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Raging celebs, impromptu weddings, and more of our best CES war stories

Tech aficionados know CES as the spot to drool over futuristic new gadgets that were scarcely imaginable even a few years ago. And hey, that’s why we go! But CES isn’t just an industry trade show, it’s the industry trade show — the largest in the United States — a spectacle so gaudy, overpacked, and raucous that even Vegas denizens tremble in anticipation of its arrival.

So when our staff of seasoned tech journalists heard it was going all-digital this year, we had mixed emotions.

Look, we won’t miss sliding around in dive-bar-caliber bathrooms, resorting to stale concession-stand pretzels for nutrition, or enduring the bleary-eyed 6 a.m. starts so we can wait in a cab line so long we can’t see where it ends. But after a socially distant, upside-down year, we have to confess that we’ll miss the human elements of the show that made it so fun after hours, from impromptu celebrity encounters to misadventures scaling casino fences (those spikes are sharp).

So, as we head into CES in pajama pants instead of khakis this year, we did some reminiscing about the moments that have made CES special: Not the biggest unveils, the craziest products, or the flashiest booths, but the behind-the-scenes moments that we all treasure … and sometimes cringe over.

Drew Prindle and DT CES staffers with Jonathan Goldsmith
Image used with permission by copyright holder

The most agitated man in the world

By Drew Prindle

One of my most cherished CES memories is the time that I met The Most Interesting Man in the World — and royally pissed him off in about 40 seconds flat.

This all went down at ShowStoppers — a sort of CES after-hours event where organizers basically offer journalists free hors d’oeuvres and bottomless drinks as long as they’re willing to get pounced on by a room full of PR people for a couple hours. To sweeten the deal, there’s also usually one or two celebrities there to shake hands and take photos (paid to be there, no doubt, by some random tech brand looking to get attention).

This particular year, the celebrity in attendance was Jonathan Goldsmith, otherwise known as the guy who played The Most Interesting Man in the World in those hilarious Dos Equis commercials from a few years ago. After catching word that he was in attendance, me and a couple of my DT colleagues excitedly ran over to meet him and get a photo. The only problem? The free drink I had in my hand at the time was a Corona.

As my friends and I filed in for our photo op, The Most Interesting Man’s steely blue eyes immediately darted to the bottle I was holding. He gestured at it, and growled something along the lines of “Get that shit out of here!” His tone was so aggressive that we all assumed he was joking and burst into laughter. “Holy crap, he’s even in character!” we thought. “What a hilarious brand loyalty bit! Classic Dos Equis guy!”

He was not amused. “I’m not joking” he snapped back in a terrifyingly stern half-whisper that that only The Most Interesting Man in the World could deliver. “I’m under contract. Ditch the beer, or no photo.”

Turns out he was still contractually obligated to rep Dos Equis exclusively, and appearing in photos with other beer brands was a big no-no.

I ended up getting the photo, but needless to say the smile he mustered for it was 100% forced. In fact, I’m pretty sure he would’ve kicked my ass if I had stuck around for more than one photo.

Pace yourself

By Nick Mokey

I’ve attended CES every year since I turned 21, with all the attendant indiscretions: Drinking too much, staying up too late, radically misjudging the distance between casinos, and trudging for miles down gravel road shoulders littered with broken glass.

Yet somehow, it was a wagyu beef burger that hospitalized me.

The meal in question arrived at the tail end of a grueling marathon of cab rides, endless lines, and frantic edits. Still running on fumes from a press “lunch” of primarily browning iceberg lettuce, some colleagues and I treated ourselves by hitting up the kind of posh casino eatery with a celebrity name on the marquee and $15 beers on the menu. My Wagyu beef burger arrived, drenched in truffle mayo and dripping melted gruyere, glistening in the warm glow of the Edison bulbs overhead. It lasted all of a minute in my greasy fingers, washed down with glugs of a hefeweizen.

Then things took a turn.

My vision dimmed. The clatter around me suddenly sounded muffled and distant. I mumbled to my friend Jeff that I felt dizzy, before toppling over sideways onto a pile of coats stacked on the bench seat beside me. The darkness looming at the edges of my sight clouded in, and for a moment, I blacked out entirely.

When I pried my eyes back open, frantic co-workers had gathered around to check on me.

“Are you OK?”

“Give him some air!”

I slurred my way through the answers and tried to get up to leave, but my legs felt too weak to even stand. EMTs showed up as quickly as if they had just trotted over from the slots, and before I knew it I was whisked to a medical center on the outskirts of Vegas in my first ambulance ride.

If you’re awaiting the resolution where I discover exactly what Putin put in my burger, you’ll be as disappointed as I was with the verdict of the docs. “These incidents can be caused by a lot of things: Stress, lack of sleep, not eating, dehydration, alcohol.” So check, check, check, check, check. It wasn’t the burger, it was CES.

Embarrassed as I was to be incapacitated by a cheeseburger at age 29, I was heartened in equal measure by the concern of my coworkers, who made the long cab ride out to the hospital just to check on me during my brief stint there. Now if only they would stop reminding me of it every time I pick up a burger.

Somebody has to be that guy

By Jeremy Kaplan

I could tell you a few CES stories. I could write about the editor who won so much at the poker tables that he put a new addition on his house. I could detail what made up the $10,000 bill we ran up for dinner one year (thank you for picking up the check on that one, Jamie Bsales!), or who to sit next to at meals like that (John Dvorak, who has the best taste in wine and doesn’t hesitate to order several bottles of it). Or I could bring back the term one of my friends in PR used to describe the random hookups that apparently always happen at events like this (it’s pretty raunchy!). Or I could dwell on the year I broke my foot after marching some 35 miles.

But instead, I’d like to focus on the nice side: Sometimes what happens in Vegas, leaves Vegas — and changes your life forever. I remember one year after having far too many drinks, waking up, and running to a press conference that I found out that two of the journalists I’d been out with the night before had gotten married. Married! In a Las Vegas chapel! I’ll let Dan Ackerman tell the story in his own words:

The date itself was Jan 11, 2004. It was probably the last day of what was our first CES, and my first trip to Las Vegas. Yes, I’m the guy who ends up getting married the first time he goes to Las Vegas.

Libe, a woman I’d dated for only a few weeks, was working for Ziff-Davis at the time, and I was editor in chief of Clubplanet, a nightlife, music, lifestyle, etc., website and magazine. There was never any discussion of getting married. But I looked up some details on how you would do that sort of thing in Las Vegas, and later in the evening told a friend who was driving us around to go to the then-24-hour Clark County Marriage License Bureau (several years later, they shut down the 24-hour service — I believe they’re only open until midnight now).

Libe had no idea what I had in mind until we pulled up to the county office. Then it was off to the Little White Chapel, where Britney Spears had just gotten married maybe a week before to some rando (they got an annulment shortly after). Our witnesses were another Ziff reporter and a friend of Libe’s who was working for Slashdot at the time.

No one knew this was going down … — no parents, other friends, no one. News started leaking out the next day. Now, 16 years later, we’re the parents of a 9-year-old Roblox fanatic. I’m still at CNET, and after long stints at AOL and Nickelodeon, Libe now runs her own creative services and marketing shop called OhSwell.

Sure, there’s stuff that will be better thanks to a virtual event, and stuff that will be worse as well. But it’s less likely to permanently change your life, I think.

Image used with permission by copyright holder

Never book more days in Vegas

By Andy Boxall

CES 2019 for me was unforgettable for good, bad, and very surreal reasons. I planned to stay an extra day in Las Vegas after the show ended so I could visit Zak Bagans’ Haunted Museum. As a committed horror fan, Bagans’ television show, Ghost Adventures, is hugely enjoyable, and I’d heard great things about his spooky museum. I usually can’t wait to get back home after CES, but I made the exception in 2019 so I could go to the museum.

Two days before the end of the show, I got food poisoning from some suspect Vegas meal I’d stuffed down my throat. Alone in my hotel room, it was an awful experience. When I eventually emerged to get a mint tea from the Starbucks in my hotel, the Cosmopolitan, the noise and bustle of Las Vegas was even more unpleasant than usual. I ate essentially nothing, surviving on some Ritz crackers I bought from Walgreens and plenty of liquids.

At this point, staying an extra day held absolutely no appeal whatsoever, but feeling a little better on my final day, I visited the Haunted Museum anyway. If you’ve never been, you really should. It’s a devilish smorgasbord of haunted items, possessed dolls, “murderabilia,” jump scares, and sideshow-style attractions, all presented by brilliant tour guides in a shockingly creepy atmosphere.

For the ultimate experience, I recommend going alone near the end of the day, when you’ve only just recovered from food poisoning, shaky from not eating for two days, and still discombobulated from a frantic week working in Las Vegas.

I’ve genuinely never felt as uncomfortable, nervous, and yes, scared as I did during the two hours or so the tour of the museum takes. I had a truly bizarre experience in one of the rooms, which I cannot explain. It was still on my mind so much even hours after I left that I asked the museum staff to check their security camera footage to see if one of the other members of my group jabbed me in the side with their finger at a particular point. No one had done so, and my post-fever brain took a long while to process what may have happened instead.

CES and Las Vegas are always memorable. Add in awful food poisoning, Zak Bagans’ Haunted Museum, and an alarming personal experience there, and my visit in 2019 quickly became absolutely unforgettable.

The annual quest for Vegas Hoodie

By Caleb Denison

CES is a grueling haul for everyone involved, but especially journalists: Miles and miles of speed walking in shoes not made for speed walking, late nights of typing up stories, little to no sleep. It’s no wonder that when the madness subsides and our work is done that we take a night to cut loose and enjoy ourselves.

At Digital Trends, we’ve adopted a few traditions for our big night out: An amazing meal together, bar crawling through casinos, celebratory cigars, a little hidden gem in the New York New York casino that I like to call “Circle Bar.” But there’s one very unlikely tradition that has become legend among our editorial crew that I will miss especially this year: The quest for my Vegas Hoodie.

It started some nine years ago, as our editorial crew zigzagged between casino bars on the final night of a show — a victory lap after our buffet dinner. Thing is, Las Vegas gets kind of cold at night in January. I did not know this going into my first CES, and my white Oxford shirt and blue sport coat were not up for the task. So, I ducked into a Walgreens on the strip, leaving my friends and co-workers standing perplexed outside the entrance; “Hold on, I just need a second.” Time was tight. Choices were limited. Minutes later, I walked out with a grey hoodie stamped with giant letters reading “LAS VEGAS.” I don’t know if it was the drinks at dinner or just general merriment, but this hoodie got huge laughs and applause. It became a regular part of my winter wardrobe back in Portland as a reminder to my co-workers of the fun we had that night.

The following year at CES on our final night, I revisited Walgreens, emerging with an even more ridiculous Vegas Hoodie. The tradition has continued every year since, and every year the hoodie gets more garish. I even added a bejeweled denim cap to my hot pink hoodie last year. The legendary quest for the perfect Vegas Hoodie will have to pause for 2021, but you better believe I’m getting after it in 2022.

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