Nevertheless, sometime after the registration deadline has passed the organizers sent me an e-mail "inviting" me to come and give a talk on my primary research field. This was obviously one of those sucker invitations: clearly they were having trouble finding enough registrants and were hoping I would come along if they dangled the title of "invited speaker" in front of me, but they weren't willing to pay for anything (or even to waive my registration fee). BUT, since I had resigned myself to perpetual-travel mode for the rest of the year by that point and the drain on my time was low, I decided to suck it up and go anyway (at least I'd see a few colleagues and keep up my standing in the field.)
I arranged for a "leisurely" travel schedule involving overnight layovers in Chicago both on the way in and out, which in retrospect was probably overkill but at least I didn't have to worry about missing connections. This had the (not-unintentional) side effect of missing the first day of the conference which looked uninteresting, but I was there the rest of the time.
My pre-assessment turned out to pretty much be spot-on. The organizers tried to up the relevance of the conference by building in a large segment related to the gravitational-wave discoveries of last year, but because the observational connection between gravitational waves and gamma-ray bursts is currently restricted to a highly questionable 3-sigma blip in one telescope that almost nobody believes except the conference organizers, this meant we had almost an entire day arguing about said 3-sigma blip. Yeesh. Also, the venue was in a commercial dystopia (shopping mall) with absolutely nothing interesting to see or do. There were a couple good talks on multiwavelength afterglow modeling by junior people, at least.
Aside from that, my own talk on Friday was extremely well-received (I was almost immediately swarmed with comments along the lines of, "your slides were so great, can you send me a copy??"), and perhaps even better I had the self-satisfation of noting that almost every other talk in the host-galaxy session referred to my work extensively, making it evident that, yeah, I am pretty much owning that field right now.
The other significant development of late is: I have a student! My little jaunt to Liverpool a couple weeks ago paid off; one of the new students officially signed up to work with me and it will officially be my responsibility to mentor her through a project that will lead to a PhD in 3-4 years. So, finally I have someone to help with some of my research tasks (starting basically right away!). On the other hand this is also a massive responsibility that I have to take seriously, since it's no longer just MY career at stake.