Cigars and superheros

The sprawling exhibit floor of the Offshore Technology Conference being held in Houston this week is covered with valves and pipes, engines and compressors, large-scale models of tankers and real remotely operated submarine vehicles. But let’s take a look at what conventioneers really look forward to — the loot.
Naturally, you’re got your standard bowls of hard candy alongside company logo pens and mini flashlights. Nothing too exciting there. But some companies have ratcheted it up a notch.
Superior Energy has hand-rolled cigars and hot sauce at its booth. Francisco Aguilar is deveining dried tobacco leaves, handrolling the smokes and finishing them off in a wooden press. It’s working. Everybody is buzzing about Superior’s booth.
But that’s not all. Superior is running a trivia challenge several times a day asking questions about how oil wells work. The top three place holders in each round get to take home iPods, satellite radio setups and GPS tracking systems. Beats the heck out of a yardstick.
Another company has gone to great lengths to attract attention to itself by having bright yellow “superheros” roam the floor in fairly revealing costumes replete with molded six-pack abs and codpieces.
A lot of people are stopping to have their pictures taken with them. One conventioneer compared them to the Ambiguously Gay Duo of Saturday Night Live fame. And while everybody appears to have seen them, nobody seems to remember which company they’re associated with. Perhaps a plastic and polymers outift?
Rota Engineering, which is stuck out in one of the Pavilions that had to be set up to accomodate overflow booths, has a more cultural attention-grabbing gimmick — a Scottish pipe major plays the bagpipes every morning at 10:45.
The OTC isn’t the the no-holds-barred bacchanal it once was during oil’s heyday in the late 1970s and early 1980s, where the alcohol flowed freely all day long and the fabled “booth girls” on the convention floor gave new meaning to the term “service company.” But some of the country-specific booths have interesting entertainment options.
In Venezuela’s corner, the Petroleos de Venezuela booth is tricked out with a bar, candles, plush couches and a lounge act that plays all day long. If the fluorescent lights in Reliant Center were turned out, it might be mistaken for a nightclub.
Scotland’s setup is serving Tunnock’s Snowballs — a gooey, chocolate coconut-covered marshmallowy mess that I’m told is quite popular in Aberdeen. Of course, at 3:30 p.m. they switched to scotch.