Loathing and Loathing in North Austin
The problem with using your cell phone as your alarm clock is that if you forget to make the ringtone and the alarm tone different, sometimes you sleep right through the damn thing through some sort of desensitization effect. Thus it was that I woke up too late to hear Nancy Pelosi and some other dude so when I got to the cab I decided to go ahead and wander on over to the Renaissance Hotel and see what was what.
When I told the driver my destination, I got my first validation of the day when the driver asked me “So, are you one of those Republicans that are hopping mad all over up there?” I confided in him that I was, in fact, undercover and that his refusal to assume I was a dirty fucking hippie was a good sign for my day’s wardrobe choice. He mentioned that cab drivers get some sort of circular several months ahead of time which alert them to major and some minor events, so he know what Netroots Nation was. I asked him when he’d gotten the circular announcing and Defending the American Dream Summit, and he responded that the first time he’d heard of it was when there was a small writeup in the local paper about it. (Thus lending some credence to my Technorati-powered theory that this Summit was essentially conceived and executed in a three-week period.)
My hope in approaching this event was to get to see Michelle Malkin speak at lunch; despite having
stalked watched her writing for over a year I’d never got a chance to hear her in person. That said, I didn’t really want to register for the event, since that would involve a) writing down my real name in conjunction with a wingnut event and b) giving them money. The best case scenario would be that the wingnut event would be so sparsely attended that they’d be panting to have a crowd for such an august personality as Ms. Malkin, and they’d welcome my dapper self as a seat-filler with no further questions. The second-best would be that the event would be so sparsely attended that they’d be selling one-off lunch tickets, and I could see justifying a few bucks as an investment in potential comedy. The third-best would be that the registration fee for the overall conference would be so laughably low that it was clearly being subsidized. If the previous three possibilities failed, then I’d consider the One True Ring of invisibility I just happened to have in my pocketses.
The third option is what I found when I arrived; the very nice young woman at the registration table informed me – quite suspiciously, I thought – that the registration fee for the conference was fifty-nine wingnut welfare-loving dollars, which I just happened to have in my pocket at the time (and I’d have a dollar left over for the bus!). Now, I’m going to short-circuit this story and state now that I decided not to pay this fee, for several of the reasons mentioned above. I don’t want you readers to be expecting some sort of “Don’t tase me, bro!” event when I asked Michelle just how fucking crazy you have to be in order to be fired from Fox News. However, I did a bit of joint-casing just for interest’s sake – no active intention, mind you – to see whether there might be a back door of some sort, or even an open window. There wasn’t, but I did note the irony that the Renaissance Hotel shares a parking lot with a Pottery Barn:
No word yet on whether Summit participants went inside, smashed a bunch of whatever it is Pottery Barn carries*, told the clerks that they were just helping liberate the retail sector, then remained resolutely inside the store without paying for any of the breakages.
Also while in the parking lot, I noticed something interesting, and it relates to what I had seen inside: that there was almost no one there. Now, it’s true that I didn’t go inside any of the conference rooms, but I did see inside several of the open doors and it was sparsely attended. Given that the convention was thrown together in three weeks, I was prepared to be impressed by the several hundred registrants they were claiming. However, I noticed (but did not photograph, for fear of giving away my interloper status) that on the second day of the Summit, the rack of unclaimed IDs was almost entirely full. People I did see arriving for Malkin’s talk appeared to be coming mostly from the parking lot, giving the impression that the basic attendance for the conference was made up of “people in Austin willing to throw us a bone.” Obviously, I may be wrong and there may have been a massive wingnut influx to Austin in the last few days from all over the country, but I think it’s more likely that the rack of unclaimed IDs represented a $59 donation to the cause from people who had no intention of actually attending.
That’s a big lobby to leave so empty
(No video, that I’ve found, has been posted online to prove me wrong. Anything’s possible; these are just my observations from twenty minutes of wandering around trying to look like I belonged. At one point I opened my bag and realized I’d left my bright orange Netroots Nation lanyard, blaring “American Civil Liberties Union” hanging partway out. No one noticed, or if they did they declined to make an issue about it.)
Eventually, though, I realized that what I was really doing was wasting time in the presence of wingnuts when friends, colleagues, and a registration I’d actually been willing to pay for were going by. I grabbed a cab and headed back to the Convention Center just in time for Lawrence Lessig, and thank the disco ball that I did.
* I’m guessing…pottery? Maybe?