Several weeks ago we had a cookout to celebrate my birthday. A lot of friends joined me, and I think everyone had a good time. The evening flew past, though, and I didn’t feel like I got to spend nearly enough time with any one person or couple.

The following weekend we hosted another cookout, this time for my sister and her husband. Another large group of people joined us, and it was a real delight to see so many kids enjoying the backyard and the playhouse. Everyone was well fed, and the afternoon seemed to last a really long time. When I checked the time, though, I was astonished to learn that only two hours had elapsed. Shortly after this, the skies darkened, the winds picked up, and thunder boomed out across the neighborhood. In an absolute flash we had the entire cookout shut down and cleaned up. Literally everyone pitched in, and within seven minutes we were all sitting comfortably on the porch, enjoying our beverages, and watching the rain pour down. I joked that we could all pursue promising careers as carnies, given our rapid tear down of the event.

The air was cool after the rain, and there was no rush to do anything at all, so we simply stayed on the porch. We were all laughing, and feeling good, and genuinely enjoying the simple pleasure of company. We stayed on the porch until the wee hours of the morning, and I was absolutely stunned to realize that many hours had slipped by so quickly!

The following weekend was the weekend in which everything seemed to be happening: Origins, ComFest, PodCamp Ohio, and my dad’s birthday cookout. Things started Friday night when Owen arrived in Columbus. He picked me up, and I directed him to Goodale Park, so that he could see for himself what ComFest was all about. We meandered around a bit, and I shared a little of the event’s history with him. We both gawked at the people, and enjoyed a little of the music playing throughout the park. At 8 PM I took my leave from him, and started my shift as a bartender at the Jazz Bar.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: selling beer at ComFest is one of the most entertaining ways to volunteer. The other bartenders have always been good-natured, and are almost always in a good mood. The crowds are usually mellow, and happy to receive the liquid gold you provide to them. My shift was over almost before I knew it.

A word of advice to anyone attending ComFest, or any similar event at which large plastic mugs can be purchased: always purchase as clear of a mug as you can. I further recommend against a koozie for your mug. The clearer the mug, the easier it is for the bartender to ensure that you get more beer than foam. Dark mugs, and mugs wrapped up in a koozie, present a real challenge, especially as the evening draws on, and you’re often left guessing by weight alone how much beer might be in the mug. Every person with a clear mug absolutely got beer poured to the top of the mug.

I coerced Owen into picking me up from ComFest, and then treated him to a late snack at The Blue Danube. The Dube has been a favorite haunt of mine since college, and I try to expose as many out-of-town friends as I can. It was at the Blue Danube that Chris, Rich, Owen, and I officially conceived and started Habari.

After only a scant few hours of sleep I was up again, in order to help PodCamp Ohio. I had volunteered to help the check-in desk, so I had to be there an hour before things officially opened. There was already a small crowd of volunteers when I arrived. We quickly established the check-in process, and settled in to wait for guests to arrive. We had about 150 people show up for the event, the overwhelming majority of which had pre-registered. Everyone seemed pretty excited about the day’s event, and there was a very positive vibe radiating from most everyone. There were a lot of video cameras recording impromptu interviews. I think things got a little silly when someone used a webcam to stream the (by then largely dormant) check-in desk online.

I have mixed opinions about PodCamp, which might merit a more complete post after I’ve had some time to really distill them. The day wasn’t terrible, but I don’t think it was what I had been expecting. As someone who put up money to help Habari be a Gold Sponsor of the event, I don’t think we got our money’s worth, which is deeply disappointing. The day felt at several times like it was dragging on, but that’s likely because I had plans I was looking forward to later in the evening, and because I only attended two sessions.

Judging from the Twitter and blog chatter I’ve seen, most people seemed to have a considerably better time than I did, and I’m glad that the event was a positive one for them. Maybe I’ve just been using Internet communications tools for so long that I’m too jaded to get excited about building communities online – I mean, I’ve been building and participating in online communities for over a decade now. Of course, I do so for the value it provides me in its own right, rather than for monetization, which was the focus of at least several PodCamp sessions, so maybe I wasn’t the target audience.

After PodCamp, I high-tailed it home, and then over to my dad’s house for his birthday party. He had the entire affair catered, so he got to spend the whole evening socializing with his friends and neighbors. There was a marked difference about this party from most of dad’s other cookouts, which I found interesting. Usually, there are small factions of people who know one another, sitting together. Sometimes there’s some cross-pollination, but it’s usually brief, and very perfunctory. At this party, though, I saw a lot of people really mingling, and interacting with one another. That was neat to witness, and I’m glad that dad’s social circles intersected so well. Dad seemed to really have enjoyed himself. I only stayed for a few hours, before hustling back down to ComFest, but Carina tells me that the party ran long into the night, and that everyone thoroughly enjoyed themselves.

My second shift at ComFest was much like my first of the weekend, except that it ended prematurely. Normally, the bar cashiers sell beer tokens until 10:30, and then bartenders accept tokens in exchange for beer until 11:00 PM. Throughout my shift I kept hearing the supervisors talking to one another about “crowd control”. I didn’t see anyone causing any trouble in the throng of people waiting for brew, so I didn’t pay much attention. I saw a handful of old friends, and was generally having too good of a time to pay much attention to rumblings about crowd control.

As an aside, I only had to turn away one person for beer this year. His license had expired in 2005. I’m not sure if he was a plant by the cops looking to bust a lax bartender, or if he was underage using someone else’s expired license, or if he genuinely forget to renew his license for three years. It looked like a real license, and the photo looked like him. I checked ID on almost every single person I served – save those obviously old enough to purchase – and only had the one invalid ID.

To my surprise, and without any warning or announcement, we were told at 10:30 PM to stop serving beer, and to step behind the taps away from the line. The police offers on duty walked up and down the row making the announcement that the bar was closed. People were surprised, but I didn’t see anyone getting overly agitated or upset. We wrapped up, checked out of our shifts, and quickly left the area. I didn’t bother to check the other bars to see if they were closing. I was ready to enjoy some of ComFest!

I meandered through the park for a bit, finally stopping to watch Anna and the Annadroids, a truly captivating dance performance. There was a very small crowd when I sidled up to the stage, but by the time their set was over the crowd had swelled considerably. After this, I called Owen and made him pick me up again. I had intended to take him to Columbus’ goth bar, Outlands, but that plan was dashed against the rocks when we pulled into the empty parking lot: the place was closed! I next tried to take him to Bob’s Bar, the cultural hub of the Midwest, but he complained that it was too loud. So we retired to O’Reilly’s, where we nursed a couple of Guinness, and I nearly fell asleep in the booth as a wave of exhaustion finally caught up with me.

Sunday morning Carina, the twins and I went to dad’s house to say our final farewell to Ann and Igor, who were headed back to Ukraine. It sounds like they had a terrific time in the States, and I’m glad we all got to see them as much as we did. I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen Ann that happy. I’m really delighted for her and Igor!

After that, I took Owen to Nancy’s Kitchen, and then we stopped by Origins – an event I’ve never attended in all my years. I don’t have a crew with which to play role playing games these days, so I was primarily interested in just seeing what the current role playing game market is, as well as to see for myself what Origins is all about. As I later mentioned to a coworker, after walking the show floor I felt somewhat better about myself for being as balanced as I am in the things that I do with my life. While there, I picked up two games from Out of the Box, Blink and MyWord!. Both are fast-paced thinking games, and both are outrageously fun to play. I’m really looking forward to playing both with the twins, as I think they’ll get a kick out of them.

Looking back, the entire weekend seemed to slip by in a blur. I did an awful lot – probably too much, and I didn’t get to enjoy any one thing for very long – but I had fun with what I did. It was terrific to re-connect with Owen in person again. One of these days I’ll have to head out his way, so that he can be the host for a change! Maybe he can take me to one of the meetups he keeps talking about; or maybe I can crash the Philly PodCamp with him.

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