Despite having a few tentative invites, I chose not to do the 'downtown' thing on Monday. Most of the SXSW trade shows required and 'official' badge, and the few stalls that were open to all members of the public (providing you share your email address and can prove you are over 21 - not much of a problem for me as I just remove my hat!) were not enough of a draw for me to take a couple of hours off work. Samantha was of a different opinion, but as the dog had an appointment with the vet, her work time on Monday was already compromised! Perhaps, with the lack of bodies, we may have been more successful in winning some of the bigger prizes, but I had already received an email earlier in the day to say that I had won an art class at a very prestigious school in Austin. The follow up phone call advised me that this was actually for a child to attend a summer camp art school, for a whole week. Despite the fact that I think of myself as twelve, I think I would have to do something far more drastic that just keep my hat on, to pass as a child! I offered the prize to one of our servers, Jerry, and he said that his granddaughter would be delighted to accept. As a child, this to me would have been paradise. As an adult, this to me would have been paradise!
Tuesday was a different story. The morning started off very quickly. We had a stack of papers delivered and I spent the first few hours at my desk, typing furiously, then another couple at Dana's desk, as he had a meeting at the Capitol! My invite to a 'jam session' was between two and five that afternoon, and as the queues are usually rather long, I thought it would be better to arrive earlier rather than later. However, with parking at a premium, and traffic at a standstill, due to the road closures, (several sections of road are made into 'pedestrian' only areas during the festival,) Dana's return to the office was rather later than expected. Samantha and I did hit the road at around 2:30pm, and planned our route meticulously, so as to avoid the congested areas. Having worked in the mayhem for many years, we were aware of the restricted areas, and the restricted parking. We tuned our eyes to eagle and managed to espy a vehicle with reversing lights lit on the opposite side of the road. As the traffic lights turned to red, preventing the oncoming vehicles from hindering our path, she swung her vehicle across the road, and drove into the premium space. We were two blocks away from 6th Street, and four blocks up from the bar where the session was to take place.
The queue was non existent, and the bar was quite empty. We were second in line to try out the latest in guitar technology, the 'Jamstick', which in reality looks like the neck has been broken off the body of the instrument. The stick is plugged into the computer, and is played like a normal guitar. The sound is quite amazing! We both put on the headphones, and strummed away like professionals. The sound was most professional; the tune somewhat less so! However, it was fun! We received a drawstring bag for our troubles, and a few freebies which may come in useful, should I ever wish to decorate my house with stickers and motifs! We left, quite satisfied that we had been able to sample the latest in musical technology, and having entered our name into the contest to win one of these fantastic pieces of equipment, headed down the street to see if we could separate a vendor from their biggest prize!
As we walked, we spotted Bill, the mailman, who used to deliver our post when we worked in the area. He was delighted to see us, hugged us both like we were long lost friends, and asked how we were enjoying life in the slow lane, after our departure from the bright lights of downtown, although not in so many words! We chatted for a while, and he went on his way. We also dropped in on our old landlord, who was also enthusiastic with his welcome, and asked us the same question, although not in so many words! The madness downtown had not yet started, although the mayhem was in full swing.
We were welcomed as enthusiastically by most of the vendors whom had been present in previous years, and it was like we were attending a reunion. "I love your nails! I said that last year too!" was a welcome from one of the promoters at entrance to one of the tents. "Hey ladies, good to see you again. How have you been?", was the response from other's whom were inside. We collected bags, t-shirts and photos, before the departing compulsory high-five, and then exited to collect our bottled soft beverage of choice! As we left the area, we were asked, "Did you win the big prize", and upon being told that we had not, the surprised young man said, "But you have such big smiles!" The 'big prize' would have been a magnificent end to the day, but the thrill of the chase, and the enjoyment of the atmosphere is quite intoxicating to my daughter and myself. The experience that is SXSW is most exhilarating, and still feels 'new'.
Once back at the office, we emptied our bags and divied up the spoils! T-shirts, bottles of juice, tea, sodas and various other 'may be useful one day' items were all given new homes, and we felt as if the afternoon's visit to the festival had been most worthwhile.
Wednesday brought forth no invites, but the inclination was just as strong. We left the office later than anticipated for our afternoon jaunt and found the parking to be non-existent. More of the metered areas had been claimed by the festival and the signs 'Special Event Permit Holders Only', were more prolific. We rode around for about twenty minutes and finally found a whole area that had not been utilised! Samantha pulled over to the side of the road, we fed the meter, stuck the sticker on the passenger's side of the windscreen and congratulated ourselves on finding a spot to park after such a long time of driving. We could not understand why this area had been overlooked, and decided this should be our first port of call in future! It was when we realised quite how far from the 'festivities' we had parked, that we understood the reason for the lack of other vehicles. We were not only six blocks from Sixth Street, but ten blocks north of our intended target. A mile and a half is a reasonable walk when wanting to exercise, but when time is at a premium, this is not convenient! However, we started our march, and the walk was mainly downhill! Whilst still in motion, we put together a plan to return to the car. After visiting our usual haunts, collecting t-shirts, juice, iced tea, and enough drawstring bags to give to a class of five year olds in which to put their gym kit, we went to the 'free ride' stand that was hosted by Mazda. In past years, Chevrolet have been a sponsor of the festival, and they would offer a 'free ride' service. Chevys were seen all around the downtown area, picking up would pedestrians whom had decided they would rather ride than walk, and the wait for such a ride was normally around two minutes. Despite their slogan, the new sponsors did not, 'zoom, zoom'! I am sure that years of experience helped with the efficient operation run by their predecessors, and lessons will be learned, but after fifteen minutes we could wait no longer. The young lady at the stand was most apologetic and embarrassed, and we tried our best to let her know that we were not disappointed. After all, this was a courtesy offer and as I have so often said in the past, how can one complain when something is gratis. However, it did mean that we had ten minutes to walk a mile and a half, uphill! Laden down with cans, (did I mention that the 'Monster' truck was in town, with its promoters handing out cans of their special brew,) T-shirts, bottles of juice, tea, sodas and various other 'may be useful one day' items, we headed six block uphill and ten blocks over. Gladys Aylward (Inn of the sixth happiness - old movie buffs will understand) would have been proud!
Thursday afternoon's adventure was planned even more meticulously. We left the office just before 11:30am, as we had a party to attend at noon! Finding a parking space was not going to be easy, as the available spaces were diminishing daily. However, once again, eyes were switched to eagle and we spotted the white reversing lights just as did the vehicle ahead of us. There were two spaces, and as the jeep took the first, so we drove into the second and secured our spot for three hours! Before leaving the vehicle, we decided that as the party was several blocks on the east side of the Interstate, we would attend to other matters first, and perhaps forego the festivities. Instead we joined the queue at the 'Galaxy Experience'. Hosted by the company that does not name its phone after a fruit, Samsung (in my non-professional opinion) appears to be the most advanced in all things electronic! A young lady heard us talk and asked where we were from. The usual reply of "Originally from just North West of London, but we have lived in Austin for 11 years" flows so eloquently! She chatted with us for about fifteen minutes, discussing the attributes of the European way of life, and how she had brought her children up with what she called 'English manners'. We were soon at the front of the queue. I chose to have a picture put on a tote bag (as opposed to a t-shirt or cap). The young man took a picture with his phone, from a picture on my phone, used an 'app' to edit and sharpen the image, added some writing, then sent it, via his phone, to a printer, which then printed off the image, which was then transferred to the bag. Within a matter of minutes, I received a tote bag, with a picture of my grandson, and the caption 'My grandma went to SXSW '15', printed on the side. It was not the type of printing that would crack, or peel, but it was as if the picture had been woven in as part of the item. As I said, in my non-professional opinion, this was amazing!
Samantha left the Galaxy experience with a t-shirt sporting her dog, with one eye open, laying on her lap. It appeared he had 'partied too hard at SXSW'. Quite excited with our wares, we walked along to the stand that promoted a particular insurance company. "You have won", came up on Samantha's screen, as she swiped her gold coloured card that we had received last Saturday. She had asked if I would give her the t-shirt should I win, but this was not necessary. As the shirt was being printed (in the old fashioned way, and not with the same technology as was used on my tote bag!) we chatted with one of the 'staff'. He had family living in England, near Wembley Stadium, and he was delighted to meet someone (namely, me) whom had undergone the 'religious' (his words, not mine) experience of watching a football match at the most famous site. As we waited for the 'print' to cool, he offered us some juice (without the need to 'tweet') and then handed us another 'prize'. We were the recipients of another battery phone charger! I asked if we could have a pair of sun-glasses, and much to his co-workers disapproval, he obliged! Before leaving the stand, we had our daily photograph taken, and bid everyone adieu!
We arrived back at the office shortly after 3pm, without attending the party, and sorted through T-shirts, bottles of juice, tea, sodas and various other 'may be useful one day' items.
Parking the car one block closer to the centre on Friday was a blessing. Although we collected T-shirts, bottles of juice, tea, sodas and various other 'may be useful one day' items, we did not win any of the larger prizes on offer. We visited the Galaxy Experience, but chose not to queue again, even though the offer was tempting. The young lady, with the children who had the English manners, greeted us like long lost friends, and once again we were hugged enthusiastically. We visited the 'Music Extravagana' event in the Convention Center , and visited the Food Truck arena on Rainey Street. There are very few places where I feel comfortable eating snacks from such entities, but in Austin, this is the norm! As we had already eaten a rather delicious sandwich, courtesy of the Friends Bar on sixth street, scoffed whilst entertained by one of Canada's up and coming bands, I was not particularly hungry, but Samantha was still feeling a little peckish. We left with nothing, but as we walked back towards the car we received the offer of a scrumptious ice-cream wrapped in edible paper. I chose not to repeat my story from last week, and thanked the vendor profusely. Salted caramel ice-cream sandwiched between two sugar cookies, was rather delightful. We returned to the office with snack bars, individual tubs of hummus, T-shirts, bottles of juice, tea, sodas and various other 'may be useful one day' items,
All good things must come to an end, so I am told, and we made our last trip downtown on Saturday morning. Dana drove Samantha, Edward and me to the bottom of 5th Street, where we exited the car as it sat at a red traffic light. It was cold, windy and raining. My poncho, which I had requested at the Insurance tent earlier in the week, was put on, and it covered me most efficiently. We did not win any big prizes. We pushed the giant button at the Reebok 'give away', but did not leave with the latest in shoe technology. Instead each one of us received a rather nifty water bottle. I was so thrilled that the promoters asked if I would mind having a picture taken! They were not used to someone being excited at not winning the shoes! Once again, I told them that the atmosphere of SXSW is good enough to make me smile! We did not win t-shirts, but were able to create one each at one of the tents, and we wished everyone a safe journey, and promised to see them next year. I called Dana at around three o'clock and said we were ready for the chauffeur to pick us up! The rain had not dampened anyone's spirits, but had caused a couple of open-aired shows to be cancelled. We had lunched courtesy of Canada, again. We had eaten dessert, courtesy of the 'rice paper' promoters, again, and we had received enough snack bars, individual tubs of hummus, T-shirts, bottles of juice, tea, sodas and various other 'may be useful one day' items, to keep us in snacks, liquid refreshment and clothes for the foreseeable future. We left a very wet downtown and returned home.
The fact that we were no longer officing downtown did not hinder our enjoyment of the festival, this year. We were not able to make impromptu visits to all the stands as we have in the past, but the couple of hours each day, spent wandering around drinking in the atmosphere, was sufficient. It was the first year that I did not have the 'cold turkey' experience, and I must say it was a relief not to have 'the munchies' today! Passive smoking for two hours does not have the same effect as a full day experience! It was also the first time in about four years that I did not win something 'big', but I did not feel a loss. I do not purport to be an expert at tweeting or anything else that requires a 'posting' to social media, but by the time the next round of technology makes this round obsolete, I shall have perfected it!
Another year, another festival over, and another pile of fun 'giveaways', put behind us. The rain did eventually stop sometime last night, and gave way to a beautiful sunny morning. With spring break having been sprung, the children return to school tomorrow for the last couple of months of the educational year. Spring looks like it too has sprung as the temperatures are set to sore again. There is always something to look forward to, here in Austin, and I am looking forward to next weekend, where I shall be back to a normal routine. Housework, shopping, and the general 'whatever' scenario. Having no plans is quite liberating! However, I am sure that no plans will turn into a plan, as I plan to write ..... another story!