Otherwise known as, “One man, one woman, and one brain at DeanFest”

A full week after we arrived in Austin, Texas, I am finally starting to write something in depth about our experience at DeanFest. The title I have chosen for this piece is designed to warn you from the get-go that you should expect the details to be a bit on the spotty side. And I will just issue a blanket apology before I start to anyone who I talked to but neglect to mention, anyone who has written to me and I haven’t gotten back to yet–oh heck, just some big ol’ apologies all around, okay? (See, Karl Rove? It really isn’t that hard.)
Demetrius and I joke from time to time that we share a brain. As in,

“Where are we supposed to be going right now?”
“I don’t know–I thought you knew.”
“Oh, honey, I thought you had the brain tonight!”

It keeps things light when they could otherwise get tense and bitchy, and it helps avoid finger pointing and blame games. But the long and short of it is this: if you thought that, with both of us attending DeanFest, we would have been able to split up, go to different forums, and have twice as much to report on…you thought wrong. On the other hand, between us we remember more of the weekend than one of us alone would have.

Part of the problem is that, as much as I was looking forward to the experience, it seriously snuck up on me. Somehow I had it in my head that I was going to have more time to get ready for our big trip once the quarter was over. Instead, I headed into the week of DeanFest with a pretty complicated project at my other job, and Demetrius was putting in long hours getting a graphics project done before we left. So working around that, I had to shop for the trip, arrange to get one of the dogs to the sitter, and make sure I had all of the information we needed to find our way to wherever we were going once we landed in Austin. That pretty much involved printing out every email I had regarding DeanFest, the hotel room, the weekend schedule, etc. Not actually reading any of it, mind you–I figured I would get a chance to do that on the plane or something–but at least I had that vitally important stack of papers gathered together in a big envelope.

The plan was that on Thursday we would drive to Chicago, where the kids would stay with my parents, and we would take our flight out of O’Hare Airport to Austin on Friday morning. Thursday afternoon, I was starting to feel like a caged animal

Renee*in*Ohio wrote on June 16, 2005 01:00 PM:

I’m having travel panic. Actually it’s “we’re never actually going to get out of this house, are we?” panic.

MonicaSmith wrote on June 16, 2005 01:09 PM:

The thing I have found helpful is to put ONE person in charge of the packing, etc. The other person should just be dispatched on some fool errand to get him/her out from underfoot. LOL

rich^kolker wrote on June 16, 2005 01:15 PM:


Relax. It’s your car so you’ll get there.

Me, I’m panicking about getting everything ready and not missing my early morning flight tomorrow from Dulles. They don’t hold the plane for me. 🙂

And my boss expects me to put in a full day’s work today! What nerve 🙂

Renee*in*Ohio wrote on June 16, 2005 01:23 PM:

Oh geez, Rich–your right. We’re driving our car. Wonder if it will decided to break down half way there again.

And Monica, I would love to go on an errand and get the bleep out of the house right now, but I don’t have a car I can do that in. I’m stuck in the house with the kids bouncing off the walls. Our neurotic collie knows something is up, so he wouldn’t even eat this morning.

Ooh–I was thinking of telling Oscar this, but Rich, I just remembered you’re a Hitchhiker’s Guide fan as well. We just checked the radio show “tertiary phase” on CD out of the library. It was just done in the past few years, and Douglas Adams voiced Aragajag (sp?)–the character that kept getting reincarnated and killed by Arthur Dent.) So, something fun to listen to in the car. You know, if the CD player doesn’t break or something.

Well, many of you know by now, that our car did not, in fact, break down half way to Chicago, but broke down on the way back from Chicago.

Eventually, of course, we did get on the road, around 4 pm I think  I insisted on taking the first shift of driving, as a way of regaining some sense of agency. When it was Demetrius’ turn to drive, I blogged a bit from my Sidekick, and saw that Donna in Evanston was going to be arriving in Austin about an hour and a half after we did, and was looking for a ride. Figured that, since we were renting a car, we could probably give her a ride, but didn’t actually go as far as actually making those arrangements with her.

We finally got into Chicago around midnight and had some yummy Italian beef for a very late dinner. The kids, having slept in the car,  and excited to be visiting relatives they don’t see every day, had gotten their second wind. In other words, they were bouncing off the walls. After a very long day and truly desperate for sleep, I was truly dismayed to hear a “joyful noise” coming from the next room at 2 in the morning. I trudged into the next room, and with great emphasis informed them that sleep was like gold to me at this very moment. They did actually quiet down at that point, I think, but I still woke up a bunch of times during the night, so I was pretty tired and scattered by the time my mom was driving us to the airport. And hungry, as there wasn’t time to eat anything before we left.

At least going through airport security was uneventful. That is the part of flying that Demetrius can’t stand, and it had loomed as the main obstacle to talking him into attending with me this year. But once that part was over, he set about documenting our trip with the camera on his phone, and uploading them to the moblog he had set up for the occasion. He especially enjoyed taking pictures from his window seat on the plane, figuring our son the science guy would enjoy all those shots from above the clouds.

But did I mention that we were really hungry? The snack on the flight was a little bag of Tostitos. The man across the aisle from us had brought his own meal; a styrafoam container of take-out Chinese food. Which we could smell. Which was making us even hungrier. Let’s just say that there was some serious coveting going on from our side of the aisle. We decided, okay, we’re going to land, we’re going to pick up our rental, and we are going to get some food. Chinese food.

By the time we had rented our car, we realized that it was only about an hour until Donna’s plane would be landing. I checked the blog to see if she’d written anything about having found a ride yet. I realized by that point that the smart thing would have been to actually nail down some plans the day before…maybe even get her cell phone number or something. But as I’ve already stated, I was having a bit of a thinking problem.

So we decided that what made the most sense was to hang out at the airport for the next hour just in case, and meet her at the baggage claim. Assuming she had actually checked any baggage. We decided to wait that hour in our air-conditioned rental car, looking through our packet of DeanFest materials to figure out where we needed to go, and generally what the plans were for the weekend. We checked the blog and saw Oscar’s post that he had arrived at the hotel and was waiting for his room to be ready. Demetrius called him (that’s one of the cell numbers we did have ahead of time) and shared some important thoughts on the subject of Chinese food, and Oscar agreed. We also found out that there was African American caucus scheduled for 3 p.m. We knew we wouldn’t be able to make it in time for that, but we did figure out that to start touching base with people, we should probably head to the university first rather than the hotel.

With the beginnings of a plan for the evening, I opened up the web browser on my Sidekick and started Googling for Chinese restaurants in Austin. Soon it was time to head over to the baggage claim and see if we could find Donna. While we were sitting there waiting, we saw a blonde woman wearing a Dean t-shirt. I wondered if Donna had found someone to give her a ride, and tenatively asked,

“Are you here for Donna in Evanston?
“No. Are you Donna in Evanston?”
“No. I’m Renee–“
“–in Ohio?!”

Turns out this was Anna from the blog annatopia. I’m not going to remember exactly what she said, but there were happy, squealy noises and something about needing to hug me. Which was great–that I could do, because it didn’t involve stringing together any words of English. (Remember, I was still sleep deprived, it was 3 pm and we still hadn’t had any food except for that itty bitty bag of chips on the airplane. And we’d had our first encounter with Austin heat and humidity, and already decided that “Bwah!” was to be the official sound effect of the weekend…to be uttered every time we stepped outside.) I made a mental note that I’d have to track her down at some point that weekend, after having my “three hots and a cot” or some reasonable equivalent, and have an actual conversation.

Anyway, after introducing us to her husband, Anna told us that she was actually there to pick up Jerome Armstrong, and was going to be coming back to the airport the next day to pick up Markos Moulitsas Zuniga. She then went on to recount the story of their “road trip from hell”.

When the people on that flight started to arrive at the baggage claim, we got to meet Jerome Armstrong, and also met Tara Liloia from Blog for America, who was on the same flight. She didn’t know what Donna looked like at that point, though, so she couldn’t tell us if she had seen her or not.

Once the last of the passengers had come through the baggage claim, we realized we were not going to connect with Donna at the airport, assumed she had made some sort of arrangements for a ride, and headed for the university to check in for the weekend. Once we were in the car, Demetrius realized, “D’oh! I should be taking pictures of people as we meet them.” I tell you this so in order to A) explain why we don’t have pictures of these first meetings and B)finally demonstrate that I’m not the only one who was flaking that weekend. Also, as we drove and discussed the encounter at the airport, it became clear that Demetrius had missed the part where Anna said that she posts as annatopia online. “Oh!” (huge flash of recognition) “NOW I know who that was!” At the airport he had just been exhanging a friendly greeting with a fellow Dean supporter, but now he realized this was actually someone with whom he had corresponded. The same thing was to happen several more times that day, and we are now of the firm opinion that people at DeanFest should be required by law to wear name tags which prominently displayed their blog names.

Anna had shown us on the map we got from the car rental place how to get to the university where we would register, and that was probably our quickest, most straightforward drive of the weekend. We came to a sign that was clearly labeled Democracy Fest Parking, and, in case we needed additional proof that we were in the right place, the rows of bumper stickers confirmed it for us. So we parked, got out of the car, (bwah!) and followed the series of helpful signs which directed us to registration in the chapel. On our way (uphill–ugh!) to the chapel, we encountered a rather sunburned Jim Dean.  He seemed very accessible, but also in a hurry to get somewhere, so we quickly introduced ourselves and continued on our way.

Once we arrived at the (aaah…air conditioned!) chapel, we got in line for registration, we greeted some Texas bloggers in line. Marla, I think, and Fran, and…see the beginning of this post for my blanket apology if I forgot to mention you. We talked to some more people, making introductions where necessary, and then some very important words reached my ears: “Free food.”

Hang on–who said that? Turned out it was Mike Workman, who had some extra Mexican takeout of some sort. I never even found out from where, but I was a happy camper as I unwrapped the little foil covered treasure and devoured the tamale inside. As Demetrius polished off some sort of combo meal, we discovered that he needed a ride back to the hotel. We had a car, but no idea where we were going, so it was a good deal. After chatting a bit with Oscar, Quintus, and Terri in Tokyo, we decided to try to make it to the blogger’s caucus at 5 and go to dinner after that.

(To be continued)

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