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Austin, United States

On the road again

Road sign which says ‘Special event ahead’.
Road block in Austin.

The unremarkable rusty orange exterior of the Hyatt Regency hotel in Austin serves only to make the interior more surprising – spectacular even. Its large triangular atrium reveals 17 floors from which 448 rooms can be accessed. Walking along its corridors feels strangely cinematic.

With this being the second week in March, most guests are either geeks or film buffs here for the annual SXSW festival. In all likelihood, they’re outnumbered by marketing men and startup founders pushing here-today-gone-tomorrow smartphone apps. All have arrived in a city drowning under a deluge of rain, intermittent thunderstorms and lightening. Gallons of water is thrown over those who are ill-prepared, including myself.

Once again, I’m in Austin for SXSW Interactive; the fourth time I’ve attended an event I find easy to disparage. Yet this is the first stop on a trip that will take in several hundred miles of Interstate between here and San Francisco; two points of familiarity on an itinerary that promises to be anything but predictable.

SXSW 2012

The next three days are all about BBQ and beer. Last year was so much fun because I was joined by many colleagues, but this year it’s just me and Jeremy representing Clearleft (though a few alumni are here too). It may be a bit quieter on the social front, but having seen a few familiar faces already, I could be proven wrong.

Last year I wrote:

Whilst the key reason for visiting SXSW remains being able to meet up with so many people at the same time, the diminishing quality of topics and sessions means its harder to justify the price of a ticket

Thankfully my friend Andy is speaking this year. One of the few perks speakers enjoy is an additional one-day pass, so I took him up on the offer to use that (and the free accommodation) to experience a relatively inexpensive SXSW. I’ll have the chance to experiment with badge-less attendance whilst still enjoying a day of presentations.

Road trip

On Monday, it’s on to the road trip portion of the trip with Andy and Ben. There’s a loose plan; we’re aiming to reach Albuquerque by the first evening, Las Vegas by the second, and Los Angeles by Wednesday, before arriving in San Francisco on Thursday afternoon. The Grand Canyon, Meteor Crater, Hoover Dam and Pacific Highway are hopefully attractions we’ll see on the way.

The trip ends in San Francisco, which I’ll be visiting for the third time in twelve months. My relationship with this city is well documented (‘love to hate’ probably sums it up well) but catching up with distant friends always makes these visits worthwhile. I suspect that is the real appeal.

So, as I sit in the Hyatt’s hotel bar, looking out across a damp and dreary Austin, there’s still plenty to look forward to.