Scenes from the road in America 2

New Orleans. It’s a year after Hurricane Katrina and it is impossible not to be moved by the devastation to local communities and the stories related by our local conference delegates about the snail’s pace reconstruction efforts, especially in the African-American neighbourhoods.

My South African colleague and I agree on most things (except for when we are indulging in the Antipodean blood sport of debating the relative merits of our national cricket and rugby teams) and we decide not to join the ghoulish-sounding tour of the devastated areas.

That evening we head for the famous Bourbon Street in the French Quarter in search of music but it seems strip clubs, shysters and ladies of the night now own this part of town and the tourists flock. (We, of course, are not tourists.)

We repair to a restaurant not far from our hotel and we are enjoying a fine meal and some good wine. Suddenly a small excited crowd has gathered close to the entrance. My companion looks up and he says ecstatically ‘It’s Steven Seagal! Come quickly and take my picture with him.’ I follow and Steven graciously agrees; I take the picture and we return to our table. ‘Show me’ he says.

This is some 15 years ago, my phone is cheap and the picture quality is average at best. In a low-lit restaurant at night it is appalling. The resulting photo could be of almost any two people. He is, however, delighted and proceeds to share it with all and sundry, while I contemplate how this otherwise sophisticated and intelligent man has developed a man-crush on Steven Seagal.

He is still celebrating his good fortune at the conference next day and showing anyone who will listen. Most say ’It’s pretty grainy. I can’t really see him.’ He turns to me and asks me to confirm the story and say, ‘yes, he was there’ but as soon his back is turned I tap the side of my head and mouth ‘never happened’ to his audience. To this day I can still wind him up with that story.

Footnote: During the conference I hear a young man speak in words I can comprehend about the growing impact of social media. I finally understand that I and my fellow netizens have moved from being passive recipients of the perceived wisdom of monopolies to independent actors in developing what becomes known as the ‘wisdom of the crowd’.  (And we all know how well that’s worked out.) In my excitement I email my colleagues and Board back home that I have had vision on the road to Damascus and that everything has to change about the way we operate. (Note to Boards – Never let your CEO go to a conference.)

Austin. I’m attending South By South West (SXSW), an extraordinary event that encompasses technology, music, film and art. I’m focused on the technology section, where even the break-out groups number in the hundreds. The big buzz that year is Twitter and the millennials in attendance have taken to it like ducks to water. I find it shallow, tedious and faddish and when I return home I tell my colleagues to shoot me if they ever find me using it in the real world. I still don’t use Twitter but a gazillion people do, so it wasn’t a passing fad. I keep trying to type the words ‘I was wrong’ but my predictive text keeps over-writing it with ‘the web is entirely unpredictable’.

I return to my hotel just as a guy with a handle-bar moustache and a pristine-white Stetson pulls in driving a white convertible the size of a football field, with a pair of horns mounted at the front that validate that they do indeed raise longhorns here. Now that’s my kind of Texas.

Dallas. I’m flying to San Francisco on an el cheapo flight. Most passengers have loaded up with fast food and buckets of soft drink from the outlets lined up just before the departure gate. Around half-way through the flight a steward makes his way down the aisle throwing tiny bags of peanuts at, rather than to, the passengers. Like all the stewards on the flight, he’s wearing a once-white shirt that probably hasn’t seen a washing machine or an iron anytime recently and it is clear that he’d rather be anywhere on the planet other than where he is now. Later an equally happy female colleague comes back up the aisle, dragging an enormous plastic garbage bag into which passengers throw their detritus with varying degrees of accuracy. The misses remain on the cabin floor. No frills and no thrills here.

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