Thursday, April 19, 2012

Howdy from San Diego

Howdy all, from sunny San Diego.  (Well, okay, from mostly foggy San Diego down here by the beach this time of year, but the sun came out for a few hours this morning, so I feel justified.)  This is a pretty long post for what I had originally intended as a quick update, but I assure you that you'll want to read all the way to the end.  Alas, like Moby Dick, the worthwhile end will be much better if you read all the blubber that proceeds it, so without further ado here we go...

If you're wondering why I'm out here in San Diego, it's because I'm attending this year's American Society for Indexing (ASI) conference, which is here at the Bahia Resort Hotel on Mission Bay. Yes, that's the conference that my mother and ex-sister-in-law once described as "the most boring conference ever" after looking at the detailed schedule one year.  In fact, a friend of mine just said that he'd rather attend "International Watching Paint Drying Conference in the Mojave Desert in July."

Those people, however, are crazy. Because for the next three glorious days, I'm not going to have to start a discussion of my job by saying, "You know when you want to look something up in a book, so you go to the back and see that list of stuff that's in the book, that's an index...."  I may even toss around phrases like "polyhierarchical thesauri", "letter-by-letter vs. word-by-word", and "systematically controlled and validated metadata" if I'm feeling especially saucy.

Sadly, Monique is not in attendance at this year's ASI conference. As has been the case with every previous one I've attended (Boston, Toronto, and Minneapolis) she is buried in a book on deadline, so yet again there was really no reasonable way for her to shake loose, much though she wanted to.  I think we may have finally learned the lesson of ECDI's publishing scheduling, which is that they almost always have a large book due in May, which means that nobody anywhere gets to see Monique in April.

So, Monique is once again the victim of a book deadline that keeps her from a fun trip. This is sad, but not as sad as the time a book deadline meant she had to bail out of the Detroit Rugby Football Club's trip to the French Riviera for the 2007 World Cup.  And no matter how many times that I claim that I was the real victim of that deadline snafu ("Hey, I was going to spend the week with my wife on the French Riviera, and instead I ended up sharing a room with a smelly old rugby player! I'm the victim here!") I might be willing to concede that she got the worst of that book deadline debacle, too.

All of this means that I headed West bachelor-style to chit-chat about indexing for three or four days while Monique and Katie the Beagle stayed home with their noses diligently to the grindstone. I actually flew out here yesterday, since the welcome reception and address are tonight, and I knew that waking up at 5 am Eastern time to make a flight that would get me here in time would leave me a gibbering mess this evening, and the ensuing jet lag would probably leave me a still-gibbering mess when I need to be coherent Friday morning to host my panel.  Also, I figured it would good to have a few hours today to check in on my work e-mail and finish my admittedly modest preparations for my panel.

After I arrived at the airport yesterday I dug up the right Super Saver shuttle from the airport (ahh, the frugal employee when travelling on the company dime), arrived at the hotel, and eventually got sent down the parking lot towards Room 120, the door of which I found on the parking-lot side of a long row of semi-attached suites and cottage that stretched along the bay.

This seems a good time to digress for a moment to mention to those who don't know that I actually lived in the Mission Beach / Pacific Beach area of San Diego for a few months back in 1993 after I finally stumbled out of college ("... and good riddance!" I believe it said on my diploma) and decided that being penniless and unemployed on the beach in San Diego was a heck of a lot better than being penniless and unemployed in the Adirondack Mountains all winter.  In Pacific Beach I didn't actually have a room or anything, but my old college roomie Jimmy Zaun and his roommates very graciously let me pitch my tent behind their house while I was there, as long as I didn't mind sharing the yard with their dog.  (Which worked out okay ... until that sad day when the dog ate my tent while everybody was away and I became penniless and tentless. That was what life coaches like to call "a low point.")

Other than one weekend trip Monique and I made out here for a rugby tournament a few years ago, pretty much my entire experience of staying in San Diego involves sleeping in a tent and sharing a yard with a dog behind a house in Pacific Beach. Keep that in mind as my frame of reference.

And so, when I made my reservations I told the reservation clerk that I didn't need anything on the bayfront. The parking-lot side would be fine.  Really, she should just stick me in whatever room came at the low group conference rate and was convenient for them.  All I really plan to do in the room is to sleep and maybe do a bit of work. Frankly, if a tent had wifi and a shower, that would probably do just as well for me.

As it turns out, Room 120 was a nice step up from a tent!

Here's the bed. I made it my office while I answered e-mails and did some conference prep. Check out the commanding view of the parking lot behind the bed, per my request.

The dresser drawer and TV.

The closet. It has an iron and ironing board, which was my only real worry since I knew I'd have to attempt some ironing after folding my shirts into a suitcase.

The adjoining door to the room on the bayside. Really, my only beef with the set up was that they leave the TVs on in these rooms and set to the "hotel features" channel.  Since there was nobody in the bayside room last night, it was on all night and when I woke around 2 am I thought to myself that it was a pity I couldn't sneak in and mute it because I'd tired a bit of the incessant background music.

Mind you, the last motel room I stayed in was at the Scottish Inn in Unadilla, Georgia, when we broke down coming back from the Keys. That room was about 15 feet from a very busy freight-train track and an at-grade crossing, which meant that the entire room rattled when trains went by and we got to hear a very loud train whistle (two short, one long) at least once an hour, if not more often.  A little looped description of the many lovely amenities of the Bahia Resort hotel was paradise by comparison.

There were only two other little oddities I should mention about Room 120: no water glasses and no coffee maker for the morning.  Hey, the Scottish Inn in Unadilla didn't have a coffee maker, either, but this was a pretty nice place to have cheaped out on that front.  And at least the Scottish Inn had a few plastic cups for our tooth-brushing and water-drinking pleasures.

However, I'm a pretty low-maintenance hotel guest.  This may come from having worked in a couple resort hotels as a bellhop when I was younger. My sister Susan also worked in a high-end resort, and has fabulous tales of annoying, spoiled, demanding guests and why you should be nice to your reservations clerk on the phone. Anyway, I'm a heck of a lot more inclined to empathize with hotel employees under siege from guests than I am to whine about a coffee maker or a water glass.  I had a water bottle with me that would do just fine when refilled with tap water. And if I had to head out of the room in the morning to find coffee, that would be just fine and a great excuse to get me the heck out of the room.

I took full possession of Room 120: set up the laptop and iPad on wi-fi, checked in with the work e-mail, and even unpacked the suitcase and put things in drawers -- I am sooooo civilized and happy not to be living out of a backpack in my tent! Then I headed out to have a walk up the Mission Beach / Pacific Beach boardwalk to Crystal Pier, and possibly to find a tacqueria to grab a quick dinner.  After a lovely dinner of two fish tacos and a veggie burrito I walked back to the hotel and good ol' Room 120, checked my fantasy baseball scores, and called it a night.

Walking up and down the boardwalk was about all I could afford the first time I lived here, but it's one of the world's great free activities. And most of the time I couldn't afford a fish taco or a veggie burrito, so two fish tacos and a veggie burrito for dinner felt downright decadent. To be honest, as I walked around last night I was feeling great about thinking how far I'd come in the 19 years since I first washed up on this shore. I'd gone from unemployed, penniless, homeless, and tentless to bust my way back up into the middle class and become a gainfully employed, semi-respectable citizen with a fabulous wife, a little house on a lake in Michigan, and a heck of a nice little room here at a very nice hotel for the weekend.

It was a good feeling, even if I was feeling just a bit smug about it all.  And sometimes it's nice to feel just a bit smug, too.

This morning I got up, did a bit of work on the laptop, and then headed out to find some coffee in the hotel lobby.  Coffee in hand I walked back down to the beach, read the paper, and watched the waves for a while.  Eventually I grabbed some lunch -- two fish tacos and a veggie burrito again, this time at a different tacqueria that was closer though not as good as the one I ate at last night -- and headed back to Room 120 to check in with the work e-mail again and finish my panel prep.

(No beach photos yet because I didn't bring the camera on either of my expeditions beyond Room 120)

Here comes the part that was worth reading all the way through this long blog post.

While I was sitting on the bed working with laptop in lap, the maid knocked on the door. I told her to go ahead, that it wouldn't bother me, and she set to work with some fresh towels.  Then it occurred to me that while she was here I should ask her about getting a couple of water glasses.  She says it's no problem, and opens up the door to the adjoining room on the bayside.

"That's funny, I thought. The adjoining door was unlocked." And then I realized that all last night while the TV over there was blaring the hotel features at me, I could've just opened the door and muted it, since nobody was in that room.

Then it occurs to me that I could do that very thing right now, while the door was open and the maid was digging me up a couple of water glasses.

To think is to act, so I zipped through the door where she's pulled out a couple of water glasses from the adjoining room's kitchenette...

... which was in fact, the kitchenette of my bayside suite.

That's right.  I had entered a one-bedroom bayside suite through the bedroom door, which connects to the outside; assumed that the door to the main part of the suite was just a door to somebody else's adjoining room; and for my first twenty-four hours in San Diego I was feeling smug about good ol' Room 120.  Which it turns out is Bayside Suite 120.

The living room area.

The kitchenette.  With a coffee maker, I hasten to add.

The "Welcome" fruit plate, with delicately carved seashells of white and milk chocolate.

The patio. (Here on the Patio Boat blog we approve strongly of patios!)

The bay view.

More bay view.

... with the Mission Beach roller coaster in the background.

Yeah, I'm an idiot.

I guess when I told the reservations clerk that she could put me wherever was cheap and convenient for her, it was convenient for her to put me in a bayside suite at the conference group rate.  Remember the part earlier when I told you to always be nice to your reservation clerk on the phone?  Yeah, always be nice to your reservation clerk on the phone.

So, I don't think I'm going to get to feel smug about much of anything for a while because I'm obviously a blithering idiot.  But I do think I'm going to like Suite 120.

More from the ASI conference coming soon, when and if I get a chance.  Perhaps I'll expand on the wonders of polyhierarchical thesauri....

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

We now return you to your regularly scheduled beagle haiku, already in progress.

The loyal beagle,
Curled up next to Monique,
Dreaming of rabbits.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Sayonara, Santorum. Buenos Noches, Newt.

Arsen Darnay asked me Sunday why I hadn't written any posts on the Republican primary since March 20th. The answer was twofold:

1) I blew my free time for the past few weeks on my Rotisserie baseball drafts instead of blogging.  I'm in three fantasy baseball leagues this year, which is just freaking nuts. And while I did write a four-post 10,000-word self-evaluation of my draft in the HQ Forum Masters League for a draft discussion on the Baseball HQ forums, I can't possibly imagine any of the ol' Patio Boat crowd possibly wants to read it.

(I'll prove that right now. If anybody asks for it, I'll be glad to copy it and paste it up here.  But only if you all promise to read it in its entirety then comment in depth afterwards. ... Do you hear that sound, blogosphere? 'Tis the sound of sparse crickets amid sheer silence. My post-draft manifesto shall apparently remain unread by the broader world.)

2) More importantly, nothing really happened in the last three weeks.  So what was there really to comment on?  Think back and compare the news of the last three weeks to the Weirdsville Carnival that was unleashed on Iowa just a few short months ago.

So, the primary's been in a bit of a holding pattern as Romney continued to put the squeeze on with greater resources and fundraising, while the party establishment accelerated its concession to the inevitable with endorsements, increasing structural support, and calls for Gingrich and Santorum to shut things down.  This week the political math finally finished its work as Gingrich scaled down his campaign and Santorum suspended operations altogether.

Newt Gingrich essentially conceded the campaign a few days ago, saying that he is now campaigning with a skeleton staff to "have an impact on the platform."  His campaign has long since lost its fundraising clout and is now $4.5 million in debt, and my guess is that the rest of this campaign will essentially be a campaign to pay off that $4.5 million.

How broke is Gingrich's campaign? He just bounced his $500 check for his Utah Primary filing fee.  Meanwhile, his health-care think tank just filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy with less than $100,000 in assets and up to $10 million in debt.

The good news here is that we've all gained valuable insight into why Newt thought that additional tax cuts for the wealthy would fix the budget deficit.  He's apparently very bad at math that involves dollar signs.

Meanwhile, Rick Santorum's window of opportunity to win the nomination closed in mid-March.  After his surprise wins in Colorado and Minnesota on Feb. 7, he had finally emerged as the candidate who was not Mitt Romney.

"Not being Mitt Romney" has been an enormously popular position in this year's GOP primary. It's rather like being the backup quarterback on an NFL team with an iffy starter.  Everybody looks at the starter, says, "Meh," then professes undying love for the backup, sure that if he could only get off the bench he would prove the coaches wrong and lead the team to the Super Bowl.

Except then you watch the backup finally get into a game and it turns out that he really is worse than the guy with the first-team job.  After February 7 Santorum became the presidential candidate equivalent of Tyler Palko or Caleb Haney, ineptly tossing inexplicable interceptions and fumbling away opportunities. In the case of Santorum's campaign, his campaign's ineptitude ranged from repeated failures to file delegate slates in important states to the inexplicable decision to campaign for days in Puerto Rico on a platform of "you should speak English" while the Illinois primary hung in the balance.

Santorum went on to lose Puerto Rico to Romney by 88-13, the sort of final score that one expects to see in the Monday morning box scores when Curtis Painter or Luke McCown takes the field.

Tactical ineptitude aside, Santorum also tried to overtake Romney by shifting the campaign ground away from economic issues to social conservatism, a shift that may have done some lasting damage to the image of the entire GOP, especially with women.

Santorum surged to his surprise win in Iowa by projecting the image of a genial fellow in a sweater vest who wanted to return us to the good times of the 50's.  But as he tried to overtake Romney, Santorum decided that if a teaspoon of social conservatism was good campaign medicine, a two-ton helping of it was just the right dose. By late February he was still projecting the image of a fellow who wanted to return us to the 50s ... the pre-Reformation 1350s.

Worse yet for the Republican Party's general election hopes, Mitt Romney happily followed him out on that far-right limb, providing soundbites aplenty that I'm sure we will see replayed over and over again in September and October.

After Santorum missed his opportunities in Michigan, Alaska, Ohio, and Virginia the end game was upon us. By the time he began using "Reagan in 1976" analogy as his rallying cry in Illinois and Wisconsin, it was clear to everybody that even Rick Santorum understood that he'd missed his chance at the nomination.

And so ... what more was there for me to say until today, when the inevitable became official?

P.S. One final tidbit of sheer speculation.  I wouldn't be surprised if we learn one day that the last straw for Santorum was polling that showed him increasingly likely to lose to Romney in his home state of Pennsylvania.  For the last few weeks it's been clear that Santorum's campaign has been more about 2016 than 2012.  At this point Santorum has done enough to position himself well for another run in 2016 if Romney fails to win in November.  But losing his home state to a candidate who goes on to lose the general election would be a real setback, one that really could hurt him when it comes time to line up backers in four years. Just a thought.

Coming attractions: This might be about it for me in terms of blogging about this year's presidential campaign, though I might have an additional post or two looking back at the odd factual and political bubble in which this primary campaign was conducted. I might also have a few thoughts to share about SuperPACs.

For those who may be new here, the ol' Patio Boat has always been more of a friends-and-family blog than a hotbed of political commentary, and I aim to keep it that way.  So I'll probably keep the Patio Boat out of the heart of the impending partisan storm (though I'll be spending plenty of my own time campaigning for Obama's re-election.)

For example, it would be pretty easy for me to put together a long and rather pointed analysis of Mitt Romney's utter lack of conviction on any issue.  But frankly, I can't do better than his own campaign adviser's Etch-A-Sketch analogy.  And I guarantee that there will be no lack of clever commentary on that topic 'twixt now and November.

But it's been fun to write about this year's Republican presidential primary because our primary process is so strange; because it involved such an incredibly odd and colorful cast of characters; and because I didn't have a dog in this race, which left me free to comment impartially on the whole strange process.

And while I won't be steering the Patio Boat into the general election waters, this won't mark an end to political content here.  Now that the post-census redistricting process is wrapping up, I expect I'll return to that topic soon -- especially since I have some things to say that will be of interest to my friends and family members across the political spectrum.

Gerrymandering is disenfranchising you and wrecking our democracy.  And we can fix it.