Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Greenville, South Carolina

Greenville, May 2006

I’m going to Greenville, South Carolina for the Datastream Worldwide User Conference from Sunday, 30th April to Thursday 4th May. It’s about a three and a half hour, 219 mile drive from home. Datastream is the Computerized Maintenance Management Software (CMMS) that I spend a significant proportion of my time using at work.

I left Mebane around 5 pm, and got to Greenville around 8:30. There was a little daylight left for me to see the downtown area. Even at that time of day on a Sunday, I was impressed. This is what a zillion other blighted, generic downtowns should do. There are oak trees on each side of the street, between the sidewalk and the road. There’s one lane of traffic in each direction, and diagonal on-street parking in both directions. There seem to be plenty of cool shops, restaurants, and bars. Even the lampposts are cool looking. There were still plenty of pedestrians out and about. I don’t know if their downtown always looked like this, or if it was some kind of renovation project. If it was a renewal, I’d guess it was maybe 20 years ago, based on the size of the trees. (see Downtown Renewal on Wikipedia)

I checked in to the Westin Pointsett. A beautiful old-school hotel built in the 1920s. From there, I headed out on foot to finally find some dinner. Sticky Fingers was still open, and still busy, so in I went. This is a barbecue/ribs chain that I’d eaten at once previously in Wilmington, NC. I started with a Long Island Iced Tea, and then got the ribs/pulled pork sampler. Generally, I wouldn’t order something like that at a chain restaurant, because there are so many places at home that make real barbecue, Eastern-Carolina style. (Piedmont or Lexington style barbecue, often incorrectly referred to as Western Carolina, is also good, but no better than second place, in my book.) The barbecue was okay, but the sauce was too sweet. The ribs were pretty good, albeit tough, and with little bits of cartilaginous tissue that aren’t usually present in baby back ribs, making me think that these were an inferior cut. They were also cooked too fast, making them tougher than they needed to be. The slaw was a little bland, but the baked beans were good.

I walked back to the car, which I had parked on the street, and found the parking garage. I wonder how much that costs? Anyway, I lugged my stuff up to room 416 and got to work. I figured out how to use the iPass software through the hotel’s otherwise $10 a day Internet connection, and finished up the month-end reports that my (GSK) manager will need Monday morning. I couldn’t do them any earlier for fear of missing some April charges. The work seemed to go okay, so I submitted it, and finally relaxed, around 11:30 pm.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Woke up around 6:30, got washed and pressed, and headed down to the Gold room. I saw a sign on the way in yesterday saying something about a Datastream breakfast from 6:30 – 9:30. The conference is in the Hyatt up the street, but there are plenty of the 500+ conference attendees staying here too. There were so many orange-shirted people (as all the Datastream employees were dressed uniformly) that I thought maybe I was crashing their breakfast. No matter, I intruded all the same. Some scrambled eggs, a sausage link, a few pieces of melon, and some weak coffee. Good enough. Free.

Went back to the room and called Tony, one of the other two people (the other being Cynthia) from my company/location who are here. Made plans to meet in the lobby at 8. While we were sitting on the shuttle, J. Peterman went walking by. By J. Peterman, I mean John O’Hurley. I think he was in town for the BMW golf tournament. It just seemed kind of surreal, in a very random sort of way. “Hey, there goes that guy from ‘Seinfeld’. ‘That’s cool.’ ‘Whatever.’”

Went to the conference registration in the Hyatt and got my complimentary (unless you count the $1400 somebody paid them for my attendance) laptop shoulder bag that included some swag, as well as an invitation to the Life Sciences dinner Tuesday night at the Commerce Club. Admittedly, some of the perks you get for having the name of a company on your ID badge that has ten billion dollars of profit a year are pretty sweet. Like I have any purchasing power. No matter. I’ll eat, be glad, and drink the wine.

Attended a first-time attendee session, to familiarize myself with the conference. After that it was in to the kickoff meeting. The entranceway was festooned with orange-shirted overly enthusiastic cheering, clapping Datastream employees. Inside the big conference room they had two huge projection screens, loud music, professional concert-style lighting, broadcast quality video cameras, etc. We sat through three or four executive presentations by some of the top guys at Infor, the company that evidently bought Datastream sometime recently. It was very rah-rah, yet uninformative.

At each break between sessions, there is Starbucks coffee, snacks; both good and bad, soda, water, etc. They definitely keep you well-fed. Each day has one long morning session (after the daily Keynote) lunch at your choice of about four different places, and then three afternoon sessions. All the sessions you signed up for are printed on the back of your badge, and the accompanying abstracts are in a bound book that was in the free bag you got. I’m not really going to go into any depth about the sessions because absolutely nobody would be interested in the details.

Monday’s lunch was at City Tavern, which is just a bar downtown. Cheeseburgers and chips. Not bad, but I had to eat mine with utensils because I skipped the bun…and the chips.

Monday night’s theme dinner was “Jungle Night.” The lobby, mezzanine, and several of the ballrooms at my hotel were completely decked out in jungle stuff; plants, vines, gorilla taxidermy, bamboo huts, etc. I was about ready to leave as soon as I got there. They had a loud band, but free drinks. It was like a Baby Boomer cruise without a boat. The food was buffet-style island-ish; conch fritters, tropical fruit, variety meats on skewers, sausage-stuffed mushroom caps, (okay, not island-ish, but still good) etc. I sat at a table in a room off the mezzanine because it was a little quieter. My tablemates were mostly from Titan Concrete, and surprisingly white-collar. They were curious about how a pharmaceutical company uses the same product they do. So was I.

After the eating, I bumped into various co-workers, both from NC and PA, and hung out with them for a while, in an area that was far enough from the noise, but close enough to the free drinks. After a while, I headed down a floor to view the “Tarzan Yell” contest. I just didn’t get it.

Now’s a good time to mention that at 36, I’d estimate that I’m still younger than about 75% of the people here, if not more. I'd posit that perhaps the disconnect between what the conference organizers think is fun, and what I do, may in part be the differences between Baby Boomers and Generation X, or maybe Datastream users are largely ex-frat boys. I just don’t find loud drunks that entertaining. The same holds for the keynote speakers. Nearly everything they say could be the tagline on a Successories poster, and/or some kind of sports metaphor. Sorry, once again, the power of these is completely lost on me. Maybe the occasional “Office Space” reference would have played better with my people.

But I digress. Jack Bauer beckoned, and when Jack Bauer talks, I listen.

Tuesday, 2 May

Same morning agenda. Today Tony also found the breakfast buffet. This morning’s motivational speaker was Daniel “Rudy” Reutigger, the basis for the movie, “Rudy,” which I have not seen. As far as I knew it was:

  1. a sports movie,
  2. had to do with Notre Dame

and therefore with two strikes already against it, it went way, way down to the bottom of my mental movie queue. Rudy ended up being a fairly entertaining speaker, but I still wondered if my morning would’ve been better spent sleeping-in.

Once again, long morning session, lunch at “Café and Then Some” of roast beef and gravy (which was actually pot roast, in my opinion), rice (that I didn’t eat), and some yellow stuff that may have been squash casserole, and was surprisingly good. Three afternoon sessions followed. Dinner was at the Commerce Club, on the penthouse floor of the First Union building, directly across from the Hyatt. Datastream had advertised this evening as “dinner on your own” while secretly inviting various people/groups to events they hosted. This was one of them. We got to rub elbows with some of the Infor senior execs, and talked with their CTO for a while. Hot hors d’oeuvres, followed by broiled shrimp, steak, mashed potatoes, and asparagus, and dessert of Oreo cheesecake. There was also an open bar, and bottles of wine on the table.

Wednesday, 3 May 2006

Cynthia finally found the breakfast buffet. Once again, made the 10-15 minute walk to the Hyatt, arriving just in time for more gauntlet of clapping cheering Datastream employees. Today’s keynote was by Sam Wyche, some football guy I had never heard of, not that that’s saying anything. My “take away” (as the business-types like to say) from this presentation was that Sam Wyche sweats a lot. His image was projected onto the two jumbotrons at the front of the room, so it was very easy to keep an eye on the ever darkening area of his sage-green shirt. First the collar started to get soaked, then the part around the tie. Fortunately, he didn’t remove his jacket, but regardless, it was distracting. I think he said some stuff about effort, or attitude, or something.

Morning. Lunch at Commerce Club. Salad, bread, roast turkey (excellent), gravy, dressing, lima beans. After lunch I had the chance to check out the Falls Park, a block south of the hotel. It was absolutely gorgeous (pun intended). It’s built on a kind of gorge or gully in Reedy Creek. It’s exquisitely landscaped and traversed by an almost modern-art looking suspension pedestrian bridge. There are various theatres, concert halls, and modern urban loft-type housing adjoining the park. I don’t know where the city gets its money, but this all must have cost a lot. Back to the Hyatt for the afternoon. Just in case you’re curious, my sessions were “Flex SQL and Business Rule Automation”, “Facilities Day: Barcoding,” and “Parts and Repairable Spares,” You can thank me for having skipped over all of this to this point.

Wednesday’s theme dinner is “70’s Night”, or “Disco Night” or something. It’s at Soby’s , which is across the street from my hotel. Once again, I’m thinking that it was a Baby Boomer who thought the 70’s/Disco theme was a cool idea. Not that I have anything against the 1970’s, but at the height of disco, I was seven years old. Am I supposed to go to the dinner dressed as my seven year old self? Not the theme I would’ve picked.

So what theme would I have picked? Subtle Pop Culture References Night. Tom Cruise Likes Men Night. Counter Terrorism Unit: Greenville Night.

Okay, it’s now 7:15 and I’m back from 70’s/Disco night, after lasting one of the three hours it’s scheduled for. It was moderately cool. The weather is excellent, 80 degrees (F) and not a cloud in the sky. They had numerous buffet tables inside and outside, with stuff like nachos, meatballs, big shrimp with heavily horseradished cocktail sauce, pretty good sushi, a carving station with leg of….something, probably cow. Open bar once again. A lot of people wore their 70’s stereotype costumes, impugning my sacred memories of a decade that’s very dear to my heart. To me the whole atmosphere felt more like a middle school dance. . . but with more alcohol. Most people were sitting around, or standing around, holding a drink, trying to look un-uncomfortable, and watching the other people. Maybe it’s just me, but it’s hard to get excited about partying with people you don’t know, or with coworkers whom you do know (and like) but have spent several years worth of interoffice contact with over the past four days already. I really shouldn’t feel self-conscious. I’m younger, thinner, and less geeky (this is a computerized maintenance management software conference, after all) than the vast majority of people here. I know I’m an introvert, and I work very hard to overcome that a lot of the time, but an hour was all I could muster. Besides, I have a Sopranos DVD that I get to watch uninterrupted, which is a far rarer treat to me than getting to watch a bunch of middle-aged technonerds relive their young adult days.


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