The trip to Boston for the BIO show was productive; I made some good editorial contacts, was praised for the quality of our magazine, ate at some fine restaurants, and saw a bartender mix a drink with liquid nitrogen. Here’s a slideshow of my BIO pix, and another of my non-BIO Boston pix (including the aforementioned drink).
For the first time, the conference organizers forgot to put me on the press list (we exhibit at the show but, since we’re there as a magazine, I usually end up on the press list), which meant that I didn’t have 10,000 appointments lined up. At least half of these tend to be for
- economic development regions that don’t have any industries that overlap with what we cover, and
- companies that provide services or components that don’t overlap with what we cover.
So the exhibit hours were less stressful than usual. Sometimes it’s tough for me to keep the “that’s VERY interesting!” vibe going when someone’s discussing an innovative chromatography column. (I’m sure these columns are VERY interesting, but I’m not a scientist, so hey.) Similarly, when a region hits me up for editorial coverage, and I discover that it has zero pharma-manufacturing business, I have to break out the “I really wish we had more coverage of, um, translational genomics, but that’s not really our bailiwick” stuff.
Anyway, the night before the BIO began, my friends Paul & Deb came up from Providence. We meandered along the Liberty Trail for a bit, checked out some Brutarian architecture, then headed over to our restaurant in Quincy Market / Faneuil Hall. Unfortunately, the BIO reception was taking place in the area, so the whole place was under lockdown. We had to wait at a checkpoint, then got handed off to 4 different security guards as we closed in on Wagamama. But the meal was worth it. And our attempt at circumnavigating the security cordon gave us the opportunity to see an Elvis-on-stilts handing out giant sunglasses and plastic Elvis toupees.
As I noted in my Montaigne post on Monday, I got a terrible night’s sleep Sunday, due to a 3-second “bzz!” that occurred every 4 or 5 minutes. All night. I got it taken care of on Monday night, when an engineer came up to the room. He fiddled with the AC for a few minutes, even though I told him it hadn’t been on the night before. Then he heard the “bzz!”, realized it was something in the restaurant upstairs, and ran out to take care of it. No more noise = full night’s sleep.
I knew I would need plenty of caffeine to make it through the exhibit hours Monday, and this sort of conference always has plenty of exhibitors who have baristas making all sorts of coffee. I got by on that during the morning, but true salvation arrived when I began to venture out through the exhibit hall.
See, I may not be a detective, but certain details leap out at me. When I passed an empty booth-space and noticed a Tim Hortons cup sitting on a table, my sleep-dulled mind leapt into action! I knew it could only mean one of two things:
- an exhibitor or attendee picked up some Timmy’s from one of the New England outlets, brought it into the show, and discarded it here, or
- the Canada pavilion was serving up the best coffee around.
I looked above for the Canada banner, spotted it near the front of the hall, and headed over to the pavilion. I was expecting to find an exhibitor with a little Tim Horton coffee urn or somesuch, but found a full-service coffee-stand, replete with donuts and other insanely good pastries! Not wanting to spoil the client dinner ahead, I only grabbed a coffee. I went back to our booth and told my publisher about the place. He ran out with our dinner guests, and they all returned with donuts, pastries and coffee at 3 in the afternoon.
I was happy, knowing that my breakfast plans for Tuesday were now solidified: blow off the hotel fare and score some of that Timmy’s.
After the first day of the show ended, we took those clients to a great restaurant in the Eliot Hotel in Back Bay: Clio. My publisher & I arrived first and sat at the bar. I was cheered to see a bottle of Hendrick’s (even though I was hoping for Miller’s), and ordered a G&T. Gary ordered a mojito and then asked the bartender what the signature drink was. The bartender proceeded to open up a local magazine and pointed to an inset in a Q&A. It described the Screaming Ginger, which is made with an exotic vodka, green tea, ginger . . . and liquid nitrogen.
Now, I don’t know that it was really liquid nitrogen in the container, but I do know that it froze everything else in the glass instantly (he poured it in first, before adding the other mixed parts), and emitted so much steam that it looked like one of Grandpa Munster’s experiments. How do we know? Because Gary ordered one after his mojito:
The bartender, Theo Ford (we asked him for his name in case I decide to include that pic in the BIO wrap-up in the June issue), took out a toothpick to poke the ice at the top of the glass and keep it all from freezing over. The result was a sort of slush/sorbet texture, with a little kick and a nice, subtle green tea taste.
Well, I had to try it! It’s the BIO show! You’ve gotta play with chemistry!
Dinner was fantastic: tuna & salmon appetizer, and two lobster tails for the main course. Gary suffered his usual fate of receiving the smallest portion of anyone at the table who had that order. We’re convinced that waiters think he’s a fat load and do this to him out of the goodness of their hearts. My dessert was a melting chocolate dish, but my neighbor’s was funnier. He & I were bonding over music and The 40-Year-Old Virgin all evening, so we did plenty of goofing on/with his dessert:
And that was pretty much the night. I got back to my room, fell asleep by 10, and was all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for the second day of the conference. There’s little to say about that day, except that I subsisted entirely on coffee, apple fritters and maple & pecan danishes from Tim Horton, which I would come to regret. Oh, and the Nebraska pavilion, directly across from our booth, started grilling steaks at 10 a.m., which is a kinda weird time to start smelling steak. That lasted till 5 p.m.
Tuesday night’s dinner was at a fantastic restaurant, Number 9 Park, but was marred because our clients canceled on us at the last minute. Like, “when we were heading there in a cab we got the call from them” last minute. Still, we do as needs must when the devil drives.
(Speaking of which, Boston has the most talkative cab-drivers I’ve ever encountered, hands down. Except for my Wednesday ride to the convention center, every cab ride involved non-stop chatter from the driver. And it’s one thing when the passenger can just grunt to hold up his end of the conversation, but when the driver starts asking essay questions? Please: Get back on your cell phone and complain in a foreign language. And it turns out I wasn’t the only one to notice this; my coworkers and other attendees all made comments about the gabby cabbies.)
Once again, Gary & I reached the site early and parked ourselves at the bar. This time, I was got my Miller’s G&T, which made me a happy boy. Appetizer (no pix in a joint this classy) was Seared La Belle Farms Foie Gras (muscat grape salad, yogurt, candied walnuts), and entree was . . . Slow Cooked Pork Belly (consomme, radishes, braised leeks), because I’m bold like that. And I don’t keep kosher.
My coworkers were scared of my dinner choice, although two of them gave it a shot and admitted that it beat their duck pretty handily. For my part, I said, “How could I look my wife in the eye and tell her that I didn’t try pork belly in a restaurant as fine as this one?”
What followed dinner was a surefire sign of the apocalypse: I was able to find my way back to our hotel on foot. Now, this isn’t a joke about being drunk during a business trip. No, it’s about how Boston is the least sensical city I’ve ever visited. I have never failed to get lost during my trips there, and even when I knew the general direction back to Faneuil Hall, I was convinced that I’d turn a corner at some point and see a sign that read, “Welcome to New Hampshire.”
So it was pretty scary that I was able to manage that walk back from Boston Common. I’m sure the Bostonians in the audience are sneering over my pride at negotiating this short distance, but the absence of a grid is totally disorienting to someone whose idea of a city is Manhattan.
Once again, that was pretty much the night. I got back to my room, fell asleep by 10:30, and was all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for the last day of the conference.
It was beyond uneventful, except for really esoteric stuff about my magazine. No good anecdotes to share from the show floor, and the Nebraska pavilion was out of steaks (they sent 3 days’ worth to the show, but only 2 days’ worth arrived, so someone was having a tremendous barbecue on Nebraska’s dime). My only imperative was to get out of the show early enough to catch the 3:15 Acela. I was booked on the 4:30, but the exhibit hall closed at 3:00 and I thought I might be able to make it.
Unfortunately, there was a massive line for cabs, so I walked down Summer St. with my suitcase and briefcase. I got to South Station just as the 3:15 Acela was about to leave. I wasn’t able to get my 4:30 ticket exchanged in time (I’ve seen them kick a passenger off), so I killed 75 minutes in South Station, getting a late lunch and sneaking into the Acela Club to goof around on the internet for a while, before boarding the quiet car for the ride home.
I was hoping to get some reading or writing done, but I was unable to focus on anything (it was probably allergy-related). I surrendered, popped in my headphones, and set my iPod to shuffle for 3+ hours. I haven’t done that in a long time, just listening to music and watching the landscape, but that’s where I was.
Near the outset, the train picked up great speed (around 150 mph, I think), which made a blur of the scenery. When we zoomed past parking lots, and the afternoon sun gleamed off the windshields with sharp contrast, I felt like I was watching Trainspotting, or the beginning of Shallow Grave, pounding through the landscape at high speed. It didn’t feel the same in the open areas and fields, but the combination of our velocity and human surroundings somehow tripped me out.
It didn’t last long. Much of the trip was through those empty fields, and most of the civilized areas required that we slow down. Fortunately, the trip had an entertaining conclusion.
See, the Acela stops in Penn Station in NYC for about 10 minutes, before heading out for the second half of its trip. It’s the stop where the most passenger-flux occurs, what with NYC being the center of the world and all.
Anyway, one of the passengers who boarded the quiet car at that stop bore a strong resemblance to Christopher Hitchens. I wasn’t sure it was him, until he walked down the aisle a minute or so later and passed by my seat. I thought, “He’s probably looking for a seat in a less crowded car,” and went back to listening to my music.
A minute later, I thought, “You moron! He’s heading down to the cafe car to buy as much alcohol as possible to last through the trip down to Washington, DC!”
Five minutes later, I was proved correct. He came walking back up the aisle with a cardboard tray containing a couple of drinks. He was stuck by my seat for a moment, because a passenger was restowing a bag. I said, “Excuse me: Mr. Hitchens?”
“I just wanted to let you know that my wife and I really enjoy your books and essays.”
“Why, thank you,” he said, trying to balance the tray as he headed back to his seat.
Shortly, he headed back down the aisle to another car, carrying some trash. The train would shortly pull into Newark, so I got my bags and waited by the door. He came back up the aisle and re-greeted me, shaking my hand and thanking me for the kind words.
I said, “Actually, it turns out that we have a mutual friend in Elayne Tobin.”
He perked up. “You know Elayne? You’re from Pittsburgh, then?” It was a good guess, since she got her Ph.D. there.
I said, “New Jersey. A mutual friend introduced us. He met her when they were teaching at Temple: Samuel Delany.”
“I think she introduced us once. Science fiction writer?”
“Yes. With a huge white beard.”
“That would definitely be him.”
We talked for a few moments more, until the train pulled in. I wished him a a safe trip, and he told me to give Elayne a pinch on the cheek from him.
“She’d probably take a swing at me if I did that, but I’ll try.”
He smiled, and headed back to his seat.
So that was Boston/BIO, dear readers. Epically boring, as I warned.