Scenes from the Financial Blogger Conference. (Now with more Klingons!)

I got mugged on my way to the first-ever Financial Blogger Conference last week. Fortunately that was not a portent. Can’t remember when I’ve had so much fun.

The robbery occurred in downtown Seattle, as I took the escalator to the light rail tunnel. A trio of young knuckleheads, one of them quite physically imposing, were involved. It took three of them to take down a tired middle-aged woman. Some heroes, huh?

They got a little over $80 in cash and that by the time I got Citibank on the phone they’d already bought themselves sandwiches.

Suffice it also to say that I hope all three of them get bleeding piles.


But let’s not dwell on that. Instead, I’ll share a few conference memories.

Early-bird special. My plane landed at 5:20 a.m. Friday, Sept. 30. Fortunately I was able to share a cab with Kara Reinhardt of Cheapism.com, thereby halving the cost of the O’Hare-to-Schaumburg commute. A small group assembled in the hotel lobby at about 7 a.m.: two readers (hi, Holly and Ashley!), Suba of Wealth Informatics, Elle of Couple Money and Elle’s infant daughter. I have the distinct feeling that I’m leaving someone out; if so I apologize, but what can I say? I’d slept less than three hours on the overnight flight and I’d just been mugged! My apologies also to The Corner Bakery, because I think we were kind of loud.

Hey, boss. I’ve been e-mailing and occasionally chatting with J.D. Roth of Get Rich Slowly for years; although we live relatively close to each other (Portland, Seattle) we’d never met. I’d always told him that when I met him I’d say, “I thought you’d be taller.” That’s how he knew it was me. Or maybe the MSN Money column photo gave me away. We teased each other all weekend but J.D. had the last laugh: In his conference roundup he not only posted a singularly unflattering photo of me delivering my talk, but noted that I was “much taller than you probably imagine.” Nice.

The Irish polyglot. J.D. gave the opening speech at the conference. It was interrupted by a man shouting insults in the Klingon language and wearing full Klingon regalia. This was all part of the plan; J.D. used Benny the Irish polyglot, who’s adding Klingon as his eighth language, to illustrate the value of story. Speaking of story: I told J.D. to let Benny know that I once spent part of an evening chatting with a 40-something Alaska bodybuilder/stripper named Pillow who recited original verse in Klingon at a poetry slam in Anchorage. I wonder if Benny thought I was making that up. I couldn’t make that up. Pillow brought along a short Ferengi with a stack of posterboard. She’d roar something in Klingon at the audience and he’d hold up a translation: “They will sing of me when I am dead!”

The wealth instructor. Ramit Sethi of I Will Teach You To Be Rich is just as opinionated in real life as he is on his website. But he’s upfront about it, and he’s so smart that I can agree to disagree. (Even when he’s wrong.) Ramit set up a short meeting with me in advance and we had an interesting conversation. Also, he has great taste in gifts: On the last day he produced small notebooks bound in soft pistachio-colored leather with no logo/brand stamp. Very classy.

Logos and brands. A little rubber duck from BillFloat.com (float – get it?). Reusable shopping bags from ING Direct (guess what color they are?). A book of financial cartoons from CreditCards.com. Oreos dipped in white chocolate and embossed with the Ally Bank logo, which was actually a paper disc. I sure wish I hadn’t found that out by myself, if you know what I mean.


Talk, talk and more talk

Hey, I read your stuff! Name tags hung on lanyards around everyone’s necks, so it was fun to sneak peeks at last names or sobriquets. Many, many conversations ensued. By the time Sunday rolled around I had very little voice left. In a good way.

The MP is here. That’s Dunleavey, not a military cop. She wrote a column for MSN Money for years but we never met because, well, we lived in different states. Now MP is with Daily Worth and she and I talked so intensely that I missed a panel I’d wanted to hear. And, dammit, one of the panelists mentioned my name in a positive way but no one remembers exactly what he said. I might have agreed to write something for MP, but I can’t remember exactly what I said, either.

Being interviewed. MP interviewed me for Daily Worth; hope I didn’t have spinach in my teeth. A nice young Brit named Murray Newlands interviewed me but I’m not really sure why. A couple of young men from a company whose name I never caught interviewed a bunch of attendees on what advice they’d give millennials. (Mine was “Don’t sign” – for exorbitant student loans, for six-year auto financing or anything else without first doing one’s homework.) Tess Vigeland of National Public Radio’s “Marketplace Money” interviewed me for a feature on the conference. Her voice is just as lovely in real life – and just as recognizable, which means she can never make prank phone calls. (“Hi, do you have Prince Albert in the can?” …. “Tess Vigeland? Is that you?”) But I thought she’d be taller.

My program: I was so nervous I forgot to introduce myself – just leapt up and started talking about why good writing matters. Apparently the PowerPoint mechanism was nervous too because some of my slides were out of order. In fact, one of the mishaps screwed up a punch line. Sigh. I’d like to point out, however, that I was the only speaker who had not just a slide of “The First Defenestration of Prague” (yes, there was more than one) but also a slide of the First Lego Defenestration of Prague. The feedback was good, and folks chased me down the rest of that day and on Sunday to say that the program was helpful. Favorite reaction was from Dr. Dean of The Millionaire Nurse Blog, who opined that my advice was like pouring alcohol on a cut: “A little pain for a lot of gain!” Next time I’ll try to be the speechifying equivalent of Bactine, or Neosporin.

Debt Ninja is my neighbor. This fellow, who writes Punch Debt in the Face, punched me (but in the shoulder) when I said I live in Seattle. Turns out he and his wife recently moved to a town just north of the Emerald City. Too far away to borrow a cup of sugar, but close enough for the three of us to do something frugal some day soon. Groupons may be involved.


Plutuses and cougars

Speed networking. I sat this one out. Imagine a couple of hundred people sitting in rows of chairs, with 60 seconds to talk about who they were and what they did. Except that they had to shout to be heard, which in turn made the folks next to them shout even louder. The din was so immense that my glasses trembled on the bridge of my nose.

Happy hours/receptions. We were each given two tickets to trade in at the bar. I got Diet Cokes. Not everyone else did. Imagine a couple of hundred people milling around with drinks in hand, full of excitement about meeting people they’d been reading for months or even years. (“Hey, Miranda Marquit! How do you write so damn many articles?” “J. Money! Love what you’ve done with your hair!”) Hands were shaken, hugs were traded. For all I know, children were fathered. “Free beer makes people friendly,” I said out loud. Someone asked my permission to tweet that.

The Plutus Awards. I won one. J. Money won four, plus his hair is cooler than mine. I’m still his friend, though.

Italian food, twice. I was invited to a pair of dinner parties at Maggiano’s. I love it when other people cook for me, even if it’s the same people two nights in a row.

Sunday lunch, once. The Wise Bread crew (Lynn, Will, Gregory) hosted a small sit-down. It was my last chance for a while to harass J.D., who was heading for Peru soon after. During the last 45 minutes or so we were joined by Sonya Ann, who blogs at A Mom, Money and More. She turned down food, opting for a pomegranate/green tea beverage in a bottle so elaborate that I gave it a surreptitious rub to see if a genie would emerge. Sonya even tried to pay for her beverage. Fat chance: The lovely and talented Lynn insisted on buying. Sonya, you should have ordered the food.

Funniest memory, aka “How rumors start.” Late Saturday night a bunch of people were sitting in the lobby, talking talking talking. I’m proud to say I was among the last men standing. (Well, sitting.) At about 4 a.m. one dude and I were having a long conversation when the also lovely-and-talented Flexo (of Consumerism Commentary) decided he’d had it. His departure started a general exodus. The man with whom I’d been talking stood up, too, and announced, “Donna, let’s go to bed.” If someone had been tweeting, I’d have been dead meat. Dead cougar meat, and we all know that I never wanted to be a cougar. The guy realized what he’d just said and added hastily, “But not together, of course!” A malicious tweeter might have chosen not to hear that, or to hear my reply: “Thanks for asking, but I don’t do guys young enough to be my son.”

I’m definitely going to the Financial Blogger Conference in 2012 – and speaking there, too, if they’ll have me back. Maybe next time my slides will be in the right order.

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  1. Carol in Philly

    I’m so sorry you were mugged. It’s a frightening experience, even if there’s no physical harm involved.

    But congratulations on what sounds like a very successful conference. And your post had me laughing out loud more than once.

  2. Bleeding piles and a thousand bad experiences for each one they hand out – sorry you had to experience that!
    However how nice to hear about what was obviously a fabulous time! Glad there was a happy ending, um, but not too much of a happy ending so to speak, at least with said cougar-bait.

  3. SherryH

    Wow! Sounds like quite a trip. Sorry you were mugged, but congrats on the Plutus award and a successful presentation. And I agree with Carol – fabulous recap of a very action-packed event! Love, love, love the ‘cougar’ story. (You know, stories can come back to haunt you, especially if you tell them on yourself! But that one’s definitely worth the telling…)

  4. Sarah L

    I am glad to hear you are ok!!! The mugging sounded scary, I’m grateful that nothing else bad happened to you that weekend! It sounds like the conference was soo much fun!!

    • Donna Freedman

      @Sarah L.: I would encourage anyone who’s writing a PF blog (or even considering writing one) to attend this event. It was terrific.

  5. I can’t believe you got mugged on the way there! I’m so sorry (well, sorry’s a funny word in that I didn’t actually do the mugging, but I think you know what I mean).

    It was great meeting you. I was among those in the lobby late that night. It was like baseball’s All-Star weekend where you see the best players from different teams all hanging out, talking shop together.

    I loved hearing you speak. PF Blogging can get a bit dry at times. A goal of mine after the weekend is to write more myself and write better as well.

    When I looked at the big sites that were represented that weekend, I realized what made them different – great writing. Thanks for reminding me there’s more than just reporting the facts.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Glen: Thanks for your kind words. Next year we’ll have to sit there and talk some more. I think the later it gets, the more people’s defenses come down and the more honest they become.

  6. Nothing but love for you baby cakes (my wife isn’t reading this, is she?).

  7. Darlene

    I hate to read that you were mugged! But, it sounds like you enjoyed the conference anyway! Loved reading about all your interactions with folks that I “read”… 🙂

  8. Thanks for the nod and a very good chat. My soul felt lighter but my behind did not. Darn pretzel!
    Maybe one day I will be “worthy” enough to attend cuz I would love to father a child.

  9. I think I was at the poetry slam–haven’t seen Pillow for quite a few years now. BUt she could really liven up a room!

    • Donna Freedman

      @Jenny: It was a pretty memorable event, all right. If you ever get a chance to speak with her, ask about the cross-country driving trip with a German guy who turned out to be a trainspotter and who called her “Mrs. Pillow.”

  10. Holy crap I can’t believe you were mugged!! Glad you’re ok. Ugh those guys are jackasses. Grrr

    Is it awful how jealous I get when I read about all of these blog conference things? They sound awesome. One day…

  11. Ro in San Diego

    I am also sorry to hear you were mugged. It’s a frightening experience. I was mugged in NYC as a young woman and was terrified. I prevailed because I carried pepper spray at all times back them, something I’d recommend if you can get away with it.

    (I still keep pepper spray hidden in my home just in case someone were to surprise me someday with bad intent).

    On a happier subject thanks for sharing your positive experiences from the conference and congratulations on your award.

  12. The conference sounds a bit like that film ‘Cedar Rapids’!

    That’s dreadful that you were mugged. Cant imagine how scary that must have been.

    Very well done on the award! !

  13. I thought for a minute you might have been kidding about the mugging. I wish you had been.

    You really captured what an amazing conference it was. And I want you to know that I came home and looked up “comma splice.”

  14. It was great meeting you. Thanks for the mention.

  15. Michelle in Htown

    Mugging aside, it sounds like a great experience. I can imagine the amount of energy surrounding the event, you captured it well. I loved your comment about the last evening. About that Twitter thing? Sometimes any PR is good PR, ya know? Also, by sharing that anecdote, you bookended your post nicely.

  16. So sorry to hear that you were mugged. I totally agree with you about the burning piles. Glad to hear that the conference was so successful and wishing you a safe trip home.

  17. jestjack

    Thanks for sharing your story Donna…what a cool experience!!! So sorry to hear you were mugged . As a father of two daughters this is the kind of thing that keeps me up at night…and my aluminum baseball bat at the ready. Glad that you didn’t let the actions of three creeps ruin your conference. Don’t know if I could have been so strong about the ordeal. Glad you weren’t harmed seriously. Best Wishes!!

  18. Ready for that Groupon date when you are 🙂

  19. ImJuniperNow

    Donna – You’re a celebrity now! I hope your case gets the attention it deserves. Little rat bastards. Oh, is it okay if I say that?

  20. Great recap of the event (it was awesome!). Although speaking of “leaving someone out…”


    • Donna Freedman

      @Stella: Feel free to smack me a couple of times at SaveUp 2011.

  21. This is how amazing you are as a writer…By the time I got to the end of this post, I forgot all about the fact that you were robbed! I hate to hear that, but I am glad that you were not harmed.

    It was wonderful meeting you, and my wife thinks you are such a great person.

    Also, thanks for the tips on getting cheap domain names with cash back as well.

    Congratulations on winning the Plutus award (even though you beat me ;-))!

  22. Reta Davis

    I loved this post–so gossipy and informative. We already talked about the mugging. Still so sorry.

  23. Donna, sympathies on the mugging but I appreciate the travel tips you shared so you weren’t totally SOL.

    Those oreos were great, but I also found out the hard way about the logo.

  24. I’m glad you’re ok!

  25. I had a wonderful time at the Corner Bakery meet up. Kara from Cheapism was also there. There were so many great conversations going on that morning I had a hard time keeping up with everybody too.

    I was so excited to meet you in person. You’re incredibly sweet, funny, and engaging. I loved your session on Saturday about becoming a better writer – it was motivating. I told my husband I have some work to do on my site with my writing.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Elle: Kara! Of course. I only shared a cab with her, for crying out loud…. D’oh.
      Thanks for your kind words. I got so much good feedback about the writing session that I’m mulling over the idea of being a short-term writing coach. That is to say, I don’t want to take on long-term clientele and I don’t want to edit books. Instead, I’ll ask people to send me a few works-in-progress that they’re not happy with and help them figure out what’s keeping them from being the writers they want to be.
      Like Ramit, I don’t want to start a class and have people linger interminably. I want to get in, get them going and get back out. But that’s a project for another day.

  26. Congratulations on the Plutus. So sorry about the mugging…. lucky you have an awesome sense of humor. I hope you make some money off if it. This may be the most erudite summary of the week end yet! (Enjoyed meeting you in person 🙂 )

  27. Doooona!!! I can’t believe you were mugged. At first I thought you were kidding and then I kept reading and realized you’re much more of a joker when you’re actually kidding. I hope everything is ok, really, most of all it was probably just scary as sh-t.
    I love this wrap up, I am so sad that I missed it. Your stamp of approval of the conference means it must have been GREAT. Next year for sure.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Kathryn: Well, I hope so. ‘Cause you and I have been thrown out of better places that that.
      Seriously, I hope we can both make it there. The event was pretty spectacular. I can’t wait to see what kinds of panels/programs Phil comes up with next year.

  28. An Alaskan bodybuilder/stripper named Pillow who recited original verse in Klingon at a poetry slam in Anchorage??? Sounds like a scene from a Simpsons episode or a Seven of Nine wannabe.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Max: You sort of had to be there — it all seemed completely normal at the time.
      I should add that the poetry slam took place in a bar called the Fly By Night Club, where the menu contains a number of items made from Spam (Spam nachos, Spam bagels and cream cheese, Cajun Spam and the ever-changing “Spam du jour”), the house band was Mr. Whitekeys and the Fabulous Spamtones, and a “Budweiser tax” was enacted on those who ordered Bud instead of one of the many interesting brews available.
      That all seemed normal, too.


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