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Nothing lasts forever — DeepWalker Lives

Nothing lasts forever
Deep Walker Lives

       My good friend Richard Gurley used to make fun of people who insisted that if you were big and strong you had to be stupid.  He was a computer programmer who used an over-sized keyboard.  At conventions, when we weren’t involved in a game, we would sit and talk about strategy, tactics, philosophy, the relative value of different kinds of blade, etc.

So many times I saw him acting gruff and laying it on thick to trying keep from bursting out laughing.  He did not always succeed.

If I had not met Richard Gurley back in in 1982 he would’ve been dead by 1984; instead, he helped develop the MRI as their main test subject.  We have been gamer friends since we met at a party Jerry Collins (a local artist) threw.  Not long after we met I took him aside at the party (well, actually, we were talking and went outside) and I told him, “You have acromegaly.  It is a serious health condition.  You need to see a doctor immediately.”

On my prompting, he immediately went to a doctor and was diagnosed with pituitary cancer.  Unlike most cases, his pituitary was fully functional and the size of a golf ball.  Very quickly it was found that his bones were too thick and too dense to use x-rays on him so he got referred to the people who were trying to develop a device which has become known as an MRI.

I remember one time we were at ChattaCon sitting in some chairs near the hotel elevators talking about how great it would be to get to colonize and explore alien planets when some kid came up to us and asked if anyone had a knife.

Richard pulled out a tiny penknife opened it and set it on the table in front of us.

I then pulled out a pocket knife opened it while saying, “That’s not a knife.  This is a knife,” and put it on the table next to the penknife.

Then Richard pulled out a tanto while saying, “THAT’s not a knife.  This is a knife,” and put it on the table next to my pocket knife .

While saying, “THAT’s not a knife.  This is a knife,” I pulled out a Marine survival knife approximately 1 inch longer than the tanto and set it on the table.

All the while, the kid’s eyes just kept getting wider and wider, while a crowd began to gather.

With a hearty, “THAT’s not a knife.  This is a knife,” Richard pulled out a foot long, double bladed knife that I think was a Scottish dirk but in his hands it still looked tiny and delicate, and tossed it down on the table.

At that point I reached into my jacket and pulled out my machete and dropped it on the table with a hearty, “THAT’s not a knife.  This is a knife.”

Just then, the kid started waving his arms back and forth saying, “Wait a minute!”  He reached down and picked one of the knives up, pulled out a string, and cut it.  He then put the knife back down, looked at both of us, and said “thank you” while backing away slowly.

I know what you’re probably thinking, if you’re a con-goer. “What about the weapons policies?”  First off, there were no weapons policies in those days.  They were not needed. Second, both of us were probably staff and on top of that at least one of us was probably security.  I say “probably” because it was a long time ago and I don’t really remember anymore.

For years, Richard and I had each other’s backs.  After his pituitary grew back and he had to have it surgically removed a second time, his bones became so large that his vertebrae locked into each other and he could barely move.  Since that time Richard has not been able to get out so much and I have been struggling and did I have the money or time to spend that much time with my good friend, but we never ceased to be close.

On Facebook, a lot of people have been talking about how important Richard was to them. They have been getting a lot of sympathy.  I can’t really tell you how important Richard was to me and I have not been getting any sympathy.  Richard was one of my two friends who have died in the last four years who I really expected to outlive me for the longest time.  Jimmy Wheeler was the other one.  Most of these people who have been talking about how important Richard was to them and how close they were to him would never have met him if it had not been for me.

The really frustrating part for me is that I had just figured out how to get his legs to uncramp just before he had his initial heart attack.  I was planning to go up and see if I could get him walking again when he had the heart attack.

I remember one time back when he was being treated, Richard was walking across the street from Lenox Mall to the Marta train station when he was hit by a car that ran the light.  I should stop at this point and mentioned the fact that Richard’s femurs by that point were already as big around as my upper arm.  If you don’t know, the femur is the bone in the upper part of your leg.  There was no time for him to get out of the way, so he hopped up an inch off the pavement so the car would not shatter his leg, and he shoved his elbow as hard as he could into the center of the car hood with the momentum created when it hit him.   The result was that he shoved the car hood into the carburetor of the vehicle, totaling it.  He then got up off of the hood when the woman stopped her car.  He growled at the lady in the broken car and walked off into the Marta station while the lady cop who had witnessed the accident stared at him with her mouth open.

Massive destructive power with a twisted, sick sense of humor was in many ways a hallmark of Richard Gurley.  He liked to act gruff and found it funny that a lot of people were afraid of him, but down deep he was a gentle and caring soul so long as you did not try to hurt him or those he cared about.  Like me, you hurt those we care about and, well, ever seen a cat hunt and kill something?

Richard was one of the main forces helping me maintain optimism about humanity.  He always had a sense of humor.  He wanted me to make sure that he was remembered the way he was before he ended up in a wheelchair.  I am glad that I let him know that his memory will be preserved both in the game that I’m designing and in several of my stories.  Richard was always a good friend.

I keep asking myself, “What’s the point of saving people’s lives if you end up watching them die later?”

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Con Survival Guide, Post #13: Surviving Con Crud

Con Survival Guide, Post #13: Surviving Con Crud

 

        Obviously, the best way to deal with Con crud is to avoid catching it in the first place.  The key to that is getting some sleep, eating some healthy food, taking extra vitamins and, well actually, if you check out my earlier post on Fatigue you will get some really good tips on dealing with this sort of thing and getting ready to go back to work on Monday.

        Con crud is any one of a huge number of generally unidentified illnesses that people regularly pick up after going to a convention.  They are usually viral in nature and leave you feeling achy   They can vary from a general feeling of crappiness to a ‘flu or intestinal virus.  It is generally a good idea to help head these off by taking a little extra Vitamin C, Cat’s Claw, or an immune-boosting formula like Wellness Optimizer by Jarrow or Planetary Formulas Astragalus and Cat’s Claw formula.  Frequently people will come away with a cold as well.

How you deal with these things depends a lot on the symptoms.  If, for instance, I were having diarrhea, I would take either Immodium or Plum Flower Brand Coptis.  For a bad cough, I would tend to use my mother’s home remedy of ⅓ Tequila, ⅓ raw honey and ⅓ lime juice.  Most of the time, however, I don’t let things get that far.  Before getting sick, I will typically take a half dose of the Chinese Plum Flower Brand formula Gan Mao Ling.  It boosts the immune system and will tend to prevent most viruses.  I always drink a little extra water during the course of conventions because dehydration can cause a lot of symptoms of illness and is the basic cause for hangovers.  OK, actually hangovers are caused by a combination of dehydration and the effects of congestants found in alcohol (especially rum and beer).  Vodka actually has the least amount of congestants, and is less likely to give people a hangover, but I will have more to say on that in the “Responsibly drinking” blog yet to come.

If I actually get sick, I will usually take Oscillococcinum and Plum Flower Brand of Gan Mao Ling at the first sign of illness,   After that I try to sleep it off.  Now, you may have noticed that I am consistently recommending Plum Flower Brand.  The reason is because they consistently use higher quality herbs, have never been found to contain heavy metals or unlabeled drugs, and tend to work reliably well.  I also never use the sugar coated pills because I have found that they don’t work as well, and if you just swallow the pills there isn’t that much taste anyway.

For a cold, I use Ginger and Onion Tea.  This really isn’t as bad as it sounds.  It tastes kind of like chicken soup without the chicken.  Note: It is acceptable to add chicken and noodles to it.  If I feel like I’m coming down with a cold but don’t yet have it, I take the green parts of a bunch of green onions and three slices of ginger, put them in a small boiler with a cup of water and bring it to a boil, then pour off the liquid and drink it.  If I already have a cold, then I use the white part of the green onions.  Usually, I find that one dose gets rid of the cold, though it could take as long as a few hours.  You can take this tea once an hour, but if it hasn’t gotten rid of my cold by the first hour, I definitely switch to the white part of the onions and if I still have it after three hours I use ginger, lemon and honey tea, which is an old African remedy.  I use three slices of fresh ginger, one teaspoon of raw honey, and the juice of a whole lemon and throw the peel into the tea.  I add one cup of water and bring to a boil just like the Chinese tea above.  If those two teas do not get rid of it, I know that it’s not a cold and probably is the ‘flu, although it might be some other virus.

If symptoms persist, definitely go see your qualified medical practitioner, whatever their initials may be.

Disclaimer: This blog is not intended to diagnose or treat any disease.

Copyright © 2013 Julian Thomas Reid III

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Con Survival Guide, Post #12: Behind the scenes at a modern con remembering the past Or A view from the trenches

Con Survival Guide, Post #12: Behind the scenes at a modern con remembering the past

Or

A view from the trenches

               Walking through the con areas last night in the dark before setup I was remembering cons gone by while looking around with a sensation of stumbling upon the remains of a con in a post-apocalyptic word. (Yeah, I think that the rule that all sentences should be 7 words, or 9 words depending on who you talk to is crap)  [There you go, kicking down the fourth wall again.]  {Damnit, Jim, I’m a writer, not an English teacher.}  (And now back to our regularly scheduled program.)  So here I am at ChattaCon, and they’re doing setup. I ran into Brent, Kirsten, and about ten other people while checking in to the Choo Choo. One of the first things I found out was that someone had forgotten to bring the bag of 300 screws to set up the art room, so a couple of guys were on a run to get screws, but they needed more people to help set it up. Now I haven’t officially worked a con in about 20 years, although the last time I was a guest at a convention was last year. Still the old timers all really know that I am part of the con family and in a pinch I am one of the people they will come to.

So, I headed back up to the art room with Robyn, Raven, and Storm. Yeah, I’m aware that they all have the names of superheroes, but those are really their names. Robyn had forgotten his room key, so I went back to get it for him and Cynthia and I ordered pizza for dinner. Walking by Ops, I noticed that they had left a large number of wooden easels outside. The clouds for the soon-to-start freezing rain had already rolled in. I took the time to walk in to Ops and talk to old friends who immediately tried to recruit me for security.  So they are a little short, and I’m working on recruiting them some staff, but as of right now in my story I haven’t decided about myself.  I reminded them of the freezing rain and easels, and they immediately pulled them inside and thanked me for reminding them.  They had gotten distracted, as always at a convention, by conversation.  That’s where Cynthia caught up with me, still talking to the guys in Ops, because my pizza had been delivered and the driver was waiting for me to sign the credit slip.

Now, ChattaCon, at least in the Southeast, is the first con of the year, and it is a SMOF con.  When conventions started reemerging, this is where they got together and started planning their rebirth and recruiting staff.  ChattaCon was, of course, started by Uncle Timmy, who also started LibertyCon and therefore is the guy responsible for two of the best conventions in the Southeast.

Years ago, I started going to conventions as a paid member, but somewhere down the line I got recruited to be staff.  I was DAGR member number 96 back when they were on Memorial Drive in Clarkston.  People ask me if I was part of DAGR when they were at Stone Mountain, and I say “no” because DAGR never was at Stone Mountain.

After a while of running tournaments, I decided to try other parts of the convention, like con suite.  Eventually, I settled into security which I had been working outside of Science Fiction conventions for a decade.  I had already worked things like COMDEX and the great advantage to security is that, unless you get posted in one spot, you see more of the convention, and even if you do get posted in one spot, you get to talk to people more.  Later, of course, I showed up as a dealer all the way from Dallas, TX to Orlando and Pensacola, FL to Baltimore, MD and Rosemont outside of Chicago, IL.

Inside of conventions there are several overlapping but separate communities, which include but are not limited to Fan Community, Staff Community, Pagan Community, Drunk Celt Community, Steampunk Community, Gamer Community, Computer Gamer Community, Martial Artist Community, and the Dealer Community.  Now, the Filker Community is one of the communities most unique to Fandom.  They are devoted to Science Fiction folk songs, or just filkthy folk songs, which is probably why they were Banned from Argo.  The basic Fan Community itself is further broken down by genre and media.

So as soon as the art room was assembled, we all sat down and devoured the pizza we had ordered.  Now, there was staff pizza available for those helping assemble the art room, but it didn’t even go as far as the one we ordered for ourselves and some of us have too many food allergies to eat anything that isn’t special ordered.  As a matter of typical conversation last night  (as of when I was writing this part), we were discussing the fact that one of the uniting features of Fandom is that a majority have not just health problems, but really unusual health problems.  As a matter of fact, an awful lot of the people I know at cons have been written up in text books as, for that matter, have some of my relatives.  Richard Gurley was used to help develop the MRI because his bones are so thick they stop X-Rays.

Now, if you are a con-goer, and you’re having to go too long without going to a con, and you want to get that feeling of having gone to a con, I highly recommend reading Bimbos of the Death Sun, which is a murder mystery set at a science fiction convention.  It has always seemed weird to me that it is in the mystery section because it isn’t actually science fiction.  It is an awesome book.

Friday morning and cold, drizzly, freezing rain has descended on Chattanooga.  A significant number of the security staff are believed will not make it because of iced conditions.  We went to the City Café Diner Restaurant (as it’s called on their menu), where I first dined with the guys from Marietta Publishing a few years ago, for breakfast.  Yes, I know the diner’s name is horribly redundant.  The food is reasonably priced with more than generous proportions and rather good.  A really important feature for us was that they had no trouble accommodating the food allergies of all five of the people at our table.

The guys in Ops were joking about how the guys in computer gaming probably wouldn’t even get up until 3:00 PM when registration starts, and were ignoring stacks of pizza, which they had clearly already had for breakfast.  They were, of course, joking about themselves earlier.  I definitely would not trade my Eggs Benedict made with turkey sausage for their cold pizza, but the pizza was definitely better priced, being free.  I didn’t have any because I was stuffed, mind you.

Later, of course, we got hot pizza in the middle of the night.  To kill some time before a panel on Friday, we went to the con suite, where I got a free massage and picked up some free hard cider instead of the free beer or Coke.  That’s where I managed to hook up with Gregory Nicoll, who is hopefully going to join my writers’ group.  I also talked to Emily Hunter and Harry Coburn, as well as seeing Chloie.  On Saturday, I spent half the day standing in the Dealer’s Room talking to the beautiful and intelligent M.B. Weston, whose new book Out of the Shadows just came out, and Allan Gilbreath.  Then I had a brief conversation with a young lady named Poppy Jackson who has just written a vampire romance trilogy, but she promises they don’t sparkle.  Geoffrey Mandragora, who we talked to about his steampunk novel, The Thunderbolt Affair, that we picked up last year at LibertyCon, and his wife, Lillian Price’s new book which seemed to involve black, carnivorous unicorns.  I also talked to Uncle Timmy about conventions and engineering, and strangely enough the relationship between these two things, as well as talking to a few other people like Paul Cashman.  So, despite the fact that it may look like I was talking business all weekend, and in a sense I suppose I was (that’s certainly how I would answer the IRS if they asked), really we were just hanging out and talking to our friends about whatever, including Grizzly Dan, and Aegis Steampunk.  It may be sad, but we go to the dealer’s room mostly to socialize with the vendors rather than to shop.

Now, of course, there are also the room parties.  Friday night is never a big night for room parties, and there were only three.  Two of them were better than the third, but were not entirely spectacular.  Gary Poole had the party which may well be considered the best, but I didn’t actually make it there.  I meant to go check out the room parties, but I got embroiled in a conversation with Reverend Bob, who is the resident MIB from Steve Jackson Games.  (Steve Jackson was not at the convention this year, but he has been known to attend in the past.)  To be honest, over the last couple of days I’ve missed every panel I was planning to check out and honestly had no interest in making it for the Robot Wars.   Instead, like many con-goers, I reveled in being home with my tribe and being able to use a proper vocabulary without any obfuscation.  Saturday night’s parties are always much better, and more ubiquitous.

The Steampunk Stag Party, having been followed by The Steampunk Wedding, where R2D2 was the ring bearer, and a Dalek was…..a “pretty flower girl”, gave birth to The Steampunk Reception.  The reception had by far the best food including, but not limited to, moving gears made from chocolate covered Rice Crispy Treats that had the various cakes on top.  Unfortunately, I was hungry when I entered this room and, thanks to the peanut butter and chocolate cake, I may have gained a few extra pounds.  They also had real food including chicken with basil rice, chicken enchiladas, beef stroganoff, etc.  We’re talking real food, and clearly homemade with a limited amount of time and budget, but not limited imagination or skill.  The chicken enchiladas were particularly good.  There was the Viking Vs. Pirate party, which involved alcohol but no food.  Someone released a Kraken at that one.  Nevertheless, since it did not have food, it was over-crowded, and the lights were turned down too much, it was generally not that good a party, and it was where people went to get drinks, which is ironic because there were two other parties with more and better alcohol, including The Steampunk Reception.

The JordanCon Party had, as usual, the best selection of alcohol and it had good conversation, though it was drunker than usual, as well as having a Trolling Geordie LaForge.  Don’t ask!  Still, the very best party was a book release party (for and by Gail Z. Martin).  The best conversation by far, plenty of seating, enough people but not too many, and a good cause, with snacks and drinks.  She even had real Coca Cola instead of store-brand swill.

Meanwhile in the gaming room, Robert was having a conversation with someone else about Robert.  Neither of these was Robert’s father Robert, or any of the three MIBs named Robert.  Currently there are too many Roberts.  Other names have gone through this process in the past as well.  Generally speaking, there are many Roberts, Saras, Chrises, Krises, Cindys, Jennifers, etc.  Fortunately, there’s only one Uncle Timmy; or rather, unfortunately.  We could use more Uncle Timmys.  There aren’t enough people voluntarily working conventions, let alone running them, and never have been.

There were 997 guests at the convention, with half the staff and presumably half of the guests not being able to make it from the Nashville side because of weather conditions.  Let it be made clear that some people made it anyway, either coming first or braving the weather conditions.

On the darker side, there was a dweeb with a small Tesla coil on a hard hat on his head with about a two-inch Jacob’s Ladder coming of it, and while that, in and of itself, was kind of cool, he did not seem to understand that this is not an excuse to harass people because they have a phobia.  This is not a method of hitting on someone, but it does have a fair chance of getting you killed or beaten until someone thinks you have acquired some sense.  Despite two additional people telling him it wasn’t cool, he backed her into a corner not far from the balcony door.  If he had gotten any closer, he might well have “jumped” off the balcony.  Fortunately for him, two people got between him and her and he eventually had the sense to back up.  Then he wandered off to look for more alcohol.  I do not know or care what happened to him after that.

Before leaving the hotel, we stopped by and purchased our con memberships for next year.  I always preregister because, very frankly, it’s much cheaper that way, and the lines are shorter.  In fact, it took us maybe five minutes for five people to get their badges when we checked in on Friday because we were slowed down by me not being able to find my ID at first.

After the convention, we went to McKay’s Books in Chattanooga, which is the largest used bookstore I have ever seen.  It is definitely the biggest still existent.  I have occasionally seen ones that had a better stock in the past, but they no longer exist.  After making our purchases, we headed to India Mahal, which has by far the best Malai Kofta I have ever had, and then headed home only to realize that my little cadre of friends were all coming down with Con Crud.  After medicating them with our travel kit, I started the long drive home with my co-pilot passed out at my side.  By the time I stopped for gas, my co-pilot had somewhat revived and I was clearly coming down with the affliction myself.  We traded seats and I took the medicine and passed out.

I hope this gives you a little bit of an idea of what it’s like to go to a convention.  Follow my blog for more of the Convention Survival Guide.

Copyright © 2013 Julian Thomas Reid III

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Convention Survival Guide, Post # 9 – Politics, Cliques, and Other Childish Games or Three People Can Destroy the Fun for Everyone

Convention Survival Guide, Post #9 –

Politics, Cliques, and Other Childish Games

or Three People Can Destroy the Fun for Everyone

             Most congoers are nerds, geeks, intellectuals, or any one of a half-dozen fringe outcast groups. In fact, at least half of them are more than one of these particular overlapping side groups. A common problem with most of these groups is that their members were excluded from normal cliques in high school. In fact this tends to be a problem with any intelligent person because frankly there tend to be a lack of peers for intelligent people at any given high school. The small number of people who fit into that category may band together but it does not really take the form of a clique. Also, usually they are so busy being intellectually ahead of the game that most of them are somewhat socially behind. This frequently leads to cliques developing at conventions but this separatism is harmful in the long run to conventions themselves.

I have a friend who goes to conventions.  He says that nothing pisses him off more than geeks dissing on geeks. Certainly he has a very valid point. In the Lord of the Rings, you don’t see the elves fighting each other. That is the behavior of orcs.  In Julius Caesar’s war campaigns in Gaul you see the Romans providing a unified front while playing one Gallic tribe against another. To this day you see Neopagan groups fighting with each other and doing the job of their enemies.

From at least the 1970s through the early 1990s, southeastern fandom was a united community. No, not everyone got along with everyone else but we all pulled together. Different conventions were in different cities and headed by different people, but the staff for most conventions were usually the same. If a fan had car trouble, we took up a collection to pay for their repairs. If someone started to cause trouble at the convention the fans took care of it before security ever had to.

In the late 1980s, people started coming in to conventions and forming cliques and they didn’t grow out of it. They continue to act like high school students. At the same time, some of the people running conventions started playing political games. In the early 1990s conventions started competing against each other with the result that almost all of the conventions in the Southeast went away.

While there had always been enough room for all the conventions and average attendance was always between 1000 and 2000 at every convention every month, with the exception of the larger conventions like DragonCon and WorldCon, which had larger draws, membership dwindled to 500 or less for the average con. At the same time, thousands of people left fandom, never to return. That’s right: all the BS drove thousands of people away from going to conventions ever again. Their money, their support and their friendship was lost.

In martial arts we endeavor not to criticize other styles. I must admit that I tend to be a bit critical of martial arts as sport,  Despite having started out with an attitude that martial sports were more justified in the modern world, I have become very traditional. Martial sports get people unnecessarily injured and are of little use if you actually need them for self-defense. Yes, I think of the martial arts styles I practice as the best. However, I can see particular aspects of other arts which are superior. I can also recognize that what works for me may not be the best thing for someone with a different build and temperament. Both my build and temperament have changed over the years and so have my preferred martial arts styles. This could easily be the beginning of another blog and you may be wondering what that has to do with fandom.

Ignoring the fact that one of the special interest groups that overlaps with fandom is martial artists and that there are in fact a very high percentage of congoers who are also martial artists, we get into the real heart of the matter. If we endeavor not to criticize other conventions and genres, we can see what is good and useful in each of these and incorporate them into our own conventions, writing, or what have you.

Promoting your own brand of fandom or even your own particular favorite book, movie or convention does not require criticizing or sabotaging others. Mutual support leads to success for everyone but stabbing others in the back, while it may lead to short-term success, means that you have to watch every other direction for the rest of your life.

It’s all well and good to promote yourself, your products, your convention, your friends and the things you like so long as you’re not actively sabotaging others. If you had, for instance, a list of conventions on your convention website and you went and removed every convention that was not run by your personal friends, then only those conventions will promote yours. If, on the other hand, you promote a variety of conventions in a mutually supportive network, all benefit. A larger convention will not percentagewise benefit as much by providing a connection to smaller conventions as the smaller conventions will from that same connection, but they all add up.

I have seen conventions where the panels were filled with people’s personal friends while cutting out more qualified individuals. By not associating their friends with the more qualified individuals, it failed to promote their friends while making for a duller convention and eventually, when done to the extreme, this has resulted in the death of more than one convention.

Half the fun of going to conventions is making lots of interesting friends, many of whom don’t have the same interests as you. If you isolate yourself in a clique, while you can stroke your ego, the truth of the matter is that a clique is all about ego and does not actually involve making friends that last most of the time. Now having a group of people you hang out with is an entirely different thing. If you’re supporting each other in your endeavors you will all be more successful.

Of course we all know about that group of guys at Princeton who were busily engaged in tearing each other down and became so successful, but have you heard of that small group of guys at Cambridge who were cooperating with each other on a project they called Monty Python’s flying Circus? Oh wait, yeah, it’s the other way around. It’s the guys who mutually support and help each other. They become rich and famous.

If you look into the histories of Apple and Microsoft, you find the same thing: a group of people working together to accomplish a common goal. Even George Lucas’s success could not have been achieved without the advice of his next-door neighbor, Joseph Campbell, and his best friend who rewrote his early scripts, Brian Daily.

There were even people who provided services for the convention and worked who were harassed until they quit coming to conventions by people who just did it because they could.

The possibility of tearing conventions down in this way was made possible by an epidemic among fandom of lack of self-esteem, lack of spine, and a lack of loyalty. While people who had never done anything for fandom tore it apart by attacking one hard-working fan at a time or sabotaging individual conventions, the majority stood by and watched it happen. People were afraid or thought it wasn’t any of their business but it was their business and when you don’t stand up to bullies sooner or later they get to you.

When someone starts a group, “for the group,” and someone else who has done none of the work tries to take credit and make the group for them either the group has to stand up and say bullshit or the group will go away. The person who made the group has to set things up so that political games won’t undermine it. Of course they can always start another one.

Boy, girl games or boy boy, girl girl games for that matter are a bit more complex. The only advice I can give with regards to that is don’t get involved with people who are playing games and trying to manipulate you. If you get into that sort of thing just don’t let it spill over into conventions, work, or other areas that will affect innocent people’s lives.

Of course, generally there tends to be the problem that the bad guys organize beforehand and catch the good guys flat-footed. This is certainly borne up by history. Another problem in this case is that getting fans to work together resembles trying to herd cats.

I once saw an Australian Shepherd trying to herd about 30 feral cats. As they spread in every possible direction, the poor dog was following his instinct and got this look on his face that I can’t even describe. It did, however, remind me of so many staff meetings that I have seen. The better staff meetings I have seen consisted of people who knew their job and did it. Some of the worst staff meetings I’ve seen reminded me of acting auditions where people lie about their qualifications to get the job that they’re not qualified for and make everyone look bad instead of taking the job they’re qualified for and ending up looking better.

Political competition over control of a group or running a convention that does not get resolved quickly and to everyone’s satisfaction with the people who are actually doing the work being in charge consistently results in the dissolution of the group if it persists over any length of time.

Now if the convention is being run by someone who doesn’t do that great a job, the convention will slowly get smaller and smaller but that can be remedied by a change in who is in charge. That happened recently with ChattaCon, which is now being run better and once again improving. Honestly, one of the biggest blows to fandom was when Uncle Timmy decided to retire from ChattaCon. When he stepped back up and started LibertyCon, we got another shining example of what a con should be.

Soaring conclusion: I have to say that people need to grow the fuck up. A little maturity and self-discipline without a stick up your ass can result in having a lot more fun and everyone else having a good time as well. Until next time, “have fun!”

Copyright © 2012 Julian Thomas Reid III

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December 22, 2012 · 7:37 PM

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 #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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Convention Survival Guide, Post #3 – Where to Stay at the Con or Don’t Mind Me, I’ll Sleep in the TARDIS:

I had a little difficulty deciding whether to address this subject or budgeting next. The real problem is that you need to know what your budget is before you can decide where to stay, and you need to know where you’re going to stay in order to figure out your budget.

For number of years I would go to conventions without a place to stay and would just stay up all weekend. Don’t do it. It ages you quickly and, honestly, between somewhere around 2 to 4 in the morning till 10 AM nothing really happens at a con. You may be young and disagree with this, but when you get older you will realize how right I was.

The best housing arrangement if you can afford it is to stay in the convention hotel and let them know you’re with the convention and want the convention rate when you make your reservation. This helps both the convention and you as you don’t have far to go in the middle of the night when you realize that it is time to crash or need a place to take your date.

In my opinion the second best arrangement is to be going to a convention less than 5 miles from your home. For economic reasons, being able to go home to sleep or having a friend you can stay with near where the convention is held is the best deal. For enjoyment and safety, the best place to be is in the convention hotel. Often times we have to compromise. Throwing in with several people to get a hotel room is common in fandom. Local ordinances and hotel rules aside, there is a limit to how many people you can get in one room. I recommend fewer than 10.

Three or four is usually the maximum reasonable number of people to have in a room but if the hotel room is in your name and you are going to share the room, get money from the other people who are going to be in the room before you check in. I don’t care if they are your friends. If you don’t get the money up front you better be able to afford the room. Generally you should get the money as close to when you get the reservation as possible or, if you are not reliable with money, just before leaving for the convention would be good.

Another option is to shop around for cheaper hotels near the convention. Often times you can find deals nearby but remember: the larger a convention the sooner hotel rooms will sell out. You can only expect to check in on the day of the convention without a reservation for very small conventions.

Looking for crash space at the convention. They used to put up a board for people looking for crash space, but I haven’t seen one of those in years. You can go to a convention and ask around and it is possible you may find crash space. Your chances are obviously much better if you are a girl. They are exponentially better if you are a pretty girl. Yes, the reason is that con guys are hopeful. Frequently delusionally and unrealistically hopeful, but most of them are not jerks who are going to try and take advantage of you. Unfortunately some of them are. Sometimes they will have a reputation for this and you can find out beforehand.

Over the years I have seen a large number of people sleeping in or behind hotel furniture. Personally I can’t sleep that way. Even I have on occasion tried to crash in an unused conference room during the middle of the night. We were snowed into the hotel for a week and I had not gotten a room because I was expecting to be back home and sleep in my own bed by Sunday night. That was when I realized that hotel staff never sleep and are always doing something.

Many conventions are not even in hotels and often you cannot stay on site after a certain time. I hope that if you’re going to a convention, you find out where it is first. If you don’t, somehow I doubt that you’re going to make it there anyway.

I have known people who slept in their cars but I’ve never done that for a convention. I have slept in my car when camping if the weather got too cold and honestly a car full of people trying to sleep sucks.

Sometimes if you’re working staff there is a staff crash room. This frequently involves carefully stepping over people while you look for a clear place big enough for you to lie down. After a few days, particularly if you’re doing a convention that starts on a Friday and ends Sunday week, this can look really good. Note; if you’ve been up for five days, it is not a good time to hook up with somebody you just met. Just saying.

If you work in a hotel, it may be possible to get employee discounts with other hotels of the same name or owned by the same company. This is not always true but some hotels do offer employee rates. You may have to get a “white card” or other documentation signed by your supervisor, but this could still make a convention that would otherwise be out of your price range affordable. It may even be possible to get friends and family rates for other people you know, but this can backfire on you if they don’t appreciate the effort you’re going to and start to expect it. This is not the sort of thing you can guarantee, but real friends will appreciate it if you can manage it.

If you are a famous big-name guest, try and get the convention to throw in a room for you. This may be especially easy if they have offered to pay your expenses. They might even pay you to come to the convention. That must be nice.

Finally, if you do own a TARDIS you can park it wherever you like and invite your friends to stay in it but please, please, please, pick me up and take me with you!

So in short, what this largely boils down to is make sure that you know where you’re going to stay, keep your stuff, or sleep. Before you go to a convention, figure out how much it’s going to cost you, and use this information to help you figure out how much to budget for the convention. Sometimes you can’t afford a convention and you just have to go. Under those circumstances all I can say is use your best judgment.

Copyright 2012 Julian Thomas Reid III

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