May is here.
It starts to get hot in Houston, TX about now even though it is not quite summer. It is also the time of year when representatives from oil and gas companies worldwide (and the companies that provide services for them) flock to town for the Offshore Technology Conference.
These companies pay five hundred million dollars to set up a booth at the Offshore Trade Convention (which will be referred to going forward as “the OTC”) in hopes that someone will be impressed by their display and either buy their product or contract their services. Other companies skip the convention altogether and just throw parties around town.
“Forget the bureaucracy,” they figure. “We will rent a facility somewhere in Houston, invite people who have bought from us, feed and entertain them!”
I get the impression that OTC season is like South by Southwest season for the energy industry
As an employee of a drilling contractor, I managed to schmooze my way into the Aker Solutions dinner on the night of Monday, May 5. I do not know what Aker Solutions does…or what problems they solve with their solutions. I was there for the food. The dinner was held at the Royal Oaks Country Club, an oasis located in the Westchase district of Houston. I have been familiar with this part of town for years now, but I never knew of the existence of this venue. Hidden between Westheimer Road and Richmond Avenue amongst buildings, strip centers and other urban miscellany, the Royal Oaks Country Club is a fancy location. It has nice facilities, a border of green trees, golf courses and is frequented by rich people that inhabit the connected deed-restricted community. Where better to host a gathering of oil barons?
I walked into the lobby of the of the event hall wearing a white button-down shirt, black slacks, black plain-toe oxfords and a skull-and-crossbones belt with my knife, keys and bamboo eating utensils strapped to it. I signed in and put on my name tag, then I gazed into the main hall at the swarm of suited men and dolled-up women. Talking amongst themselves, they sounded like a pot of mixed accents simmering in free booze. Texas Twang, French, Spanish, German and Russian were all ingredients in this linguistic stew.
I inched closer to the crowd. Soon, I was part of it and I was able to see the whites of the individuals’ eyes as well as notice their hairstyles. While mostly conservative in dress and grooming, some people stood out from the norm. I saw one gentleman that had longer-than-average brown hair that was styled in a half-pompadour. In him, I saw a former miscreant – a man who once had the demeanor of a frat boy but turned himself into an important oilman with workaholic tendencies. I was able to sense that he yearns to return to his days when cutting loose and enjoying life were key.
I caught myself thinking…
“What are all these people doing here? Are they socializing? Or are they conducting business?”
It was not long before I was approached by a dapper Nordic man. He shook my hand, welcomed me, showed me where I would be able to get a drink (as if I really needed help finding a bar) and gave me his business card. He gave it to me; he did not offer to give it to me. I obliged him, accepted his card and asked if he would like to have one of mine. He said that he would, so I pulled out the shiny metal card holder I stole from a co-worker’s desk, took out a card for my side business and handed it to him. I was able to see, through his people-pleasing poker face, the confusion he felt when he saw that the name on the card did not match that on my name tag.
“You see, I am in the oil and gas business like you, but I am also in the entertainment business,” I told him. “That is the name of the character I play and I do business as him.”
He smiled, nodded and we parted. Away I went to weave in, out and around the crowd on a quest to eat and drink for free.
Before long, I had figured it all out. I understood now what all these people were doing here. Maybe they are caught up in their hoity-toity executive titles. Maybe they aim to secure a new account by the night’s end. Whatever ulterior agendas might exist, it became apparent that these people were here to eat, drink and be merry. We are people, and that is what we like to do. I think that when you are deep in the depths of adulthood, you have this artificial feeling that you are not allowed to party just for partying’s sake. You feel that such primal urges are beneath your responsible, sophisticated grown-up tendencies. Not thinking about it will not make it go away, though. The desire to engage in merriment remains. As adults, we satisfy this urge by throwing parties with some sort of false premise so as to justify the behavior – in this case, a customer appreciation dinner.
However they may paint it, the OTC attendees are there to relive the glory days or drinking, partying and having fun. I will partake.