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Tuesday, August 01, 2000

Louisiana Kitchen Sink

It's a long entry... it covers my whole week in New Orleans....

Bourbon Street is a warped synthesis of Disneyland and Tijuana--a crowded street at 2am any day of the week, lined with restaurants, strip clubs, bars, sex shops, and the occasional House of Voodoo.

Brightly colored alcoholic slushies are vended to-go from 7-11 style slurpie machines through doorways emitting a franchised neon/UV/florescent glow who's aggregate color can only be likened to nightmares of an alien morgue.

The drinks in everyone's hands are laced with enough sugar and ever-clear to provide for a steady flow of vomit--the preferred method being squatting on the curb and aiming for the street where the heavy foot traffic distributes it evenly across the blacktop and the floors of the city's taxicabs.

The restaurants are all incredibly expensive and incredibly bad. After another failed meal, we escaped to Margaritaville for music, drinks, and deserts--all bad. But it's all relative, so it was the highlight of the evening.

People rave about the food in New Orleans. I've come to the conclusion that most of those people have either never been there, or never left there. One local woman told me how she'd thought of moving, but never has because New Orleans is such a great place to live. When I asked her why, she passed through about a dozen reasons to the contrary (smog, crime, heat, etc..) before she could think of a concrete positive, which was: Great Food! Ok, excellent I thought -- after days of finding only crap to eat, finally here's a local who knows about the Great Food in New Orleans. So naturally I asked where I could find it. "Everywhere!" she said. Not to be dissuaded, I asked her what in particular I should get. She proceeded to describe her very favorite New Orleans food: a potato sandwich.

I'd often wondered at the apparent disparity between my understanding of nutrition (particularly that eating fat does not make you fat--eating carbs does) and the common knowledge that everyone in the south is fat from eating fried and fatty foods. Now I understand, having played fish-for-the-protein in my rice-filled gumbos, starchy ettoufes, and batter-covered shrimplets swimming on a sea of rice or french fries. Ech! The southern diet consists of glucose, fat, and alcohol.

In desperation, I paid $50 for a meal at K-Paul's and actually got some good food! (Though the deserts were way too sweet, and the food at Oswald in Santa Cruz is better for half the price.) I had numerous other amazingly bad-food experiences which I won't elaborate on...

Siggraph itself was... a conference. What more need be said? The running joke was that the courses were "content free", having been targeted at such a broad audience as to satisfy none. The Exhibition was the same as always, except the demos were faster and better as they are each year. Half the fun of the floor is to find all the nifty give-aways the marketing goons think up--my favorites this time being some yummy gold-coin mint chocolates, a rear-view mirror for my computer monitor, a bottle of hot sauce with some amazingly (but genuinely) geeky label, and a high-quality plastic drink cup with a nifty spiral straw. The latter was supposed to come filled with an icy slush, but this being New Orleans it was spiked (yes, they were giving away alcoholic slurpies on the exhibition floor) and thus terribly popular.. and thus all gone, which was fine with me because I didn't have to wash the cup that way. The 3d printer was also pretty neat -- most anything you could model in your favorite 3d modelling software, this thing could build out of multi-colored plastic for under $10 in raw materials (not counting the $50K cost of the printer amortized over the many hours it takes to build the object...). It constructs the objects layer by layer by printing on a bed of compacted powder which holds the structure until the final curing, so it has no problem making balls within balls and all sorts of nifty forms.

I saw the Animation movie on Monday. We caught the first bus to the theater, and were nearly the first people through the door, which was good because there was a line out the door and around the block by the time they let in. The theater was, once again, very Disney; or I suppose I'm reversing the causalities because I'm thinking of the New Orleans section of Disneyland... This is a picture of part of the inside of the theater:

Pete, Michelle and I visited a strip joint called the Gold Club on a recommendation. We joked that Michelle should work there, and two days later she did (along with Tara). Pete and I came in at 2:30am, but when the doors closed at 4 they promptly threw us out as I couldn't find a good way to say we were escorting two of the girls home (think about it--how would you phrase it!?). The bouncer later came out, apologized, and let us back in, but not before I'd been accosted by an edgy black man with frosted eyes who introduced himself with "Do you remember me? I remember you..." and proceeded to mutter at me at close range for many minutes until I finally convinced him he was not going to get anything out of me by either sympathy ploys or veiled threats, both of which he tried.

I fell into a funk toward the end, the inevitable consequence of too much socializing. All I can think about are all the moments where I fucked up... I jotted them on a note pad while they were spinning in my head, just to see how many there were:

Overall feeling crushed, useless... a fuckup. All of these things were swimming in my head at the same time... each begging to be fully understood and ideally rectified or at least definitely avoided in the future. Everything feels like a close call to me, like my whole life is at stake... probably attributable to my early childhood which was rife with serious consequences... (But reenforced by things like my best friend from college getting shot to death not far from where we used to live.)

Also, seeing all the latest, greatest technology has a mixed effect on me now. When you're young, seeing lots of cool stuff you didn't do is a challenge. When you're old, it's a statement of what you didn't do.

Amazingly enough, we actually got some decent food buffet style at the Siggraph Papers reception, pre-paid with our conference registration, and held at the Aquarium of the Americas. Basic carved turkey, a good veal dish... and a selection of ice cream too, everything all-you-can-eat. We finally extracted ourselves from the buffet cycle and headed into the aquarium. Boy, they had some weird fish.

Richard is friends with the previous owner of Oswald, who happens to be from New Orleans and who happened to be in town when we were. Being a restaurantur, he knew where the good food was, and it wasn't in New Orleans -- it was at a family style diner out in the middle of nowhere. Twenty miles of swamp from just about anything, and yet when we arrived the parking lot was full and there was a line out the door. Due to logistical issues with renting a car for the day, we made the trek in a limo, which may be a first for Middendorf.

Middendorf's specialty is thinly sliced catfish, cornmeal breaded and fried, and it was thrice as good as anything I'd had in town and at a quarter the price. Even their ice cream was fresh and creamy, with the chocolate bits tasting freshly shaved.

Here's the highway that leads to and away from Middendorf, on stilts over swamp or lake most of the way:

It was a long week.

My United flight actually boarded on time, so I was relieved to think I would actually make my connection (1 hour layover) and not get stuck in LAX. But then we just sat there at the gate, and the temperature in the plane started rising... ten minutes... another few degrees... twenty minutes.. hotter still... half an hour... getting sweaty... at risk of missing my connection... forty minutes.. some of the passengers are looking faint... connection looking less and less likely... fifty minutes... temp may be over 100 at this point... flight attendants are opening the doors, ushering the children traveling alone out of the plane for liability reasons.... I'm thinking I'm going to spend the night in LAX... an hour... I'm drenched in sweat, and I usually don't sweat. An hour and ten... sweat is dripping off my cheeks... and finally they figure out how to get the engines started (yes, all this time, the claim is that the start cart wasn't working so they had to borrow one from another airline).

The ETA, after "making up time" was such that I would have about one minute to make it from one gate to the other, so I told the flight attendant my situation, having seen them in the past ask the passengers to let people with close connections deplane first. By this time, I'd already conveyed my "It's not my problem" analysis of Unitons to the guy sitting next to me, so he nearly fell out of his seat laughing when the flight attendant said "What do you expect me to do about it?" I expected it, so I just politely suggested they could ask to let the people with connections off first, and if they could announce what gate we were coming in to that would also be helpful so we would know how much time we had (the 80+ gates are a long run across the airport from the 70+ gates, and I knew my next flight was in the 70 wing).

They did nothing to help whatsoever.

So I pushed my way through the crowd before the door opened, repeating the mantra "Excuse me, can I sneak ahead? I have about one minute to catch my next plane." which worked for about 2/3rds of the length of the plane until I got to someone who said "Me too." And so I said "Oh, well good, could you forge on forward then and I'll follow you?" "No." What a weenie. Nobody else seemed particularly put off by my passing by, but I hit a dead end at this prick who's ostensibly in the same predicament I'm in. If someone's going to roll over and die, I wish they'd do it somewhere other than in my path.

But in a rare stroke of luck, we turned into the 70's wing, and when I stepped off the plan I strode across the hall, down the steps, and into the bus which whirred me over the freeway and past the aptly named Remote Terminal, direct to the plane... which was completely empty except for me, the flight attendant, and a Hungarian law student and part-time flight attendant (for American Airlines) who had ridden the bus with me to catch this flight because all American flights to San Diego were completely full. (Odd that they'd not have a single seat left, and, if not for my butt, United not a single seat full.)

We had a good dialog for the half hour flight, and a few snickers at the flight attendant standing three feet away who kept addressing the two of us in generic terms through the PA system.

When I arrived, there were two people there to pick me up -- Sally, who I'd arranged with, and Mia, who'd said she'd get back to me about it but never did. I took them all out to dinner, and then Mia took me home.

And just in case you're thinking all my bitching about United is just my bad attitude, I offer you this link, and I hope I shall have nothing more to say about them again: Unfriendly Skies

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Simon Funk / simonfunk@gmail.com