The following is my motss.con.xxiii con report, or my experiences of the 23rd soc.motss.con (held Apr 22-26 in Miami, FL). If you don't like such things, feel free to not read it. It won't bother me. Much.
Travel day. The alarm went off at 5am, and I finished morning ablutions and packing (CPAP, drugs, laptop, and toiletries) by 5:20am. Set the dishwasher to run around 1pm and headed out the door. Got to the airport, found a parking place pretty easily (first time in ages), got to Security, and waited half an hour as the line inched forwards. Got through Security, had a small hike to the end of the councourse (D, in the North Terminal, which seems to have been refurbished or rebuilt since I was last there), and got to the gate where preboarding was underway. Got on board, got seated, and somehow we managed to depart 4 minutes early.
The flight itself was uneventful. Landed more or less as expected (we were told 2:23 flight time and it was 2:26), got a 10-minute hold since our gate was occupied, and even then managed to arrive 10 minutes early. Had a deathmarch hike from the gate to ground transportation. Got to the hotel and checked in (early but thankfully they had a room). Unfortunately, the city's doing water main work so there's no water at the hotel until 3pm so no shower to freshen up. Unpacked (hm, no dresser drawers for clothing), but with a 2-hr drive to the rest of the motssers doing early-arrival events in Homestead, I figured I'd hang at/around the hotel. Ran out for lunch at the Cuban place a block or so away (cubano and chips, yum) then napped a bit since the Homesteaders weren't due back until 6pm.
After a brief nap, I went and spent a couple of hours poolside taking a couple of dips, doing some reading, and listening to tunes on the iPod. Gave up on that around 4pm and took a quick shower (as the water was back on) to rinse off the chlorine from the pool. Housekeeping swung through to make sure the water was back and working (yup).
At 5:30pm I headed down to the lobby. Chatted briefly with Ann (who was asking the front desk about the wireless network), Lisa (who was here before heading to the Hot Bi Babe Condo), and Mike (driving Lisa to the aforementioned condo); then joined Max (fresh from a dip in the pool) for a drink on the patio. At 7pm, we met up with the rest of the folks heading to the foodie dinner at Michael's Genuine Food & Drink. Except for an admitted mistake on their part (they'd moved us inside, but we had to be seated outside to accomodate Penny Lane), it was just teriffic.
After some fresh bread with butter (and a sprinkling of flake salt), I started with the BLT salad of thick-cut house-smoked bacon, friseé local heirloom tomatoes, and roaring 40s blue cheese with a sherry vinaigrette. The vegetables were fresh and cold, the bacon moky and warm, the cheese smooth and pungent, and the dressing not overdone. It was very tasty. Next I had the grilled prime ribeye cap steak (medium rare), which was served over a Greek farro salad (with farro, cucumbers, red onion, red bell pepper, Kalamata olives, and feta cheese) and topped with a salsa verde. If I had to make a complaint, it'd be that the steak was somewhere between rare and medium rare, but since I'd eat tartare that wasn't at all problematic for me. I also got to taste some of Bitty's slow roasted Fudge Farms pork shoulder (with cheese grits), which was also very tasty. Alongside the meal, the table had gone in on a couple of bottles of wine, one a viognier (nice and crisp) and the other a pinot grigio (softer and more floral). For dessert, Bitty and I split two desserts. One was the banana toffee panini with a mini chocolate caramel ice cream sundae itself topped with some homemade peanut brittle; the other was the nightly special of a chocolate coffee toffee bread pudding, over espresso anglaise with a small scoop of vanilla ice cream and some white chocolate Oreo bark. I also had a small sip of Kathryn's Beerenauslese Cuvée (Kracher, Austria 2006) and Lars' Trockenbeerenauslese (Kracher, Grande Cuvée #7, Austria 2005).
We got back to the hotel in time to have missed the Project Runway season 7 finale and reunion show (in the 30-minute Models of the Runway slot). Made plans to meet in the lobby by 10am, then I went upstairs and crashed.
This morning, after the hotel's continental breakfast, the five of us going on the Segway tour (me, Jason, Max, Robert, and John) met up in the lobby to head over to Bike & Roll. We did some quick practice (getting on, moving, stopping, and getting back off) then headed down to the south end of South Beach. Marty the docent gave a wonderful architectural/historical tour, putting the various architectural bits (mostly Art Deco and Mediterranean Revival with some Miami Modern) in historical context. We had our group pictures taken at the Park Whosis Hotel, the mannequin of Bogart out front in the car, and the steps of Gianni Versace's mansion. We visited the lobby of the Hotel Victor to see the
greenchartreuse and purpleplum decor, the jellyfish aquarium, and the Everglades mural. We saw the polo ponies, zipped up all the way to 21st or 22nd Street (the end of the Deco district), then back to the store on 10th.
We were finished up by 12:15pm so we headed over to the Ice Box Café for lunch. I had breakfast for lunch: Scrambled eggs with cheddar cheese, sausage, home fries, and a biscuit. I then finished with a slice of Oreo ice cream cake for dessert. We then hiked to the Holocaust Memorial, and after touring it I was feeling overheated so I headed back to the hotel to rehydrate and soak in the pool (from about 4-5:30pm). I then power-napped before dinner.
Dinner tonight was here at the hotel, at their restaurant Creek 28. We had a table set out on the private patio, and the 19 of us spent 3 hours or so dinnering. I had the grilled romaine (with julienned red onion and grana cheese in a dijon vinaigrette) then the grilled
scallopsGulf shrimp with chorizo in a tomato sauce, and a chocolate pot au creme for dessert. I also had too much of the 2006 pinot grigio from Italy the name of which I'm blanking on, so after figuring out my portion of the bill (with tax and tip), I headed upstairs to crash. I passed on the mojitos at Max's apartment.
After the hotel continental breakfast, we headed out to the Fairchild Tropical Garden. We had Sim and Mike give us their own tour, including the tree-hugging. We had lunch at the farmer's market there (I had peruvian grilled chicken with rice and beans), then headed off to Books and Books in Coral Gables for the Lois Lowry lecture and book signing. I got a chance to meet her before her talk (mainly because I was chatting with Max, her daughter, when she got there) which was interesting. She spoke for about 45 minutes before the book signing; she's an entertaining and engaging speaker as well as an award-winning author of 38 books.
We then headed back to the hotel to rest before dinner. I took a quick run the two blocks to the beach and got some ocean time in (the waves were a bit choppy). Got back to the hotel in time for a quick shower before heading out to dinner at Tap Tap. We got appetizers for the table: Conch salad, mofongo fritters, and goat tidbits. I'd already decided on the goat stew (which was delicious); it came with beans and rice and a fried plantain chip. After dinner, those of us who were still mostly conscious went over to Max's for mojitos again.
Sunday started, after the continental breakfast augmented by tropical fruit from Sim and Mike (jabocinta, jackfruit, and mamey, and Aberlak Farms sugar cane), we headed over to Villa Vizcaya, the estate of the late James Deering, a former executive at International Harvester. Our docent, Bette, was teriffic; she went off-script fairly early, and once we'd explained to her why we got together every year she added fun facts like the buff bohemian men that Mr. Deering, confirmed bachelor, had around. She also volunteered additional time to take us on a tour of the gardens, which are in great shape considering the hurricane damages (Wilma mostly, with some as old as from Andrew). A lot of the grounds are being reconstructed and repaired, so many of the water features were not running. It was a lot of fun.
Next we drove over to Tropical Chinese for very tasty dim sum. In addition to the explosion of shrimp (shrimp dumplings, shrimp and leek patties, shrimp-stuffed eggplant, shrimp fried in wonton wrappers like cigars, and shrimp in rice pasta) and pork (steamed buns, baked buns, spare ribs, shumai), we also had gai lan, sticky rice in taro leaves, and chicken pot stickers. Our table came out to $17/person with tax and a big tip, and for the quantity and quality of food it was definitely worth it.
Dim sum was the last event for all nineteen of us (some weren't going to make it to dinner, and others would be gone before the Stragglers' Breakfast Monday), so we took several group pictures outside the restaurant. We then headed back to the hotel where a group of us — Frank, Kathryn, Lars, Mara, Marty, Max, Ned, and me; later joined by John and Robert; later still by Arthur; and Ann, Henry, and Jason were walking up as Robert and I were leaving — headed off to the beach at 27th Street. Several of us (Arthur, Frank, Mara, Max, Ned, and I) spent time in the water; others either just got their feet wet (John, Kathryn, Lars, and Robert) or walked along the beach (Marty). I got back to the hotel, showered off the ocean, and took a disco nap before heading out to Versailles for Cuban food for dinner.
That was a bit of an adventure. On the ride there, traffic was backed up so we bailed on the primary route for an alternate... which was itself blocked so we went to another backup plan and wound up heading 40-ish blocks north to come back around. We got to the resturant to meet up with the other half of our party who'd ordered appetizers for the table (a combination of croquettes, empanadas, plantain chips, and yucca fries). I wound up ordering the roasted pork (marinated in lime and garlic) which came with chicharrónes, black beans and rice, and fried plantains; it was a veritable mountain of very tasty food. On the way back, the freeway on-ramp was closed so we went to a backup plan, which worked until the road closed so we did a jog around to eventually find our way back to I-195 and then into Miami Beach. Our car was back at the hotel by 10:30, and I headed up to my room to pop the evening drugs plus some Advil and another muscle relaxant and poured myself into bed.
I woke up around 7:30am (again, without the alarm clock, which I didn't set at all this weekend) to shower and pack. As on Thursday, the city's doing more water main work so the hotel was without water from 9am onwards. Luckily we were leaving the hotel at 9am to head to the Stragglers' Breakfast at News Café. I was in Max's car, so we got the handicapped spot right out front. I had the special of 2 (which seemed like 4) scrambled eggs, bacon, home fries, and wheat toast, with a small orange juice and lots of water. The parking spot was very advantageous since the thunderstorm was starting as we were leaving the restaurant. Got back to the hotel, dried off, checked out, and hung out in the lobby schmoozing with folks before they all left.
Because of the timing for my flight (8pm departure), I basically had the afternoon to kill. My original plans were to wander around on foot, possibly back to the beach, but the rain made that a less than attractive proposition. Ann and Jason were kind enough to invite me to join them at the Children's Museum but I declined. Instead, I wound up hanging out in the lobby near an electrical outlet so I could recharge the laptop and iPod batteries while watching some saved videos.
At 4:45pm both Mike and Sim came back to the hotel to pick me up. We got to the airport with no trouble, and I cleared Security (there were 2 people in front of me) by 5:20pm. By now, the flight was delayed even further (when I booked it it was a 7:45pm departure; a schedule change moved it to 8:05pm; at 4:00pm it was delayed to 8:45pm, at 5:38pm they'd delayed it to 9:45pm, at 7:43pm they delayed it to 10:20pm, and at 9:56pm they delayed it to 10:48pm. I grabbed lunch/dinner inside the Security perimeter, and finished the second of the two books I brought. I got to my (new) gate and hung out waiting for the previous flight (to Managua) to board so I could get to an electric outlet.
(Yes, that was a 3-plus hour delay at MIA, on top of a 6 hour wait at the hotel lobby. I'm really happy I took Tuesday off work, since this meant I didn't actually get to DTW until 1:45am and didn't get home until about 2:30am.)