One has redone San Francisco, with a home base exactly one street over from last time. Here we were not billetted in a fancy hotel from a kit (construction hoardings obscuring entrance, whore’s-drawers upholstery, $1.50 local phone calls) but at the aptly-named Palace, built in 1875 and so vast it felt like the setting of an independent film. (You know the ones with the lingering shots down the hallways of vintage hotels? These hallways were nine feet wide, 14 feet tall, and lined with marble. Local calls: $1.50.)

En tout cas, it was Zeldman, yet again believing in me, who exhorted my presence at An Event Apart San Francisco ’07 (AEASF07; people). It’s a conference name rivalling that of one of the many events simultaneously taking place in other wings of the palace, Pioneering Women in Construction (PWiC). Also abetting my presence were Eric Meyer, last seen in Iceland, and organizeuse Toby Malina (like Lesie Robin Swisher, nearly the ultimate in a gender-nonconforming name).

Since I am nominally retired from Web accessibility and simply do not have the chops to lead a room full of experts in new wrinkles in Web standards, I went off the grid and talked about online captioning. Why I hate it, in fact (“because it sucks compared to real captioning). Notes coming up shortly.

But a quick hit of verificationism before I go on: I really should have double-checked NBC.com while in American domainspace before I got up onstage and said they were the only ones doing anything in online captioning. They are, but it sucks too. Not only is only one show captioned, they have yet again found a new and shocking way to completely screw it up. (Continuous scrolling text in a frame to the right of the image, with upcoming text clearly visible and the current text scrolled upward into a reverse-type field. And! All capitals! 1979 called; it wants its captioning back.)


Presumably it is only at a Web conference in San Francisco where two guys with full-sleeve tattoos can pass each other without noticing. Something I observed about this station of the cross is that nearly everybody was in reasonable shape and reasonably dressed. More than one of the guys betrays evidence of working out. (I do not refer to the still formidable and easily underestimated J. Santa Maria, where the evidence continues tends to point toward bench press.)

I have met my first Norwegian New Zealander, and:

  • An earnest young man from where they shot Homicide. “Is Baltimore really as interesting and full of colourful characters as John Waters says it is?” (Maybe I used the word “unscary.”) “No. Not at all,” he replied wearily. “And you’re the third person who asked me that today.”

  • The chick from Calgary – quite the pistol, actually – who drove her coworker to the airport and decided “You know, I want to go to this conference,” and did, arriving in a foreign country with nothing but the clothes on her back and her handbag. (Toronto was 20° and sunny when I left; in Calgary they had to de-ice the plane three times before it could leave.)

  • There was something of a Redhead Cluster Phenomenon. I finally met Greg Storey, who, based on previously available evidence and what I gleaned in person, is a manly Alaskan ginger. (His missus is a chemical engineeress. I taught him about the iron ring.)

    DID YOU KNOW? Alaska thinks of itself as its own country, with barely any allegiance to the rest of the United States and almost none even to the neighbouring Yukon. In this respect, it is unlike B.C./Oregon/Washington, which are a single confederation. It is probably rather unlike Hawaii, where a steady influx of mainlanders reminds you of who owns the place. Alaska may be most like Greenland, where they’d forget about the ostensible mother country altogether if there weren’t signs in Danish (American flags) all over the place. Alaskans seem pissed off and resentful of being forgotten.

    Much discussion with Greg of what to call aboriginal people (native, but Cf. Alaskan native; they also say “indigenous,” not “aboriginal” and never the Canadian “first nations”).

    Greg walked right up to me on sight at the closing-night party and clarified the foregoing. I spent the next day wondering why I didn’t take another picture of him. (That’s been happening a lot lately. I automatically take a picture of everything of interest, but I have to remind myself to photograph living beings. And lately I’ve been kicking myself a lot over that.)

  • It occurred to me, with surprise, that of the many people I meet on this conference circuit, the sole identifiable group that has consistently treated me with warmth and interest is the Mormons. This is rather despite their conviction that I am a sinner, hence doomed. It’s come up over and over again and it is real. The lapsed Mormons like me even better. (And have you seen the tallest Mormon standardista’s bombshell wife?)

  • San Francisco kept getting strafed by fighter jets. I was later informed it was Fleet Week, a term that came up with regularity in the subject lines of Craigslist personals. I’m with Joe Fiorito (q.v.); this shit’s gotta stop. San Francisco and New York are Alaska in microcosm; they are citystates only coïncidentally located in America. So of course San Francisco is the one the Defense Department bombs. Somebody else already took out the other one.

  • There couldn’t have been fewer than 30 iPhonés in the audience.

I adore the BART

It is a museum of ’70s futurism, a memory of a set from Space: 1999 or THX 1138, a concourse of black hanging signage and uplit concrete and convex honeycomb tiles. The trains have rounded corners, offset driver’s compartments, deep upholstered seating. Station announcements use computer voices from Logan’s Run, male for one direction and female for the other.

I still can’t get over how fantastic it is. It’s so good that even the station-domination campaign at Montgomery (Darfur genocide!) did not taint the well. It’s the Montreal Metro V2.0.

I had a date with Faruk

I didn’t know what was happening until partway through, and it simply never dawned on Faruk, but when our young Turk and I wandered the malls of SOMA looking for a viable restaurant, so help me I switched into some kind of forgotten vestigial hindbrain “dating” mode.

With such a nice dome capping the top floor of the shopping mall, and such nice leather sofas right below it, well, isn’t it just magical to lie down on the sofa to get a really nice photograph? Then, how serendipitous to notice the boy who is growing up before our very eyes taking his own photograph in the edge of the frame. Best snap a picture of him upside-down under the cupola, Lady and the Tramp–style.

He didn’t know what was happening. It wasn’t actually a date; it just felt like one. It was a kind of muscle memory kicking in or something. (Like getting a boner from riding a motorcycle. Wait, can I say that? I got Mormons here.) It didn’t help that Faruk was noticeably hot that night – in a just-barely-non-Eurotrash way. It was academic, though. As we got up from the bar at the restaurant, I was already three paces away before I noticed him still standing there, waiting to make eye contact with the bartendresses and say goodbye proper. Joe is from Mars, men are Turk Dutchmen.

While one still has to move friends to sit down, the people I never quite got along with I still do not quite get along with. I just can’t handle drinking all night and using six fingers max to steer the SUV home at top speed with lane changes. Or singing “carryokie.”

Of course I’m a square. It only comes up at times like these. Or in the latter hours of my visit, in which everyone I had lined up bailed on me. (Suddenly Geekslut remembered he had opera tickets. [Really? What’s the title of the production, without looking it up?] Dogpoet had to deal with the whips and chains of his brother’s wedding. And that special yet elusive ginger, an acquaintance who’s never found me less than creepy but used to put up a good front, would not reschedule his friends’ standing appointments for a half-hour coffee break.)

The foregoing was to some degree crushing in comparison to the previous morning, where I walked to an organic coffee shop with assurance and a feeling that I was actually a valued member of society, and competent enough to walk with assurance in a foreign city.

My own failed and half-arsed version of eye contact with bartendrix? Asking the three dudes in the Red Carpet Lounge at SFO – two of them so spectacularly overbuilt I thought they had to be genuine high-performance athletes – if they were Brasileiros. One of them was from Brazil, but no, they were all Americans coming back from Oz. That would explain the completely filled T-shirt declaring AUSTRALIA. The Brazilian was yammering into his shoephone like a Russian (sounds the same; check for yourself) as his iBook recharged. Upon questioning, one of the densely-packed dudes stated he “worked in consulting” but wouldn’t elaborate. (Defence? Intelligence? Just “consulting.”)

The other guy said “And I’m a hairdresser. So.” “So it’s all starting to make sense,” I non-sequitured.

This is why my dates bail on me in the gayest city in the world on a Friday night. I’m glad I have a friend and a hound to go back to.

Every time I go to these things, I realize that there will be fewer and fewer of them, and, as a corollary, my days of flying business to Oz are behind me. (Do I not go to the gym enough? Not “consult” enough?) I have seen the world at other people’s expense, in most cases because they believed in me, even if they didn’t think that anymore afterward, and in other cases because I do good work and draw a crowd. But you know what? Also every time I go to these things, I think back to that little pisher’s anonymous blog comment that my poor social skills make me unhir(e)able and all I’m good for is preaching to the converted at Web-standards conferences. (I don’t allow comments here. People find other places.) The truth hurts, and one day I won’t even have the circuit anymore.

Also, be honest: What is the big deal about Ritual Roasters?

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2007.10.07 15:26. This presentation was designed for printing and omits components that make sense only onscreen. (If you are seeing this on a screen, then the page stylesheet was not loaded or not loaded properly.) The permanent link is:

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None. I quit.

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