It was a strange sensation to receive an 'inbox' full of emails regarding South by Southwest and not be able to look out of the office window to see the trucks full of scaffolding, portaloos, and enough beer to sink an Armada, together with the building crowds of people from all walks of life!
My tickets for Saturday's 'drop-in', had been printed a couple of weeks ago, and I had procured my 'guest wristband' from a local store. I felt a slight surge of regret for our move out of the downtown area, but decided not to dwell on something over which I had no control. Dana had suggested that I take some time off over the next week, provided I could coerce one of my co-workers into taking me to the heart of the festivities, but more importantly, get one of them to pick me up later!
The invites to the 'grand opening' parties, were not claimed by anyone, as is the norm, but I printed them off, and left them in a 'common' area, should anyone decide that this would be the year to attend an official event.
By Friday, my name was entered into a few dozen websites, and it had been selected for several VIP parties, and contests. I am not sure as to whether I have to attend the party in order to claim the prize, but time will tell. Samantha was quite convinced that I will walk away with something of significance before the week is out! I have explained that the number of contests I do win, are relevant to the amount I enter. Considering I enter my name into quite a few contests during the week, the amount of times I win is quite negligible. However, the probability becomes higher the more I enter. She maintained that I am just a 'lucky' person!
Saturday morning was very pleasant. The sun was shining and the temperature promised to be amicable for the day's activities. In years past, (in fact in every year that I can remember,) we have collected a plastic poncho, from one promoter or another, to shield ourselves from the heavy showers that have always been prolific during the first weekend of the festival. However, no clouds were in the sky, and the rain was going to stay away. I finished my modicum of housework, and called Samantha to see if she had an estimated time of arrival, so that I could advise Dana as to what time his chauffeuring services would be required! By ten fifteen, we were on our way to the downtown area. I had dressed in a pair of jeans, a denim shirt, a pair of trainers (tennis shoes) and a sweater, just in case! I carried a small drawstring bag, with a bottle of water, just in case! The traffic was not particularly heavy and Dana as able to stop the car opposite the hotel where we were planning to make our first stop. We bid farewell to my husband and the dog, as they made their way back to the north side of town!
The foyer of the relatively new JW Marriott Hotel was busy, but very bright, and most welcoming. We had watched the construction, as we had watched the construction of many hotels downtown, in the years we rented an office on 6th street, but very rarely entered any of the facilities. The staff were all smiling, and ready to help, even though the notice board gave clear directions to the various events that were hosted by the hotel. We rode the escalator to the second floor and found Griffin Hall, which was full of exhibit stands, but not very well humanly populated. Although we had procured our 'guest wristband', earlier, they were piled high on the tables set up outside the hall, and this proved to be most advantageous later on in the morning!
I was not actually looking for a job, but was curious as to what was 'out there'. This was my response to most of the people who asked if I was interested in employment! Whilst I am very happy working with my husband, I have always been interested in the Information-Communication Technology industry and all the new information that is available. Despite being fascinated, I also find it quite terrifying that the industry has advanced with such great leaps and bounds. "That is why we have these battery chargers", was the answer to my question, "What if the electricity went down for days, and you could not charge your phone?" I was not trying to be difficult (surprise, surprise) nor was I trying to be obtuse, but as I was shown the latest in 'blue tooth' technology, and directed to a website that would do everything except whiten my teeth, I posed the conundrum. It is an enigma to some of the younger generation, that the possibility of a complete 'black out' could render the use of this sophisticated technology, useless. To comprehend a power cut that would last long enough not only to cause the battery on the mobile phone, laptop and other android devices to die, but also to sap all the energy from these new, sophisticated little battery packs that I had been given, that can be used to recharge when you are in a remote area, was all but impossible. Most of the young people who were demonstrating the latest and greatest, could not remember a computer that would not work without a permanent cord connection to a power outlet, let alone a telephone that purely made calls! I was waiting for someone to say "What's that", when I asked to borrow a pen!
However, I digress. I wandered around the great hall, and chatted to some of the exhibitors, who were happy to listen to the English accent. As well as soliciting possible employees, they were also happy to promote their wares, and some were quite useful. I was always polite, asking "May I have", when taking a bag, flash drive, box of mints, or Mood light USB hub! (The latter being the most elaborate fun piece of equipment I have seen.) Who can live without a pair of sunglasses with 'bottle opener' arms!
The ice-cream for breakfast was a very enjoyable accompaniment to the coffee. The young lady who handed me the treat explained that the wrapper which was used to hold the delicacy was, in fact, edible. She seemed delighted to promote this wonderful product, and explained that I could eat the ice-cream as well as the wrapper. "We used to call this 'rice-paper'", I said, quite tickled that I had been given what would have constituted a whole sheet. She was a little perplexed as to my enthusiasm, as it was not for the ingenuity of the product, but because it appeared to evoke a childhood memory. I explained that years ago my mother used to bake cookies on this paper, to stop the mixture sticking to the baking tray. It was really a prequel to the now oft-used parchment paper, and my sister and I would tear off pieces to eat, because it was edible paper. My mother would reprimand our behaviour as it was rather expensive. The fact that I had been given a whole sheet was absolutely magnificent! Although she smiled, I could tell that my explanation had dampened some of the enthusiasm the promoter first had for her product, but I 'ooh'd' and 'ahh'd' graciously in her direction, to try and revive some of the spark that had been extinguished!
The drawstring bag that I had brought with me to collect my 'swag' was soon one of many. The water that I had carefully drawn from my own tap, and caught in a plastic container, was also unnecessary. We "tweeted" in order to obtain the latest in 'hot and cold' thermal containers, and 'linkedin' to receive other wondrous presents. Some stands did have pens, as well as notepads, and other twentieth century relics which were used by an ancient civilisation that thought it was more advanced than its predecessors!
It appears that I was willing to relocate to achieve my dream job. One of the little pink stickers that were handed out to let the recruiters know that a person was willing to up sticks and move to another area, had made its way, quite literally, to the seat of my pants. On the back pocket of my jeans, I displayed that I was not averse to moving my life to not only another city, but to another state! Although Minnesota is one of the four states left to visit, I do not think that it would be on my list of retirement areas. They do have real winters, and having lived in Austin for the past 11 years, I have acclimatised to a warmer climate. However, the seat of my pants indicated otherwise, and it was a while before my daughter came to my rescue and explained that the little pink sticker had probably been put there by accident! (By whom, and why, I am not sure....perhaps by the 'rice paper' lady, to prevent my interaction when she next promoted the product! I jest!) Not perturbed, the recruiter was happy to hand me a tiny battery pack which would recharge my phone in case of emergencies, in the remotest of areas, be it in the state of ten thousand lakes, or that of the lone star!
Most of the jobs were for those who were equipped for the IT world. I hovered around the Union Pacific stand, in the hope of asking if I could take one of their shopping bags, and a very nice older gentleman, one nearer my age than that of the other stands, asked if I was interested in any of the technology positions available. "No", I answered honestly, "I want to drive a train", I joked. Fortunately, being of like age, he found my humour to be amusing, despite his counterpart gawping in disbelief! The older gentleman took time to explain the life of a train driver, on the Union Pacific railroad, and I listened with interest. The welfare of the driver is indeed paramount in their company, and although it is not a social job, the employees are well compensated. I thanked him for his time, and explanation which I did find quite interesting, and he appeared to be happy to have been led off track for a while!
Eventually, we left the Griffin Hall, and I sat myself in a corner of the second level of the JW Marriott hotel, and consolidated my dozen or so bags, into a manageable amount. In doing so, my wristband must have slipped into one of the carriers, and as those carrying were full to capacity, I chose not to empty the contents and search. Instead, I took full advantage of the pile that were on the tables outside the hall, as mentioned earlier!
Our next stop was the 'drop-in' at a well known establishment on 6th Street. Maggie Mae's has a terrace bar that overlooks the Old Pecan Street and Samantha, Edward and I sat watching the world go by! We enjoyed lunch which consisted of quesadillas, barbeque beef sliders, and various other tidbits that were all delicious. Edward took advantage of the free bar, as did Samantha and I, but we chose to remain non-alcoholic! It was not as well attended as in previous years, and we did have a schedule, so we could not stay for too long.
We visited one of the 'insurance' promoters along the way to the Convention Center, and had a couple of photos taken, for this year's album! One of the event personnel asked where we were from, and we explained (again) that although originally from London, we have lived in Austin for 11 years. She asked how many SXSW festivals we have attended, and Samantha and I looked at each other, nodded, and said, in unison, "Eleven!" It was the young ladies second attendance, but she remembered it to be raining the previous year, and said that her colleagues had mentioned that it rained every year, on the first weekend of the festival. I reiterated my story about the ponchos, and after collecting our juice from the juice bar, and not winning the contest for a free t-shirt, we headed south.
The Convention Center was, as usual, a hubbub of excitement. People were running in all directions, and there were several stands and exhibits. When I did not win the 'star' prize, Samantha looked shocked! She announced that she could not believe I had gone all day without winning something! I explained that this was what I meant by the 'odds' being proportional to the amount of contests entered. She had entered the same amount as me, and also not won. She determined that this was the case, but still maintained that I was usually 'luckier' than she in this respect.
We walked across the bridge over the Colorado River to the Palmer Center, which housed the gaming expo. Most of the exhibitions were in the dark, and there was little to interest my technological minded son-in-law. In the past, my daughter and her husband have driven me to the event, and gone to another event. I have been happy to sit and play board games (even though they are now referred to as personal interactive games, or similar wording) and spent many an hour showing a nine year old that it can be fun to sit around a table and shuffle cards, and move objects around a piece of coloured cardboard, without the need for electricity or mind-bending flashing lights! However, this year I had company and our time was limited. Exiting, slightly underwhelmed, I realised that I was alone. I did not panic, as there had not been a mass outage, and my phone was still working (I could see the young person at the job-fair saying "Told you so", as the first thing I did was reach for the mobile) and after a minute or two, I called Samantha. Amazingly it did not go to voicemail and she said that she could see me, and that I should stay exactly where I was and they would come and rescue me! I believed that it was they whom needed rescuing as, at least. I was in the foyer where it was light!
I called Dana to tell him that we were ready to leave, and he said he would probably be about twenty minutes. Unfortunately, we then found the 'fun' section of the Interactive exhibitions. I did not have a chance to try on the virtual goggles, which would have transported me to a desert island, but instead I watched as someone lay down on a hammock and swung his way to paradise, with the help of a pair of glasses. Maybe next year! We did win a t-shirt each and after a quick glance at all the stands, went to meet Dana who had already circled the area once, after being 'moved on' by the local gendarme. Fortunately, the traffic was rather slow moving, which allowed us to jump into the car as it sat, stationary, in a queue leading back across the bridge. We turned off the main road and headed north, and returned home without encountering too much congestion.
I spent about thirty minutes, divvying up the swag, after Samantha and Edward had reclaimed their puppy and left. Dana was rather impressed with the battery chargers, as well as the mood light USB hub, although he, too, concluded that the lights were perhaps overkill.
Today was much quieter. I had considered that we would perhaps make a Sunday trip downtown, considering we would not be in the 'thick' of it next week. Samantha and Edward dropped in to deliver a beautiful vase full of flowers, as it is Mother's Day in England, and invited us to a special 'Proper Mother's Day Barbeque!' this evening. She decided that after 11 years, a surprise meeting at a restaurant, for lunch or dinner, would no longer be a surprise, but more of an expected! It remains to be seen whether I play hooky next week during working hours, as I am not sure as to which events I will be invited. I have my guest wristband safely stored, as they will probably not be so easily obtained as the festival continues. I do think that a couple of trips downtown are on the agenda during the week, but I shall definitely (barring any unforeseen disasters) return next Saturday. The crowd will be different, and the opportunities to grab swag less likely, but there will be plenty of fun still to be had! Of course, this time net week, SXSW 2015 will be all over bar the shouting, which will mean that, electricity permitting, I shall be sitting at my computer, writing........... another story!