Monday, September 9, 2019

“This is Like a Hipster Carnival” - INBOUND Trip: Part 1

September means different things to different people. 

Bridget and I are volunteers at the private neighborhood pool across the street from our house (Robin Hill Pool). Bridget has been the sole pool operator (until recently), treasurer, and head volunteer the past several years. The whole experience is an annual “time suck” for us from May to September. 

September is the end of pool season and that means we can get back to the task of tending to our own business (which lowers my stress level immensely). 

Bridget and I do marketing communications work for businesses, organizations, and the career services industry. We generally attend some type of professional development conference in September. It’s a nice way to refocus our efforts. 

Our friend Jason asked me about a year ago if we’d be interested in attending INBOUND this year — it is a business conference held annually in Massachusetts at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center focusing on “the product manager, the creative marketer, the start-up founder.”

Bridget and I thought it would be a worthwhile experience. As the planning progressed over subsequent days and months, Jason’s wife Jolene decided to join the party. 

For those not familiar with INBOUND, the four-day event features a robust series of educational presentations, big name celebrity spotlights, a trade show, and nightly parties to entertain attendees after hours. 

The 2019 event was held from Sept. 3-6. 

We flew out bright and early at 5:55 a.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 3. 

Have I mentioned how much I dislike flights at the crack of dawn? As a night owl, I am a restless mess the night before. Thoughts like “Did I pack everything?” “Am I taking the right clothes?” “Am I going to have a good time?” pound through the synapses like surging waves on a rocky coastline.

As a result, I woke up at 1:50 a.m. and couldn’t get back to sleep — too much nervous energy. 

A few months ago I mentioned how I dread the “thought” of traveling, but enjoy myself once I am at the destination. That became my silent mantra as we left Omaha for Boston. 

The benefit of traveling is that it reminds you there is a universe outside of your daily trappings. Seeing images and reading about other places just isn’t the same as experiencing those places for yourself. 

After a layover in Chicago, we landed in Boston at 1:15 p.m. and arrived at our hotel around 3 p.m. 

We stayed at the Aloft Boston Seaport (a Marriott property). The boutique hotel is located right across the street from the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center. It had a modern and eclectic vibe with a “board game” theme. 

As you entered the hotel, there was a wall where you could play a magnetic version of Scrabble (the four of us had fun with this one evening). 

There were also some pretty design elements in the lobby and public spaces of the hotel. 

Our room was sleek and modern. The king size bed had two end tables with ample outlets for our electronic devices. 

The bathroom featured a vessel sink.

The toilet/shower area that had a long rectangular window (frosted) that looked out on the bedroom. 

While the window provided lots of natural light from the exterior windows, it also allowed light to bleed into the room if you visited the restroom during the night. 

Yeah, kind of an awkward design. 

For the eco-friendly out there, the room had what was called a “Master Electricity Switch” that was basically a “kill switch” for the outlets. 

Overall, I liked the room. It had a beautiful view of the adjacent convention center and “modern” park across the street. 

Once we got settled into our hotel rooms, we decided to head out, hit the pavement, and find a bite to eat. 

Jason has been to INBOUND a number of times over the years. He was there last year, and he had told us about a seafood restaurant down on the water that he thought was terrific. 

Before I go any further, I should mention that Jason informed us he basically lived on seafood-related dishes in 2018. If it had crab, lobster, or fish as an ingredient, it was high on his list.

On our way to lunch, we stopped by the convention center to check in to get our INBOUND credentials. For security purposes we had to get our picture taken, and then we were given our ID badges (a QR code allowed us to get into the sessions). 

They gave attendees a sheet of stickers to decorate their badges. Bridget loves stickers and she had brought her own set. She put inspirational sayings on her badge. 

I also used stickers from Bridget’s supply and added a cheeseburger, a slice of bacon, and a stack of pancakes to my badge. 

I chose fatty comfort food because I figured we’d be offered a menu at the conference with ingredients like quinoa, kale, and avocado for lunch (all things I probably NEED to eat, but don’t really WANT to eat).

It was a nice stroll from the convention center to the harbor. We walked down a flight of stairs that included this wire sea serpent sculpture:

I also took this picture of my three companions by a yacht (we’re such good tourists):

We strolled a few more blocks and ate lunch at Yankee Lobster. It is sort of an earthy hole-in-the-wall seafood joint along the water. 

Jason and Jolene got the lobster roll. Jason had a bowl of clam chowder and Jolene had a bowl of lobster bisque.

Bridget had a crab cake sandwich, lobster bisque, and a square of cornbread:

I ordered the fish and chips (I must have missed the memo about ordering soup):

The made-to-order dishes were brought outside to us at our table. I thought my fish and chips — and the bites Bridget gave me of her lunch — were excellent. Definitely worth a visit if you’re in Boston. 

We headed back to the hotel after lunch. We stopped at 7-Eleven on the way to get Slurpees. Why you ask? Well, we don’t have 7-Eleven stores in Omaha anymore. So we had to partake. 

My Slurpee tasted like frozen Tang... 

We meandered around the convention center grounds on the way back and snapped some photos. The ultra-modern park in front of the hotel featured astroturf, a brightly-colored seating area, and these hi-tech looking swings. We had to try out the swings (which glow at night):

We had a little bit of time for a nap before we had to head over to the convention center for opening night festivities. 

I mentioned earlier that I’d been up since 1:50 a.m. It will probably come as no surprise to any of you that I couldn’t take a nap. I felt sort of clammy after the walk, and rest wasn’t in the offing. So I just sort of laid there for 30 minutes while Bridget took a nap. 

The opening night festivities saw the opening of Club Inbound at 6 p.m. Boston time and the first “Spotlight” speaker at 7 p.m.

Author Elizabeth Gilbert was the opening night speaker. Some of you might be familiar with her 2006 memoir “Eat Pray Love.”

I haven’t read “Eat Pray Love,” but I do have her 2015 book “Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear” (Bridget had me start reading it out loud on one of our hockey trips last winter). 

Gilbert has also written a number of bestselling fiction novels. 

Her topic was “Follow Your Curiosity Into Creativity.”

Gilbert talked about her life 25 years ago in New York City. She was a young, unpublished writer who made ends meet as a waitress, bartender, bookstore employee, au pair, babysitter, and flea market jewelry seller (among other odd jobs). 

There was a woman in her neighborhood who had the life she wanted to live — the person who made her say, “this is who I am supposed to be.”

Gilbert struck up a conversation with the woman at a local block party. The woman listened to Gilbert’s “litany of reasons” for not having accomplished her dream of becoming a full-time writer, and asked Gilbert a question she refers to as “the single most important” question she’s been asked.

That “hinge” in her life was this simple query: “What are you willing to give up to have the life you keep pretending that you want?” 

The woman then went on to suggest that Gilbert was doing everything but pursuing her dream. When the woman asked Gilbert what she did with her free time, Gilbert replied that she didn’t have any. 

But the woman pressed further and Gilbert realized she had more free time than she believed — including a trip to the Jersey Shore she’d scheduled with friends. 

The woman said to Gilbert, “I heard you and your friends got your money together to get a rental on the Jersey Shore. They are going to have a great time. They are going to take amazing pictures. You’re not going. You’re going to stay home, staring at that brick wall. Otherwise, I don’t want to have that conversation with you again.”

Gilbert hears the same words from others about about living a self-actualized life, a creative life. Not necessarily how to throw pottery, write novels, or do watercolor.

She says our culture has very narrowly defined “creativity” as those types of things. Just because you don’t do pen-and-ink drawings doesn’t mean you aren’t living a creative life. 

Creative living is a way of being. It’s not about what you make. It’s about who you are and how you operate. In order to live a creative life, you have to choose the path of creativity over the path of fear, she said.

She added, when you stand at the crossroads of the path of fear and the path of curiousity, you should pick the path of curiousity. Your life becomes the work of art. At the end of your life you will say, “That was a really interesting ride.”

This sort of philosophy is one that is espoused in Gilbert’s book “Big Magic” and can serve as an inspirational road map for living a more purposeful life in the face of fear. 

The talk helped set the tone for the upcoming conference. 

After Gilbert concluded her presentation, Bridget, Jolene, Jason and I headed out to the exhibition area. 

I’ve been to a number of business conferences over the years, but “Club Inbound” strayed from your standard “exhibitor booth” format in a number of ways. 

As we strolled around the festivities, I suggested that the whole effect was basically a “hipster carnival.” 

You had booths for familiar sponsors like Wix and Eventbrite and other funky-sounding tech companies. You had plenty of attendees in skinny jeans, ironic t-shirts, and Vans. 

Hubspot had swag so we picked up these t-shirts, pens, hairbands, and nylon bags:

They had an eclectic assortment of offerings at the “hipster carnival.” 

A grown-up version of a ball pit (the kind you let your kids play in at places like Chuck E. Cheese) was one of the more novel attractions. 

Jason and Jolene jumped in the pit. Look at the leaping lady behind them:

Organizers had a floral artist on hand to craft the INBOUND logo out of fresh flowers each day.

(We’ll have more pictures of this art exhibit in an upcoming post.)

The path leading into Main Stage was sort of an open hallway of mirrors. Bridget and I took this selfie:

Next to the “hallway of mirrors” was sort of a “chill millennial haunted house” that featured hanging lights and more mirrors:

They had an area with a painted mural. The clear glass this picture was taken through was eventually painted with images of some of the “Spotlight” speakers at the conference:

Heavy hors d’oeuvres were served at the opening party. I was the guinea pig for this treat, which Bridget was told was “a date and a fig”:

Jolene took this picture of me with the snacks. At that point I was thinking, “What I wouldn’t give for some meatballs and fried raviolis right about now...”

We did find a cart later that had beef and cheese quesadillas, and I had like a dozen of them as the servers wheeled the trays around the exhibition hall. 

Club Inbound also included a number of areas where you could take photos that would look fun on the ‘gram.

The four of us posed at this booth that featured stuffed fruit, vegetables, and ice cream bars. 

There was also a giant wall where attendees could write messages in magic marker: 

We left this message, which soon turned into a whole story all its own (stay tuned!):

Even though Gen X’ers like me were outnumbered by Millennials at the opening night festivities, I found myself having a really good time. 

The entire vibe at INBOUND was super chill and friendly. The dress code ranged from sport coats and slacks to shorts and t-shirts.

(Memo to self: Pack extra jeans and t-shirts next time out). 

This was just the first day, folks. As you can tell, there was a lot going on at INBOUND 2019. 

By the time we left the opening party I’d been up nearly 21 hours. It was a long day and I was exhausted, but we got to experience a lot of interesting stuff along the way. 

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