“WE RAGE BECAUSE WE LOVE!”

After six hours of sleep, I woke up early enough to grab coffee at Starbucks before heading over to the offices of Atlassian, the host of the conference. I was actually here in Austin for work. My company paid for me to attend the conference, Elevate Summit, which is dedicated to the customer support community. Attendees were people who work in customer support or whose businesses are customer-support tools; their roles varied from customer service representative all the way to CEOs of customer-support businesses (for example, O’Lark) .

People came from all sorts of companies: Google, Microsoft, BuzzFeed, ZenDesk, RunKeeper, Idealist.org and a number of other companies I had never heard of. The talks were all about support: pitfalls, managing it, scaling it, how to survive. 

It was my first time in attendance, and I was excited. One of the things that has long bothered me about being in customer support was feeling like there were few professional development opportunities and not knowing of how one could grow professionally in that type of role. I was excited about being able to meet people who work in and care about support as well as hearing ideas and learning from others’ experience. It was an opportunity to see and feel hope – that light at the end of what can often feel like a long, never-ending, thankless dark tunnel.

Whiskers for President
Nothing gives greater inspiration and captivates your audience than images of cats.

Although the number of speakers being lined up was intense (there were not multiple panels), I felt like I got a lot of it. There were twenty-two speakers, and while all the speakers weren’t equally engaging or interesting for me, I appreciated every moment of it. It was truly fascinating. Also, there were plenty of cats. I’d say at least half of the talks featured slides with cats.

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Intermission: As they say…

Jumped on the scale this morning. Numbers weren’t pretty.

As they say, everything is bigger in Texas. My fat ass certainly got bigger while there.

And now that I am back to San Francisco, I can return to my kale, quinoa, and chia seed routine we’re all so well known for.

(I can be a bit cheeky sometimes, I know.)

Tacos, Voodoo, & Drunks-Oh my!

My elevator ride down is yet again slowed by another drunk kid who thinks pressing all the buttons is funny. The group is wholly obnoxious and loud as one would expect. The only surprise was spotting the one sober individual in the group; he gave me a sad sheepish face and whispers, “I’m sorry.”

I wanted to check out the sportsbar first as I was worried I wouldn’t find much open this late (11:45pm). Instead the employees have closed up shop early. So much for the information from the receptionist who checked me in. Out it is!

I end up following the group of drunks from the elevator and see the street we’re on runs into 6th street. Barricades are up ahead to keep it pedestrian traffic only. The revelry at 6th St reminds me of Mardi Gras. It’s unfathomable to me that this could be the norm. I feel as if I am about to witness a live production of COPS or Campus PD.

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Checking in to Austin

SuperShuttle was slow, making me regret not just finally downloading Lyft and calling a ride. I spoke with a woman from Lansing, MI who was in town for a conference. It wasn’t the same as mine; it was a medical something or other. For a while it was just her and I in the van, and then finally our driver returned with two more passengers.

As we left the airport and neared downtown, where all four of us were staying, I began to wonder what kind of a ride I was in for. Though it was dark and late (close to 11pm at that point), downtown had this frenetic vibe that I was not used to nor expecting.

Sure, I had spent some time in the Castro, visiting bars and clubs with friends during my college days, and I had been to a few college parties–but this? This took it to a Bacchanalian level. Combined with the humidity, it felt feverish.

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Things that go bump in the night

As I prepared to board my first ever Virgin America flight, the familiarity continued to elude me. The strangeness continued to grow at an alarming rate as some cancerous tumor. The boarding process itself made me scratch my head.

In my previous flights, mostly all Southwest, there were numbers and groups A, B, and C. There was order. Virgin Airlines, however, was a hot mess, like what you’d expect to find leftover on some mirrors and cushions in a sex club.

There was exclusive boarding, then gold member boarding, then silver member boarding, then small children and old people boarding, then Virgin America credit card boarding, then priority boarding, and then lettered groups such as a and b. I was in group b despite checking in 22 hours before my flight, so what additional groups followed mine I do not know. I imagine there were additional boarding groups that followed, such as “people who shit where they eat” and “people who need to get their shit together and not check in last minute”.

Even the plane felt weird: an Airbus over Boeing. A long walkway of pink and purple neon lights illuminated the darkness. The chairs were black leather. There was a sleekness, fashionable sense to it–did I just stumble into a gay bar in the Castro?

It was completely unlike the budget airlines I’d flown that felt like ugly shit (Southwest always had that pukey brown color scheme going on) thrown together and superglued. Every chair had a video touchscreen, and every seat had its own remote/game controller. You could order a meal without speaking to a flight attendant.

The educational safety video was a song and dance routine with children rapping. I couldn’t tell if I was more horrified or saddened. Even the information brochure was an attempt to be hip and cool and included comic-like cursing. What the $@%*!

The flight itself was normal, a bump here and there. I had a window seat and stared out over the landscape. The beaches of San Francisco had never looked so beautiful as they did when our flight sailed above them. It was a perfectly sunny day, and the sapphire and emerald waves crashed along the coast, the white foamy crests scattered like threads of lace.

Over Arizona, besides the long reddish patterns of mountains and flat desert plains, I saw housing developments that left a strangely beautiful pattern from the sky with how park space had been designed between sections–one nearly looked like a fleur de lis, and the others had some equally unusual patterns. They were not the hodge-podge cookie cutter rows of of house after house, or an appearance of a splatter of houses on the landscape. The development seemed well thought out.

Eventually the sun, long descended behind us, left a chilly darkness on the other side of the glass. Somewhere over New Mexico, the street lamps looked like blazing fires. The orange lights seemed larger than usual and flickered in the darkness. My eyes felt tired despite the terrible cup of coffee I had been served on the flight.

I wrote most of the way on the plane, a three hour flight to Austin. When I arrived, it was dark, humid, and birds oddly were singing at 10:30pm at the airport drop-off/pick-up area. It was very strange. I felt as if I had landed on a different planet.

Like a Virgin

I hadn’t flown in a while.

I used to feel so much anxiety about flying–not so much about the flight itself but everything else: the getting to a place and rushing to be on time to the airport, worrying about a missed flight, the tension of parting, the dread of returning back to college and another semester ahead–those were the things that gave me anxiety.

It brings back memories of late lunches with my family, often the good Southern California Mexican food (real chile rellenos!) at some restaurant on the way to Ontario airport. Then there was the return trip to campus from Oakland airport, boarding the connector bus to the train, and all the while the loneliness slowly dripped in just as the students slowly trickled back to town. I would lose my thoughts in wondering who the next roommate would be and when I would finally be able to see the familiar face of one of my few very close friends.

As I arrived at SFO for my next journey, the strangeness of it made me feel as if I had been airdropped into a foreign country: my confidence dropped to the level of a lost child. I felt unsure in my actions, questioning the logic of it all, feeling I had stumbled into a mad tea party. I was lost among the sea of connections around me, struggling as some poor insect that has become entangled in a spider’s web.

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