Every year, for ten days in March, Austin Tx is invaded by an eclectic bunch of geeks and musos. 2011 was my turn to nerd it up and rock it out, and despite much Googling prior to hopping on the plane from Melbourne to Austin-Bergstrom, nothing really prepared me for how I was going to spend my next week and a bit.
Before arriving I wrote a couple of preconceptions about how I thought my SXSW experience may play out. Now, back in Melbourne for almost three weeks, I respond to my SXSW fears and fantasies with a healthy dose of reality.
Fantasy: Schedules are BORING. Plus there’s so much good stuff on all day, every day, planning is going to be futile in any case. No, I’ll just rock up in the morning and see what takes my fancy.
The reality: BAHAH. Yeah this strategy got me through all of 2 sessions on day one.
Because there is so much good stuff happen, you need to be militant about (at a minimum) providing yourself a guide to the one or two key sessions you wish to attend each day. Without this you’ll spend all day desperately racing to that amazing speaker two hotels away, only to arrive 5 minutes early to a pack auditorium and no seats. Thankfully, SXSW provides an excellent iPhone scheduling app to help with this process.
Fear: I’ve done my hard yards living in cramped environments while rocking it in the snow during my early 20’s. I can’t imagine anything worse than trying to survive another 10 days of this again.
The reality: I could not have been any further off the mark. Staying in the Lovepod with some of the most switched on and interesting people I’ve ever met was one of the greatest parts of the entire SXSW experience for me. Yes, it was a little crowded at times – though I have zero complaints about my makeshift bed in the closet – but any downside was utterly overbalanced but the benefits of always having someone around to eat/party/catch a session with. My advice: forget the hotels, grab a big crew, and trawl Craigslist to find a private residence for rent. It’s the only way to party.
Fear: Spending five days in New York prior to SXSW, I had forgotten how ridiculously bad food in the USA can be. It had been nothing buy meat and cheese thus far, bring me to the point of illness by my fourth night in town. Following that, I had committed to cutting back on the crap and attempting to find healthy, fresh food.
Austin is in Texas. Texas is all about massive serving of meat. Chances I’m going to be able to find a fresh bit of fish with lemon and salad (oh GOD the cravings); slim to none.
The Reality: Two words: WHOLE FOODS. This testament to American retailing has changed my life. While it deserves a blog post all to itself, I’ll attempt do it justice in the little space I have here.
Whole Foods is what happens with you combined the retail space of three Woolworths, the quality of a David Jones Food Hall, and the social conscious of a lesbian vegan from Northcote. Whole Foods is all about Organic, locally grown, quality produce, but without all the usual hippy shit that goes with it. Through its hallowed automatic doors, customer can enjoy an organic free-trade coffee, sit down at night for a glass of wine and a cheese plate, grab a bottle of Veuve at a very reasonable $45USD, or stop pass the food bar for a piece of sustainably farmed salmon with your choice of 12 salads.
Bizarrely, I ate more tofu than cow while in Texas.
Fantasy: Look, I’m not a retard. Everything about SXSW points towards 10 straight day and nights of drinking and networking*. That said, I massive nights mean missed sessions so the plan is to work hard during the day, strive towards moderation during the night, and hopefully avoid too many hangovers during the waking hours.
Reality: Bhahahhahahahahahhahahahhahahahhahahhahahahahahhahahha. Yeah this didn’t happen.
Fantasy: SXSW is supposed to be all about the learning. I will spend my time diligently attending 4 sessions a day, and then report back my findings to the blogosphere during my ample free time at night.
Reality: In the grand scheme of things, I wasn’t too off the mark with this one. No, I didn’t produce my holy grail of a 300-word-post per session I attended, but I did manage to capture some good content along the way, and some of that even made its way up onto this blog.
Probably of even greater benefit was a reignition in my passion to build this site up a bit. Hanging out with some top-notch UX Designers, hacking away at PHP while in the Lovepad rubbed off in a good way, and I was able to refine my thinking on what this whole site in about and what I needed to do to continue improving it.