As you all know, I spent last weekend in San Francisco at the Foodbuzz Blogger Festival. I got back home on Monday, but it’s taken me since then to process what happened last weekend enough to discuss it. If you read my Twitter postings, or if you’re really good at picking up cues, you may have surmised by now that I had a less than stellar time. Part of that has to do with my state of mind going in, the rest of it has to do with the actions of some of my fellow bloggers. The only ones who are totally blameless in this fiasco is Foodbuzz themselves, who planned out a stellar series of events and planned things (like assigned tables at the event on the first night) that would force people outside the insular groups they were hanging with.
First things first – let’s talk about my expectations for this weekend. In many ways, I see myself as an ambassador for our fine city – when I travel, I love to try to tell and show others that we’re not just some cowtown in a flyover state, that we have tons of creative types that make Columbus a wonderful place to live. I love bringing foodie gifts, especially, because if people can taste for themselves, one bite says more to them than an hour of my talking the city up.
In addition, I wanted to go because many of those going are people whose blogs I read regularly, whose recipes have won raves from my friends and family, and I actually wanted to meet them face to face so I could put a face to the name and vice versa.
Lastly, the events planned sounded amazing – a street food fair on Day 1? Breakout sessions (esp. one on food photography) on Day 2? A Tasting Plaza on Day 2? A lavish dinner in the Ferry Building on Day 2? A Farewell Brunch on Day 3? Sign me up! I couldn’t think of anything more awesome than sharing these things with fellow foodies, people who would understand my compulsive need to journal my experiences and my fascination with photographing every morsel of food that hits my table when dining out. My only experience with other food bloggers before this point had been with the local Columbus food bloggers, many of whom I consider friends because we’ve bonded over a meal (or two, or five), we’ve come out to support each other in events, and because each of us have done our small part to promote things that make Columbus so unique. I may not have been born here, but Columbus and it’s residents have embraced me with open arms and it’s where I consider home these days.
A little bit of back story leading up to getting to the hotel from the airport. Many of you may not know that I have some severe orthopedic issues (degenerative disk disease and spondylolisthesis, carpal tunnel syndrome, frayed meniscus and generally shot knees, lots of osteoarthritis, thoracic outlet syndrome, and some pretty severe peripheral neuropathy, which acts up more when I become inflamed in one of the previous areas) that limits my mobility. I can walk pretty well (although once I hit the steep hills of San Francisco, even that was called into question), but don’t do well at all on stairs of any sort.
So I get into SFO pretty early (10ish) – the plane ride in was fairly uneventful, thankfully – and manage to make it over to the BART station and on a train headed to Powell St, where I hoped to score a Muni pass ($20 for 3 days of unlimited use of the cable cars, buses and Muni trains) so I could hop on a cable car that would be able to let me off right in front of my hotel.
After talking to a surly BART employee who cut me off twice before I could even get my question out, I got on the right train (there were 2 different ones to choose from) Am I the only one who thinks the BART trains smell like pee? And they weren’t kidding about that rapid part. I had a hard time holding on to the pole so I didn’t go flying with my other hand grabbing my bags so they wouldn’t go flying. I had no idea what stop was what (you can’t hear the speaker over the din of the train), so I counted stops so I’d be sure to get off at the right one. The train let me out into this huge underground depot, with me not being able to find an elevator. There was one on the other end of the building, so about 30 minutes later I manage to make it to the surface – I was unsure which direction to go in (because none of the street signs said Powell), so I picked a direction and walked until I found the cable cars. This is where everything started going horribly, horribly wrong. The step going up into the cable car is so high up, that it took every ounce of upper body strength I had to manage to pull myself up. It took a few tries, but finally I am able to get in, and let the conductor know where I am going to – he promised to let me know when my stop was coming up, and would alert the driver to stop so I could get off. Not having ever gone to San Francisco before this, I wasn’t sure how far the hotel was from where I started. The first clue I had that he had missed my stop completely was when we arrived at Fisherman’s Wharf.
So I had rode the entire route, start to finish. The conductor seemed sincerely apologetic, and made sure I got on the cable car going in the other direction (again with the pulling myself up) and I finally did make it to my hotel, somewhere close to 1pm. I had already been up since 2am so I could catch my 5:30am (Eastern) flight, and by East coast standards, it was 4pm already. 14 hours into my day. I got settled into my hotel room, then wandered out to find something to eat. At first, I headed in the wrong direction, made it halfway up the huge steep hill, felt my legs shaking and threatening to buckle under me, and realized I needed to turn around because where I was going in the other direction. A rather flat 3 block walk lead me to Katana-ya, a ramen shop where I picked up lunch (more about that later).
I took my leftovers back with me to the hotel, where exhausted, I proceeded to take a 90 minute nap before I went downstairs to the lobby to catch the shuttle bus to the Street Food Fair at Fort Mason.
I woke up, freshened up a bit, feeling a little better, and headed downstairs to meet some other people. Except the scene down there was nothing like I pictured. Everybody was clumped together in small groups of 2-5 people, essentially ignoring everything else going on around them. I’m not the type who will insert myself into the middle of a group and conversation, so I panicked a bit. I scanned the room quickly and saw one other person who wasn’t grouped off, and sat down next to him and engaged him in conversation. He was polite and spoke to me for a couple of minutes, then left for greener pastures. So I sat there alone on the couch, hoping some other person who was there alone, knowing no one, would see me and do the same thing I just did – come over and engage me in conversation. Unfortunately, that never happened.
The buses finally arrive, and people start piling on them in preparation for heading up to Fort Mason. I finally get to the door of the bus, and this step is even higher up than the one on the cable car. I was absolutely humiliated, because it took me pulling up with all my might and two people pushing me up from behind to get me on that bus, finally. I skulked off to the back of the bus where I was ready to cry. Even though I’m smaller than I have been in ages (~250 lbs), I felt absolutely huge, the way I always do when I have physical limitations slap me in the face at the most inopportune times.
I’ll talk about street food fair in detail in another post, but other than spending a few minutes talking to some really nice people whose table I was assigned to, I really didn’t connect with anyone at this event. The only way you could identify who was who was by looking at tag that hung on a lanyard around their necks, which almost always ended up strategically located right at boob level. So if you wanted to look at someone’s tag, it was awkward, to say the least.
It was about this time that I realized how utterly cliquey this weekend was going to be. The people who were paired off into groups at the hotel were still paired off at this event too. And right about then it occurred to me that if I hadn’t found someone to hang with by now, it was too late. Peer groups and pecking order had already been established, and to all of these groups, even those that didn’t include the popular bloggers, I was an outsider looking in. It was so very high school, and very much like high school, I realized that I was a loner who didn’t fit well into any group, and that if I hung with any one group, I would still be an outsider who was tolerated but not truly included. So I made my way alone through the event, sitting alone at the table after the foodie gift exchange was over, taking some pictures, waiting in line alone for food, etc. Hoping to avoid the humiliation of the earlier bus ride, I called a cab and went back to the hotel early, about 8pm. I got into jammies and spent the rest of the night getting a couple hours of rest and Twittering about how friggin’ miserable I was.
The next day, I skipped out on the morning session I was signed up for so that I could go to the farmers market to recharge. Those of you who know me know that a good farmers market has healing properties for me – it gives me peace, perspective, and the ability to put trust in people again. The guy from Roli Roti remembered me from the night before, and smiled that I was back for more just as he was opening. I browsed the more than 120 vendors and sampled to my heart’s content. I bought some fruit and other things to eat in my hotel room and to send back home. I talked to some really cool people when I was sitting at the tables with a wonderful view of the Bay Bridge eating my lunch – an older lady from Walnut Creek who had lived in Columbus in the 1960′s – a lady photographer from Texas who was there for a National Geographic conference and who took an awesome picture of me against the skyline of San Francisco. By the time I left a few hours later, I had a bag full of stuff, and all of the pain and awkwardness and embarrassment from the night before had been washed away, replaced by inner peace and love for the city and for probably the best farmers market I’ve been to in my life.
I was unsure about heading to the tasting plaza – I was a bit spooked from the night before so I wasn’t sure if I wanted to replace the peace with apprehension and nerves. P., on the phone with me, tried to ease my fears and told me I should go, that I shouldn’t miss any of the experience on account of other people.
My experience at the tasting plaza was horrible. I got pushed and jostled around so much that I had bruises all over my arms. While trying to walk backwards out of a tight space someone started saying “beep-beep-beep” and called me “double wide”. People cut in front of me in line like I wasn’t even there. If I walked up to one of the standing tables in the center of the room to eat my food the couple of people already there looked at me, said “let’s go” and moved away quickly. I tried to engage with a woman from Canada whose blog I read regularly and she totally blew me off. I accidentally got in the way of a woman’s shot, immediately noticed and apologized profusely and backed away, and she was nasty to me in return. It was totally mean girls central. By this point, I said to myself, “I’ve had enough of this shit” and left and totally gave up on attending any more Foodbuzz functions. If you keep putting yourself out there and it becomes painfully obvious that every time you try to engage you get shit on, it’s just totally masochistic to keep putting yourself (and your pride, and your feelings) on the line.
I’m not saying that everyone that attended this shindig was a nasty person. I’m sure that probably 90% of the people who attended are perfectly nice people. Maybe most people, because they were part of a group, didn’t realize how insular and impermeable their groups were. Maybe I had a scowl on my face from being so unhappy (the one picture I saw of me this weekend, I’m the only person not smiling) and that kept people from wanting to know me. For a while, I thought “maybe this is all in my head and maybe I’m the problem”, but others who have been to this and other blogging conferences have had similar experiences.
I skipped out on the huge Gala dinner (was still upset from the Tasting Plaza) and the Farewell Brunch (didn’t have anyone to say goodbye to), and left early on Sunday for a quick stop at the Ferry Building to pick up something I had ordered the day before, and then to the airport for an 8 hour wait to get on my plane. Needless to say, I was happy to be home, although in general my trip to San Francisco wasn’t an entirely pleasant one, mainly because I was there alone and I hate traveling alone. I hope to someday go back with P. so I can wander outside of Union Square and replace some bad memories with good ones that I’ll make with him.
The point of this whole screed is to get it out there, so it isn’t the huge white elephant in the room when I’m talking about my trip, and to maybe bring to light some of the issues so the same thing doesn’t happen to someone else next year. Me? I probably won’t be back to a blogging conference ever again. It took me a lot to come out from behind the computer screen and get involved in my own town, let alone in something as huge as that Foodbuzz Blogger Festival. Once bitten, twice shy, right?
But if any of you are in Columbus and ever want to hang, drop me an email at columbusfoodieATgmailDOTcom. I’m still willing to be an ambassador for Columbus and can show you the time of your life and why living here is so awesome. I haven’t lost my passion for that, or for blogging about my individual experiences, but my group experiences, in the future, will be with people who already accept me for who I am and see that I am worth getting to know, even if the package comes in a brown paper wrapper rather than beautifully wrapped in gorgeous wrapping paper and ribbons. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
If I missed meeting you last weekend, and if I was someone you wanted to talk to, but didn’t for whatever reason, give me a holler. I still want to get to know you, even if it’s not face to face.