Picking my way through the knot of idling taxis and stepping into the airy desert-tan lobby of the San Diego Marriott Marina, I was reminded once again that every BlogHer conference has certain notes that must always be played, year after year. The entrance into a strange hotel lobby is the chord, disorienting but musical, that starts everything off.
This year’s BlogHer did not start well for me. My wife had left for the conference the previous morning, and through a combination of bad luck (5%) and terrible timing (95%), I’d booked a flight that took most of the day and involved a much-too-long layover in the barren departure lounge of a regional airline that flew out of LAX to points as far as Fresno (or “Fresnuh,” as the dispatcher called it). On top of that, one of my cats had bitten me around 5 a.m., and I had spent the morning in the emergency room, waiting for a tetanus shot and a prescription while the clock ticked down to my scheduled departure time.
The disorientation of arrival was relieved by the familiar energy of a BlogHer conference. Half of the lobby was full of women jostling each with other their carry-on luggage as they lined up at the check-in counter. Cutting crosswise through the sea of confused and tired people were women in smart colourful dresses and heels, already dressed for the night’s parties. Circulating among them were bewildered families who had the questionable fortune of booking a hotel in the middle of a social media conference, and now bumped around the lobby like particles caught helplessly in Brownian motion.
A few minutes and several texts after arriving, Schmutzie found me. Then we stumbled on Alice, who was worrying her phone in the hope that it would summon Eden Kennedy from her hiding place. We eventually sat down in the lounge, which was full of my tribe. I sat down next to a woman who had flirted with me jokingly a year ago in New York. Around the table conversations were picking up, some of them continuations of Twitter threads from earlier that day, some rethreadings of heartfelt talks from a year ago.
This is my third BlogHer, and as such I know several people by name – Neil Kramer, Bonnie Stewart, Kate Inglis, Tracy Gaughran-Perez, Jon Sponaas – which spares me the embarrassment of scrutinizing random faces against my memory of a thousand or more avatars. Augmented reality apps could make a fortune from these kinds of get-togethers. For the sake of convenience, and for the sake of truth, I thought of these people as my tribe.
Social media conferences, after a time, ferment into a sweet-sour blend of the real and the virtual, bonding with a million invisible little strands until there is no substantial difference between the two. Humans live in a virtual reality already, bridging year-long gaps with no more rope than a few reintroductions will allow. Around the table we cancelled the strangeness of the situation by simply ignoring it until it bubbled away.
After a beer or two, the conversation shifted into planning the evening. BlogHer is besieged by parties. Some are open to all attendees, some are by invitation only. Around the circuit of official parties, quasi-official and bootleg parties spring up, demanding even more of your time. On that night I counted the People’s Party, the Queerosphere Party, a couple of brand-associated soirees and the MamaPop writers’ party, an off-site event that would have to be tracked down. Since I was a MamaPop writer it was obvious where I should be.
The MamaPop party was housed on the second floor of the Keating Hotel, a kind of central chamber in the swarming hive of San Diego’s restaurant and bar district.”Sangria on special!” one girl called out halfheartedly. “Karaoke night, be your own star!” another barker shouted out with considerable enthusiasm, as a group of tall and obnoxiously white-toothed Australians blocked everyone’s way by taking up the entire sidewalk and a few feet of parking space. Patio diners looked on in sympathy.
It’s hard to describe the experience of meeting up with MamaPop writers. I spend every weekday talking back and forth with my co-writers, trading bad lines and stupid jokes and atrocious gifs on email, occasionally seeing sides of people that they don’t expose to the public or even their own families. Seeing them in the flesh, gathered together in one humid spot, felt like a physical force. There were hugs and screams and smiles and strange moments galore. Occasionally the crowd would thin out, but then another infusion of people would pour in from some other nearby party, and another round of hugs and smiles and screams would start. Flash bulbs popped, screw tops cracked and pizza neatly unboxed itself. I poured myself a cranberry and vodka and settled in for the evening.