Word to anyone who's losing faith in St. Louis' convention industry: Chill. This weekend the city hosts one very real gathering of Virtual Assistants, or VAs.
Curious? So was Unreal. So we rang up Texan Janet Jordan, a founder and cohost of the convention, to make sure they really are coming.
Unreal: So, how many VAs are coming to St. Louis?
Janet Jordan: I believe we've got about 50 that have registered already, from all over. We even have a VA who supports Prince Charles: She and her husband are coming from the UK.
Why not just meet virtually?
Well, we do that all year.
Hang on, you will be here in the flesh, right?
Once you all see each other, will you consider a name change?
[Silence.] I don't understand.
Well, "virtual" means "a product of the imagination, existing in the mind, not in fact, form or name."
Well, we work with our clients from a distance, from anywhere in the world. I train virtually. I also support myself virtually.
Do you get paid in virtual cash?
Oh, no. We get paid in real money. I'd say $25 to $50 an hour, real cash.
What kind of virtual problems do virtual assistants have?
So it's not a mental thing -- like, wondering if you exist?
Sometimes you want to disappear! [Laughs.] But we very much have to come back to reality. There are people who don't understand what a VA is and does, but most of them understand the concept: that it's an independent contractor who's not going to be sitting there in their office. And that they love. They don't have to pay the taxes and overhead. In that sense they love the fact that we're not real.
What kind of beer do virtual assistants drink after a bad day?
Very real! My colleague Kelly can tell you that. In St. Louis she's taking us to the brewery so we can taste some real beer.
Hock Like a Loogie
When Unreal got wind that Guinness Book world-record cricket spitter Dan Capps was to help open the St. Louis Science Center's new exhibition, Bugs!, with a jump-off, we sprang into action.
We were a little disappointed to learn that regulation spittin' crickets must be dead (live crickets might "cheat"). But rules are rules, and like our Uncle Pete used to say: If something is worth doing, it's worth doing right. (No matter that he was demonstrating how to properly mix a Manhattan.)
Our first ptooey was pcrappy, prompting Dan to offer some helpful advice. The coaching session went something like this:
Unreal: Why do we suck?
Dan Capps: You don't suck! There was a two-year-old girl here who actually managed a negative spit. I'd never seen anything like it. It went one foot behind her.
Would you mind sharing some pointers?
The cricket's gotta be ready to fly headfirst. Put that little guy on your tongue and show him where he's headed. Then roll your tongue around the cricket, get a good arch in your back and hock him like a loogie, deep from the back of your throat.
[Unreal heeds the protocol.] Puhhhhhhh! [Our insect sails 9 feet, far short of Capps' world-record spit of 32 feet, 1 inch.] We still suck!
You just need some practice and persistence. Treat it like football: Get a good spin on the body.
[More spittempts improve matters, culminating in a final blast of 19 feet.] Ha! Expectoration never felt so good!
When you have a love of insects and a passion for spitting, it comes naturally.
Somebody Buy My Crap
Item: TV set w/o remote
Location: Central West End
Issue: October 2
Unreal: Why did you market your television as an exercise machine for children?
Patricia: I thought someone might see it and laugh. I'm disabled, and you can imagine how much work it is to get up and change the channel all the time.
How many calories could a little fatso burn watching this television?
It depends. If nothing good is on TV, I might burn 32 calories an hour changing channels.
How did you come upon this TV?
I bought it on Christmas Eve two years ago. My other set went dead. I watch a lot of TV. I wasn't about to spend the holidays without a television.
Besides the remote-control issue, are there other reasons you're selling the TV?
'Cause it's a piece of crap! The picture went out earlier this year, and I had to replace that. While it was getting fixed at Best Buy, they said the built-in DVD player also needed repair for an additional $93. I was like: Screw you! I'll buy a DVD player for $35.
Are you firm on the $100?
If they want it for $20 they can have it. Heck, if they just come get it, they can have it for free. It's the television from hell. Besides I already bought another one. It works great.
From time to time Unreal trolls the St. Louis Post-Dispatch classified section's "Bargain Box." We cannot guarantee any item remains available for purchase at press time.
LOCAL BLOG O' THE WEEK
"Ramblings by Joe Frank, urbanist"
Author: Joe Frank
About the blogger: Joe teaches "Urban Politics and Administration" at Washington University's night school.
Recent Highlight (September 27, 2005): Whatever Happened to Biddle Street?
Biddle Street, on the near Northside of St. Louis, was in days of yore well known as the heart of the Kerry Patch and later ethnic communities. Also, it was part of the earliest infrastructure development of the City: the Biddle Street Sewer, started in 1850.
However, it's quite evident that Biddle Street no longer exists as a true street, and hasn't for quite some time.
Walking eastward from lunch today, I noted the following blockages along Biddle from Tucker east:
Closed immediately east of Tucker, partly because of the decaying viaduct on which Tucker runs;
After being open from Hadley to 11th, disappears again for the plaza in front of the Shrine of St. Joseph, and Father Filipiac Park just east of the shrine; this covers the entire block from 11th to 10th.
In the block from 10th to 9th, Biddle is a very overgrown pedestrian mall, adjacent to Patrick Henry Elementary School and some very decrepit looking tennis courts.
Although I didn't follow it, the next block (from 9th to 8th) is non-existent, having long ago been consolidated into the superblock of the high-rise Cochran Gardens public housing complex. Perhaps the redevelopment planned would include restoring this street?
Biddle makes a brief reappearance adjacent to the historic Neighborhood Gardens Apartments between 8th and 7th.
From 7th to N. Broadway, Biddle is still a street -- but not for long. The Bottle District plan seems to suggest -- without actually labeling any streets! -- that 6th at Biddle will be the epicenter of the proposed pedestrian mall.