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Lunch Capacity

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The RSA conference turns a venue of almost any size into a madhouse. It was particularly so in 2006 on the official opening day.

I arrived in San Jose more than a full day before the conference was to begin since I was delivering a talk and making a bookstore appearance in Denver at the end of the previous week and didn't feel much like zigzagging across the country and timezones just to spend something like sixteen hours at home between trips to Denver and San Jose. By going directly, I was able to make the transition from Denver to San Jose leisurely and found a tremendously convenient restaurant at the Hilton hotel where I had lunch the day before the conference began.

The first day of a conference is typically busy, but things were much busier than usual, as I was dealing with things happening back at the office and trying to get myself connected in addition to the usual start-of-conference headaches. Consequently, it got to be rather late before I was able finally to start looking for lunch. Being tired and annoyed already, I wasn't feeling like dealing with another adventure before eating. I headed back to the Hilton's restaurant.

My first visit there was pleasant; plenty of room could be found and the staff was able to take a few seconds to chat. The scene the next time around was quite different: the place was packed full of vendors' representatives getting a late lunch after working the tradeshow. I'm fairly sure that the seat I took at the bar was the only available seat anywhere in the restaurant.

Although the restaurant appeared to be fully-staffed, it was completely overwhelmed, with everyone running at maximum speed and possibly still falling behind—at three in the afternoon. I ordered a Guinness at got a Coke. Down toward the end of the bar, someone had ordered a hamburger and specified rather particularly exactly which toppings he wanted. He expressed some surprise, as they managed to get the special combination of toppings just perfect but somehow neglected to put a beef patty anywhere on the plate. Just as I had done with my Guinness, he treated the mix-up as an indication of overworked staff and made a joke of it instead of adding to the day's trauma. Of course, he had help in keeping his good humor: his drink order had been delivered correctly—several times.

Right about the time that my lunch arrived, the crowd finally started to thin out and the deafening noise turned into chatter that afforded tidbits of one conversation to be overheard, one after another. Not everyone was as pleasant as the vendor rep who got a hamburger sans hamburger. What I heard betrayed a crowd that despite being able to clean up nicely and to put on the company Polo shirt or a tie was tremendously coarse, not at all refined. I don't mean simply that the language was rough, but underneath it all, there was no substance, as though the point of talking was to demonstrate how crude the speaker can be. Perhaps they envisioned themselves at “the bar,” and therefore “off work,” but I saw no restraint in the name of professional decorum (or anything else, for that matter).

I finished my hamburger, settled the account, and wandered back to the conference. The only way I could tolerate being in that crowd was when the room was so far over capacity that I couldn't hear any of them for the deafening noise of the sum.

Created by cmcurtin
Last modified 2007-01-09 04:35 AM
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