Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Two Tales of One City...or Somethin’ Like That (Part III)

Work hard, play hard.
It’s become almost a maxim of modern society. It’s as therapeutic as it can be excessive. What am I talkin’ about? Cutting loose; Serious relaxing; Gettin’ your Ya-Ya’s out.

Work hard, play hard, as the saying goes; that release of frustration, tension, and all-around nervous energy we all need to experience to balance what is an ever-increasingly hard-edged, pressure-packed existence in today’s working-world reality.

Personally, I’ve always been a low-key kinda guy. And given the fact that I’ve rarely worked closely with a lot of creative types throughout a largely freelance-or-one-man-shop career, I figured most artists were sorta the same way.

One of my best buddies, and only truly lasting college friend, Jay, with whom I spent five years in the Long Beach State Illustration Department, has a similar temperament as I do, which further fueled my shockingly narrow-minded assumption that artists are generally ‘Type Z’ personalities.

And finally, Trey, my traveling partner and web superior at The Company, is an extremely mellow and soft-spoken guy. So you’ll forgive my misappropriation of opinion here. Who knew?.

Don’t get me wrong; I like to have fun like anyone else. However I much prefer watching people exuberantly lighting it up (no illicit pharmaceutical pun intended) than being the one watched.

And Dood, did I have plenty to watch at the WJS parties!

I guess I wasn’t all that shocked. I mean, bring a few hundred people together — no matter who they are — lock ‘em in a couple a’ big rooms for eight hours and then mention the words, ‘open bar’ when the day is finished, and yeah, you’re gonna get a visceral response.

But hey, I kid because I love; and I really mean that — I I loved this group of nerds — mostly because of how un-nerdy they were! What an incredibly affable, gregarious, courteous, and talented bunch; from the attendees, to the organizers, to the instructors, there was a sense of solidarity and inclusiveness that was really unique for me to behold.

That sense permeated the conference hall throughout both days of keynote sessions, but it was cemented at the parties that the key conference sponsors made available to attendees each evening as a sort of reward for enduring the long days of lecture and instruction.

Mind you, we didn’t really need a reward for two days of top-notch information, but they gave us one anyway.

You gotta be a Geetar Hero
The Friday night gathering was sponsored by Microsoft and Blue Flavor, and held onsite at the Silhouettes Bar, located on the lobby-level in the hotel. It was closed to the public for our little shindig, which was also a nice touch.

The vibe was sedate enough, with most of the folks just milling around, commiserating and enjoying the open bar. This was pretty much how I thought nerds should hang.

The main attraction was definitely the all-comers venue of the video game Guitar Hero 2, which to show you how out of step with the video generation I am, I hadn’t seen or even heard of prior to that weekend.

Back at in the conference area, Microsoft had set up a ‘Digital Lifestyle Experience’ exhibit in a side room, complete with living room furniture, a large plasma screen HDTV an XBOX 360, and Guitar Hero 2 playing on it. People could wander in, try their hand at the game, and chat with the MS reps who were there to talk about their software, which also included the brand new Halo 3, as well as several others for XBOX. It was a bit of a different approach by Microsoft, which was prominently represented amongst the speaker’s group by Chris Bernard, but left a relatively small footprint at the conference from a corporate standpoint. They went for the soft-sell approach, and I think it went over pretty well in an environment dominated by Apple Macintosh users.

So they brought some of the equipment down to the party and had it set up for people to play throughout the evening. They would later that evening give away two XBOX 360s as door prizes. Oh yeah, that got people’s attention.

But what got my attention was the game itself. It was quite a spectacle. GH is a part of the newer generation ‘DDR’ (Dance Dance Revolution)-style games that you play in front of the TV with a (wired or wireless) controller device, which in this case, is shaped like a heavy metal electric guitar.

I won’t even attempt to explain how the game is played, except to say that each player is represented by a proxy figure you can select from a series of rock-god types beforehand. The idea is to play along to the beat of various popular guitar-oriented rock songs, using buttons on the neck of the guitar (while strumming with the other hand in the middle as usual), according to the notes that appear on the game screen. Seems impossible to me, but then again I’m about as musically inclined as a doorstop.

Fortunately not everyone is like me. There were some guys and girls really rockin out on this thing. It was pretty entertaining to watch.

Trey was of course familiar with GH2, being of a generation that grew up with Nintendo and PlayStation. He sat at a table, pretty much transfixed on the game, although he never made the attempt to get up there and throw his own hat into the ring.

I just watched and mingled for awhile, seeking out certain instructors to introduce myself to and thank for the outstanding presentations they’d given. Several minutes later when I went over to re-join Trey, I noticed that he’d already been joined by a couple of very pleasant gals who wanted to get off their feet and chat about the conference.

The ladies had traveled from Iowa for the conference and were just as impressed by the goings-on as we were. We talked about each other’s careers and current jobs, families, and what we hoped to get out of what we were learning.

It was one of many very positive encounters with fellow conference attendees we would make over the course of the two-day event. I really can’t say enough about how cool everyone was. It was like a huge family gathering.

Especially entertaining was what happened after Trey decided to call it a night and retired to his room but I remained, talking with the girls. Several minutes later, one of the conference speakers approached our table and sat down, followed soon thereafter by one of his cohorts.

What started out as casual small-talk about how great a job we thought the two guys were doing quickly became even more casual and goofy, with the two guys obviously chatting up one of the ladies in particular.

I just sat back and watched as the flirtations flew back and forth. I just smiled. But after about five minutes of that, the bar lights came up and an attendant came by our table to announce that they needed to close up. I glanced at my watch and was surprised to see that it was well after 1 A.M..

We all said our goodnights in the hallway and made our way back to our rooms, feeling pretty good about all the day had held.

Little did we know that tomorrow’s event would blow the doors off of Friday night’s little gathering.

Lounge Lizards
Following another excellent day at the conference, our hosts really saved the best for last.

The Closing party, sponsored by Adobe, was held at the Dallas’ infamous Lizard Lounge, not far from the hotel.

Apropos to both its location and the fact that it would be another open-bar event, shuttle bus to-and-from transportation was made available for this grand finale.

I’ve been to a few wild clubs before, but never anything quite like this. The Lizard Lounge is a two-level club with an outdoor upper VIP deck overlooking a large courtyard, which on the occasion of a special event that evening, was carpeted in beach sand, equipped with two large above-ground swimming pools and featured at least a hundred lay, bathing suit-and-flip-flop-wearing folks gettin’ their freak on.

It was the LL’s The Wet Grooves Luau and BBQ event and we were right there in the middle of it all, with semi-exclusive access to the VIP deck. Down on the main stage in the courtyard was a booming sound and video system setup with a crew of DJs spinning music until the wee hours.

Again, the drinks were free and flowing; the incredibly active and enthusiastic bar tenders dispensing them played to appropriately brimming tip jars all night long.

The atmosphere was electric and there wasn’t a plain face on anyone in sight. We mingled, enjoyed the music, and indulged in what was a people-watcher’s dream.

Nobody freaked out.

Nobody blacked out.

Nobody made a fool of themselves (that I could tell, anyway).

Everybody had a great time.

Unfortunately, though Trey had an early flight home the next morning, but we both were ready to call it a night by around 12:30 A.M. So we returned to the hotel, exchanging business cards with some of the other attendees we’d hung out with at the party along the way, and hoped like hell that the hangover fairy would leave something pleasant under our pillows the next morning.

Trey had a 7:00 A.M. flight, so I was really glad I wasn’t him at that point. However I couldn’t exactly sleep in myself. I had to be at the rental car agency at 8:30 to pick up my wheels for a Sunday day trip a few miles north, to spend the day with my brother Alex and his family.

What I had received the previous two days will stand out as a mountaintop experience in my mind, I’m sure, for a good while. But what I experienced in those next eight hours will last me a lifetime.

Next: The Long Goodbye, Part One

Also see: Grand Mol
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