Culinary Musings on Day One at TechEd
The Southwest flight from RDU to Vegas is full and there are less than 10 people in the boarding line behind my lousy C11, the result of forgetting to check in online until 1 am last night. Well, at least I’m getting on the plane and even if I’m squeezed in the middle seat between two persons that Bill Maher calls “the people of girth” – it’s only 5 hours. People obsess way too much over the flights – fighting for the exit rows, pouring over the aircraft layouts searching for the extra 2 inches to stretch the legs – c’mon, it’s not like we’re flying to Mars!
Although certainly it feels like it upon arrival. Even though I’ve already been here, Vegas can feel like a parallel universe. In the cab I observe the official looking note stating that the driver is prohibited to take the longer route to destination than necessary (unless requested so by the passenger) and ponder how would the passengers know that and how is this rule enforced. But, fortunately, Venetian is just a short ride from the airport, so there is not much room for a detour.
The room at Palazzo hotel is awesome and I wish I could spend more time simply admiring it (or just never leave), but after a quick chat to let my family know I’m safe it’s time to run to the 5:45 (or 8:45 “my time”) Guest Keynote. On the way there I pass the B&B Ristorante where the Bs stand for Batali and Bastianich – two culinary legends. I slam on the breaks, seriously considering skipping the Keynote, but sense of obligation prevails.
Registration is quick, although a major detour from the hall where the Keynote is happening. It’s a rather strange alphabet of halls where letter E comes first, followed by G and then A, B, and C. But since it’s an SAP event I’m not even surprised. Perhaps the Alphabet runs SAP too. Maybe it’s the “best practice”, what do I know.
Surprisingly, there is no red carpet, but I do get a free water bottle – hurray! 10 minutes till Keynote, lots of people are pouring down the hall and helping themselves to coffee and soda. But. There. Is. No. Food. None. Whatsoever. My brain fueled for the last 7 hours mostly by the snacks I stole from my kid’s lunchbox supplies is starting to lose concentration. In a café nearby I have 10 seconds to decide between 3 different soggy sandwiches whose prices make the airport food seem like a fiscally responsible choice. Biting into the “turkey croissant” I immediately regret it, but have to shovel some food in quick if I want to avoid a major headache and Hulk-style meltdown. At least I’m washing it down with a free soda.
The Keynote has not started yet – apparently everyone is waiting for my arrival, aaaawww. The indifferent event staff ushers us inside. The promised “plenty of seats” are mostly taken by the coffee cups. I find an unoccupied spot in the middle (looks like “the curse of the middle seat” is sticking with me for the day) and squeeze in almost falling over someone.[Side note – seriously, what is it with everyone taking the end seats and blocking the whole aisle? I seriously doubt there are any on-call heart surgeons at TechEd who could be paged for some lifesaving procedure at any moment. Move over.]
As I look around, I see several completely empty rows and wonder for a second why everyone was ushered to the other side. But later as the SAP executives come on stage and I hear a disproportionate volume of cheering from that side, I realize it must be the “VIP seating” area for the Mentors. I am, however, very happy with my spot among the “unwashed masses” – there are several empty seats right in front of me, compliments of the coffee cups and end seat lovers.
The introductions are done and finally the guest speaker takes stage. The speech is about Big Data and it is everything that the Keynote is supposed to be – witty, engaging and thought-provoking. As I Iook around, it’s sad to see that almost every other person is staring at their phone or some other device, their mind obviously someplace else. Despite a pre-speech request to turn off the cell phones, in a row behind me not only a cell phone rings but someone proceeds to take a call. I can’t help but wonder if being constantly “plugged in” has become more important than the actual human beings.
The Keynote ends and the crowds slowly dissolve. I see some people heading upstairs and decide to follow them for no reason (a terrible habit that one day will get me in trouble for sure). Apparently there is a VIP reception on the top floor. I see some “executive types” as well as some mentor shirts heading that way and I bet I could flash my badge and get in too. But I don’t belong there. I fill up my water bottle with magical SAP water, channel Sting’s ‘Englishman in New York’ and get the heck out of there.
Meanwhile the non-VIP crowds are taking pictures by the beautiful arrangements and the waterfall right in the middle of casino. I see people waving, meeting their friends, so many happy and smiling faces.
I sneak by the B&B again. Come to think of it, I don’t belong here either. And I’m not even in a mood for nettles and wild boar anyway. I walk around the Grand Canal (with real gondolas – say what you want about Vegas, but these people know how to impress), passing by the $6.75 per scoop gelato stand (and wondering how much does it cost in real Venice). Hm, I could use some ice cream, but my organism is screaming for something green and wholesome. On the verge of exhaustion I crawl up to “I [heart] burger” and am happy to see some familiar TechEd tags and Mentor shirts. In absence of a shirt I’m flying stealth today and it’s just fine. The Tuscan Kale salad is surprisingly tasty with avocado. I pass on the chocolate shake and get Tahitian Vanilla instead. It is everything a 7$ shake should be – perfection covered in tiny vanilla specks.
Perhaps this is all we need – a simple vanilla, executed perfectly and enjoyed in a plush white robe with a view of the city lights. There will be another day for the mentor shirts and wild boar. We’re not going to Mars after all. Welcome to Vegas!