Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Report from Westercon 66, Day 1

“Thanks so much for yelling at me in the registration line.  I was giving ‘fandom’ one last try.  I’m done now, thanks to that little incident.  You can have it to yourself.”  --anonymous handwritten note found on a table the last day of the convention 

You Can Take the Fan Out of the Con, but You Can’t Take the Outlaw     
Out of the Fan

Prelude, November 2008:  On the 40th anniversary of the birth of radio station KZAP, a gala party was held at the Cosmo Club in downtown Sacramento.  Many disc jockeys showed up, including Gordo, one of the best from KZAP’s 70s era.  Gordo had the quintessential radio voice: deep, sensuous, hypnotic.  His love and knowledge of music was unparalleled and he was a champion of all kinds of new music, including punk and new wave, which he regularly introduced on his late evening shifts.  In the 90s he moved to Astoria, where Donna and I visited him in 2005; he was the perfect host, giving us a grand tour of the city, including his guitar shop, the Columbia River Coffee Roasters (“Coffee that Floats the Arts”) and the community radio station where he dj’d.  For his visit to the KZAP anniversary, he and his girl friend were staying at the Hilton Hotel a few miles from downtown.  The day after the anniversary party, we went to the Hilton for the first time to visit him and pick up some Columbia River Thundermuck! Coffee he had brought for us.  He was staying on the 12th floor; we had a great view and a grand time hanging out in his room.  Four years later he passed away, and the Hilton was the last time we saw him.  He was a generous, compassionate, lovely man, and he is missed.

July 4th, 2013, 2:00 PM:  Happy Jack, Donna CF and I arrive at the Sacramento Hilton Hotel, Westercon registration room.  It’s the first con we’ve been to in over 30 years, and the first that we have paid to attend.  Registration goes smoothly, and we quickly find a table outside the room and begin to strategize our plans.  It’s a pretty big circular table and another con attendee comes over and sits down.  I’d guess she’s in her late sixties and she begins talking to us in that fannish sort of way, friendly but peculiar.  She brings up filk singing.  Those of you who have been reading my posts will know that I have no love for filk music, which as I remember it is putting “fannish” lyrics to already existing music, usually for comic effect.  Except that it’s never funny and rarely musical.  I let her know in no uncertain terms exactly how much I loathe the whole thing, am tell her I’m appalled there is a room that will be featuring this abomination almost 24/7 for the length of the con.  She eyes me with contempt and tells me I shouldn’t be so close minded, that perhaps things have changed in the last THIRTY YEARS, and that much filking today is completely original and highly musical.  I fling a few crafty bon mots, and the three of us leave, off to our first panel.

What I don’t find out till later is that this woman is Lynn Gold, a very well known and awarding winning fan who runs the official Filk Room at this convention.  I am reminded that perhaps I should keep my ancient opinions to myself, expecially if they tend toward the blasphemous. 

4:30 PM, Becoming a Professional Writer or Artist Panel: Panelist Cliff Winnig, who is a writer and musician (a sitar player who studied with Ali Akbar Khan, he will also play a short set the following day), comments that one way to “get noticed” at conventions is to be a panelist, which he did many times before he became a “professional”.  Shortly thereafter, Happy Jack raises a hand and asks the entire panel: “Now that you’ve established a complete lack of credentials to be on a panel, why should we believe or listen to anything you say?”  Now those of you who may know HJ will realize that this was asked with a high degree of humor, but unfortunately none of the panelists made that interpretation.  The convivial atmosphere of the room took an immediate twist, and there was a noticeable physical bristling among the four panelists.  There erupted a low hubbub amongst the 60 audience members, all craning for a look at who would ask such a question.  The panelists began, one by one, “defending” what Mr. Winnig had said, and HJ tried to explain what he had actually meant.  Eventually, Writer Guest of Honor Kelly Eskridge defused the building outrage, and the panel resumed its course.  When it was over, Jack talked to the panelists and it seemed a rapprochement had been achieved. 

5:45 PM, Reading by Writer Guests of Honor Nicola Griffith and Kelly Eskridge (who are
Nicola and Kelley
a couple): Outstanding essay co-written by Kelly and Nicola about being a couple who also are both writers: honest, compassionate, loving, and inspiring, a beautiful reading by the both of them.  Unfortunately, there was a nitwittish decision to hold this right next to the large hall where loud, noisy events were staged, and some the reading was obscured by what sounded like a buffoonish sci-fi recreation of TV’s Match Game.  One mark against the organizers.  Also, NO MICROPHONES at the reading; that makes two marks. 

7:00 PM, Hotel Bar: Time for dinner and drinks.  The bar is packed, mainly with con attendees.  We get about halfway through our dinner, when Mr. Winnig and another man take a table a little ways across the space from us.  HJ’s back is to them, I am facing them, and DCF is sitting sideways between HJ and me.  I immediately “alert” DCF and HJ that Mr. Winnig has arrived.  HJ winces, still feeling a little guilty about the near brouhaha a few hours before.  He quickly glances back and asks us which one he is.  DCF tells him “it’s the guy in the blue shirt”.  A few minutes go by and HJ announces he is going over to the table and apologize again.  I chuckle, thinking in the first place there’s no real reason to do that, and in the second place that HJ is kidding and is actually going to the restroom.  But in fact, HJ is dead serious, gets up, turns and walks over to their table.  Unfortunately, BOTH men have on blue shirts: Mr. Winnig’s is more of a dress shirt and his friend’s is a t-shirt.  HJ evidently sees the blue T first, for some reason forgets exactly what Winnig looks like, thinks the t-shirted guy is Mr. Winnig, and starts apologizing to the wrong man!  From where I’m sitting, with HJ’s back to me, I can see the complete befuddlement and consternation on this guy’s face, slightly fearful and grasping at what the meaning of this could be, with HJ’s six and a half foot frame looming above him, stark bald head and chiseled features coming out of nowhere with words that have no relation to any reality he currently comprehends.  I glance over at Mr. Winnig and after a few moments, he seems to “grok” the situation and tries to let HJ know that HE is the person who was on the earlier panel, NOT the man sitting across from him.  After a couple of minutes more, HJ returns to our table.  The situation seems to have degenerated into an incoherent quagmire.  And I suppose the tears of hilarity streaming down my face are not helping matters.

9:00 PM, 12th Floor: The con organizers have a “hospitality” suite up here, where food and (non-alcoholic) drink are always available for attendees.  There are also several other rooms along the hallway that will eventually open for parties.  DCF and I realize that this was where we had last seen Gordo, and his spirit permeates the area.  A fireworks display is scheduled to start at nearby Cal-Expo, where the state fair will begin in another week, and these rooms facing in that direction are perfect for a viewing.  We grab some space in the suite and wait, but as 9:30 approaches, so does a flood of fans, all with the same idea.  Now keep in mind that fans, as a group, can be physically large and somewhat hygiene challenged.  Add to that a fairly high number of wheelchairs and other physical transport conveyances, and you may see why we began to want to find another place to view the patriotic celebration.  DCF sent me out to try and “break in” to a party room whose doors were still shut.  I went into the hall, but couldn’t bring myself to barge in; after my brush with the filk organizer, I wanted no more trouble.  Almost immediately after I went into the hall, DCF and HJ joined me, and we began walking down the hall, looking for a possible other room to watch the show.

The rooms were shut tight, people evidently not wanting a replay of what was happening in the Hospitality Suite.  And then at the very end of the hall, we saw a door that was shut, but that had its “lock bar” on the outside, making it possible to walk in.  With 9:30 minutes away, HJ decided to do just that, a move that might bring dire consequences as we had no idea who or what was inside.  As he moved towards the door, DCF cried out, “Ask them if Gordo is in there!”  Jack got the message, knocked on the door, pushing it a little, and said, “Is Gordo there?  We’re looking for Gordo!”  A male voice from inside said, “There’s no one named Gordo in here!”  Jack’s reply: “Well, can we come in and watch the fireworks?”

Who these people were, we never found out.  The voice inside shouted back: “Sure, come  on in.”  We walked in to a completely dark room; there was loud radio station rock music playing and everyone was on the balcony facing Cal Expo.  They were not fans; they were not attending the convention.  There seemed to be a couple of families in there, several adults and about a half dozen kids, waiting and watching for the fireworks.  One of the women on the balcony shot us a concerned look, but before anything else could happen, the radio station announcer, simulcasting with what we were about to see, began introducing the fireworks display.  He didn’t speak for very long, the fireworks and accompanying music starting almost immediately, but I could swear he sounded exactly like Gordo.  Probably just my imagination.

After the fireworks, we stopped by one of the parties, but the “margaritas” they gave us just weren’t up to HJ’s standards and we left, pouring the contents away as soon as possible.  Call us lightweights, but it was almost 11:00 and we were exhausted.  Three more days to go.

To Be Continued             

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