The Madness of the Hilton Lobby and the SXSW Backstroke Competition
If 6th street is the spine of SXSW, then the Hilton Lobby has to be its bowels. Never have I witnessed such a rush of frenzied and untamed behavior. This was truly where the beasts came to play.
The Hilton is steps away from the convention center. This makes for a convenient late night stagger. In all fairness, the hotel caters to the participants by offering them food and beer. One gets the sense that any way to pacify the mob is in their best interest.
The evening I experienced the lobby was on the last night of our trip. The hours before we spent consuming BBQ, Tech Karaoke, and riding the ride. Everything was closed, and our troupe headed back to our room. My friends, who had experienced the Hilton lobby festivities the night before, immediately began their descent. I, however, needed a few moments of decompression. Plus I wanted to finish my cigar. The bellman at the door wouldn’t let me in unless I threw it out. Not an option.
I recall finding a bench outside and proceeded to have deep conversations with a friend I had just made. She was taking pictures of us that night, and no doubt had documented the evening well. Perhaps some small talk would persuade her to remove any revealing photographs of myself. I pretty much held it together right? Immediately I went through the foggy rolodex of the evening’s events. But I was distracted as the conversation required my full attention.
It’s funny how the eye of the 2 A.M, hurricane leads one to let their guard down.
As we talked, cabs and cars were pulling up. Some folk were headed back home. I recognized a few faces and envied them as they left to catch their planes. It was time to switch gears. My companions had been swallowed by the lobby, and I wanted to make sure they were okay.
I entered just in time to catch of glimpse of Ashton Kutcher. I wasn’t alone. Others had already shouted his name. With my flip cam in hand we made a mad dash towards his direction. I can only imagine the fear he must have felt witnessing 20 or more social media freaks rumbling his way, all shouting his name, and all hoping to catch his face on camera.
But again I was curtailed. The momentum had switched once again, and I was pushed to the press core to witness The Annual Hilton Lobby Backstroke.
In some circles this is a prestigious event.
Having been invited to be part of the press box, I immediately felt a sense of responsibility. It was time to get grounded and get some work done. Rarely does one get to witness this close a moment in sport. Two of my companions entered the race. I’m not sure how they qualified, but I assumed they had their practice runs while I was outside. I knew they were up to the challenge.
The competitors placed themselves at the back of the lobby. Laying on their backs on the hard cold lobby floor they awaited the signal to start. Suddenly they were off. In a mad display of flailing limbs and contortions they made their way down the lobby. From a distance I could see some had been training all year for this. Others were hopeless. All I felt were thankful that they were somewhat intoxicated as they slammed their bodies desperately heading towards the finish line.
Some spectators weren’t aware that the race had started or that there was even a race to begin with. They immediately became obstacles. Closer they came. As the competitors passed our way, we felt obligated to cheer them on with slander and vulgarity. Such motivation was only appropriate.
Finally the finish line. One of my companions took third. A brave attempt for her 1st race. The other companion was lost and had to be pulled across the finish line by one of the volunteers. The press moved towards the winners to collect their thoughts. Many were all too eager to share their experiences.
Suddenly a pull on my shoulder. One of my friends wanted to take a moment to gather #DetChevySXSW together for a moment of reflection of all that we witnessed. Though noble, this was a vain attempt as by that time we had all thrown ourselves against the wall. A fist bump signaled the end of the night.
Not for me. I was hungry and I decided I would find food. The rest of the team headed back to our hotel room.
As I walked down 6th street, the noise of the frenzied mob was long gone. Only the hum of the street cleaners and the last of the bartenders accompanied me. The streets were damp from booze and rain. Everything was closed. There was nothing. No food. Only silence.
A faint flicker of green light caught my attention. Like a moth to flame I had to investigate. To my joy, the light was home to a pizza shop. A little oasis off the main drag open to those who were deserving. Those who had made the long walk home. Those who had survived SXSW.
With pizza in hand, I headed back to my room. My mind was beginning to clear up. The haze was lifting. Only a few more steps until bed. Only a few more hours before the long drive home.