I just got back from Austin where I attended my first South by Southwest Interactive Conference (sxswi, to geeks) It's a convocation of 10,000 digerati from all over the world, a gathering so huge and overwhelming I can't possibly do it justice in a single post. So, like the blind man describing the elephant by the part of it he is touching, I'll tell you about a few things that struck me.
A giant pile of Legos kept kids of all ages happy in the adult playpen. Also, the Austin Convention Center is so cavernous (everything is bigger in Texas) that the giant visual was useful in directing people to where you were trying to meet them. “I’m in the lounge closest to the Legos.”
World’s highest concentration of iphones per square foot. Which were contantly dropping calls or losing connections. Wired reported that AT&T was hauling in COWS (cell-sites on wheels) to shore up capacity. (Ironically, after resisting the lure of buying one for 2 years, I’d finally succumbed to Apple last week. Probably would have been better off with my Centro.) Still, no one seemed desperate enough to stand in line for the one working old-fashioned pay phone still on premise.
Because of SXSW, I think of Austin as the Silicon Valley of Texas. So I was startled to discover arrangements for nearby parking decidedly low-tech: you fold up dollar bills as small as you can and poke them into the slot labeled with your parking space number. If the bills don’t fit, you push them in with the handy “pusher” hanging on a wire. (No not that kind of wire.)
How to get friended by people around you
All it takes is a multiple outlet power cord. Every session filled fastest near the wall outlets. Power social-networking requires lots of powering up and people were exceedingly grateful to those who shared a connection.
Now I know. The saucey stuff I always thought was BBQ isn’t. Lots of great BBQ served at the parties but the best by far was the real Texas BBQ was served at Sam’s in East Austin, a hole in the wall so venerated that when it burned down in 1992, the community raised funds to have it rebuilt. Sam's isn't fancy, but it is serious: slabs of many kinds of meats piled high on a paper plate, served with plastic forks and white sandwich bread: mutton, brisket, sausage and ribs so good that when Stevie Ray Vaughan played Carnegie Hall, he had them shipped to his dressing room.
Every night. This was taken at the Mohawk, a honky-tonk where The Onion (satirical newspaper) and Barbarian (satirical ad agency) hosted over 1000 to free indie rock and beer.
Man (and woman) can't live online alone. My friend/hotelier and art director Pat took me to see a natural phenomenon that has become quite the tourist attraction in Austin. The largest urban bat colony in North America lives under Congress Bridge, which has been recently renovated to accommodate them. Every night from mid-March to November, bats emerge at dusk to forage for food. It's quite a sight. They fly, forming clouds as they flit through the air like giant black butterflies. I took a few shots, but mine pale next to this one taken by another of Pat’s houseguests, photographer James Salzano.