My last day of SAA was a long one--9 a.m. to 1 a.m.--and not having a room to return to for some midday recharging was hard. I have an unusually long battery life for an introvert (and sitting in panels is less taxing than having to be continually socially on), but I still had to disappear myself to a distant café for a couple of hours to regroup.
Still, it was excellently eventful. I saw one panel descend into shouted polemic (it began well, and I'm at least half in sympathy with the substance of the polemic, but after a number of detours into Crazy Town and someone yelling something about boa constrictors, I had to leave). But I also saw Cosimo give a great paper, on what may have been the best panel of the conference, to a packed room. In between whiles I drank a lot of coffee, gabbed with everyone who was around, and bought far too many books; I feel an obscure imperative to buy all my friends' books, even those barely tangential to my own research, and though I buy them as cheaply as possible it still makes for heavy carry-on luggage for the return.
The least successful part of the day and indeed of the conference involved the hotel bar. At every SAA I've attended, everyone winds up in the hotel bar at the end of the night; it's the place everyone promises to see everyone else, and it's not unusual for 70 of the 700 conference-goers to still be there at last call. However, the Hyatt bar had a very loud cover band that was also very, very bad. And according to the hotel's liquor license, no one could take drinks outside of the bar itself, even to the lounge-y seating area nearby. And while I had no wish to quarrel with the terms of the liquor license or with the officious young man who was just doing his job in shooing my friends and their drinks over the threshold back into the bar, I have a firm belief that I know best--and that tackiness, inefficiency, and social stupidity are my own personal job to eliminate.
So I marched up to the officious young man and told him how awful his bar was and how much business he was losing. For reasons that are unclear to me, he seemed to care deeply about my opinions while being totally unwilling to accept that the bar could drive anyone away.
"Actually, this band is a big draw. People come here for this. It's the only bar with live music on the Eastside. People drive in from Seattle!"
Maybe, I said. But they have bad taste.
"This isn't bad music! I mean, it's not like they're playing Journey, or Bon Jovi."
A younger (prettier, blonder) friend joined me. "No," she said. "It's awful. "This drink? Is the only one I'm paying for. Normally I'd order three or four. And see all those people? They would, too."
The two of us and the hotel employee went around and around about the badness of the band for some 10 minutes before he reminded me of something I'd forgotten: the opulent steakhouse at the top of the hotel had a bar. And great views.
"It's a little. . . older." He said. "A quieter crowd, kinda stuffy? But you and your friends might like it."
Ignoring the implied insult, we seized the suggestion, grabbed a few more friends, and jumped in the elevator.
The doors opened to a bar crammed full of people not noticeably older or cooler than the people downstairs. And it was loud, mainly because there was a guy at the piano shouting Billy Joel's "Piano Man" into a microphone.
Maybe I swore or maybe the half dozen of us in our conference-y clothes just looked out of place, but a woman at the bar sneered and told us what a legend the singer was, and how everyone in the joint was there to hear him. "You're from out of town, right?" She said. "well where do you think is better than this? you think Seattle is better than this?"
It's possible that I lost it. It's possible that I told her how many places in the world were better than that particular patch of real estate and that pathetic excuse for a nightlife scene. But whatever angry tirade I may or may not have uttered, I stalked back to the elevators, trailing astonished colleagues.
And then? And then we did what I have never done: we went to the Malone Society Dance. And the dark hotel ballroom with its overpriced drinks and wedding-D.J.-music-stylings (Erasure, Madonna, the B-52s, and, yes, Journey) was still so very much better than the hotel bar.
I might have wound up on the dancefloor. I might even have sung every word to "Living on a Prayer." But you'd have to have been there to confirm it.