20 January 2003

Trip report, day 1

In retrospect, it was my own damn fault. I should have gone for the peppermint. But no, I chose the raspberry Earl Grey, which is apparently full of caffeine. That, combined with worrying about the day to come, meant that I only got around four hours of actual sleep on Saturday night.

Sunday morning, the taxi didn’t quite turn up. In spite of the fact that I had spelled out the street name, somehow the house number had been omitted again. I walked up the street with my cases and got in the taxi.

This was not the usual taxi company. The usual taxi company had been uncontactable, because like an idiot I’d put off calling to arrange a taxi until ten on Saturday night. This taxi looked like it was about thirty years old. There was no traffic on the streets at 07:30, so obviously the driver charged me the standard rate instead of running the meter. I’m sure when I get back and have to sit in traffic, the meter will be running.

I got to the airport, and took a quick look at the queues. There were several hundred IBM people travelling that morning, and it certainly looked like it. I’d read the small print, however, and knew that since I had an e-ticket, I could check in curbside. The queue there only had two people ahead of me. The downside, of course, was having to stand outside in -14C weather, but I was wearing my serious winter coat and hat.

Security was no problem, and I found myself with over an hour before boarding time. Time for food. Time for next problem. The “restaurants” were only serving breakfast food until 11:00, but I’d be on the plane by then, and the cheap-ass bastards at American Airlines didn’t intend to serve any food, even though the flight was over lunchtime. I ended up picking a Burger King “Croissanwich” and “French Toast Sticks” as the most edible and lunch-like option.

I was starting to feel a little cranky by now, so I listened to Bill Hicks’ “Flying Saucer Tour Vol. 1” to recalibrate my crankiness meter. While I was doing so, someone bearing a remarkable resemblance to Timmy from South Park arrived in the departure area with his two companions. His vocabulary was more limited than Timmy’s, in that he could only say “Uuuurrrrrrgh”, but he seemed to be compensating by really putting all his energy into it. I wondered if he was going to be sitting next to me on the plane.

As it turned out, he wasn’t. Sitting next to me instead were two teenage girls, students, probably on their way down to Florida for Spring Break. They wanted to sit by the window, which suited me fine, so I swapped seats with them. Eavesdropping on their conversation before takeoff was mind-numbing; it seemed to be all about one of their friends, her fashion faux-pas, and how she’d really let herself go and should ease off on the french fries if she had any respect for herself at all. I amused myself by wondering if they’d be appearing in the next “Girls Gone Wild” video.

The plane looked to be about as old as the taxi. It did take off, however, and once it was airborne I stuck in some earplugs and tried to get some sleep. Lunch was an organic low-fat energy bar, one of the selection I’d brought with me. I’ve been to these events before and know that skipping proper meals is an inevitability, even without the airlines and airports conspiring to keep me hungry.

Several hours of intermittent napping later, the plane touched down in Orlando. As I was leaving, I was amazed to hear the family behind me talking about their pet skunk! I seriously considered trying to get an invite to meet it, but what would you think if some stranger on a plane showed an unnatural obsession with your household pet?

On the plane I’d seen some newspaper headlines about the peace rally in DC. I wished I could have been there. On the bus to the hotel I used the phone to check how CNN and the New York Times were reporting the event.

The Wyndham Palace seems to be a more upscale hotel than the Swan and Dolphin. Unfortunately as Team IBM arrived, all the hotel’s computers crashed. The hotel clearly has some serious failover issues—without the computers online they can’t issue room keys, check people in or out, or do much of anything really. We stood around for quarter of an hour while someone coaxed the Windows server back into life. The salesmen did what salesmen do in that kind of situation, which is find out from the staff what kind of computers they are using, what kind of database, and so on. (Not IBM, happily.)

The room turned out to be a reasonable size. It’s on the 21st floor, and looks out over Epcot. The desk has a Hermann Miller Aeron chair. (Which is comfortable enough, but not worth the outrageous price.) I found what was allegedly an ethernet port, but it didn’t work. The TV remote didn’t work either. I reported the problems and went to find a shuttle bus so I could check in for the conference.

The woman at the front desk told me the shuttle buses were leaving from the Conference Center on level 1. I went to level one and looked around. There were a bunch of signs telling me that the Conference Center was on level 3. I went up to level 3 in the elevator, and found myself back in reception. I repeated the process via a different route, in case I had missed something. Frustrated, I returned to reception. This time, a different woman told me to go to the conference center on level 1. I pointed out that I’d just been to level 1, and the signs there had told me the conference center was on level 3.

At that point, finally, she let me in on the secret. See if you can guess what it is before reading on.

Think you’ve got it? Well, here it is: There are two different level 1s. The level 1 you can get to from reception is the hotel level 1, which isn’t connected to the conference center level 1. You can only move between the two on level 3, which is why the signs direct you there. To add to the amusement value, the conference center wing of the building isn’t shown on the floor plans. She told me how to get there—along two corridors and down some escalators. I did my best to appear grateful rather than angry, and wandered off.

The bus took me to the Swan and Dolphin hotels, where the main conference is. I registered, and was given an attendee badge. So far, so good—except I’m an exhibitor. I asked about this and was directed to an exceptions booth. The woman at the exceptions booth asked me what my pedestal number was for the exhibition hall. I had no idea, as someone else had dealt with all those details, and hadn’t thought to tell me. She checked a list of names, and found that I wasn’t on it. She checked the list of pedestals, and said she couldn’t find ours listed there either.

I was pretty skeptical of this last claim, as I’d seen a photo of the pedestal at the previous iteration of the event, held in Spain last week. I asked if I could at least pick up the uniform shirt we’re supposed to wear. I was told that there was no way I could be given anything, even information. Apparently they must have some major problems with unauthorized people maliciously showing up and demonstrating products.

I checked my watch. I was due at a team meeting with the head of software sales in about 20 minutes, and really didn’t have time to argue. I was also tired, and getting distinctly cranky again.

I picked up two Krispy Kreme donuts on the way to the meeting. One of the advantages of having been to half a dozen previous shows at Disney World is that I know the secret location of the cafeteria that has the cheap food and Krispy Kreme donuts. It really is almost like Mission Impossible—down two unmarked corridors, along a third, I’d never have found it if I hadn’t been desperate for affordable vegetarian food at a previous event.

Damn, those were fine donuts.

The meeting was soon over. The person responsible for arranging the pedestals arrived late and stood around by the door, and tried to run away as soon as possible, but I ran after her and caught her. Before long she’d vouched for me and I’d been issued an Exhibitor badge.

I returned to the Wyndham Palace Hotel, exhausted. I picked a restaurant by the simple method of finding the one that was actually open. It had what was allegedly an Australian outback theme—the waiters were dressed like Steve Irwin, only with full length trousers instead of shorts. The decor was eccentrically inaccurate; I’m pretty sure they don’t have gorillas in the Australian outback. The food was cheaper than Disney, which meant I managed to get my first proper meal of the day and not exceed the IBM per diem expenses limit of $32. The food was pretty good, the bread was fresh, and the butter was shaped like a kangaroo. I took a photo of it.

I returned to my room, crashed into bed, and slept for ten hours.

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