And now the tale of my 48 hours in Tempe...
I knew about this meeting about a month ago, but it was by invitation only and I was told that there wasn't room to add me to the list. Okay, no big deal, but just in case they'd reconsider, my boss wrote the organizers a letter explaining why it would be important for me to be there. That was a month ago.
Wednesday morning I got a phone message from Arizona that I was expected at the meeting (beginning at 7:15 AM, Thursday), that I was already booked into the hotel, and that they'd reimburse me the airfare to get there. I quickly found a flight for latter that day, ran home to pack a bag, called Leslie at school to let her know I was going, ate lunch, and ran to the airport. I was checking into the hotel less than 12 hours after finding out I was going.
The added security measures slowed things down a bit, but not terribly. There were a few National Guardsmen with big, nasty looking machine guns, but it wasn't an overwhelming armed presence; the airports were busy enough that it was just "added security" and not a threat. I did have to show my ID three times: checking my bag, checking in at the gate, and boarding the plane. In addition to that, I needed to present my ticket going through the security checkpoint. I checked my luggage (with cell phone and all electronics packed) and only carried a paperback book to avoid potential searches and slowdowns.
Of my four flights (I had to stop in San Diego each way - no direct flights when you book at the last minute), the first was 100% full, the second was nearly empty, and the two on the way home were each about 80% full. Other than that leg from San Diego to Phoenix, it didn't seem like the airline (SouthWest) was hurting any.
One place the cut in folks flying did show was in the long-term parking lot at San Jose. I pulled in to find the whole back section nearly empty and got a spot right next to the shuttle stop.
Thursday afternoon we had a little break before dinner, so I took a little walk around downtown Tempe, which consists of about five blocks of Mill Ave. This section of town may as well be called "little California" - First thing I saw was Gordon Biersch (of Palo Alto), then there was Crocodile Cafe ("California Cuisine") and PF Chang's (Hollywood-style Chinese). The other shops and restaurants were generic America: Gap, Borders, Hooters, Z Gallerie...
I did find one local shop of used books, antiques, and tourist crap that was kind of fun. All in all, it only took about an hour to "do Tempe." It seemed like the whole neighborhood was fairly recent development. Considering the proximity to the University (a couple of blocks over), it's a district with a lot of promise if only a little more local color were added.
The most interesting thing on my walk was a conversation with the only homeless person I came across. He was selling [free] newspapers and dining advice. He called himself the "Mill Avenue Restaurant Critic" - I didn't ask how a homeless guy got to know about all the restaurants.
I wasn't looking for food (for a change), but we got to talking and I gave him $1 for the [free] paper. He asked where I was from and I said the San Jose area, to which he guessed Los Gatos. When I said yes, he joked that if I lived in Los Gatos, I could give him $2 for the paper, to which I explained that I work for a nonprofit organization.
That led to more talk - When he was married and living in New York, his wife worked for a nonprofit - Then, after he left New York, he lived in the hills between Santa Cruz and San Jose for a while, and we knew a few of the same places. Great. The person in Tempe I have the most in common with is the homeless guy; the Mill Avenue Restaurant Critic.
Beginning Friday afternoon was the big annual Tempe arts festival out on Mill Ave., and a few of us with a couple of hours to kill between the conference and our flights went to check it out. Each of the crafts dealers I got to talking to turned out to be from the Santa Cruz area. After a little milling around that, we decided our time would be better spent drinking.
We found the patio of the Bamboo Cafe (another chain) overlooking the arts fair and shared a couple of pitchers of "Cool Banana" (dark rum, bananas, banana and coconut liqueurs, orange and pineapple juices) and an appetizer sampler platter with calamari, ribs, and the second-best potstickers I've ever had (best: Brandy-Ho's, San Francisco).
And then it was back to the airport where I heard the news about George Harrison, which I wrote about yesterday. And, now, we're all up-to-date.