I had the chance to attend my first ever South By South West this past week – kind of, sort of – I didn’t actually attend SXSW itself.
It all started back in September, when my employer (StudioPress) merged with Copyblogger to form Copyblogger Media. The merge was a good thing, but it also meant that a) I went from having one boss to having 5 bosses and b) I’d never met any of my other bosses and c) there were a lot more coworkers that I’d never met and was now interacting with online. New job duties (Copyblogger Community Manager is my current new title, as opposed to “Brian’s Person-Who-Does-What-She-Is-Asked”), new people to report to, and a new corporate vibe all made for some interesting times.
As merges go, this was a good one – I will say that the new company seems very determined to make sure each employee is in a place to use their skills to their full potential (since I love to talk, tweet, and hang out on Facebook, it’s a very good thing that those are in my job description!)
The one thing we were lacking in all of this was the actual face-to-face meeting part…as much as I love technology, Skype chats (even video ones!) don’t give quite the same sense of connection that actually meeting someone face to face can provide. So, the powers that be decided that SXSW provided the perfect excuse to get everyone together, get to know each other, and then hang out with other people in our niche at a few parties….and heck, why not throw our own big bash while we were at it!
Here’s what happened:
I got up at 3:30 am on Thursday morning (that’s 2:30 EST, people!) The Boy shook me awake with a “Good morning, Mom – it’s time for you to get up! I don’t want you to go, but where’s the present you said you would get me?!?” I stumbled out of bed and presented him with his shameless bribe (3 sets of Ninjago, for the curious) and brewed the first of many cups of coffee.
I headed over across the border into the States, and arrived at the teeny, tiny, itty bitty cute airport I fly out of fairly often. I’m always disconcerted by the fact that people I used to work with at McDonald’s back in the early 90′s are now actual Customs/Border Patrol, Police, and TSA agents. The good news? I’m quite sure they have NO desire to frisk me! After I cleared security at the one gate (did I mention it’s tiny? “Which gate?” is met with “over there. No, not that, that’s baggage claim. No, that’s the car rental counter. That corner!”) I stood there and traded air-blown kisses with The Boy, who was very sad that his Mom was leaving him.
2 hours to Boston (knitting on the plane, mostly – some really cool socks!) along with dozing off somewhere for a bit. Once I got to Boston, I headed in full on zombie mode straight for Starbucks. Then I had to change terminals – really, Logan, MUST you have a thousand different terminals?!, which involved sitting on the shuttle and looking at the little boy traveling with his daddy and thinking “wow, I REALLY wish the guys were with me this trip!” Through security, again, and then onto the full flight to Houston.
I tried reading on that flight, but everything I had on my Kindle I’d either already read, or else it was free crud that really was worth less than free. Seriously, I should get paid to read some of those…except I wouldn’t take the job! So I knit, and dozed, and drank lots of water. 5 hours later I got to Houston, and the lady from the seat in front of me stood up and inquired about my knitting. We traded stories (her friend sells on Etsy) and when the lady 3 rows back overheard “Tatmom” a quick little conversation about tatting ensued. I’d only brought my business cards for my web design studio, not my crafty ones, so I handed some of those out and left the plane to meet up with Daisy.
We hopped on over to Austin, picked up our copbait red Impala (all out of SUVs!) and headed off for the hotel to check email. One can only be off the net for so long before one becomes twitchy! Out to supper, then found a mall to hit – Daisy scored some shoes and clothes, and I got the most amazing chair massage from a Chinese man who was shocked to find the knot of doom that resides behind my left shoulder blade – “Lady, you not ok!” he’d say, as he patted my hand, and then he’d proceed to rub my shoulder harder. We also found a Lego store, which took care of The Boy’s souvenirs!
The next morning, Daisy and I got breakfast (no, it’s impossible to code while driving. Why do you ask?!), and then headed out for a meetup with some wonderful ladies I’ve met online over the years (yes, I blurred their kid’s faces for privacy.)
We met at this lovely organic burger joint where we sat outside, enjoyed the breeze, let the kids run around, and proceeded to discuss, well, a range of topics – not many of which are fit for public disclosure! ;-)
Suffice it to say that we had a great time, and I really enjoyed getting a chance to meet all of these ladies in person. Some I’ve known online for almost 7 years, so it was past due!
Then it was off to pick up Brian Gardner and Rafal Tomal, transport them to their hotels, then pick up them plus Craig Tuller and head wayyyyyyyyyy out in the boonies to the private Copyblogger meetup. After rounding curve after curve, and being a little worried that we were heading to a not-nice-neighborhood (we passed small mansions, then smaller homes, then some trailers) we found the little gem of a house that had been rented on the lake. It was amazing—having left below-zero weather the day before, to sit out in the sun and look over water that *wasn’t* iced in was awesome!
And I finally got to meet the rest of my bosses, which was a good thing. Any pre-meeting jitters disappeared when I realized that my mantra (I don’t know any of them, but I trust Brian Gardner!) was indeed right – everyone was friendly, and welcoming, and lots of fun! You know, there are people you meet who are nothing like their internet persona, and it’s always a little off-putting to me. I can honestly say that everyone I met there is just as cool in real life as they are online, and most importantly, they retain the same sense of humor ;-) It helped that Kim Clark has some sweet knitting skills and a shared parenting philosophy, two things that are rare to have in common with the same person at the same time. We had a good little chat about that before we moved on to more corporate-type things to talk about.
What smelled like some amazing BBQ was served (dang food allergies…I had soy nuts and water. Mmmmm….soy nuts….) and then we all sat on the dock out over the lake and relaxed.
About that time I was dying for coffee again, but apparently the tradeoff for “incredible views” is “no Starbucks in a 10 mile radius”. So, coffee-deprived, we headed off to see if we could get in to the WordPress party.
(I say “see if we could get in” because apparently even though we’d all RSVP’d, there were glitches.) A little negotiation at the door, a realization that we should have been on the list, and we went in. Unlike WordCamps where I usually know a lot of people there, I saw mostly strangers. However, since this was an invite-only party, there was actually elbow room – I even saw 2-3 empty seats at the bar, which I *never* see at a WordPress event! I ran into Cory Miller, Joshua and Sally Strebel, Jane Wells, and Matt himself. Matt is to be forgiven for not recognizing me out of the tens of thousands of people he meets annually, even though this is the 4th time I’ve met him. Plus, he earned bonus points for seeing me and Daisy standing there waiting on Brian (who was having an interesting conversation with him, that we were busily eavesdropping upon!) and casually sticking out his hand and saying “hey, I’m Matt!”. As if we didn’t know who he was! (well, ok, he was sporting the new beard, but yes, he’s instantly recognizable in our industry).
So we hung out there for a while, and then it was time to go over to the Men With Pens unmasking party. This was a walk that was approximately 40 bajillion times longer for me than it was for he-who-runs-half-marathons-and-was-not-in-high-heels, so Craig and I hopped into a pedicab and waved blithely as we passed the rest of the crew. The pedicab slightly made up for the lack of coffee. Since I don’t drink alcohol, I had nothing to dull my brain to the point where I didn’t care about the lack of caffeine. I was kind of a sad panda right then.
At the MWP party, I almost didn’t get in – I’d gotten separated from the group, and really, I don’t drink so the fact that the password was related to alcohol meant I promptly forgot it. Thankfully, the bouncer relented when someone from the company wandered over and gave me the password ;-) I didn’t do much mingling there, as it was an outdoor patio that was, apparently, in some strange time warp where people had never, ever heard that smoking is deadly. Every time I tried to get near the main part of the crowd, I quickly drifted back to the edges – as nothing screams “let me be awkward at your party” like collapsing and wheezing for a paramedic and a nebulizer while doing your best Darth Vader voice. I opted to hang out as far away from the smoke as possible, and chill with Nathan. I always enjoy talking to him – although since I’m like a decade older, and he does have rather a baby face, I feel all maternal toward him. (I mean that seriously – he reminds me of exactly what I hope The Boy will be in 15 years – scary smart, opinionated, and passionate about what he believes even if I don’t agree with it all :-) )
Finally, as the party was winding down – and by “winding down” I mean the courtyard beneath us had filled with a large crowd, the bouncer was letting people onto the private balcony, and a rather good cover band had rather loudly started singing beneath us – we headed out… Across the street, where we lucked into a seating area big enough to hold us, and the kitchen sent out copious amounts of food. Since I couldn’t eat any of it, and STILL had no coffee, I sat there and chatted with coworkers and colleagues and tried really hard not to think about how much more relaxed I’d be if I could just pull out my knitting that was sitting right.there. in my purse, waiting for me. I was one couch over from Jeff Sarris, and got to chat with him for a bit. He has amazing hair…oh yeah, and he does incredible things with Genesis.
A pedicab back to the car, transporting almost everyone to their hotels, and Daisy and I got back to our room around 1am, which felt like 3 am for me. I turned on my computer, glanced at the email list, and then passed out. We were up at 6am to get things together – packing, getting ready for breakfast, etc…it was hard to leave a hotel that tried so HARD to describe the internet! Met up with Brian G, Nathan, and Rafal for breakfast, went back and picked up Craig (really, Craig, opting to sleep in instead of cramming into the itty bitty car to drive 20 minutes away for breakfast? I don’t get it.) We headed downtown, where we found a Starbucks (hallelujah!) and then finally, finally found parking. Some of the gang staked out a table outside, Craig and I grabbed coffee (the guys at WebDev owe us coffee at the next WordCamp now ;-)) and then we proceeded to hang out at the table outside and watch the world wander by.
(To be continued…tomorrow, the Arizona portion!)