My First Con

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This will be a slight divergence from my usual articles covering topics in Science. As you may know (go read my bio), I have been a reader of Science Fiction since I was a young lad growing up in the mountains of Montana and I watched the first Star Wars movie on the big screen maybe 10 times in the summer of ’77. That may sound like the act of a hardcore fan, but to tell the truth, we had a choice between Star Wars and Smokey and the Bandit for the entire summer. All that aside, understand that I am a fan of the art of Science Fiction and have never really been interested in the hype. I had never been to a Sci-Fi or Comic book convention (I did read some of the old Marvel comics but never got hooked). But, now that I have started writing for a Sci-Fi web portal, my friend Leslie Walker shamed me into giving it a try.

Step one: purchase tickets. I bounced onto their website and wandered around for a bit trying to figure out the schedule and pricing. being a first time attendee and on advice from Leslie, I decide to get tickets for Sunday in hopes of avoiding some of the crowds. While poking around in the schedule, I saw that there was a panel on Sunday afternoon with the cast of Star Trek, The Next Generation hosted by William Shatner. I’m thinking that even the lowliest nerd wouldn’t want to miss that one, so I proceeded to purchase priority seating tickets for that event. I was thinking about just taking the train down, but realized that it would cost more for the train than parking. So I jumped back onto their website and followed the link for prepaid, reserved parking.

Step two: Waiting. Nothing much to report here, I am somewhat excited but I don’t want to build it too big in my own mind and be horribly disappointed. To quote an old friend, “low expectations are the key to happiness.”

Step three: Get there. Sunday traffic is not too bad, so getting there is no big deal until we arrived at the parking lot with the supposed reserved space just for us. Guess what? We find an unattended lot with no empty spaces (somebody is getting a scathing review). This led us to another half hour or so of driving around looking for another place to park. We ended up about a mile away and hoofing it in. Of course, half way there I realized that I didn’t lock my car, so my son had to run back and take care of that.

Step four: Check in. If you have ever been to the Dallas Convention Center, you will know that it is huge, so this part involves a lot of walking (and we just did a mile getting there, not too bad in May but if this were July or August I wold have stopped at the nearest watering hole and cut my losses). Excuse me? Now we have to stand in line to exchange what we thought were our tickets for the official version? This is a Sci-Fi convention in the 21st century, can’t we write an app for that? Now we are ready, tickets in hand.

TNG Panel tickets

Step four: What next? With the parking debacle, we have missed the Firefly panel, so now we have several hours to burn before the Star Trek one.  Let’s wander around and see the sights, maybe a picture or two.

Dressed for the occasion, sort of…

So we wander into the exhibition hall and what do we see?

We found Thor, oh wait, he came with us.
Masses of people…
Some weirder than others, I think this guy missed Scarborough Fair by a few miles.
Nice car, must be from some show or something. Nice model 1911 on the seat there.
Han Solo’s nerdy brother giving advice about I-Phones, Leia’s cousin rolling her eyes saying, “It’s a Droid nerf herder”…
Storm trooper, Scottish brigade. Clones have nationalities?
Storm trooper hairstyles, I guess the Empire is a little lax on personal grooming as well as target practice…
Lots of people taking pictures of other people (and me discreetly taking pictures of them).

So we wandered around and bought a few things, mostly t-shirts. Nothing really interested me much except for the booth with the 3D printer guys who would take photos of you and turn it into an action figure. Other than that, mostly junk.

After observing the many people in costume (not judging here, I think it’s good fun) I do have a little advice, mostly for the ladies:

  • Wings are a bad idea, they may look cool at home but having to walk sideways through crowds is going to cause you some discomfort after a few days.
  • Long dress trains are also a bad idea, one club footed oaf and you could be standing there in a crowded room wearing next to nothing.
  • Can you actually breathe in that thing?
  • That looks cool, but I’m sure it sucks carrying it after about an hour:
I wish this thing would learn to fly already.

So what’s that on the lower level? I had to ask to find out that these are booths where you can pay to get autographs from actors. Really? $40 to get an autograph?

Some celebrities are more popular than others.

I guess we all have to make a buck somehow. It did seem kind of sad to me to see some of these people with no one in line so I went down to chat a bit with John De Lancie and see if I could get some perspective for a first time attendee from him. I guess that since I wasn’t willing to fork out the $40 for a signature, he really didn’t want to talk much. I have no issue with that, he seemed to be a nice enough guy, just bored in a “been there, done that” way. I gave him a smile, said thanks and walked away. I refuse to gush all over these people about supposed admiration of their work and how it changed my life. Not to belittle their work; I know many actors and know that it’s not an easy line of work, that it’s takes a great deal of energy, and creativity to portray their characters. Where are the writers? Where are the directors? Where are the makeup artists? We see the faces of the actors, but they are just one part of the production of a movie or TV show. But, then again, it may well be like us software engineers, you often don’t want to put us out in the public eye; leave that job for the people with charisma.

Step five: The Star Trek TNG panel. Now we get to see what it means to buy a premium ticket. Actually, I wasn’t sure what it meant and there was no information given. We were considering standing in line to get an autograph from William Shatner ($80, but hey, it’s Denny Crane), but wandered out and noticed people going into the hall for the panel (this was about 3 PM and the panel was at 4 PM). We then followed the line into the hall to wait for the panel. Aha, this is what it gets you: the opportunity to stand in line on a hard concrete floor for an hour before they let you sit down (and they were comfy chairs).

The pig is having more fun than me, at least he gets pizza…
About 40 minutes of waiting, feet are not happy…

So here we are, standing in this line (oops, step back, somebody was just born) with some dude yelling into a megaphone that nobody can understand, waiting, waiting… Oh, and premium tickets with a generic, one day pass puts you in the third line, a burgundy shirt instead of a red shirt (nice scam Comic-Con, you won’t get that from me again).  I kind of feel bad for the people that didn’t show up an hour early and are in the fourth or fifth level of the third line (we’re at the beginning of the second level), but not really, when they yell “go” for the third line and we march in.

Here we are, in the hall waiting (again) for the cast to roll in.

Hey, that’s the back of Brent Spiner’s head, I’m so excited…
The gang’s all here, a little off center but so are they…

Well, this was the best part of the day with exceptions. I, and perhaps the organizers of this event, over-estimated the number of people that would show up for this panel. I figured that the masses would be standing outside like a horde of starving zombies waiting for the general admittance doors to open and hungrily rush in, devouring each and every empty seat leaving the slower ones to fight over standing room in the back. Oh well, after shelling out enough cash for a thousand rounds of anti-zombie ammunition in just about any caliber you choose, I could have sat down right next to myself for the price of a box of BBs. Enough complaining, the next hour was delightful listening to the TNG crew’s stories about their experiences. In some ways, it could have been the acting staff from just about any TV show that was on the air for six or seven years (except for William Shatner, he’s been around like, forever). What I’m getting at here is that, though it was humorous and enjoyable, it has little or nothing to do with Sci-Fi in my mind. These actors and actresses did an awesome job at portraying characters that were somebody else’s vision.

Q and the Shat

What I get from this, and what I’ve always known, is that these are people who did a job. For many of them, it was a great job, because it was a steady paycheck and they didn’t have to go through endless auditions to keep on getting paid. None of them had much of any clue as to how popular it would become, they just kept showing up because it was a steady paycheck (they admit to that right in front of all of us). I applaud them all for their achievements, and yes, I did enjoy all of their performances through the years, and I will watch most of the episodes a few more times. I love them all because they are just people, nothing special, just people (except for Shatner, he’s, well… Shatner).

So what did I learn (you might not get some of these if you weren’t there):

  • My definition of “reserved” is apparently much different from other people’s (on a side note, I did complain and my money was refunded with a promise of future parking credits).
  • Advanced tickets for a panel event mean that you get to stand around for a hour or so on a concrete floor with no chair just to find out that the seat right next to you is empty.
  • Marina Sirtis is a loudmouth and has a problem with lights. Maybe she should be the next Dr. Who.
  • Brent Spiner is a wiseguy whose specialty is nothing.
  • Michael Dorn wants to kick Brent Spiner’s a$$.
  • Will I go again? Probably not on my own dime, let’s see what happens if I get a novel or two published.

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Blaise Lapinski

Blaise Lapinski grew up in the mountains of Montana, where he first encountered Science Fiction through the Tom Swift novels, and later the classics: Bradbury, Clarke, Heinlein…. With a Bachelors and Masters of Science in Mathematics from Montana State University, Blaise has spent time as a calculus teacher, a chef, and software engineer.

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