[SoundStage!]Hi-Fi in Paradise
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January 2003

Training for CES

Is it safe?

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Does Jim have two left feet?

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Cue, theme from Rocky to start now!

As the clock struck midnight on the first of December, the Consumer Electronics Show was five weeks away. The realization filled me with dread. As CES veterans know, walking the Show is a grueling ordeal that tests the body and spirit. Sipping cerveza before a glorious sunset, I felt a shiver of guilt. Had I ignored my Show preparation too long?

The year 2002 saw two major colds, a back injury, a bum ankle, and some silliness with a neighbor that precluded the use of the outdoor gym for a month. As a result, I ballooned up to 197 pounds of sullied flesh -- 13 pounds beyond the point of obesity for a 5'11" frame.

A pernicious feature of working in hi-fi is that hours of couch warming are punctuated with brief moments of extreme physical exertion. Lifting audio gear can cause tissue tearing and other unpleasant side effects. This year, I resigned most of the heavy work to my assistants, Alex and Monica the maid. The added bulk did serve for prop work. If Monica had to lean a Wilson Sophia against her hip she would fall over. I performed this chore without flinching, a stoic elephant. Take that, Monica!

From lack of hard use, however, various bone junctions have become contentious. I sense a general reluctance to log miles of flooring while lugging a plastic bag filled with brochures. It’s amazing how heavy glossy paper can get during the course of a day. One has to strengthen the hands and forearms, as well as the legs and back, before tackling Las Vegas.

Moreover, the CES requires mental and emotional preparedness. One cannot enter the fray cold, non-provisioned for the stress of battle. Interacting with exhibitors, husbanding one’s time, informing buying judgments while listening to odd music in strange surroundings can be more fatiguing than walking and toting all day.

Then there are social engagements that rejuvenate the spirit even as they load up one’s system with toxins. As a party animal, I enjoy beers with my peers. Pushing 60, however, I can no longer guzzle unrestrictedly without repercussions. Insomnia, anxiety, constipation, and dehydration are after-effects of a night out with the boys. Still, I consider myself to be better company with a few cold ones under the belt. Besides, I like to drink.

Thus, as the December countdown began, I launched a series of training tactics to inure myself to the hardships of the CES. Anticipating that the road to fitness would end in a triumph of willpower, I kept a diary. It goes like this:

Day one

Weight: 197.5
Health: Bronchitis
Attitude: Poor

Did stretching exercises. Walked twice around the block. Had a light lunch of rice, beans, chicken fajitas, and fruit drink. Happy hour consisted of two 16-ounce beers and large handful of peanuts. No supper. I am fit to handle, at most, two hours of the CES before collapsing.

Day two

Weight: 199
Health: Bronchitis
Attitude: Extremely poor

Did 40 sit-ups. Forty sit-ups -- what a joke! Walked to the park and back in 20:24. Had a light lunch of a glass of beer, half a bottle of wine, plate of spaghetti and meatballs, six slices of barley bread, and Caesar salad. Happy hour consisted of two 16-ounce beers, one 12-ounce beer, and half a can of peanuts washed down by another 12-ounce beer. Spent an hour listening to Diana Krall, whose music will be playing in every high-end room. "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" sounded pretty good in the main system, but the music did not lift my spirits. Resisted a much-needed nightcap.

Day three

Weight 198.5
Health: Dry cough
Attitude: Semi-cheerful

Today being Saturday, I had time to walk to the park, circle the jogging track and return home -- a mile and a half in 36:18! Feel invigorated after the heavy workout. Invited a golden-eared pal over to help tweak the system. We wound up toeing in the loudspeakers by a millimeter and a half. Voila! Diana Krall clicked right into focus. For some reason, I cannot warm to her music. Tried another CES war-horse, Patricia Barber, but the gloom in the room remained. Drank a six-pack before finding the antidote to CES demonstration music -- tango! Is it true someone always dies at the end of a tango? If not, they should.

Day four

It is the 12th of December -- time to pump iron. Every year someone threatens to kick my ass at CES. This year is no different, except the threat came via the Internet. Cyberspace is the new Dodge City. At least e-mail challenges are pure bluff -- so far. A more realistic concern is a manufacturer who won’t let you escape a bad exhibit. Have to practice my CES isometrics: staring at the ceiling, rolling the eyeballs, and biting the tongue.

Day five

Visited a number of websites to learn about the new, improved, Signature Reference products to look for at CES. There is too much stuff to see! Am nervous about missing the latest and greatest. Must redouble my conditioning or else miss half the exhibits. As Vince Lombardi said, "Fatigue makes cowards of us all." I am already mentally exhausted. The fear level is rising.

Day six

Jogged half a mile before rolling my foot on a small branch. Twisted an ankle, wrenched a knee. Ankle responded to an ice pack but the knee aches like hell. Took aspirin but couldn’t sleep. Watched re-runs on the Food Channel and thought about hosting a TV show for audiophiles. Is that an oxymoron?

Day seven

Know the enemy. Polished a Diana Krall CD with magic optical fluid. I want to explore every inch of that damn Boulevard before the Show. To my surprise, Diana’s sultry voice never sounded so realistic. Nevertheless, after five minutes, I wanted to rip my ears off. Instead, forced myself to endure the entire disc. Aural agony is the price of mental toughness. When an exhibitor waves Diana Krall at me, I’ll be able to say, "Let her rip, amigo."

Day eight

Weight 201 (!)
Health: Perfect!
Attitude: Ideal!

Today was Christmas Eve and some non-audiophile friends came over. We listened to real music. A day without "DK" is a day without pain. I self-lubricated before the guests arrived but comported myself as a gent. I know I had fun. Presented gifts of DVDs, including widescreen and letterbox versions of Scooby-Doo. The letterbox version was more popular. Wonder what that means. After everyone left, had a light supper of tuna salad, peanuts, and a brace of cervezas. At least the liver is getting into shape for the CES. Hahahaha!

Day nine

December has flown by. It is almost New Year’s Eve and I am pretty much where I started. No point in keeping statistics. Feel anxious. Doubt my readiness. This could be the toughest CES of all. With eight days left there is still time enough to get in shape, but the will is weak. I never truly committed myself to the task at hand -- the story of my life. Time to find religion?

Am toying with the idea of staying home. There are too many Sig. Ref. products lying in wait. The temptations are overwhelming. I am hard-nosed about romance but hopelessly romantic about hi-fi. When someone begs me to love his new loudspeakers, I feel his pain. Emotional foul-ups result, leading to rash purchases that never sell. My storage room is filled with Signature References. The biggest stress of the show is spiritual. I feel unworthy to attend.

Last day

Weight: Who cares?
Health: Breathing on my own
Attitude: Befuddled

I am not going to CES. There’s no point. After working so hard to get into shape, I realize that no one wants to see me there. Unlike in years past, I have not received a single invitation to product unveilings, dinner dates, cocktail parties or informal bashes. No one has even asked me to "stop by the room." How did I become so unpopular? Perhaps, the Jimmy Awards have alienated the non-recipients? It’s impossible to give everyone an award, but Lord knows I try. Would a blanket award for all exhibitors be excessive?

Perhaps, it’s the economy. Long gone are the bacchanalian bashes at Caesar’s Palace that cost as much as the GNP of a West African country. Since then, it’s been buffet invitations only. This year, not even those. I hope it’s the economy. I’d hate to think everyone’s business is doing well except mine.

Doug Schneider said he might host a dinner, but he’d let me know. That was a month ago. Looks like the dinner was called off. Maybe I should have sent him a Christmas card?

It would be easy to shuck the whole idea and go to the beach, except I hate the beach. Nothing to do but lay in the sun, drink rumrunners and watch bronze chiquitas cavort in the surf. Not all bad. I could offer the Jimmy Awards assignment to my buddy, Bill Cowen. Let Billy-Bob do the footwork while I chill out. Wonder if he’d ghostwrite? That way I could claim credit for 12 straight years of Jimmies, or is it 14? Legends feed on round numbers. Call it 20. I am confident that Bill Cowen’s version of the Jimmy Awards will continue the skein of excellence. A decision has been made. I’m off to Jaco with a final message to the Consumer Electronics Show: Hasta la vista, bebe.


Going to the CES after all. At the last minute, editor Marc Mickelson invited me to lunch in Las Vegas. Audio Research sent an invitation to stop by their room. Finale Loudspeakers spammed me. I am loved!

More importantly, my good buddy Bill Cowen declined to write the Jimmy Awards. It was either the Billy Awards or nothing. The nerve of the young pup! Billy Awards doesn’t even have a ring to it.

If you want something done right, do it yourself.

Consequently, I am happy to announce that passage is booked and reservations confirmed. Look out, Diana Krall aficionados -- a well-conditioned journalist is on the way.

...Jim Saxon


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