I realized on the way home that I did not take nearly enough photos; I’ll not make that mistake again. Some photos are in the post and all photos are in the gallery at the end.
WCUS was the 4th WordCamp that I attended this year, having also attended WordCamps Buffalo, Northeast Ohio, and Pittsburgh (which I had the privilege of helping organize). WCUS was the largest by far, with about 2,000 fellow WordPress folks in attendance for the largest national WordPress gathering. I don’t usually like crowds, and have a tendency to either panic and avoid them, or find a corner and completely withdraw, so going to these WordCamps was really stretching my personal comfort zone boundaries. WCUS was especially challenging for me because of the sheer number of people there, but I forced myself to move around, meet people, and for the most part I consider it a win for me. There were a couple of down points for me, but overall, it was an excellent weekend.
There was wifi available, but it was spotty at best on the trip out (coming home it was actually pretty solid) but a lot of people were on the train overall, and more got on at each of the many stops that the train made, so it was a pretty diluted signal by the time we finally arrived in Philly. I didn’t mind so much though, as I wanted to take in everything about the trip, and was quite content watching the scenery zip by, being amazed at the freight trains that whizzed past, seemingly centimeters away from my window. It was also quite interesting just watching and listening to other passengers especially the group of 4 young men seated behind me on their way to New York City for the weekend. They actually kept me quite entertained during the trip with their banter and card games, and I thanked them for said entertainment when I disembarked in Philly.Besides having plenty of comfortable room to relax, traveling by train turns out to have a couple of other advantages over other means of travel. A Cafe Car was located right behind my car, which offered sandwiches, snacks, and drinks, so that was quite convenient. Trains also have substantially larger restroom facilities than planes or buses, which was VERY appreciated. I did learn that peeing while the train is at a station and not moving is definitely better than peeing when the train is barreling along at 100mph, but even that wasn’t bad.
A downside to train travel is that it is a little slow, especially from Pittsburgh to Harrisburg, as the train had to crawl through several small towns and more than a few times, we had to wait for a freight train to clear the track so that we could proceed. After Harrisburg, that didn’t seem to be much of a problem and several times we were traveling around 100 mph. But after talking with several folks at WCUS who have traveled by rail in Europe, it turns out that 100 mph is quite slow compared to European trains which apparently travel at speeds of up to 300 mph. I do wish the US could offer train service like that! I would always travel by train!
After arriving in Philadelphia, I experienced another first as I used the Uber car service for the first time. I wasn’t sure what to expect exactly, but it turns out that Uber is THE way to get around strange cities. Every driver that I had was very friendly, several offered me good tips on places to go, and they all offered insight into the life and culture of Philadelphia. And after watching these drivers navigate Philly traffic, construction, psycho bicyclists and pedestrians, I am “uber” thankful that I did not have to attempt driving in that city!
People of WordPress
So, on to WordCamp US. Any WordCamp is really about the PEOPLE, and WCUS certainly had people! Usually, when I have gone to WordCamps I have gone to attend every session and try to learn as much as possible, and in doing so, I have also often missed the opportunity to actually meet new people and get to know them. I determined ahead of time that I was NOT going to do that at WCUS. I wanted to meet as many people as I possibly could. There were going to be a LOT of folks there that I have gotten to know quite well from online, via Twitter, Facebook, Slack, podcasts, groups and so on, and I wanted to make the most of my opportunity to finally meet many of them in real life for the first time.
So, some of the folks that I did meet were Bridget Willard, Carrie “the WP Slayer” Dils, Rebecca Gill, BobWP Dunn, Cory Miller, Kerry Carron, Janet Hall, Ben Meredith, Brian Krosgard, Scott Becker, Angela Bowman, Andy McIlwain, Sherry and Cheryl LaPrade, Tara Claeys, Ginger Coolidge, Topher Derosia, Ray, Mike, “Tennessee”, Taco Verdo, Lisa B Snyder, Helen, Michelle Schulp, Nile Flores, David, and a bunch more that I can’t remember. And folks that I had met previously and connected again – Alex Standiford (great roommate!), Devin Walker, Jason Knill, Chris Lema, Kyle Maurer, Josh Pollock, Michelle Ames, Beth Soderberg, Brad Williams, Jeff Chandler, and fellow Pittsburghers Melinda Helt, Terri Orlowski, Kevin Hoffman, Michelle Roper. And probably a bunch more. And for me, that was a LOT of people to interact with over a 3 day period!
I got to hang out with Michelle Ames a good bit on the first day and we had a great time catching up and talking about all sorts of things. Michelle is the organizer of WordCamp Rochester and by the end of the day, I had agreed to help her with the 2017 WordCamp Rochester, so that was definitely very cool! And of I course I still plan on being just as involved in the 2017 WordCamp Pittsburgh. I’m hoping to attend a few other WordCamps next year and hopefully, finally, make my speaking debut at a couple of those WordCamps. And next year’s WCUS is going to be held in Nashville! That happens to be one of my favorite cities, so I am REALLY looking forward to that!
Fat Guy in the Room
I talked to a lot of sponsors and learned about several products that were new to me. Of course, I got lots of swag to bring home but also missed out on a lot because many sponsors who had t-shirts didn’t have large enough sizes for me. That was kind of a bummer. Sort of along the same lines, there were a couple of times when I tried to talk to someone new and got the looks and eye rolls that are all too familiar to a fat guy. I think the most disappointing occurrence of this was actually my last day there. I had stayed at the official WordCamp hotel (Sheraton) and there were a group of folks sitting in the lobby who had been at WordCamp all weekend and I recognized many of them, including several who were with Automattic (the WordPress ‘parent’ company). I tried to connect with them in passing and was rewarded with outright laughter, giggles, and lots of eye rolls. That was kind of devastating, to tell the truth, and a bummer of a way to end WCUS. More disappointing was the big fuss Automattic makes about not tolerating disrespect or rudeness. Guess that doesn’t apply to fat guys yet, but I’ve grown kind of used to that.
One session that I really wanted to attend but ended up missing was “WordPress & SEO in 2016” by Joost de Valk. Joost is the creator of the wildly popular Yoast SEO plugin, and by all accounts, his talk was outstanding. Fortunately, all of the talks were recorded and either already are on http://wordpress.tv/ or will be very soon. I’m looking forward to watching all of the talks that I missed, as well as re-watching the ones I did attend to take much more extensive notes. And a couple I also want to watch with my wife as they were so interesting that I believe she will thoroughly enjoy them as well.
Hopefully later this week I will get a couple more posts published covering a couple of the specific sessions and my takeaways from them.
Crowds, Crowds, Everywhere Crowds
I’m not a big crowd party type person at all, never have been. Even back in the 70’s when I was a ‘partier’ I didn’t like noisy crowded places. I’ve always preferred small quiet gatherings for parties, but as I quickly found out, that is not the WCUS style. I was invited to several evening events and I did go out each night but I did not do quite as well at these events.
The first night in town, I was invited to a Taco Party which was in an apartment, and I did okay, I think. I talked to a few people and had some good tacos. But it was quite noisy and a bit crowded, so I left fairly soon after arriving and went back to the hotel to chill out. While I was waiting outside for my Uber driver to arrive, I think I was talking to a “WordPress A-lister” but introvert me didn’t introduce myself and I had no idea who he was until later in the weekend when I saw other people’s photos of him.
The next night I went to a different party that was in a small cafe type place that maybe had room for 30 people. Except there ended up being well over 100 people there. It was definitely not the organizers’ fault, as the restaurant had told them they would be in one place and then actually put them in this place, but it was extremely crowded and the noise level was off the charts. I managed to get a small plate of hors d’oeuvres and a bottle of cider, but with one in each hand, I quickly realized that with no room to move and no place to sit, it was quite difficult to do anything with either. I finally managed to make my way back to the door and I took that opportunity to escape and return to the hotel again.
The third night, I again ventured out, this time to a meetup gathering that was being held in a large sports bar establishment with plenty of room. Except this was also the night that Penn State was playing for the Big 10 Championship and the place was packed to overflowing, definitely standing room only. I managed to get in the place, took a quick look around at the situation and immediately left. Panic attack anxiety flight mode took over and I fled back to the hotel again. This is the night that I discovered the UberEats app and so I quietly and quite contentedly sat in my room, ate a Philly Cheesesteak and watched Alabama win the SEC Championship. Roll Tide Roll!
After Party Regret
My big regret is that particular meltdown kept me from going back out that night to the official WCUS After party which was held at The Academy of Natural Sciences Museum. I had really been looking forward to it, and it certainly looks and sounds like everyone who attended had a great time, and wish I would have gone. But all things considered, my mental health needed that quiet night, so it all worked out for the best.
Here is a collection of the few photos I did take.