I have been in Austin at a workshop for the last few days, staying at the conference center on the UT campus, and it was almost completely dull and without incident. I saw very little of Austin and very much of my hotel room and laptop screen. Free wi-fi in the hotel meant many hours of work on the computer in the afternoons, after lectures in the morning (including mine) and before dinners and meetings in the evenings. Your typical conference 8 am to 10 pm day. I’ve also really suffering through the early morning starts–this is one aspect of being in the Central time zone that I DO NOT MISS. I am not very chipper before 9 am. Or maybe 10 am.
But I digress. Yesterday I was sitting in the hotel working, in my pajamas (which I had changed into from my work clothes at about noon when I got back from the morning workshop lectures) at about 5:30 pm when I got a phone call. I was actually on the other line at the time, and since I don’t use my American phone so much I had no idea how to switch it over, so I just ignored it and figured a message would be left. A few minutes later, there it went again. Again, I ignored. “Leave a message,” I was thinking. Then my email dinged. Same person. Message was mysterious, “Are you okay? There’s been an incident in your hotel. Can you call me? Hope you’re okay.” Hmmm, got off the phone, figured I’d better call him back. An “incident” sounded strangely ominous. Went to the front window, there were no obvious signs of trouble, but, wait, were those two news vans parked across the street? And were those coat-wearing shiny people getting ready to do a live broadcast from the hotel? So, long story short, an “unidentified female” had been found dead in the hotel, it was unclear if foul play was involved. My colleague was first frantically trying to ensure I was not the victim (of the 40-odd workshop participants, only a handful were women–as per usual in my line of work). He was then trying to pass along the information he had obtained from speaking to the police chief, which included the sort of “be aware of your surroundings and exhibit due caution” sort. Here’s the updated story from the local Austin news site; in the end they decided there was no foul play and the whole thing died down to nothing more than someone who went to sleep in a hotel room and never woke up. A scary thought for us road warriors, but not all that dramatic.
But it was still the most interesting and unusual thing to take place in a random hotel in which I was staying on yet another conference tour. And it did provide for a slight diversion in an otherwise dull week of working inside due to a post-holiday too long to-do list and freezing cold days (for Texas–and for me as I had packed based on the weather that I checked right before leaving, which was saying temps in the 50s–NOT what I found on arriving and currently in the 20s with icy breezes). So my plan to see something interesting in Austin has fallen through, my trip has been only a moderate technical success, and I have no idea what the odds are that I’ll be able to fly into the UK without incident (given their current snowfall and freezing temperatures, for which they are not prepared). Sort of ironic since I had thought about trying to fly to Minnesota on this trip, but discarded the idea on the basis of cold and snow. Now I get cold in Texas and snow to look forward to in England. And having been holed up on campus and in the hotel, I don’t think I would even say I noticed much that I was in Texas. But hey, go Longhorns in the national football championship bowl game tonight, I’m off to find me an appropriately warm shirt to wear to cheer them on!