Reporter's Notebook: A Tale of Hockey and Etoufee

NEW ORLEANS (04/11/2000) - We should have known we were in for some weirdness at CA World here this week when the airplane landed and the flight attendant, who had used a variety of bad accents each time he made an announcement, welcomed us to New Orleans, only to be followed by word from the cockpit that we were in Baton Rouge, some 80 miles north of our destination.

A power outage at the New Orleans airport knocked out radar and after flying in a holding pattern for a while, the pilot decided we better stop for fuel.

Over the course of the past three days, other odd occurrences and annoying episodes have been hallmarks of this trip. The trade show itself has provided some news, but the sports fans among us have decided that the most noteworthy tidbit has been confirmation from Computer Associates International Inc.'s Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Charles Wang that he is interested in possibly buying the New York Islanders hockey team.

"We gotta keep them on the island," Wang said on the first night of the show when asked about persistent rumors that he will buy the Long Island hockey team.

Wang's comments dodged the actual question at hand, but that's another hallmark of trade-show life, both for CA and other big vendors that have these user extravaganzas. What sets CA apart -- and this falls into the annoying category -- is the micro-management of press schedules. The two main days of the show are, literally, booked solid for reporters and editors, with scarcely any breathing room.

Of course, that was alleviated somewhat for me when one corporate executive failed to show up for a one-on-one briefing and another was 20 minutes late, giving me an unplanned hour of relaxation, which I attempted to take despite my vexation.

Not only are schedules planned, but no one who attends the show has any choice when it comes to hotel accommodation. Just try to find a room in a decent hotel in this city this week aside from the preassigned hotels. At least some customers are forced to double up with people they have never seen before in their lives.

More troublesome, though, is that the press room is far removed from the trade show floor, and therefore the actual users of CA products. Attempts to mingle with users tend to be frowned upon. My editor ventured into the designated user seating area at Wang's keynote and was ordered to remove herself at once to the press/analyst area. She was in the midst of what seemed a possibly informative chat with a user.

But the weirdest sign of hyper-management came when two of my reporter cohorts and I were walking along Royal Street in the French Quarter Sunday morning en route to brunch, and saw a man with a walkie talkie lurking in the doorway of a closed shop. He appeared to be some sort of official, and we initially assumed he was with the city until we got close enough to him to spy his CA badge.

Over the static of the walkie talkie, another CA employee reported the movements of a third person who was apparently headed toward the man. A few feet later, we spotted a woman with a walkie talkie lurking in yet another doorway. She, too, wore a CA badge and whispered furtively into her walkie talkie.

Our group politely waited until we passed her before we burst into collective guffaws and noted that CA seemed to be micro-managing the entire city.

The single strangest episode had nothing to do with CA so far as we know. As a fish-eating vegetarian, even when I know how a particular sauce is supposed to be made, I will ask at restaurants to be certain it contains no errant meat or meat by-products. So, I was compelled to ask about the etoufee at one of the city's many fine eateries.

On its face, the question was stupid and the waiter clearly thought so, too. A New Orleans native, he assured me the etoufee was authentically made, and then added under his breath, "but it's no good." Assuming he had to be joking, I ordered it. As a look of puzzlement crossed his face, a second person at our table ordered the same thing.

"He said it's no good," interjected one of our party, to which the two of us who ordered the etoufee said we assumed he was kidding us. The waiter assured us that he was not joking, that he's from New Orleans and knows his etoufee. We changed our orders and after a luscious meal asked the waiter where in town to get good etoufee, and he offered what proved to be a good recommendation, based on our experience last night.

Since then, nothing else weird or annoying has happened, but I don't leave the city until tomorrow morning, so time remains.

(Martin LaMonica, news editor of InfoWorld, an IDG affiliate, contributed to this report.)

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