June 21, 1999
I was most worried about getting there. Part of that was because I'd talked with Dad about how he and Mom and gotten to Toronto just before leaving and they'd been delayed for an entire two days before getting to where they wanted to go. This didn't help my confidence any and it only served for me to watch the weather in St. Louis and New Orleans. St. Louis looked clear, but New Orleans was predicting afternoon thundershowers, which was when I was supposed to arrive. Given that Mom and Dad had their flights canceled due to thundershowers, it wasn't good.
My flight was at 9 a.m.. This meant that I had to be at the airport at 8, which meant a 7:30 a.m. arrival at the parking lot, and that was a good hour away from home when there was rush hour traffic. At least I assumed that it'd be an hour, nearly all the times that I'd driven there it'd been about 45 minutes; but they were all off rush hour times. 2 a.m. to get Kathy had been the most deserted, but nearly all the trips that John and I had taken to visit or look around had been at times that weren't in the midst of rush hour. So I was minorly worried about that. At least it wasn't an 8 a.m. flight and I didn't have a shuttle to not have a ticket for, which was what happened last time.
So I got up at a quarter til 6, to get a shower, get myself all together, and John got up with me, as he was a real sweety and made me a mocha to go with me. I like having a travel cup with me when I go places, it's easy to fill with ice and water anywhere, and very good for coffee drinks when I get the chance. I had it in the car as he'd made it so hot I burned myself sipping it; but it was reassuring simply by existing. I drove, half white-knuckled all the way to the airport. There was only one slowdown, a set of traffic lights on 104th, just past the business district, two lights weren't timed right, but I could see cars for two blocks and I started just swearing under my breath for the entire length of traffic block. It cleared up fairly quickly after that, and I zoomed my way to the parking lot a good ten minutes early, and the shuttle was right there to pick me up.
Two more cars later, it whisked me off to the airport, and I was so relieved of the extra margin I tipped the shuttle guy and wandered over to TWA.
The flight itself was uneventful. Both the flight and the connecting flight worked out just fine, though, in St. Louis, I had to quick step from the end of one concourse all the way to the end of the other only to find that they hadn't even gotten attendants there, yet, to take tickets. I took the extra time for a bathroom break, and the flight didn't get off until a good hour later than it should have gone. That was okay, though, it got off.
I also got a lot of time to read Connie Willis' Lincoln's Dreams, which was haunting and deeply embroiled in the American Civil War. It's funny, in the opening comments, she notes that folks didn't say all that much about her writing about the Civil War, what they all talked about were their dreams. My dreams have always intrigued me, but what she was able to capture about the American Civil War, even in the sections of fiction that her fictitious fiction writer writes, was enthralling. That care really showed through, much as her care of real scientific inquiry and the whole crazy business of living as a human being was all through Bellwether. I enjoyed it, though was bemused by it as well. There's some essence of Chinese tragedy in the midst of it all, or even classical tragedy, the inherent essence of the characters lending the reasons for their actions and the consequences. It's haunting. I'm not sure I liked it, but I definitely will remember it.
The images of the book followed me into my first impressions of New Orleans, so deep in the South.
When I stepped of the plane, the humidity and heat were a blow to my breathing. I was very glad to get into the cool air conditioning of the airport itself and force on myself that I really had the time to just slow down and take it easy and find my way. I got my luggage, went over to the rentals and then fiercely debated getting myself a rental car. I had read enough to know that New Orleans was a fairly good walking town; but I was afraid of conference shuttles on the way back, that I might not see as much as I wanted to see if I were subject to the whims of shuttle drivers, and I was pretty confident of finding my way as I had a good dozen maps from Yahoo and other places that showed me all the ways I could go. So I finally decided to get the car. I almost changed my mind again when the rental shuttle was really slow in coming, but just as I started to turn away it arrived.
So I got a ride out to the rental place, and they did the usual thing of first asking if I wanted an upgrade and when I turned it down they gave me a free one because there were so few cars they had left. They actually gave me a Jeep Grand Cherokee and I was so amused I was giggling right there at the counter and getting looked at by the clerk. I refused to say anything and walked out into golf-balled sized drops of warm rain.
I got all the stuff into the car very quickly, but stayed out in the rain a bit. It's been a long time since I've been hit by warm rain and I just closed my eyes and enjoyed the feeling of it on me before climbing into the cabin of the Cherokee. It's very different than the Land Rovers. It's padded, plush, rides way too low and has the steering of a land boat. It was also air conditioned, which I was very glad of as the entire interior steamed up the moment I got in, so I had the ac on, and then wandered my way to 10 east. I took the direct way in, figuring that I'd probably circle when I couldn't find the hotel at first, and then discover a bit around the place; and so it was. Took me a good five passes with all the one-way streets and a neat side-trip to Lee Circle with General Lee on his horse in the midst of the circle and seeing a few of the genteel neighborhoods to one side and the French Quarter to the other of the hotel at 444 St. Charles. Anyone with a map will figure out that I did more side-tracking than I probably strictly needed to; but I thought I'd get some value from the car while I could.
The sky was all iron grey when I drove in, and I parked the car in the parking lot next to the hotel. I got all my stuff out, checked in easily and they were very nice to me and then I discovered that why my room cost as much as it did was that it was one of the top-floor suites. Yow.
The windows couldn't see beyond the business building next door; but the interior was very nice, with all the accoutrements from nice little fridge to champagne bucket to glass flutes, stacks of towels, soap in tins, cunningly designed toilet kits, and an ironing board in the closet. Which I made immediate use of to iron out my black linen skirt. Business attire, you know? There was also a cool view of an atrium just below me with hand-set tile floor with fire colored lotus blossoms on a rainbow of colors for a background and twelve steep pipes setup as giant wind chimes.
The sun came out while I unpacked. It was just past five and I'd eaten nothing but the mocha, a few airplane peanuts and pretzels and I could feel myself fading badly. So, instead of just eating at the hotel, I wanted something good, something nice, but in my usual, roundabout way, the first thing that really popped into my head was going to the Conference, getting my attendance ticket and then finding something for food there.
I think that part of it was that I figured that, as with all my other DAC's the booth folks would be going out to dinner and I might join them. I hopped one of the conference shuttles, feeling like I was running through water. The shuttle was pulling up just as I got out of the hotel; and got seated by a lady that had been at DAC since the Saturday Woman's Conference. That was kinda weird. I mean...
I've spent years and years and years of my life trying to convince people that I wasn't any different than any of the guy engineers. Perhaps a fallacy on my part, in part; but it was something that had been a driving force for much of my professional career. I'm just one of the guys, just as capable, just as geeky, just as technically oriented, so don't treat me any different!! And here were all these women having this conference that was oriented just for themselves and pointing out that they're not only different but they're excluding all the boys from their little party. It just drives me nuts.
Then again, I might have done better for myself if I had had something like that when I was developing as an engineer. I might not have felt so terribly alone or felt like I had to defend myself and my career choices with every engineering decision or project I took on. Or felt like I betrayed everything when I decided, for the first time, to take on a software-only job. I cried for two days before deciding to accept the Synario job, all my other jobs had been as much embedded software as embedded hardware, some depended on a custom-processor I'd made or on the very hardware I'd designed with the emulators. Synario was, really, the first job I'd ever taken on that was just software. Maybe that's just something anyone feels when they give up their old career for a new one, even when, in many folks' minds, they're related. Then again, when I was offered the job by Cypress a few years later, I was so very sure that I was doing the right thing by staying with software rather than moving back into the embedded systems.
It is one of those things that I still have problems resolving. I still don't know what's 'good' or 'bad' or 'harmful' or 'helpful'. It just kinda is, one way or another and I can choose to play or not to play.
I got to the conference just in time to get signed up, they were closing at 6, and I got out onto the floor as soon as I got my badge and it was like coming home again.
DAC is the Design Automation Conference, and it's a very West Coast oriented EDA (Electronic Design Automation) show, usually. New Orleans is about as far East as they've ever done, it does really well in San Francisco or San Jose or San Diego, and it showed, this year, that the attendance is mostly West Coast folks as the attendance just sucked this year. Much as it did the year it was in Texas. It's where all the tool vendors strut their stuff, show off their wares and show all the vapor ware that they hope will come out in the next year. It's a show, a circus with five main entrances, and usually thirty main rings, and hundreds of exhibitors. I walked through, breathing the air conditioned air and grinned at all the displays and the hucksters all calling their wares worth tens of thousands to millions of dollars a shot.
Half the target of the show is to get customers to come into the booths, and they would put circus hucksters to shame with the ploys they use. Everything from scantily clad ladies to the high-pressured caller, from huge-screen presentations to impressive sounds systems, and giveaways that go everywhere from full-length pool cues to radio-controlled cars. There was a booth shaped like a volcano, others all futuristic in design, one like a baseball diamond and stadium, another like a jail yard with the designer's desk behind high fences, and all of them with people, signs and music all calling for attention. Xilinx's had canvas displays that almost looked like sails, and I found it after walking through much of the exhibitors' floor and just as I got there, the show ended for the day and everyone relaxed and came off their stations. I got to sit with them through their day-report and then everyone just kinda drifted away in all directions.
They'd all been here for at least the day, if not two or three for setup and orientation. They were already tired and had plans or were going in all directions; so I hooked up with no one and kinda sat there, disappointed for a bit. Hungry, extremely, but kinda sad that I wasn't with Synario anymore and didn't have my usual pack that I could just hang with and feel safe and go exploring with.
Instead, I got up and went the way the most conference folks went and ended up on the Riverwalk, which is a mall by the River, the Mississippi, and I wandered through the mall looking for food. The very first thing was a huge food court, but it was very mall-like in appearance, and so I thought it would only be convenient food, not very good food, that was cheap, quick, and cheaply made rather than the amazing stuff I'd heard about in New Orleans. So I went in further, watching the river meander its slow way with flat boats chugging slowly against the current.
Then the skies opened up and it started to just pour buckets.
The windows that made up nearly one side of the mall were just sheets of running water and I could see spouts of water just flinging themselves into the air out from the roof. Now I was committed to finding dinner there and waiting out the storm. I walked all the way through the mall to only find three restaurants actually connected to the mall, and two of them were in the Hilton. I've had bad luck with 'authenticity' in Hilton restaurants. They always change things to be more what Americans expect them to be, though they do that with some quality, it's not authentic.
The other restaurant was an Anthony's Home Port. I've had good luck with Anthony's in Seattle and in San Diego, in those restaurants they've known their seafood and done it justice. They're usually a bit pricey and usually the clientele shows that; but I've always had fairly good service and not only a good selection but good preparations. The one in the Riverwalk, however, just sucked. Badly.
The service was slow, forgetful, and made mistakes. Part of the problem was that I was early for the dinner rush so I didn't see all that much food out. Even so, I halfway wish I'd done what Ming Tsui's (of East Meets West) dad used to do in a new restaurant, which is wander around the restaurant, seeing what everyone was eating. The food sounded good on the menu, but it was like they were gouging for every penny and every dish I saw served after I had actually ordered had all the breading, rice, or starch increased to insane proportions. I actually saw very, very little to no seafood in their dishes, including the 'stuffed crab' that I got, which turned out to just be the *shell* of the crab stuffed with a cornbread stuffing that might have had a crumb or two of crab meat in it. I just couldn't find it.
It was very, very disappointing. I resolved that if I ever had to take a quick lunch break in the mall that I'd do it at the food court, which couldn't be worse than this.
Afterwards I walked back to the far end of the mall and walked the three-quarters of a mile back to the hotel. It was exploration and a small adventure because I had a map so I wouldn't get lost. I got to the end of the mall and came out on a gorgeous open plaza floored in pink, black and white marble tiled in stars and suns and moons around a lit fountain of seven rings that played and splashed and glittered in the hot night air. The marble was ice-slick with the layer of water from the rain. The rain was still coming down, but slow and warm and almost welcoming, no longer the pelting downpour of an hour ago.
So I walked back, sometimes splashing through ankle deep puddles. Okay... at least one of them was on purpose... but the others weren't! I got back to the hotel, dropped off all my conference materials, it had come in a neat little backpack that was a godsend with all the walking I was doing. By the time I'd done that I was dry. The heat even at night was such that I dried off quickly. I was aching a bit from all the walking and from missing out on one of my few opportunities to eat real New Orleans food, so I wandered about the hotel restlessly, not sure where it would be safe to walk if I walked outside, and my legs aching enough that I wasn't even sure I wanted to walk.
So I went to the hotel's gift shop and found one of the things I was on the lookout for, the beads that they throw during Mardi Gras. There was even a sign explaining the colors of the beads, that gold was for power or wealth, that purple was for justice, and that the green ones were for faith. Nearly all the beads that I'd seen were in those colors or those colors mixed with other things. They had gorgeous strings that has hand painted plastic masks strung along with them, so I had to get them.
Finally, when I was done with that small coup of desire, I called John to tell him that I had gotten there on time and that I was safe and that I'd had small adventures during the day. After talking with him I calmed down a little and stabilized a bit. Talking with him always helps me do that, and it worked out really nicely. So I went back to my room, to six pillows all as ready to conform to my body as a silk dress, two squares of chocolate mint that melted sweet on the tongue, and the turned down sheets that are the kind of soft that only comes from a thousand washes which were as smooth as a my slide into sleep.