Blogs with Balls Conference: An Unintentionally Long Novel of a Recap: Part One


As indicated by my 4:00 AM post Sunday morning, Ghost and I had an interesting experience this weekend that we should write at length about. Some (most) of you may just be here for the actual sports-related stuff, in which case, I wouldn't blame you for skipping this article. There should be some good laughs, as will be the case whenever you let two 23 year-olds loose with a bunch of other sports nerds and an open bar. Though this was intended originally as a piece on the development of sports writing and entertainment in the Internet age, that will have to wait for later, as this story quickly grew more novelistic in nature as it went along. Enjoy.

So if you live in DC or New York, and haven't tried Bolt Bus: do that shit. Apparently there are several bus services to and from certain cities that offer cheap advance booking and a variety of amenities. We booked our tickets a few weeks in advance for about 20 bucks a pop, and this particular bus line featured leather seats, wireless intertubes, and electrical outlets. Something worth checking out for sure...

After the four hour ride, most of which I spent doing that unpleasant, half-conscious version of the funky chicken, where your head bobs up and down in violent jolts of alternating seconds of sleep and alertness, we arrived in NYC. If you haven't been (this was just my second brief trip there), you have to go to understand the darkness of the place that settles in and bears down on you. The subway is, as Ghost described it, post-apocalyptic. The people you see in passing seem desperate and depressed. It is at once an unrivaled spectacle and an intangible horror. In short, I'll stick with my small southern town for now, thank you.

We arrived at the Columbia University frat house where we had bummed couches, and settled in, making our way up to the roof to take in the milky midnight sky. Stars aren't visible through the glow of the city lights. I noticed the gaunt shadow of a woman milling about in her kitchen in an adjacent apartment building, not 30 feet from where we were standing. As I relaxed, and she disappeared and reappeared from sight, I glanced back up at the hazy purple firmament above, only to have Ghost draw my attention back to the window. You see, the woman, now accompanied by a male companion, was getting frisky. Very frisky. We watched some of the action in comic shock through translucent blinds, then tried our best to mind our own business, and talk of politics for which we cared not. She was a solid 6, for those wondering.

Not sure how to react to this incident, we walked back downstairs, ignored by our hosts, who instead attended to a very important bong in the middle of their 4th-floor bedroom. Pizza sounded like a capital idea, so out we went, jogging across bustling streets until we found a chain place, Famiglia's; scorned by natives, but still maybe the best pie I've had. It's something in the water, I think. Larry's pizza may never taste the same. Diving back into the night, we returned home, plotted our morning subway route, and retired, the fluorescent halo of an outdoor light fixture throwing long shadows across the ancient furniture of the frat house parlor.

8:00 came quickly, and an overdue shower led to a subway ride, which led to Dunkin' Donuts. We sat outside, at one of the tables strewn about seemingly in the middle of the street, partitioned off from traffic by orange cones. We walked to the bar where the conference was held, called Stout. The place was huge, and the basement (which had been reserved for the conference) was dark and full of bare brick and stone. While registering, we were unable to find our names in the 'General Admission' pile, and were thrilled to find that SBNation had signed us up on the VIP list. We'd already felt as if we were getting away with something, what with the free tickets and all, so having a pass to slip back into the Green Room alongside speakers and sponsors was especially awesome. Two hundred or so people, mostly guys (I pitied the decent-looking women in this joint), settled into chairs circled around a small stage where panels of writers and Internet personalities spoke about topics like "The Future of Sports Media" and "Confirm or Ignore: Leveraging Social Media" and ZOMG FREE BEER!!!!2! The smart-looking black-clad waitresses had begun whisking around trays of Guinness pints, which had me tapping my foot in anticipation for a few seconds before springing into action and snagging the first of about four FREE BEERS!!! BEFORE LUNCH!!! HOTTY TODDY!!!

Lunchtime neared, and Ghost and I took this opportunity to go and meet with our benefactors from SBNation, including Jim Bankoff, the CEO, who was far nicer than he needed to be, especially to a wide-eyed floppy-haired kid who was riding on his dollar. Meeting people was the highlight of this trip for sure. I've spent the better part of the morning sorting through business cards, matching names with faces and hopefully the content of our conversations. It was a lot to digest. So after a while spent chatting up the SBNation guys, we are led over to the halo of admirers circling the white suit-sporting Spencer Hall. For those of you who aren't familiar, Spencer is the mind behind EDSBS.com, probably the funniest damn sports blog on these whole wide internets. As the only SEC guys in attendance, we had a nice conversation starter with Hall, and really got into it; his personality is one that goes over equally well face-to-face and online. We joked around, he introduced us to a couple of friends ("Hey, these are a couple of Ole Miss guys... They're really racist!"), we made hypothetical plans for an SEC Championship Game meetup in Atlanta (which he likely felt confident in not having to follow through with), and wildly prognosticated the upcoming season.

The "Second-Half" speakers were especially great. We got to hear from Bankoff and a panel of other guys who are experts in blog content networks. The next panel topic "Make the Leap, Make it your Job," was headlined by Spencer, whose vodka tonics (he juggled three while onstage) kept trying to escape from their containers, as Orson gesticulated his was through questions and answers. While I felt like I may have learned more from the other speakers in this panel, Spencer stayed gloriously off-topic, and it was a riot to see him open a line of thought willy-nilly and tie it back into something articulate, borderline profound. After that panel wrapped things up, the Sports Illustrated people announced the winners of their business card raffle. I am proud to report that a certain Cup writer is now one 8GB iPod touch richer. I was pulling for the Rutgers jersey but hey, never kiss a gift horse in the face, right?

So as the last speakers wrapped up the day, and our internet-atrophied attention spans began to wane, we convened back outside on the dank, rainy streets, and made our way to the GQ-hosted afterparty. We darted across the slick streets, Spencer leading the way in his ridiculous suit. When Orson Swindle jumps out into traffic in his white and lime-green getup, you don't ask questions. You just jump after him. When I heard GQ was involved, I'd imagined something swanky, but much to my delight, the directions led us to a packed-out Irish dive, with a small corridor of standing room that forced friendliness and elicited all sorts of handshakes, toasts, and business cards. The party featured a generous list of complimentary beer and liquor, sparkly platinum-wigged starlets handing out poor decisions (tequila shots) on silver platters, and other details, I'm certain, that quickly become fuzzy.

Next thing I knew, I was in Chinatown with a bubbly LSU grad named Susan, who works for Major League Soccer and had roped Ghost and me into attending a Major League hipster-fest of a dance party. Susan and her friends danced with us in a charitable manner (we're awkward) and encouraged us to draw from their long island teas, which we doubtlessly could not afford for ourselves. So there we were, viewing digital turntables spinning on a dreaded-out and suspender-ed DJ's Macbook, fighting off sleep and bleary-eyed intoxication, reaching quarter-hourly epiphanies that, though in our early 20's we are already Too. Old. For. This. Shit.

A confused hour or so later, we were back down by the Hudson River, having been directed home by our female wards (Susan stayed behind. She may still be at that bar...). I was ravenously hungry, Ghost was too tired to eat. I drug him along Broadway and up to a pizza joint with a name that was distinctly un-Italian, but the pie was huge and unreal. On the way home, we passed a trio of leggy, waifish girls, and as we turned to sneak one last glance at the blonde one with the milky complexion, the second one tackled the third, and a histrionic, screaming, weave-pulling catfight erupted. A large Latino man tried to intervene, doubtlessly in an attempt to parlay the conflict into a pornographic movie, the reels of which were already spinning in his mental cinema. No such luck. One of the girls chucked her phone at the other. We left.

Sleep came quickly, as it often does at 4:30 AM. One last Sunday morning tube ride (not many churchgoers) yielded a funny encounter with a chunky man of questionable ethnicity, who at the changing of trains, squealed "IT'S THE #3 EXPRESS, N*GGAAAAAAA!!!!" People in New York are interesting.

So ends our tale, devoid sofar of any real insight, as I'd originally intended. A dryer, more academic Part 2 will hopefully take place later this afternoon. Until then, take care.

WW

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