This week I was in the City of Angels for Microsoft’s Worldwide Partner Conference. It was an amazing event, and there are a million stories about the people I met from all over the world. One of those people was singer/songwriter LeAnn Rimes.
If you attended the conference, you may be surprised my reference to LeAnn. No, LeAnn didn’t attend or perform at the WPC, and you didn’t miss a special appearance. Our meeting was something of an extra benefit, and a lot of backstory will be required for this to make sense. Let’s see, where to begin? Hmm…..
About two weeks ago I made my first visit to Bamboo’s offices in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. It was an amazing adventure, and there is a lot I want to share about that trip. But for the purposes of this story, the main thing you should know is that my 23-hour flight to Vietnam was made in economy class. In fact, on both legs of my return trip from Vietnam, including the longer 14-hour leg from Tokyo to Washington D.C., I was squished into a center aisle seat at the back of the plane.
So, when I checked in with Virgin America for my flight from D.C. to L.A., I was immediately tempted a $169 upgrade offer for First Class. I quickly decided to treat myself to some extra leg room for the five and a half hour flight to Los Angeles. It was great. I even bumped into an old friend from AOL on the flight; it’s especially nice to be recognized when you’re sitting up there in the front row.
The WPC is held at the Los Angeles Convention Center, a sprawling complex that covers at least two or three city blocks. Just walking from one end of the Convention Center to the other, while humping a laptop on my back, was a lot of exercise for me. I frequently carry my golf clubs for 18 holes, but working this show made me tired and sore.
I’m jumping around a bit, but I promise I’m getting to the story of why LeAnn Rimes hates me, and what that has to do with SharePint.
For those who may not know, SharePint is typically an informal meeting of SharePoint professionals at a bar. Usually around any big show, somebody in the SharePoint community will organize a night out at a local watering hole for all of us geeks to talk shop and have a few drinks. As he did in 2010, Owen Allen, a perennial influencer in the SharePoint community organized a very nice gathering at the Weiland Brewery Underground in downtown L.A. I attended with Lam Le, COO of Bamboo Solutions. Lam and I were keen to catch up with old friends, especially Jill Kunkel, Bamboo’s former Channel Manager. Jill left Bamboo to join Axceler in the beginning of 2011. We hadn’t seen her since she left and we were eager to gossip and pick Jill’s brain for insights on the Microsoft partner ecosystem.
When Lam and I arrived at the bar, a couple of guys sporting conference badges came up to us and mentioned how bad the SharePint event was. One said, “Worst party ever!” Another complained that it had taken him 20 minutes to get a drink. For a few seconds, Lam and I considered skipping out and just grabbing dinner instead. Although we were both exhausted from travel and the effort of working the show, we pressed on and decided to make an appearance despite the bad reviews.
In retrospect, I don’t understand what those guys were complaining about. The brewery was a cozy little bar and a nice crowd of 50 or more SharePoint geeks had shown up to visit. We got drinks instantly and settled in, chatting with a couple of old friends. We saw Owen Allen, and I was delighted to run into Joe Herres from H3 Solutions.
In just a few minutes we found Jill. There were hugs all around, and gossip about mutual friends from Bamboo. Jill looked great and introduced us to her new team at Axceler. I really liked her new team members, and found myself very happy that our former colleague had gone on to such a happy new mission. It’s clear that Jill is having fun, and that her many skills are appreciated her new employer.
I decided to snap a few pictures and wanted to make sure I got one of Jill. Unfortunately, it was pretty dark in the bar, and my iPhone 4 wasn’t automatically turning on the camera flash. I changed the setting on the camera from Auto to On, and got this great shot of Lam, Jill, and her new boss. Little did I realize, however, that this picture would later be the cause of one of the most embarrassing incidents of my life.
The next day was another full day of conferencing. I will mention for the record that I am a bit of an introvert nature. I don’t socialize easily, and it requires some personal effort to project myself externally and meet new people. Going from booth to booth and introducing myself is emotionally exhausting, and just not my usual cup of tea. But I did great. I’m finding that after nearly four years in the SharePoint space, my confidence has grown and I feel much more comfortable talking about a broad range of subjects related to Microsoft and SharePoint. I made complete rounds of the enormous Solutions Center and stopped to chat with anyone and everyone who was interested in hearing about Bamboo.
I wound down my last day of the conference feeling ebullient and proud of my participation. I had made some really great connections with the Microsoft team and dozens of other ISVs who could become important business partners for Bamboo.
I called home and asked my wife Kelly to check me in for my return flight to Dulles. Having very much enjoyed the First Class flight from DC, I asked her to see if I could get the same $169 upgrade for my flight back. I had worked hard, I was weary from weeks of travel, what the hell, I deserved it.
Kelly checked me in and was able to get me a first class upgrade. It cost $300 this time, which I probably wouldn’t have been willing to pay for, but Kelly spoils me and she assured me that she also felt I deserved a little special treatment. I love that woman.
I got to LAX way too early. I arrived around 6 p.m. ahead of a 9:50 p.m. flight. Terminal 3 at LAX is a hole. I was glad to find a Burger King and pound down a double Whopper with cheese, but there were few other comforts to help pass the time. I opted to remain outside where I could indulge my nicotine addiction and enjoy the cool early evening weather. I actually had a very nice time listening to a favorite Indigo Girls album on my iPhone and people-watching as the sun was setting on L.A. Reflecting on a successful trip, enjoying my favorite music and appreciating many tearful goodes, I felt happy and sociable. Boredom overcame my social exhaustion and I found myself in the mood to just chat with a stranger to pass the time. No one else seemed to share my mood, so I just continued to sing along to my music as I made my way to the gate.
My happy mood persisted even though the throng at Gate 36 was a mess. The flight was delayed almost an hour, and the time boarding started, I was extremely happy to have that first class ticket and be able to jump to the front of the line.
When I got to my seat, I immediately noticed the attractive blonde woman who would be sitting next to me. Still feeling chatty, I thought this might be someone I would enjoy talking to. However, even before I had settled into my seat, I got the feeling that she wasn’t in the mood for chatter. If anything, she was putting off every signal that she wanted to be left alone. There was no eye contact, no introduction or acknowledgement. I gave her space but kept looking for an opening to start a conversation. She ordered a beer and downed it quickly. I thought that maybe once she had a drink and a moment to relax we might strike up a conversation.
When the plane finally left the gate, a friendly flight attendant came and chatted with me and the woman beside me. She noted that there was an open row behind us and that if we wanted to separate and stretch out, it was OK for one of us to move. The blonde seemed thrilled at the opportunity to get away. She said she would definitely move once takeoff was complete. “You’ll be happy about that once I start snoring,” I quipped, even though I was still hoping she would stick around and chat.
As the plane roared down the runway, I turned to the woman and said, “I don’t mind moving if you’re already comfortable.” She appreciated that and flashed a quick smile. “That’s OK,” she said, “but thank you.” I thought that might have broken the ice and even hoped that she might decide I was a decent and friendly person and decide to remain in her seat. But as soon as the seat belt light went dark, she got up and moved to the row behind and across from me.
I was disappointed and resigned myself to just getting some sleep. I popped an Ambien and tried to find a video to watch until I could get to sleep.
I was beginning to feel drowsy and thought I would make a quick trip to the restroom before nodding off. As I returned to my seat, I leaned over to the flight attendant and said, “You know, I’ve probably flown almost 500,000 miles in my life, and every single time I’ve gotten stuck sitting next to the fat guy or a screaming ba. I finally get seated next to a beautiful woman, and you ran her off.” She laughed and said, “Do you know who that is? That’s LeAnn Rimes!”
“Wow!” I said halfheartedly. I knew the name, a popular country singer. I was surprised, and I definitely wouldn’t have recognized her on my own. Honestly, I don’t care for country music, and I’m really not especially impressed celebrities. But it was kind of cool. It did occur to me that my wife loves country music, and I think she had even mentioned liking LeAnn Rimes. I thought she would be impressed to know who I had been sitting with.
I thought I would just snap a quick picture with my iPhone as proof of the encounter. I leaned my seat back as far as it would go and had a decent shot of LeAnn. She was snuggled under a blanket, but I hoped maybe her face would be visible in the picture. I tapped the screen to capture the shot.
Of course I had forgotten that the flash was still set to “On” since taking the pictures at SharePint. The entire, previously dark, cabin lit up brightly with the flash. The Ambien was kicking in and I think I may have accidentally tapped the screen again. There was at least one, and maybe even as many as two more flashes. Fellow passengers moaned at my uncouth behavior. I’m sure LeAnn must have thought it was a full-on TMZ-style paparazzi attack. The flight attendant shot me an angry glare. I was horrified and terribly embarrassed. I had no intention of having my encounter with celebrity lead to a freak out, but somehow I had accidentally made a gigantic ass of myself. LeAnn, I sincerely apologize! I really, really did not mean to make you feel uncomfortable. I can’t imagine the hassle of being famous, and if I had my wits about me, I promise I never would have bothered you.
In retrospect, I’m extremely relieved that LeAnn changed seats. If she had been willing to talk I am virtually certain that I would have been telling her how awesome the Indigo Girls are, and pontificated about the incredible power of music. After that embarrassing conversation, I would have no doubt passed out in an Ambien-powered coma and snored mouth-open like Grandpa used to do after Thanksgiving dinner.
Anyway, that’s the story of how SharePint made LeAnn Rimes hate me. I had an awesome visit to L.A. and an extremely productive week at the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference. Thank you to the entire team at Microsoft for an amazing and memorable week!
Again, sorry, LeAnn! Even though I’m not a huge fan of country music, I have enjoyed your performances when I’ve seen them. And you do have a really beautiful smile!