Being CEO of a company and all makes you visit fancy places you don’t normally visit, and puts you in situations you don’t normally find yourself in. Like going to a conference put on by the World Bank in Washington DC.
Now let me just say, I usually try and avoid conferences- sort of like it was the plague. But we don’t have the plague anymore. So more like Swine Flu. Is that still a thing? H1N1? Anthrax? Whatever the modern day equivalent is to the thing that you just try to avoid at all costs is, because that’s what I try to do with conferences. Mostly because they consist of me trying to make friends, and failing terribly. And also a painful reminder that I am not an international cool kid. And besides the unnecessarily high social pressures of trying not to do anything too stupid in front of smart people, they tend to feature a lot of talking about things that don’t usually have much to do with me. Sometimes, and by sometimes I mean all the time, I would rather be in Hubli, with the cows (yes, there are 5 cows that sit in front of our office and one of them, I’m pretty sure, is rabid), trying to figure out how to make the business run (somehow trying to figure out how rabid cow got rabid helps the creative process). I’m sorry, but figuring out how to make money, to me, is way more fun than sitting in overly air conditioned rooms (ok WHY do people air condition a room when it’s 40 degrees outside?) with people who are probably wondering how I got the invite to this conference in the first place (I prefer to sit with the people on my payroll, so they are FORCED to talk to me, thank you very much- yes this is how I make friends nowadays in case you were wondering)
Note: Lets be real here. What I’m actually trying to say is that I wish I were one of the international cool kids who let the world know what’s what. Making policy change, taking names, changing the world. And if I had half the talking-related capabilities and resume length you all possess, I’d be rockin it too. I secretly but not so secretly wish I was you. Yes, this is me begrudgingly admitting that I want to be you when I grow up. Yes, I know you know everyone wants to be you. Ok ok ok, you don’t have to rub it in. Geez, I said I wanted to be you and I’m jealous. What do you want, the naming rights to my first child now?
Point is, I wasn’t going to go to this conference (damn, I REALLY wanted to go but I need to get back to India to raise money) but then one of our advisors said that this was actually a really good conference and if we wanted to expand to this space in the future, I needed to start making friends NOW (i.e. get your ass to DC).
So of course, since this was the week before the conference, AND being the super ghetto person I am, I decide to just email the one person I knew who lives in DC to see if I could crash on her couch. I met her at a different conference, didn’t know if we were good enough friends yet, but hoped that she would take pity on her poor, Californian counter part who really didn’t want to spend on a hotel. Luckily, she was rad and said yes.
A few days before the conference I decide to see what it’s all about, who is attending, and who I should try and target friend (yes, target friend- that way I can feel accomplished at the end of the day when I meet my friend quota) when suddenly, I see that my friend I’m crashing with is actually speaking at this conference.
WHEN DID I START CRASHING ON THE COUCHES OF FAMOUS PEOPLE (and since when did they start letting ghetto people in?) I think that’s because in Washington DC, EVERYONE IS A FAMOUS PERSON. THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS ON THE EAST COAST (you also tend to start talking in caps because most things blow your mind)
Yes. So now I’m all self conscious because I am now crashing on a famous persons couch, so I figure I need to actually dress the part (or they’d have to walk 20 paces in front of me as we walked in, I was going to give her that option anyway). I did manage to bring the one East Coast Conference approved outfit that I had to suck up and buy the last time this happened, except they have this thing on the East Coast called snow, and apparently it happens during this time of year. AWESOME. So literally, I spent a day trying to figure out if I would rather freeze, or just suck it up and buy some pants. THIS IS WHAT CONFERENCES MAKE YOU THINK ABOUT- FREEZING FOR A DAY OR BUYING A MONTH OF FOOD IN INDIA (instead of important things, like ruling the world). It’s terrible. But I chose pants. I kissed delicious Indian food goodbye, and resigned myself to eating cardboard (i.e. my own cooking) for a month. Le Sigh.
Finally, day of the conference hits, and I’m all suited up. I feel pretty good. Until I went in.
Observation I: Party favors include microfiber lens cleaning cloth with the conference name on it. No joke, they hand out eye glass cleaning cloth as schwag. Not pencils, not bags, but GLASSES CLEANING CLOTH. GLASSES CLEANING CLOTH. I mean, lets break this down. Pencils are always safe because you know people need to take notes. Tote bags and water bottles are also a good bet because you need to carry stuff and drink water. But at this conference, they figured that glass cleaners will be a safe bet because MOST PEOPLE WILL NEED TO CLEAN THEIR GLASSES (WHICH THEY ALL TOTALLY HAD). I am at a conference where EVERYONE IS NERDY ENOUGH TO BE WEARING GLASSES. Ok granted it was actually useful because I WAS wearing glasses and I felt self conscious because they’re always dirty and this was basically telling me stop being a slob and clean the damn glasses. Which was cool. So I looked like less of a slob. Thanks Glasses cleaners. But still. Crazy.
Observation II: They don’t have vegetarian food on the East Coast unless you specially request it. Me and my Californian bubble had no idea. Which I should have figured when they asked me to fill out the survey (which, of course, I didn’t) but I assumed there would be at LEAST 20 other vegetarians (because I mean in SF there’s ALWAYS some sort of organic tofu option) but then I realized that’s because it’s a FAD there. So yeah. Turns out, you will starve. At these conferences. Also why I was going to die. Because I just ate Spinach. The whole day. SPINACH AND BEANS. And Carrots. But really, carrots don’t count when you put it up against spinach and beans. So in addition to being socially awkward, I was also practically starving. If you want to make already terrifying conferences even more horrific, be the slacker who doesn’t follow directions and consequently starves.
Observation III: You know you’ve upped the ante when there are translation devices present. As in, part of the conference will happen in another language because guess what, this is an international shindig y’all. But really though, I think it’s helpful because I just tend to not talk (i.e. say anything potentially stupid) and just keep putting headphones on and off so I listen to the translator, and then listen to French- English, French, English, French, and then I stare at the translator and watch her talk in a box because it’s SO WEIRD. Then I wonder what it would be like to be the translator. Then I wonder if she’s claustrophobic and if any translator has sued the World Bank for discrimination re: claustrophobia. And THEN I wonder if she has had botox because I wonder if it helps with this sort of profession. And THEN I wonder if Nicole Kidman would play me in the alternate reality which is my life as a translator. And THEN everyone breaks for coffee and I realize I missed half the session. And THEN I wonder if I can get notes from the translator.
Observation IV: When you are crashing on the couches of famous people and need to get stuff from their house in order to get your butt to the airport because your flight leaves in 3 hours, leaving the conference in time may prove complicated. I mean lets face it, everyone wants to talk to them. I mean, so do I, but I was crashing on her couch so I got the whole day to do that. So in my starving state, I started taking bets with her employees as to how many people she would talk to before she came back to our table to leave. I won- it was 5. I felt bad because she was totally killing it out there, but I was the party pooper who needed to get on a flight to Boston.
Observation VI: Only in DC will you not know which international airport you are flying out of BECAUSE THERE IS MORE THAN 1. WHAT CITY HAS MORE THAN 1 INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT WITHIN DRIVING DISTANCE?! Ok granted, I should have probably known where I was flying out of, but I figured I could just tell the cab driver to get me to the international airport. And when he asked me which one, I knew I was fucked because my phone was dead (of course), and I had not even looked (much less printed) the ticket. So of course, with 2 hours left, I had to stop at a gas station, beg the kind man to plug in my phone, buy some stuff while it was charging, realize it wasn’t charging fast enough, beg another guy to let me use the internet on his phone, wonder about the security of said Gmail passwords, realize at this point I really don’t care because I really just need to get on my flight and really just hope DC people are not trying to steal my identity (they didn’t FYI), unplug my phone, feed my cab driver (who by this point, is just staring at me in disbelief), get to the airport only to find that his credit card machine isn’t working because it’s out of range (yes I was at the farthest airport), beg the guy to do something about it because my flight is in an hour and I have no cash, have the guy call a friend of a friend to take my Credit Card Number and charge me off the books , and check into my flight as it’s boarding.
So really, that’s my conference experience at DC. I can’t tell if it’s just me, or DC. Slightly bizarre, not incredibly pleasant, but are probably going to be good for me in the long run.
Kind of like Vitamins. Only less tasty (Flinstone Multivitamins FTW)