The Not Quite Adventures of a Professional Archaeologist and Aspiring Curmudgeon

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

SAA Memphis Part 2 - It's Gettin' Real at the Convention Center

See Part 1 for the "story up to now..."

Okay, so there I was in Memphis, walking out of the hotel, trying to find the shuttle, only to be informed that the shuttle already left, a little bit early, already full.  Three other archaeologists were already standing there - an older woman, a young professor, and an Albanian graduate student* (sounds like the setup to a joke, I know).  So, the four of us decide to get a taxi.  This worked out well enough, but the cab ride was considerably pricier than any of us expected (topping $30).  Luckily, the professor had an expense account and so he covered it for all of us, which we all very much appreciated.

I got checked in to the conference, and high-tailed it over to my session just before it began.  On the way, I ran into an old friend, Dave Robinson (the fellow for whom I have been doing faunal analysis), and we had a bit of a chat on the way in, and in between papers.  Dave is quite brilliant, and I have always enjoyed talking shop with him.

Anyway, my session began, and, as the other speakers are presenting, I suddenly realize that there are a number of things that need to be changed about my paper.  So, out comes my red pen (yes, I do typically carry one), and I begin re-writing sections on the print-out that I have.  I am becoming increasingly nervous as I go, and realizing that the Powerpoint presentation that I had created and sent to the symposium organizer bears only a vague similarity to the paper as it now exists.  Earlier than I had been scheduled, the organizer announces that one of the papers had been cancelled, and as such I am now up.

I am horribly nervous, panicked, and not wanting to go up.  I look around the room, and it has a number of brilliant archaeologists, almost every colleague who I hold in high esteem: Lynne Gamble, Terry Joslin, Dave Robinson, Jennifer Perry, Amy Gusick, Bill Hildebrandt (who also runs one of my company's main competitors), John Johnson, and my mentor, Michael Glassow.


Well, there was nothing else for it.  I began talking.  As I was in the middle of modifying the damn paper when I was called up, I had to fudge a few sections, explaining the concepts and data without having a good script from which to work.  I was able to ease things along by cracking a few jokes about the microscopically small font size on some of my Powerpoint slides, and I was able to make the Powerpoint presentation work with what I had.  I was very unhappy with the paper when I gave it, but I managed to at least get through the presentation without hyperventillating.  As always when I do these talks, I sat down believing that I had blown my credibility with everyone in the room.  I was feeling pretty terrible.

I was the last speaker, so I fully expected to slink out unnoticed.  But then one of the more senior archaeologists accosted me.  He came towards me, and instead of the upbraiding that I was expecting, he enthused "that was great!  Some of what you were talking about is stuff that always bothered me, and I am glad to see that someone else also saw it...and the approach you took was pretty cool!  Here, take my card, I want you to email a copy of that paper to me!"

I was a bit confused, but played along.

John Johnson then spoke with me, and described the research that he would like to do on the subject, while complimenting what I had said.  Now, John is probably the absolute nicest guy in Anthropology (he is at least in the running along with Michael Jochim), so I half-way suspect that he was just being polite, but still, he seemed enthusiastic.

Dave also was enthusiastic, which helped. 

And then I ran into someone who was now with Harvard's Peabody Museum, but who, 30 years ago, had worked in the same region where I did my Masters thesis research.  He told me that he had come to the session because he had read the paper I had published recently, and really wanted to hear what I had to say about this other topic.  So, that was pretty damn cool.  Anyway, he and I spoke about our mutual research interests for a little while.  And then I realized that my boss, who knew the fellow from Harvard, had been in the room during the presentation.  However, she was enthusiastic and seemed to feel that I had done quite well.   

So, all in all, I am going to call this a win. 

I then headed out, and ran into a friend from graduate school who I had also worked with at my first full-time CRM job.  He and I headed out to lunch, and spent some time talking business, research, and about the academic job market.  It was nice, but we were both eager, after lunch, to get back to the conference.  He went to attend a paper, and I went to attend another session, but was stopped on the way by another old friend who now worked for the Forest Service.  Being as how part of how my company justifies sending us out to these conferences is business networking, and I really just wanted to talk with my friend, I allowed myself to get distracted, and we both made sure to mingle business talk with our catching-up.  We parted company, and I headed up to the book room, where I ran into more old friends, and a couple of former coworkers. 

I then headed out to the lobby, and  had my only bad interaction with another archaeologist at this conference.  I should explain that it is not uncommon for academic archaeologists to look down on CRM.  This is less common than it used to be, as an increasing number of academic archaeologists have become involved in CRM work, but it is still not rare.  This particular fellow told me that he was on the faculty of a university-not-to-be-named, and then looked at my name badge (our name badges bore the names of our employers), sniffed, and said, "oh, well...I see that you're still doing CRM" with a tone that seemed to say "you phony archaeologists are so adorable, but you'll never be in the same league as us grown-ups."  He made a few minor disparaging comments, and I pushed back a bit by asking him questions about how long he'd been unemployed before finally getting his current position, asking about the vicious politics of tenure, asking about the family that I was well aware he both wanted and didn't have because of the way his career had been going, and then brought up my retirement plan.  Yeah, it was petty, I was being an ass, but I have long since grown tired of this attitude.

After that, I headed over towards another talk, only to be waylaid by a former boss who is also tied into a couple of my company's current projects.  I always liked this guy, and I had a good business reason for sitting and talking with him for a bit (in fact, it arguably would have been irresponsible for me to not sit and talk with him), so I did so.  We talked shop a little bit (I was very cautious to avoid saying anything or inquiring about anything above my pay grade, and to not say anything that would have been considered in any way inappropriate by my current boss, so as not to create any trouble for my boss).  We also talked a bit about why I left.  When I left, I had told him that it was for family reasons, and because I was constantly being required to work untenably long hours and be away from home far too often, which was true to an extent.  However, a big part of the reason is that a person had been put in charge of a huge project, about whom the best that I can say is that I would not weep had I discovered that the CIA kidnapped him and used him for experiments involving weaponized ebola.

My former boss then told me that I wasn't alone.  Apparently a number of people jumped ship when this guy was there.  Finally, though, the guy did enough damage, and my former boss had enough.  He put one of the former subordinates in the place of the now ex-project manager, and she has been running the project quite successfully, and from what I have heard, the employees under her have developed alot of respect for her and are quite happy with her as their new supervisor. 

It was oddly satisfying to hear that. 

By the time we finished up, the day's papers were over.  Normally, I would have gone to find some people to have dinner with.  But I was only going to be in Memphis for this night, so I decided to grab my camera and go wandering about. 

Of course, it started raining.  I bought an umbrella, and proceeded to wander Memphis, seeing what I could see.  Yeah, it was cold, yeah, I was wet, yeah, I couldn't use my camera without pulling it out of the case and getting it soaked.  But I didn't care.  I was out, exploring a new city in a new region, and I was having fun. 

I realized around 9:00 that I hadn't yet had dinner, and most of the non-pricey places had closed up, so I ended up going to a fast food chicken place that I had not previously heard of, got some chicken, fried okra (I don't care what anyone else says, I enjoy fried okra, and have ever since my grandmother introduce me to it when I was a kid), and a biscuit, and had my dinner while I waited for the shuttle back to my hotel. 

As I sat at the shuttle stop waiting, I fell into conversation with a very grizzled fellow who, as it turned out, was the State Historic Preservation Officer for Guam (despite being a territory and not a state, Guam's guy is still called a STATE Historic Preservation Officer...go figure).  He and I talked shop for a while, and while it wasn't the most enjoyable conversation I have ever had (he was a remarkably frustrated man, though it sounded as if he had cause to be), it was interesting.

Finally, the shuttle arrived, we got to the hotel, I trundled up to my room, got the malfunctioning door handle to work after a couple of tries, and then went to bed.  I was so astoundingly exhausted that I slept solidly despite the 747s passing overhead causing the building to shake.

*I suddenly felt very awkward, as if this guy would somehow know that whenever I need to pull up some random nationality for a fictional character or an absurdist joke involving cab drivers (as overly-specific as it may sound, I crack these jokes quite often), I always choose "Albanian."  Well, regardless, I ran into him a few more times, and found that I enjoyed his company, so there you go.


Evan Davis said...

Would Albanian come from Weird Al?

Anthroslug said...

Could be. Where did he sing about Albanians?

me said...

Maybe Elbonian? I'm glad the day you gave your presentation went better than the day/night with the fucking flyer & the cloud-based engineer in the clouds. (And BTW--the Book of Luke always makes me crave a few drinks.)

me said...

I'm guessing Elbonian.

Evan Davis said...

Albuquerque off the Running with Scissors Album a rather long and humorous original song by Al. He references being on a plane between two large Albanian women with excruciating body odor.

Anthroslug said...

Don't know that one.

I will, however, from now on claim my nationality as Elbonian.