Friday, May 05, 2006

Pictures from An Exhibition

The international Offshore Technology Conference in Houston concluded Thursday afternoon. It was a barn-burner…no, wait—wrong metaphor—it was a gusher. Over 59,000 attendees made the pilgrimage to the mecca of muscle in the subsea realm of petroleum exploration and drilling.

As I mentioned earlier this week, the OTC is the uber hardware store. It’s also a chance for Houston to strut it’s hospitality to out of towners from near and far.

Some people have different ideas of what hospitality means. Certainly Houston's world image was enhanced when the city opened its arms and the Astrodome to the people of Louisianna displaced by Hurricane Katrina last Summer.

Years ago, "Houston hospitality" had a whole other meaning in the neighborhood near the Astrodome. Many of the veterans of the OTC remember those heydays, and are now more circumspect about their behavior, and the behavior of “newbies” to the expo.

Two of our most fetching employees were trying to show some modern-day, post-Katrina, Houston hospitality to an older gentleman in the parking lot during the expo. They’re quite noticeable in a crowd--both blonde, one petite, the other statuesque. So when they offered to give this gentlemen a ride to his car (so they could park in his space), the wrong subliminal message was received, and he beat a hasty retreat in the other direction.

Not that sex doesn’t sell.

There were an abundance of “booth babes” in this year’s show. You could not not notice them. One aquatic exploration company featured wet-suit clad women serving up brochures and brouchettes in their booth.
They were fully clothed.
Anyone who ever watched “Sea Hunt” knows there was little left to the imagination, and these weren't Lloyd Bridges lookalikes.

I tried to aim my sites a little higher.

One of my favorite things to look at each year at the OTC are the helicopter displays.

American Eurocopter had a full-size EC-135 sitting in one corner of the expo. I love crawling up into these birds and allowing myself to become mesmerized by the instrumentation, the controls, the feel, and the smell of a new cockpit.

Textron had a mock-up of a Bell 429 JetRanger on display, too, with a “glass cockpit” configuration: all of the instrumentation was digital or video read-out. Only two gauges on the whole instrument cluster.

The Bell chopper was set for “demo,” with the artificial horizon and other read-outs running. The pedals and stick were loose and pliant, but a little disconcerting when the images on the screens reacted exactly opposite the command given on the controls. That’s when I learned it wasn’t really a demo of the software, just a static display.
Oh well, one can dream.

So, I’m sitting in the cockpit of the Bell Jet Ranger, and on my right is this obnoxious guy with a digital camera, offering to take my photo, and he wouldn’t charge me anything. Heckuva deal.

I’m looking at the inside of this demo, trying not to take too long in case Red Adair wanted a turn sitting in the pilot’s seat (he did), when I sensed someone climbing into the passenger side of the cockpit next to me.

It was one of the little mermaids from the underwater exhibit.
In her wet suit.

The guy with the camera standing next to the aircraft nearly had an aneurysm.
“Hey, buddy—ya want me to take your picture now?”

Meanwhile, I was explaining my limited knowledge of the switches and levers and displays to The Mermaid. Her command of English was limited, but the body language was loud and clear. Suddenly I felt like the guy in the parking lot.

I let the amateur paparazzi snap a couple of photos before his head exploded. The fish lady posed amicably.

That became a very tiny cockpit for such a large helicopter.

The rest of the school of little mermaids came past the Textron booth, and “Ariel” (my name for her—we were never formally introduced) wiggled out of the seat next to me, and swam off with her sisters in spandex.
Or Neoprene.

The OTC was a record-setting event this year. It may also have been about more than sub-sea drilling…both metrics indicative of the boom times in which we live.

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