Sunday, July 27, 2008

Netroots Nation Through the Eyes of The Green Miles

A week overdue, here's my travelog from Netroots Nation 2008 in Austin.

I was waiting for the SuperShuttle at the airport when a horrific shriek had me jumping out of my flip-flops. It was my introduction to the great-tailed grackle. I asked an Austin resident about the birds, who told me with a scoff that they were introduced from Europe as songbirds. As was the case with Florida's love bugs, turns out locals often fall for tall tales. The grackles are native.

As much as I'd heard about Austin's BBQ, I ended up enjoying the Mexican food more. This enormous lunch from Las Manitas cost just about $10, much less than dinner at the famed Stubbs BBQ which was just OK.

Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean arrived on Thursday in the "Register for Change" tour bus. Was a little disappointed not to hear more about climate action from the former Vermont governor. In two speeches, he only made one reference to global warming, a passing reference to creation care.

An all-star panel on energy featured two top Democratic challengers for U.S. Senate -- Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich, running against Ted Stevens, and Oregon House Speaker Jeff Merkley, running against Gordon Smith. Can you imagine those seats flipping from climate action foot-draggers to true climate activists? Interesting point from EnergySmart's Adam Siegel -- school buses use 550 million gallons of diesel fuel a year. If school districts bought hybrids to replace their aging bus fleets, America could cut that almost in half.

Al Gore made a surprise appearance to tout his plan to make America's electricity carbon-free in 10 years. But most felt Van Jones was the best speaker of the conference, presenting the need for climate action in an urgent, compelling and inclusive voice.

Early in NN08, some bloggers were grumbling about how Barack Obama wasn't scheduled to appear. Later, we learned Obama had a good excuse for not making it -- his trip to Afghanistan, Iraq, the Middle East, and Europe. I suppose that beats schmoozing the bloggers. Obama did send along a video message.

The only souvenir I splurged for on the trip -- a Texas belt buckle. Don't act like you're not jealous.

The big DailyKos-sponsored blowout was held at Austin's Maggie Mae's (props to convention organizers for making sure everything -- hotel, convention center, events -- were in walking distance, greatly reducing the need for rental cars or cabs). To go to the roof deck, you had to pour your drink into a plastic cup and toss your empty bottle into the trash. When I asked the bouncer about it, he said he was shocked when he first saw that, too, but that scavengers apparently pick the recyclables out of the trash and make a profit off of them.

Went to a reception for Glenn Nye (far right), running for Congress in Virginia's second district against Rep. Thelma Drake. I love how Thelma's website expresses her deep concern for the future of the Chesapeake Bay but search for either global warming or climate and you'll get "No documents matched your query." Saying you're concerned about the Bay but not worried by climate change is like saying you're concerned about your car failing to start but not worried about the battery.

Got to go see the bats emerge from underneath Austin's Congress Avenue Bridge. It's not an overwhelming force of nature or anything, but it is a pretty cool sight. It takes about 10 minutes for all the bats (up to 1.5 million of them) to come out, forming clouds off in the distance.

Gathered to watch the bats in the lounge of the nearby Four Seasons. It features the Batini, which claims to be the official drink of Austin. Blackberries, grapefruit juice, vodka and champagne. Tasted pretty good, but the presentation was obviously key, featuring a blackberry with mint "wings."

More great food -- chorizo and cheese with corn tortillas and not one but two Dos Equis. When I ordered a Dos Equis, the waitress said, "Amber or lager?" One of my friends blurted out, "BOTH! Get both!" So I went along with the gag. Yes, my friends are easily amused.

Finally, my favorite part of the trip -- Fat Tire everywhere! Before I arrived, I hadn't realized I'd be west of the Mississippi River where New Belgium's sustainable beer is available, but I was thrilled to find it on tap just about everywhere we went.
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