Why are there no good seats? Because in order to make money on an $89 fare, they have to pack three people into the space that would normally be occupied by two. And when half the people on your flight actually take up 1.6 people-worth of space, you are going to be uncomfortable no matter what you do. Luckily, the fat guy I ended up sitting next to actually wanted to sit in the middle so I was only squashed against hairy flesh on the one side.
Here's something else I discovered. There is a serious drawback to leather seats. I realize they are a great thing for the airlines -- they last a long time, they're easy to clean, they sound like they're upscale, and they don't soak up liquid. Unfortunately, there is another thing they don't soak up. Leather seats = zero fart absorption. Give me a nice, upholstered foam-filled seat any day of the week. I don't know what the fuck the guy sitting next to me ate for breakfast, but he singlehandedly polluted 110 feet of airborne aluminum tube. Or maybe he had help, I don't know. Either way, at times it was brutal. I did the only thing I could do: I went into full Unibomber mode and pulled the hood of my sweatshirt over my head, put my sunglasses on, turned toward the shaded window and tried to breath through my mouth. Oh, and I watched a movie on my nano called Wanted. Not bad if you like special effects and/or Angelina Jolie.
The first night of this conference they have a big party. It's usually just an excuse to eat bad food and drink bad beer and wine, so I usually go for a while and then bail out early since I've been awake for 17 hours. The party stretched across a beach between two hotels, and they had different bands spaced out along the way, covering different musical styles. It started with Latin (DJ), went to blues (passable) then to acoustic (bad) and finally to country (so-so). I went to the conference with one of the guys on my team that I never get to see except during our weekly video meeting. I have to say, he's a lot less pixelated in person. We were standing down on the "country end" drinking Coronas and watching two scary girls do some sort of line stomp on a plywood bar when my phone rang.
It was my wife. She was buried in 18" of snow and the snow blower wouldn't run. Actually, it would run just fine -- but it wouldn't blow snow, which means it's no longer a snow blower and is instead just a motor bolted to a hundred and fifty pound pile of shit. As I walked and tried to find a quiet place to talk away from the music, we tried a bunch of things to get it going, and were rewarded with smoke and the smell of burning rubber. At that point I knew the second stage was frozen up. We pointed a kerosene heater at it for ten minutes and even that didn't work. Finally in desperation, I told her to dump a bucket of boiling water down the chute to see if it would melt the frozen up mechanism and, believe it or not, it worked.
Still, by that time I was almost back to my room, so I figured I'd just stay there. When I had first arrived at the hotel, I changed my room to one with a balcony, having grand visions of sitting out there at night, drinking a scotch and maybe doing some writing, but that was not to be.
Due to global warming, Orlando was twenty eight fucking degrees at night for the first three nights I was there. As an added bonus, I had Coughy McCougherson in the room next to me. He was making this sound every five minutes until I couldn't stand it any more and finally had to fall asleep listening to my ipod. I think he may have died a few nights later, because something in his room started ringing at 4 am and wouldn't stop. After about 30 minutes of that, I heard security in the hall and they were banging on his door. I knew they were security because they kept yelling "SECURITY!" in between each hammer-fest. Finally they let themselves in. I guess he was just a party animal because apparently he wasn't even there. Assknob. Unless he really did die, of course. In which case I'd refer to him as the dead assknob.
The first day of the conference, other people almost died, too. There is something called the "General Session" which is basically a big rah-rah session with some famous people. This year it was Blue Man Group and Dan Aykroyd. BMG was great, Dan A, not so much. I mean, he didn't suck, but he started off with Beldar, and went downhill from there. He went for some laughs that didn't happen and that's always a little awkward. I guess you can take the actor out of the SNL, but can't take the SNL out of the actor.
Anyway, from the dining hall to the session was a straight shot up two separate escalators, one from the first floor to the second, and another from the second to the third. Now picture 8,000 people trying to get up these escalators and into the same room at the same time. What happened is obvious in retrospect. There was a traffic jam at the top, and the people riding the escalator had nowhere to go since there was an unending stream of people behind them. When they got to the top and hit bodies, it started a geekalanche. People were screaming, "MOVE! MOVE!" and disaster was narrowly averted by everyone except maybe Dan Aykroyd.
In a different mid-week session, I learned something else. First, I learned that due to a weak dollar, it's cheaper to fly to the states from overseas than ever before. Apparently, Germany got this memo and sent a shitload of people over. A lot of them looked like this. I believe most of them were (and probably still are) named Deiter or Hans. I think of all the whiter nationalities, Germans are the easiest to pick out. They seem very ... precise. I can tell you one thing, however. There is nothing worse than trying to listen to a presentation when two people are talking to each other in the seats behind you, except when the people are talking to each other in German. Or Hebrew. That one is good, too. It's the only language that makes you sound like you are coughing up snails.
I think I am easily annoyed, or more likely I just hate people. At another session I went to, the guy next to me was a major nose-breather. Every breath in and out was through his nose, and with a gusto usually reserved for use by perverts sniffing women's underwear.
I am also not sure they have elevators outside the U.S. I base this theory on what I experienced in the hotel after we were done for the day. I boarded the elevator to the 8th floor, and two other random gentlemen got on with me; one of apparent Chinese descent and one African American. They both pushed their buttons and we were off. At the sixth floor, the doors opened, and nobody moved. The doors started closing again. When they were maybe two feet apart, the Chinese guy ran from the back of the elevator and dove head-first out the door sideways, landing flat out on the carpet. Seriously, it was like something out of an Indiana Jones movie. He wasn't wearing a hat, so there was nothing for him to reach back and grab, but the dive itself was priceless. At the point of his dive, the doors were almost contacting him on both sides of his body. That's how close it was. Since his fancy move was so fast, the doors didn't even re-open. The other guy in the elevator just looked at me as the doors shut and said, "That was some serious James Bond shit right there."
The other thing I love about Florida is that when the temperature drops below 60, people who live here lose their minds and start wearing winter clothes. We're talking parkas, gloves and scarves. And when it's 30 degrees out -- everyone who lives here dies a little inside, and goes batshit crazy with the the heater controls. The hallways in the hotel, the shuttle buses, the restaurants -- all had to be pushing 80 degrees. It was like walking towards the seventh level of Hell every time I went back to my room.
The product showcase was an experience as well. The object of the game there is for you is to get free stuff, and the object of the game for the vendors is to scan your badge at all costs so they can later bombard you with junk mail and bulk mail and faxes and phone calls for whatever crap it is that they happen to be selling.
The easiest way to ensnare an unsuspecting geek, of course, is with a hot girl offering a big-screen TV. So some vendors will stoop to this level, and hire models to hand out their literature and scan badges and ask if you'd like to "enter their giveaway." If you are a newbie, you will fall for this every time and before you know it, the 5' 10" hot model will be gone and you will be sharing a moist handshake with the sweaty, balding guy with the bad comb-over and the clip-on tie. As a seasoned professional, your job is to avoid these traps, and get the freebie without any interaction with their sales person. Talk to the model, enter the contest, say you have somewhere to be in 5 minutes and promise to stop back. Done.
Overall the conference was really very good, and some of the sessions were excellent. I did come away with some new ideas on how to tweak our infrastructure, so it was worth it, but by the end of the week you are basically the walking dead. Your head is so crammed full of stuff that you can't possibly absorb one more thing, and you are so tired from the late nights and early mornings that you are asleep on your feet. I was also studying for a certification test that I had to take on Thursday.
The morning of my exam, I had a surreal moment. I went to the dining hall and got breakfast, and sat down at a big round table, all alone because it was early. I had my iPod phones plugged into my ears, and I was doing some last minute cramming for my test. When I finally looked up from my study sheet, there were 11 Japanese guys sitting at the table with me. I must have looked surprised because when I pulled my earbuds out, they were all looking at me and laughing. I stood up, gave them a little bow and left for my exam. I don't know if that was politically correct or not, but they didn't seem to mind.
Sometimes you go a little crazy at these things, I think. It's a shorter drive for some of us than others, I know. Here's a real life example that made me think maybe I was losing it:
The last day of the conference, I was standing in the bathroom taking a leak in one of the disgusting urinals, and I happened to glance down at the valve on the top. The company that manufactured this valve was Zurn. I immediately decided that Zurn was the god of all things urine. Kind of like Thor, but instead of being the god of thunder, he's Zurn, the god of pee. In the space of 30 seconds, he had a costume, a superpower (beams of yellow force he could bend to his will) He wore a yellow suit with a red lightning bolt on it, but then I thought, "No, I just gave the Green Lantern's powers to the Silver Age Flash," and that's when I realized I needed some sleep because everyone knows the Green Lantern has beams of green power. Also, I had finished peeing 20 seconds ago and there was a line.
In my next rambling and incoherent post, I will tell you about the week that followed, whereupon my lovely wife and I had the best weather ever and managed to laugh our asses off, and even got to hang with Shamus and his family for bit, which is an experience in and of itself.
Go watch his Epcot video and try not to laugh.