August 14-17, 2005
Who holds a conference in Texas in August??
I attended the Botany 2005 conference at the Austin Hilton this year.
This was my first scientific conference, and although I
did not present, as I have nothing to tell people yet, I learned what
to expect from conferences, observed what makes a good and bad talk or
poster, met some people, bought the t-shirt, and got some ideas for my
project. One talk in particular, from a person at U. Florida, was
fantastic and hearing it was almost worth the price of admission.
Hilton is a fabulous, absolutely brand-spanking new hotel with
flirtatious doormen and excessive air conditioning. I was distressed by
the overall lack of things to eat at the conference, though. Back in my
previous life, our conferences and meetings always had donuts at the
very least. Economists can't live without pastries! Here, we had all
the water we could drink, and coffee (no
tea) was grudgingly doled out twice a day. Luckily, there are lots of
other places to get food in town, provided you're willing to walk in
99-degree heat and 110% humidity.
I stayed in the Dobie Center, a privately-owned dorm just south of the
UT campus, and proceeded to get
lost every single time I walked into the building for the next three
days. The dorm also had
the world's most uncomfortable beds and was freezing inside, and my
next door neighbor apparently had a party every night I was there.
However, it was 1/3 the price of the hotel.
Transit is decent in Austin, cheap (50 cents, or free, depending on the
route), and not very heavily used. I went to the conference in the
morning, then returned at noon to the
dump my stuff and eat at Schlotzsky's, which I have missed terribly
since they left Chicago. I then walked from the dorm north to campus,
which is very pretty and entirely unlike campuses in colder climes. The
architecture is a mix of classical Beaux Arts and Spanish mission,
white marble and red tile roofs and inspirational quotes above the
infamous bell tower at UT that figured into Charles Whitman's
killing spree in 1966
Next I walked south from campus to the State Capitol, whose
are crammed full of symbolic memorials and gorgeous ancient live oak
Texas State Capitol Building
Monument to the Texas Rangers
cute old church
north of Capitol
From there I continued south on Congress and west along the
river to leave a flower at Stevie Ray Vaughan's memorial. I was very
irritated that I'd forgotten my iPod, and had to settle for sitting
quietly with him and playing Little Wing in my head for a while. You
know he died 15 years ago this month?
Ray Vaughan memorial on the shore of Town Lake
By this time, I was getting horribly overheated and would have given
$10 for either a drink or a bus, but neither was to be found amidst the
tangle of pedestrian bridges and riverside highways. Instead I plowed
on and headed towards the
Treaty Oak site, where mirabile dictu,
the lot is surrounded on two sides
by an upscale strip mall containing a Ben and Jerry's. A sympathetic
employee sold me a bottle of water and refilled it for me after I
drained it. Then of course I had a vanillachill, because I may be tired
but I'm not insane.
Bridge across the Colorado
Congress Avenue Bridge
Bromeliads in a tree at
The 500-year-old Treaty Oak,
valiantly fighting off development pressure and vandalism
After the Treaty Oak, I walked north along Lamar, poking into a couple
of shops, admiring the houses perched on the hillsides, and returned to
Congress, hoping for a Dillo (The dillos are free! The dillos are free!
proclaim these cute little trolley buses). No dice, and I ended up
walking back to Dobie,
where I collapsed in a soggy puddle. Later I scored an indifferent gyro
from a Chinese lady at the downstairs mall, visited the comic book
store, and went to bed.
Moonlight towers, very odd
light fixtures unique to
I spent all day Tuesday at the conference, with a break for lunch at
Chipotle. In the early evening I attended a new member reception, with
blue corn chips and queso and cold Shiner Bock. I drank my two free
beers rather quickly and was fuzzy-headed when I left the hotel, but
about 2 blocks later the heat and exercise had burned off the alcohol
entirely. I walked south on Congress to just across the river, where I
watched the Mexican free-tailed bat flight. There were people lined up
the bridge and in the park below - it's a major event. Close to sunset,
one bat flew out,
then another, then ten, then suddenly they were streaming out and
swirling through the air in an incredible and eerily silent display.
They continued to stream out for at least 20 minutes, probably more - I
left once the sun was down. The spectators were quiet and appreciative,
and nobody seemed to mind the faint mist of bat pee. It's a good idea
not to stare up at the bats with your mouth
hanging open in awe.
prime viewing season for the Congress Avenue Bat Flight, where 1.5
million Mexican free-tailed bats stream out from joints under the
Congress Avenue bridge every evening in search of tasty bugs. It was
fascinating although I don't think my little digital camera does it
justice. More info here: http://www.batcon.org/discover/congress.html
Sign is hard to read;
"You are going to get peed on"
Back to the dorm (by bus this time) and a dinner of granola and juice
because it was late.
Had actually planned on skipping lunch today so I could have a
Starbucks breakfast and then an early dinner at the airport, but when
the lunch break comes along and you have nothing to do, you might as
well eat. Today's lunch was at Cozzoli's ("From New York!"). Their
pizza was strange and bready and greasy and had no sauce to speak of. I
fantasized about envious Austinites gathering round my table while I
taught them what pizza is supposed to be like by sketching a
cross-section of Chicago-style deep-dish. Not that anyone
expects pizza to be good in Austin, and I have to admit that I did not
try any tex-mex or barbecue while I was there. The thought of partaking
in a local eatery like Antone's or Stubb's made me feel lonely and
gloomy, so I stuck to
familiar chains whenever possible, despite Austin's concerted effort to
avoid chainification (part of the admirable "Keep Austin Weird" local
and arts campaign). I attended a session in the afternoon that
degenerated into grad students going on at length about strategies for
GRE, so I slipped out and caught the airport bus (50 cents is much
better than $20+ for a cab!) and was in the air an hour later on an AA
plane that smelled like pee. Home was a downright frigid 82 and I was
very glad to be there with my sweetie and my doggies and my mattress.
Back to Chapter the Fourth