“I can’t wait to get on the road again”
— Willie Nelson
For this article, I decided that I would take you on the road with me. If you’re interested in speaking at a SQL Saturday away from home, I figured that you’d like a taste of what it’s like to travel to an out-of-town SQL Saturday.
Of course, people travel to these events in different ways, so everyone’s traveling experience will be different. Some people fly to these conferences. For events in New York City, I usually take Amtrak. People will travel using the means that makes the most sense to them, and especially in a way that’s cost-effective (as I mentioned in a previous article, we speakers mostly make these trips on our own dime). Most SQL Saturdays where I apply are generally within a somewhat reasonable driving distance for me. As of this article, my longest distance traveled to a SQL Saturday is Pittsburgh, which was an eight-hour (one way) drive for me.
So, I decided to document my trip to SQL Saturday #714, Philadelphia. For this trip, I’m driving. It’s roughly a four hour drive from my home in Troy, NY to southeast Pennsylvania. Most of the trip is on interstate highways and through large metropolitan areas (I’ll be skirting the New York metro area on this drive), so the drive won’t seem as tedious as it is on a long stretch of rural highway.
So off we go!
How early I make travel arrangements depends on what SQL Saturday I apply to speak. If it’s an event where I’m likely not to be chosen, I’ll usually wait to see if I’m picked before I start making travel plans, although there are some exceptions. If the event is one where I think I might have a reasonable chance of being chosen, or if it’s one where I can cancel plans if I’m not picked, I’ll make plans as soon as I possibly can.
I’m traveling solo for the Philadelphia trip. Once in a while, my wife accompanies me on SQL Saturday trips; she knows that she has an open invitation to come along for the ride. Alas, work and other commitments kept her from doing this trip, so she elected to stay home.
For lodging arrangements, I contacted my friend, Jerry, who lives about forty-five minutes from the event site — not necessarily right down the road, but close enough to make it convenient. Jerry is an old college buddy and fraternity brother; we both attended Syracuse University, and we were in the same Kappa Kappa Psi pledge class. This is the third consecutive year that I’ve been selected to speak at Philadelphia SQL Saturday, and the third straight year I’ve stayed overnight with Jerry and his family. I’ve joked with Jerry about making this an annual thing; when I left his house last year, I remember telling him, “I’ll see you next year.” I guess I wasn’t kidding!
I Google-mapped directions to both Jerry’s house and the event site in Blue Bell, PA. When I spoke to Jerry, he informed me that he would be returning from a trip on the same day that I would be driving down. It was possible that Jerry’s wife would be at home to greet me when I arrived, but even that was uncertain, given Jerry’s travel schedule. So I made sure that I mapped directions to go directly to the speaker’s dinner on Friday night.
A few days before the event, I finally got a location for the speaker’s dinner (until that point, it was listed as “TBD”). Once I had that last piece of the travel puzzle, I was able to finalize my plans.
Friday, April 20 — heading down to Philly
I decided to take the day off from work on Friday — not just to prepare for my trip and to drive down, but with my schedule the way it’s been for the past several weeks, I decided I could use the mental break. It felt good to sleep in this morning.
I took a 45 minute walk in the morning; I’ve been trying to get into the habit of doing so each day, especially lately when I haven’t had time to get to CrossFit. After a quick shower, I left my house around 12:45, got myself lunch at Panera, and got on the road around 1:45.
Along with a couple of rest stops, I made it to the speaker’s dinner a little after 6:00. It generally wasn’t a bad drive; the worst traffic was the stop-and-go traffic on US-202 in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. I had thoughts about getting gas on Route 202 before I crossed into Pennsylvania; gas prices in New Jersey tend to be cheaper. Unfortunately, almost all the gas stations I passed were on the other side of the highway. (Those of you who’ve dealt with New Jersey highways know what I mean when I say how much of a pain it is to get to something on the other side of the highway.) I wasn’t in any danger of running out of gas, so I figured I could wait. Unfortunately, as I would find out later that night, I probably should have stopped.
Many SQL Saturdays have a speaker’s dinner on Friday night before the event. It’s a great opportunity to say hi to fellow speakers, reconnect with friends you don’t see very often, and maybe even make new ones. Today’s dinner was held at an Indian restaurant in Norristown, PA, a few miles from the event site. I saw several familiar faces when I arrived, including (among others) Greg Moore, Chris Bell, Gigi Bell, Grant Fritchey, Eugene Meidinger, Sebastian Meine, Lisa Margerum, and John Miner, among others. (I hope I didn’t miss anyone there!) Gigi, who had met my wife the year before, asked where she was, and said that she forgave her for not coming on this trip. The food was very good; I went back up for several extra helpings of the Tandoori chicken.
I left the dinner around 8:30, but not before picking up my ID lanyard and speaker’s gift.
After I left, the first thing I wanted to do was put gas in my car. This was when I started to regret my decision not to get gas in New Jersey; gas prices around this area were 20 to 30 cents per gallon higher here than it was in Jersey.
I got to Jerry’s house around 9. I was promptly greeted by their dog, Daisy (for some reason, I keep wanting to refer to her as Sadie). I spent about an hour or so hanging out with his family in the family room, and decided to go to bed at the same time Jerry put his son to bed.
Something I ate definitely didn’t agree with me this night; I was feeling somewhat queasy when I went to bed. I fell asleep quickly, hoping that whatever it was that made me feel ill would clear up in my sleep. Tomorrow’s going to be a long day.
Saturday, April 21 — SQL Saturday
My alarm woke me up at 6 am. I took a quick shower, dressed, and went down to the kitchen where Jerry had coffee waiting for me. I didn’t bother with breakfast; I figured there was going to be plenty of bagels and coffee at the event. And as I correctly guessed, whatever was bothering me when I went to bed cleared itself up by the morning. I left Jerry’s house a little after 7:30, and made it to the SQL Saturday location a little after 8:00.
As with most SQL Saturday conferences, signs were out to direct people to the proper site.
SQL Saturday events usually have a speaker’s room where speakers can park themselves and their things; it’s basically a home base for presenters. I put my things in the speaker’s room and went out to the main reception area, where the vendors had their tables.
SQL Saturday is funded by sponsors, who usually set up booths at the conferences and include swag and raffle prizes to be given away at the end of the day. Attendees enter raffles by dropping tickets (that come with their registration packages) at each vendor’s table. Vendors will raffle off a variety of items, including software licenses, books, Xbox game systems, drones, tablet computers, Bluetooth speakers and headphones, and so on. Of course, the deal is that when you enter these raffles, you give vendors the opportunity to contact you via email.
As the day got going, I saw a few more familiar faces whom I didn’t see at the previous night’s speaker’s dinner, including Taiob Ali, James Serra, Tracy Boggiano, and Steve Mokszycki.
I made it a point to sit in on Greg’s presentation about how to present. Number one, I’m giving a very similar presentation in New York City next month. Number two, his presentation was in the same room as mine.
And number three, Greg is a friend, and I like to heckle him! 🙂
(I said this to Greg as I walked in the room. His response: “I know where you live! Better, I know your wife!”)
Greg, as always, gave a very good presentation. He mentioned a number of points that didn’t occur to me.
At 11:40, my own session started. I didn’t count, but I’ll guess-timate that there were about seven or eight people in my session. There was plenty of discussion and a few questions, which is exactly what I want in my presentations. Well, I would’ve liked more questions, but at least it was a receptive audience. I don’t want an audience that isn’t receptive; I’ve had that happen before.
I grabbed lunch after my session; barbecue catered by a place called Mission BBQ. Very tasty!
A month earlier, I was talking to Tracy Boggiano at Rochester SQL Saturday. She told me that she had taken a number of SQL Saturday trips (a lot more than me!), and was telling me how she had gained weight from all those trips. Up to this point this weekend, I could definitely see why.
I also saw that massage therapy students were giving free chair massages. They said they would be there until 4:00. I told myself to get one after lunch.
During the lunch break, Taiob came up to me and asked me if I would be interested in speaking for his user group out in the Boston area. It would most likely be a date next year. Just another example of my efforts paying off! I told Taiob that yes, I was interested. He said he would contact me. He also promised to pick a month where we were unlikely to have snow on the ground!
Sarah Hutchins, a recruiter from Harrisburg, PA, was doing a presentation called “How to Ace Your Job Interview.” Because it was related to my presentation that morning, I made it a point to sit in. It was her very first SQL Saturday presentation, and I thought, for her first one, it went very well. It wasn’t perfect — there were things she could have done better — but I think (and hope) she was pleased with her effort.
James Serra sat next to me during the presentation. He commented how it seemed that we saw each other at every SQL Saturday, and joked that all of we speakers should just get a bus and take it from conference to conference together! Indeed, I regularly see a lot of these speakers I mentioned earlier in this article. It does seem like we travel from event to event!
Sarah’s session went long; it was a little past 3:30 by the time we got out. I decided to sit out the last round of sessions; by that time, my brain was cooked, and I could use some downtime. I went to the speaker’s room to relax a bit.
It was at that moment that I realized that I’d forgotten about the chair massages. By then, it was 3:45. I had fifteen minutes to get one! I managed to get it in, and it was well worth it!
Sessions started wrapping up around 4:30; around that time, everyone started gathering around the reception area. The vendor raffles began. Gigi Bell won a set of Bluetooth headphones.
I got back to Jerry’s house around 6:00. We hung out for a little while; I worked on this article a bit, and watched his son play Xbox games in the family room. I told his kids that I wanted to thank them for letting me crash there for the weekend by taking them out to dinner, and they could pick the place. I took Jerry, his wife Debbie, and their kids to a T.G.I. Fridays for dinner, and went to Rita’s to get dessert.
The rest of the evening was quiet and uneventful. Jerry and I chatted in his kitchen, while we watched his son play more Xbox in the family room. I said my goodbyes to his wife and daughter; with my early morning departure time, I didn’t expect to see either of them the next morning.
Sunday, April 22 — heading home
I told Jerry that I was hoping to be on the road by 7 am; I had a mid-afternoon commitment, and needed to get home as soon as I could. As it turned out, I didn’t get out of bed until 7:30. It wasn’t a huge deal; it would take me four hours to drive back to Troy. I figured that if I could be on the road before 9 am, I would be in good shape.
I left his house around 8:30. On my way out, I said to Jerry, “I’ll see you next year!” I fully intended to apply to SQL Saturday Philadelphia again the following year, and assuming I was selected (which might be a safe bet, since I’ve gone three straight years), I’d likely be calling upon Jerry to ask if I could utilize his guest room once again.
I took a slightly different route home, since I went directly to the speaker’s dinner on Friday night, rather than stop at Jerry’s house first. Really, the only difference was that I drove up to Allentown and picked up I-78 to I-287, instead of taking US-202 like I did on my drive down.
I took a break around 10:45 at the Sloatsburg rest stop on the NY Thruway. As I get older, I’ve noticed that I can’t really drive longer than a couple of hours at a time. I took about 45 minutes to use the facilities, stretch my legs, grab a cup of coffee and a quick bite to eat, before continuing my trek back home.
After about four hours of driving (and not including my rest stop), I pulled into my driveway a little before 1:30 pm. My trip odometer said that I had driven 541.7 miles on this trip since Friday afternoon.
And that ended yet another SQL Saturday on the road for me. I was pretty exhausted by the time I got home, but nevertheless, I felt pretty good about notching yet another satisfying SQL Saturday trip on my list!
I hope you enjoyed taking this excursion with me! My next scheduled SQL Saturday is #716 in New York City next month (this time, I’m taking Amtrak, rather than driving). Hopefully, this gave you a taste of what it’s like to travel to a conference, and further encourage prospective speakers to go outside of their boundaries.
I’ll see you again from the road!