Rather than talking about the Podcast and Portable Media Expo in sequence, I’m going to start with the very last bits as an example demonstrating the spirit of the very best of the things that happened over the weekend. This is quite a long post, you have been warned.
Sunday as the convention was winding down I ran into Susan Kitchens on the show floor. I sat across from her at dinner almost exactly a year ago at Bloggercon 3. We chatted for a bit and then, being late afternoon/early evening, our thoughts turned to dinner plans. I mentioned that although people at the hotel are nice, the food was somewhat less than satisfying overall. She remembered a great BBQ place in Rancho Cucamonga that she had eaten at years ago. We borrowed a computer with net access from iPod Lounge (thanks guys), googled for it and found out that it was called Woody’s, called to make sure that it was still in business and open. She looked at the google map and sketched herself a copy to make sure she could drive there. She had the presence of mind to get both info about how many people the restaurant could hold at max, as well as their take out info. We walked back to the hotel and mentioned it to everyone we knew as we hit the lobby. We figured if 7 people were willing to go in on this, it made sense to get a party platter and bring it back to the hotel. Because the Friends in Tech guys were in, automatically we had enough. Once that happened, it made more sense to transport a load of food 5 miles rather than trying to move all the people there and back when most don’t have cars. It was around 5:30 PM at this point, less than 30 minutes after the beginning inklings of a BBQ dinner. Susan made up a sign explaining what was going on and hung it in the lobby, and she decided that rather than having people sign up, we’d just have everyone meet in the lobby at 6:30, get a headcount and call in the order. While she did that, I tried to work some charm with the hotel people, making sure that they were cool with an impromptu party and that if we put it in a space they wouldn’t kick us out. Turns out poolside was cool if we didn’t have glass, so I also went to the bar and asked if they had plastic pitchers and cups we could take out there. Their response was, “Sir, we don’t have any right here but we will find some and have them ready for you” (this turned out to be a very common kind of response from the hotel). With that settled, we chilled out for a while and called our respective significant others.
After a little bit of unwinding and phone calls and note taking and business card sorting, about 6:15 we headed back down to the lobby. We were wondering if there were going to be more than the 15 or so people that one order would serve. We rounded the corner and the lobby was noisy and full with at least 25 people crowded around the sign. If I remember correctly, there was even a little smatter of applause. Here’s where the story kicks up a notch. Even as we were doing the headcount, the crowd grew. We began the process of collecting $7 per person when Craig Patchett of the Orange County Podcasters graciously kicked in their remaining funds. We were looking to get the $205 for tab, and they had something like $180 left of the money they raised for their expo expenses that they donated to the cause. Steve Holden of Friends in Tech put in the remainder and we refunded all the money to the individuals who had paid. Susan called in the order, we hopped in her car and drove out there. While we were at Woody’s, we chatted and took photos and talked to the restaurant people. The one downside is that it took a long time beyond what we were quoted. At ~6:40, they told us 20 minutes, so we told everyone that we’d be back at 7:30. In reality, it was 7:30 by the time we got the food and then we had one bad interstate turn so it was like 7:45 or 7:50 by the time we got back to the hotel. The natives were restless when we arrived.
We unloaded the trays from the car to various strapping men who carried everything to the pool area. We moved tables together, did a little umbrella removal and set things up. It was kind of dark there, so people with keychain LEDs shined them on the trays while people scooped up food. We took forks and knives for serving utensils and extra napkins from the little convenience store and made it work. I’m not sure how many people were there, but it seemed like about 50 at the high point, and as some left other came, so it was probably 75 or more that came through at some point. Brian Ibbot and someone else went to the bar and got some pitchers, later this great guy whose name I forget had custody of the
Podtech crew’s (Update: it was Podtrac and Scott Fletcher of Podcheck Review who brought them down, says Mark) leftover beer so he brought it down and pitched it in. There were a lot of people, and I don’t think anyone went hungry or thirsty.
At this point, it really had become like a potlatch, with people pitching in what they had and doing what they could. Everywhere around, people were doing things that needed to be done without being asked, helping each other. The same guy who brought the beer went to the hotel and got a big empty trash can. A nice lady named Deb started cleaning up the trash and plates and reorganizing empty bins so new people could keep finding the food in and amongst the mess. Brian Ibbot brought his iPod and speaker dock down to provide some music. The vibe was fantastic, and not only was the party fun, the party was a story. The fact that it went from a possible trip to a local restaurant to a small gathering to a big party with food and beer for everyone in less than 3 hours was part of all of our narratives. That everyone was so cool and everyone stepped up and made it fun and helped and chipped in money or effort or stuff was incredible. Thanks to everyone who came by and did something or just provided a little laughter.
I was hoping that things wouldn’t get rowdy or out of control, and I was not disappointed. There were a few moments I wasn’t sure about, but people seemed to self-correct or correct each other. There were a few dudes I didn’t know who had that look of the LA tough guys but they were completely nice and actually really interested in the couple of small sweet potato pies I had bought on a whim. There was one guy (I think he was a friend of Soccer Girl) who I blessed out a little. During our party, a group of ladies who I guess were with the Southern California Mothers of Twins group (who also had an event in our hotel) arrived. They all hit the hot tub, and several were in pretty skimpy bikinis. This guy started yelling at them. That pissed me off because we had such a nice thing going, and it seemed uncool and out of keeping with the rest of it. I asked him to stop yelling at them and said something like “If you are that interested, walk around the pool and go talk to them like a man, but for god’s sake stop hooting.” He seemed to think me a dick, but he stopped. On our way out, I walked over to the hot tub and apologized. 6 or 7 of them appreciated the apology but one said “Actually, I kind of liked it.” I offered to go find him and send him back. I read her declination of the offer as an indicator she may have been yanking my chain. I can say that dude, whoever you were, you really should have gone and talked to them. I appreciate your youthful enthusiasm, but you expressed it in a completely ineffectual way. A little smoothness might have really worked out well for you.
So that’s the story of the “beef raising” (analogous to a “barn raising”.) We also called it a “flash meal”. I asked if Howard Rheingold lived in LA because I was going to invite him if we could scare up his number. Out of nowhere, just the right combination of people with the right skills and a desire for a good time made a great evening. Susan’s knowledge of the area (and of the existence of this great BBQ place nearby) and organizational skills made it go. Lots of people kicked in goods, money, lifted heavy things, brought implements, shared plates, dished each other food and more. I did what I could to build consensus fast, to sweet talk people into giving us what we needed and make sure the people who were self-actualizing enough to step up and do things got thanked. If you did and I didn’t talk to you, I thank you now and apologize for missing you. I tried to thank every individual who ever did stuff for being a team player. It’s also worth noting that although we had met before and spoken in that two-people-at-a-big-loud-table sort of way, Susan and I went into this barely knowing each other. After this, I now consider her a new friend.
I obviously have a dog in this fight, but it might have been my favorite party of the whole time. They were all good, but the spirit of cooperation and the great vibe really made this one special. Talking with Susan in the restaurant, I said that my goals had raised to several plateaus over the process. When we started, I wanted to get a really good meal into a few people’s bellies. After that, I wanted to have a fun time for a medium sized group of friends. By the time we were picking up the food, I wanted it to become a thing of legend. Only history will tell if the latter happened, but I sure think it is possible.
To get back to my initial point from way up top, I think these couple hours represented a bonsai version of the history of podcasting. A group of people wanted to make things happen and to make something fun and nourishing that served people’s needs. An amiable group of friendly people came together, offered what they had, donated their resources in time and labor and love and helped out. People shared what they knew, gave what they had, took their joy from the joy of others, placed each other’s well being ahead of their own and as a community raised the tide to float all boats. At least one person called it “spontaneous open source party planning”, which is phraseology I love. This party had no “business model”. It had contributions by organizations but no one owned it and no one tried. May our future days stay filled with this spirit.
A common question I was asked in interviews over the weekend was “will big media drive out individual podcasters?” At the time I didn’t have the best answer but now I do. As long as I can hear one podcaster tell another “I’ll hold that flashlight for a while, you go eat” then we will all be fine. God bless us, one and all.