Thursday, November 3, 2011

My First Conference

I went to Minneapolis for my first academic conference last month. I attended some 30 talks over 4 days on topics ranging from "reactive molecular dynamics" to the "freezing string method". And yet, I have to say the most important things I learned were all logistical: book early, wear dress shoes that are good for walking, and make reservations for dinner.

On that last point, Thursday night my friend Nathan and I found ourselves facing a 90-minute wait at every restaurant within walking distance of the convention center. "Oh," the host at Manny's corrected himself, "we have a table open. I can seat you now." I was so excited at the prospect of food, I was willing to overlook what must have happened to all the people ahead of us on that 90-minute list. (Did they starve to death in the lobby?)

Then I was handed a menu, saw the prices and groaned. Manny's must be one of these fancy restaurants that charges way too much and serves miniscule portions. At least I wasn't paying.

But then our waiter proved me wrong with the meat cart:

not tiny portions

Only this picture does not do it justice. You need to check out the interactive meat cart. My personal favorite is the bludgeon of beef ("part meal, part weapon"). And, yes, it's slightly eerie to see a lobster move at your dinner table.

I ordered the pork chops - which I later learned came in the same portion size that my wife had cooked that night...for our entire family. And, the small order of french fries filled a dinner plate. This was my side of broccoli

the blue streak is the Hollandaise sauce.

I barely made a dent in my meal. My hotel did not have a fridge, but I couldn't let Manny toss my uneaten food in the alley on the weapon-like remains of all those bludgeons. So I had them pack it up for me. I hoped to see someone on the streets that I could give it to as I walked back to my hotel.

Only I learned that homeless people are hard to find on the streets of Minneapolis in late October at 9 o' clock at night. And if you aren't really sure, how do you bring that up: asking "Are you homeless?" seems like guaranteed way to offend a passerby if I was wrong. We passed one man, walking slowly, but I couldn't tell if he was really homeless, or just wearing casual clothes. He had a nicer jacket than I did, so I stopped to look at his shoes (well-worn, no holes). That's when we made eye contact and I nervously walked on.The next person I passed who wasn't in business attire was a middle-aged woman in jeans (nice purse, no plastic bags). She stopped to talk with Mr. Well-Worn Shoes, so either they were both homeless, or neither.

The third guy had kinda wild hair (sure sign, right?), so I worked up my courage to say something. "Hey..." I said, and he glared at me with what I was sure was a how-dare-you-think-I'm-homeless look. So I smoothly turned my greeting into a song "...hey. Nah nah nah nah..." and sped by.

But then he called out to me. "Excuse me, I'm trying to get some money for a burrito at Chipotle's?" Hallelujah! I thought. You are homeless. I felt like hugging the man. (I didn't.) Instead, I offered him all my food. "Uhhh...okay," he said and we both went home (me: Holiday Inn, him: ?) a little happier that night.


Pat said...

Ha Ha Ha. Great post! I've done that before, but my homeless person was only interested in cash.

Jenae said...

Ah, "Are you Homeless" the lesser known sequel to "Are you my mother?".

I'm glad your leftovers went to some use.:)