A week ago, as I write this, I went to the airport, got on an airplane, and flew to New Orleans. My current company is a fully remote team, and once a year everyone gets together to actually see each other in person for a week of meetings, projects and socializing.

This kind of occasional face to face can be really useful in helping people get to know each other, spend time working through things that simply get solved better when everyone’s in a room together, and socializing and building those personal bonds that help people work better together.

Was it a productive week? Definitely. Was it worth the company cost to do it? Definitely, and as it was noted, we don’t pay for offices and so our company costs are lower, and it makes sense to invest those savings into making the company better, and these trips are one aspect of that. Did I get a lot done? Oh, yeah. How can I tell? Well, look at my current To Do list size…

I arrived Sunday evening, and the business started up at noon Monday and went to noon Friday, at which point we scattered to the winds, I got on another airplane, flew home and collapsed in a puddle of goo. In between was a mostly non-stop series of meetings: organization meetings, cross-functional meetings, group project meetings, meetings to talk about earlier meetings, and meetings to summarize meetings that talked about meetings. Well, or so it seemed. But it was a long, intense week with everyone and a lot of good work was accomplished. I think it really helped make sure we all understood what the company needs and priorities are and to align our own work behind pushing those forward.

Well, except on Wednesday. On Wednesday, we all got on a bus, drove out to Lafitte, and got on boats at Airboat Adventures and got driven out into the swamps in search of alligators. We found many, and it turns out they really like Marshmallows, so we got nice views of animals as big as about 10 feet, plus a nice tour commentary about the swamp, the gators, and how our changing climate is affecting them and the community of Laffite and what’s being done to try to minimize the problems. All in all a fun and fascinating morning far away from things technical, and highly recommended if you’re in the area.

So you can imagine birder Chuq, sitting in an airboat in the middle of a swamp with everyone around him gawking at the Alligators, madly scanning the trees and waters and cursing that I hadn’t packed my binoculars. I have, FWIW, ordered a nice pair of travel binocs that will live in my carry bag from now on, but that didn’t help me during this outing. Despite not even thinking I might want binoculars, I was able to add six lifers to my list in that 90 minutes or so, but left at least four more (including two tern species, a cormorant and a probably woodpecker) unidentified. Oh well. Oh, and yes, I gawked at alligators, too.

The French Quarter

Our company did this right: our hotel was the Monteleone, right in the French Quarter. Going back to the late 1800s, it’s really three buildings that got merged and connected over time, so it’s a fascinating little maze of “no, you have to use those other elevators”. I ate at Criollo, the hotel restaurant twice, the night I got in (a tasty piece of swordfish) and breakfast before we got started, and it was quite good.

But this was a work trip, and so breakfasts and lunches were catered in our rooms, but even those were decent, and at times, especially with the desserts and pastries, quite excellent.

Dinners, though, were out and around town. We ate at Bourbon House one night, where I had a Bourbon sidecar that was stunning. One group dinner (catered) was at House of Blues, and our final night out our team went to Pelican Club, where I was just blown away by the steak and the bread pudding. Along the way I ticked off all of my trip todos: Bread Pudding (three times), Jambalaya (twice), Gumbo, and Red Beans and Rice (twice).

Best food by far was at the Pelican Club, and it’s on my must-visit list for any future visits to the city.

New Orleans

Before I get into the city itself, a bit of a disclaimer: I self admit up front I’m not a huge fan of big city urban cores. I grew up in the suburbs, and I like that environment. Most big cities tend to annoy me, and I find the density of people and the generally associated dirt, grime and noise a bit of a turn off.

I’ve been to New Orleans twice before, the last time some 20+ years ago, and came away from both trips not really enjoying the place. I’m a much different person than I was then, so I wanted to give it a fair shake (well, as fair as I could given I spent 90% of my time inside the hotel and did little to no serious exploring). One of my co-worker described the French Quarter as if someone had taken San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf and plopped it down in the Tenderloin. I won’t disagree with that assessment, but I did feel like it was a lot more of the fun parts (Fisherman Wharf) than scary (Tenderloin).

I didn’t see a lot of the French Quarter, but what I did I liked (mostly) and made me curious about exploring it further if I get a chance in some future trip.

Photography

I’d originally planned to not carry a camera with me since I knew I was going to be in hotel conference rooms almost the entire time. At the last minute I stuck my X-T20 with the 16–35 lens on it in since that’s a small and light setup. And, as it turns out, that’s a lens I don’t know well and really need to practice with more, and it turned out to be exactly the wrong lens for almost every situation where I wanted to take pictures. So what pictures I did take came off the iPhone. Memo to self: plan better next time, and don’t be afraid to NOT take a camera. As someone who’s used to 400–600mm lenses for most of my work, 16mm might just as well have been a saxophone. I definitely need to work on this, and that was my thinking when I packed it, but this was not a trip to expect to do both practice with an unfamiliar lens and actually create anything I’d show to anyone else.

Lesson learned.

Daypacks

For my daypack I’ve been using the Lowepro BP 250, which is a small (20 liter) camera bag that can hold my laptop and tablet. I wasn’t sure it was the right bag for a trip like this but I decided to see how it worked.

I was right; it’s too small, the way things are stored is kinda awkward, and it just got in the way. While it works fine when I’m headed to the company office for a couple of hours or out to the coffee shop to work, it just got in the way constantly.

So I’ve ordered a new, larger bag (this, from Swiss-Gear)with TSA-ready laptop/tablet setup and better (I hope) storage. Once I get things fitted out to my satisfaction I’ll talk more about my carry bag. To carry camera gear in it, I bought a few padded wraps (think: lens burrito) I can stick in there, and I should be able to carry a body and a couple of lenses without problem or damage risk. We’ll see.

Airplanes

One thing I should note about this trip: it’s the first time I’ve gotten on an airplane since 2003 (or 2004), when I flew with my team at Apple down to Austin for meetings. If you think about that time, 9/11 was still fresh in our minds, the TSA was new to airports and still figuring it out, and with my weight and grumpy knees, sitting in airplanes for hours at a time simply wasn’t that comfortable. I made a decision to just stop flying after that. It cost me a few jobs along the way, but I don’t mind or regret that decision.

One of the agreements I had with my boss at Cisco before accepting the job was I didn’t fly, and they honored that without any hesitation. I came to feel like that was impacting the rest of the team in ways I wasn’t comfortable with, and if I hadn’t gone on sabbatical, I would have changed that. Having taken 60 pounds off definitely makes a difference, and so does, I find, paying for the exit row upgrade.

When I went to work on my current gig, I never brought it up; instead I renewed my passport and started planning on what I’d want when it was time to take the trip. Overall: going through TSA both directions was almost painless (I got flagged TSA Precheck going out, had to take off my shoes coming back); the plane and folks at Alaska/Virgin were great, the flights were uneventful, and despite being a bit worried about it on general terms, it went pretty much perfect.

And so now I guess I have frequent flyer miles again. It will be even better once I get the next 50 off, but it was fine. Oh, and yes, I didn’t do the Global Entry thing before this trip, but I’ll be working to get that going before I head out next. And I’ll make sure to carry binoculars from now on.

Overall quite a good week surrounded by good people fighting the good fight. And pretty awesome food. Really awesome food.

Our company plans have me travelling probably 3–4 times a year to various face to face meetings, with this big annual event being one of them. I do think I’ll be headed out again in a couple of months on a project that we started talking about during this trip, and we’ll see when else it makes sense to get face to face with people.

Oh, and I’m starting to look at places to suggest for the full company meetup next year. Needs to be able to handle 50ish, and honestly, I’d much prefer NOT dealing with the heat and humidity. Jackson Wyoming is one place I’m starting to research, not because I’m supposed to but because I can. Where else? Any suggestions? I’d love to suggest Vancouver or Victoria, but I expect it’d be too expensive for everyone to cross the border. Seattle and Portland are obvious ones, as is San Diego.

Wherever we go, it’ll be hard to beat the food this last week.