Once again, it is 'that time of year' again, when our quirky, yet polite, city, turns from images of 'Stepford', to 'Village of the Damned'.
Although the music part of the festival South by South West, is not scheduled to start until the middle of the week, by Wednesday morning, last week, the clear plastic wrapping had adorned the columns of our Conference Center, ready for the onslaught of posters that would be pasted over more posters. The inhabitants of Austin were bracing themselves for the tornado that made our city its home.
Earlier in the week, we had received our 'passes' that enable us to drive along the roads that have been closed to through traffic, and our office landlord had suggested that we have both this, and the permit we have for our parking lot, in a very prominent place on our dashboard, as he was going to have the tow company on standby, to remove any vehicles that were not displaying the correct paperwork. Unidentified cars were already starting to invade our area, and tolerance was running at an all time low.
Our car park is not open to the public during the day, and during the festival, the gate is partially closed, should anyone not quite understand the very subtle sign, which reads; 'Private parking, no public parking, towing is enforced'. However, it appears that a partially closed gate is like the proverbial glass. Some see it has half open, and 'private' is such a capitalist word! Occasionally, during the year, the landlord has taken pity on someone in an emergency, and allowed them to leave their vehicle for a couple of hours, if there is a free place. The onus is placed on me, when the landlord is not around, to play 'attendant', and I am not as merciful during event weeks. 'But he let me put my car here before', worked once. However, as soon as I was told that it had been purely on a humanitarian level, I vowed not to be fooled again. I do not succumb to feminine wiles; perhaps it was because I could never wear shorts that short, even when I was her age, nor did I wear a hairband under my t-shirt, let alone wearing one instead of a top! I was simply being firm. Jealousy is such an ugly word!
Saturday morning saw some more unauthorised vehicles, but as they were not insensitive enough to use the spaces that have actual designated plaques, we turned a blind eye. Samantha and I had decided to walk the streets before the masses arrived. Despite the rain, the streets were as crowded as most major cities on Christmas Eve. We managed to accumulate some candy floss (cotton candy), a small bag of granola and a fruit bar, in less than ten minutes. I had the foresight to bring a small backpack, just in case. The rain started to pour, and was not draining away very quickly. I splashed my way through the gutters, feeling quite liberated in my plastic mac and pink wellies, marched through the Conference Center with wild abandonment, and out the other side, by which time the rain had trickled down to little more than a drizzle.
We trekked across the river, via the bridge, and visited our next port of call; The games section. Having been chastised last year, for calling 'interactive' games, 'board' games, I was much more careful when I saw the stand. 'Have you ever played Catan', I was asked, by a very enthusiastic gamer. On reflection, the answer, 'no, but I have sprinkled it on my spaghetti', was not a good idea, but fortunately, my sarcasm was water off a duck's back, and I was invited to sit in on a game that had already been started. Enthusiasts do not always make the best teachers, despite their passion, as fervor overtakes simplicity. In the fifteen minutes that I waited to throw the dice, I learned nothing; my mentor attempted to explain the rules, but failed. I knew how the game progressed; I knew that one who was good at mathematics would have an advantage (although I did not know how) and I knew the final objective. However, once the cubes were rolled, I was completely lost. It didn't take long to pick up the basic rudiments, as it seemed to be a mixture of several games I had played before. Similar to Monopoly in some ways, it had elements of 'Fish' and 'Happy Families', as well as a few other card games that I had played in years gone by. Once I had grasped the concept, and was actually moving ahead quite swiftly, the lady next to me received a phone call, and left the table, never to return.
Waving a fond farewell to my new friend, being that we could not tempt another passer by to join us, as it seems Gastric Warrior, or a similar named video game, was preferable to sitting and interacting with humans, as opposed to avatars, Samantha and I left the building. Edward was parked in the restaurant opposite, and the rain had started again. We drove back to the office, where a couple more alien vehicles had appeared, and we parked in our designated spot, with the required paperwork displayed prominently upon the dash.
The Conference Center was now heaving, and we strolled along the corridors, stopping to retrieve more items to fill my backpack. A vending machine with notebooks caught my eye, and I meandered over to the stand. As I picked up the information booklet, I asked the young man on the stand; 'What does it do?, and how does it work'. As the booklet opened, the words at the top of page one were 'What does this do?', and page two explained, 'How does this work?' Unlike my conscientious gamer, and with a look that said, 'Why do I always get the wrinklies?', the promoter looked at me, hands in pockets, head to one side, and said, 'I guess we should have made it more plain!' Very smugly, he took a step back, waiting for me to go on my way. Memories of Kathy Bates, in Fried Green Tomatoes came flooding back, where she told the two girls who stole her parking space, 'I was waiting for that', and they replied, 'Face it lady; we are younger and faster'. Ms Bates went into her alter ego and rammed the car. As they came back screaming, she simply said, 'Face it girls, I'm older and have more insurance.' If I had been wearing glasses, I would have slid them down my nose, and peered over them. Instead, I raised my eyebrows, slightly pursed my lips, and in Ms Bates fashion, went into, 'Towanda!' I missed out the phrase, 'Young man', but continued, 'It has been a very long, wet day. Would you like to explain to me, in the simplest terms you can, what this does, and how it works?' He had just metaphorically been called into the principals office! His explanation of how the 'app' allows your phone to act as a credit card, was rather interesting, albeit somewhat concerning, as once again we are heading towards a cashless, and now cardless, society. Once he had explained, to my satisfaction, he stood back, as if waiting for a commendation. Instead, I said, 'and the books in the vending machine?' Through gritted teeth, he asked if I wanted a demonstration. Oh come on! What do you think? 'Yes', I said, bluntly. He had just handed in his homework, that he had spent all night preparing, and I had given him an 'F'! I got my demonstration, and my book, and even a 'have a nice day'.
In everything I showed an interest, I was asked to download an 'app', Ask me to read a map, and I'm your girl. Give me a puzzle to solve, and I'm your girl. Ask me to analyse a psychopath, and I'm your girl. Ask me to download an app and I am totally lost. I get given the t-shirt, a) because they feel sorry for me, and b) because the queue forming behind me leads back to Oklahoma! Despite my qualification in Information and Computer Technology (of which I am very proud), I am almost cell phone illiterate. I say, almost, because there are some things that I can do. I am proficient, now, in making calls, and receiving them. I can check emails, but don't as a rule, (in case one needs a reply,) and I can send a photo. The thought of using it to pay for a take out at a Drive-Thru seems a little excessive.
Although thunder storms were forecast for three days, we thought that there may be some respite. Unfortunately, this was not to be, and as we left the Conference Center we chose to take advantage of the plastic ponchos that were being handed out. Edward and Samantha were very grateful, as apparently, I do not hold the umbrella properly. I wasn't getting wet, so I have no idea why they were complaining! However, I did complain, as the next stop was ten blocks down, and two blocks over. I was not so concerned about the walk down, but knew that we were going to have to walk back, in the rain, with the temperature dropping considerably.
Austin's Second Street is a rather well kept secret. It has restaurants and bars, together with a small cinema and a grocery store. It also has a warehouse type building that was hosting an 'IT' recruitment center. Job hunters wore a red wrist band, and potential employers a black one. As I walked in, with my dripping brolly, I was asked, 'Are you looking for a job, or are you looking for an employee'. I was cold, wet and very tired. It was 4 o'clock and I had been up since 6.30am, and on my feet for most of the time, but I refrained from being rude, as he was, at least, polite, if not overbearingly joyous. I told him, with my best smile, 'neither'. I walked around, quite aimlessly, collecting pens and notepads, and various other items that were being given freely, as most people did not relish the thought of packing up everything they had unpacked. I had business cards thrust in my hands, with invitations to send my resume', even though I was not wearing a red wrist band. 'What do you do?' I asked many times. 'Send me your resume' was the answer. 'Do I have to be qualified to know what you do?' was not responded to. 'Have a pen!' was the way to remove me from their breathing space. Armed with a bottle of water, and cookie, I exited the building, and waited for the other two, and we walked back the many blocks to pick up the car.
The rain will not dampen the festival, I am sure, and the show will go on. I am having a very relaxing Sunday at home, as this week will be rather crazy. Next Sunday, I will no doubt be detoxing from all the fumes breathed in during the week, and life will get back to normal, or as normal as it can in our city. Keeping Austin Weird this coming week will be much easier than usual, and perhaps....