This conference is held at the Gaylord Palms resort. I can only describe the place as positively creepy.
I walk from the room to the show floor past lush gardens and fishponds with waterfalls. And it’s cold. There are palm trees in the midst of a giant atrium, but someone has the air conditioning turned up too high.
Today I needed to get warm, so I decided to go outside. That’s not easy here. I found my way to a “transportation entrance” where a tour bus was idling waiting for the next wave of passengers.
Joe Jobe, the CEO of the National Biodiesel Board delivered a masterful plenary address. He talked about his passion for renewable fuels and took us for a tour of his childhood. It was an impressive multi-media affair that jazzed 1200 people in the room.
That buzz was immediately killed by the introduction of a series of drab petroleum marketers. It was basically a bunch of old, rich, white guys bellyaching about how tough they have it in the fuel business.
I was on booth duty today. Whether or not I qualify as a “booth bunny” is open to debate. But our booth was hopping. Lots of people came to see the legendary Rachael Burton (NBB’s biodiesel researcher of the year). Lots of people came to see Piedmont. Lots of people came to learn more about our enzymatic processing technology—which is piping hot right now.
By dinner my feet were sore and I was exhausted. I thought I would get Leif to exit the resort and grab something to eat. Instead we found ourselves in the company of twenty or more colleagues. Randall Von Wedell. Bob and Kelly King and the Pacific Biodiesel crowd. Will Smith was there.
I promised him I would not tell Bob Armantrout that Will had been in Raleigh without visiting our side of the lake.
We converged on a Columbian restaurant in Celebration. That’s the Disney planned community that defines homogeneity and ultimate creepiness. Everything in Celebration is picturesque. Except perhaps the abandoned movie theater with its fully lit and empty marquee, its vacant box office, and its posters advertising Celebration in every window.
These are old friends. Colleagues. And there are lots of them. When you have been wedged into a roller coaster car with the same people for almost a decade, you develop a kinship.
The fly-by-night operators are long gone. The shooting stars have expired. Those still standing are still gathering to meet, and there is a genuine feeling of kindred spirits.
In some ways it was a day of renewal for me. David Thornton is here with his students from Clemson. Greg Austic has joined us from Michigan. And we are beset with interest and old friends from around the country. I can’t walk to the water cooler without stopping for a ten-minute flap with Bob McCormick from NREL. I can’t finish a session without ducking out to have a few laughs with Brian Potter of Potter oil.
At dinner I had a fascinating conversation with Carlo of Bently Biofuels. They have an amazing back-story that Carlo tells with relish and aplomb.
It’s impossible to end a day like this without reflecting on how well Piedmont is regarded in this community. I think we might have migrated from marginal hippy idealistic shit disturbers to members of the biodiesel establishment. Like everyone at this conference we are survivors. Our existence confers a certain degree of credibility upon us.
Tonight I found a quiet courtyard where I could write. I can’t see the full moon because of blinding spotlights illuminating the perfect grass. And I once again joined in with the Rhode Island/Vermont/Connecticut biodiesel crowd. By now they accept me as an annoying tag-along.
We had a rip-roaring conversation about our battles with “big fat.” It is amazing how similar the stories are from every region of the country.
No telling what tomorrow will hold…