I arrived in the early evening on Friday and found that in fact he'd a plum spot right by the main thoroughfare of the vendor floor; he'd strung our vinyl banner between two huge columns (no easy task, he said), and had arranged the merch and books in a neat, appealing way. We were next to and across from groups selling Arduino-type electronic kits. Diagonally across from us was a company selling a fruit and tea-based energy drink. They gave us some samples -- it was okay! Definitely a step up from Club Mate, which was being sold from a human-sized cooler behind us, right next to the EFF's table. This was HOPE number 9, and the "theme" they'd gone with this year was passports issued by the Department of Hopeland Security. The passports doubled as passes to the conference, and they were nicely made: Durable binding, strong paper stock to mimic the pages of actual passports. And there was a tie-in to the proceedings of the conference. If you went to a particular talk or visited a particular vendor table, you could get a stamp on a page of your passport. Gamification! The FSF didn't find out about the stamp thing in time to get us one for the table, but I offered to draw in the logo for anyone who wanted it.
When I tabled two years ago, I wasn't totally comfortable following Deb's instructions to interact with all comers, even the people who had no idea what we were all about. "Are you familiar with Free Software?" I couldn't bring myself to enter into a conversation where I might have to explain, let alone justify, the organization's mission. I was much more comfortable accepting donations from and trading gossip with visitors who were already, you know, among the cognoscenti. This time around, I don't know. I found a way to do it. Maybe it was that I was out there with Thomas, who's kind of an introvert, and this guy Matt who's a bit junior on the philosophy. So I didn't really have a choice about being the talky one. And I knew I was screwing up sometimes but it didn't bother me that much. It was fun! I talked to a lot of nice people:
- I gave a brief, semi-coherent elevator pitch for the Free Software Foundation to a nice guy shooting video for Italian television, an exasperated ghost of RMS dancing in my mind the whole time telling me I had it wrong, wrong, wrong.
- I met Kenzo, the guy who built WFMU's "smart playlist" system. We talked about the intersection of the indie radio and Free Software cultures.
- I met Clinton Ebadi. We talked about running Emacs on top of Guile, and I was glad to hear that someone besides me is psyched about that prospect.
I'd hoped to bail early in the evening on Saturday so as to take in an act or two at 4Knots, but Thomas fell asleep (propped against a column upstairs, he said, with an assortment of Debian CDs arrayed on his lap) and my shift ran long. And when I checked my phone around 7 o'clock to do some math with the set times, I discovered that the festival was literally on fire -- something backstage had shorted out or gotten too hot, and from the pictures I guess the fireboats were summoned. By the time I got down to the pier, it was dark and the bands had departed. There was no sign of the fire, except for the presence of FDNY vehicles and a faint smell of smoke near a soggy, cordoned-off area at the far end by the water. I walked north a few blocks to the entrance to the Beekman Beer Garden near the loading docks of the old Fulton St. Fish Market and queued up to get into the "after party." The line was super long, and they were only letting in discrete clumps of people at a time, but I was determined, and eventually I got in. And you know what? The Beekman Beer Garden sucks -- like every other engineered-to-be-cool social space in New York and Brooklyn, it's too big, too polished, too much of a compromise. Ravenous, I ordered and homphed a plate of soggy nachos while watching the opening band, Kid Congo Powers & The Pink Monkey Birds. I'd never heard (of) them before, and they weren't bad, but their set, I don't know, it lacked urgency. And ugh, that name. I'd been standing up all day and was exhausted, so after their set I lurched over to the railing and squatted down on the ground. I got out my phone and browsed to Metafilter for some factoids. Someone had posted a story about Gabriel García Márquez losing his mind to dementia. A drunk girl came over to me and asked me for a cigarette. "This is a concert," she said. "Why are you playing a game on your phone."
"I'm reading a web site," I said.
"What does it say?"
"Gabriel García Márquez is going to die."
"I... think I know who that is," she said. She was old enough that she should have. "But you need to try to live in the moment. This moment right now." I didn't tell her that it was minutes to my birthday and that all I could think about was people getting old and dying. But I agreed that it was time to pay attention to The Black Lips.
They got on stage and destroyed! I've always found them a bit intimidating, maybe account of how unpretentious they look -- slight dudes wearing glasses and plaid shirts. Like they came from a place where you couldn't get Maximum Rocknroll and so they had to invent it themselves, Bad Kids with no outlet in ostentatious fashion, channeling their distress through nasty rock songs. Their band could be your life! Someone in the crowd got hold of some rolls of toilet paper and they lobbed them up and over our heads trailing damp white streamers that got tangled in the blades of the big industrial fans on the roof of the tent. The venue people were visibly irked, and things came briefly to a head up at the barricades near the stage. But the show mostly had a wholesomely cheeky vibe; maybe a touch entitled, but hey it's Manhattan. I stood in the back with the rich girls and their boyfriends, cradling my man-purse but tapping my feet.
So I did sort of duck my birthday, but not entirely. Nina took me on a date the following week to see Beasts Of The Southern Wild at The Sunshine, which was totally delightful but made us tear up something fierce. Dabbing our eyes, we walked a few blocks north to Downtown Bakery, where I enjoyed a spinach burrito -- my customary meal there years ago when I was a hushpuppy that did software QA in the bathtub on Broadway & Houston St.