Yeah, yeah, I know this happened almost a month ago now, but I’ve been meaning to post something about my trip to New Orleans and just haven’t had a ton of spare time to get it done. Better late than never, eh?
It’s been almost three years since I last attended the annual Society for Neuroscience meeting. On previous occasions, I’d gone to San Diego (2007), Washington, D.C. (2008), and then my last one in Chicago (2009). Ever since starting grad school at SLU, I’d heard stories about “the last one in New Orleans” (that will go undescribed here…), but unfortunately, due to Hurricane Katrina, the SfN meeting couldn’t return on schedule.
That is, until 2012, when, coincidentally, I had my next chance to go.
Taking a step back, the reason why this conference is held in a few specific cities is that there are only a few specific cities capable of hosting about 28,500 conference attendees. New Orleans was one such city, and taking it out of the rotation meant that Chicago had to be substituted, as it had a conference center large enough, and also enough hotels within a reasonable distance to hold all those people. Unfortunately, Chicago’s conference center just isn’t in a very good location and its overall configuration isn’t ideal for this particular convention (the locations of stair cases, the number of floors, etc). The logistics of handling 28,500 people can be handled much easier in New Orleans, San Diego, and D.C., at least so far as I’ve seen.
Regardless, I flew down on Friday, October 12th and returned on Wednesday, October 17th. I presented a poster during the very first session, Saturday afternoon, and had a bit more traffic than I expected to have, as most attendees are arriving on Saturday and/or Sunday and could easily miss my poster. Still, it was nice to get it out of the way early, freeing up additional time for the rest of the week. Overall, I attended some good talks, wrote plenty of notes, and got a few ideas on new experiments to run.
Of course, this is New Orleans, after all, so the meeting wasn’t where all the fun was had. I was splitting time between lab members from here at Wash U, and others from SLU. Mostly, that split depended on what time of the evening it was: if it was early, it was the Wash U crowd, and if it was late, it was the SLU crowd. One important exception was Friday night, after watching the Cardinals win Game 5 of the Wild Card Series against the Washington Nationals, we stayed out a bit late. That weekend, there was a BBQ & Blues Festival going on, so we stopped by for some good food and tunes on Friday and Saturday evening for dinner. They had it set up with a series of tents hosting a variety of different wares, and then a live stage with different musicians taking their turns.
I should remind you that Brooke and I took a trip to New Orleans in 2005, just after we got married and before Katrina rolled through, so I had already done much of the “touristy” things you’re supposed to do on a visit to the area. This time was more focused on the food and night life (and science, of course… :-)). I still stopped by Central Grocery for a muffuletta, had some Pasta Jambalaya at Crescent City Brewhouse, and had Po’ Boys from a few different vendors. Needless to say, the food was spectacular.
I tried an oyster, though. That was, perhaps, the absolute worst thing I have ever ingested. Never. Again.
Again, last time around, Brooke was still falling asleep around 9:00 pm (well, she still does, to a degree, but she can stay up later now than she used to…), so we didn’t really stay out late. This time, however, I was hanging out with night owls, so we hit up a variety of different establishments up and down Bourbon Street and, believe you me, I was genuinely surprised at the number of people out at 2:00 am on a Sunday night in mid-October. I can’t imagine what it would be like during Mardi Gras. The number of folks we saw in Soulard for a single day for Mardi Gras in February was probably approaching what I was seeing on a given weekend in October in New Orleans, and I don’t think the number of people was directly related to the number of geeky scientists that also happened to be in town.
Regardless, I had a really fun time down in New Orleans. The city seemed a bit nicer than it was in 2005, the populace seemed genuinely happy to have us all there (28,500 people bring in a lot of sales tax revenue), and I think the conference, as a whole, was glad to go someplace warm, instead of Chicago. It was great to hang out with good friends in a different setting, learn some new stuff at a large science conference, and “get away for awhile” (though, Brooke did a good job potty training Meg in my absence!!). I hope I get the opportunity to go back sometime!