Saturday, October 08, 2011

(Conference) Friends

I am in Atlanta, Georgia for a conference. I gave my talk yesterday so can enjoy the rest of it without having to feel much pressure to perform. I always get exhausted by conferences - I can assume the personality of an extrovert, but it's hard work, like holding my breathe, and I usually need to lie down with the curtains drawn afterwards.

I quite like having Conference Friends though. These are people who you meet at a conference and end up hanging out with for a few days. Then you leave and they're out of your life apart from an occasional email, until the next time you see them. Sometimes you never see them again. It gives you a chance to reinvent yourself, and if you screw up socially it doesn't matter because it's not long-term. So after the conference ended for the day, I ended up with a new bunch of Conference Friends and we went for a meal at a Turkish restaurant. (We had been invited to an "after party" which involved a hookah, but none of my Conference Friends wanted to go.) We sat outside the restaurant - because we could. (I often wonder if I would be a more gregarious person if I lived somewhere with better weather.) There were six of us and I felt like I had been cast in an American sitcom. There was a very hip black straight Canadian man, a beautiful Jordanian/American woman with strong opinions, a football-loving gay man from the same place where the southern camp vampire tv series True Blood is filmed, a very liberal straight guy from a place called Hicksville (literally) and his wife. And I was the British One. We made an unlikely set and the lively conversation felt like there had been a team of script-writers behind it.

And just over the road from the restaurant in a small park, a group of people had gathered, holding placards and chanting. And suddenly we were in a fully-fledged demonstration. It was one of the 99% protests which are taking place all over the US at the moment. There was a celebratory atmosphere, people honked their horns (presumably in support) as they drove by. Someone got a banjo out (it is the South after all), and even by American standards there was a sense of cameraderie and willingness to talk to complete strangers which I always find faintly horrific.

The protest carried on for some hours, and I was woken up from my hotel room to the sound of police sirens in the night and shouting. There was a loud crowd of people outside my hotel, the police had closed off roads and were telling people to disperse through a loud-speaker. I wondered whether the crowd had turned nasty (like in the British riots), and deeming my hotel to be home to the hated 1%, had decided to burn it down.

But I was very jet-lagged, and managed to get to sleep, even as I heard the loud-speakers shouting "Move on! Move on!".

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