IMR: Entries: 2003: October: 17 — Friday, October 17, 2003

Cruising Altitude

This is the first time I'm flying Continental, but so far, I'm thinking I should fly them all the time.

Continental Airlines Flight 72 to Houston, now boarding.
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The former site of the old Aerospace Museum. Engines from historic planes sit in a corner.
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Travelers snooze and channel surf at 33,000 feet. Crossing over Arizona just before dawn breaks.
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Houston's airport is looking a little long in the tooth. The frenzied fleet of shoe shiners are cool, though.
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I think this must be a hub for Continental Airlines. An modest statue of the airport's namesake, Bush 41.
Actually, I'm not sure if I'm really enjoying this flight, or if I'm finally so used to air travel, I'm just genuinely comfortable. During takeoff, when I'm usually gritting my teeth through a white-knuckled cold sweat, I was actually more anxious about the businessmen sitting across the aisle from me than I was about the strange noises the engines were making.

I was anxious because of the excessive volume at which the businessmen's conversation was being conducted, and related to that, the sheer dullness of its content. I was anxious because I was afraid they'd be talking like that for the whole flight.

And, as of this moment, about four hours into the flight, they're still droning on. "So he was printing these letter-sized, full-color, two-sided direct mail pieces, and I was making a grand with each one, and I tell him..."

Actually, it's just one guy talking, and his associate interjecting with a chuckle or an affirmative grunt every three minutes or so. (I've been timing it.) I'm not sure if the other guy is just trying to polite and would rather be napping, or if this is just the way they work. Listening Guy does seem to comment now and then on the substance of Talking Guy's rambling. I'm an expert at "Uh huh... you don't say..." and either Listening Guy is listening or he's really good at faking it.

Talk talk talk. It's insane. My head is actually filled with stuff I don't want to know anything about. I can't concentrate on anything else — hence, I'm writing about it, instead of ... anything else. Talking Guy's in-laws, how rich they are, how he and his wife keep turning down generous offers of financial assistance. Talking Guy's recent consulting job at a hospital, and how he forced them to accept new ideas about computer automation, and how the IT guy was an ass "who wouldn't know Service Pack from a service station." Talking Guy's efforts to push a friend into full-time entrepreneurship, and his personal philosophy ("Don't sweat the small stuff"). And a lot of other equally unique and insightful ideas relating to CRM.

And seriously, I'm not evesdropping. There's simply no way to avoid hearing the extensive details of their business dealings. I can hear them over the engines, and I could hear them over Jen's MP3 CD right now, and over the "CSI" marathon I watched a little while ago. I seriously regret forgetting one great traveling tip I'd picked up during my globetrotting days: bring earplugs.

Anyway, talking guy can talk. More than I can at my most talkative. Which is saying something.

The rest of the plane is blissfully quiet. It's 12:39 a.m. in Hawaii (5:39 a.m. in Austin), and most of the passengers are asleep. Zipping along at 578 miles per hour at 33,000 feet, we've got 2,148 miles — or four hours, nine minutes — to go. As has become tradition, I picked up a book before boarding the plane (a Nora Oja Keller novel), but I haven't pulled it out yet. Up until now, I've just been playing with my personal video device.

Now, I'm not sure how common it is these days having these things in coach class, but they're pretty damn neat. The last time I used one was on a short flight between Malaysia and Singapore, and most of the material was (of course) not in English. This time I've had several hours to play with it.

I played half a game of chess against a computer (against the plane?). I switched distractedly between "Hollywood Homicide" and "Legally Blonde 2." And then there was the aforementioned "CSI" marathon, alternating between "CSI" and "CSI: Miami." I just turned off the fifth fairly current, commercial-free episode.

Thanks to Continental, I finally saw the "Sara Sidle Makes a Move on Grissom" one. Hmm.

It's a fairly new plane (a 767), with nice seats and a surprising amount of legroom. We only got a turkey sandwich instead of dinner, but it wasn't bad as turkey sandwiches go (and the chocolate and peanut butter cookie was a winner). And while this flight fairly full, the seat next to me is empty, and the woman on the other side and I are using it to store junk. All for $400 and some change, round-trip, nearly non-stop to my East Texas destination.

Why the hell was I so loyal to Northwest again? (Oh, yeah, Silver status in their Frequent Flyer program, and three free trips to date.)

Hmm. Some turbulence.

There are a couple of older Japanese people walking laps around the cabin. I did a couple of circuits myself to stretch my legs (another good habit). It's fun to imagine backstories for the wide range of people you see on an airplane. The two haole girls, perhaps sisters, curled up sideways and toe-to-toe as they each read a book — one a romance novel (with the requisite beefcake cover illustration) the other a thick John Grisham tale. The very tired, frizzy haired young man reading what looks like a glossy ad-filled magazine devoted entirely to ball-and-joint surgery. The gigantic dude with the exposed belly, on which sits a laptop, on which is a PowerPoint presentation in progress comparing injection molding to... something else.

And Talking Guy. Take a breath, man.

I didn't get to make my traditional trip MP3 CD, So right now I'm listening to the disc I made for Jen's last trip to visit her parents in Florida. Hawaiian, cheesy '80s butt rock, opera, ska, hip-hop, Alanis and Brittney and the Beatles. At the moment, I'm tapping my toes to En Vogue's "Don't Let Go." Not a bad mix, if I do say so myself.

Turbulence sucks.

And this laptop is acting weird. The trackpad is haunted or something, dragging my pointer around randomly and occasionally clicking — toggling menus or even closing my program.

Oh yeah, I got a new laptop. Not "new" at all, to be sure — a secondhand unit off eBay, and in slightly grungier shape than the seller made it out to be. It's a a Dell C600, which I snapped up for $400 in a panic when Sony, which had been holding my Vaio hostage for weeks, told me only last Monday that it would cost $700 to fix. (Since I bought that laptop on eBay for $300, I wasn't about to pay twice that to fix the PCMCIA slot, which is brilliantly integrated to the motherboard, but which is the only useful way to get things in and out of the computer.)

I only got this thing yesterday, in the nick of time, and stayed up last night cleaning it up and getting my programs installed. I even set it up with WiFi, although lord knows if there'll be service anywhere near where I'll be in Austin. Still, between the wireless card, the ethernet jack, and the (gag) "5,000 Minutes Free" dial-up AOL account, I should be okay.

God, what am I getting on about?

Okay, so I'm nervous. And the turbulence is only part of it.

One one level, I'm absolutely thrilled about this trip. I'm going to see my old partner in crime Greg, who I haven't seen in ages, and I'll be seeing him in Austin, to which I've never been and have always wanted to visit. (Jen keeps the city on the short list of "places we'd live if Hawaii wasn't so great.") I'm going to see lots of other great people, some that I saw at the first gathering in 2000 but far more that I've admired for years but never got to meet. Interesting and different friends that, given the nature of what we do, I'm comfortable calling friends even though — until later today — we're aquainted only through cyberspace.

On another level, I'm nervous in that typical "socially awkward" way. I'm going to join over 100 people, most of whom will be much more adept at chatting and partying than I am. I'm a total square, well into the boringfication process that comes with domestic contentness, who doesn't drink and can't dance (and got scolded in Pittsburgh for trying). Will I freak out and come across as antisocial? Or will I try too hard, like I sometimes do, and come across as a jerk? Will I be able to keep names straight this time? Will I simply piss someone off?

Finally, though, I'm feeling way out of my element, as far as the purpose and focus of this conference goes. You might think I wouldn't be hesitant, given that I helped make the first one happen (after much stress and a few burned bridges). But the fact of the matter is, while the concept and craft of online storytelling has evolved into something incredible and overwhelming, I've been pretty much stuck in 1996, when the concept of the "community" was quaint and accessible. Frankly, the barriers to entry were pretty high, so you were dealing with a largely limited population.

The once bustling resource I coordinated, Diarist.Net, now only has pockets of life and is otherwise a tumbleweed of outdated information and broken links. The few people who remember its heyday are nice enough to mention it, but they have to do it in the past tense.

Now with Blogger and TypePad and even AOL rolling out easy-breezy services, with some people going so far as to position personal publishing as today's biggest threat to the mainstream media, I'm feeling like a dinosaur. People are doing things HTML geeks could never have dreamed of back in the days of Carolyn Burke and Justin Hall. Once upon a time, a second webring was the scene's biggest scandal. Now, linking and networking is practically the whole idea, and alongside crazy cat ladies and train-wreck teens, independent pundits are taking down politicians and housewives are churning out narrative that should make any bestselling author nervous.

This Austin gathering is the fourth JournalCon, but the organizers had the right idea when they branded it "Web Writers Weekend." The world we love has gotten a heck of a lot bigger. And the old neighborhood I'm in is pretty quiet these days.

I'm actually quite comfortable with it all, honestly. Just like journalism, I'm much less interested in practicing it these days than I am studying it, reading what people write and what they write about writing, and thinking ridiculous big thoughts about the big picture. I'm quite thrilled to say that for all the "there goes the neighborhood" grumbings (back when Diaryland was the big threat to "quality writing"), the more is indeed the merrier.

I'm just worried that I'm going to be out of place among so many people that have not only kept up with What Can Be Done, but are actually doing it.

And with that, as my battery runs low and as the cabin monitors report us as being directly over Tuscon, it's time to break open the li hing gummy bears and watch some more TV. Oh, and a little sleep would be a good idea too.

Next stop? George Bush Intercontinental Airport. I'll try not to take that name as a bad omen.


You had li hing gummy bears and you didn't share? I may hold this against you for about two seconds... okay, I'm over it now. :-)
Dreama (October 26, 2003 9:15 PM)

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© 1997-2008 Ryan Kawailani Ozawa · E-Mail: [ PGP ] · Created: 13 November 1997 · Last Modified: 14 January 2008