SXSW 2009: Night One
The cool, wet <not>Vancouver</not> Austin atmosphere hit our group as we were herded from the airport to a waiting Super Shuttle. It felt as if we’d never left the Wet Coast. The driver rattled off a number of hotels and motels in the order that we’d be stopping at them as we entered the van. This group of virgin SXSWers from Los Angeles, New York, Toronto, and Vancouver dwindled fast as we lost more and more at each hotel. Awkward introductions happened between stops, usually just before one of the party stepped off the bus, each time we murmured promises of meeting up during the festival. Maybe lunch.
Good bye old friends.
After an hour of dropping people off on the outskirts of Austin, the passenger population dropped even faster as we hit several downtown hotels in quick succession and, by the end, I was the only one left as we arrived at the OMNI Downtown.
After leaving the bags in the suite, I headed over to the Austin Convention Center only to find a line up to the door. “Whoa,” I thought, and turned to leave and discovered 50 attendees behind me, waiting to take my spot. Then the line took a giant step forward.
Soon, I could see the end and was pleased that while the half hour wait was long, I’d skipped the rumoured GIGANTOR line that would extend out the door and down the street the next morning. Then, I realized something as I got closer. The volunteers were escorting badgers up the semi hidden escalator system. The line was even longer. "Oh, only two more floors" I found out.
The rest of the night was spent in line, followed by stumbling around Austin trying to find some semblance of healthy food. Finally, in the middle of a darkened street, I encountered a Pita Pit. I entered and quickly ordered a whole wheat chicken pita, which, a few moments later, found itself being ravaged by a Canadian who hadn’t eaten since lunch.
As I contemplated the brain teaser in Austin’s free one sheet newspaper, the door buzzer rang as a customer walked in carrying a laptop. The man placed the computer on the counter, mumbled a few words to the cashier and strode out. The cashier bit his lip and saw me looking at him.
“Fucker held us up three days ago,” he said, eyes tearing. “Took a bunch of cash and my laptop. This thing’d my whole life on it. We called the police on his ass. Can’t believe he came back. No idea how much I wanted to punch that fucker in the face.”
“Did you want to…go after him? I asked.
“I-I’m the only one on ‘til–” He turned to the back room and threw the wet rag on the floor as hard as he could. “Shit. Nope, I better not.”
He didn’t come out after that, and no more customers came in. I finished my sandwich trying to remember what that guy’d looked like, just in case. Never saw him again, though.
Eleven o’clock rolled around and my suitemates, Robert Scales and Kris Krüg of Rain City Studios, finally arrived after a 6 hour flight delay, without checked luggage, or a change of clothes, but they made it clear we were going out that night. They laughed about the badge line, and Scales came in close, brushing his wild hair out of the way, and said, "Rule One of South By, 'Never wait in lines.' Let's go."
I threw on a coat and hopped down the hallway after them as we began Night One of SXSW.
This will be a series chronicling a week at SXSW Interactive, Film, and Music Festival