Midwinter musings

I don’t know that this qualifies as a Proper Report on my ALA Midwinter Meeting 2010 experiences–but it’s as close as I’m likely to provide, leaving out a bunch of stuff I didn’t remember, don’t feel any need to comment on or, in at least one case, choose not to weigh in on. Think of this as incidents and, fortunately, no real accidents…

Getting There [Thursday & Friday]

This could have been a whole lot more exciting, in all the wrong ways…

  • Booked American’s SFO-Boston redeye nonstop way back in October, because there was an excellent fare for roundtrip nonstops (just over $230). I snagged Seat 9C, which on a 757 is one of the two best coach seats (as long as you don’t mind the complete lack of view): Exit row just before First Class, aisle, 2×2 seating and loads of extra legroom. And I put in for “sticker” upgrades, thinking a redeye might have some empty space in First.
  • Took BART to the airport (for the first time–but certainly not the last). Deliberately got there very early–my wife doesn’t drive after dark if she can avoid it, and I figured a leisurely dinner and reading at the airport would be fine.
  • AA.com wouldn’t let me print a boarding pass Thursday morning, so I stopped at the checkin desk to get a boarding pass and see whether an upgrade had come through. The agent brings up the record and says, “It wouldn’t let you check in because we refunded your ticket.” What?
  • After I assured him I hadn’t done any such thing, he called someone else, they discussed the situation and said [a] the charge had definitely been reversed, but [b} I still had the reservation, and [c] since I asserted I hadn’t initiated the refund (and nobody else could have done so on my behalf-), they’d honor the price (about one-third of what I’d pay at that point) and reissue the ticket.
  • I handed him my credit card…and he handed me a receipt and a boarding pass for 9C, saying I was on the upgrade list. Had a good dinner. Read, walked around the American section…
  • Got a little worried when the arrival board showed the inbound flight from Boston delayed by almost three hours. But the departure board still showed the Boston flight as ontime. Turns out it isn’t a turnaround: an inbound Chicago flight was our ticket to Boston.
  • Boarding was scheduled for 10:30; the flight departure desk opened around 10, along with the display of upgrades and standby. As an AAdvantage Gold member, I was #21 on the upgrade list, so I wrote off the possibility of an upgrade.
  • In fact, nobody got upgrades–and the flight was 100% full (although not checked in beyond capacity; a couple of others there would have stayed an extra day and taken the payment). The Platinum/Executive Platinum boarding (after First, before mere Gold) was a horde–possibly 1/3 of the plane’s capacity! Experienced flyers said the Boston redeye is frequently that way–it’s cheaper, you get to Boston before work the next day, and it’s very popular with business travelers.
  • What this means is that the screwup on my reservation could have put me on the standby list for the flight–and the one person on that standby list didn’t get on the plane. Which would have meant spending the night in SFO or at an airport hotel and taking my chances the next day. Fortunately, AA’s people made the best of an odd situation, taking me at my word. (AA’s people are the main reason American’s still my preferred airline.)
  • Perfectly acceptable flight. Departed a few minutes late because some carry-on luggage had to be gate-checked (three rows ran out of overhead room), arrived 20 minutes early, got some middling sleep during the night. No question: row 9 gives you as much legroom as first class (and in Boston, seats 9B & 9C got off the plane before first class, ’cause they use the midplane door).
  • Got off around 7:30 a.m. and remembered the possibilities for the Westin Waterfront–namely the water taxi. Prompt and free airport shuttle to the dock, there was a taxi (covered motorboat) waiting. Neat! Ten minutes or so, $10, riding the waves over to the World Trade Center, then a short walk to the Convention Center and Westin.
  • Westin’s people had said flatly there was no way I’d be able to check in before mid-afternoon unless I paid for Thursday night. Since that was still cheaper than taking a typical daytime roundtrip flight, that’s what I did. Immediate checkin, giving me time to shower, have breakfast, get my badgeholder, and take a nap before starting the conference proper.
  • Main event Friday: LITA Happy Hour, in a bar at the Renaissance hotel roughly two blocks from the Westin. A good setup, I think–enough room, not too noisy. Only really convenient for people either coming from BCEC, the Westin or one or two other hotels, but it’s hard to site a LITA Happy Hour. Chatted with loads of folks I only see twice a year (one main reason for going to conference).

Being There [Saturday-Monday]

Went to a number of interest groups and discussion groups and that group that I’d been a panelist for, from its inception through 2005. I’m not going to comment on that particular session at all, thank you.

I found the ACRL copyright discussion group (on fair use) worthwhile.

LYRASIS’ “meet & greet” was interesting, although I didn’t stay for the whole time.

“Set Sail to Fail” was an interesting experiment and, I think, a success.

The exhibits were…the exhibits. Publishers seemed to be doing well; others seemed sort of light. The dry goods booths were odd, as usual (10 pairs of socks for $20: really not why I flew across the country, but maybe meeting some needs). Other sessions that I didn’t take notes on…

Many informal discussions, valuable as always. Not true lobbyconning–ALA’s too big & dispersed for that.

The OCLC Blog Salon was back on track (2009 was an odd year, with very large rooms and relatively fewer people)–the room was the right size, there were quite a few new people there, it was a good event.

I was running tired throughout and unwilling to pay big bucks for taxis, so I neither saw much of Boston nor ate at a fascinating range of places. The Westin’s a bit odd in having a hotel restaurant that’s closed for dinner (but the “Irish pub” was OK).

I will say the BCEC’s food court was unusually good for a convention center, at least based on my past (limited) experience–I ate lunch there three times (one burrito, two lunches at Sam Adams) and found the food good, freshly prepared and reasonably priced in each case.

Monday, the day I could have spent most time roaming Boston, was just not a good day to explore. I’d wondered whether I should have tried to change to a Monday flight–but, fortunately, didn’t. Not only would the change have been expensive, it looked as though Monday flights were pretty consistently delayed for hours on end, and I really didn’t want to get back to SFO late in the evening or in the middle of the night.

It’s rare for me to spot “the theme” at an ALA conference, particularly at Midwinter. This wasn’t an exception. Lots of people who think everybody else is exactly like them: Something you usually encounter with gurus and technophiles, along with the use of “everybody” to mean “the 10% of people I find most interesting” or, maybe, “everybody who matters.” It continues to be tiresome and annoying, particularly if your heart is in public libraries, but it’s so predictable that I start to tune it out. Lots of other people who are technologically knowledgeable and see the world as a complex place full of different kinds of people with different skills, different resources and different interests and who see lots of virtue in the kind of reality that doesn’t always involve electronics–my kind of people. I think I encountered a lot more of the latter than the former; at least I hope so.

Coming Home [Tuesday]

  • Water taxis don’t start until 7 a.m. and my flight was at 7:50, so I wanted to be there by 6, so… a “ground taxi” was the only real possibility. Fortunately, the weather early Tuesday was much better than on Monday; fast ride, reasonable fare, easy checkin–and #2 on the upgrade list. (But I had seat 9D, the other best seat…)
  • This time the upgrade came through (at least three people got upgraded in all: the third one, right behind me, said fairly loudly and delightedly, “This never happens any more!”)
  • So I rode home in seat 6F, in style, with a good hot breakfast, plenty of room–and American’s “DVD players.” They’re not DVD players, but they’re neat–individual media players with fairly large screens (maybe 9″-10″?), loaded with at least 20-25 movies, using Bose noise-cancellation headphones. The person in the next seat just plugged the Bose phones into his iPod in place of earbuds; I watched a movie (and listened to some music on my Sansa Express–the noise cancellation made onboard listening much more pleasurable).
  • All in all, a good way to get home–perhaps a 10-minute delay for deicing (it started snowing just as we were boarding, but very lightly), but we made that up on the way to SFO, arriving a bit early. BART back to Pleasanton/Dublin, home by 2 p.m.

That’s about it. No deep insights. East Coast conferences are still the better part of a day lost in travel, and it does seem a shame ALA Midwinter is so often in cold climes–but that’s an old song. (Sad that San Antonio seems to be off the list; the perfect Midwinter rotation would be San Antonio, San Diego, New Orleans and, I dunno, some other city–maybe Seattle–but that will never happen.) Got some insights and ideas (I have some marginal notes in my handwritten notes that will play into Library Leadership Network and, to a lesser extent, Cites & Insights), met some new people, renewed some old acquaintances…can’t ask for a lot more.

5 Responses to “Midwinter musings”

  1. Brian Herzog says:

    I caught the end of Set Sail to Fail – sorry I didn’t recognize you. I’m with you on the sock thing (and jewelry), and I’m glad you missed the snow on your flights. Being a local resident, I spent most of Monday shoveling.

  2. walt says:

    Hi Brian,

    I actually appreciate it when people who I may be acquainted with don’t recognize me, or recognize the face but don’t remember the name. Since I’m fatally bad with names, it’s good to know I’m not alone.

  3. stevenb says:

    Sounds like you didn’t make much use of the T – a good alternative to expensive taxis. I used it extensively to move between the convention center area and the copley square area. This was a challenge because many of my meetings were in the copley area – but needed to get back to the convention center for other stuff. I have to hand it to Boston – the T is a good system and the charlie card is efficient and easy to use.

  4. walt says:

    I didn’t make any use of the T. I just didn’t have the energy. When I had Copley events, I used the Gale shuttle. No question, the T is a good system.

  5. Ronald Russ says:

    I didn’t get a chance to see much of Boston either. For the most part I was busy in ALA Council and related meetings. I didn’t think the convention center food was that good, but it was edible (minus the bagel and egg sandwiches). Did get to use the Network Uncommons, but the area was smaller than I anticipated. Luckily it worked out for my meeting. In the end, it was nice to get back to ALA meetings after an 8 year absence.