View from the Observatory at the Empire State Building
My “talk” at the #140conf – Dads Are Parents, Too – Video taken by Aaron Sallan
Everyone in the world of Social Media understands the value of networking, the tools of the Internet, the various places to “travel” along the web, and occasionally the value of leaving the comfort of your laptop. There are many major conferences held annually in the U.S. and internationally, but my recent attendance at the June 15-16, 2011 140conf in New York combined it all to offer this shy, reserved, dad blogger the time of his life — and to provide my 14-year-old son with literally the trip of his life.
The magic of how it all came about was the initial clue that something unusual was blowing in the wind. My life had been a literal whirlwind of late, forgive the continued weather references, since things seemed to be raining down on me from everywhere. Not a thunderstorm, but a light drizzle of refreshing coolness that occasionally soaked me to the bone with its intensity. Yeah, I know, I’m a dad blogger, not a poet, but I was moved, marveled, and magically taken everywhere on this trip, starting with the aforementioned “how it came about!”
At the end of a late spring ski trip, I received one of those “event reminders” that @Jeff Pulver was hosting a #140conf MeetUp in Santa Monica. Thinking I’d rather ski, as I would almost prefer to ski than do anything else, I impulsively quit after an hour of so of perfect, shockingly great June skiing. I drove the 5 hours back home.
Arriving home, I greeted my family, checked my e-mail, patted my dogs’ heads (all three of them), looked at the pile of mail, begged my wife’s forgiveness for dashing out again, and invited my son to come into town. I knew he’d love to go to the nearby Barnes ‘N’ Noble on the 3rd Street Promenade in Santa Monica.
Arriving at the quirky location of this MeetUp — does Jeff ever choose any location that isn’t “quirky?” — I first encountered the diehards. They are the smokers outside that are banned from practicing their craft in the notorious PC land called Santa Monica. I made my way down the narrow stairs into what really felt like an old haunt that the folkies and beatniks may have hung out at in the fifties.
The first person I see is Jeff Pulver. Before I can open my mouth, he begins to apologize for not finding a spot for me to speak, as I’d hounded him to do so, desperately eager to come to New York and speak at his forthcoming #140conf, which was just 2 weeks away. He shocked me by declaring that there were two other dad bloggers that were bugging him even more than I was and that he just felt stuck and chose to do the most efficient thing…let time sort it out.
Now, for those that know Jeff, you know that this is exactly how he might approach such a dilemma. But, for me, I was completely surprised and asked him, incredulously, “You mean there are other guys that bug you more than I do?” He said, “Yeah, they’re much worse,” to which I open-mouthedly said, “Wow, that’s amazing.”
The above exchange did take place and, to be clear, I was seriously surprised, not upset, and told him so. I wandered off to mingle with the growing crowd. As it turned out, Jeff had decided to give away three prizes, by drawing business cards from a hat. The “Grand Prize” was a round-trip ticket to New York and a ticket to attend the #140conf. The 2nd and 3rd prizes were tickets to the #140conf.
I was busy enjoying the company of my friends @JulieSpira, @LoriMoreno, @JeffRago, @MayhemStudios, Calvin Lee, and others when I heard Jeff’s voice say, “Bruce…Bruce Sallan…I know you’re here…” but couldn’t hear the rest. Ten minutes later, I made my way to where he was and he told me I’d won one of the tickets to the event and was I going to come? Being the ever-so-graceful and tactful guy I am, without a moment’s hesitation, I said something to the effect, “Not if I’m not speaking.”
He immediately told me that there had been a few last minute cancellations and he’d find me a spot. I immediately continued my tactful ways and said, “A good one this time?”
When I picked up my son, Aaron, I realized this was the providence that life can offer when events conspire to impact the direction your life goes. I invited him to come with me to New York, in honor of his Middle School graduation, and because he’s always wanted to go to New York. We also could use some alone time together as we’d been getting on each other’s nerves lately.
Eight or so days later, I’d booked a hotel Aaron found in a Fodor’s guidebook, because he thought it was cool (the Hotel @ Times Square – the “@” is in the name!), I got flights, and we’d booked two Broadway shows.
Boom! We’re in New York! The next five days where truly a storm of non-stop activity, beginning with the first cocktail party Jeff hosted the night before the conference began at a chi-chi bar that just happened to be two blocks from our hotel. I met @JessicaNorthey, @LizStrauss, @LivePerson (Robert LeCascio), @Ponderful (LynnPonder), my twitter lover @TobeyDeys (I’m kidding), @MelissaPierce – glorious, adorable, Melissa whom I call “darling” and get smacked every time I do, and @GenieoTweets (Sol Tzvi) who, it turns out, was a friend of Jeff’s from Israel who wasn’t attending the conference.
Lynn Ponder, Jessica Northey, Liz Strauss, me, and Tobey Deys
Bob DeCascio and Jeff Pulver
The next day, I took a taxi to the 92nd Street “Y,” the location Jeff had secured for this year’s event in New York. A YMCA? Ahh, but what a great place it turned out to be. The wonderful auditorium in the middle of the building was classic New York with the kind of architectural details you don’t find in “new” cities like L.A.
I joined the growing masses, both in the auditorium, and milling about the one main mingling area, turned on my laptop and started “attending” the conference. I listened to so many “talks” my head was spinning. The range of topics covered the range of humanity. The pace of the day was headache inducing, a little like participating in @MackCollier’s infamous #blogchat.
What was most striking, however, was the image of a sea of people that were largely glued to their screens, listening to the speakers and panels, tweeting away, writing, surfing, and really engaging in the new world order of Social Media. I’d been to these conferences, but it felt different and maybe just a bit cooler having it in New York, in this old building with all its charm and character.
Now, to back up a bit, for those that haven’t yet attended one of Jeff’s #140conf events or may not know how these things operate, there is an order to how speakers are chosen: a logic, a system, a method to the madness, as it were, that Jeff…totally ignores. Well, mostly ignores. “One” submits a speaker or panel proposal and Jeff responds with an approval or asks for some refinements to the proposal. That is what happened to me for the October 2010 #140conf in L.A. And, then, you’re on the speaker list or not.
As I’d circumvented his methodical process by my lotto-luck, he put me on the list of speakers with the title of a speaking proposal I’d given him for the 1967 Woodstock #140conf – a title that was just fine but I had lost those notes in the LSD haze of the time. My topic was “Dads Are Parents, Too.”
Given I had just published my book, “A Dad’s Point-of-View: We ARE Half the Equation” (SSP #1: get it at Amazon), the subject of dads/men as parents and the fact that I sincerely believed there was a double standard at play, fit my agenda and became the framework for my talk. Jeff made it very clear that he’d prefer that I not use any PowerPoint or visual aids. He wanted me to “engage” the audience. I deferred to his wishes, largely because I was so grateful for the slot that got me there and because I was really too tired and lazy to prepare it.
But, on that first day, when every speaker had an incredible video presentation to accompany them, I began to get butterflies that my presentation wouldn’t be jazzy enough. I did come up with the idea of demonstrating the speed of the Internet by giving away one of the three copies of my book (SSP #2: or, get the Nook) I’d brought with me.
That day, I left the conference a bit early, to take my son to see the matinee of “Memphis,” last year’s Best Musical winner at the Tony Awards. It was glorious. He was hooked on musicals! And, that night, we ate at a wonderful Italian restaurant in the Theatre district, called Becco. Aaron wanted to hang out at the nearby Barnes ‘N’ Noble afterward and I wanted to go to the second #140conf cocktail party, so we split up. This party was, shockingly, held at yet another quirky location — a basement bar that looked like it came from “Saturday Night Fever.” All that was missing was the disco mirrored ball in the center of the dance floor, which was now being used as networking central.
The ever-so-bashful Jessica Northey was there, along with too many others to mention. I got this great photo with a bunch of peeps and the incomparable Melissa Pierce, called her “Darling” again, suffered a swift kick from her, and generally cavorted with excited and mentally overwhelmed-from-the-day conference attendees.
Having a little fun?
The incomparable Melissa Pierce
The next day was my turn to speak. Ten minutes prior, I’m backstage talking to the guys handling the technical details (all those PowerPoint presentations!) and I comment how I’m disappointed that I hadn’t prepared one, especially since my book was just published and though that wasn’t going to be, nor should it be the focus of my talk, I was hoping to sneak in a mention and an image of it during my talk (SSP #3: get it at the “Store” right here). The guy asked me if I had an image and moments later, it was on his laptop and was the backdrop for my talk.
My talk “speaks” for itself and can be seen, below. My son, Aaron, was in the front, recording my talk on our own camcorder and we’ll probably post it later. What I found most fascinating was the Tweet Stream that occurred both before and after my talk…and it really demonstrates what this is all about.
I brought my notes and found myself veering off their direction when the impulse hit me, using them for the structure of my talk, ignoring them when it felt right, and otherwise shitting in my pants from nerves. I ad-libbed the introduction to the giveaway of my book, suggesting it would be the perfect demonstration of the speed with which we now can share/get information. I asked my question, “In what year was Father’s Day declared a National Holiday?”
Just as I finished saying “holiday” there was a shout from the audience with the right answer (1972)! I invited the winner on stage, @jgibbard (Jeff Gibbard), shook his hand and then continued and finished my talk with about 20 seconds to spare before the “Exodus” theme would being to play, “gently” reminding all speakers and panels that their time was up.
Much of the rest of that day, I interacted with other speakers and attendees, going to lunch at a nearby pizza hole-in-the-wall, using the power in the mingling room to tweet, sitting with my laptop for many of the ongoing and excellent presentations, and feeling like I was on the roller-coaster mind-trip of all time. And, loving it. I finally met @TedRubin, @dadarocks, and my old friend @krupali from the very first MeetUp of Jeff’s I attended at The Comedy Store on Sunset in L.A.
Just a few of the great people I met at the #140conf include, @ajleon, @melissaleon, @Barzhini, @kcarruthers (all the way from Australia), @HelpWeveGotKids (Tracie Wagman), @AliciaYbarbo, @TodaysMoms (Mary Ann Zoellner), @JuliaRosien, @rgnewman (Robin Gorman Newman), @Alisx123, @WriteOnOnline (Debra Eckerling), @TonyaHallRadio, @jenwag57 (Jennifer Wagner, who won the 1st prize at the Santa Monica MeetUp), @audreyjohnsontv, @2MorrowKnight, and oh so many others.
The rest of the trip was a similar roller-coaster of activity for me and my son as that night we saw “Mary Poppins” and ate at another cool theatre-district restaurant, Bond 45. For the remaining 2½ days of our trip, we did the following and more:
~~ Times Square – day and night.
Aaron and “Mary Poppins” at the entrance to the Theatre
~~ The Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island Ferry trip and visits.
On the ferry to Liberty Island
~~ Chinatown, where we ate at two restaurants for lunch after buying an Omega James Bond “knock-off” from a local vendor who “found” it behind boxes of cologne on his shelves…hmmmm? Why two restaurants? The first one was just not happening for us as it was the end of their dim sum hours and the choices were few. Instead, we finished our lunch at the Peking Duck House.
Aaron with his boba drink at the Peking Duck House
Ya think I had enough?
~~ Empire State Building Sky Ride and later that night, we went back to see New York from its “Observation Deck.”
~~ Ground Zero where I was moved and impacted in ways I hadn’t imagined (another story for another article).
The memorial plaque at Ground Zero
Visiting soldiers at the Fire Station next to Ground Zero
The leather fireman’s helmet worn by one of the heroes of 9/11
~~ Greenwich Village for pizza at the infamous “John’s Pizza” place.
Aaron, my good friend Kathy, and me
~~ Embarrassed Aaron 24 times…maybe 25.
~~ “Spiderman,” where our front row seats were incredible and Aaron declared after that it was the single best entertainment experience, bar none, of his life. Don’t tell that I took a couple of photos.
~~ FAO Schwartz, the Apple Store, and the masks in front of the Plaza Hotel.
~~ Walking, walking, walking. Subway, subway, subway. Taxi, taxi, taxi.
~~ Met a young girl, while smashed together on the subway, who was doing a world tour before beginning Medical School in Holland. In the space of ONE stop, I learned that her parents were boat people after the fall of Saigon, that her father was rescued by a Norwegian ship, while in his early teens, and that he attended high school in Holland, where he met his wife who was also a survivor of the horrid post-war times in Vietnam. He became an engineer and they had five children, the youngest of which was next to me, telling me her wonderful, engaging, story. As you can see, this is who I am — talking to everybody, loving it, learning, interacting — and as you can also imagine it’s why I probably under-estimated the number of times I embarrassed Aaron.
~~ Our 4th musical, “Baby It’s You.”
~~ Hanging out with my formerly virtual-only friend Adam Cohen (@dadarocks) who took us to the most incredible restaurant for dessert, Max Brenners, and who was one of those people I “knew” from Twitter et al, but now got the pleasure of not only meeting but getting to really “know.” Sorry, 140 characters has its limits! Adam was beyond gracious to me and Aaron, and Aaron got a taste of how a New Yorker handles things, given that Adam was born and raised there, and has his own unique style of “getting it done.” His style is persistent, direct, and explains his 76 Klout and other top-of-the-list status as a dad blogger/influencer.
~~ Boba drinks, which Aaron and I love.
~~ Aaron did the Harry Potter exhibit, “Top of the Rock,” and watched the Today Show in Rockefeller Centre when I was at the #140 conf, plus memorized every inch of Times Square.
~~ More pizza.
~~ Did a video interview with Audrey Johnson. We met in Times Square, early in the morning, where we went to various iconic locations for the walk and talk, fun interview (can’t wait to see it).
~~ Met a taxi driver from a small town in Ghana, who knew Pastor Frank Bennin, who runs the girl’s school I’ve been supporting through my writing and radio show. Pastor Bennin’s kids befriended me on Facebook – yet another marvel of the Internet that we’d connect this way. But, what are the odds I’d meet a man from Ghana, on a trip to New York, who happened to know the little township of Agona Swedru. I’ve written a lot about them.
~~ Hung out with my childhood friend, Kathy, who lives in Connecticut but came in to show us around.
~~ Tweeted, Facebooked, wrote, Linked, e-mailed, and more after Aaron went to sleep and before he woke up, each day.
What did I leave out?
“New York, New York, it’s a wonderful town!”
Get Bruce’s new book and Limited Edition (of 500) Poster, A Dad’s Point-of-View: We ARE Half the Equation at Amazon, iTunes, BN.com, or The Store.