Monthly Archives: November 2012

Convention Survival Guide, Post #7 – How to Treat the Hotel or Groovy Crash-Pad. You Can’t Throw a Con in the Street

How to Treat the Hotel

or

Groovy Crash-Pad. You Can’t Throw a Con in the Street

 Yes, I realize that as soon as I said that someone will figure out how to throw a convention in the streets. Damn, I think I’ve figured it out myself. If you don’t believe me, remember, I am the guy who started ElfCon, the very first camping con, back in the late 1980s. Sure, that con isn’t around anymore, although if I recover some more, I may revive it. But let’s get down to tacks of brass: Science fiction conventions and their related offspring, like Anime, Horror, Fantasy and Comic cons, have a symbiotic relationship with the hotels that house them. We need to treat those hotels well as long as they treat us well.

 We are not the Shriners. We don’t trash hotels, and we are self-governing. We are also not a Protestant Christian church group that never pays its bills. We pay our bills. If you don’t start nothin’, there won’t be nothin’. Over the last few years, there have been a few incidents where not only hotel security has had to be involved, but local police. This should never be the case. One jerk can cost a convention the use of a hotel, or even so much money in damages that the convention goes under. In the Southeast this was easily handled due to fandom being a community and everybody knew everybody. Unfortunately, a convention that will remain nameless went out of its way to destroy that community and most of the other conventions, but Southeastern fandom is recovering.

 Not all hotels are savvy enough to honor this relationship with the largest non-religious special interest group in America. I can think of two spectacular examples of this. One example was a privately owned hotel in Chattanooga that used to house ChattaCon every year. They filled the entire hotel for three or more days. (I personally was snowed into this hotel for an entire week, with the whole hotel booked one year.) The convention was always 1,500 to 2,000 people, every year, back then. At that time, Chattanooga was not as large and metropolitan as it is today, and we guaranteed that that hotel stayed in business. It came to pass that eventually they changed managers. The new manager was a moron who was rude to the convention and made it clear that he didn’t want us there. He did everything in his power to piss of the convention. We changed hotels for a year, and they had to declare bankruptcy. The hotel was bought by someone else, and we returned for one year. We had similar problems with the new manager and left again with the same results. All in all we gave them three chances, and every time we left they went under. Strangely, we thought that they would eventually learn, but they did not. They are now owned by one of the large hotel chains, and ChattaCon is firmly ensconced in the Chattanooga Choo Choo.

 The second example is, perhaps, more spectacular. I will not name the hotel or the convention because neither one is particularly important to this story. We had a very well behaved convention that was booking the whole hotel for the weekend. There were no incidents on the side of the convention, not even a drunk and disorderly con-goer, if you can imagine that. Nevertheless, the hotel treated us so badly that it did not just piss off the convention, but every single attendee. It’s really not a good idea to piss off that many nerds. By the time I checked out of the hotel, every single fixture had been dismantled and laid neatly in piles in the hotel room, with every screw accounted for. Some rooms went so far as to disassemble the beds. No item was actually damaged and, mysteriously, the first of the next week all of the credit cards for the hotel, and all of its credit accounts, had been cancelled. I think you can guess how likely it is that they stayed in business so I won’t describe any of their further troubles. Besides, after the order to disconnect the utilities was sent in, I think they were rather busy.

 Don’t get me wrong, there have been spectacular incidents on the part of the fans as well, like the battle-axe left in the wall of a hotel elevator by a drunken barbarian Viking at Fantasy Fair one year, and a mysterious incident where a chair was thrown through the window of a hotel by an extremely upset fan who was never caught, or the barbarian who went through the wall at DragonCon when it was just at the Hilton, or the tube television thrown off a balcony at DragonCon into the atrium.

 And while these spectacular stories exist, the number of incidents that were averted by fans immediately dealing with a problem, or a drunk, before it even came to the attention of convention security, let alone hotel security, is in the vast majority. There used to be an occasional problem with hotel security shutting down room parties until we started putting the room parties on a particular floor, or sometimes a particular building depending on the convention, but I have not seen that particular problem in over a decade.

 We must absolutely strive to have good relations with the hotels we’re in, but both sides need to realize that, by law, in Georgia and many other states, during the time in which you are renting a room, convention center, or entire hotel, it is your private property, but at the same time you should show it the respect that you would show not only your own home but someone else’s home in which you were a guest. Remember that what anyone does at a convention reflects on all of us and, ultimately, someone is going to have to pay for any damages. If the convention has to pay for it, then everyone has to pay for it, and this means you. So it is your business. Most situations can be averted through talking. On the other hand, there are a large number of martial artists, SCA people and Klingons who go to conventions and are more likely to be useful than con security. On top of that, the martial artists, at least, are more likely to be sober.

 We are a community, and we should bloody well act like one. If we want to be treated with respect, then we’re going to have to act like adults while we’re dressing up in costumes, drinking homebrewed mead, having mock Anime battles, and spontaneously breaking out into Gangnam Style dances. All of the maturity, none of the stick-up-the-ass. Fandom. So let’s have all the fun that will allow us to come back and do it again next year.

 I will see you next week, and if you really like my blog please direct other people to it as well. Same cat channel, same cat time, Cool Cats.

 Copyright © 2012 Julian Thomas Reid III

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Convention Survival Guide, Post #6 – Fatigue: or oh God I have to go back to work!

Extreme fatigue can make it difficult to enjoy the convention, make it nearly impossible for you to make it to work the day after, and endanger your life on the drive home. So how do we deal with this?

The first and most obvious answer is get some sleep at the convention. I realize that for some of you this is not going to be a popular answer. Really, nothing goes on between 2 or 3 AM and 10 AM at most conventions. When I was in my 20s I would have argued for hours that the statement was wrong but by the time I hit 30 I had to admit that it was true. When you’re younger that seven or eight hours can make all the difference and when you get older it is not enough.

Now, for the sake of knowing my audience, I would assume that you’re going to completely blow off and ignore that first piece of advice. If you don’t the second piece of advice will be even better but if you do the second part will be essential for survival.

Now for a little background. This is really vital to the information but it keeps my blog from being three paragraphs and should make it easier for you to remember the information.

See, that’s why I can’t be a politician; I’m always telling the truth.

As a science nerd growing up I read every science paper I could get my hands on. In college taking premed, psychology, and astronomy, working on an astrophysics degree, I still read journals for fun. Research had shown firmly that if you wanted to stay up you really needed to eat protein not sugar and things like caffeine and sugar both can make you crash after a while. When you’re ready to sleep you need a complex carbohydrate like rice or pasta.

A good friend of mine was going to conventions and living off of sugar and caffeine. Okay, let’s be honest, most of my friends were doing that. But I proposed an experiment to one of them in particular and he accepted the challenge.

One convention we spent using sugar and caffeine to keep us up. The backbone of this was jolt cola (all the sugar, twice the caffeine) because energy drinks weren’t available yet and Little Debbies because the convention con suite provided them for free. A lot of potato chips were also involved as a supporting cast member.

The second convention we brought cheese, nuts, vitamin pills, some vegetables, peanut butter with bread, milk, and I don’t remember what else. We did have one or two of the higher protein snacks and I think I drank a Coke.

I heard him telling the story of this recently and it was fascinating to hear him telling people how it changed his life. At the end of the first convention he kept having problems with almost passing out at work and at the end of the second convention he was fine after a single night’s sleep.

One of the unusual things I’ve discovered through the ancient scientific method of trial and error is that if you wait to take extra vitamins till after you are already tired you will crash hard. Yeah, okay, get the sleep you need. If, on the other hand, you start taking vitamins before you get tired and keep taking them all weekend, they help you handle the stress and have more energy.

If you take vitamins every day your body gets used to it and you can actually become dependent on them. For that reason even though I take relatively frequent supplements I will skip for a few days (usually about three) before conventions and take a much larger amount of vitamins just before going to a con..

A good balanced meal before the convention and lots of sleep are of course an essential. You should plan to have one or two meals in local restaurants or at least the hotel restaurant. Hotel restaurants usually are not very good and are always overpriced but have the advantage of being convenient.

Alternating between exercise and rest is also good but this is generally facilitated by going to a panel then going through the dealers room and then walking to the con suite to sit and talk for a while. So in a sense that part is built into a convention. If you don’t get a lot of exercise normally you may be sore after a convention. A hot bath with a quarter cup of powdered ginger (more or less depending on your sensitivity) will help sweat out the toxins and cause your muscles to recover faster. Drink lots of fluids.

Coffee is an interesting compromise because it is reasonably high in protein but has caffeine and if you add milk or cream adds calcium and more protein. Not so good if you had a lot of sugar. If on the other hand you have asthma you should not drink coffee unless you are having an asthma emergency. If you do not drink coffee on a regular basis is more effective than an inhaler for stopping an asthma attack. It does not matter whether you are drinking decaf or regular that’s not the part of the coffee that stops the asthma. It actually has some adrenaline analogues better what open your lungs. Tea has caffeine but does not stop an asthma attack. Chocolate has caffeine and adrenaline analogues but has no effect on asthma either unless of course you’re allergic to it.

In my previous blog “where to stay at the convention or don’t mind me I’ll sleep in the TARDIS,” I discussed the effects of staying up for five days surviving off of what the con suite provides. Let’s just say you don’t want to wake up on a bus in the wrong state. Now that was of course before con suite started providing any real food.

Well, please excuse me. I need to go pass out now. Good night, and good luck until next time.

Copyright © 2012 Julian Thomas Reid III

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Convention Survival Guide, Post #5 – Explaining to Your Significant Other about Cons or So You Married a Muggle

O.K., so the time has come for you to explain to your girlfriend that you were here on an away mission and Starfleet has recalled you for a debriefing and your boyfriend/girlfriend thinks this involves removing your underwear. So you’ve gone native, what the hell is wrong with you? Repeat after me, “I’m sorry, dear, but I am one of those (nerds or geeks, insert appropriate word) that goes to conventions and I absolutely have to go to this one this weekend to complete my Ducky Momo collection.”

I have dated girls who were not part of the science fiction convention scene and run into a number of problems. First and foremost in problems I encountered were so-called “friends” who were more concerned with getting into her pants than our friendship. They were lying to her about what I was doing at these conventions. While I was sitting at a table rolling dice and running role-playing game tournaments all weekend they were telling her that I was getting laid every con. The only conventions I ever got laid at were ones where I went with a girl I was seeing, and not always then. A decade or two after we broke up we were having a conversation where I pointed out to her that they weren’t even going to cons so how the hell were they supposed to know what I was doing there.

I must admit that after many years of neither dating her nor running tournaments, one of the guys who used to hang out with me all the time informed me that the main reason he hung out with me was that I would attract girls and fail to notice so he and the other guys would pick them up on the rebound and go get laid. If he had been a real friend he would have continued to do that and pointed out to me that some girl like me from time to time, say the one he had decided not to pick up.

I must admit I don’t think I have ever dated anyone who was not at least a fringe fan. My ex-wife once prevented me from going to Chattacon. Note the fact I said ex-wife.

I must say at this point that you should never, ever prevent a fan from going to one of their favorite conventions that has already been paid for or go to a convention without your significant other and rub it in their face for months afterwards.

It should go without saying, but probably can’t, that you need to be considerate of your partner’s feelings whether or not you go to a convention together and remember forcing someone who’s not interested into going to convention is not considerate once they’ve tried it before. Honestly the guiding principle is that if you’re in a relationship you should be considerate of your partner’s feelings. If you are completely self-centered and don’t care about anyone but yourself you don’t really deserve to be in a relationship, but that’s okay because you won’t be for long anyway.

If you have different interests but are both con goers, try finding conventions that cater to both of your interests if possible. Not only is it more romantic but you save money on hotel rooms and don’t have to go to a convention you don’t like. If you make your significant other go to a convention they don’t like then you better be willing to go to their convention that you don’t like as well.

Your significant other may not understand why you like conventions. If they ask you why you like conventions, if you’re like me the answer is, because that’s where I’m at home. I don’t have to talk down to people there. Honestly, I don’t understand why anybody would want to watch football or an opera but many people like these things. I am sure that you can think of something they like that you don’t and ask them, “well, why do you like .” I, on the other hand, am now having to suffer through imagining a football opera. Oh God, oh God, make it stop.

I do not recommend lying. I don’t recommend telling your significant other that you have a business conference out of town unless of course you are a movie actor, science fiction author, or dealer. Still, you might want to let them know what the business is.

If you’re dating another serious con goer the conversation goes something like this:

“Hey, there’s a convention this weekend.”

“Cool, where are we going?”

Try not to be too disappointed when, upon revealing to your significant other that you are a wizard or alien, they are not actually surprised. I remember a complete stranger walking up to me and calling me by name because he knew an ex-girlfriend of mine from when I lived in another city who had once described me to him with a description the core of which was, “he looks like a Martian trying to pass.” Most of us think we’re pretty normal-seeming and are just dead wrong. The strangest of us will try and dress and act normal, but that just makes us stick out all the more. Despite Starfleet directives that we should not let anyone know we’re here or interfere with the culture, it is honestly unavoidable.

On a final note, con going women are a rare and precious item. Do not waste this unnatural resource if you don’t want the rest of the con going guys to waste you.

Copyright © 2012 Julian Thomas Reid III

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Convention Survival Guide, Post #4 – Budgeting for Your Con Experience or Stop Eating My Gold-Pressed Latinum

Your con experience should not be interrupted by having to worry about money. For many of us the only vacation we get is when we go to conventions so we should try to get the most enjoyment out of the experience that we possibly can. It is easy to overlook essential aspects of the expenses needed to go to a convention. This blog entry is for the purpose of improving your planning and increasing your enjoyment of conventions.

Your first expense that you need to concern yourself with is transportation whether we are talking about gas for your car, a bus ticket, a plane ticket. If you’re like Moebius and can hitchhike your way to Amsterdam from Florida for WorldCon you can forget about this expense, but for the rest of us who live in the real world making sure that you can both get there and home is a priority.

So really this blog is for those of us who can’t hitchhike to Europe for a convention and then borrow money from Anne McCaffrey to get back.

Your second consideration, of course, is where you’re going to stay during the convention. See my previous blog on the subject for further information.

If you are young and still fallaciously afraid that you’re going to miss something if you sleep and money is a serious concern you may think that it is a good idea to just stay up for two or three days. Of course these things do eventually catch up with you and nothing really happens between three in the morning and 10 AM but there are other things at work here which you have not considered. For an example:

When I was a young man, I went to Chattacon on Greyhound without getting a room or making arrangements because it was a three-day event, meaning I could stay up Friday night and Saturday night and sleep at home on Sunday. Chattacon, like Liberty Con, was started by the S.M.O.F. known as Uncle Timmy. This particular year we got snowed in. It was nine below zero. Chattanooga is about as far south and east as you can go in Tennessee and the Read House opened in 1926 so if you had told the builders it was going to be nine below they would have laughed at you. I still remember when it was decided that houses here in Georgia should be required to have some insulation. What I’m getting at here is that with the heat running and 1500 people huddled mostly in the con suite and the one remaining room party the inside of the hotel was very cold. I tried to get a room on Sunday but the hotel was completely booked. Five days into the convention I was watching colored blobs, mostly blue, float down the hall as I was walking back and forth between the room party and the con suite in the hopes of keeping warm.

Eventually, the snow cleared up, it got warmer, and the streets cleared within a few hours and Greyhound started running again. I walked the I think it was two blocks with my 1950s hard sided suitcase full of clothing down to the Greyhound station and caught my bus to Atlanta.

As soon as the bus pulled out of the station onto the road I passed out. Now, the bus that goes from Chattanooga to Atlanta eventually goes to somewhere in Florida. They don’t exactly go through checking your ticket like on a passenger train so if you miss your stop it’s really your problem. Sitting up in that Greyhound bus I slept better than I usually do in a bed. When I woke up my first thought was, “oh God, where the hell am I? This bus goes to Florida.” The view out the window was nondescript highway with trees along the side of the road which could be almost anywhere in the Southeast except certain areas of Florida and South Georgia. Needless to say I was in a bit of panic. My heart was racing but my anxiety was in the lead when the bus driver announced, “Next stop Marietta, next stop Marietta.”

My relief was immense and the amount of adrenaline pumping through my system was enough to keep me awake long enough to get off the bus in downtown Atlanta at the station that is now a gigantic square crater and has been for more than a decade now. I could have walked two blocks and gotten on MARTA, then taken the train and then a bus home.

Now it’s a little known fact that no matter where you’re going, the other side of town, or two blocks away MARTA almost universally takes an hour. I was uncertain that I could stay awake and going directly home was only about 2 1/2 miles, so I decided to walk because it would be faster. At the time Atlanta and a city in Texas were competing for murder capital of the US and my route took me directly through Techwood Homes, the worst ghetto in Atlanta. White people did not go into Techwood Homes and the police never went alone.

I had the Bill Bixby/My Favorite Martian haircut popular among American businessman since at least the 1950s, was wearing an Oxford cloth shirt, blue jeans, and hiking boots. I had a hard sided 1950s style suitcase and a five o’clock shadow because my beard grew very slowly at that point and I had not shaved in a week. I was very tired so I fell into horse stance and started walking. There was no traffic through Techwood Homes, so I automatically walked down the middle of the street scanning under cars, around bushes, and rooftops, no sign of any emotion on my face because I was way too tired to have one.

It was like something out of an old West movie. People cleared the streets ahead of me. They went inside and locked their doors and drew the curtains. As I walk down the street I could see people peeking out of their windows at me from behind the curtains or blinds.

It wasn’t until much later that I realized that everyone thought that I was a hit man come to kill someone.

When I got home, I fell into bed and slept for 24 hours, got up, went to the bathroom, ate a sandwich, drank a glass of milk, and went back to bed for another 24 hours. The next day I went back to work, having missed a full week’s worth of both work and pay.

Strangely, that makes paying for admission your third concern, but don’t just plan for this year; most conventions will give you a discount if you preregister for next year at the end of the convention. In fact it can be much cheaper. Usually it is. If you can’t afford to preregister for next year at the convention, it is still somewhat cheaper after you get home and usually for the next six months or so. If you still can’t afford to pay for admission you can usually work the convention. If the convention makes the staff pay to be there then you should not work for them and no one should go to them because you are being used and taking advantage of.

Other ways to get into a convention without paying include, for example, working for a vendor, being invited as a guest, or working for the hotel. If you enjoy conventions then you really should pay for admission if at all possible. If you don’t support the people who are supporting and entertaining you then they will go away and only a self-centered brat would be just as happy if a convention they like goes away so long as they don’t have to pay.

The fourth concern is food and drinks. Any convention worth its salt will of course have a con suite. At the very least this means sodas, chips, and snack cakes. I personally championed the movement to get conventions to offer real food by throwing room parties with an electric wok and preparing food to order. I made stir fry and washed out the wok for people with food allergies, vegetables and meat (or tofu which I will not touch for health reasons) being about ideal for people staying up long hours. As I prepared food I told people how easy and sensible it would be for the con suite provide real food and within two years most of the conventions in the Southeast were offering real food in the con suite that was crappy, cost more money, was unbalanced, and did not take into account people’s food allergies. Room parties started supplying vegetable trays and trays of meat with cheese all jumbled together at about the same time. As I am allergic to red meat neither one of these actually supplies me with reasonable food options but I feel that I have improved the situation for the majority.

Anime conventions do not have con suites or room parties as a general rule. The majority of attendees are teenagers and the crowd is overall less intellectual than at other conventions. Anime fans do not care whether or not they are being taken advantage of and generally go home for dinner. While most Anime conventions are being started by and run by Anime fans, some are just there to cash in on the popular movement. I am hoping that Anime fans will start having more respect for themselves and their preferred genre.

Darwin Rowland started the movement of representing Anime at conventions and is, to the best of my knowledge, single-handedly responsible for the movement that eventually led to there being Anime conventions. Most people never knew this and he is largely forgotten in fandom. He was driven away from cons by a small number of lame jerks but before that he spent a decade working as staff for every convention in the Southeast. Fandom owes this man a debt of gratitude.

So let’s assume that the convention you’re going to is not going to have food you can eat or at least not sufficient food for good nutrition. You should take drinks and food with you. Going to the grocery store is much cheaper than eating out. I usually take a cooler and foods that do not have to be refrigerated. Meats, cheeses, or even peanut butter and bread provide for high-protein sandwiches. Canned or shelf food and drinks provide for the rest of the things I need. I always carry milk and vegetables. A Styrofoam cooler costs about $5-$10 dollars and hotels have ice machines. I always like to budget to go out to eat once or twice when I’m at a convention.

I realize that most con goers don’t eat as healthfully at home as I do at a convention but I really wish they would. I’m tired of watching my friends die unnecessarily.

Your next expense is the dealer’s room. You should budget for at least twice as much as you intend to spend. The dealers need to make a living and the money they pay for tables helps support the convention. Many people will wait till the last day to buy something in the hopes that the dealers will mark down the price so they won’t have to carry it home. There are two problems with this: number one: it might sell before the last day and you won’t get it, and number two: most dealers are just going to pack up and go to another convention so they don’t mark the prices down.

I have on occasion decided that I would buy something at the next convention only to never see another one over the next 30 years. What this basically boils down to is you see the thing you must have, well you should probably go ahead and buy it.

So there you have the basic considerations for budgeting your convention-going experience for maximum pleasure. Whether you choose to hitchhike and sleep behind the lobby furniture, or fly into your luxury suite and eat at the finest restaurants in town, I hope you have a safe and fun con-going experience.

Tune in next week when we’ll discuss con-sluts, mundanes and more.

Copyright © 2012 Julian Thomas Reid III

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