Fandom Fest AAR

FandomFest started off well enough. I mean, I showed up a little early Friday to get checked in and only waited a few minutes in the line to get my room. The hotel staff apologized and told me that they were out of rooms on the other side of the hotel, and asked if I wouldn’t mind a room facing the parking lot. I didn’t think anything of it and agreed, since I figured I wouldn’t be spending a lot of time in room anyways.

I learned some valuable new rules for attending a Media/Literary Con in the future. I shall now pass on this hard-earned wisdom to you.

Rule #1 – Assume nothing

I assumed that because I preregistered awhile in advance, my hotel room was going to be a decent one. So when they handed me my keys, I grabbed my luggage and hauled it up to my room, where I was introduced to the Hallway of Doom. You see, the hallway in which my room was situated faced the parking lot as well and featured floor to ceiling windows. Also of note: there wasn’t proper air circulation in this hallway. Final note: every room had their AC cranked up, which would have been fine if not for the fact that when these AC’s blow the hot air out of the room, it ends up in the uncirculated, greenhouse-like hallway.

Think of an oven. Make it humid, like when you’re broiling something. Now stick a piece of ham in there. You get the idea.

It was so damned hot in that hallway that I actually held my breath as I ran from the stairwell to my room and back, so my lungs wouldn’t deflate due to extreme heat. In that hallway, all weekend long, it never got below 120F. Even at three in the morning it was 120F, so you can guess how bad it was when the western facing windows (i.e., parking lot side) were filled with good old humidity and 1pm-7pm sun constantly.

…I was almost tempted to try to cure a ham. It was that damned hot.

So then I wasn’t sure what to do, since my first panel wasn’t until two hours later. I figured I’d listen to the hotel staff and take the skywalk above the street over to the other half of the hotel. The other side of the hotel is also where check-in for the con was at. So I grabbed my backpack and wandered over to the other side via the skywalk, trusting the word of the hotel staff about the skywalk.

Rule #2 – Never trust the hotel staff

I had thought that the Hallway of Doom was bad. That was, of course, before I met the Skywalk to Hell. About 200 feet long and covered in nothing but glass and absolutely no air whatsoever, the Skywalk to Hell was studiously avoided by most of the patrons of the con. However, I had not spoken to anybody else since my arrival and didn’t know any better. So I crossed it.

Halfway across I realized that this was a BAD MISTAKE and began to wonder if I would survive this journey.

I saw a small door at the end of the tunnel and wondered, for the briefest of moments, if it were locked. I swore upon all that was unholy (and even some things that are holy) that if the door was locked, it was coming down in pieces. Thankfully for the hotel (and my police record), the door was unlocked and I pushed it open, greedily sucking in that sweet, not-quite-as-scalding air in the other hotel. Covered in sweat, looking worse for wear and starting to get real f’ing cranky, I made my way to the registration table, and found a helpful (if a bit clueless) con volunteer manning the registration area.

Rule #3 – Never listen to the con volunteer who just replaced the guy in charge of registration: they know not of what they speak

The lady was nice enough, but she had absolutely no clue what was going on. However, after admitting this to me she then proceeded to inform me of the latest gossip pertaining to the con. I, being a relatively minor guest, could care less about it. I was hot, sweaty, miserable (I like the cold, for the record. The colder, the better…) and I really just wanted to go home at this point. Seeing my obvious discomfort and taking pity on me, she finally figured out where my name badge was stashed at. She handed me my name badge and said “Thank you”, effectively dismissing me.

I blinked, audibly. No con schedule? No t-shirt? No map of anything? Well, okay, I guessed I would survive without a shirt. But no con schedule or map? How the hell was I supposed to find anything? Nothing about a con suite? Bah…

I trudge back over to the hotel where my room was at (wisely avoiding the Skywalk to Hell) and made my way towards the dealer area, which was in the metal Atrium. Surely something there would catch my eye and make this trip worth the headache it was slowly becoming…?

Rule #4 – Metal is an excellent heat conductor. Do NOT create an enclosed area in the middle of a metal atrium with no air conditioning and call it the “Dealer’s Room”

The Dealer’s Area. I can’t really call it a “room” because it really wasn’t. However, it was a whole new level of suckage that goes beyond the Hallway of Doom or Skywalk to Hell.

They had placed curtains to keep people from walking in and out of the Dealer’s Area outside of the entrance and exit, so security would have an easier time. This is supposition, mind you. I’m guessing here so I can believe that the concom wasn’t out to try and cause heat stroke on big, hefty, overweight attendees.

You can guess that while there were a few fans blowing air around the metal atrium, the curtains used to ensure security were smothering everyone inside the Dealer’s Area, preventing the breeze from reaching the people inside. The dealers were stuck in this enclosed pit of despair without any customers who wanted to come inside and look at their wares. Enclosing an area like this at a typical convention is almost guaranteed to create a certain… soupy aroma that is caused when certain people above a certain weight begin to sweat heavily. Add in a lack of air circulation once more and suddenly I wasn’t hungry anymore.

Poor Allan Gilbreath. As head of Kerlak Publishing, he goes to a lot of cons, selling books (including Lawyers in Hell, which he put out the hardcover version of) and trying to recoup expenses on the trip. Plus, he was scheduled to be on panels while running his little booth in the Dealer’s Area (aka Pit of Hellish Despair), so he was running around all weekend while trying to not drop from the heat. I was there for 15 minutes in the Dealer’s Area signing copies of Lawyers in Hell and couldn’t wait to get out of there. He was forced to stay in there… forever…

Needless to say, I didn’t buy anything at this con. It was way too unpleasant in the Dealer’s Area for me to actually shop.

I glanced at my phone and saw that it was almost five in the evening. Time for my first panel, about Up and Coming Authors. I head over to Panel Room A and discover… air conditioning. Suddenly I realized just how much more the Atrium sucked: the hot air in every single hotel room in the hotel was being blown into the Atrium (from the AC’s, which were pumping cold air into the rooms and hot air into the Atrium), which was where the Dealer’s Area was set up.

And Enclosed.

Holy sh*t…

Rule #5 – Do NOT say, “Well, it can’t get any worse”…

Wayne Brady once famously said, “Is Wayne Brady gonna have to choke a bitch?”. I almost said this as I sat down in the ice-cold Panel Room A with my fellow panelists and listened to one woman lament about the heat. She uttered the cursed words of “It can’t get any worse, right?” to which I thought Lady, if you think that then you need to brush up on the Laws of Murphy. However, I bit my tongue and let her think that. I, for one, do not want to be the soul-crusher for the weekend: the heat was doing a good enough job for me.

However, the panel was pretty interesting and I was able to meet new authors like myself. Everything went well, until a cute, perky young hotel staff member poked her head into the room and said “I need to turn your AC off in here”.

Me: “Uh, why?”

Cute Perky Chick: “I don’t know, the front desk told me to.”

Me: “You sh*ttin’ me?”

Cute Perky Chick (not as perky at this point): “I’m sorry.”

Someone finally made the connection to the hot assed Dealer’s Area and the hotel rooms that blow AC into the Atrium. However, instead of doing to obvious (turn up the AC in the Atrium or, God forbid, get a few flippin’ fans blowing) they turned off the AC in the panel room. I was… shocked isn’t quite the word I’m going for here, but it’s the most family friendly one I was think of. So now it still sucked in the Atrium, and the panel room sucked as well. Yay!

Remember, this is just Friday afternoon. There is still the entire weekend to occur. I was really looking forward to seeing just how much crappier it would get.

…oh, it got crappier.

Rule #6: Minimum wage earners don’t give a rat’s ass about your dietary needs.

I needed to get out of there. It was too hot, so I moseyed my way over to the hotel’s restaurant. I looked their menu up and down and realized that they had some good stuff with reasonable prices up there. I liked this and thought my weekend was turning around. So I wait to be seated, as the sign instructed, and was told by the staff in the restaurant that they were only doing a buffet for dinner… at $12.95. Okay, I figure, buffet can be good. I ask what was on it.

Fried Chicken. Mashed potatoes. Vegetables.

No hamburgers? No… variety? Well, damn it. Thankfully, there were a few fast food joints within walking distance, so I hoofed it over to Arby’s, which is the upper end of fast food for me. I place my order and wait at my table.

…and wait…

…and wait…

…until finally, someone comes out with my food. “Sorry” she drawls, her tone not the least bit apologetic, “but we got backed up.”

For the record, I had watched the drive-thru window this entire time (because I was bored, tired, cranky, and needed a distraction). Two cars had passed through the drive-thru during my wait and nobody came inside to order. Two cars, 15 minutes, no food for me. Okay, okay, I’m being picky. You know, I’m a demanding SOB when it comes to my food. If I’m paying for it, I expect it to be… prepared in a somewhat timely manner. I open my sandwich and check for onions (as I always do out of habit). I grimace. Onions… they’re trying to kill me, as well as piss me off. I have an allergy to onions which is particularly nasty. Swollen tongue, airway closes, rashes… it’s not pretty. So to say I avoid them is an understatement.

I walk up to the counter and stand there, patiently waiting, as the three women (early 20’s, maybe?) chatted in the drive-thru window, ignoring the paying customer at the counter. I waited a few more minutes before finally one of the drive-thru people sees me. She pushes a button on her headset and says “(someone), you’ve got a guy up front” before going back to her very important conversation about whose water bottle was whose.

Once again, an apology, with the “we were backed up” line repeated. New sandwich made, and I finally get to eat.

I book it out of there and head back to the hotel. Maybe something, for once, is going right this weekend…

Rule #7 – Money talks, biatch

I wander into the Atrium and see, with gladness in my heart, that the hotel staff are setting up a booth area where water is. The rumor gets going that they’re going to be giving it away, to help deal with the heat. That would have been nice.

It was also a pipe dream.

For two dollars a pop, you could buy yourself a small bottle of water. I was immediately reminded of the dreadful incidents at Woodstock 1999 and wondered just how hardcore the nerds would get when the conditions became simply too much. Riots? Looting? Pillaging? I wondered just how bad it would be when the nerd herd reared its rebellious head and charged into the masses of humanity to kill all in their path.

Vending machines in the hallway sold bottled water for $1.50, and no water fountains anywhere in the hotel for something to drink. You either paid up or you went back to your room to use your sink faucet (and, for me, this meant running down the Hallway of Doom). Price gouge much?

…oh, and they closed the pool (which was in the Atrium as well) for the event so that the gamer’s could have their own little hole. WTF?

Rule #8 – Even room parties can suffer

That night, I was fed up. If not for the fact that my hotel room was non-refundable (or that my friend got me in there), I would have left and said “Screw it”. Stephen Zimmer, the man in charge of programming, is not to blame for this event. He had more dumped on him at the last minute and had absolutely no help from just about anyone. So I stayed, not wanting to insult him or burn any bridges (well, I kept thinking about torching the Skywalk to Hell but again, I’m too pretty for prison), and tried to hit some of the room parties.

The guys from Concave were there again, and had jello shots a-plenty. I had one and a drink (“red stuff”) and wandered down the hall to another room party, where I ran into a few people I was vaguely familiar with. Another quick drink then I followed the guys from Concave downstairs, where they started passing out jello shots – with cops everywhere. Hmm… metal bracelets aren’t my style. I decided this was the time to go back to my room and get some sleep. I was scheduled for a 9AM panel the next morning, after all.

Rule #9 – There always will be that one person…

I love panels. I love sitting in on them, participating, meeting the fans. I love the back and forth you get at a panel.

So we were on the topic of “Hardest fiction to write currently” and I mentioned how I was having a rough time figuring out how to make my character for an upcoming anthology “a sympathetic Orc”. I proceeded to explain my original mental bias (hordes of them, running around, killing stuff) thanks to Tolkien and his ilk, and how hard it was for me to work around this.

Apparently this comment upset someone, for as I was exiting the room after the panel I ran into… her.

Look, I’m a gamer. I’ve played just about every MMO out there under the sun. I wrote a book about it, damn it. I understand the level of commitment one puts into the game and character; I used this fixation in Corruptor, after all.

Girl: “Excuse me, you were in the last panel, right?”

Me: “Yeah, hi.”

Girl: “I play WoW – that’s Warcraft, you know? – and I play an Orc and I just wanted to tell you that we’re not like the way you portrayed us to be. I know a lot of Orcs who are nice people and we really hate that stereotype.”

Me: “…okay?”

Look, I write fiction. That means it’s not real. Because I write “speculative fiction”, my stuff sometimes seems real. That being said, it’s not. It’s fiction. Seriously.

…and if you’re going to complain about something I said, you might want to listen to everything that I said and not pick and choose. Just sayin’.

Rule #10 – Sleep makes a bad con pass faster

I decided to get some sleep after my morning panel for two reasons. One, because it was only 10AM and already hot in the Atrium. Two, because I was tired and a bit peeved still about the hotel conditions. So I napped… for 6 hours.

After that, the rest of the con seems to be a blur. I attended one more panel that night, and went to a release party for Michael West’s latest book. Then I proceeded to drink at another room party with a bunch of people I had met the night before and went back to my hotel room to crash.

I did get to meet Henry Winkler (the Fonz), and the guys from “Revenge of the Nerds” (Booger, for the record, still looks like he did 30 years ago… not sure how to take that), who were pretty chill guys. Saw the lady who played Lois Lane across from Christopher Reeves’ “Superman” and realized that Father Time was a bit of a jerk. Almost saw a Burlesque show until I realized that I didn’t really want to see some of those women in varying stages of undress.

Rule #11 – Return customers means more money.

Final verdict?

I doubt they could get me to come back. The Media/Film aspect of the con dominated the congoers, which led to a total of 25 people attending my five panels. That’s total, not per. I was severely disappointed in the hotel (in case you haven’t noticed) and that is a very telling thing. It took a lot to get me back to Libertycon, and it’s going to take a hell of a lot more to get me back to FandomFest.

So there you have it, the FandomFest 2011 AAR-CE (After Action Review – Con Edition). I hope I haven’t scared you away from trying it out one year.

6 thoughts on “Fandom Fest AAR

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