SXSWi Day 3

I am writing this from a patch of lawn across from the Austin Convention Center.  The little scrap of free wireless connectivity is failing me as I finish my Thai iced tea (you can’t bring outside food or drink into the ACC).  Once I’m done, I’m going to check out the SXSWi trade show, where my alma mater, University of Michigan’s School of Information, is tabling supposedly.

The Thai iced tea was from a Thai/Vietnamese restaurant on 6th street called Mekong River.  For lunch I had what are called ?? Mermaids and these wonderful yam-and-corn fritters.  VERY tasty and highly recommended.  These SoBe reps are hawking free “HTML5-in-a-cup” on the sidewalk in front of me, and I just overheard a young woman explaining a party trick she does using Grindr (a gay hookup mobile app, for those unfamiliar).

We had breakfast in the lobby of the Driskill, this fabulous Italianate hotel dating from 1885.  The lobby was stunning with exquisite hushed lighting, though the breakfast itself was ridiculously overpriced.  I proceeded to a pretty helpful conversation session called “Your Web Developer Thinks You’re An Idiot.”

The porn industry panel last night was pretty interesting too, by the way, and not surprisingly attended by about 90% men.  There was one young woman on the panel, Alison Vivas, who was an executive in the industry and who seemed remarkably poised, canny and professional.  You could have picked her up and plunked her down in any other industry sector without significantly altering her presentation.  Very impressive.

Last night, after free drinks at a CNET live podcast party, we crossed off another bar, Rain, on our “Gay Pub Crawl of Austin” checklist.  The bar was huge — three or four separate spaces, including a dance floor and an outdoor deck —  and was very well-attended for a Sunday night, with plenty of reasonably attractive guys from a range of ages.

I caught myself feeling a little weird about posting so much about Austin and SXSW on a blog that is ostensibly about a couple of Rust Belt cities, but I think it’s really important and valuable to share my experiences here.  People who care about their communities need to get out in the world and see what’s happening elsewhere, to see what’s working and try to figure out why, and to bring some of the magic they see in other cities back to their own.  It’s one thing to read about Austin and all the supposed reasons it has been such a success story over the past several decades, while our own cities in the Great Lakes have withered on the vine; it’s another to experience first hand the good — the food carts and the student-powered pedicabs and the gay bars and the seemingly miraculous March weather — as well as the lousy — the too-narrow sidewalks, too-wide streets, and the lack of bike lances that impair the pedestrian experience, as I pointed out in yesterday’s post.  Getting out and reporting back for readers in Michigan and other cold, shattered places helps us set the bar higher for what we expect from the cities and the regions we live in.

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