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August 04, 2007

Postcard From the Lesser Hyatt: My Kos Adventures

by Deborah Newell Tornello
a.k.a. litbrit

Live from Chicago, some random thoughts on the heat of the weekend thus far. (Well, as live as can be expected after a night that began with three glasses of red wine on an empty stomach and ended--many, many hours of handshaking and talking and dancing later--with a bang when an inconvenient table decided to place itself in my path. Bruised? Mortified? Why, yes I am.)

This...is a Lesser Hyatt

For one thing, the Proper Hyatt, the convention center one, is situated on the premises, no cabbing required. The overflow Hyatt, on the other hand, is a ten-minute twenty-minute twenty-five minute cab ride away. In a vehicle that may or may not be air-conditioned, much to the chagrin of my freshly-pressed white shirt. It seems to me there should be a discount for passengers who get stuck (and with dark vinyl seats in the summertime, you do tend to get stuck) taking one of the saunas-on-wheels. There isn't.

The overflow Hyatt is huge--so large is it, in fact, I rarely see another blogger on the premises, and I know there are plenty of us around. There are other conventions based here, though, symposiums and gatherings that have something to do with IT, or else the marketing of dark knit polo shirts embroidered with company logos--everyone must wear one!--or perhaps some organized linguistic movement of which I was previously unaware, one that seeks to replace perfectly good English words with abstruse (and oftentimes unintentionally amusing) jargon. Interfacing the Rapid-fire Deployment of Emergent Interoffice Communication Technology With Pre-existing Prioritized Infrastructure Mandates: A Challenge For The New Century.

Forget that long-awaited nap, I told myself when I checked in and learned the room would not be ready for another three or four hours. My luggage was added to the sprawling mass of duffel bags and golf clubs threatening to burst free from the temporary roped-off corral in the Hyatt's carpeted skywalk. It wasn't long before TRex arrived, though.

"Ooh, look: Halliburton has been here," he said, pointing at the pitiful masses of detained suitcases.

Everyone Is Young and Gorgeous

Yes, there are some fortysomethings (and oldersomethings) here. Overall, though, liberal bloggers appear younger, more sociable, handsomer, and infinitely more energetic than media and rightwing blogs have led many to believe. If you were expecting throngs of wise-looking elders, what you see and hear instead are, well, throngs of wise-cracking, great-looking movers and shakers. For the most part. I love observing the wildly diverse faces walking toward and around me as I lug my very heavy laptop backpack to and fro, cursing my choice of shoes (high-heeled and misery-making--deeply so--given that McCormick Place is right up there with Heathrow Airport when it comes to the endlessly long corridors and escalators you're forced to navigate). This is a multi-ethnic, ageless, and highly motivated crowd; they talk about The Issues even when they're riding one of the four million escalators. Even when they're in the restroom.

No wonder certain media types feel threatened: they know what's happening--what has happened already, in fact.  Theirs is a wounded pride, a roundly discredited prejudice.

Break Free of the Chains

I would really, really like to experience one of the many intriguing restaurants for which Chicago is famous, but many if not most of them are in the outlying neighborhoods, hardly walking distance from either Hyatt. What you do get here are versions of the same fern-bars, burger joints, and Tex-Mex outlets you've probably eaten at in your hometown. TRex and I tried the China Grill (yes, there are a few of them around the States) and devour a monster plateful of mixed-green salad followed by dumplings, then wasabi mashed potatoes so good, they rival my own evilly delicious spuds (I start by adding plenty of sweet butter, sea salt, cracked black pepper and a few knobs of wasabi paste to the hot, drained potatoes, then whip that together, then drizzle in hot milk until the texture makes me happy).

That said, can we please have more independent (and preferably ethnic, say Cuban, Thai, Moroccan or Indian) restaurants in your downtown area, Chicago? Yes, we are tourists, but many of us enjoy trying new flavors when we're visiting new cities--we already know from Bennigans and Chipotle and Subway (especially those of us who live in Florida).

Ezra Speaks

A cab shortage (why I opted to take the aforementioned saunamobile--it was that or nothing) conspired with Friday afternoon rush hour to make me late for Ezra's round table session discussing blogs as the new news. I did catch the last fifteen minutes, though, and can report that Ezra's as poised in front of a roomful of media and blog types as he is in front of a Hardball camera. Afterwards, I was able to personally thank Max Blumenthal for his most recent film shorts, Rapture Ready and Generation Chickenhawk.  I asked him how on Earth he managed to get himself and his film crew into these events; he replied that getting in wasn't anywhere near as hard as standing right there among such fanatics for hours, desperately looking forward to getting out.

Swarms and Sushi at the Swampland Party

For a while, the place was packed and the mob at the bar was intimidatingly wide and deep; then, the crowd spread out somewhat and the volume continued to rise. At the back of the room, our hosts had erected a large posterboard with headshots of the four Time Magazine Swampland bloggers, Ana Marie Cox, Karen Tumulty, Jay Carney, and the beleaguered Joe Klein, entreating guests to "Say it to our faces" with one of the marker pens provided. I watched in amusement as comedian after comedian scribbled his well wishes (hey, they did ask). The board needed something 3-D, though. A stack of Times sat on my coffee table, so I tore out Joe Klein's page from the top one, folded it into an origami Dodo bird, and positioned it over his photo, where its outer wing could twitch in the air-conditioning currents.

The writing is on the wall.

August 4, 2007 | Permalink

Comments

I'm not sure, but I think Rick Bayless' mexican restaurants are downtownish. I had a superb lunch at the Frontera Grill.


Posted by: leftypa | Aug 4, 2007 9:20:40 PM

Unfortunately, Chicago conventions tend to keep participants removed from our city and it's wonderful neighborhood bars and restaurants. I went with some Yearly-Kos-goers to a very tacky and pricy faux irish bar in what Ezra calls the "overflow Hyatt." It was very sad, but it serves you guys right for not exploring...

Posted by: adrian | Aug 4, 2007 9:37:54 PM

litbrit...
what a delightful and entertaining description of the goings-ons!
the event is richer for having you there!
regarding restaurants in chicago...
.....being a traintaker, my arrivals into chicago have always been at five in the morning on the Southwest Chief...and our favorite restaurant at dawn is Biff's Bar and Grill in union station!
it is an irish bar and grill with steamy windows, right out of the forties! the chef will slice roasted turkey with dollops of stuffing and mashed potatoes with cranberry sauce, even at sun-up!
coming off of a four day train ride at dawn in august, what could be better than thanksgiving dinner!
try Biff's Bar and Grill!
....have a great time at the convention, litbrit!


Posted by: jacqueline | Aug 5, 2007 12:32:58 AM

litbrit...
very lovely origami...
it casts an interesting shadow on joe klein!

Posted by: jacqueline | Aug 5, 2007 12:45:57 AM

Unfortunately, Chicago conventions tend to keep participants removed from our city and it's wonderful neighborhood bars and restaurants. I went with some Yearly-Kos-goers to a very tacky and pricy faux irish bar in what Ezra calls the "overflow Hyatt." It was very sad, but it serves you guys right for not exploring...

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Posted by: vera | Aug 5, 2007 8:10:37 AM

Adrian - exploring a strange city is extremely difficult in a short time if you don't have anyone to at least point you in a promising direction.

In almost any major city, the areas that will have decent independent restaurants are dwarfed by acres of sterile office towers, nondescript residential neighborhoods, outright slums, and the like.

I remember having a few hours between trains in Chicago once. I set out exploring on foot, and returned to the train station after a couple of hours, totally convinced that Chicago was the most boring city on the face of the earth.

I'm sure I was wrong, but the point is that given the limited free time the YKos attendees have, settling for the damned hotel bar or a chain restaurant probably makes more sense than random exploration, which might lead them to interesting stuff, but is more likely to be a frustrating and fruitless waste of time.

Posted by: low-tech cyclist | Aug 5, 2007 8:43:49 AM

Unfortunately, Chicago conventions tend to keep participants removed from our city and it's wonderful neighborhood bars and restaurants.

This seems to be some secret federal law about convention centers, along with the complicated, sprawling layouts. Javits, anyone? Let's put it as far from the subway system as we can without it being literally under the Hudson. And I don't consider it the best area to walk to decent restaurants. Moscone isn't the greatest either, but one can at least get back across Market at lunchtime.

I guess we have to remember that these places are traditionally for those who don't want to experience the city they're in at all, but just want TV, booze, and schmoozing.

I remember having a few hours between trains in Chicago once. I set out exploring on foot, and returned to the train station after a couple of hours, totally convinced that Chicago was the most boring city on the face of the earth.

Was it a Sunday? Because that's what drives me nuts, that downtown Chicago virtually shuts down because it's not a workday, yet the city is supposedly seeking the tourist trade. There's interesting stuff closer to the lake, but someone at Union Station is unlikely to get that far at random. Oh well, at least there's a Chicago-style hot dog place in the food court.

Posted by: mds | Aug 5, 2007 10:49:45 AM

Thanks, jacqueline! I've been having a lovely time, meeting all the people who live in my computer ;-)

low-tech has it right: there has been very little time to explore (we've been here for three days, each of them jam-packed). Also, I don't have a car, and I hardly know a soul, even within the Kos group.

My best travel advice--wherever you're going--is to bring your own small hotpot, French press and a can of ground Illy coffee, because the stuff in hotel rooms is virtually undrinkable.

Posted by: litbrit | Aug 5, 2007 10:53:26 AM

can of ground Illy coffee

If it comes in a can, it's stale, period. And they don't tell you where their beans come from? Oh, litbrit.

Posted by: Stephen | Aug 5, 2007 11:11:20 AM

Stephen,

Agreed. Fresh ground is so much better.

Posted by: leftypa | Aug 5, 2007 11:35:14 AM

Okay, I'm traveling, guys. Of course freshly-ground is better, but I'm not gonna haul a bloody coffee grinder as well. (And don't knock Illy until you've tried it.)

Posted by: litbrit | Aug 5, 2007 12:51:13 PM

My problem with Illy is that they clearly value their technology more than they do the beans.

Isn't there some local roaster you can buy from? Someone who worships the coffee bean, the way God intended for us to?

I try pretty hared to not criticize people for what they eat or drink, but this is coffee.

Just grind a few days' worth before you leave and pop them in a ziploc bag.

Posted by: Stephen | Aug 5, 2007 2:05:42 PM

Really enjoyed the color commentary, litbrit. Makes it come alive.

an inconvenient table decided to place itself in my path

Ouch. (A Republican table, no doubt.)

Interfacing the Rapid-fire Deployment of Emergent Interoffice Communication Technology With Pre-existing Prioritized Infrastructure Mandates: A Challenge For The New Century

I hope you made that up, but I'm afraid you didn't.

I want potatoes.

Posted by: Sanpete | Aug 5, 2007 2:58:51 PM

I would really, really like to experience one of the many intriguing restaurants for which Chicago is famous, but many if not most of them are in the outlying neighborhoods, hardly walking distance from either Hyatt.

Catch the red line.

Posted by: Ed Marshall | Aug 5, 2007 3:55:48 PM

It was so fun meeting you!

Posted by: Amanda Marcotte | Aug 6, 2007 4:16:45 PM

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Posted by: judy | Oct 11, 2007 8:04:59 AM

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