SXSW, badgeless and carefree

On Sunday, I ventured to downtown Austin for SXSWi. The last time I attended SXSW was in 2008 – I didn’t live here, and I had a badge. This was a whole new experience since I now live in Austin and had absolutely no badge and no wristband. I had goals for the day, but was pretty sure I wouldn’t get into anything I wanted to see. I was really worried about parking and traffic, so I left very early. Despite losing an hour’s sleep (Thanks, Ben Franklin!), I arrived downtown by 1030am.

There was no traffic, and parking was a breeze. I’m sure it would have been a different story if I hadn’t been such an early bird, but it was a relief for me, because I am a humungous worry-wart.

I do have to say that if I didn’t have Twitter, I wouldn’t have had nearly as much fun as I did today. Thanks to Twitter, I found out where all of the free food was, and some cool tips. If you’re at an event like SXSW which has literally thousands of events, parties and random happenings going on then you need to do some social networking and research before you get there. I know that there are a lot of anti-Twitter curmudgeons out there (and believe me, I was one of the WORST for a long time), but it is very useful in these types of situations.

I headed to the Convention Center first to have a look around. It turns out that the trade show was not open today (it opens Monday), so there wasn’t much else for someone without a badge to do. There were a few lounges and some food and merch booths, but I was looking for free swag. I will have to try again next weekend.

It was lunch time, so I tried to find the food trucks I had read about on Twitter. First place I went was the Squarespace booth a few blocks away. They were rumored to be giving away the legendary Franklin’s BBQ for FREE and I didn’t want to miss out. While I waited in line, a lady from Squarespace went through the line asking to see badges. Yup, you could only get free noms if you had a badge. I was extremely disappointed. I will have to try Franklin’s another day.

Luckily, just a couple of blocks away, Short Bus Subs was giving away free grilled cheese sandwiches. Free for all takers, badge or no badge! Once I had my sandwich I felt much better and the sting of rejection at mean old Squarespace had faded.

My next stop was the Foodspotting Blackberry party. Yes, I have a Blackberry phone. I used to have an iPhone but I just couldn’t stomach paying $105 a month for the service when I could get a Blackberry from Virgin for $35 a month. Now that I have moved to Austin and taken a huge pay cut, every penny counts.  I am pretty happy with my Blackberry, mostly because of the keyboard. I am not sure I would ever want to go back to a touchpad keyboard.

Anyway, I digress…the Blackberry party was really great. It was at 2nd and Brazos if you feel like going there yourself. Even if you don’t have a Blackberry, there are tons of great food trucks there. Old School BBQ, Hey Cupcake!, an espresso truck, Korean BBQ tacos, and more more more! I got a snack and watched people hula-hooping to win some free Peeps.

I didn’t want to miss the Foursquare booth, because I heard that you could actually play foursquare there and I wanted to see what was up. It’s true, there were people playing foursquare, along with ping pong tables, foosball tables, free food (I didn’t get the grilled corn because it gets stuck in my teeth like crazy), free Pepsi Max, and lounges. I heard a rumor that later this week Mayer Hawthorne and Snoop Dogg will be playing there. I am not sure where they will play, but the space is very small and so my hopes of seeing those shows are pretty much dashed.

I had wasted enough time. I needed to get in line to see the new Conan O’Brien documentary, which was having its “galactic premiere” at SXSW. Conan himself was rumored to be in attendance, and there was no way I wanted to miss that. Yes, I’m one of those Team Coco people. I bleed orange for him! (Not for the Longhorns!)

There were two lines – one for badges, and one for peons who had to pay cash to get in. I got in line with the peons and began my wait. It was an hour until the movie was supposed to start, and I was lucky to be very close to the front of the line. I always enjoy waiting in long lines in Austin, because inevitably I either meet new friends, or at the very least I have a good conversation.  The people in line ahead of me turned out to be really nice. They were all from Arizona, except for one guy who turned out to be someone I followed on Twitter for advice on how to get into stuff for free.  (You can find him at @wristbandless)  It’s a small world at SXSW! 

We made friendly conversation while waiting in line, and we were wondering if we’d really get into the movie. We kept an eye out to see how many badgeholders were in line, but it was hard to tell. We thought the line had made a circle all the way around the building but it turned out to be a group of journalists and photographers. There was also a red carpet in front of the theater, but I didn’t realize that until later.

Suddenly my companions and I were startled by the man himself! Conan! Walking right by us! We all reacted in various horrible ways – I screamed “Coco!”, my Twitter compatriot just stared and pointed, and my fellow Arizonans were stunned into silence. I think all of us had dropped our jaws in surprise. No, it was not our finest moment, but it made our day. Conan gave us a nod and made his way to the red carpet. I knew then that we just had to get into the movie, it was a good omen.

The moment of truth arrived, and we made it in! Yes, we were all sitting way up in the balcony but who cares? We not only got into the movie, we got to see a Q&A from the director and Conan, and we also got a smile and a nod from Coco himself!

As far as the documentary itself, it is a must-see for all Coco fans. It showed Conan at his darkest during the whole NBC disaster last year, as well as fun moments on the road during his tour. If you’re not a huge Conan fan, you probably wouldn’t enjoy it that much. It’s very “inside baseball”. However, those of you who really love Coco need to see Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop if you get the chance. I’m not sure if it will be showing nationally in theaters, but I bet it will show up on Netflix eventually.

I had accomplished my goals for the day. I had to head home and get ready for a new work week. I’m sure I’ll be dreaming of gangly redheads tonight.

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