Twitchhiker | Paul Smith's travel tales from here and there


Day 14/15 – Good Morning America, goodbye Texas
17/03/2009, 16:52
Filed under: twitchhiker project | Tags: , , ,

Twitchhiker - Good Morning America

My weekend at SXSW in Austin was all about one word; Good Morning America. Alright, so that’s more of a phrase, but it’s also a name of ABC’s breakfast television show broadcast across the nation. I said them together so often over the weekend they may as well have formed a seven syllable word.

And there we go, off and away. I’m a 3rd dan master procrastinator (at least I would be if a) I’d not put off attending the procrastination classes, and b) such classes actually existed) so while I should be continuing to write this post, I’m instead consuming what precious little time I have with failing to find examples of actual seven syllable words, and instead reading pages of odd facts about the English language. Here are some of them:

  • Cabbaged and fabaceae, each eight letters long, are the longest words that can be played on a musical instrument.
  • The only city whose name can be spelled completely with vowels is Aiea, Hawaii.
  • The slash character is called a virgule, or solidus.
  • The word “girl” appears only once in the Bible.
  • The dot over the letter ‘i’ is called a tittle.
  • “Lollipop” is the longest word that can be typed using only the right hand.

I’ve just checked that last fact; it’s bollocks. I’ve just typed “lollipop” with my left thumb. Lollipop. See, I’ve just done it again. Nonsense.

Where, was I? Oh yes, pontificating. Anyway. After three brief hours of sleep on a foldaway bed in Matt’s hotel room, I rubbed my eyes to life and fingered my iPod Touch. Email. Lots of it. One in particular:

Twitchhiker - Good Morning America!

I’d been to the US enough times to know that Good Morning America is a reasonably big deal, so the possibility of promoting both the journey and Charity: water on national television was too good to pass up. Was it the right thing to do, some tweeps wondered? Wasn’t Twitchhiker hiker about relying on Twitter for help, rather than the media? I couldn’t make the distinction; since neither Jane at Hundredth Monkey or I had contacted any press directly, then all of the attention Twitchhiker was receiving had occurred as a result of Twitter. If the media had picked up on it, if people had talked to one another about it, it was because Twitter had found a way to reach them. Every offer of help I’ve received, every follower who’s found me, every request for a interview – all of it could be traced back, directly or indirectly, to my very first tweet on February 2nd.

I spoke to the show’s producer, Ted Winner (a more Americanised meeja name, you could not wish to have) and agreed to shoot some “B-roll” with a camera team that afternoon, to mix in with a live interview the following morning. There were two points I failed to consider when I agreed to this interview:

  • filming anything for television can see ice ages come and go
  • an interview on breakfast television meant no misbehaving with Captain Stella and first mate Jim Bean the evening before

Damnation. I’d effectively written off my two days at SXSW before they’d began. And so I saw no panels, talked to very few people  in the trade hall (except to make a complete dick of myself in front of Jeff Jarvis, a writer and thinker I deeply admire – it was a level of gurning, speechless dickishness that was uncomfortable for all concerned) and I spent just an hour at the legendary festival parties on Saturday night.

Everything in television moves at the pace of cold rice pudding. I spent nearly three hours with the camera team on Saturday afternoon. I did it all – up escalators, down escalators, up 6th street, across it, down it, walk up a hill, Twitter, Twitter, Twitter, walk down a hill, and so on. The live interview on Sunday morning was scheduled for 0617, so the camera team and Syd the producer turned up at 4am to clear the bar of Mac-clutching drunks, in order to light the set. For a 90 second interview. Madness. Give me radio every time.

I did find an hour to catch up with the delightful and well-rounded Jemima Kiss from the Guardian (she’s expecting a baby, see) and witnessed her struggle to find a vegetarian option for lunch at J Kelly’s BBQ; she settled for a side of both coleslaw and potato salad – even the beans looks distinctly meaty.

There was a short and sharp interview for the BBC with @darrenwaters, a chat with BlogTalkRadio (which @arcticmatt recorded and posted on Qik) and a good old yack with the very jolly freelance journalist @Katchooo. Otherwise, whatever time I didn’t spend writing the blog was spent been irritated with new media wankers who’d only entertain a conversation if you were important to them, or could introduce them to somebody who was. That included a British dot com CEO who looked me up and down as if I’d shat on his favourite pillow, then turned his back on me.

At a time when the recession has shown up web 2.0’s preferred business model for the nonsense it was (“Build it! Sell it! Don’t worry how to monetise it!”), I’d have expected there to be a little more humility at the event. That’s not to tar everyone with the same brush; SXSW was the expected mix of college kids, ubergeeks and the curious (and the male: female ratio wasn’t as skewed as you might think, either) and what I saw for the majority of my time there was a great deal of fun.

Meanwhile Twitter had found a way to move me on from Austin, but it wasn’t as expected. I only received one offer of help – a flight from Austin to San Francisco – so as in Wheeling, I had to abandon my plans to continue by land. Making the offer was @marklad2020 from Zurich, another mysterious stranger that I’d never shake the hand of, another distant individual kind enough to help me on my way.

I’d taken up the offer of a road trip to Texas because I’d assumed the critical twittering mass attending SXSW would seal the deal and guarantee I’d never go without support for the rest of the trip. It wasn’t the case. Other tweeps had established that it’d cost just a dollar for me to travel by bus from Austin to the airport – they tweeted it, repeated it, tagged it, repeated it some more, but not one single person at the festival (aside from the likes of @arcticmatt and @justingsouter who I knew in the flesh) offered to help. My eventual knight in shining armour was trainee librarian @hallienoves, a resident of North Austin who had offered help with accommodation several days earlier.

The flight from Austin to San Diego was close to unbearable. Unrestricted seating on a full flight saw me wedged up against the bulkhead at the very back of the plane, in the middle seat. With no room to recline, the snotty eight year-old in front of me propelled his seat at speed back into my knees. For his trouble he received the occasional and sudden blow to the back of his headrest.

Once I’d arrived in San Diego, the caphony of screaming children and wild-eyed cowboys kept me company, as we waited for our increasingly late flight. Fortunately the two tweeps I was relying on in San Francisco, @ericwestbrook (who was picking me up from the aiport) and @thumbble (who provided my airbed for the evening) were gracious enough to wait past midnight, when they’d have been well within their rights to tell me to get stuffed.


7 Comments so far
Leave a comment

i believe the word Girl is in the bible 10 times

Comment by @thomasstanley

It was a pleasure to meet you and help out a bit. Can’t wait to see what happens next!!

Comment by Helen

Aw, Paul… you deserved better. Those “new media wankers” have no idea what they’re missing when they pass up an opportunity to hang out with you.

I used to want to go to SXSW, some years ago, then forgot about it until Twitter reminded me last year. I’m already bored with it and haven’t even been! After reading this, I’m ready to forget again that it exists.

You are a patient & determined man to put up with so much frustration & keep on going. I know I wouldn’t have the energy to handle so much discomfort without completely losing touch with sanity.

You really hoped to have more of a road trip heading west? That would’ve meant at least two long days of driving through desert. Yes, the Grand Canyon is impressive, but getting to the South Pacific before your time is up will be more impressive. The southwestern US will be there later for you to see at your leisure.

I hope your next stop after Sonoma County is west and south, somewhere far from the US west coast.

Comment by Cindy "WichitaCindy" Stanford

This is becoming compelling reading, thank you! And, San Francisco isn’t such a bad place, just need someone to get you to LA and you’d be going in the right direction for where you want to end up.

I hope that plenty of people watching Good Morning America donate and think about how they use Water too.

Comment by Wink Lorch

Not to brag, but… Eric Westbrook is new to San Francisco. Prior to moving out there a few months ago to pursue his Bay Area dreams, Eric and his family were Wichitans. He was one of the first locals I met on Twitter last summer.

Comment by Cindy "WichitaCindy" Stanford

The fact about the word “girl” in the Bible has captured the RE department in the school where I work.

They have, indeed, found the word girl several times but it all depends on the version / translation of the Bible you are reading.

Good luck for the rest of your journey, Paul.
I’m continuing to follow.

Comment by @withoutmotive

To continue the tangent…

There’s a few problems with the ‘girl’ question. (1) Which bible? The Christian bible or Hebrew bible? (2) ‘girl’ is obviously English while the original language of either bible is not – so you’re dependent on a translator, (3) ‘girl’ is actually a pretty vague word with many alternatives that may be preferable because of context/culture/genre/etc.

So I don’t know Greek so I’m of little help there. In Hebrew though you can find several ‘female’ words used within Tanakh. ‏עלמה‎ (7x – maiden), ‏אשה‎ (751x – woman), ‏בת‎ (493x – daughter).

As a point of reference the word for ‘boy’ ‏נער‎ only occurs 17x.

Comment by Paul




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