I am at the Carmel Valley eDiscovery Retreat, a little south of San Francisco. My wife, Mary Ann, is with me, which is what happens when you make your wife a director of the business and put her in charge of travel arrangements. In business terms, I am delegating non-core functions, leaving me free to do the writing and speaking, and all the background stuff which lies behind them. You don’t realise how much time is spent on airline websites and on hotel bookings until you pass the job to someone else. That said, I have just been called from writing this in order to explain how the light switches and bath plug work, which doesn’t happen when you travel alone after years of experience of the obscurity of hotel fixtures and fittings.
The Carmel Valley eDiscovery Retreat is a new event in the calendar. Chris La Cour, who runs it, invited me to come nearly a year ago and I was not then willing to commit to it before waiting to see what else competed for the time and, to be frank, whether Chris got it to fly. My fellow director was hooked from the start by the photographs of Carmel and the region, and made sure that I kept the week free; meanwhile, the list of speakers and sponsors became more interesting by the month – there is a big overlap between those who sponsor the eDisclosure Information Project and those involved in this event.
The journey began on a high. The nice lady on the BA check-in desk at Heathrow tore up our boarding passes and gave us new ones with “Invol u/grade” on them, that “Invol” somehow implying that we might resent being given edible food and a bed at least as far as Chicago. Then it was cattle class to San Francisco. What are those large green circles you see across Nebraska? How did anyone keep their faith in the California dream as they flogged across the mountains and deserts of Utah and Nevada in the 1840s? It is grim enough doing it in 4 hours at 30,000 feet. Two benefits with American Airlines: wifi as you fly for $12 per flight, and air hostesses who make you feel that we are all in this together, somehow invoking the spirit in which their ancestors gathered at Wagon Mound 170 years ago. It makes a change from BA’s stiff formality.
With hotels as with food, the word “cheap” comes with the automatic supplement “nasty”. Our first hotel was chosen for its proximity to the airport, was not expensive and fine for its purpose. The family who checked in after us were given the same room number as ours; we got there first, and they were very nice about it. As we came down for breakfast, we stepped round our recumbent waiter, who was being strapped to a stretcher by a large team of paramedics. A fire engine stood outside, and one of the breakfast guests was telling a policeman between mouthfuls that the waiter was already falling to the ground when she noticed him. You don’t get that at the Ritz-Carlton. We had to go and have breakfast at the Holiday Inn, anticipatory expiation for the luxuries to come.
My choice of hire car was rejected by my co-director – I have always wanted to drive a Mustang. She accepted my second choice with some reluctance, relenting only when she found herself standing beside a gleaming and brand-new Jeep. She adapted rather better than I have to an automatic car and to brakes which seem to have no intermediate state between off and full on. Oh, and by the way: if you ever find yourself in a Jeep which won’t move from Park, then turn on the ignition and pump the brake a few times. No amount of intuition will solve that one for you, so thank you iPad and Google for pointing us to the answer. And no, I don’t care what the Vodafone roaming charges were for being able to look that one up there and then.
Unfortunately, the road from San Francisco to Carmel runs down the coast road through Half Moon Bay, Santa Cruz and Monterey so we had to put up with Pacific views pretty well all the way. The road runs along the cliffs – in England some runty little creature from the highways department would have blown the county budget putting up railings or, at least, notices warning that falling over cliffs is injurious to health. Here, you shape your own destiny without advice from people who are more stupid than you are.
There is a primaeval look about pelicans in flight, an odd contrast with the seaside scene below them.
We reached the Carmel Valley Ranch as the opening reception began and plunged straight into the food and drink and chatting with the many friends and acquaintances here. “So this is your idea of work”, I hear you ask “talking to all those amiable people you see in other agreeable locations?”. Well, yes it is. Good ideas and information are exchanged at conferences like this; the fact that the company and the venues are agreeable is a bonus.
The word “agreeable” does not really do justice to this place. Our “room” is in reality a small single-storey house with a fireplace, a large balcony and a bathroom big enough to throw a party in. Whilst I tried to photograph a small, red-headed woodpecker a few feet away from me, a vast shadow passed over from a big kite whose wings were a few feet from the roof. Little clusters of similar houses are scattered around, and the venue is a short walk away, often with only deer for company.
Do remember, in mitigation, that we had to fly coach across Utah to get here, and had breakfast at a Holiday Inn. And much of the serious stuff which began the next day is as relevant in London, Singapore and Sydney as it is in the US.