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Southern California says to save a place, I'll meet you there
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The weekend at USC was pretty great! (It only could've been better if Heather had been there to enjoy it with me.) I arrived on Saturday morning after a pleasant flight (I got a seat in the exit row). I ambled around the beautiful USC campus for a while, looking at the myriad fountains (they have a lot of fountains for a place in the desert). Eventually I made my way to the Norris Cinema Theater and met some of the people running the program -- Perry Hoberman, Veronica Paredes, Rene Garcia, Anne Balsam -- all nice, knowledgeable, enthusiastic folks. I hung around reading 13 Bullets by David Wellington (he does for vampires what he did with zombies in his Monster trilogy -- made me actually care about them again!) until everyone arrived.

The panel was me, AI researcher Nathan Schurr (a very cool guy), and Larry Niven. I blathered on about science and science fiction (and fantasy), Nathan talked about his AI work, and Larry gave a great talk about how science and science fiction have changed since he first started writing. The audience wasn't huge, but they were enthusiastic, and the questions were good -- I sorta figured the science people would want to talk to Nathan, and the SF fans would want to talk to Larry, but there were some questions for me, too, so I kept busy during the Q & A.

Then they gave us lunch! Quite a nice big outdoor spread for everyone who attended. I chatted with Kevin Mack for a while -- he's a special effects guy who most recently worked on Ghost Rider, and he won an Academy Award for some work he did on What Dreams My Come. He's really interested in art and literature, and has some interesting philosophical ideas, so that was pleasant. Then my old Clarion classmate David Kirtley, who's in a graduate writing program at USC, showed up, and we hung out for a while.

The program continued with a video chat with Rudy Rucker (his face, 20 feet high on a screen!), which was pretty cool. He didn't say anything I hadn't heard him say before, but it's all interesting stuff, and the interface was neat. The next panel featured Kevin talking about special effects, film scholar Scott Bukatman talking about special effects and the sublime, and cultural historian Elizabeth Kessler with a fascinating talk on Hubble telescope images and other images of the frontier.

Jenn arrived during that panel, and afterward I said my farewells and she took me to my hotel. Which proved to be something of a challenge, since the LA marathon was on Sunday... and the finish line was right next to my hotel, with the street already closed. But Jenn managed to circumvent the closed streets and the snarl of one-ways in downtown LA and we reached the Standard. A very cool hotel, lots of intriguing design elements, and a real sense of whimsy and fun. Traffic was sufficiently icky that we opted to eat at the hotel, in the cool little diner restaurant, and since the weather was nice we sat outside on the patio. Seeing Jenn and having a chance to catch up was just wonderful. After dinner we got our wristbands (ooh, so exclusive) and went up to the rooftop bar, falling in with a couple of friendly hipsters along the way, who told us the bar used to be a really happening place, but it's been open for years now, and is no longer a major hot spot, though not totally dead, either -- certainly, there was a line outside the hotel to get in, but we encountered no movie stars or naked starlets.

The views up there were lovely, and once we found some nice seating it was really quite fun, and not hellishly expensive since I only bought one drink, and there was no cover charge since I was a hotel guest. We lolled and talked for a couple of hours, until the cigarette smoke and the necessity of shouting started to make my throat hurt. (I tend to shout myself hoarse when I go out to bars with friends, and since I had a reading the next day, I didn't want to risk blowing my vocal cords.) Jenn and I said our fond farewells, and I went up to my weird-ass room with the shower right next to the bed and called Heather. We talked until I got too sleepy and then I went to sleep.

To be awakened not long after 8 o'clock by the loudspeaker voice of the marathon announcer. The runners were 26 miles away, but the recumbent bike riders started hitting the finish line not long after I finished breakfast. I watched out my window for a while (I had a view of the finish line), then went up to the rooftop to get a better view. Pretty cool. By the time I left the hotel runners who'd finished were starting to come in to the lobby to use the bathroom...

I (and the other program participants staying at the hotel) expected a ride from the hotel at 11:30, but what with the crazy traffic it didn't happen until later, and we had to hike a couple of blocks to get to the car. Which was fine, since Larry Niven canceled on doing the reading Sunday, which made them push the whole program back by and hour. Time was not an issue. We reached the Ground Zero coffeehouse on campus, and I hung out with David Kirtley some more, and chatted with Perry and Scott and Elizabeth and so on about movies and writing and all that jazz. Finally it was time to read, and I performed "Impossible Dreams" -- come on, I was at USC, I had to read my movie story. I took a few questions, and was going to quit, but they clamored for me to read something else, which was flattering, so I did my new (and as yet unsold) "Artifice and Intelligence", which went over really well. Afterward I hung out some more, then David offered to take me to the airport. We grabbed some dinner, talked about mutual friends, writing, and other such things, and then he dropped me off at LAX, where I zipped through security and over to the gate (no checked bags! Hell, no carry-on to stow, either; I only brought my bookbag, with a change of clothes stuffed in the bottom, because that's just how I roll). The trip back was uneventful, and I enjoyed staring out the window at the city lights far below.

My lovely wife picked me up and took me home and we sat on the couch and it was good to be back. Then we watched the new episode of Battlestar Galactica, which sucked so badly that it's actually tainting my previous enjoyment of the show, making me hate the whole series with a hate that burns like ten thousand suns.

And that was my weekend!

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