Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Advice To Mr. Palm Springs Leather 2012

Hello, Gorgeous!

Man, are you in for it! For what, exactly? That, I’m afraid, you will have to discover for yourself. But I am happy to offer you some guidelines to help you make the most of the experience of representing the Leather Community here in Palm Springs at International Mr. Leather XXXIV.

First off, bring a friend. You will leave things in the room, you will be done for the day very late and come back to the safe harbor of your room out of your mind with hunger, you will need someone to run down to the lobby to get you a latté in the morning while you get yourself ready, you will need someone to interrupt the voices in your head telling you what you should have said in your interview and remind you that you did the best job you could and you should be proud of yourself. Competing at IML is intense and it’s a lot of work. It is a very good thing to have someone there to help you shoulder the burden.

Commit yourself now to doing the best possible job that you can. Make sure that your boots and your leathers are looking their best as throughout the weekend, nine pair of eyes will be scrutinizing them. In the weeks and months you have available to you, read everything you can about the world and the history of leatherfolk. Who is Guy Baldwin? What was the Gold Coast? What does it mean when someone is flagging Hunter Green in his right back pocket? But don’t approach it as rote memorization. Take some time to think deeply. Talk to friends. Talk with me. Form opinions and have a point of view. What does all of this mean to you and your life as a leatherman?

It is to be hoped that you are a kind man with a generous spirit. From now on, and especially in Chicago, greet people warmly, talk to them, and listen. When someone catches your eye, don’t turn away: smile and approach. Be open and forthright. Among the people you will encounter are nine people who will be judging you. And, these people have friends. Think about it: how would you approach the task of judging fifty-odd men, most of whom you have never met? You would ask people you know about them. Remember that in the leather world, the “six degrees of separation” is reduced to two or three degrees.

Whether you are terrified of speaking to a room full of strangers or whether you are the biggest ham ever, stepping out onto the stage at IML--one of the largest “conventions” that the City of Chicago sees every year--will be daunting. And the same goes when you step alone into the interview room to face a barrage of questions on any subject (!) from your judges. Here is all I can say to help you through that: everyone in the room is on your side. They are with you all the way, they want you to shine up there. It is not uncommon for a contestant who has made it to the Top Twenty to be standing on stage, delivering their speech, and fumble in their words. The same thing always happens: a roar of applause and cheering goes up from the audience. They love you, Baby! They’re just looking for a way to love you more.

Don’t worry about winning. This is not Olympic Figure Skating. The judging is almost entirely subjective. The judges do not have to substantiate or defend the scores they give you to anyone. So, “Gosh! He looks just like my 8th Grade Gym Teacher! Whom I hate to this day! Now’s my chance to get even with Mr. Frobisher” is perfectly okay. (Although hopefully rare.) But dedicating yourself to perfectly meeting the expectations of nine people with diverse backgrounds, perspectives, and axes to grind is a fool’s game.

“Don’t judge me!”, right? “Judge not, lest ye be judged.” Well guess what, Bucko, you’re gonna be judged. How often in life do you stand in the Star Chamber and have someone give thumbs-up or thumbs-down--not on some skill or ability you possess and have honed through practice and effort--but on you as a person? Probably not ever. But that’s what you’re in for at IML. But here’s the thing: fundamentally, it does not matter a bit. You are still the man you are, an amalgam of beauty, kindness, pettiness, brilliance, thick-headedness, insecurity, generosity, and all those qualities that make up the human spirit. Now would be a good time to start liking yourself. Take some time to read Joan Didion’s essay “On Self Respect.”

I realize full well that pressure like that is enough to make a strong man cry. (And it will!) But you will be sharing that experience with fifty-odd other men. My advice would be to lose yourself in helping your brothers make it through that dire crucible. Give them your support, never missing an opportunity to let them know how much you admire and respect them.

You may, or you may not, make the Top Twenty on Sunday Night. You may, or you may not, be a first or second runner up. You may, or you may not, become International Mr. Leather 2012. Of all the men who have achieved that title, I do not doubt that all of them looked around the room at some point and thought, “I don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell here! Look at these guys!” And in the next moment, “That could be me up there on that podium wearing that sash when all is said and done.” And both are always true throughout the contest up until the very last minute.

This experience will change your life. When you return home, no matter the outcome, you will be a man set apart from the friends, family, and well-wishers whom you left behind. Like a combat veteran returning to the routine of whatever job it was he left behind, things will never quite be the same again for you. You have entered a select fraternity. There are barely more than a thousand men in the world who have experienced what you will have experienced. Among them alone will you truly be able to talk to someone who understands what you have been through.

And here is the best part: one day, less than a year from now, you will have the opportunity to throw your arms around your successor and congratulate him. You will look at his beaming face, filled with questions about what the hell he’s in for, and know that it is to him that you will pass the torch, and you will usher him into an amazing experience.

Welcome, Brother. You are setting off on a journey. I am behind you all the way, but like all important things in life, you are going to step through the doorway alone.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Fait Accompli

Never again will I have to stand on stage wearing only a jockstrap and answer a funny question! You cannot imagine my relief at this realization. And, I've met some really wonderful people, friendships that I'm sure will endure a lifetime. And, Second Runner Up Anthony Rollar, Mr. San Diego Leather, will be a judge in the Mr. Palm Springs Leather Contest this November!

What a night. What an amazing night.

It really is all very well planned out. I didn't make the Top Twenty, which was a disappointment. Disappointing only because I got on board this train last November, when Charlie the bartender at the Tool Shed said, "So Drew, we've got the Mr. Tool Shed Contest coming up. Will you be a contestant?" For the previous two years, I had pretty much used the Tool Shed as my living room. I met my Handsome Cowboy at the Tool Shed. I learned how to shoot pool without embarrassing myself at the Tool Shed. Just about all the people I knew in Palm Springs I knew from going to the Tool Shed. How could I say to that.

So I boarded the train, not thinking too much of the eventual destination. I've been having such a great ride that I just didn't feel myself ready to get off. But that said, there was no one among the semi-finalists to whom I would say, "Hey! Outta my seat!"

My biggest concern was disappointing all the folks back in Palm Springs who were cheering me on. For them, and not a bit for myself, did I want to bring home the Gold. I did my best at every turn, and I hope I did them proud.

Eric Gutierrez, with whom I sung an acapella version of Le Marsailles has been voted International Mr. Leather 2011. Eric is Mr. Europe and is a wonderful man. He's the kind of guy who you know has just entered the room even though your back is to the door, that kind of energy. D. Pamplin, Mr. Mid-Atlantic Leather 2011 is the First Runner Up. And, as mentioned, Anthony Rollar (on whom I am totally crushed out), is the Second Runner Up.

And what now?

Well, I just ordered Filet Mignon from room service. I am starving. Then, I'm going to head down to the lobby, enjoy a cigar, and get my fill of eye candy.

Tomorrow at Noon I'll have the opportunity to pick up my scores from the judges. I'm ambivalent about that. Kind of like getting your report card when you know you didn't do very well during the past semester. I probably wouldn't, except for the fact that starting in November, I will be a mentor to Mr. Palm Springs Leather 2012, whoever that will be, and it would be good for him to have the benefit of my experience.

And, of course, I am still Mr. Palm Springs Leather 2011. (And with that year at the end of my title, I always will be.) And that means I have work to do. What would I like to do? Nothing too spectacular. I want to create a way that folks from the leather community in Palm Springs can gather informally to meet and talk. I would like there to be a way for people to become connected. Something very low-threshhold and informal. There exist opportunities for play and sex, and Palm Springs is lucky to have several very good bars, but few opportunities to meet and socialize. And in a tourist town, that can be problematic. Of course it could very well be that there will be no interest at all in something like that, and that's fine with me. But I sure would like to try.

I think at the next fundraising opportunity, I'll auction off the jockstrap I wore on-stage at IML. I sure won't be needing that again.

Wheat From Chafe, Sheep From Goats

Last night, I awoke from a deep sleep, sat bolt upright in bed, and came up with the perfect answer to my "lighthearted question." So hopefully it won't be a problem for them to re-work the schedule so I can do a do-over. After all, I'm Mr. Palm Springs Leather 2011, right? A little consideration is all I'm asking.

But seriously. Feeling so much better today. I have long believed that in the world of BDSM, there is an all-encompassing bait-and-switch phenomenon. For example, no proto-kinky fifteen year old out there is beating off fantasizing about a clothespin scene. And yet, once you immerse yourself, you discover that a clothespin scene can be profound and deeply satisfying for all involved, and you don't even miss that you never had the opportunity to abduct Vin Diesel and keep him chained up forever in your dungeon as your slave. Or whatever.

I'm finding the bait-and-switch thing here at IML, too. We came here, many of us I think, expecting a beauty pageant. (Lots of jokes about Sandra Bullock in Miss Congeniality and the like.) But, in fact, it's something altogether different. Being a contestant puts you in this intense crucible. Sartre would have loved IML. Imagine yourself stripped naked, alone on stage, all those eyes on you, and the omni-present gaze of the judges. Who are, y'know, judging you. Men crack in situations like that. But, you're in this crucible with two score plus other men. The strength that you find to sustain you is not entirely your own; additionally, you're drawing on the strength of your fellow contestants.

Anyway. Today is the big day. The Top Twenty will be announced. (And, more importantly, I'll be debuting my orange Evel Knievel-esque custom made leathers!) I am honestly good either way. I emerge from the experience intact. And a better man for it.

Now, I've gotta get downstairs so I can smoke. A lot. Nicotine withdrawal is not pleasant.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Funny Question

Okay. Well that maybe didn't go so spectacularly well.

After spending much of the day eviscerating myself over this morning's interview, I headed down to the holding pen to prepare for the dreaded Pecs And Personality segment. As in me, on stage, wearing a jockstrap, responding off-the-cuff to what is termed a "lighthearted question." It's kind of the big moment in the contest when you have the stage all to yourself.

First of all, there's my self-consciousness about my body. It's too bad that all those years in psychoanalytic psychotherapy were spent dealing with my social anxiety issues and my passive-aggressive tendencies and my self-sabotaging behavior (much progress was made!), because I would have devoted some time and effort to my body issues if I had known that in my forty-sixth year I'd be standing up on a stage wearing only a jockstrap. Did I come off as awkward and ill-at-ease as I felt? Probably.

I started to relax listening to the questions that my fellow contestants were getting. The questions were drawn from the autobiographical details we provided in our applications. For example, a man who was a competitive volleyball player was asked to describe his sexual prowess in terms of his volleyball skills. In my "Skills/Activities/Interests," I mentioned such things as my fascination with werewolves and my love of detective fiction. Either of these, to my mind, would be fodder for great questions.

What did I get? "So, you mention an interest in 'sustainable construction strategies.' If you were to design a new house for (IML Founder) Chuck Renslow, which strategies would you employ?"


For one thing, about fifteen to forty times a week, I'm doing energy conservation education with my customers. I have this whole spiel I say over and over and over again. For another thing, design problems have on me the effect that bright, shiny objects have on people with Attention Deficit Disorders. So I heard the question and panicked. "Don't make this work-y! This is neither the time nor the place for work-y! Make it funny and laden with sexual innuendo!"

Uh huh. Discussing sustainable design and construction strategies just lends itself so well to humor and sexual innuendo.


I did the best I could. I talked about "passive" (wink wink nudge nudge) and "active" (wink wink nudge nudge) thermal comfort strategies. I talked about the need to recycle things (beer, piss). I talked about how one should cut down on waste and use every drop.

That was a terrible question. I gave a terrible answer. My only hope is that at least some of the judges realize that my question was a dog and take pity on me, possibly finding it laudable that I didn't drop the microphone and run crying from the stage.

I'm better now.

Tomorrow is "Wheat From Chafe" Day. Some of us will be in the Top Twenty. Some of us will not be. I'm letting go of all of that. It's about the journey, not the destination.

So right now I'm going to go downstairs and watch the parade of unbelievably attractive men pass by and smoke a meditative cigar.

And then I'm going to bed. It's been a long day.

Nos Morituri Te Salute

Interviews this morning.

Definitely an emotional time for all of us.

How often in life are you judged? How many opportunities does life afford where you stand up in front of a panel and are judged? And completely subjectively. There is no resume, there are no challenges, there are no guidelines. It's just presenting to the best of your abilities the person you are and what you're about, and nine people give thumbs up or thumbs down.

Going into this Star Chamber, I just decided that it will be what it will be. I'm articulate, I have opinions, and I think about things. I honestly was prepared for any possible question that could be asked of me. (And, of course, I had a few humorous anecdotes in my pocket. Such as, "the first time I ever heard about IML was in a jail cell in Philadelphia, which I was sharing with International Mr. Leather 1986." Truth! Scott and I had just been arrested for sitting down in the middle of Broad Street with ACT UP/Philadelphia, protesting then-Mayor Goode's proposed cuts to the budget of the AIDS Activities Coordinating Office.

But the judges, of course, surprised me. After a few preliminary questions, we started talking about singletail whips. Which I could talk about for hours. I'd drive for miles for the opportunity to talk about singletail whips. (Take note, dear reader, of the name of this weblog, f'r'instance.)

So that was a huge relief.

But, then, suddenly, it was over. Three of the judges had no questions at all for me. Which was horrifying. Bone chilling. Of course it could mean that they liked everything I was saying and felt that they had a complete picture of who I was and what I was all about. Or, of course, it could be that they couldn't care less. As in, "Next!"

One of the non-singletail-whips questions was, "If you don't make it into the Top Twenty, what will you take away from this weekend. My response was that I am continually astonished that I'm here at all. Doing well would just be gravy. And that's true. I don't have a "bucket list," but if I did have a bucket list, being a contestant at International Mr. Leather would not appear on my bucket list. I truly never imagined that I would one day be up on that stage. I'm not one to "go for it." If it comes to me, it comes to me, and if it does, I'll do the best I can with the task at hand.

Too, there are some amazing men among my fellow contestants. Should I not be among the Top Twenty, I will whole-heartedly be cheering on those who are.

So we'll see.

Next up, this evening I'll be standing up on stage wearing only boots, a jockstrap, and a smile, and one of the MCs will pose to me a "light-hearted question." To which I am expected to give a snappy, humorous retort. Not a fifteen minute dissertation on why Audrey Hepburn is my favorite diva or why at crucial moments in my life when I'm at wits' end I'll ask myself, "What would Kermit the Frog do?" And not a fifteen minute schtick of improvisational comedy. And not some prolonged jesuitical guided meditation. Nope. Just a brief reply that brings the house down and makes them love me. Something along the lines of, say, "I'd say, 'In the butt,' Bob!" One of those make-or-break moments. And did I mention that I'll be up in front of a room full of strangers wearing only a jockstrap?


Today, one of my fellow contestants, overwhelmed with emotion, burst out in tears. The rest of us gathered around him, holding him, protecting him, reminding him that he is loved, telling him that it was okay, telling him to just let it come.

However this goes down, I am grateful to be here.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Let's Meet The Contestants!

My dogs are barking!


That was work!

Tonight was the introduction of the contestants. I had planned on wearing a pair of leather jeans I have, boots, a wrist band, and my sash. But I've been cold all day. It is only because of an enormous exercise of will power that I'm not running around wrapped up in a blanket. Fearing being cold, I decided to go with my one-piece leather flight suit/super hero outfit made by David Menkes.

Essentially, three different times we headed out on stage: first with the flags of our countries or states; then individually as they read out our names, where we live, titles and sponsors; and finally for this precision alignment deal. It went really well. Each time I was on stage was so brief that I didn't have time to think about it before it was over. My only issue was that in between, we were standing for hours. Standing is always a problem for me as I have this weird, benign condition called vasculitis. Basically, it's an auto-immune dysfunction where my immune system doesn't recognize a protein in my blood vessels. And when I'm on my feet for long periods and my blood is moving slowly in my legs, my capillaries burst and I end up with these crimson blotches up and down my legs. Kinda not what I want before I have to go on stage in a jockstrap tomorrow night. (Just took off my boots and pants and it looks like it didn't get higher than what will be covered by my Wesco's, so I'm good.

Throughout the night, I am really enjoying getting to know my fellow classmates. The walls are coming down, slowly but surely. And we're all revealed to be nervous, excited, hopeful, and--let's face it--somewhat narcissistic.

This will be brief. I'm getting up in six-and-a-half hours to get ready for my interview with the judges at 8 AM. Some of my fellow contestants are reporting questions on IML history, Old Guard protocol, and other things I know nothing about. (Although, I once shared a jail cell with International Mr. Leather 1986, so I hope that counts!)

Oh! And we came up with our own gang symbol! You throw out three fingers from each hand, as we're the Class of IML XXXIII. (Although some of our contestants not from urban areas have no idea what we're talking about.)

Is it wrong that I'm rooting for other contestants? There are some really great guys here. I mean seriously great. Really kind, upstanding men, who look smokin' hot in leather and are doing so much for the communities where they live.

One last thing I'll report. I heard my name called, turned around, and there was one of the two men who taught me how to throw a whip!

Anyway. All about the interview. Gotta be up early. 'Night, folks!

'Scuse Me, I'm Looking For The Cigar Tent?

Quiet morning. Nothing doing contestant-wise until Opening Ceremonies rehersal at 5:30 this evening. (Tomorrow, however, will be a riotously busy day, with my interview in the morning, photo shoot at Noon, and then the Dreaded Pecs And Personality tomorrow evening. (Written on my hand: Audrey Hepburn, Wolverine, Werewolves, Orange, in the middle of a vacant lot in downtown Milwaukee, meatloaf and scalloped potatoes.)

Spent the morning strolling through the vendor mart, and now I'm about to embark on a quest to find all the places I'll have to be during the weekend. The hotel is vast, and as most of the ballrooms and meeting rooms are underground, I'm constantly disoriented. The lobby seems to me to be ill-designed in that it's all traffic flow and no areas to congregate. Quite the departure from the Washington Plaza Hotel, sight of MAL for lo, these many years. I understand that MAL has moved, and I haven't been to the event at the new hotel, but I will miss the Plaza. The lobby was forever crowded, so making your way through the lobby meant eye contact, and physical contact, again and again and again.

But most of all, there was the cigar tent.

Billows of cigar smoke got to be a problem at the Plaza, so they set up this tent, heated, and with a bartender, just outside the lobby out by the pool. Perfect for my purposes! It served to collect in one location all the men from the event that I would want to meet. Plus, whereas "Meet me in the lobby!" would result in you circling and circling for forty-five minutes before you connected, "Meet me in the cigar tent" worked perfectly every time.

Setting off again to roam through the hotel, this time to locate the places where I have to be. And, hopefully, I'll stumble across people milling about, although I don't have my hopes up there.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Museum Piece

On the agenda tonight was the roast of International Mr. Leather 2010, Tyler McCormick. I have yet to meet Mr. McCormick. (I know, I know, he's a judge, and I should be BFF's with all the judges at this point. *sigh* I should just leave now.) But, he's part of the reason that I'm here. I haven't paid much attention to leather contests of any stripe previously. They just seemed a wee bit un-serious to me. But when the news reached me about the outcome of International Leather 2010, I literally stood up and cheered. He is unconventional in a number of respects. Not to take anything away from him, but let's just say he didn't win based on his good looks alone. It was, perhaps, sort of a Glee Moment. And speaking as someone who has never been one of the Cool Kids, and who has always felt himself to be something of an oddball, the Sunday of Memorial Day Weekend last year was a great day for oddballs and misfits everywhere. Plus, I was in ACT UP in my formative years, and if you start waving the flag of equality and inclusion, I'll be right there with you at the barricades.

The roast was held at the Leather Archives & Museum. I had never been there before on my previous trips to Chicago, and I'll own some snarky cynicism on my part for keeping me away. I divide the history of the leather community into two parts: there's the part that came before me, and then there's the (not insubstantial) part that I lived through. As to the part that came before me, I'm always suspect of tales of the misty golden hallowed past. Most of the time, they're told by someone with an agenda, and going to far down that road makes you a reactionary. The shorthand is often, "Things used to be great! But then you damn kids came along and it all went to hell."

And then there's the part that I lived through. The first time I went to a leather bar was in 1988. There were no Old Guard Mentors there to take the measure of me, school me in the great traditions, and make me earn my leathers. At that time, they were either caring for their dying friends or were stricken themselves. I had to make the path by walking, and although that was frustrating and confusing in some respects, in others it was glorious.

And I remember what that time was like. And I remember the assimilationist debates of the early Nineties, when it was argued that the price of gaining civil rights was to exclude drag queens and leatherfolk. And I remember the whole Next Generation phenomenon, with that DIY spirit that came with it. And I remember the advent of the internet and the toll taken on all those leather bars I loved. So when Rihanna and Britney Spears sing about whips and chains at the Billboard Music Awards, I'm aware at how much is simultaneously gained and lost by that development.

Well, I was wrong about the Leather Archives & Museum. But there's the thing I forgot about, the glue that holds it all together. In all the old photographs of bike runs and contests and club gatherings, there are all those faces, grinning ear-to-ear. It's all about joy, pure and unmitigated joy. It's the joy of finally finding your place in the world, and the joy of knowing that you are among friends.

The Leather Archives and Museum is a great place to visit.

Contestant Number 30

So this is something I should blog, right? How often do I get to be a contestant at International Mr. Leather?

I am fried. Travel yesterday from beautiful, sunny Southern California here to rainy, cold, dreary Chicago was fifteen-and-a-half hours door-to-door. There were canceled flights! There was misdirected luggage! There was checking-into-the-hotel drama! There was the part where I only got four hours sleep before I had to get up and get ready for orientation!

But I made it in one piece.

It's been a lot of fun meeting the other members of my class, men who have flown in literally from all over the world. (Mostly places where it gets really, really cold!) I'm finding that aspect really fascinating. We all have our stories, where we come from, how we got here. Mr. DC Eagle and I share a last name, and, it turns out, possibly more than that. His family also hails from the coal mining regions of Pennsylvania. We've been joking on facebook about how we're family, and it turns out that may be true. (If you were to say, "Small world!" in response to that, I would rejoin, "No, it's not the world that's small. It's our lives that are large.")

After we signed zee papers, they gave us a smoke break. Reason Number 412 Why I Would Hate To Have To Give Up Smoking: Whenever faced with a large group of new people, you can always count on bonding with a select group of them whilst enjoying tobacco together.

Then, introductions of our handlers were made, and after, we drew our contestant numbers. We are fifty-three, all told. Same number as the playing cards in a deck, including the Joker. Mr. Oregon State Leather is Number One, and Mr. Los Angeles Leather is Number Fifty-Three. I was hoping for Twenty-Six, which I think of as my lucky number, but it was not to be. I'm happy with Thirty, a nice round number, easy to remember, even for my addled, sleep-deprived brain.

After we got our numbers, we were warned that we should be careful not to wear our ribbons in public areas. Apparently there are those out there who make sport of collecting the number ribbons from IML contestants. (Mental Note: If I do go out in public wearing my number ribbon, I'll make sure I've got a whip with me so I can fend them off like Lash LaRue.) Then, we were marshaled into four groups and assigned times for our interviews. I'll need to report at 8:00 AM on Saturday morning. Which means a 6 AM wake-up, which means that I have roughly forty-eight hours to reset my internal clock so it won't feel like the alarm is going off at 4 AM.

Before we were dismissed, we lined up and were issued bottles of lube. That was my favorite part of the morning's proceedings. Like in old war movies when all the new recruits are given their boots and fatigues and guns. Actually, we were issued other things in addition to bottles of lube--badges, event tickets, schedules and the like--but it was the lube that stood out.

And now, it's nap time. I took advantage of the robust internet connection and downloaded the Season Finale of Glee, so I'll get under the covers, order up another wake-up call, and drift off to sleep while watching it.

Some miscellaneous notes...

• Cards! Dang it! I totally forgot about cards! And in my one interaction so far with one of the judges, he was like, "Give me your card. That's how we judges keep track of all of you." And I was like, "Duhhhrrr... Ummmm..." So I should just go home now, right? Once before in my life did I make up cards for myself, not counting business cards. I gave exactly none of them away. Trick cards always struck me as being a little lothario-esque, suavely sauntering up to some boy I have designs on and saying, "So, here's how to get in touch with me. Which I hope you'll do." I did not get the suave gene. So even though it was advised that I get cards printed up before I got here, I didn't. So I should just leave.

• It is so fricken' cold here! I'm freezing all the time! Not just when I step outside the hotel to smoke! In the hotel, in the drafty lobby, in my room... Weather like this is 90% of the reason that I drove my Jeep Liberty 2,700 miles across the country when I moved to Palm Springs.

• So it seems that the Chicago Hyatt Regency Hotel is pretty much in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by International Style office towers. The nearest Starbucks is several blocks' walk through the cold rain and driving wind. And me without a parka.

• My Handsome Cowboy couldn't make the trip, so I'm here solo. I'm running into people I know, but so far no one that I know well. So there's a little bit of that junior-high-school-cafeteria vibe. As in, "Hi! I'm in your second period social studies class. Could I sit at your table while I eat my lunch? I promise I won't say anything and I'll leave as soon as I'm done." But hopefully that will change.

• The window in my hotel room does not open. Which means that I have to go down twenty-eight floors in the elevator to smoke. It's getting harder and harder to convince myself that the $250 Cleaning Fee I would incur for smoking in the room wouldn't be a worthy investment.