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