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What it’s like to walk the halls of CES before they open

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Want to get hyped for CES? Take this tour of its unfinished halls

On a particularly chilly December morning in my childhood I nearly spoiled Christmas. It was the endless expanse of nighttime between Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, and I couldn't sleep. Cold and excited and unwilling to wait another minute to see what waited in my stocking, I cast my Ghostbusters comforter into the air, pulled on an oversized sweater, and made my way downstairs. Alongside the tree, I spotted my parents preparing to wrap presents. There were no video games, toy cars, or books to be seen; in their place sat a stack of boxes, reams of wrapping paper, and an intangible potential of good things to come. That's what it felt like walking around the floor of CES yesterday evening.

I couldn't wait to witness the spectacle

The CES show floor won't officially open until Tuesday. Having never attended, I couldn't wait to witness the spectacle. Once night came, I grabbed my exhibitor badge, found a side door, and did my best amateur ninja to sneak in. None of the guards seemed to care. Probably because there's nothing to see, per se, in the three colossal halls. A skeletal framework of mini-structures, accompanied by giant name tags hanging in the air or on unpainted stage flats, let me know where the Next Big Thing from Nikon, Panasonic, Casio, Parrot, and countless other companies will be when the space is flooded with entrepreneurs, marketers, publicists, consumers, and reporters. But the Next Big Thing hadn't been staged just yet.

CES

Everything I want to see at CES hid in nearly identical wooden boxes, stacked by the dozen inside and outside the three halls. Beneath the glow of Las Vegas nightlife, a half-dozen forklifts zigzagged through alleys of these crates, grabbing one, moving it somewhere else in the maze. Everyone was on deadline. At a booth, a squad of publicists parched on a single industrial ladder, trying to staple a sign to a wall. They had no luck.

A lovingly crafted work in progress

The floors were covered in wood shavings and protective plastic, and the air was thick with fumes that tasted like stale pizza with pepperoni, double cheese, and extra carcinogens. The place was a mess, like an endless shed full of scrap. In some way, seeing the prep — the parents wrapping the presents — sort of spoils the magic. These incredible gizmos don't just materialize moments before the doors open to the public. Every piece, from the gadget to the welcome desk, has to be slowly, carefully, frustratingly constructed.

CES

Thinking about that gives these factory-made objects a needed dose of warmth and care. Whatever magic is lost seeing what happens behind the scenes, is replaced tenfold by that moment of realizing a lot of people care — truly — about this gift they're about to give, whether it's a drone, a smartwatch, or an industrial grade robot vacuum.

At the end of the journey, I reached The Verge's booth. We're in the same mindset, working overtime on a Saturday night to create something special. We're wrapping some presents for you; I hope you like them.

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