ALA 2011: Random Impressions

I think I started attending ALA conferences in 1975 and, through 2010, had missed one Annual and no Midwinters during that time. It’s likely that I’ll miss most or all Midwinters from now on, and events over the next few months should help determine whether I’ll attend future Annuals.

This post doesn’t include the “serious business”–what I saw and perceived in the exhibits. That may appear elsewhere; we’ll see. This is about the rest–noting that, for various reasons, I didn’t make it to any formal programs at all.

Digression 1: The ALA Connect Conference Scheduler is partly to blame for that, in a very indirect way. People can check off programs that they plan to attend. I went back to the scheduler two days before ALA and looked at each program I was thinking about attending, figuring that the count on the Scheduler was probably no more than 2/3 of how many would actually be there. In one case–maybe two cases–I downgraded the program because there were likely to be too many people. On the other hand, I think the scheduler is a great idea.

Almost Not Getting There: Kind Words for American Airlines

We won’t go back to pre-conference days and how I got a really good deal at the Hampton Inn Downtown (using AARP rates), which wasn’t a conference hotel. No, it wasn’t on the bedbug list (which several conference hotels were on)–I noted that none of the Hampton Inns in New Orleans, including the one that’s closer to the ALA part of the convention center than any other hotel, were on the conference hotel list, and I’m guessing Hilton didn’t offer that chain to ALA.

We go back to 90 days before the conference, when I was booking flights. I’d decided to take a red-eye from San Francisco so that I could spend Friday in NOLA without paying for a Thursday night hotel room. I’m an American flyer, so I was about to book the 11:45 p.m. red-eye through Chicago…and then said, “maybe it would make more sense to go through Dallas-Fort Worth,” and changed to the 12:30 a.m. red-eye.

Without realizing the consequences, which were certainly there on the screen, and in the confirming email: To wit, when you change from 11:45 p.m. on June 23 to 12:30 a.m. on June 23, you’re going to arrive on June 23, not June 24…

I’d planned to have my wife drive me to the Pleasanton-Dublin BART station around 3:30 p.m. (because there’s a 4 p.m. Farmers Market in Livermore), get to SFO around 5:15, check in, have a leisurely dinner, explore the brand-new Terminal 2, and read until the flight.

But when I logged on to American to check in, I found something else: A big CANCELLED next to my reservation. Why? Well, I hadn’t showed up for the 12:30 a.m. flight–that is, that flight that left six hours ago, dummy…so American properly cancelled the three other legs of the itinerary.

Panic, pounding heart, recognition that you have a $500 non-refundable plane ticket plus $135 non-refundable (this late) conference registration plus $136 first-day hotel charge (that, I might have been able to fix) plus the people you’d set up appointments with at ALA plus…

Called the AAdvantage Gold desk (I don’t fly that much these days, but after you hit a million miles, you get Gold–the first Very Frequent Flyer level–for life). Explained the situation, taking blame for it. Asked for help. Was told: “Go to the airport NOW. Get on standby. If you get on a plane, the rest of the trip will be restored.” That was at 8 a.m. “NOW” wasn’t possible–my wife was just getting up and needed breakfast, and it’s at least two hours to the airport in any case–but I did start packing right away.

Wound up at the airport around noon. Went to desk (Gold also gets you the first-class check-in and security lines). Explained the problem. The clerk said yes, I *might* be able to get on standby, although the flights are going out pretty full. I noted that I had plenty of reading and, in some ways, would just as soon go out on the 12:30 a.m. red-eye I thought I was booking originally (that is, the Friday early morning flight on 6/24). She said, “Well, there are seats, and for a $50 change fee, I can give you an actual boarding pass.” Sold, with enormous gratitude.

In both cases–on the phone and in person–the American people were gracious, efficient, helpful, and reminded me why I primarily fly American Airlines. [OK, so when I changed seats on my return flight from DFW to SFO, so that two kids flying without parents could sit together, the attendant not only thanked me, she gave me a free drink. That was nice, but I would have changed seats anyway so that the kids could be together. Wouldn’t you?]

Thought about it further. If I’d taken a standby, I would have gotten in to NOLA around 11 p.m. and had to beg for an extra night’s hotel room (my wife had said: Call the hotel as soon as you think you’re getting on a plane, and see if you can extend the reservation)–and, if a room was available, paid an extra $130 with tax. So I spent $50 for a day pass to the Admiral’s Club, a brand-new club in the brand-new terminal, including lounge chairs I could nap in and, by the way, free wine & beer (new “free drinks” policy for domestic clubs). Heck, even a shower, if I was so inclined.

So I spent all of Thursday–well, from noon to midnight, at least–at SFO, but that was OK. Flights went forward without any real hitches. Since all four flights going and returning were 100% full, I can believe waiting for standby might have been tricky…

Digression 2: I thought the new Terminal 2 would be worth an hour or two to explore. Not so much. Unlike the glorious Terminal D in American’s part of DFW, Terminal 2 doesn’t amount to all that much, although there are one or two interesting art installations and one interesting permanent interactive sculpture. Did you know SFO is actually an accredited museum?

Hampton Inn couldn’t check me in at 9:45 a.m.; I was finally able to check in, shower and change around 1 p.m. But at least I was there.

Impressions of NOLA and the Conference Center

I wore short-sleeved shirts throughout the weekend and walked everywhere, I’m guessing about 1.5 miles from the hotel to the far end of the CC where ALA always seems to be.

Digression 3: Why is ALA always in Halls G through J, half a mile down the endless Morial CC hallway? I’m sure there are good reasons…apparently, in this case, another exhibition that finished just before ALA, rather than the usual simultaneous exhibition or one coming in just afterward.

Since I went back and forth twice each day, I figure I was getting around 6 miles of walking each day. That’s a good thing.

I didn’t really feel too overchilled in Morial, and the hotel was even better, but wouldn’t it be lovely if more CCs and hotels were like DC last summer–that is, with inside temperatures in the mid-70s so your body isn’t shocked so much by transitions?

Other than registration, my only real ALA thing on Friday was the LITA Happy Hour, which was big and good. (I’m no longer in LITA, but that’s where I tend to run into people, and since LITA doesn’t pay for the drinks, I don’t feel bad about going.) Ran into several LSW folks and a bunch of LITA folks I haven’t seen in a while. Good stuff.

NOLA–New Orleans, Louisiana? Great. On Friday and Saturday we didn’t even get the usual summer afternoon showers (on Sunday, we did–and I got pretty thoroughly soaked, since my umbrella was safely back at the hotel), and Friday was even cooler than expected.

Digression 4: There’s another substantial building on the way from my hotel to Morial, at least if you walk from my hotel to the Hilton Riverside to Morial: Harrah’s. I visited Harrah’s between breakfast and exhibits each morning and for a couple hours Friday. Always played multihand double-bonus poker slots, either at $0.25 or $0.10/hand, playing at least two hands per draw. Loved it, and planned to contribute no more than $50 to NOLA’s economy through this method. In fact, it worked out the other way–but that’s another story, wholly irrelevant to the blog. Fours of a kind should occur roughly once in every 423 hands of slot draw poker, but that doesn’t mean they can’t occur considerably more often (after all, the virtual cards have no memory)–and when you’re getting anywhere from 50 to 160 payback, they can mean a lot to your bottom line.

Other Notes

I loved the dual internet cafes–for once, I was actually able to check email & FF once or twice. That’s unusual.

I was talking to a lot more exhibitors than usual, especially small publishers and independent press distributors and self-published authors. I also talked to a rep at one place that I thought might be a third “pure play” service provider similar to Lulu and CreateSpace–and didn’t realize until I came home and checked their website that, well, let’s say this is a company with a History and not really a pure play provider.

Digression 5: As I was walking by the Swets booth, a pitchman pulled me in to be part of a close-up magic act that was also a sales pitch of sort. He was a really good close magician–I will be damned if I know how he managed some of the things. (Two of them involved my direct participation, and I still haven’t the vaguest idea how he was doing this stuff.)

The one meeting I started to attend was the fledgling Retired Members Round Table. Turns out that, quite apart from the $20 dues, it probably isn’t for me–it felt like a way for Involved ALA Members to continue to be Involved ALA Members. Frankly, it made me feel old–whereas my primary professional involvement (and the only ribbon I was wearing), the Library Society of the World, makes me feel, um, less old.

I finished the conference with a really nice reception (put on by Oxford University Press) at the Louisiana State Museum–drenched, but ran into a bunch of people, heard good music and drank good (California) wine. Oh, and had some great BBQ brisket on mashed potatoes.

Digression the last: I probably had four, maybe five, different gumbos during the weekend, every one of them good. Perhaps I shouldn’t mention that the best of them was…in the DFW airport at a New Orleans-style seafood restaurant.

Next year and beyond?

We shall see. Next year’s Anaheim, which is easy travel for me and a reasonably good site. 2014 is in Vegas, and I’d like to touch down there. Otherwise…we shall see. Who knows? I might even get to an ITI conference such as CiL one of these years…

One Response to “ALA 2011: Random Impressions”

  1. Ivan Chew says:

    Wow, the “how you almost never got there” part sounds really harrowing. It reminded me of my attempts at booking my own flights. The time and time zone changes can be confusing, though upon hindsight it’s always easy to see where the confusion was. But that’s hindsight. Good thing it all worked out for you.