11 March 2008

EPICon 2008...days 1-2


Day one of EPICon was much like day one of any convention. Unless you're lucky enough to be within a few hours' driving distance of it, you're going to spend a large amount of that first day in travel and not actually in convention mode...and you're going to be lugging around a couple hundred pounds of luggage for a serious convention experience.

In my case, I had to be awake at 4 am EST and on the road--with husband and three wide-awake kids--up to Manchester by 5. And, I had three bags on me (a decrease from last year, when I was also running registration at EPICon...or from RT, where I need about half again as many or more clothes and promo gear). I know that my big rolling suitcase was a full 49 pounds. At least I didn't have to pay an overweight luggage fee, for the first time in two years. The pilot case, unbelievably, almost matched that, since it was stuffed full of books, signage, promo gear, pins, pens...all the things I tell people not to check. And my backpack full of books, DVDs, electronics, meds, reading books...again all things you don't want to check and risk losing...weighed in at another 40 or so pounds. 140 pounds of convention gear? I suppose that's a light year, for me. Then again, I also had some boxes shipped ahead, which I usually minimize.

I'd like to say that check-in was uneventful, but is it ever with me? Usually not. For the first time in five years, I did NOT have the full security check, bomb residue check and so on. However, since the TSA staff at Manchester was made up of a lot of new people that had only been there two days, the first checkpoint slipped up in marking my boarding pass, causing the second to go into panic mode, until they'd established that it was indeed their fault and not me bypassing security. Five rather harrowing minutes later, I had an apology from them and was on my way to the gate.

Typically, getting through TSA is the worst--though short-lived--part of travel for me. This cross-country trek to Portland, OR was an adventure. Surprisingly, considering my last two EPICons, there were no over-bookings, no scramble to find people willing to go later. There were no maintenance delays. It was smooth sailing. Planes left when they were supposed to and arrived at or before schedule. It was a joy, in that respect.

On the first flight, we had a medical emergency. By the grace of some kind deities we had three doctors on board, heading to a convention in Salt Lake, I believe they said. The man was stabilized on O2, and we were not forced to divert. Thankfully, he recovered nicely and was able to leave the plane with a minimum of help, so he was probably okay in the end. That got me as far as Chicago.

Well, not quite... I tend to listen to "From The Flight Deck," the tower channel, for at least the half hour or so before we land, if not the whole flight. That channel, if you've never listened to it, is a gold mine for authors. You don't just hear orders to change headings and such.

In my case, I was listening to a full discussion of how O'Hare had lost one of their two radar banks. Further, the ATC were complaining about how Dallas has four and Chicago needs four, being a major hub, but they only have two. Apparently, the pilots agreed that Dallas ATC needs four, because Chicago has a better staff. The entire time, I was taking notes and chuckling.

But, I wasn't chuckling over the fact that we were promised to lose the chop below 15,000 feet, and we were feeling chop down to the blacktop. Didn't need the tower to tell me that.

Switch planes, which went really well...and I was off to Portland. I'd hoped I'd get a lot of work done on the plane, since it was a 4 ½-hour or so flight. Unfortunately, they'd seated me next to a woman with an 18-month-old son, so I got more work done on the 2-hour flight from Manchester to Chicago than the second leg. That was okay; exuberant and in love with my computer or not (which I finally gave up and stowed in favor of a book), he was a fairly well-behaved toddler...and he spoke a little sign language, so we had a great time.

Oh...and if you haven't tried any of the new snack boxes that United serves, you are in for a real treat. They are healthy, and for $5, they will provide enough food for a decent-length flight and snacks for later. It's not a meal, but it is very filling.

Portland Airport, if you've never been there, is a joy. I can see why they've won best US airport two years in a row. I got off the plane, went down to baggage...had to ask information which baggage carrousel of the ten we were on, because they forgot to tell us... The people working there were incredibly polite and helpful, which you don't always see in airports. And, the luggage from my flight was already coming around on the carrousel when I reached baggage claim, so I had my bag within five minutes of getting to the site. Since our plane came in 25 minutes early, I had a full half hour to lounge, until Lisa picked me up.

Lisa and I spent the drive into Kelso/Longview, WA catching up. We had lunch at Capt'n Yoby's Fish...a sensual delight of batter-dipped fish, and that's saying a lot, since I live just outside Boston/Gloucester, and she lives in VA Beach, neither of which has any lack of seafood.

We did some shopping in Longview, and we were off to meet Leslie Slape for some refreshments before WordFest. As I said, on that first day of travel, you normally set up to travel, check in at the hotel and/or convention, and maybe set up some promo gear or other small tasks. You rarely have major events on travel day...save the people who day-travel or...or show up just in time for the EPICon book signing, which several people did last year.

Color me not that relaxed, which anyone who knows me can attest to. Leslie, finding that I was coming to the area on the same week as the monthly WordFest, headed by Alan Rose, had suggested to Alan that they make me their featured speaker. After speaking to Alan, about a month in advance, I learned that I'd have a full 45 minutes of speaking time plus question time. Okay...a class, and he wanted me to cover as much as I could, from the basics of "What is an e-book and how do you read it?" through the industry, in general.

I went in with 20 copies of a 9-page handout (which wasn't enough) and 18 pages of notes for me to make sure I didn't miss anything. Lisa gave me the running out of time sign when I still had 4 pages of notes to go, so I glossed over what was in them. Since I'd saved submissions and such for last, it wasn't so bad that I'd left off there. We did about 15 minutes of questions, moved on to the second hour of their programming (readings of people's work) and then the questions started again. I hung around for another 45 minutes, answering questions on the industry and markets, handing out my e-mail address for questions later... Until they kicked us out of the building at closing time.

Since we were already in WA state, Lisa drove us to her family's farm in Vader for the night. All told, I rolled into bed at about 9:45 PST or 12:45 EST, making a full 21-hour day or more. But, what a fruitful day it was!


Day two started bright and early, at 1:30 PST. Jet lag is the bane of every traveler, moreso when you're traveling 3 or more hours through time zones. Resetting the internal clock may take a number of days, and by the time you do, you're ready to head home.

So, at 1:30 in the morning (4:30 home time on the east coast), I was wide awake. This makes no earthly sense to me, since I was up so late the night before, which means I would have slept in until 6:30 or even 8 am, at home, but 4:30 and the earliest possible start to my day my body decided it was. I did manage to force myself to go back to sleep until a little after 5 am PST or 8 am at home. Lisa was up just a bit later, and she agreed that if I'd woken her at 1:30...or even at 5, she would have shot me, so it was just as well that I got an early start on my trip blog instead of bothering her.

A glass of milk and tour of the farm house later, I confirmed that I still had no cell connection in the wilds of Vader, WA. We went to breakfast at a little family-owned place down the road called The Little Crane and chattered like hens with people who knew Lisa and the farmhand, Pete, pretty well...and treated me like they knew me well, too. More and more, I'm enjoying how friendly and helpful people in the Pacific Northwest are.

Back to the farm... Lisa built a fire to heat the house, I met the farm animals (three big dogs, including a young Mastiff named George, and two cats), hung out with the family from the bunk house, and Lisa did some painting for her toy company (Arkitechy Toys), while we watched a movie on the computer.

I found that the farm was just being opened up for the year, which meant the land line phone and internet hadn't been hooked up yet for the year. In addition, Pete had the farm truck for the work day, which meant I wasn't going back to Portland anytime early in the day. Still, I got a tour of the farm (an old-growth tree farm...and I learned a heck of a lot about trees, life cycles of such and prices of stock), and we had a great time, until it was time to drive back to Portland in the newly-unloaded-again truck.

On the trip back in, I got a good look at the north face of Mt. Saint Helens...as well as Mt. Rainier and Mt. Hood. We stopped in Longview, WA (again), where we indulged in some Burgerville fare. Let me tell you, the chocolate hazelnut shakes are to DIE for good.

In Portland, I got Lisa and myself checked into the hotel and set about searching for a place I could get online for a few minutes to print out the bids for EPICon 2009 that I hadn't printed out at home. The hotel had a lovely business center with printers and a 10-minute time limit per customer at peak hours that worked wonders!

Note... Always ask if such a service is available, when you're at a hotel. It's a sad truth that you may not want to log on from the hotel with your laptop. The connections are sometimes littered with viri, but the business center will take care of your most pressing needs. It's not the most secure thing, but it's workable for checking your gmail or something similar...and always wipe the cache and such, when you're done.

Almost upon walking through the doors, I started seeing old friends. Networking is an important part of a convention, to be sure, but the fact is...no matter how introverted you are, you're likely to make friends online or at events, and you are going to start looking forward to seeing them at conventions.

I also found myself in the typical president situation. Within 30 minutes of arriving, I fielded two separate last-minute problems. In both cases, the answer was simple; whatever would get the convention off, without a hitch, even if it cost the organization a little more money, was going to happen.

The most amusing part of the evening came when I tried to get ice for my room. The ice machine on my floor (which was being remodeled) wasn't hooked up, so I tried the floor below...where there wasn't one. The next even floor had one, but it had a sign on it, stating that it was out of order and guests should proceed to the one on the floor below.

From there on, it became something of a game. Lisa pushed all the floor buttons down to the lobby, and I popped my head out at each floor, confirmed that there was similar sign on the ice machine...or no ice machine on the floor. None of the ice machines were working...and we were pretty slap-happy by the time we reached the lobby. I did ask nicely at the desk, and they told me the restaurant could give me ice.

Lisa went back to the farm, and I went back to the room, proudly carrying my bucket of ice, anticipating ice water. Of course, the soda machine was out of water completely, so a soda it ended up being, but it was cold and wet. At a convention, the little things will always stick in your mind: the sing-along of "Friends In Low Places," the mix-up in rooms...and the great ice search.

Speaking of amusing, some hotel designers need their heads examined, I'm convinced. While we were checking in, the gent behind the desk gave me our room assignment...on the tenth floor. That didn't bother me...until he informed me that the way up to it was one of the three GLASS elevators behind me. Lisa jokingly said that four days here was either going to kill me or cure me. I don't believe either is true, but in the few hours I've been inside the hotel, I've suffered more than a single case of vertigo and panic, thanks to those lovely elevators, even if I do make a habit of staring at the doors. Peripheral vision is a bear.

Back in the room again, I realized I needed the four boxes sent ahead for me. I contacted guest relations, and they had them sent right up to the room. Though I caution there are things not to send ahead, sometimes you just can't carry it all with you. In cases like that, UPS or USPS to the hotel, in your name, is the best answer. However, be aware that some hotels will charge you a fee for holding and delivering your boxes to you.

Though I'd intended to watch a movie and turn in early, this is the way working conventions often run. It's just before midnight EST/9 pm local time, and I'm waiting for CR to bring up the boxes. I'm sipping tap water (be sure to minimize caffeinated drinks at conventions and load up on water and clear juices). Then I'll likely recheck my bags for tomorrow, finish charging all of my electronics, organize my files for the board meeting we'll have to cobble together in the morning...and probably still watch that movie before turning in. It doesn't matter. At somewhere between 1:30 and 5 am local time, I'll be up and moving again.

Final note to self...the low, soft shoes are great, except that they don't have much in the way of arch support. Though they were bought just before I left, break-in was minimal. The only big problem with them is that Oregon and Washington states are so rainy at this time of year, the ground (if it's not concrete) is largely mud and moss. On reconsideration, the hiking boots might have been the better footwear choice this year, after all.

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