I go to Macworld Expo, see new stuff, party with the Peachpitters, and still manage to find my hotel.
I took an America West — or is that US Airways? — flight from Phoenix to San Francisco on Thursday morning. The flight departed at around 8:15 AM and took off into the east into clear skies. The plane banked to the right until it was heading west, following I-10. I saw familiar sights out my window for most of the flight: Wickenburg, Harquahala Mountain, Salome, Bouse, the Colorado River, the road that runs past Rice and eventually past the north end of Joshua Tree National Park, the airport at Twentynine Palms, Big Bear Lake, Apple Valley, Edwards Air Force Base, and Rosamond. The jet took a route just south of the one I usually take when flying the helicopter from Wickenburg to California’s Central Valley, but because we were cruising at about 30,000 feet, I could see so much more. The lake at Rosamond seemed huge, the windmills on the Tehatchapi’s southern slopes were clearly visible. The pass was socked in on both sides with clouds, but the town of Tehatchapi, on top of the mountain, was perfectly clear (see photo). The central valley was completely filled with low clouds — so low that I don’t think general aviation flight would be possible. It reminded me of my scud-running adventure from last spring’s Georgetown, CA to Wickenburg, AZ flight. The tops of the clouds had a odd pattern to them, like waves far out on the ocean.
I spent the flight catching up with podcasts. Listening, that is — I’ve fallen far behind recording them. I listened to NPR’s story of the day episodes stretching back into mid December. When I was finished with those, I started on Slate Magazine podcasts. I did the crossword puzzle in the airplane magazine and attempted to take some notes for a presentation I needed to do later in the day. Then we started our approach to San Francisco and the mountains along the coast poked up their slopes through the clouds below us. There was green grass on some of the southern slopes; in a month or two, all the hills would be a rich green color there. But I seldom get to the California coast in the spring, so I’m accustomed to seeing the grass when it’s all dried out, making the hills look golden in the California sun.
The plane got to the gate at 9 AM local time. I had just one bag — a small backpack that held my PowerBook, some books I planned to give away at the end of my presentation, and clothes for the overnight stay and next day — so I didn’t have to go through the baggage claim ordeal. The bag was heavy, though, and it only seemed to get heavier as I made my way from the gate to the BART station.
BART, in case you don’t know, stands for Bay Area Rapid Transit. I used to take a cab from the airport to Moscone Hall for the Macworld Show, but I’d heard that BART went from the airport into the city and figured I’d give it a try. It was a relatively pleasant trip in a train car that reminded me more of a Long Island Railroad electrified train car than a New York City Subway car. The seats had upholstery and I don’t think they were quite as clean as they should have been. That gave the car a not-so-nice smell. But it wasn’t bad and I got used to it. I listened to my iPod and looked at the window when the train was above ground. It took about 30 minutes to get to what I thought was my stop: Montgomery Street. In reality, I should have gotten out one stop earlier, at Powell.
I came up from underground, got my bearings, realized I’d erred about the train stop, and started walking. San Francisco reminds me a bit of New York in that it has that “old city” feel. Lots of old buildings, many of which are pretty tall, some narrow streets, noisy traffic, homeless people on the sidewalks. The weather was pleasant and I was soon warming up inside my jacket.
My friend Ray called on my cell phone with a lead on a helicopter job for a construction company working along the Mexican border. I stopped and took notes on a receipt, wondering if I could be fortunate enough to get the job.
It was less than a mile to Moscone and when I got there, I found the place relatively quiet. It was just after 10 AM and most attendees had already gone into the exhibit hall. I used a free pass to go through the registration process and get a badge, then crossed the street and went into the hall. I saw some scooters pulling advertising trailers — an Apple advertising gig, I knew. (I later got a photo of the scooters parked alongside the street.) My first order of business was to dump my jacket and the heavy bag at the Peachpit Press booth. It took me a while to find it, which was quite embarrassing because I actually walked right by it twice. They said it was near the Apple booth and they weren’t kidding. It was right inside one of the doorways to the exhibit hall, adjacent to the Apple booth.
I ran into a few people I knew, including Connie Jeung-Mills, the production person who’d worked on many of my books. I chatted with her while I stuffed my belongings under a table skirt in the booth, reserving an old Adobe canvas bag and note pad to carry while I walked the floor. I couldn’t believe the number of books in the booth. Most of the titles were about graphics and Web publishing, but I also the books I’ve written for them: Tiger, QuickBooks, and the little Visual QuickProject Guides for Word and Excel.
I walked the floor. There was a lot to see, but not nearly as much as in the “old days,” when the show took up both sides of Moscone’s hall. I’ve never seen so many iPod accessories in my life. I think one out of every ten booths was peddling something for an iPod. Talk about trying to cash in on a craze. There were even iPod-compatible cars on display (see photo).
By 2:30, I was ready for a rest. I also needed to create my presentation, which was scheduled for 4 PM. I’m a last-minute person — I always have been — so I left the hall and found a seat on one of the balconies overlooking the hall entrance. It was nice and bright and airy up there and only about half the seats were occupied. Some people chatting, some people using laptops, other people eating or reading. I was very surprised to find that my PowerBook immediately connected to a wireless network when I opened it up. I was able to surf the net and check my e-mail.
I jotted down some notes about topics I thought my audience would be interested in. Mostly “cool features” stuff taken from my soon-to-be-published Informit.com article titled “Five Funky Finder Features.” (They may change the title, so if you go looking for it online, keep that in mind.)
While I worked, a man sitting nearby began complaining about how few seats were available. Two of the four balconies were blocked off, cutting the amount of available seats in half. But that didn’t seem to matter, since there were still empty seats to be had. One woman sitting nearby made the fatal error of acknowledging him. This resulted in him continuing his complaints. Another woman finally said to him, “I’m trying to enjoy my lunch and you’re ruining it.” He kept up for another minute or so before the woman, who was eating some kind of salad out of a Tupperware container, said, “No, I really mean it. Your complaints are ruining my lunch.” He seemed to get it then and he shut up. A while later, he closed up his iBook and went away. The whole exchange had been pretty funny. I was glad the woman had spoken up, though. He’d been quite a whiner and it was good when he finally shut up.
I did my presentation and it went well. I covered it in another blog entry.
Afterward, I met with Nancy and Cliff, two of my editors, for drinks and a bite to eat before the Peachpit Party. We wound up at an ethnic restaurant about two blocks away. Don’t ask me what kind of ethnic restaurant — I really don’t know. We ordered three different tappas dishes and a round of drinks. We talked business for a while — stuff I don’t want to cover here. Cliff left to go to an Apple party. Nancy and I finished our drinks and headed over to the Peachpit party.
I saw a bunch of Peachpit authors and editors and drank exactly one vodka martini more than I should have. The problem was, I still hadn’t checked into my hotel and I wasn’t exactly sure where it was. Or what it was called. Although I didn’t feel drunk after the third martini, I knew it was time to stop so I switched to water. Good thing I did. They must have used delayed reaction vodka in those drinks because I didn’t start feeling drunk until I was halfway done with my water. Still, I never got too drunk to realize that there were lots of people worse off than I was. Kim was probably the worst. It was her last day of work for Peachpit and she was partying a bit heartier than she should have.
I dug out the info for my hotel around 11:30, realized it was only about a block away from where Tom and Dori were staying, and walked with them. The walk took us down Market Street, which was surprisingly active with normal people (and a few weirdos) at that time of night. When we went our separate ways at Fourth Street, I felt safe enough to continue that last long block on my own. But it was good to get to my hotel and check in. I think the guys at the desk suspected that I wasn’t exactly sober, but they didn’t comment. I’m sure they’ve seen worse. And I wasn’t too drunk to realize that the guy had forgotten to give back my credit card with my room key.
I stayed at the Hotel Milano on Fifth Street. It’s an old hotel that has been fixed up. My seventh floor room had two windows that looked out across a narrow ventilation shaft to the two windows of a room in the next hallway. The room was big with a small television at one end and the king-sized bed at the other. I got undressed and into bed and watched a Seinfeld rerun for a while before turning off the television and going to sleep.
The only thing I’d forgotten to do was to check and adjust the thermostat. I was cold enough all night to sleep poorly but not cold enough to get up and do something about it. I hate that.
I woke at 5:30 AM local time. (I hate that, too.) I watched some Weather Channel and started work on this bLog entry before showering, getting dressed, and going out for breakfast. I wound up at the Marriott a few blocks away. I had a nice breakfast from the buffet, then walked back to my hotel and wasted more time on my computer. The show didn’t open until 10 AM and there was no reason to rush.
I packed and checked out at 9:30 AM. My bag was heavy, despite the fact that I’d given away the five books I’d brought with me from Arizona and I hadn’t bought anything else. I did have some product literature on board, but not enough to take the weight of five books.
At Moscone, I took a seat on one of the balconies to check my e-mail and my Web sites. The sites had been down the day before because of a computer glitch, but they were back online that morning. At 10 AM, I was back on the show floor, stashing my bag under a table at the Peachpit booth.
I bought a SightFlex stand for my iSight camera. Heavy.
I called America West and asked about an earlier flight. It was fully booked.
I bothered an Apple booth guy for a demo of iWeb. It’s a cool little software package and I hope Peachpit lets me write a book about it. The guy who gave the demo was a software engineer and had written Pages, Apple’s word processing program. (I don’t know why they didn’t have him demo that.) I told him I used Word and had been using it for years. He told me that if I tried Pages, I’d switch. So I’ll try it again next week and see how I do with it. Word really is overkill sometimes. But, at the same time, I’m not too thrilled with the idea of software that works more like a page layout program than a word processor without giving you the control over page elements. If I recall, that was my main gripe about Pages.
The Apple Booth, by the way, was enormous. I think it gets bigger every year. There’s always a huge theater area (see photo) and this year there were 40-foot high “posters” of the new MacBook Pro (terrible name!) laptop and Intel processor iMac. I felt like a Lilliputian as I walked around the booth.
I wandered around the hall some more, killing time.
I ran into Sandee Cohen, Ted Landau, and Tonya Engst at the Peachpit booth and spent some time chatting with each of them. Then I grabbed my bag and made my exit. It was 11:30. I figured I’d stop by the Apple store before grabbing a bite to eat.
I dropped off my bag at a hotel along the way, checking it with a bellman. It felt good to get that damn thing off my back.
After looking around the Apple Store, I spent about an hour in Cody’s, a very nice bookstore near Market Street, not far from Virgin and the Apple Store. They were expecting President Carter as a speaker later in the day and the audience seats were already starting to fill with people who had nothing better to do with their time than spend the day sitting in a folding chair in the basement of a building, surrounded by books.
I walked up to Union Square, passing a handful of panhandlers and more than a handful of tourists. The cable car runs down Powell Street there and there are always a lot of tourists around. The area itself reminds me of lower Broadway in New York, with lots of discount luggage stores and shops that sell t-shirts and other tourist favorites. Kind of sleezy without being sleezy enough to scare people away.
Then I made my way to the Nikko, thinking about sushi for lunch. I was just about to go into the Japanese restaurant there when I noticed a Chinese dim sum restaurant across the street. I went there instead and had a very good lunch.
By that time, I’d had enough of San Francisco and was ready to head out to the airport. You know, I’ve been to San Francisco dozens of times and, unless you have a lot of time on your hands and comfortable walking shoes on your feet, it isn’t such a great place. I had neither and was more interested in finding a comfortable place to wait for my flight home than shopping or even walking around the city.
I retrieved my bag, gave the bellman a tip, and descended into the BART station. A while later, I was on a train bound for Daly City. I changed trains and got on another one for the airport. I listened to podcasts the entire time: Slate magazine and, when I was finished with those, Slate Explainer. The usual at the airport: get a boarding pass, go through security, find the gate, settle into a seat. I found a seat by an electric outlet and used it to charge up my PowerBook. For some reason, I expected to use it on the plane.
The plane was completely booked. Overbooked, in fact. They offered $400 worth of travel for volunteers, but I wasn’t interested. There was a woman in my seat when I boarded and, since it was my seat and not hers, she gave it up. When all the seats were filled, they closed the doors and we got underway.
I was asleep within ten minutes of departure.