(Last modified 23 August 1997.)

Wanderjahr: Week 51

Locations: Mountain View; Los Angeles; San Bernardino
Dates: 8/3/97 - 8/9/97

Leaving Mountain View for Los Angeles: echoes of almost a year ago... But this time I was traveling with other people, in a different car, and we actually did manage to leave well before noon.

Sarah and I got up Sunday morning and got ready to go; Thida showed up, we piled ourselves and our stuff into the car, and headed south. We took Thida's car, for one very important reason: it has air conditioning. I've been in San Bernardino in August before, you see, and I knew how unpleasant it would be in my uncooled (though not entirely uncool, or so I like to believe) car, especially with three people and their luggage. I drove, to spare Thida's wrists.

At Sarah's request, we stopped at a little tacqueria, called Iris' (that's an apostrophe, not a typo), in Los Banos (or is it Los Baños? The signs were unclear on the matter). Good fish tacos. Then on down I-5, which I still steadfastly refuse to call "the 5," past tomato trucks and garlic trucks (we figured if those collided with a basil truck we'd have some delicious tomato sauce), through the central valley to LA. I figured there was no point in even trying to find a radio station the three of us could agree on (Sarah and I each tend to think the other's favorite music all sounds the same); we passed the time in idle chatter, telling stories from our pasts and playing wordgames.

Showed up at Samuel's in the late afternoon (despite our lack of adequate maps -- I'd carefully gone to AAA to get an LA map, and then failed to examine it to make sure it was a detailed street map, which it turned out not to be). We met Samuel's new housemate (and later re-met his longer-term housemate); I thought the housemates were being even more generous than Samuel in allowing the three of us to occupy the living room, seeing as how they didn't know any of us (Samuel at least knew two of us, more or less).

Thida and Sarah and I walked to a fairly nearby restaurant, where we had pretty good food served by a very attractive waiter. Late in the meal, I saw something out of the corner of my eye, and glanced up to find two attractive young blond women (25ish, though I'm lousy at guessing ages) at the next table, having turned around in their seats, staring blatantly at us (or possibly at me; I think Thida said later that they were definitely not looking at her, and Sarah had her back to them). One of them made eye contact with me; disconcerted, I said something witty like, "Uh, hi." This was apparently the funniest thing either of them had ever heard; they collapsed in a hysterical fit of giggles and whispers. I felt as though I was suddenly back in sixth grade, when our class' identical twins once lazed away an afternoon taunting me with faux flirtation. The young man across the table from the blondes in the restaurant had his head in his hands, clearly embarrassed by their behavior, but as there was no explanation forthcoming, I returned to the conversation with Thida and Sarah already in progress. I was furious, though -- at our neighbors' juvenile behavior, and at myself for so easily regressing into my helpless-nerd-baffled-by-social-interaction childhood. Eventually we paid our check (the two at the next table had continued to giggle, whisper, and sneak glances in our direction; I had refused to look at them directly), and Sarah and Thida preceded me past the offending table and out of the restaurant. I, however, paused before departing long enough to deliver an injured, sarcastic little speech with as much aplomb as I could manage: "We're glad to have afforded you an evening's entertainment." With half a bow, I strode stiffly from the room, ignoring the surprised voices behind me that called out, "Sir? ...Sir?" In retrospect, I regret not having gone back; perhaps there would've been an explanation. But then again, perhaps there would only have been more giggles. Being ridiculed is one of the things I hate most in the world.

I spent most of the walk back going back over the situation in my head, trying to figure out what they'd been laughing at. For once I was reasonably well-groomed, with no obvious lumps of gristle stuck in my teeth or alien life forms growing in my hair; nothing to attract any sort of attention. I hadn't been chewing with my mouth open, espousing stupid opinions, or licking my plate. I don't look like any movie star I've ever seen, so I'm sure it wasn't just been mistaken identity. Thida and Sarah were similarly ordinary in attire and manner. I eventually decided that I would never know what had happened, which annoyed me further but did allow me to enjoy the rest of the evening (which mostly consisted of me writing a column while everyone else watched the end of Somewhere in Time).

Monday we drove downtown, found the convention center, and got our badges. We admired the art show, ran into Robert, and sat around in the screening rooms. In the early evening we went to the VRML Demo SIG, where a couple dozen people and companies were to show off their VRML products. I saw lots of people I knew, but was reluctant to engage in a lot of schmoozing because I'd just spilled water across the front of my shorts and they hadn't had time to dry yet... I then proceeded to make a perhaps-unwise comment regarding Thida's employment situation to the president of the company she was hoping to start working for. (Perhaps I should've carried a video camera this week, to film a "Jed's most embarrassing moments" movie.)

The evening went from embarrassing to unfortunate when, after the lovely demos, we realized we'd failed to have dinner beforehand and were all in low-blood-sugar mode. After numerous difficulties we made it to an Italian restaurant; in order to forestall waffling and "I don't know, where do you want to eat?" conversations, I'd made the final decision between two adjacent restaurants. Unfortunately, the one I picked was the one with the dirty saucers at the table (which I considered no big deal, but which Sarah and Thida found nauseating), and the pretentious chalkboard menus (listing the Italiaan names of two dozen pasta dishes with no explanation whatsoever of what those dishes were) that had to be carried individually by slow waiters to each table. Thida nearly got up and walked out, twice. We all ended up ordering the same thing; I thought it was fine, but Thida and Sarah found it objectionable for a variety of reasons. They continued to tease me about having made a bad choice of restaurant throughout the meal. Sigh.

We then drove up to the LA Zoo for the evening's party. It turned out to be a thick sea of graphics professionals, serenaded by a loud band and go-go dancers in faux-fur animal costumes. I didn't see anyone I knew; Thida introduced us to a couple of people who drifted away shortly thereafter. We spent an hour or so examining the denizens of the nearby reptile house (lots of cool lizards and snakes), and then decided to head back to Samuel's.

Tuesday I managed to wander around the exhibit floor a little, which was fun, and poked my head into the Electric Garden (where they showcase cutting-edge artistic and experimental graphics stuff), and saw the matinee of the Electronic Theatre (a showcase of the latest and greatest computer animation, more or less a subset of the screening-room stuff). There was some good stuff at the Theatre, but there wasn't anything interactive (as there'd been at the last SIGGRAPH I attended); it was really just a two-hour videotape of computer-graphics clips. Ran into Vadim in the theatre lobby afterward. Given transportation both ways, going to the theatre showing took up most of the afternoon... This time we decided to go have dinner before the evening's activities, all well and good except it meant we only made it to the last half-hour of the VRML Tech SIG, where reports were being given on the current state of various VRML-related working groups. This was the one item at SIGGRAPH directly relevant to my job, and I'd wanted to be there for it. I picked up a bunch of interesting info during that half-hour, but when it started to go overtime Sarah started to get worried that we would miss the IMAX movie about special effects that we'd planned to go to that night. Feeling like I was being dragged around by what other people wanted to do, I gave in with ill grace; drove to the IMAX theatre at the California Museum of Science and Industry, got there 30 to 45 minutes before the scheduled showing, and learned that the show had been postponed at least 15 minutes. I stalked off to cool down; ended up spending most of the time reading James Joyce out behind the theatre. The movie was okay, but nothing particularly thrilling or surprising (and a year or two old). I'd calmed down enough to be civil by the end of it; we headed back to Samuel's.

Wednesday morning I woke up bright and early and took Thida to the airport. Fifteen minutes to get there, over 30 to get back. Then Sarah and I headed off to the conference.

Spent the day wandering around on my own, mostly on the exhibit floor. At 1 pm, went to the Addison-Wesley booth (I'd stopped by there the day before to pick up an author ribbon, but the box containing said ribbons had disappeared in transit) for my book signing. Said hi to Gavin Bell and Mark Kilgard, who'd just finished their own signings; talked with friendly AW folks, read Variety, leafed through an interesting-looking book called Digital Illusion. About a dozen people came up to talk to me; all but two of those wanted to know prices for other AW books, and figured since I was sitting at the booth I must work there. Quite a few people came up to the table, stood right in front of the sign proclaiming that there was an author signing going on, and joyously grabbed one of the books -- one of Mark's books, that is.

One guy demanded that I tell him why my book was better than Rikk & Gavin's. I explained that the two were complementary and aimed at slightly different audiences. He didn't seem convinced; he wanted me to give him a sales pitch... He said he'd come back and get one later so he didn't have to carry it around with him.

And finally, one guy bought the book and asked me to sign it. Whee. Good thing I'd been through a signing at VRML 97 and so knew what (or rather, how little) to expect... But on the plus side, the AW folks said our book had been selling well; they'd sold 25 copies the previous day, which apparently is pretty good as these things go. It's even in its second printing! Which is kinda unfortunate, actually, since AW was supposed to let us know when they were going to reprint so we could correct some typos and other minor errors. Oops.

Wednesday late afternoon Sarah and I met up with Vadim and Amy and we all went to an incredibly good Ethiopian place for an early dinner. Huge quantities of delicious food, so good that Sarah and I took the remains of it home with us (not easy to do with Ethiopian food). Afterward, Amy took Vadim off to the airport, and Sarah and I went back to Samuel's.

Thursday I watched some more animation in the screening rooms, including "The Shapemaker Prelude," a trailer for an as-yet-unmade film by Mark Allen, whom I'd known in high school and re-encountered at our reunion last fall. He'd sent out email saying the Prelude was being shown at SIGGRAPH, and that he'd be giving a presentation about it on Thursday afternoon at the Apple booth. I went to the presentation, which gave me a greater appreciation for the trailer -- he made the whole thing on about $1000, with a day's volunteer labor from some actor and techie friends, doing all the sets and effects and postproduction and music on his Macintosh.

I went up and talked with Mark for a while after the presentation. He introduced me to Misty West, who'd been involved with VRML for some time and had been teaching it at SFSU. I spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around alternately with Mark and with Misty and some friends of hers (Kiki and Karen). Misty, it developed, knew pretty much everyone associated with VRML; we couldn't go ten steps without running into someone else she knew. Eventually I decided to go find some folks at the SGI booth to inquire after my employment situation; I hadn't gone ten steps when I ran into Clive...

The afternoon passed in a chaos of people, mostly people I didn't know; fun, but exhausting.

Friday we stopped by SIGGRAPH for a final couple of hours; I mostly poked through the Electric Garden to see if I'd missed anything there. Then we had lunch and drove out to Fontana (just west of San Bernardino) for Sarah to visit the DMV and get her driving permit. While she was taking her test, I took Thida's car to get an oil change. Afterward, we continued on to Ananda & Sam's place.

They introduced us to various new pets, and reintroduced us to various older pets. We talked about Ananda's new job, gaming, movies, life, and the relative merits of Silicon Valley and San Bernardino. (I'm afraid the latter has few.) The guest room only has one bed, so I left it to Sarah and slept under a table on my trusty sleeping pad...

Saturday we roamed around. I discovered that I'd accidentally walked off with Samuel's toothpaste (well, it looked like mine!), so spent some time trying to find a padded envelope in which to mail it back to him. We drove up into the mountains for some cooler air, bought some delicious fudge, walked around by a tourist-trap lake. We kept Ananda up too late again (she has to get up early these days), talking well into Sunday morning.

Movies, Books, etc.

The Maltese Falcon, by Dashiell Hammett
It turns out that the movie was remarkably true to the book, except for the physical description of Sam Spade (described as "a blond Satan" in the book), to the point that it's hard not to read the dialogue in the voices of the actors from the movie. Which is to say, the book is about as good as the movie, and that's saying a lot.

Jed Hartman <logos@kith.org>