Jan. 26, 2010 —
I pulled off the road and rumbled to a stop on the gravel-strewn shoulder. I had exited the 101 maybe a mile back, seeking a meal at the Wildhorse Café after a long, occasionally harrowing day behind the wheel. And according to my admittedly temperamental – and possibly vengeful – GPS, I had arrived.
Even in the black of night, though, I could tell something was amiss. I had hoped to find a rustic sort of establishment, with wagon wheel chandeliers and seven varieties of grits. What greeted me instead was a dead quiet field with short stretches of chain-link fence and nary a country fried steak in sight. I sighed, put the car in gear and turned back toward the highway.
* * *
I am an inveterate road-tripper. So when it came time to book my travel to San Francisco for the Photonics West conference and exposition, I announced I would drive – rather than fly – from my home in San Diego. I was pleased with this plan, as it would allow me to retrace one of my favorite routes: follow the 101 out of Los Angeles and up the coast to Santa Barbara, join the 154 as it climbs over the San Marcos Pass – offering brief glimpses of the Pacific before opening onto Ansel Adams views of looking-glass lakes and snow-capped peaks – and finally reconnect with the 101, which takes you through San Luis Obispo on up to the Bay Area.
Little could I have known then what I would actually encounter on the trek: torrential rain bringing traffic in LA to a standstill (though it doesn’t take a downpour – or much of anything – to do this), the phantom café and, later, a roadside motel in an area that can only be described as “honkey-tonk,” with a clutch of fast food joints dropped in the proverbial middle of nowhere and unidentified interlopers (vagrants? zombies?) banging on my door as I tried to watch Conan shred during a ramshackle run through “Freebird.”
When I arrived in San Francisco, though, I found my experiences pretty much paled in comparison with those of others who had traveled here for BiOS, the portion of Photonics West devoted to biomedical optics and photonics. Countless flights, it seemed, had been delayed or canceled – if not due to inclement weather in Albany or Minneapolis, then because of conditions in the Bay Area. One person told me she’d nearly missed a connection because the plane she was on was carrying too much fuel. (I haven’t yet worked that one out, to be honest.)
Still, people came. A lot of ‘em. The BiOS exhibition welcomed 180 companies and more than 2,000 attendees this year. Healthy crowds were apparent on the show floor, and the vendors with whom I spoke reported strong interest from those visiting their booths.
The conference was also an undeniable success. More than 850 people crowded into Rm. 102 for the Hot Topics session on Saturday night. And overall, it featured 1611 talks this year, up from 1523 in 2009. This represents a sizable percentage of the total of 3600 talks at Photonics West this week, reflecting an ever-growing interest in biomedical optics and photonics.
Photonics West proper kicks off today. I’ll see you all there.