All the ECCAs were up fairly early for the first day of the SLA conference proper. It seems odd to British folk that a professional conference would begin on a Sunday, but it’s understandable when people are trying to have minimal days off work, and for those not granted work time to attend, that really matters. This is especially true in the US due to the small amount of annual leave they get compared with Europeans.
We headed out for the opening session, which became unofficially known as “the Oscars for librarians”. It was all speeches and awards and blasts of classic rock and MOR pop. OK, not every seat is full in the photo below, which shows current SLA President Deb Hunt on the big screens, but the giant ballroom was packed around the edges as people tried to catch part of the session AND do other things without disturbing the rows. We ourselves were standing amongst a crowd at the back. Session-hopping is a big part of US conferences, and coming in late/leaving early is fine. It’s also common for people to be sitting on the floor or standing at the side. We had already decided to continue in the grand ECCA tradition of a pancake breakfast. Sunday was our only real opportunity to do this, as Saturday was the first morning we were all there, but Laura had a breakfast meeting with her mentor, and every other day one or more of us had a Division breakfast. This meant naughtily skipping the keynote speaker and catching up later via tweets. An IHOP had been spotted the night before, but Lauren had been tipped off to the best place to get breakfast – Richard Walker’s. Here’s the menu. Oh man. Previously, I’ve only ever gone out for breakfast in the sense of a greasy spoon after a big night out (though that more often turned into pub Sunday lunch) when I was much younger or a Wetherspoons/supermarket café fry-up when staying in a Travelodge or similar with no meals provided. This, my friends, was luxury. It kept me fed all day, and would have into the next day had my brekkie choice worked so well for doggy bag and later consumption as that of some of my companions.
We had to queue, and got to see several fire trucks zoom past, which looked like toys to British eyes.
The queue behind us grew and grew – it seemed like every couple and family in San Diego was out for breakfast.
Eventually, we got in. Laura and Lizzie ordered the bacon pancakes with maple syrup and cream, Lauren chose the vegetable omelette with mushroom sauce and 3 pancakes on the side and I ordered a “baked pancake” with syrup, cinnamon and pecans. This was enormous, and very tasty indeed, though I don’t think it would have worked cold. The bacon pancakers ordered 6 pancakes and took 3 home to eat later. You can see all the photos from our breakfast experience in the slideshow below.
When we got back to the convention center, everyone was waiting for the grand opening of the INFO-EXPO – the vendor exhibition. Now, I’ve been to big conferences in the UK with hall after hall of vendors, but even so, this was something else, and everyone else clearly thought so as the foyer was rammed with people not-quite-queuing to get in.
There were stands everywhere, in a massive hall, and they varied from tiny one-man-bands and their small tables to the “luxury” stalls of the likes of Elsevier with deep carpets and sofas and freebies by the ton. The other ECCAs and I had to watch what we picked up, knowing that we would struggle to get it all home with us, and we did try to pace ourselves going round. As with many conferences these days, there was a “passport” to be stamped if you chatted to vendors, in order to gain entry to a prize draw, and we set about filling ours with gusto.
The sun was out, and walking back to the hotel felt good. We didn’t need lunch – just to drop off our bags of conference swag. I went back a different route than normal and my two worlds collided on seeing the Balboa Theater and its LED sign. My camera only caught the mention of the Joe Satriani and Steve Morse gig, but my eyes grabbed onto the Nerdist podcast live as part of San Diego Comic Con. I have always wanted to attend SDCC and as a comics and Doctor Who fan am a keen listener to the Nerdist. At least this year during the conference I knew where “Hall H”, “the Gaslamp” and the “Sails Pavilion” were in the convention reports.
The legendary, and massive, Sails Pavilion
The SLA conference offers many opportunities to go on trips, like the trolley tour of the city, which could be paid for as add-ons to your registration. Due to my lack of both time and cash, I did not book any, but one of my mentors, Rebecca, had triple-booked herself with meetings in the afternoon. She gave me her ticket for the Gaslamp Historic District Tour. Sadly, this meant I had to miss the hugely popular Bad Food session, which I had really wanted to catch, but I never look a gift horse in the mouth. Thankfully, the slides are online for most sessions, so I was able to catch up later.
The tour started at 3.30pm and it was crushingly hot at the meeting spot for the tour – the William Heath Davis House. Even with a hat and sunscreen, I was dying to get inside. We were divided into groups with our own tour guide. Ours was a bit of a character, with a portable mic, hat and red feather boa and a heavy black cape even in the heat.
I got Beamish flashbacks once the tour got going. Our guide explained to us that what is now the Horton Grand Hotel used to be two hotels, the less formal Brooklyn and the luxurious Grand Horton. Not only that, they had been moved brick by brick to the Gaslamp (and then combined) from their former locations near the mall. The William Heath Davis House had also been moved several times.
All the historical stuff didn’t feel that authentic or historical to me. I suppose there is truth in the old saying that in the UK, 200 miles is a long way and in the US, 200 years is a long time. My great-grandmother was born in 1896 and I knew her well, so buildings from less than 50 years before that don’t seem old. The reconstructed bits looked more Changing Rooms than National Trust. This feeling grew stronger when we went back to the Davis House, which is a museum these days but previously was the home of many San Diego luminaries, including Alonzo Horton. The historical trust have obviously worked hard on the property, but it definitely looked a bit cobbled together inside. The statue and tale of Bum the Dog unsurprisingly amused me.
I had to leave the tour before the end, as I was just too hot and there was nowhere to sit down. I felt unwell. I walked back to the hotel, via a diversion due to a closed road on my chosen route, and had an icy shower, before changing into a t-shirt and mini skirt.
I headed back to the convention center and met Lizzie outside. She had already availed herself of the free Sunday evening food in the INFO-EXPO, and was able to make recommendations.
One of my favourite things in San Diego was the abundance of pico de gallo. I had to avoid the guacamole, as I’m allergic to avocado, but the roasted tomatillo salsa was also amazing. My favourite thing was dipping jicama, which we can’t get in the UK unless we have a greenhouse and grow our own, in the salsa. I was grateful to the lady who told us what the jicama was, as I was trying to guess. It’s a bit like mooli crossed with melon or pear or apple, but also not. I want more, right now. The wraps were also great.
Lizzie suggested we get the ferry to Coronado after I had eaten, and I was excited about the prospect as I didn’t think I’d be able to fit it in. It turned out there was a ferry from the back of the convention center to Coronado soon, and one back to the stop close to our hotel later in the evening. That sounded perfect to me, and I ended up taking over 100 photos. There are 91 in the slideshow below.
This was the biggest adventure I had, other than going to the US and the conference in the first place. Lizzie and I strolled past some of the most expensive houses in the US, past fake grass, vintage cars and tons of flags and we stopped for a while to hear the swing band at the concert in Spreckels Park. Here’s a video I made:
Half the town seemed to be in the park, with their bicycles and picnics and comfy chairs. The purple blossoms in the trees smelled amazing and I think I relaxed for the first time since I arrived in America. We kept walking and hit a branch of Walgreens (another brand “ticked”), where we purchased yoghurt-coated pretzels and tourist tat for family and friends. We bought disappointing ice creams, that nevertheless made for great photos, and finally made it to what is known locally as the Del and to viewers of Some Like It Hot as Florida – the Hotel Del Coronado and the beach.
I never felt more like I was in California. The sky stretched on for miles, but not like it does in Norfolk. No hint of bleakness, it was all paradise in pink. To be walking by that beach at sunset was heaven itself. I insisted on popping into the hotel foyer, which looked not unlike the Tower of Terror at the Disney parks after a good dusting.
However, then Lizzie and I checked the time. Oops. We hadn’t realised how long it would take us to walk to the Del, and therefore to walk back. Lizzie asked the valets about taxis back to the pier, but they suggested getting a bus instead. We had spotted the stop earlier, so checked the timetable, and there was one due in 20 minutes. It didn’t turn up, we thought we’d never get back. We started walking to get a taxi, running out of time before the last ferry was due to depart, and 25 minutes after it was supposed to arrive, the bus drove past us. We ran back to the stop…
Phew! Thanks to Lizzie, we caught it. Sadly, the bus driver wasn’t much cop at speaking intelligibly or letting us know where the bus stopped, so I ended up spending $7 in a machine that gave no change to travel for less than 10 minutes. I used the satnav on my phone (once more invaluable!) to work out where the bus was going and where it was going to turn, so we could get off and walk to the pier. When we could see it, I sighed with relief.
The ferry back to Broadway was a much bigger boat than the tiny one out, and we sat upstairs for the view. My puny phone camera could not cope with the low light conditions, but seeing the city at night across the water was incredible, as was sailing past the USS Midway Museum with all its lights and flags.
Karaoke and Open House parties were on offer on our return, but neither Lizzie nor I had the energy after our adventure. We had both walked miles in possibly the least suitable footwear either of us had brought with us. That’s spontaneity for you.