It’s that time of year again. Geeks from all 50 states (and some other countries) converge on the unsuspecting city of Austin TX for the SXSW Interactive Conference. (There might be some film types here too, but…meh.) As you may remember from last year’s reports, I felt a kinship at SXSW that I’ve only experienced in one other place – that’s no different this year, although some familiar faces aren’t here to share the mirth.

That said…whoever said ‘getting there is half the fun’ is officially on notice.

Day .5: My no good very bad day
As is tradition before I travel, I got no sleep on Thursday night. It wasn’t nerves this time, tho – my father was coming to drive me to Philadelphia International Airport (which, incidentally, was designed by Satan on a bad day) at 4:45 AM for my 7:49 flight, and since I hadn’t finished packing until approximately 2AM, there didn’t seem to be much of a point to sleeping. I get to the airport, I get checked in, and the waiting game begins. According to my boarding pass, we’re supposed to board at 7:19.

7:19 comes and goes.
Around 7:40, they call the first class cabin. 20 minutes late – “Not bad”, I’m thinking, dooming myself in the process. Because just after first class boards, they stop calling groups.
8:00. The gate agent announces that there’s a ‘broken light bulb; but it’s being fixed, and boarding will resume.
8:20. The gate agent announces that the ‘broken light bulb’ is actually a broken emergency landing light, and even though the flight would be operating in broad daylight, the FAA has a thing about flying without it.
8:30. A mechanic walks up to the gate agent, hands her a clipboard, and shakes his head. At this point, I’m growing increasingly concerned, because my layover in Chicago was only 75 minutes. Much more of a delay, and that window disappears. I get in line to talk to the gate agent.
8:40. After waiting behind a frantic group of travellers trying to go to Salt Lake City, I finally chat with the gate agent (whose name I do not recall, but she was as sweet as possible, given the circumstances). We agree almost immediately that my original connection would be impossible, so she confirms seats for me on an 11:15 flight through DFW, which would get me into Austin at 4:00PM CST. A little later than the 1PM I had hoped for, but it works. She also comps me an upgrade to first class. She hesitates to print the boarding passes until they know for sure that the ground crew would OK the offloading of baggage.
9:00. The monitor behind the podium is constantly being updated with new ‘estimated’ departure times which are obsolete almost immediately after they’re posted. They’ve decided to start offloading bags, and the line at the podium gets longer.
9:10. The gate agent takes care of the Salt Lake City passengers, booking them through Los Angeles on two different airlines (and their luggage on completely different flights) to get them home that day. The natives start to get restless. One jackass in particular is yelling at AA reservations on his cell phone AND yelling at the gate agent while she tries to work with another traveller. My new boarding passes are printed, and I move on, grateful for the upgrade and hopeful that the rest of the day goes better for the gate agent.

I nearly fall asleep about 3 times while waiting for my 11:15 flight, although I manage to hold off. We board the plane, and I’m asleep before we even take off.

Jump-cut to later in the day. Everything’s gone according to (the updated) plan. I make my connection in DFW with no problems, and the flight is on time. Shortly after 4, I arrive in Austin, sorely wanting to get my bag, check into the hotel, take a nice long shower, and saunter down to the Ginger Man for Break Bread with Brad.

4:20. I have a chat with another passenger from my flight, who tells me that everything going through Chicago was delayed due to bad weather. So I’m thinking I didn’t make out so badly after all.
4:40. “Last bags” is flashing on the monitor above the baggage carousel, indicating that everything from my flight is already out. Which means that, for the moment, anyway, the long sleeve shirt and khaki pants I wore on the flight in were the only clothes I had. FUCK.

I visited the AA baggage office (again, a very nice counter agent who, I’m sure, gets people like me all the time and deals with them with a smile) and filed a report. The agent thinks that my bag didn’t make it onto the 11:15 from PHL (even though the PHL agent said it would), and that flights from both Chicago and DFW were arriving around 6 – chances were pretty good that the bag was on one of those flights. Upset but cautiously optimistic (because, honestly, you have to be in those situations), I pick up my rental car, and immediately get stuck in rush hour traffic. (Thankfully, the rental car has an XM Radio, so was able to kill the boredom with some blues.) And, you know what, Austin? I laugh at your rush-hour traffic. Sure, it sucks to be stuck in it, but at least it moves at a decent clip. Get stuck on the Cross Bronx Expressway, then let’s talk.

Still, it takes me an inordinate amount of time to get into downtown Austin, so I don’t arrive at the hotel until 6-ish. Just before I leave to walk to the Ginger Man at 6:30, I figure I’ll try AA, if for no other reason than to add my room number to the report. I speak to a CSR who pulls up my report and adds my new information, at which point she says “Everything you just gave me was wiped from the system, because it updated while we were talking.”

My internal monologue at that moment: FUCK.

“But the reason it updated was that they found your bag, and it’ll be delivered to your hotel tonight.” The best words I’d heard all day. (Yes, better than “I’ll comp your upgrade to first class”.) Confident, finally, that things were looking up, I left for BBwB, only to return 5 minutes later, having realized that I forgot my camera.

BBwB was the usual good time – I even won a fabulous Brad prize! There are pictures by now on flickr, I’m sure. Anyway, that was followed by a late supper at Katz’s Deli (no, it has nothing to do with the one in Manhattan – TRUST ME), and the glorious reunion of man and rolling garment bag.

And some 42 hours later, I got a good nights’ sleep.

Day 1: Your brain is a ‘legacy device’
Day 1 went well – 3 for 4 on picking panels (the only thing clever about “Looking for XML in All the Wrong Places” was the title), and that’s not too shabby. I’ll talk more about the panels at a later time (ie: when I’m more awake and can refer to notes other than my own), but I’m definitely getting more out of the panels this year than I did last year – that could have more to do with being more comfortable with my environs, or maybe I’m a bigger geek this year than I was last year.

Dinner tonight was an intimate affair (well, anything less than 25 people is intimate at SXSW) at the Green Mesquite, on the south side of the river, which was nice because a) it was nice to get away from 6th Street and the hotels for a little while, and b) there were no damned writers around.

I should probably explain. The Association of Writers & Writing Programs is having their conference and bookfair at the Austin Convention Center at the same time as SXSW interactive and film. The result is a massive overcrowding of the hotels and popular lunch/dinner spots. Last year, you and 30 of your closest friends might have had to wait 20 minutes or so for a table. This year, you’re looking at over an hour – something of a problem if you only get 90 minutes for lunch! Thankfully, I believe the writers leave on Sunday morning – hopefully the overcrowding will abate.

After dinner and a brief stop at the hotel (I decided to skip the Frog Design party), I went over to the Iron Cactus for the “South by Northwest” party for schmoozing and free beer, followed by a brief stop at Paradise (once the back room at the Cactus turned into a sardine can – free beer is quite a lure). It was around this point that my lack of sleep from the previous day managed to get the better of me, and I turned in for the night.

Tomorrow: More stuff! And Frey Cafe!