RonO (rono_60103) wrote,

Westercon Report

Over the Fourth of July weekend, robot_grrl and I headed to Tempe for Fiestacon, the 62nd Westercon.

Wednesday July 1, 2009

After some discussion as to the best way to pull this off, I decided that instead of driving to the train station, which would require me to drive home, I could easily take the bus to the train station -- albeit requiring that I take a later train than I have been, but the same train I would take after dropping Derrick off. So, after loading my suitcase and other things into the car, I headed up the hill to the bus stop. The bus ride to work was fairly uneventful, other than me missing when we crossed the freeway, which I only realized when most of the passengers got off at the front (or perhaps back) entrance to Oceanside High School.

From there, the day progressed fairly normally. Tara was able to pick me up around 4:00, but didn't actually get there until about 4:30. After some thought, I decided that our best route was just to head down to I-8 and take it across. This did require driving across a fair amount of San Diego during rush hour, but it wasn't too bad. About 5:00 we stopped for a short break at a casino and gas station, but were glad we weren't thinking of having dinner there when we noticed how smoky the gas station area was.

We finally ended up stopping for dinner at the Denny's just inside of El Centro -- not wanting to waste time poking around town for someplace better. From there, we programmed Tara's Cousin's address into the GPS (or so we thought) and headed on down I-8. A couple of slightly interesting things happened along the way. Twice, once in California and once in Arizona we had to pass through immigrations/border patrol checkpoint. Neither was any issue, although the officer at the one did ask if one of us was "ro-no," after reading my "RONO VUE" license plate. The other interesting thing was noticing that there were portable construction lights just south of the freeway about half an hour outside of El Centro. I then realized that we were within viewing distance of the border, and was actually able to see the border fence. I also confirmed a border patrol vehicle on every hill top in that area -- clearly an area seen as inviting for illegal immigration due to the proximity of the border and the freeway.

After a brief stop for gas in Yuma, and a rest stop to trade drivers and other business, we arrived at where the GPS directed us. However, I could not find a matching address, and Tara's call to her cousin quickly determined we had a bad version of an old address. Once given the correct address, we got to the correct place. We spent a while that evening talking (Tara says I may have been doing a bit too much -- a sign that I felt comfortable) and then turned in.

Thursday July 2, 2009

We slept in a bit, and then Tara's cousin's partner fixed us a very nice breakfast. Before we knew it, it was after noon and we needed to head to the hotel and check into the convention. We stopped briefly on the way to get more ice for the cooler, and headed off. Upon arriving at the convention, we discovered no parking at the hotel that did not appear to be valet parking, so parked in the city parking garage across the way. We got our badges, and found the fan table area and started coordinating table times with Bill.

I went to two panels on Thursday. In the afternoon, I attended a talk or panel with Michael Stakpole entitled "The Religious Right vs. Gaming." I had gotten some assurance from The Christian Gamers Guild that he would not be painting Christians with the same brush that some Christians paint gamers, but I still had some concerns given the title. However, religion was hardly touched, and the panel focused on the cases of suicide, and a couple of murders, that were initially related to gaming. One interesting thing he brought up is that the statistics show that over a period of study in, IIRC, the late 1980's or early 1990's that young male gamers had a lower suicide rate than the population at large. He attributed this in part to the fact that gaming -- and RPG gaming in particular -- removes three factors that increase suicide rates significantly: Lack of friends/social contact, poor problem solving and a third one I cannot recall.

Then, in the evening, I went to one of the series of Hugo panels, specifically the one that covered the three main categories I felt comfortable voting on: the two dramatic presentation panels and Best Graphic Story. Again, it was an interesting panel, but I don't know if it did much for how I was going to vote, at least not at the top of my selection.

One idea that I hadn't had myself related to Dramatic Presentation Long Form was that some of the nominations for Metatropolis were not because of Scalzi's current level of influence due to his popular blogs, or the belief that it was a worthy dramatic presentation. But, instead were a continuation of what I've thought of as protest nominations that, I suspect, put such things as "Golumn's Acceptance Speech..." onto the Hugo Ballot for Short Form.

I also went, more or less, on record (and will now go more on record) with my belief that as a dramatic presentation, Metatropolis probably wasn't the best audio book I've heard in the last year. At the very least, judging against other dramatic presentations (movies, TV shows, plays, etc.) I think that at least the full cast production of Heinlein’s The Rolling Stones was better, and I might rank Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows -- although I think that was actually the previous year -- and Brisinger (sp?) as better overall. If I'd been aware of, and had listened to, some of the stories in Metatropolis before the nomination deadline, I might have considered a couple of them for Novella.

After the panel, we headed back to Tara's cousins' house, and spent a little while talking to them before turning in.

Friday July 3, 2009

On Friday, we got up and left before Tara's cousin and his partner woke up. We walked over to the Starbucks near the hotel expecting to be able to check our e-mail and vote for the Hugos. But neither of us could connect to the T-Mobile system -- we could connect, but get no further. We headed across the street, and sat on the edge of a planter outside of the Dunkin' Doughnuts and used their connection instead. I did get my Hugo vote in, even though I ended up voting some items I hadn't read or watched due to wanting to make sure I fully voted the category. After that, we headed inside and started the day.

During the day, I mostly worked the bid table and talked to people in that area. But I did make two panels. The first was on "Old School versus New School Games." Led by the original author of Tunnels and Trolls, this was an interesting discussion with few conclusions. However, I was able to take away my own conclusion: The difference between "Old School" and "New School" games is that one kind features the stuff an individual likes, and the other doesn't, and which is which is based on how the individual considers them self. One of the people in the discussion, for example, described as "New School" -- and implied only playable with newer type systems -- the very kind of gaming that I have participated in and enjoyed since the mid-1980's: the games where the players are participating in telling the story with the GM.

The next panel (in fact the very next panel, in the same room) was yet another incarnation of the religion in fandom panel, this time called "The Role of Traditional Religions in Fandom." I've seen this topic done better and I've seen it done worse. There were, however, few really problematic moments. Probably the worse was that both Tara and I had trouble explaining that the idea of "a relationship and not a religion" was NOT an attempt to put our religion (relationship) on the shelf six days a week, but just the opposite.

In the evening, we spent some time in a few parties, including the LosCon party, the Reno party and the party for next year's Westercon. We got home later than we might have wanted, and after Tara's cousin had gone to bed.

Saturday July 4, 2009

On Saturday, we got a reasonable start, had breakfast at a different coffee shop with a bigger menu, and then headed over to the con. I ended up going to no panels, after deciding that I wasn't sufficiently interested in the one panel I'd considered to show up late and leave early, given that Bill was on programming or at lunch and Tara had panels both before and afterwards.

So I spent most of the day working the bid table -- most of it by my self. I did have some interesting conversations, including one with one of the people at the Anticipation table. She was pointing out some of the things she is doing with Loscon to try to get younger potential fans into the convention -- such as having a young and friendly fan go to movie premiers and similar places to talk up the con and hand out flyers. This emphasized my observation about the "Graying of Fandom" and the fact that there are not too many active fen much younger than I am (we have a few I know in Chicago, but fewer that I've seen in San Diego or at the Westercon/Worldcon level). More correctly, there aren't too many that are participating in general interest cons, concentrating instead on the specialty con (Anime, Gaming, one- or multi-show media, etc.) only. If we can get some of them who may also have cross interests into the general interest cons, it will give us the help we need and, perhaps, the ability to retire one day and be Olde Phans.

There was one moment of frustration in the afternoon when I discovered that the con suite had blocked access to the soft drinks until after the fireworks. I later made the educated guess that this might be because the hotel did not want the con giving away soft drinks just a few feet (if one ignored the lack of a nearby door) from where the hotel was selling them from the pool deck cabana.

We did watch the masquerade, which only had a few acts, but most of the costumes were pretty good. The best was, alas, an exhibition since the costumes and presentation had won a (the?) top award at the last Costume Con.

After the masquerade, we spent some time in a few parties. Since it opened earlier than most of the others, the Star Trek party was quite crowded, and we left, and did a bit of a hall party waiting for the San Josè Westercon party to open. We then spent a little while in the LosCon party before drifting back to the San Josè party. We spent longer in there than I had originally intended, since they had a good view of the fireworks. I just hope that I wasn't at the birth of a Westercon tradition: The Fireworks and Puns party, since the fireworks ended up accompanied by a soundtrack of puns and other bad jokes (a few of which did cross the line beyond PG and into PG-13, alas).

We then wandered back to the Reno party for a while hoping to let the traffic from the "Regular Human Zoo" subside, but failed. When we left we entered the traffic stream quite heavily, and were forced to head in nearly the wrong direction (and I contemplated heading even further out of the way at a couple of points) before we could head back to Tara's cousin's house.

One disappointment, especially for Tara, was that after talking about coming to the convention for Saturday, Tara's cousin and his partner decided that since Saturday was their anniversary they would rather do something else. As it turned out, whatever they did kept them out later than we were, so we got home to be greeted by their dogs.

Sunday July 5, 2009

On Sunday, we got a bit of a slow start, but still got going reasonably early. We had breakfast again at the same place, and then headed to the convention. In the morning, I went to the panel on Muggle Technology versus Wizardry. This was also an interesting panel, and concluded that muggles have better communication and entertainment technology, but wizardry provides better transportation and healthcare.

Before the panel, I did commit a bit of commerce, buying the Bohnhoff's newer CD of rock parodies. I also spent a bit of time in the con suite, when I witnessed what should be a breach of con suite/room party etiquette: someone went into the bathroom with the drinks (just as I wanted to go in and get a drink). I'll admit that I snuck into the bathroom at the Reno party, but it wasn't the one with the drinks. But if there are drinks, or food prep, use another bathroom.

While I was in that panel, Tara went to one on Tesla she said was very good, then to one on programming conventions, where she got crosswise with one of the panelists for her audacity of suggesting media programming, which he hates. After that, she reports that she was shut out of making any more contributions, even overriding the designated moderator by preventing her from being called upon.

After the panel, I hung around the bid table, had another visit to the con suite with Tara -- with a repeat experience with the bathroom, and a while of listening to a women vocally proclaiming (by what she was saying and how she was saying it, not by her words) that she thought everyone in fandom shared her political and religious beliefs.

Not long after that, we decided to head out. While we were packing, Bill shared a rumor he heard: there is a campaign to have people write in Pasadena as the 2011 NASFiC, instead of the Raleigh bid. I’ll admit I’m tempted to do so should I feel compelled to spend money on a NASFiC vote. Of course, I have to wonder if it is from a group who do not think that the Raleigh bid is capable of putting on a convention, or from those who don’t like the idea of a NASFiC at all, and would rather there not be one. Should it end up winning, however, I’m sure that the WSFS constitution would award them the NASFiC since they are otherwise fully qualified.

After leaving, I took the opportunity to drive up Scottsdale Road since that is where I spent most of the time when I was here in 1995. There were several changes I could spot.

In the evening, we took Tara's cousin and his partner out for a dinner at Mimi's Cafe not too far from their house.

Monday July 6, 2009

This morning, we got a fairly early start and worked our way around the Phoenix metro area on the "Loop 101" freeway and out I-10. We stopped in Goodyear for breakfast. Tara, who was driving, choose a Waffle House, even though I voted for the Black Bear Diner having fond memories of dinner there last year during my Microsoft interview trip -- a trip that I enjoyed the food more than the primary reason for the trip :-).

We then continued out I-10, following the GPS's suggestion to take the Palms to Pines Highway from the Palm Springs area rather than Google's suggestion to take I-10 all the way to CA-60 and into Riverside. I guess that Oceanside is far enough north to make it worthwhile not to head out I-8.

We did end up stopping for lunch in Palm Desert (part of the Palm Springs area), and got home about 2:30.

As I was finishing unloading the car, our cat Sammy took a sniff of the bag filled with the various recyclable (CRV) cans and bottles that we picked up during the trip (not all of which were purchased in California, but some were). Unfortunately, when he sat up, he caught the bag around his neck and it scared him and chased him upstairs and under our bed -- leaving a trail of cans and bottles behind. I was able to rescue him from there (actually, he'd gotten unhooked by himself), but he was still a bit bushed.

The dog was so excited to see us, we had trouble getting him outside, when he hadn't been out since early in the morning.

General Impressions and Comments

Overall, this was a good con and I had a good time. I went to more programming than I often do at cons where I'm working (either with the con or at a fan table of some sort). I enjoyed all of the panels I went to, even if some weren’t the best I've been to.

The con suite was a bit disappointing, but then again I'm spoiled by the kind of con suites that DucKon has had.

I also think that the hotel was a bit strange in that it was hard to get from one place to another without going outside. It was also over air-conditioned, so that I was often close to getting chilled (and was chilled on a couple of occasions) from sitting inside. This did make having to go outside somewhat nice, since I could step outside and warm up a bit. Tara, on the other hand, found it universally hot outside, even when chilled inside. There was one other problem with this arrangement; people were smoking outside making it sometimes difficult to breathe. Either because people were smoking on the pool deck outside of con suite, or very heavily in the rooms at that side of the hotel, often made con suite a bit smoky as well. Early on, I concluded that this hotel would have been ideal had sixty-some years ago, the traditional date for Westercon had been Thanksgiving (or some other winter long weekend), since the indoor/outdoor nature of the hotel would be ideal that time of the year.

I enjoyed seeing, at least briefly, a number of friends. Interestingly, I look at how many of the people I saw are not people I know from my time in San Diego, but people I know from my still somewhat limited involvement in high-level convention running (i.e. hanging around with SMOFs).

I'm pretty sure that we'll make the next two Westercons -- and would have picked up our memberships if it were not for the fact that we are short of money. I am hoping that Westercon will survive, because it is a nice event and nice to be able to talk to some of these people more than once or twice a year.


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