Hyatt on the end of my street will dictate the future direction of our world’s growth efforts, but when it comes down to it, all 50 TED speakers are just as clueless as the town they’ve chosen to play host to their bougoise charade.


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