Monday morning was filled with mixed emotions. I was looking forward to the week, but anticipated a few hiccups, with a full week of the SXSW festival, seeing the end of the 'Interactive' section giving way to the 'Music', or as Dana refers to it, the 'Noisy' part of the week.
It did not take long before the first phone call. Those manning the barriers were allowing our guys down 6th Street, but those on the streets were threatening to tow anyone who parked in the designated places. I telephoned the number I had been given and left a message. When the threat happened a second time, I called again. 'Hi, is this Tracie?, came a female voice from the other end of the phone. I confirmed! 'Your guys can park in the designated places. I have spoken to the officers on duty', she continued. Tripping over my words, still rather amused that my number was obviously one to 'look for', I managed to thank her profusely. Dana, listening to my ramblings, smiled and quite out of character, called me a 'suck up'. I explained that a little bit of appreciation, courtesy and a lot of grace would probably go a long way this week. I was not wrong!
I checked my SXSW website for things to do on Tuesday morning, and saw that there was a complimentary breakfast at the Marriott Hotel, a few blocks away. It was still quiet in the office, and Samantha and I, along with George, one of our servers, headed on out! When we arrived, there was no sign of any food, just a glass booth filled with sofas and electronic gadgetry. We looked inside, wondering if there may be a burrito or taco, hiding somewhere behind a cushion, but it appeared refreshments were not available. We thanked the sponsors for their time and started our return journey. A market researcher stopped us to ask if we wished to take part in an anonymous survey, for which we would be rewarded in the shape of a gift card for Starbucks. Of course, we took the survey! I had promised myself that I would be very judicious in my collection of swag this week, but I was sure that no one would consider a $5 voucher frivolous!
Before we arrived back at the office, Samantha had already deduced that the website showing the offer of breakfast, was in fact from 2012, and it was then that we remembered how we had made the very same mistake last year! However, the week was still young, and there was still much fun to be had!
The staff on duty at the barriers had not been replaced, and they were aware of our 'VIP' standing. However, as usual, there is always one! I hold Austin's law enforcement in the highest regard for the most part, but sometimes one or two tend to be a little condescending. After being told that it was not possible, again, to park in the designated places, I asked, 'Why are our passes not valid?' One bright spark, stood akimbo (as seems to be the stance taken just before a sarcastic remark) and told me that the parking had been suspended and only those with a special permit were able to park. He continued with the age old remark, 'You may not have noticed but SXSW is going on this week'. He continued, standing akimbo, telling me that only commercial vehicles were being allowed past the blockade. The smirk did not remain upon his face for long. Smiling, on one side of my face, I asked, 'Why are our SXSW passes not valid? Why are our SXSW Commercial vehicle passes not valid?' He immediately removed his hands from his hips, and stood aside, unable to answer my question. A much more pleasant female officer, who had decided to radio through to her commander during the episode, rather than stand akimbo, told me that they were told that no one could park on the road, and perhaps our guys could pull off the road into the side street. The volunteer who was manning the barrier by our office, attempted to ease the situation, and used his radio to talk to his 'boss', who just happened to be the boss of the lady to whom I 'sucked up' on Monday! Perhaps it was not civil of me to point out to the original officer that 'A picture of a glass of beer on the side does not a commercial vehicle make'. However, upon reflection, I think he had 'tuned out', once he had been made to relinquish akimbo and merely stand aside!
I walked back into the office, and Dana asked; 'Who won?' My raised eyebrows prompted him to continue, 'Don't mess with the Englishwoman in the Stetson!' Being a 10 year native, I just added, 'Don't mess with Texas' I reminded him of his words on Monday, and suggested that 'sucking up' had an advantage! I then collected my drawstring bag and Samantha and I took ourselves off to a giant gold inflatable golf ball, on 7th Street, where we were given a nice cup of coffee in a rather fancy portable cup. When I told them that we were 'downtown' business residents, they allowed me to take back an espresso for Dana.
Once we had relayed the mornings events to our landlord, he disappeared into the crowd, in the direction of the barricades at the top of the street, and came back into our office with a telephone number for the Austin Police Department's traffic coordinator, who just happened to be the person to whom the lady police officer spoke earlier in the day. As predicted, the rest of the day ran rather smoothly.
The wristbands we collected on Saturday allowed us into the Trade Show on Wednesday. Unfortunately, I threw caution to the wind, and took every bag, pen, sticker and plastic sumo wrestler that was handed to me. There were many more new programs on show, and I was treated very kindly when I asked for explanations as to how they worked. As I was passing the Miller Lite stand, having just signed the pledge to not 'Drink and Drive', Dana called and asked to whom he should speak at the Police Department to complain about the base that was causing his windows to vibrate. I turned away from the exhibit and as I did so, three police officers walked down the aisle. I told Dana to 'hold on', and spoke to them. The female officer was very kind, and gave me some advice on whom to call. Five minutes later, she saw me along a different aisle and told me that they had received the call, and would be dealing with it. She was none other than the 'person in charge', who had provided her contact details to our landlord the previous day. I was appreciative, most courteous and very gracious, something that my husband may have put in the 'Suck up' category!
A very large black bus drove into our car park late on Wednesday, followed by a white vehicle with large perspex windows which pulled up on the opposite side of the road. I went to investigate. The white bus was promoting the new 4G Chevrolet. Apparently, next year, it will be possible to make your car into your lounge, or perhaps your lounge into your car. I am afraid I was not a particularly good potential customer, as I could not see the advantage of being able to play video games, as well as being able to stream movies, in a car not much bigger than my mini! It was explained to me (as if it had to be!) that the sixty two inch TV screen did not have to be part of the package, and you could actually stream everything on your 'tablet'. For example, if you were on a road trip, at the end of the day you would pull up into the car park of your hotel, sit in the back of your car and watch a movie. I nodded, resisting asking the obvious question, 'Why would you not just go inside the hotel, and enjoy the comfort of the bed, or a sofa?' Obviously, I am far too old to relish the opportunity of being couped up, knees under my chin, shivering, whilst watching aliens take over New York!
The bus that occupied our car park was of far more interest. It was a 'dunking tank'. Prizes could be won for 'dunking'. One of the Chevy representatives explained the procedure to me, as he had been with the 'Crackerjack' team last year. The idea was to hit a target that was on the side of the bus, and if you managed to pound the bulls eye, the seat would drop and someone would be 'dunked'. I nodded, understanding the concept, but unsure of who would want to go into the 'tank'. He laughed, quite genuinely, and further explained that it was not a member of the general public that was 'dunked', but one of the Crackerjack team. (For those Brits who remember the TV series of the same name, you will understand how hard it was for me not to shout 'Crackerjack', each time he said the word!) 'Thank goodness for that', I replied. 'I wont have to dig out my bikini then!' He laughed again, and told me that he would 'put in a good word', if I wanted him to! I declined the offer!
The walk to and from the car each day was certainly good exercise, but it did not stop me from enjoying a stroll twice a day to see what was new! Extending the offer of a 'restroom' to the volunteer controlling the flow of vehicles outside our office, was worth its weight in gold, as both the police traffic coordinator and the 'Event' road closure coordinator did not always answer their phones. Our man on the street, however, had a two way radio! One good turn (suck up) deserved another, and if there was a problem with over conscientious volunteers blocking the way at one end of the road, a golf cart would be seen whizzing up from the other end and the occupant made sure that our way through was clear! However, this was a daily ritual! By Friday afternoon, not even the larger trucks carrying the Amber nectar were permitted to enter 6th Street. George, whom we had taken on the wild goose chase on Monday, called to say that he had not been allowed to drive down to his designated space, and I saw red. Marching with phone and two business cards in hand, I strode to the barriers and asked the young officer why he was preventing my member of staff from accessing his office. He was following orders, and would, under no circumstances, allow entry to any vehicle, whether it had a pass or not! It would appear that the young man had already been on his radio to his boss, who just happened to be the lovely lady I met at the trade show! She arrived, via golf cart, recognised me immediately, and extended her hand to shake, before attempting to explain the dangers of letting a car down the heavily pedestrian occupied street. I was very courteous, and polite and (sucking up for one last time) understood her position completely, but let her know that our business, one of delivering court documents (I threw that phrase around more than once) was in jeopardy! Our guys needed to be able to access the office. Of course I was willing to work with her, and if she would allow us to park just in front of the barriers, and exit by the same, extending the limit of our stay from 30 minutes to perhaps a couple of hours, we would only require one more go around this afternoon. My appreciation of her understanding, together with overwhelming courtesy, led to her graciously demanding the young officer pave the way. He was not happy, but I chose not to be ungracious and kept the told you so look to myself! When I received the call from our second server, Samantha, who takes on the attributes of a rottweiler during Southby week, said she would go and take care of it! The young police officer, apparently, removed the barrier once he saw the coveted pass, and told her that we had already overridden his authority, and asked how many more people we had working for us that would require the same courtesy! She was polite, but I would imagine slightly less gracious than me, (she doesn't do 'suck up) and replied, 'This is the last one'. She told me that she smiled at him. I would hazard a guess that it is was more of a sneer, but would not make a definite accusation!
Friday was definitely a 'fun day'. The Crackerjack (Crackerjack) people were handing out samples of their 'snacks', and had buckets of packets for everyone to take. (They gave us enough to last us a year.) Lunch was courtesy of Canada! The bar that was hosting bands from north of the border, provided delicious barbecue, which I brought back for Dana. As we made our way back to the office, a group of young men were standing in the middle of the road promoting a rapper by the name of David Cash. Somewhat bemused, they handed me a large foam hand, into which I put my own hand, and proceeded to wave it in the same manner as them. Their laughter indicated that the believed me to be oblivious to the 'gang' sign that I was making. Although I am not entirely au fait with its actual meaning, I am not as naive as they assumed! However, their laughter was not mean, and it did capture the attention of the rapper whom they were promoting. He jumped out of the bar where he was performing with another group (I have no idea who they are, but then that is not surprising! Samantha was somewhat familiar with their music, but then that is not surprising!) and lunged towards me. 'Take a picture', he shouted, delighted that the future 'grandma of the year' (sorry mum and Elise, you will have to share the prize three ways!) was advertising his music. He took the CD that I had been handed, and pointed to his name, and with an enormous grin on his face, announced, 'that is me!' I had visions of him showing the picture to his own mother, letting her know that even mature (and dare I say, well dressed) ladies appreciate his music. I appreciated the courtesy and graciousness of the young man, who may have laughed at my expense later on, but certainly did not do so in my presence!
Leaving the office on Friday was a welcome event. We walked the three blocks to the car, for the last time. Dana and I took the dog home, as Samantha and Edward had decided to spend the evening downtown. I was happy to leave, and even contemplated not returning for the Saturday morning finale! However, curiosity got the better of me, and the need to scan the various cards that had been placed around my neck on fabric loops, grew throughout my waking hours! I chose to drive myself on Saturday, so that I could leave whenever I wished, rather than rely on a lift from my daughter and her husband. The parking place was empty apart from Dana's car, with the lot just above us charging a mere $25 for the day (most places were between $30 and $40) filling up rapidly. By the time my offspring and her spouse arrived, the rain had petered out to a slight drizzle, and we walked to the office, where Dana was finishing up his morning's work, ready to leave SXSW forever! After transferring my driving license, camera and phone to my drawstring bag, I was ready to make one final circuit of the north side of the river activities, and strode out onto the front porch. I once again thanked the volunteer manning the barrier outside our office, and the road planner who had just driven up in his golf cart, for their part in keeping our business flowing during the week. This was from the heart as there was no need for a give and take scenario! They were very appreciative of my appreciation!
The booth where I had been successful in acquiring the $50 gift card last week had run out of $50 gift cards, and were handing out some super-duper organic fruit and vegetable smoothies, of which I was not fond, but I knew a guy who was! The inability to enter to win appeared to offend some people, and they were most impolite to those manning the station. It would seem that they would rather have the chance of seeing 'bummer, you did not win today', on the screen of a tablet, than being told, 'you can't enter'. The staff thanked us for our understanding, something that we found rather amusing. After all, they were giving away free gifts, and if the gifts ran out, then so be it! We acquired a final 2014 t-shirt from another haunt, and were hugged quite tightly by those staffing another. Apparently, we had been 'good sports', and they had enjoyed our enthusiasm at losing every day! After a quick trip to lose again at another stand in the Convention Center, I was ready to leave. Samantha insisted that I do one more circuit around sixth, and no sooner had we entered Old Pecan Street were we pounced upon by yet another promoter. 'Of course', was the answer to his question, 'would you like to sample some cheese?' The 'Old School Bar and Grill' was set up like a grocery store, with many vendors promoting their wares, as well as samples of recipes from a book that had been compiled, emerging on trays from the kitchen area. This became the highlight of the week for me (sorry David Cash) and I asked where if I could rent a room for the remainder of the festival!
I waddled back to the office, and offered the use of the bathroom to the volunteer who still manned the barriers outside, giving one final piece of proof that I am not all business. The appreciation, courtesy and gratitude was beyond measure, as he commented, in not so many words, that my timing was perfect! I left Samantha and Edward in the office as I made my way back to my car. I laughed out loud, after I said, out loud, 'Goodbye, South-by!' It was to be our last time experiencing the festival from downtown, as we are moving offices further north. Samantha and Edward arrived back to collect the dog a little after 7, and joined us for dinner. They had ventured farther out, seen 'Snoopdog', and a couple of other bands at a place called Butler Park.
There appeared to be a different atmosphere about the festival this year. Samantha and I pondered at the possibilities. Perhaps it was because this was the last time we would be in the thick of it, or perhaps it was because we did not 'win' prizes to go and see some of the more well known bands, as we have in the past (although many well known names played at the venues by our office, and were visible from the sidewalk). The passive smoking was also mainly cigarette smoke, as opposed to a more fruity variety. We finally agreed that one of the main differences was that practically all the booths were erected for the entire week, so there were no 'new' things to look for, apart from the stands behind our office.
The city will no doubt be very clean and tidy tomorrow, after the clean up crew get to work tonight. It will be as if nothing had happened, and Austin will wait for the next big one. I was not sorry to wave farewell yesterday, but it will seem strange not being on the corner of the world next year, at this time. Strangely enough, although I shall still go 'downtown' for all the activities that take part, I feel as if another chapter of my life has closed. Having said that, life in Austin is still life in Austin, and there will be many more events, downtown or otherwise, that will give me cause to write ..... another story.