What to do in Chicago

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I have a little layover on this leg of the trip and I’m looking for company.  

I arrive in Chicago at about 9am (Thursday, March 24th) if the train is running to schedule. My next train, to DC, is after 5pm. So I have at least 7 hours to hang out and do stuff. So what to do? I’d love to meet anyone, talk about what they’re doing talk about what I’m doing, hold a conversation circle, drink coffee, have lunch, work on something together, play ukulele, I don’t know what, just anything really that will pass the time and create some social art in the process. Is there a drop-in-friendly coworking space that’s easy to find?

I can always just sit in Union Station on my own all day but it would be nice to share the day with someone interesting.


Originally posted on Please Look After This Englishman

Day 17

Here’s me, frowning into the sun at Austin Amtrak station.  I wasn’t really that frowny, just had the sun in my eyes.  I wasn’t as euphoric as I had been exactly 1 year earlier though either.  Then I was humming “Homeward Bound” to myself.  This time I knew I was only just half way through and I had as much of a challenge ahead of me as I’d had getting this far.

St Patrick’s Day for me started with breakfast of scrambled eggs and sausage with the Higginbottoms and then my first bus ride (still $1 even that far out) into Austin.  It was interesting to see everything getting “weirder” as we got downtown.  Also had my first little ride through the UT end of town.

I spent the morning sitting in the Chevy Lounge at the conventiion centre. Recharging my device and personal batteries and getting a little writing and tweeting done.  I got talking to @hiphopchronicles (who lives in Ealing, of course) when we were approached by a booth babe for a backpack manufacturer called Slappa.  I had to ask her twice to be sure that’s what she was saying.  We explained that that word had some connotations for English ears.  She was a little surprised, but didn’t seem worried.

It became clear to me sitting in that corner, watching music artists being interviewed that there’s a real opportunity for some consulting at the crossover between the festivals.  The music people are crying out for help with understanding how to use these tools to support their work.  Some more of those social media “experts” should stick around and pick up some big-haired or well-blinged clients instead of hopping on a plane straight back to whichever coast they came from.  Hmmm….

I managed to find Nat and Julia for a goodbye thankyou and hug before I walked through the crowds of green-clad music fans and got a health power-up by eating  at Whole Foods and stocking up for the journey ahead.  Then it was over to the railway station to sit and wait for the hopefully not too late train.

Which is how I came to be frowning into the sun.

We rolled out of Austin only half an hour later than scheduled.  However, I’d somehow gotten onto the kiddy car.  I shared my 3 hours or so down to San Antonio with little Luciano and his sister and their grown-ups.  They were all excited  but only the kids were screaming in the high-pitched way that goes right through you.

Off at San Antonio to wait for the Sunset Limited coming through from Los Angeles.  It was on time.  If anything it was early.  It didn’t stay that way.

Originally posted on Please Look After This Englishman

Solve it while I sizzle #2

Not quite sizzling yet.  I haven’t been out so I’m air-conditioned, but my computer tells me it’s only 72F just before 10am 🙂

So, weather chit-chat aside, where next?

Strike that! *Who* next – this is a journey across a network of people and while the places I’ve been have all been hugely interesting in themselves, it’s really been the people that have made it. That said, I do need to engage with the Amtrak network to get to these people… so I’m not totally unconstrained.

OK.  Well I have just over a week left.  I’m going to stay here in NOLA tonight and travel tomorrow.  I have to be in NYC next Thursday evening to catch a flight from JFK.  But all else is up for grabs.  How long I take to get to New York and how much time I spend there is yet to be decided, although it’s such a highly-populated area I’d like to arrive there next Wednesday at the latest so that I have at least one night in the city.  

As usual i’ll lay out the facts and see what comes back.

Who do I know on the Eastern side of the country and where are they?  Well I have quite a few (I need to clarify that, some I’ve spoken to already but I can always find more) in the NYC area.  I had an invitation to visit Huntingdon PA from Jagir Patel when we met in Austin.  And I would very much like to get up into Maine to visit one of my oldest internet buddies that I’ve never met f2f, Neal Foley (@podchef)

I have six segments left on my rail pass – a segment is on one line so if I went to say Cincinnati via Chicago that would count as two segments.

Here’s some information about trains:

There are two trains that go North and East from NO.  

The Crescent is the one we took last year down from DC via Atlanta – it actually goes all the way to New York with a stop in Philadelphia too. (leaves NO at 7am!)

The City of New Orleans goes up to Chicago via Memphis.  (leaves NO at 1.45pm)

I think it’s important to focus on the next right step rather than trying to map out the whole thing. I think I could go either way but need some input to help think things through, keep me on track, drag me back to principles.  So I think the simple questions are “Crescent or City of NO?” and “Where do I get off and who can I stay with?”

I’m going to need to make a decision this evening (I’m on CDT still – GMT -5 so before UK people go to bed works!)  Let me know what you think or if you need more information to make suggestions.

Originally posted on Please Look After This Englishman

A little miracle of mindfulness

So just thinking about moving on from New Orleans, I thought I’d get my Amtrak timetable out.  I looked all through my bags and I couldn’t find it.  i simulaneously found that I could locate my rail pass.  Uh-oh! That’s (part of) my ticket home.  I’m not at all sure about getting to NYC without it.  It’s definitely not here, I check and double check.  I go through every pocket of every bag twice, three times.  It’s not here.

And I have this nagging thing in the back of my head that Amtrak won’t issue a replacement.

So where did I have it last?

At the place i stayed in Lafayette at the weekend.  So I ring them and they say “Well if you left anything in the room, housekeeping will have picked it up, you’ll have to call them at 8am tomorrow” Breathe…  OK so I also call the person who gave me a lift over here yesterday in case I left it in the car.  No answer, leave a voicemail.  

My impatience and lack of acceptance of this situation is rising.  I’m distracted, I can’t think about what’s right in front of me.  I’m becoming obsessed with what’s gone wrong and what terrible hard work I’m going to have to do to make it right.

Thankfully, Ray was taking me to a networking event tonight, so I had something/someone to take my mind of my own petty troubles.  I’ll write another time about the event.  For the purposes of this story let’s just say that I tried my hardest to focus on what other people were saying and getting stuck into being useful to the group, but my mind was still drifting to where on earth this pass could be.  Likewise when we went to eat at The Camellia Grill.  Great conversation but I was only 80% there.

So when we got back to the house I went to my room and had another look through.  Then I pulled out my phone to call the Amtrak helpline to see whether I could get a replacement issued.  I went through the rigmarole you have to in order to talk to a real person and sat waiting while agents attended to people who’d been sitting here before me.

And I slipped into my well-practiced groove of noticing my breath when I’m doing that, trying to keep my focus on that, rather than what the hold-music is and what I was doing the first time I heard “Knock on Wood” blah blah, just rmembering “I take a long breath in…. I release it” etc.  

And I’m doing this for maybe 5 minutes and I’m still on hold.  And I open my eyes and on the chair in front of me is my copy of “The Miracle of Mindfulness” by Thich Nhat Hanh.  And then something within says “What if?  What if there was one place you hadn’t looked.  What if it’s tucked inside the book?” 

But of course! That’s exactly where it is, slipped in between the pages of the little book is my little rail pass..  Which came back to me as soon as I came back to the present.

Originally posted on Please Look After This Englishman

Day 15

I didn't get any immediate and obvious answer to what to do about the next stage of the trip.  I made some efforts to continue trying to get a lift.  NOLA friends made some suggestions and I followed them all up, but no-one was keen on taking an unknown English guy on a 10-hour road trip.  There's an interesting point in there about how the value of social capital can degrade very quickly a couple of steps away in the network – I saw the same thing with the Journal Racing prototype.  I became more resigned to not travelling to Lafayette until Thursday night.

So I sat and blogged some more and did the behind-the-scenes kind of Social Art, putting people together, saying hi to people I'd met, cementing relationships, re-fueling social capital.

Then i was ready to meet some new people again so after some frantic tweeting and false dawns I finally got together with @kevindwhite @rmiriam and @kittygutz there was ukulele

Soon after this, Julia arrived and we sat and chatted until Nat was out of his panel then we headed up to Buffalo Billiards to meet up with various other brummies celebrating Helga's birthday but before we met them we had time to have a go at Shuffleboard.  Scoring is a bit like curling or bowls but you send a small lump of metal hurtling down a wooden runway covered in fine sand

This would have been my best shot if it hadn't been knocked off the end by the unexpectedly wildly competitive Julia Higginbottom…  

Before heading home, I slipped over 6th Street to  The Driskill as  I'd seen Phil check in  a few minutes earllier.  He was there holding court with three women – Margaret Rosas (who was raving about Dave Gray's session earlier in the day),  Chelsea Rustrum whom we'd met a the #technomads meetup and her Austin friend Kelsey Bryant.  There was much great conversation, occasional hilarity and of course I whipped my ukulele out again to much admiration from the ladies.

Originally posted on Please Look After This Englishman

Solve it while I sizzle

So I need to get from Lafayette to New Orleans tomorrow (Sunday).  I thought I had a ride, but it looks like it's fallen through. I'm sure there's a bus but it looks like it takes forever.

This trip's a great exercise in expecting the unexpected and accepting whatever comes along.  That means not labelling things as "wrong" just because they don't fit with what i was expecting or what I think would be most comfortable for me.

I can get Amtrak, I believe (and as it's only $21 so I may pay cash rather than using up one of the segments on my pass) but I also don't want to rush into making a decision if there are other options out there – trying to keep an open mind, as ever, and not just pressing on regardless.

So I guess the question is, are you or someone you know, by chance travelling from Lafayette to New Orleans and have space for a friendly, house-trained brit with a stack of stories to tell from his adventures?  To be on the safe side I'm going to make a reservation on Amtrak if no other offers show up by about 6pm Central Time today (11pm GMT)

Oh… the "sizzle"? it's 80F and sunny here, folks.  As a fully paid-up Mad Dog/Englishman i just went for a walk in the midday sun… 🙂

Originally posted on Please Look After This Englishman

Here’s a first stab at a map


Someone (thankyou whoever you were!!!) told me about tripline and it’s amazing – this is just a first go using my foursquare check-ins to build a map of the journey so far and embedding it here, but you can add notes and pictures too. It won’t update automatically yet unfortunately but Byron at tripline assures me that it’s in the plan.

Originally posted on Please Look After This Englishman

Day 14

Monday I knew that going badgeless was absolutely the right idea.   I'm not feeling the constant worry of being in the wrong place or the wrong panel or being frustrated thinking about panels, going along expecting something interesting and finding the same old drivel.

I hung out with some friends and then had lunch thanks to @kerrymg and her colleague Alex from Mofilm – our waitress, Natalie, gave the best fake British accent I've heard since I've been here – if you're in Austin and you want a waitress who doesn't sound like Dick Van Dyke go to Moonshine and ask for Natalie.  By the by, we had a great conversation about the importance of interesting conversation and improvisation.

Then I met up with Breda from LearningPool to make sure we captured the fact that we were wearing our t-shirts   but also to have a lovely chat, @cittiecait came along too.

I popped over to the Belmont to catch up with @missdd about all sorts, including her move to NYC to get the @1000heads office set up.

I got a #chevysxsw to Whole Foods to grab some real food for once (got one back as well!) these are great, just cars that you can flag down and ask them to go wherever  you like – free taxis really.

I went over to the railroad station and found out that I'd misunderstood the timetable and the next stage of my journey won't be exactly as expected.  Still don't know how that's going to pan out (except, undoubtedly, for the best)

Back into town, I found @heathr at last and walked and talked and lounged in the Hilton with her while we cemented our Social Artist bonds – really need more of this hanging out with people who get it and are doing it.  I also found that tummelling is indeed a very similar concept and that that's what I'm doing too.

I popped into the Northern Ireland party and listened to some tortured stripy-shirted hipsters for a while and then took in a little NO vibe at the Lucky Lounge with @FunkyBigSam but needed to get back fairly early to make sure I could blog about making a decision on the trip to Lafayette.

Originally posted on Please Look After This Englishman

Day 13

Sunday didn't feel like a Sunday at all.

Daytime was a lot of trying to get to meet people and being frustrated.

I spent the afternoon at a #technomad meetup – lots of very interesting people using social technology to travel in different ways and generally be homeless without being *homeless*.

In the evening, I got more into the swing of it.  I had dinner at #globalgrill courtesy of UKTI and got to see @dominiccampbell, @rachelclarke and unexpectedly @rachelcaroe, 

then I met with @hotskillet, @ledgedancer & @SidewaysMedia as the result of a tweet from @melindrift, 

and I ended up at a #transmedia meetup thanks to @scott_walker and got to meet @skotleach, @jill380 and many others.

Throughout I got the chance to repeat and refine and understand better the stories I have to tell as part of this trip.  

Originally posted on Please Look After This Englishman