Convergence 2010, Day Four

Monday, Monday…. Can’t trust that day… Monday, Monday….

What is it about Monday that makes it so painful and untrustworthy? Why hasn’t Monday been tagged by Congress or the CIA or FBI as an enemy combatant? Clearly, it attacks us without warning, kicks us when we’re down and unrelentingly points and laughs at us as we whimper and whine our way through it. Mondays should be illegal. In fact, the word “Monday” should be one of those words that can’t be said on television. Monday’s are cruel and unusual punishment for whatever we might have done on the weekend. Mondays are…

But I digress.

Today may be Mon The Day That Shall Not Be Named but it is really the middle of my week away from home, so later today the downward spiral toward the actual act of travelling will begin (it’s still uphill for a few hours today as I’m writing this beginning before breakfast). But even though the weekend was spent working and therefore it doesn’t really feel like… “That” day… the certain je ne sais quoi that makes this day of the week, um, special, is still present and having an impact on the day. (Note how awesome I am, getting all international with my not quite valid French grammar? I think the right grammar (or the more correct grammar at least) would be je ne sais pas quoi, but since when have I been one to quibble over silly grammar details? The point is, my wife should be impressed at my ability to use the French language so powerfully. Note also that I said she should be impressed; she won’t be.)

Last night was such a late night (for a darkness wimp like me) that I ended up sleeping until the alarm went off. Well, “sleeping” is a term I have used very loosely for my whole life. It’s more like a vertically-challenged wakefulness for me in that I’m just on the less-fully-conscious side of things for a few hours or minutes, a state of being that is generally safer when one is stuck in the middle of a hotel bed than it is when one is driving a car, brewing a pot of coffee or writing a travel blog. So, I completed my slightly-lower-power recharge cycle around 6:15 am, got ready for the day and put on my shiny, lemon-scented company logo shirt which had dried nicely on the fantastic hide-a-line technology I mentioned yesterday or on Saturday. I toyed with the idea of paying for the internet service again, since it had been so successful when I paid $13.99 for a day of internet and used 1 whole hour of my purchased time the other night, but luckily I thought better of it this time since I wouldn’t even have an hour today. I then thought about going down to the hotel bar and bribing someone for the code for the free WiFi in the lobby, but by that point it was time to go.

Our party walked on out to our new favorite transportation hub, the Marta station, and followed the path that we were now expertly familiar with. Climbing up from the catacombs in which the train discharged us beneath the Phillips Arena, we took a deep breath and started our well-travelled path to the entrance to the Georgia World Congress Center. But before we went very far, one member of our party, whom I shall call Airport Colleague #2 because he was one of the people I met at the airport on Friday night (and because I’d get in trouble with another of the folks I met at the airport that night if I didn’t make her Airport Colleague #1), proclaimed, “We should go this way today. I think it’s a shortcut!”

Anyone who knows me knows how much I hate change, and I argued feebly about it but in the end I went along with the plan anyway because that’s the kind of team player I am. So we walked the opposite way out of the Marta station. And we walked some more. And then we walked a bit more. Eventually we came to a street, meaning we finally got to an edge of the building complex we were trying to circumnavigate in order to fully realize the potentiality of a shortcut (see, I threw in some lingo – this is a business trip after all). We hung a left and started walking somewhat downhill (there might have been some stairs involved, I can’t remember now as all I really recognized was how much my feet hurt and how much I hated change and how much I was convinced that this shortcut wasn’t actually shorter and did I mention my feet hurt?). And we kept walking. With the shortcut now two hundred times longer than the original path (alright, maybe it was just twice as long as the original path), we walked some more. Past the CNN building on our left. Past some other buildings I didn’t recognize but may very well have been part of the CNN building, too. We saw Centennial Olympic Park across the street. And we hung another left, keeping the CNN building to our left so that we had a static reference point to use if we decided to argue about where we were. It is probably important to note here that our group of travelers was all men; if we ended up in a situation where certain folks might think we were lost, there was no way we’d be asking for directions. I just wanted that to be clear for you. Because we weren’t lost. Not at any point. All we needed to do was find the right sidewalk to go such that we’d make three lefts which means we had ultimately turned right. Then we’d be going in the correct direction. So, to that end, we climbed up another set of stairs and we found ourselves in a more familiar area, one in which we could turn left again (note – this is the third left turn). Up ahead we could see Building A of the Georgia World Congress Center. And our friendly bar, Taco Mac. Too bad we needed Building B. So we kept walking. 362.5 hours later (or maybe it was 15 minutes in total), we were at the entrance that was 5 minutes away from the train station. The point I am trying to make is: we were not lost.

We headed down to the breakfast that was being served in the dining hall, 4 stories deep and hundreds of steps away in Building B. It was a similar setup to the prior day’s lunch in that we were greeted by cheering folks and hounded by smiling , armed (so far as I could tell, they all had two arms) guards to ensure that we walked to the furthest buffet station possible. Once again, there were no grits to be found in all of Atlanta, at least not in the places I was haunting. I swallowed my disappointed cry and instead had some fruit and a greasy, cold egg and cheese sandwich on an English muffin; most of the cheese stuck to the foil wrapper, so it was essentially an egg patty on a not-quite-toasted muffin. Yum. Alas, there was nothing for dessert. And there was no indication or hint of coffee. So I grabbed an orange juice instead.

After breakfast, we headed over to building A (via a real shortcut this time) to prepare for our various presentations. I think I mentioned that I was going to help out in a discussion session about my former product by being a microphone monkey. Well, this grew into a larger role (and may, in fact, have been a larger role all along and I was just blocking that fact out). So now I was co-presenting the product and session with one of my colleagues. This was supposed to be an interactive discussion, but just in case no one would be brave enough to talk, we decided to prepare some demo materials ahead of time. Many folks know how much I despise public speaking, despite all evidence that indicates that I might not completely suck at it. I suppose on a scale of 1 to travel where 1 is something tolerable, and travel is, well, travel… public speaking comes in closer to 1 than to travel. But still, I’m not a fan. If you’re having trouble imagining this 1 to travel scale, it might look something like this:

I hope that helps explain the complexity of my thoughts on the matter.

Anyway, we got our slide ready and got the demo data setup and we headed into the room. This actually went smoothly. I was expecting the security guard to prevent us from going in because our badges were purple instead of yellow. But, apparently, we were on the list so the bouncer the security guard let us in. It was a pleasant surprise to see that the projector we requested was there, as was a whiteboard. People filed in leading up to the beginning of the session. And they kept coming in.

We were by no means the largest session or even one of the largest. For all I know, we could have been the smallest. I didn’t really care at that specific point in time as there were somewhere around 100 or maybe 75 people in the room. All I know for sure is that almost all the seats were full and there were people standing along the side and back of the room, too. I also know it was the largest room I had worked in a while, since I hadn’t worked a room since this product’s last user group meeting in 2007. I saw Airport Colleague #1 file in and stand in the back (if you refer to an earlier paragraph, you’ll recall why her name is Airport Colleague #1 in the credits. She is totally #1 in my book. She might have paid me to say that. Or maybe not. I’ll never tell.). She smiled and did her best to hide her desire to heckle me (don’t ask her about the heckling – she’ll deny it completely).

At 10:30, we were introduced. There were some audible gasps when I was introduced. Maybe my legend preceded me. Maybe my zipper was down. Maybe it was the fact that I was introduced as “the lead developer and architect of the product.” Maybe it was my fresh lemon scent. I don’t know exactly what it was, but I was impressed nonetheless at how much of my awesomeness was recognized. With my awesomeness glowing warmly, I headed to the podium and started my stand up routine.

“As Airport Colleague #2 implied,” I said, “I can talk about this product at great length and in great detail. I even used to sing lullabies to my kids which were lyrics about the features I was working on that day…”

There was laughter at my quip. Anyone texting my biography would have texted ‘LOL’ after documenting my gem. Clearly, the laughter was not worthy of an ROTFLOL, but certainly it was laughter worth an LOL. And I felt victorious.

My co-presenter probably did most of the talking but I did a good bit of it, too. I did all of the demoing. There was not a lack of people willing to speak up and ask questions, but in the end we were able to get to the majority of the things we had prepared for the session and answer their questions. I’m guessing this shows just how good we were at forecasting the needs and mood of the audience despite not having met them or seen a roster of attendees or anything and how great we were at budgeting the time it would take for each topic (note the additional financial software lingo referencing budgeting and forecasting in honor of the business trip). Airport Colleague #1 stepped in and answered a question at one point, which was good since I had only heard about the specific subject the day before. I suppose I really need to call her Airport Former Colleague #1 since I no longer work there, but the way I see it is that the team we had built over all those years was like a family and family is something that never goes away, much like a bad rash. Therefore, I see no need for the word ‘former’ because Airport Colleague #1 is part of the family.

Anyway, I’ll spare you the details of the demo/discussion session because, well, it was about budgeting and reporting software and that’s just not an exciting topic to read about. Plus, I’ve already dropped a couple bits of lingo and I wouldn’t want to bore overwhelm you with too much. Of course, this travel blog isn’t necessarily an exciting and compelling read, but trust me when I say: a detailed dissertation about a budgeting and reporting software demo script is probably just a little less exciting and compelling than anything else I might write. Please don’t tell me if you disagree with that statement. All I’ll say about the session is that we were simply awesome and awe-inspiring. Yeah. I’ll leave it at that.

After the session was over, a few people had questions and came forward to discuss them. It was good to have the one-on-one interaction afterwards because it showed that at least a few people were paying attention. I’ll add that from my perch at the podium in the front of the room I didn’t see anyone nodding off or seeming disinterested during the session, so either they were really good at sleeping with their eyes open, or we didn’t suck. I have to be able to sleepsuccessfuly have a lower-powered wakefulness at night so I’m going to assume that we really did do a good job.

Session over, we headed down to the dining hall for lunch. This time there was a baked vegetable terrine as well as a rice dish. I took both as well as some odd-looking salad and headed over to a table. Again, there was no coffee or even hot water for tea (though there were teabags again). I just went ahead with the meal, largely considering it to be an appetizer because dessert looked awesome. The vegetable terrine was tasty, but I am not certain I know what was in it. It was kind of yellowy and grainy. There were occasional bits of recognizable vegetable matter and nothing that looked like bacon or scrapple or cow tongue. I figure I’m not dead or delirious yet so there wasn’t anything poisonous in it, at least not in a large enough quantity for me to notice, so I’ll put that in the win column. For my entrée dessert I had a mini pumpkin pie thing and a “chocolate-cup-filled-with-a-cream-filling-that-reminded-me-a-little-of-something-not-quite-like-cannoli-filling” thing. They were as great as they looked. I toyed with the idea of doubling up on them, but I figured I should save some for other people. So, I split the difference and took a second pumpkin pie thing but not a second chocolate cup thingy and I pushed away. I’m a good team player like that.

We headed to the booth for our next round of booth hours. Booth hours ran from 11:30 to 5:30 today, but since our session ended at 11:30, we were late to it. This allowed my colleagues to get a feel for what it would be like without me around. Hopefully it didn’t make them realize that they liked not having me around. They didn’t act like they were happier when I was gone, so I’m just ignoring those voices much like I’m ignoring the chanting coffee beans at all of the (still) empty coffee carts in the hallways.

The booth was busy but not quite as busy as the past few days. Some of the more anticipated sessions were happening today and so a lot of people were out at those instead of loitering in the expo hall spending quality time with me. But those who did come to the booth were interested and the lower traffic meant that we could do some more in-depth demos for them. So in a way at least, it worked out. The fishbowl of business cards continued to get fuller, so that was a good sign, especially since I was unaware of any alcohol being involved with people throwing their cards into the bowl today. These people were, allegedly, in full possession of their inhibitions and still they put the cards in the bowl and talked to me – how amazing! Most people who spoke to me were gracious and seemed happier for the experience; I didn’t really notice anyone backing away slowly in fear like they do back at home. I guess people really are nicer in the south.

5:30 marked the end of the work day for the dedicated. Those of us who stuck it out until 5:30 wandered out of the booth and headed to Taco Mac, where we were meeting those of our colleagues who decided that 5:00 should mark the end of the work day. Along the way we made a secret pact not to talk about the exciting things that happened in that half hour the others missed. I’m not about to break that pact here, but let me tell you, those last 30 minutes of booth time on The Day That Shall Not Be Named were the most exciting of the entire conference!

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

I seriously considered grabbing a handful of those tempting coffee beans as I walked out, but just before I did so I noticed some sweaty dude with his hands in the bowl, fishing around like a snot-nosed, flu-riddled kid at a party who is intent on taking every green M&M from the candy dish. While I have an immune system and am not afraid to use it, I saw no need to abuse it with whatever might be festering on the little brown nuggets I might throw into my mouth. So, I stared straight ahead, ignoring their feeble little pleas. I control the coffee beans, they do not control me!

Anyway, onward to Taco Mac we went. It ended up that this turned out to be dinner as well. For me that meant chips and queso and a gallon or two of full-fat Coke. No onion rings this time. I toyed with the idea of asking if they had coffee, but the idea of bar coffee scared me slightly more than the festering coffee beans in the conference center, so I passed on that notion. Airport Colleague #1 was there with us, as were a number of other Former Colleagues I had never met before this trip, along with the dude who fired me (whom I had never met before this trip, either). One of the Former Colleagues earned her $5 Taco Mac Brewniversity Pledge tee shirt for drinking 13 over-priced beers (over several days). We made fun of Airport Colleague #3 for getting beaten by her in the race to 13. He was visibly embarrassed but was committed to completing the journey to Brewniversity Pledgehood. And I should add:  we were all very proud to be able to say that we were there to see a Former Colleague We Had Never Met Before This Conference achieve such a great and tremendous honor.  I actually felt envious as I watcher her don the sparkly new shirt while I continued to wear my lemony-scented company logowear.

So, I suppose I should revise my statement from a few paragraphs ago about the most exciting part of the conference so far: watching the Brewniversity induction ceremony (the ceremonial putting on of the shirt over top of what she was wearing is something to behold) was far more exciting than the crazy, amazing things that happened in our booth at the end of the day. Woo hoo! Good times!

After a while, people grew bored of Taco Mac and talk began to happen related to moving to a different bar. Airport Colleague #1 decided to go back to her hotel since she’s leaving tomorrow, but the shuttles had stopped. My roommate and I didn’t want her walking to the hotel alone, so we excused ourselves from the bar hopping (bar hopping which turned out to be one bar, I believe) and walked her to the hotel. Along the way we met several folks who were seeking economic stimulus of one form or another, some others who might have been looking to provide stimulants of one form or another, and several people walking their weird-looking Southern dogs. I wondered silently if these dogs had grits for breakfast or not but stopped myself from asking since there was nothing I could do about it either way and I really didn’t think I could handle the truth nor the huge amount of jealousy I’d feel. Instead I tried to convince Airport Colleague #1 to stop by our booth in the morning before heading to the airport, just to brighten it up a bit like she had several times when she came over and introduced me to her new boss (she actually did that at the weird ‘living art’ reception on Sunday night, but she brought her boss over again one time and she brought a customer of hers over, too). I offered my condolences to the boss on inheriting such a troublemaker, but I think her boss thought I was kidding. I’m pretty sure I was kidding, too, but I can never be sure (and I’d never admit it one way or the other since I need to keep this air of suspense about me.

So, after parting ways with Airport Colleague #1 and wishing her safe travels back home, my roommate and I walked a couple blocks to the Marta station and headed back to the hotel, fully intent on finding some food. That said, we were too tired to bother with the food finding mission, so we just went to the room and watched TV and continued some research on the importance of computer video games in keeping our minds old and feeble, I mean young and vibrant. I could give more details about the different games of spider solitaire, minesweeper and chess I was playing, but now my internal battery’s power level is approaching critical which means that soon my eyelids will be rendered incapable of remaining open on a consistent basis. I need to close this post for tonight and wash my shirt one last time. Tonight, like each night thus far, I will leave you with several vital pieces of information:

Total steps for today: 11,757

Total desserts for today: 3 (such a shame that I couldn’t find more)

Total number of tortilla chips eaten for dinner: 437, with two bowls of queso dip.

Total coffees for today: 0. That’s right. ZERO. Two days in a row without coffee and I’m still able to write and function with as much skill and grace as ever. And to think, you all doubted I could do it. Nonbelievers!

 

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