Progressive Programmer

Progressive Politics or idle geek banter. What's on my mind when I'm irked, intrigued, bored or up too late.

Location: Michigan, United States


A New Orleans Convention Experience

In mid-April or so of this year, my manager came into my office and announced that the software conference we had requested permission to attend had been approved. This came as a big surprise. Funding for such things is uncommon in my department, so we hadn't expected approval in the least. But more surprising was that the convention was in three days.

In New Orleans.

I had never been to New Orleans before. A co-worker that also attended had been there, but never on business. My wife was 8 months pregnant at the time, so the word coming at the 11th hour felt like nothing if not inconvenient.

Originally, I felt it a strategic imperative that members of our team attend. But when confronted with the word that I had no choice, and under the home-life circumstances that I was, I looked at it with a bit of dread. Travel. Leaving my wife and young daughter. Last-minute arrangements. Too busy at work to avoid the inherent guilt of leaving for several days.

Reluctantly, but with some anticipation of a few days to learn some things about the software I work with and perhaps get a shot at blowing off some steam--steam pent up from the shutin lifestyle that being a husband of a very pregnant woman can bring on--I packed my things and boarded the plane for New Orleans International Airport.

The convention was excellent. I don't frequent such events, but I must say this one made me want to. Our hotel was nice. The software company had assistance at every turn for directions to the convention site, the other hotels where rooms were booked, Riverwalk, the Aquarium, you name it. Shortly after we checked in, my co-worker and I grabbed a bite and a beer a few doors down from our hotel on Canal Street, as we prepared to meet our other 2 co-workers to head to the convention site to look things over and get a feel for what the next few days might bring.

Riding to the site is an eerie feeling. The software company had procured private busses to run the attendees back and forth. The trip from the hotel was roundabout, but took you from the pseudo-niceties of Canal Street, with the polished trolley system and the occasional refined hotels, the Voodoo Marts and the bars, through side streets of seemingly empty buildings. Past abandoned dreams of former business owners. Under a giant overpass perhaps 50 feet up. And then it comes into view.

In the distance you can see apartment complexes. The well-to-dos. In another direction, what looked like an abandoned factory across a canal? A river? And then was the Convention Center.

The Convention Center was huge. Enormous. The footage on television these last few days does not put it into scope. It took nearly 90 seconds to drive past it at city bus speeds. Hall after hall. Door after door. Window after window. It whizzes by as a blur when you drive away, but as you approach it from one end, it seems reasonable. Stepping inside you realize your mind may have fooled you.

Towering ceilings of 40-60 feet. 3 escalators. A hallway as far as you can see. 3 floors of meeting rooms, auditoriums, and the most massive halls I have ever been inside. The convention had taken over the entire end of the complex. It felt like I had made the big time, lucky enough to attend such an event. The kickoff had a local band of drummers and dancers in full costume garb march from far down the hall to welcome us, New Orleans style. The men drummed and the women gyrated. Feathers flew from their headdresses.

For several days we played in New Orleans. Days were spent in the Convention Center, attending conference meetings and dining in the massive halls. Evening mixers with open bars and hors d' ouevres. Dining out with the vendor.

Nights were spent on Bourbon Street. At vendor-sponsored events and just sitting in one of the many, many, many bars. We met a female bartender that bummed cigarettes and told us all about the bar's past life as a hip hop club. We met a "worker" in a liquor store that sold $1 drafts and "three-way beads" the size of canteloupes. He was a staunch conservative that had stayed off the grid for years, gravelly voiced and walking with a limp and cane, firmly convinced that the Federal government could do more harm than good, and openly obsessed with his Nintendo 64. He was a Nintendo Man, he said, his voice worn by cigarettes and alcohol. The door to his apartment, across Bourbon street, was visible from his worn out stool

We stayed in that liquor store for over an hour. The owners made great conversation. Knew everyone. Let us use their restroom (an adventure). We talked primarily about politics and the role of government. We spoke about George Bush. We discussed, with complete civility, the pros and cons of our President. But my coarse-throated friend would have none of my opinions. He was eloquent but vague. Educated, but clearly without great means. I found it hard to leave, despite the late hour, because good debates with random people in faroff places about topics that interest me are rare in life. But we left. We thanked them up and down for the cheap beer and the great conversation, and out we went.

No doubt, others have come away from Bourbon Street similarly affected by the unique hospitality available nowhere else.

The Convention Center footage on television is disturbing. I catch glimpses of landmarks I recognize, having spent but a few days there, and feel helpless. I see the mothers and fathers with young children, and remember myself there. What if I had been there with my family? What if we couldn't have gotten out?

Did our friend with the stool and the Nintendo64 make his way there? Would he have been able to try? Did he change his mind about the federal government? Or cement his original opinion forever?

That Convention Center, the one that struck me with awe for several days... now seeing it again would strike me mute. Dread. They will clean it up, but the odorless smell of fear and death may never leave that place.

I would willingly and happily return to New Orleans and Bourbon Street, but I will never go back to that Convention Center. And I will always wonder what happened to our friend with the cheap beer, the limp, and that one-of-a-kind voice.

I'm not liberal, I'm just paying attention


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02 September, 2005 23:29  

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