I make no apologies for the fact that I am a geek. Always have been, always will be. I like comic books and superheroes and comic books about superheroes. I like Star Trek and Star Wars. I love Buffy, Angel and Firefly. I go simply ga ga over Dr. Who. Back in the day I was even known to play some D&D (that’s Dungeons and Dragons for all you non-residents of Geek Town U.S.A.). So, it’s really no surprise that I like Cons.
Until this year my conning has been fairly limited in scope. Ok, it’s been extremely limited…to one Con. However, I’ve gone to Wizard’s World Comic Con in Chicago for five or six years now and I’ve loved it. This year my friends and I were all set for another great round of conning when my best friend had to go and get herself a professorship in Georgia. Although we still really wanted to go, the university expected her to show up for pre-teaching meetings the Friday we’d normally be heading to Chicago listening to Florence and the Machines and having a grand ol’ time chit chatting. Since she wasn’t willing to skip her first day on the job (her priorities are so messed up), a dark cloud fell over our plans. That was until another friend of ours (who we meet up with every year at Wizard’s) told us about Fandom/Fright Fest in Louisville. In the blink of an eye, we were making reservations at the Galt House Hotel.
We should have known there was gonna be trouble the moment we tried to find parking. The Galt House is pretty darn huge. So huge it actually takes up both sides of the street (with a fun little bridge on the third floor). We weren’t sure which side to park on and when we tried to ask the attendants, they didn’t know what to tell us either. My BFF finally went in and asked and we were directed to the right parking garage. Our room was nice and the place was swamped with fellow conners. In Chicago we never stayed at the official hotel of the con, but at the lovely Aloft hotel, which was really modern and fun. We’d grown really comfy hanging out at “our bar”–the only one in the joint. The drinks were good and the seating was plentiful, at least for the clientele. That was not the case at The Galt House. The place was packed! The main bar which spans the bridge on the third floor was the place to be. I think at one time every single person staying in the hotel was there.
Friday night when we rolled in there was a movie playing on a huge screen on end of the room and a side bar set up selling beer and popcorn. We’d already had a few drinks at a really tasty bistro we found while walking around downtown (that is one HUGE plus Fandom Fest had over Wizard’s–location–there were so many awesome places to eat all within about 10 minutes walk of our hotel, whereas the only places to get food at Wizard’s are in other hotels or by ordering carry out which takes forever), so we didn’t quite mind all the people and the waiting. It was fun to watch. That’s one great thing about cons, there is so much people watching to do. There was some sort of drunken pirate show going on and a very nice gentleman in full steam punk regalia tried to get us in, but unfortunately since we didn’t have tickets for Friday night, the event was closed to us. We did, however, have a truly fantastic time talking to him before the show and then again after the show when we saw him in the lounge area.
That’s another great thing about cons, you meet so many fun and interesting people. Suddenly all 10,000 or so people attending the con become your new friends. Everyone you meet in line talks to you and since they have similar interests (in a lot of cases), it’s easy to talk back. Now, don’t get me wrong, some of them are total douches, but you can usually weed them out pretty quickly and start up a conversation with someone else more interesting. And, I have to say, if you are a girl at a con, even one who maybe has never felt really been very popular or has been self-conscious about your looks in anyway, cons are the place to be! We always manage to find cute and quirky boys to talk to. While I’m married, one of my friends isn’t and we are always trying to find her a nice geek boy, so we end up talking to a lot of them and their equally geeky friends. This year was no exception.
The highlight of my whole trip actually happened Friday night as we were talking to boys trying to make a love connection for our friend. Although we hadn’t even picked up the tickets for the con yet, as we were sitting sipping on cherry vodkas and diet Cokes, John Barrowman walked through the lobby. I won’t lie, I totally fan-girled out. If you don’t know how John Barrowman is, you obviously are not quite my kind of geek. He played Captain Jack Harkness on Dr. Who and then later on the spin-off Torchwood. While I’m not sure if he is my favorite Captain (it’s a toss up between him and Captain Reynolds), he is simply fantastic! As I was slightly hyperventilating over his presence, one of the guys we were talking to asked him if he would take a picture with me. He said he couldn’t stop because he’d already told someone else no and that if he stopped for me he’d have to stop for everyone. I totally understood and told him so. I think I babbled a bit about being a huge fan and thanking him even for talking to me. After he left, I just kept gushing about how I’d seen him. Seriously, I was a mess, which is not me at all.
Of course, I was an even bigger mess when two minutes later he snuck up on me from behind, put his arm around me, leaned close and said, “ok, pretend we are talking about something and tell your friend to get her camera out.” As I sat there with a Cheshire cat sized grin, babbling on about how much I love his work, my friend struggled to get her camera out. He laughed and said, “My God woman, take the picture!” and when she did, he was sweet as can be. I couldn’t stop smiling all night. I even did a little happy dance in our hotel room. And I’ll admit it, I told anyone who was interested my story. What was really cool was so many of them had stories too. Since the actors and artists were all staying at the Galt House, they had tons of similar run-ins with fans and were all super nice, willing to stop and talk and take photos. It was kind of awesome.
That, however, is where the awesome ended. The con itself was a bit of a nightmare. I’ve never been in a more unorganized situation in my life. No one knew which line people were supposed to go in, including the workers who were supposed to be directing people to lines. Despite arriving well before the con floor opened, we waited in line 30 minutes for tickets we’d already purchased. Then, we waited in line 30 more minutes to buy a photo opportunity with Adam Baldwin (Jayne from Firefly). I waited about 30 minutes for John Barrowman to sign my copy of his book Anything Goes, which wasn’t too bad since the people in line were super friendly and included a little boy who was about four and the spitting image of Matt Smith’s Dr. Who. It was also cool because I got to snap this cute (and illegal) picture of Alan Tudyk on my phone.
The rest of the con was a let down though. There weren’t that many vendors. Not that I usually buy a lot, but I like to look at the wares. There were hardly any artists at all, which is actually a really cool feature of Wizard’s–all the independent artists who have booths there. In fact, our first year at Wizard’s, we met an artist named Josh Johnson and not only did we buy some of his art, he became our friend. The layout of the place was nuts. There were no real maps to figure out where events were going to be held. The staff, aside from being clueless, actually forgot several actors at different places around the city. They left John Barrowman at the airport. They forgot to pick Alan Tudyk up from the hotel to bring him to his signings (and when he managed to get there, security didn’t seem to understand he was an actor, despite his celebrity badge–fans had to badger them to let him in), Colin Baker was never picked up for his panel, so he tweeted to his fans from his hotel room, John Barrowman’s panel had to be moved because they scheduled it the same time as his photo ops, Stan Lee’s panel ran over, so they cut the Firefly cast’s panel short, the director of Monster Squad wasn’t told he had a panel until a few hours before he had to host it and other panels were advertised but didn’t take place and had no cancellation notices.
As if this wasn’t bad enough, the lines were atrocious. We didn’t actually get to see any of the panels we wanted to because there were two lines to get in to each panel, the VIP line (for people who paid $175) and the regular line. Before they let any regular ticket holders in, the VIP’s got first dibs, so panels were filling up 1/2 and 3/4 full of VIP’s only. The photos from Saturday weren’t ready by the time they shut it down at 8pm, so they told everyone to come back the next day to get their photos–the only problem was we didn’t have tickets for the next day. Luckily I managed to find the only helpful employee (who was 6 months pregnant) who let me in and then made our picture a priority. The lines to see some of the celebrities were outrageous. There were a slew of actors from The Walking Dead there and the line for Norman Redus was over two hours for VIP’s and over 5 hours for non-VIP’s.
They seemed completely taken off guard by the number of fans who showed up for the con, which I find odd considering most of their sales were pre-orders.
Although I loved many aspects of this con, I’m not sure I’d ever go back. The shear lack of order and the hours wasted in lines was just a bit too much for me.