Early last year, I wrote about my trip to SQL Saturday #714, Philadelphia. That was an enjoyable trip (well, they all are), and I enjoyed writing that article. With my trip to SQL Saturday #912 in New York City, I thought it’d be a fun exercise to write another one. I figured it’d be a fun piece for people who’ve never traveled to a SQL Saturday, not to mention people who’ve never been to New York City.
So, come along with me as we take another trip!
Being the trip planner that I am, I mapped out my plans for this trip a while back. Plans for this trip have actually been in the works for months.
Planning began back in May, when I submitted my presentations. For planning purposes, whenever I submit presentations to any event, I assume that I’ll be selected to speak, even before I find out whether or not my submissions are accepted. As soon as I submit, my plans for whatever event I apply are pretty well written into my calendar, unless either (1) I end up not getting chosen for the event, or (2) some conflict that I can’t get out of comes up for the same date.
Ordinarily, I don’t firm up my travel plans until I know for sure that I’m selected to speak, but this time around, there were a couple of twists. First of all, I saw Thomas Grohser, one of the event’s organizers, at SQL Saturday in Albany in July. He told me that I was going to be speaking in NYC. Granted, Thomas is a friend, but nevertheless, it was still not an official selection. I wanted to make sure that I had the official selection email before I started booking my train and my hotel room.
In early August — still before I received the official acceptance notification — I got an email from Amtrak (I’m a Guest Rewards member) that included fare specials. I discovered a round-trip fare from Albany to Penn Station that was too good to pass up. Unfortunately, the deal had an expiration date, so I had to act fast. I decided to pull the trigger on it. Okay. I had a train reservation. Now I was committed to the trip, regardless of whether I was chosen to speak or not. It wasn’t a big deal; I regularly attend SQL Saturday in New York, regardless of whether or not I’m speaking.
I selected an early afternoon train to New York. I wanted to leave myself time to make the speaker’s dinner, if they had one. As it turned out, that would not be the case, as I’ll explain later on.
Now that my train was reserved, I needed to find a place to stay. My two siblings both have places down in The City, and my sister has repeatedly told me that I can use her place in Brooklyn. While I’m appreciative of the offer, I also wanted to stay someplace closer to the Microsoft office in Manhattan, preferably within walking distance, where SQL Saturday takes place. Of course, as anyone who has traveled to New York City can attest, inexpensive places to stay in midtown Manhattan are nearly non-existent. It also didn’t help that the office was located near one of the world’s biggest tourist traps. (I usually try avoiding it, but that was impossible for this trip.) I checked a variety of places, including a few on AirBnB and a few places that were farther away but near subway lines. I found a few places that had potential, but kept looking.
I hit the jackpot when I tried Hotwire. They advertised a deal where I could stay at an (unnamed) midtown hotel for $109. It promised that I would be booked at one of three hotels, which they listed. The actual hotel would be revealed after I booked. I looked at their locations, decided I could live with them, and decided to take the chance. I ended up getting booked at the Sheraton New York Times Square. The final damage was $173 after taxes and fees — granted, more than the advertised $109, but still a steal for a Sheraton in midtown Manhattan near Times Square!
At some point — I’m not quite sure when — I looked at my own speaker’s profile, and noticed that three of my submissions were now listed as “Regular Session,” not “Submitted Regular Session.” This is usually a pretty good indication that I’ve been selected to speak, although it still isn’t official yet. I was surprised, however, that three of them were listed. I figured, either (1) it was a mistake, (2) they were still working on the schedule, or (3) I was going to be one very busy boy on October 5!
In August, I got an email from Thomas Grohser. It was no mistake. Indeed, I had been selected to give three presentations! Thomas asked me, “let me know if this is too much or not.”
I sent him back a two word reply: “challenge accepted!”
So things were in place. Travel plans were set, and I was definitely speaking. I went about my business, awaiting the first weekend in October to arrive.
A funny thing happened along the way. I’m a big Yankee fan. The Yankees ended up winning the American League Eastern Division. At some point, I looked at the dates for the Yankees’ first two playoff games: October 4 and 5 in New York.
Hey, I was going to be in New York on October 4 and 5!
I looked into getting tickets for ALDS Game 1. They definitely weren’t cheap, but they weren’t so expensive that they would break the bank, either. The only thing that made me hesitate was that no game time was announced. If it was an early afternoon game, there was no way that I’d be able to make it. When they announced that it was a 7 pm game time, I pulled the trigger and bought myself a ticket! I’ve been going to ballgames for years, but I’ve never been to a playoff game before, and attending a postseason game has been on my bucket list for a long time. A weekend that was already going to be fun had just become more exciting!
At this point, all the plans were set. I only had to wait for October 4 to arrive.
Friday, October 4 arrived. My wife dropped me off at Albany-Rensselaer train station around 12:30. Other than the fact that my train, which was supposed to depart at 1:05, was about twenty minutes late, the train ride to Penn Station was uneventful. I arrived in New York around 4:00.
I took the E subway to my hotel. Upon exiting the subway, I had my first (pleasant) surprise of the trip. While I was at the street level, looking for my hotel, someone said hi to me. I was surprised to see that it was Michelle Gutzait, one of the SQL Saturday speakers, and her boyfriend! We spoke briefly. She was speaking at our user group in November, and said she was looking forward to speaking. They were looking for a theater for a show they were seeing that night, while I was looking for my hotel.
Randomly bumping into Michelle on the street turned out to be the first of numerous surprises on this trip.
I found my hotel, dropped off my bags, and proceeded up to the Bronx.
Now, I’ve been a baseball fan since I was around 12 or 13. I grew up rooting for the Yankees. I’ve attended numerous regular season games, more than I can remember. However, despite all those years going to regular season ballgames, I have never been to a postseason playoff game. It’s something that’s been on my bucket list for quite some time. When I saw that the Yankees’ first two playoff games were at home at the same time I was in the City for this trip, I jumped on the opportunity and bought myself a ticket for Friday night.
Friends told me that it was a different atmosphere from a regular season game, and it did not disappoint. The atmosphere was electric, and the crowd was loud — much more than a regular season game. Fans hung on to nearly every pitch during the first seven innings. By the time the seventh inning rolled around, the Yankees had scored ten runs and held nearly an insurmountable lead. I stuck it out until the end of the game and hopped the subway back to my hotel. I did stop to get a couple of slices of pizza on my way back (I can’t pass up genuine New York-style pizza!). It was well after midnight by the time I got back to my room, and around 1 am by the time I went to bed.
My alarm went off at 6. After hitting my snooze button a couple of times, I got up around 6:20. I rolled out of bed, showered, dressed, checked out of the hotel, and proceeded to Ellen’s Stardust Diner for breakfast.
This was the second time that I had gone to breakfast at Stardust; the first was when I spoke at NYC SQL Saturday last year. Now, I’ll say that the food at Stardust is good, but not great. If I picked a place to eat based on the food alone, Stardust would not be my first choice. However, I love Ellen’s Stardust Diner. It isn’t about the food; it’s about the experience. Stardust is known for their singing wait staff, and they put on a good show!
Amusing note: my waiter was named Kansas. Kansas is my favorite band! I told him as much, and he told me he was so named because they were also his parents’ favorite band! I hoped that he (or someone else) could sing a Kansas song before I finished my breakfast, but it wasn’t to be.
I could’ve sat there all morning and listened to the wait staff sing (and I told Kansas this), but alas, my first presentation was at 9:00. I wanted to get to Microsoft as soon as I could so I could prepare. Upon finishing my breakfast, I proceeded to the Microsoft building and SQL Saturday.
I arrived at the Microsoft Times Square office, directly across the street from the Port Authority Bus Terminal, around 8:15, and came across several #SQLFamily friends, including, among others, John Miner, Matt Cushing, Taiob Ali, Michelle Gutzait, George Walters, James Phillips, Thomas Grohser, Steve Simon, Kathi Kellenberger, Kevin Feasel, Alex Grinberg, James Serra, and Chris Seferlis. (I hope I didn’t leave anyone out!)
I wrote earlier about my presentations, so I won’t rehash them here. I will say that the combination of doing three presentations, combined with waking up at 6 am after having gone to bed at 1 am made for a long and tiring day! After lunch, for the sake of my own sanity, I decided not to attend any more sessions until I presented my own. There were some couches outside the speaker’s room, so I attempted to take a power nap — a plan that was thwarted by a security guard who kicked me awake (literally — he kicked the couch I was on) and told me, “you can’t do that here.” Sheesh.
At one point during the day, Matt hilariously sent this tweet. I got a good laugh out of this!
My trip of fun surprises continued at the end of the day during the conference closing session and raffle drawings. I was sitting in the front row. James Phillips, one of the co-organizers, was running the raffle. Since I was in the front row, he had me pick one of the winners. I stuck my hand in the bowl with the tickets, mixed them up, pulled one out, and gave it to James.
Mind you, I did not look at the ticket. Upon seeing the ticket, James shook his head and said, “I don’t believe it.”
He showed me the ticket. It had my name on it. I had pulled my own ticket! I’d won a Bluetooth speaker!
After SQL Saturday was over, I proceeded to 32nd Street, where Koreatown is located. It’s one of my favorite neighborhoods in Manhattan. As a Korean-American, I feel somewhat obligated to visit this place now and then, but as one who was born in New York State, I also feel at home when I come to this place to visit. I picked out a Korean BBQ place — one where I’d never been before — and had myself an excellent meal.
While I was waiting to be seated, a gentleman who had seen my shirt came up to me and introduced himself as a fellow Syracuse University alum. Yet another example where my clothing became a conversation piece! We spent about ten minutes talking about our alma mater before we were finally seated.
I had purposely scheduled a late train back home so that I could enjoy dinner while I was in Manhattan. After dinner, I walked the block west to Penn Station so I could catch my train.
Upon boarding the train and finding myself a seat, I heard a familiar voice say, “boy, they’ll let anybody on this train!” I turned around and saw Greg Moore sitting a couple of seats back. Yet another surprise on this trip!
Although Greg is very active in the SQL Server community, he did not attend SQL Saturday. Instead, he attended ComicCon with his daughter. (Greg wrote a nice ‘blog article about their ComicCon experience; you can read it here.) I moved back to sit across from them, but we didn’t converse much (if at all) during the ride; we were all pretty tired, and we planned to sleep on the train ride home. No matter; I see Greg often enough, anyway. (I’ll see him next week at our next user group meeting.)
I didn’t sleep well on the train; no matter how much I tried, I couldn’t get comfortable. My wife picked me up at the station, and I arrived home sometime after midnight.
Despite getting very little sleep, I had an absolute blast on this trip!
Mind you, I always have fun every time I go to a SQL Saturday, but I especially have a blast whenever I travel to New York City. It was an opportunity to get together with #SQLFamily, it was an opportunity to network, I got to practice my presentation skills (again), and as an added bonus, I got to attend a postseason baseball game! I absolutely love taking this trip, and I hope to do this again for NYC SQL Saturday again next year!
This is my last scheduled SQL Saturday for 2019. I don’t have any more SQL Saturdays lined up — I applied to speak at Boston BI SQL Saturday, but I will likely withdraw because of a conflict. There are “save-the-dates” listed for Rochester, Philadelphia, and Boston (non-BI) set for next year, and I intend to apply for them once they go live. (I might also apply to Virginia Beach as well; we’ll see.) And, of course, our Albany group usually has our SQL Saturday at the end of July.
My next scheduled presentation is in Seattle for PASS Summit, which is in four weeks (!!!). I’ll ‘blog about my PASS Summit experience as I go along. Hope to see you in Seattle!
Thanks for taking this trip with me — we’ll see you later from the road!