Hall of Fame
My alarm went off at 4am on Friday morning and I had 30 minutes before the cab was arriving to pack for 10 days in Texas. I checked the weather forecast in Austin (it said definitely cold and probably rain) then crammed a mountain of sweatshirts, jackets, socks, underwear & shirts into a bag. A pair of backup pants in the event of an unforeseen pants emergency. One bathing suit with the optimistic hope that I’d make friends with a pool. The plan was always to grab a nap in the taxi, but it was just too exciting. It felt like I was driving into Christmas. I brushed up on my ability to make conversation with a cab driver and braved the pre-dawn scene at LAX. Multiple people at the gate were wearing Google Glass.
The good people at Tagged (it’s a website) have a service where cars pick you up for free from the airport at SXSW. When you land there’s a girl at baggage claim holding a Tagged sign with your name on it and she takes you to your car. It’s a nice way for them to take care of their friends and, bonus, if those friends have any social media channels they will 99% post about it. When I got to my sign I bumped into two people I hadn’t seen in years, my old bosses Larry and Terry from Fanscape. They seemed very impressed with the size of the sign that had my name on it and the obvious success it implied. When I went outside, I saw the modest vehicle that Tagged sent to greet me.
I made it to 6th Street (if you’ve never been to SXSW, 6th Street is like Bourbon Street at Mardi Gras or the Thunderdome from “Mad Max”) and ventured towards the FOD condo to check in. Found out I couldn’t check in for another two hours, so I killed some time in a bar getting lunch thinking maybe I should count the number of beers I have on this trip. What a fun thing to do! What an angle on this developing story.
A group of guys walked in, all of whom were wearing giant orange foam hats, neon green sunglasses and eating popsicles. I wondered if the same booth was giving them all out or if they made three different stops. The only thing I knew for certain was they did not pay for the hats or the sunglasses or the popsicles. By the time the condo guy came to let me in, the beer count was at 1.5 but I scored it as a 2.
When he gave me the condo keys he was VERY adamant that we were not to have ANY parties, make ANY loud noise or smoke ANY weed. I nodded, but the fact that I was wearing a hat covered in weed leaves and carrying two boxes of DJ gear did not seem to reassure him of my intentions. I spent my afternoon picking up my badge then used the SXSW app to sniff out free food and drinks at daytime tech parties. WARNING: If you go to these day parties, they do have free food and drinks but you might have to sit through an analytics platform demo from a guy who is wearing a shirt that is just a very bad shirt. I complimented him on his shirt, but I think he knew I was overcompensating for my real feelings. I saw my cousin who lives in Austin, texted a local weed dealer I met a year ago and regrouped with the FOD team to see a live Big Boi performance presented by Verizon.
(photo: Ally Hord)
Big Boi was phenomenal and, not wanting to be done with the night, we marched back towards 6th Street where a modest scene was developing. Tech folks and local alcoholics alike were embracing this opportunity to wander the blocked off streets with a stomach full of Lone Star. We bought a whole pizza, ate all of it in less than 2 minutes as a team building exercise, went to a bar with delightful 80’s music and a little before 2am I decided it was time to call it. Being up for almost 24 hours was starting to take its toll (the afternoon nap I had planned to take alluded me) and I said goodnight to the team.
I woke up next to an untouched bag of chicken strips and a room temperature chocolate shake. Eager to seek refuge from brands offering me free food in exchange for mental real estate, and still very hungry, I went to my cousin’s house for a home cooked meal where she and her boyfriend prepared a feast for Darryl and me. They also had some really cool stuff on their walls. I snapped some pictures of my cousin’s dog (named Marfa) and was informed that Marfa has her own Instagram account. I followed her post haste, the second dog I followed on Instagram so far this trip. Unaware of the huge solid I just did her, Marfa tried to eat my cheeseburger two seconds later. I forgave her.
I woke up disoriented, unsure what day it was. Was it Saturday or Friday? How many days of this did I have left? How many days had I been here? I tried to leave the room I was in and wound up walking into a closet. Everything was outsmarting me and I knew I had to leave Texas soon. “One more day then just don’t miss your flight,” I reassured myself. Not that reassuring when I thought about it.
About 10 minutes later my phone rang. Apparently, fed up with waiting for a cab each morning, drunk me decided to schedule a cab last night before I went to bed. Not sure why I scheduled it so early, but ok. Not about to look a cab-horse in the mouth. I threw on some clothes and went downtown. I realized I didn’t shower when the cab had already left, but fuck it, it was raining. Close enough.
Physically ill from all the BBQ I had ingested in the past week, I went to a sushi place I discovered last year. It has become my lunch strategy to tackle the final boss that is Saturday night of music week. Try to eat a light, healthy meal of fish, salad and rice because at any minute your whole physical ecosystem could unravel. Wash it down with beer and water to keep the train on the tracks.
When I walked in and asked for a table the hostess deadpanned that the whole restaurant was on break. I shrugged and was about to leave before I realized she was messing with me. It is just SO easy to trick people this late in the SXSW game. I ate the first healthy meal I’d had in over a week, left a few comments on Instagram regarding my thoughts on dogs, then headed out towards a friend’s showcase.
On my way, I saw a guy playing guitar by himself in the rain between two dumpsters for nobody. I hope he’s ok.
I spent the afternoon wandering around checking out a few showcases and seeing friends. My fascination with clothing was growing, so I decided to grab a few more photos of cool outfits while I was still here.
Realizing I left my sunglasses at home, I stopped by the convention center to try and pick up some free sunglasses (no giant orange foam hats or popsicles required) but with tech week long gone the scene inside the convention center had changed. Instead of free sunglasses and flash drives I found rows upon rows of gorgeous poster art. It reminded me of Comic-Con and I got a little homesick for California.
I got an email reminding me of a free dinner I RSVP’d to that was presented by Tumblr. It was a few blocks away so I figured I should check it out. Why not? I had no reason why not. The once quiet 6th Street had exploded over the past nine days into a wall of humanity. College students, musicians, street performers, disgruntled locals and well meaning families roamed this zoo. On my way to the Tumblr dinner, I got a call from my dear friend Jake who is a self-proclaimed big dog in the music industry. I found him on a nearby roof and invited him to join me for this dinner. Neither of us knew what to expect, but we both were game to check it out.
I woke up and had a conversation with Darryl about splitting a cab to the airport. We each agreed that would be a good idea. 30 minutes later we go outside to find two taxi cabs waiting for us. Whoops. Guess we should’ve been a little more clear with each other about who was on cab calling duty. Not wanting to watch these cab drivers fight in the street, we agreed the easiest thing to do here was just to take two separate cabs to the same airport for the same flight. We also agreed it would be fun to see them race. Shout out to Wilson in the FOD accounting department, I am not submitting this second cab receipt for reimbursement just because I couldn’t deal with an awkward conversation with two cabbies. It was worth every penny to beat Darryl to the airport.
When I got to the airport and unloaded my bag, backpack and DJ gear from the trunk a guy on the curb came up to me with a soda cup and asked me to sign it. I think he thought I was famous because I had headphones around my neck. I don’t know why I declined his request, it was easily my biggest fuckup of the entire 10 days.
Darryl showed up a few minutes later and we joked about which of the many wristbands we were wearing could get us on the flight. He told me about all the crazy places he went the night before, including a G Pen event with a secret VIP room that was exactly as ridiculous as you might imagine and then some. When I got to the front of the security line they asked me to remove my sunglasses and say my full name twice like I just suffered some kind of seizure. The fact that I was wearing a hat covered in weed leaves did not assure the TSA agent of my good intentions. Another TSA agent asked me how long I had been up. I just shrugged and said, “Nine days?”
Before our plane boarded we went to the apple store, which wasn’t a place that sold computers but a sports bar that also sold water bottles and apples. I bought one of each, finished half of both and almost made it on the plane before a gate rep asked to see if my carry on was up to regulation size.
I walked over to that tiny metal crate they have next to the gate door and start shoving it in there. She was not ready for where I was at emotionally and spiritually. I caught my 28th wind. My wave of energy hadn’t quite crashed yet and I was in it to win it. I was dropping elbows on this bag.
She yelled, “Sir, don’t force it! You’re forcing it!” I wanted to respond with, “Ma’am, the whole point of this tiny crate right now is for me to force it! And don’t think I was going to be gentle with your overhead bins! I’m friends with DJ American Airlines! Just let me in, I’m on the list!” Instead, I quickly cut my losses and just handed my bag over to be checked with a smile. I was back in the real world now and needed to act accordingly. This place has rules and people who don’t compliment you on your weed hat.
I got on the plane and left SXSW 2014 behind. It was a wild time that left me with a greater appreciation for life and what we're all capable of accomplishing when we join together for a common purpose. Human tragedy is an unfortunate certainty, it's the response that counts. But now it was time to go home, get some sleep and write the longest article of my life that nobody will ever read. Oh yeah, I also needed to watch the “True Detective” finale. See you next year, Texas. I love you.