The temperature on Monday was going to rise to the mid 80's and it was going to remain there for most of the week. I had taken my 'walking' clothes into the office on Monday morning, and was very glad that I chose a short sleeved shirt, rather than a t-shirt, as the sun was beating down on my back, as we walked twelve blocks down and six across to take part in the SXSW activities at the beginning of the week. Some of the 'regulars' were not in attendance this year, and we did notice the lack of any 'smoker' tents. In the past the tobacco company Marlboro have had several tents around the town, as have some of the electronic cigarette companies. However, this year there was no sign of anything that resembled attributes of what has become known as the 'bad habit'.
We walked nearly four miles on Monday, after parking the car, walking up and down the hills that makes up the Austin terrain, and returning to the vehicle. As we approached the area proper, Samantha espied the Mr Robot ferris wheel. Unfamiliar as I am with the programme, I was more than happy to get a t-shirt for Edward, but less than happy when I saw the queue. We stood in line, waiting to get to the front, and watched as those behind us took 'pre-printed' shirts, none of which, apparently, were what my daughter wanted for her husband! Eventually, we reached the front and the boy printing the shirts thought it was amusing that I would not verbalise the design I wanted, as it was a little contrary. I did not have the energy to tell him that I did not have the energy to say it! He continued to laugh as he handed me a shirt with a design upon it, and the logo on the back. I did not have the energy to crack a smile! However, as we left the area, employees of the company whom employs my son-in-law was handing out cartons of water! I drank virtually the entire contents of one carton, reviving me to full capacity, but surprisingly did not feel the need to go back and rea Mr. Robot the riot act! There was little else going on in the area, and once we had completed the 'obligatory' scanning of our little gold cards at the 'insurance' tents, and collecting a few candy bars, that were this year's latest product from manufacturers whose wares fill the supermarket shelves, we decided to call it a day! My back pack was full of energy drinks, energy bars, candy, and a few canvas shopping bags.
Our trip downtown on Tuesday was a little more organised. We did not waste time hunting for parking spaces anywhere near the centre, and as we headed towards the mayhem, I commented that this is what we had been in 'training' for, all the winter months, when we have been taking our daily constitutionals around the block, where the 'hills and dales' are just as steep. After scanning our passes, and not winning the 'big' prize, but collecting our consolation gift, we headed out of the back of the Convention Center to see what was still around. Hot dogs, popcorn and donuts were still being offered to anyone who wanted to peruse the latest in web design, or merely enjoy hot dogs, popcorn and donuts! I would imagine that to cover the cost of advertising, only a small percentage need to 'sign up' or 'buy', to justify the amount spent on free food and beverages. As I have mentioned, I find the whole 'technogology' thing both fascinating and terrifying, but it is always worth a look! We had our obligatory pictures taken, for our own scrapbook as well as the promoters.
My ability to 'tweet' on my phone became more and more advanced, and not only could I add a message to my 'twitter board', (or whatever it is called,) but I managed to work out how to add a picture. I felt as if my skill set was approaching the 21st century, as opposed to being stuck in the previous millennium! Although still somewhat primitive, I was at least on the train!
By Wednesday, the festival was in full swing! The musicians had arrived, and although the 'techies' had completed their course, the coming weekend was going to be for the 'gamers', so there was still a lot to look forward to (or not)! As we left the Convention Center, still not winning the 'big' prize, a young lady asked if we would like an ice-cream sundae. Why not, we thought! After showing our ID to the volunteers at the door, we entered a building that had been set up with 'virtual reality' studios, and an ice-cream station. We were served with our dessert, and were ushered over to the far end of the building where there was a queue. Unsure why we were standing in line, but happy to do so while eating our ice-cream, and being in an air conditioned building, (the temperatures were soaring in to the 90's outside,) we watched as a boy appeared to be dancing behind a glass partition. The 'moves' were rather awkward, and we were all curious. It was explained that the young lad was in fact wearing 'virtual reality' goggles and was in a 'virtual reality' room. It was rather amusing to watch. "Badge holders have priority, and you may not get in", shouted the lady at the entrance to whatever it was we were queuing for. I looked at Samantha and she looked back at me, and we shrugged our shoulders. We decided that we would finish our ice-cream and leave, but as this was determined, the barrier was released, and we were counted in the next 'group' to enter into a new arena. It was a mock restaurant, with a kitchen along one wall, and touch screen computers along another. Wooden (pine) tables were set up, with stools and benches. It would appear that someone else was coming in to the 21st century with a vengeance! The hamburger company that is depicted by the arches of gold were renovating their restaurants. We stood in line, waiting to reach the monitor and when we reached the front, we were asked if we would like to try the 'burger experience'. When in Rome, etc! Of course! A picture of a beef patty was displayed, and I touched, "Yes". This was followed by a list of 'add-ons', and then a choice of bun and sauce. I chose an artisan bun, and topped my burger with a tomato, lettuce, grilled mushrooms and onions, cheese, pickles, guacamole, and sriracha sauce. A lady standing behind me thought it would be polite to shout that my choice of mayonnaise and guacamole was ridiculous, and I would be sorry. Resisting the urge to tell her "don't knock it 'till you try it", I smiled at the hostess who was helping me place my order, and ignored the bystander. However, she seated herself on the table opposite mine, and watched, as my meal was delivered by a smiling waiter. As I took my first mouthful, she noticeably nudged her friend and pointed! My first response was 'amazing'! My eyes lit up and I was delighted with the burst of flavour that hit my taste buds. The look of shock, more than disappointment, was visible on my attacker's face, but what she did not realise was that the amazement was for the 'whole experience', rather than just the lethal combination. Was this really the hamburger company that is depicted by the arches of gold? The meat was good. The bun was fabulous, and the whole thing was just delicious. It was served in a wire basket with a portion of chips, (fries,) fried to perfection, in its own little basket. Despite the fact that we realised it would have been wise to have the ice-cream after the burger, it did not deter from the experience. As we were eating, we were approached by a gentleman who asked us what we thought! I answered honestly! I could not believe this was from his company. He was as delighted as me. (Not only with the taste, but also with the dumbfounded look on the face of the lady who was seated at the table opposite!) This, apparently, is the taste of the future, and there are already 800 stores operating with this boutique service!
We did not venture to the hot dog and donut exhibit, as although we were sure they had probably packed up and left the area, we did not want to be tempted! Sixth Street was full of new vendors, both selling and giving, and we enjoyed the new energy that was the music, and I believe original part of the festival! Our pass to partake of the music of Canada, and the barbecue that was being provided therein was not scanned. We heard the music as we walked alongside the venue, but the 'public', or 'guest' pass entrance was not until 2pm, and we were hoping to be headed out of downtown by that time. We were also not hungry enough to partake of the food that we were being offered!
Having accepted wristbands from another company that were promoting a 'clean' vehicle, we decided that perhaps we would not walk back to the car, after all, but take the easy way, and accept a ride. We had our picture taken, and when asked, "What do you want to save in the world", thought about it. How much time did they have? At last I responded, "The polar bears". Why? To be honest, it was the first thing that popped into my head! However, a car was no where to be seen, and we decided to continue walking.
The next best option, we were told, was to stop a car along the way, if we saw one, and they would take us to where we wanted to go. As we turned into the adjacent road, we saw a car! It did not have passengers but did have a driver. I signaled to the chap in the driver's seat, and he continued to play with his phone. I knocked on the window, twice. At last he responded. "Oh I am on call. I am waiting to be called by the people at base over there". We knew this to be untrue, as they had said that the nearest car was reportedly fifteen minutes away. I said I did not think that was so. He changed his story. "I am actually waiting for the production manager to come out to give him a ride to the next place", he lied. We were standing next to the wall where he was pointing, and which he presumably thought to be a building. We knew it to be a wall, and on the other side was a parking lot, which was empty! I told him that perhaps he should be more honest, and do the job that he was contracted to do. It was not worth the effort of making a scene as it was a complimentary service, but my opinion of those who were recruited for this service did not improve. We flagged down no less than four cars, and none stopped. All drivers, made eye contact, and looked the other way. It was obvious from the previous week, when we were 'begged' to take a ride, the drivers really do not want to be driving!
Thankfully, the temperature had dropped on Thursday, although only by about ten degrees. It did make the walk a little more pleasant. As we rounded the corner to go to the Convention Center, we were once again invited in for 'ice-cream'. Not wanting to be rude, we accepted the offer, but rather than partake of the dessert, we headed for the queue at the other end of the room. "Hey ladies", came the voice of the maitre-d', holding the cord dividing the restaurant from the minions. We took this to mean that another visit was viable, and waited to be invited into the inner sanctum where we enjoyed, again, the mouthwatering burgers! An ice-cream was not accepted as we left, as we were full to the brim! A nice long walk was what was more needed! Thinking that after a good meal (and believe me, it was good, and the "don't knock it 'till you have tried it", response would be my answer to anyone who suggested it impossible) a good cup of coffee would be in order, I was not disappointed. "Coffee? Get a cup in the pop-up cafe over there", said a scantily clad promoter, who handed us both a card with 'admit one' written across the top. I did not need asking twice! I found myself enjoying not only a cup of freshly brewed 'joe', but also a new found appreciation for rap music! I was moving to the beat realising that if I didn't listen to the words, the sound was good! (At least in this particular case!)
Having enjoyed my beverage, we exited once again, were plied with more energy drinks, energy bars and candy, and made our way back to the car. I am not sure whether the energy I had in the afternoon was from the burger, the coffee, or the atmosphere, but I was skipping around the office, at full speed! It did occur to me that perhaps this was also due to the strange smell that I had inhaled whilst walking, and suddenly realised why some of the substances used by those who wish to 'feel good' is called, skunk. The smell that those little animals emit when they feel threatened, is remarkable similar. I admit that I was totally naive to the reason behind the 'nick name', but now I know!
"Yes", we would participate on a third day, but this time I chose a lettuce wrap rather than a bun for my burger, fries and soda. I did not want a 'mimosa', but they were on offer! In and out of bars we went, listening to 'new comers', and being offered a variety of alcohol that would have put me in a coma! I handed my (one free drink) tickets to others in the bar, who had more time to spend enjoying the various sounds, and all were grateful. I sipped from my water bottle, and was satisfied. I did not need alcohol to get 'high'. I just needed to breathe in the air, which was unavoidable!
We ventured into the 'Gaming Expo' on Friday, and had our picture taken, once again, by yet another company advertising insurance. We were going to be 'super imposed' into a horse driven cart, and asked what we would like to call it. Of what did we consider ourselves to be saviours? "The polar bears", we shouted in unison!
On Saturday, the duo became a trio, as Edward joined us on the adventure. Dana took us to the Convention Center, and we walked around to the 'burger joint', (no pun intended!) He was unimpressed with having to queue, as he was quite sure we would not be admitted for a fourth round, but the lady checking ID's was happy to allow us in, as we had our guest pass! Samantha and I were already familiar with most of the crowd, as almost everyone had come back, day after day. Edward's nonchalant attitude soon changed into one of surprise, and he was convinced, as we had been, that it was impossible for this to be the product of the hamburger place that is depicted by the arches of gold! He sipped his complimentary beer and ate with gumption! We bid the staff farewell, and left the temporary restaurant for the last time!
Before leaving the building, I approached the 'Virtual Reality sign-up' desk, and asked if it would be possible to 'have a go'. I was greeted with a big smile, an "Of course", as long as I gave the year of my birth, and my email address. A small price to pay for such an experience! I walked into the darkened area that was separated from another couple by screens, and was told vaguely what would happen. Behind me was a wall with orange and black patterns, and in front was the glass partitioned area where I first witnessed the young man taking part in this project. The goggles were placed on my head, and earphones were placed over my head. Everything was white, but I then saw that I was in a patio area, with white floors, a border of grass, and white partitions, which did not meet at the corners, but showed a beautiful scene of trees and sky beyond. I was handed two controls, and told that I could 'paint' where ever I wanted. One control controlled the brush size, the other the colour of paint. When I saw blue gridlines, I was to back away, as that was the 'edge'. I started to paint, and then moved through my painting, and was surrounded by the picture I had made. I was painting the air, and then zapping the box that contained the 'meal' that is named 'happy', with a paint ball. It was the most amazing experience, that I did not wish to end so soon! However, I relented and gave back the goggles and headphones, after 'choosing' my best picture. I was then shown the finished article, and how I had made it, to wit, me walking around awkwardly, waiving my arms around, as had the young man we first encountered on Wednesday!
I did say "Yes" to an ice-cream, which I topped with chopped apples, and we left the building and headed to the Convention Center, where we strolled the aisles of the 'gaming' booths! I chatted with a gentleman from Mayfair Games, the makers of Catan, which is a fun board game, that I played a few years ago at the festival, and he insisted I take a couple of their latest 'single throw' dice games. How could I refuse. Kids of school age, and beyond, were sitting at tables and playing old fashioned games, throwing dice, and moving pieces with hands rather than controls, and enjoying themselves! Of course, there were many booths with video games, and a lot of game wear for sale. We browsed, and then went into the 'Music Exhibitors arena'. I am always sorry Dana does not accompany us to this exhibition, as he would enjoy the amount of guitars on display, and some of the people playing! I am sure that he would cause a crowd to gather should he pick up one of the instruments and start strumming, just as others do.
Once we had strolled for as long as we desired, we headed out to the insurance stand, where we did not win the 'big' prize, but were all but hugged by the promoters, who greet us like long lost friends each year! We walked in and out of bars, and listened to more and more bands. On exiting one bar, I yielded to a couple, one of whom was pushing an old lady in a wheelchair. Rather perplexed as to why they were subjecting this poor aged woman to such a venue, one of the walking pair turned to me and said, "She is ninety years old, has been here most of the day, and is really upset because we have told her it is time to go!" That made me smile! I hoped that at 90, I would be the same, although Edward is doubtful, as he said that I am ready to leave after an hour, let alone several!
I did not berate the doormen when they let me into the bars without an ID, as it was at the bottom of my very full bag, and I was struggling to retrieve it! However, I was grateful to those who insisted I show them, because, "You never know!"
After coffee, again, being plied with cans of energy drinks, boxes of energy bars, ("Please take it all. We don't want to have to take it with us!") candy, and t-shirts ("They all have to go!") I called Dana and said we were ready to be collected. Unlike the ninety year old lady, I really was ready to go. I had sniffed enough air to last me for another year, and was starting to feel the consequences. (I have yet to reap the benefit!) As we waited for our chauffeur, I found that I was unable to stand still, and moved to the sound of all the music that had drifted into the atmosphere and was merged into one giant sound.
I received a message this afternoon, on my 'guest pass' email, simply stating, 'It's a wrap!' The festival was over for another year, and apparently it had been most successful. I do believe that out of all the entertainment, food and freebies, despite enjoying everything, the virtual reality experience was the highlight of my week! Perhaps I would not feel the same if it was a game of combat or something more challenging, and I do not feel the need to create an avatar, but walking through my very own painted creation was exhilarating! I do feel rather lucky that living in Austin, I am in a position to take part in as much or as little as I want, during SXSW, and because it is Austin, it caters for the locals as well as the visitors.
The up coming week will not be without excitement. Samantha and I are taking our annual 'mother/daughter' outing, and are leaving the menfolk behind from Thursday to Sunday. We are off to San Francisco, which will be an adventure to report. Another matter that I did not mention was that before we headed down for the festivities on Monday last, I received a call to say that I had won tickets to the Rodeo, which we attended Tuesday. I shall be spoilt for choice, when deciding which to put first in ....... another story!