CastleCon 12

The Last Gasp of Frederick

Well, FanTek is finally leaving Frederick. After four and a half years and eleven conventions, we are leaving. Seems like a long time, doesn't it? EveCon 12 was our first con there. Back in those days, The Frederick Holiday Inn at Francis Scott Key Mall was a plain little hotel. Barely over 200 rooms, it boasted a small "Holidome," which was a large garden vestibule area with a swimming pool and miniature golf. Fandom became an island of weirdos in a sea of the insane mundane. More so than normal. Memories left behind involve Zorak the Merciless from Planet Gallifron firing his phasers at Bubba John the Drunk from a Trailer Park, or the equivalent with our security and the rednecks in the parking lot. But for the most part, it was peaceful. We gained a lot of friends of fandom who would have otherwise never found us. And as we turn our sights to the next century, moving back to the city, we leave behind some odd things that will go down in history as exaggerated legends. Here are some of the memories I would like to share from my Frederick past...

Our messy room

Containment Cells with Chlorine Accents

Those rooms were something, weren't they? Despite about 3 rennovations, they had the weirdest amenities. Tacky codorouy wallpaper that peeled ever so slightly at the seams cast small shadows from the assortment of dim lamps that scattered the room. The bathroom was small, often with low toilets, and some sort of shower/bathtub one-piece unit with plastic turquoise shower modesty curtains, and I say modesty, since they never seemed to keep the water in the tub. They had those K-mart massage shower heads at about chest level for us tall folks, and some weird pop-up/pop-down drain plug that never seemed to really work. If you took a bath, you had to keep the water running a little to prevent you waking up in a cold puddle that was once a full tub. To turn on the shower, you had to fight with this odd pressure switch that had a knob smaller than bicycle tire pressure valves, and often it never really forced *all* the water up to the shower head. Later on, they added a proprietary hair dryer and mini coffee maker. Some rooms also had an iron and ironing board. The beds were okay, but over the years the springs began to feel like sleeping on a couch that had been left outside for many years. At least you had a fairly decent TV. And too late I found out if you order the room with the king sized bed, you usually got a microwave and a fridge as well.

But Goddess help you if you got a room with an entrance next to the courtyard or pool! The noise of over a hundred gamers and caffeine-high and sleep-deprived fen would be echoed off the walls like a pep rally in a high school gym. And if you were next to the pool, the over-chlorinated and over-bromiated gases would seep into your room like a Nazi death camp, burning your eyes, sinuses, and anything with a membrane after a while. Plus the constant splashing sounds of people having a pool party in the wee morning hours would make you visit the bathroom more frequently than a geriatric with a bladder infection.

Our roommate during this time was Amira, the belly dancer/psychologist/spiritualist and her son Peter. She is the best roommate. She doesn't have much, but she shares what she has, and when we weren't exhausted from working the convention without programs, panels, and other events, we would stay up late nights to talk about nearly everything. Sometimes we lent our floor to other people to crash, like Brad, Velvet, and other people time has erased from my blurred memories.

The Rag-tag team of Registration colonists

Yes, You Do Need Stinkin' Badges

Probably the next best thing to the con suite as far as central meeting places was the registration table. It was in the lobby, in front of the Mixer's Lounge, and right in the middle of everything. Each con, from 400-1000 people would get their badges here, and about half would hang around just to meet people. Often I sat at this social watering hole, playing with a multitude of toys that accumulated over the years. Toys I remember started with simple Tick action figures, and expanded to noisemakers, stuffed animals, and an odd assortment of rubber "squeak" toys that included a skull, a banana slug, a squid, an octopus, a cuttlefish, and some items I have yet to determine origin. One I recall was some sort of battery-operated bear that would squirm about almost suggestively, pausing only to stop every five seconds to grunt. This was a second home to a variety of characters, like Crazy Horse and Kristen Pruett. Many other Pruett people also manned this table, most have now grown and become married. Even Kristen, who married her laminating partner, Crazy Horse. Heather Prysock, daughter of Jedi and Teresa, also came of age here. My son's first convention job was working this table at the badge lamination and clip department. Heather would often host her ten am tea parties here on Friday morning, calming kicking off the con's first programming, and to me signaled the con had actually started in earnest.

When we first started here, they had tacky early-1980's brass and drywall decor, accented with a hideously busy and oversized ornamental rug that must have been purchased from a Vegas casino's garage sale. There used to be potted plants, gaudy Godot-esque prints, and these sectional chairs that were overstuffed and soft, causing you to sink into them until a rescue team fetched you from their emerald-green embrace. In those chairs I spoke with some of the most interesting people I have ever met. I spoke with famous and semi- famous people like Hal Clement, Steve Bennett, Conrad Brooks, Bruno and the Bear, and some of the people from Troma Industries, including this girl (who despite not being dressed like that picture, was still a bright and cheerful in person, and a real kick to talk to)! But no offense to those "in the spotlight," I have had some of exchanges of thought of my life with those "not-so-famous" in fandom. There is Albedo, the Cheshire-grinned computer technologist who can play a mean recorder. There is Nancy Lebovitz, who is really starting to become someone I have know in fandom the longest, better known as "The Button Lady" of the East Coast. And I have had conversation with some of the best goths and punks I have ever had the severe pleasure of talking to. But there is the always appreciated call of, "Hi Punkie," by those who have passed by me. I tried to wave back an acknowledge every one, but sometimes I am just really out of it, or those vampire green chairs had me in their suffocating embrace.

Ballroom goofiness

Smokin' in the Ballroom

I loved the ballroom. It was usually where it all began. When we unloaded the big red bus, everything went through the ballroom. Boxes, crates, packages, and loose bags of items that looked like a mad professor who once worked on a movie set had a garage sale . There were huge things like speakers, stage lights, and fans. There were small things in large bunches, like cables, con suite bowls, and fabric scraps. Most were labelled. Sometimes they weren't. Then people kept rolling things in and out on the few carts available. The sturdier people just carried them. That Thursday night was like some weird off-Broadway production. What usually started out as one huge ballroom would turn into several smaller ones with moving walls. The big one would be the ballroom. The one next to it would be the merchant's room. Across the hall would be the video room. Then a hallway that led to the main kitchen. Then two smaller panel rooms, named after some obscure people in history, Mr. Taney Room and Ms. Fritchie Room. Okay, okay... bad joke, I know. Just because I am the way I am, I found out that Roger Brooke Taney and Barbara Fritchie were famous Frederick personalities. Check the links if you are so inclined. What was once the mail entrance to a large ballroom became a large entrance to the hallway in the middle, where the badge checking could be done, saving you from posting a badge checker at every single site.

After the sorting and distributing had been long underway, we would finally find the program book, and after we found all the pieces, volunteers would collate, fold, staple, and box them. Usually, the tech crew would have started by now, and the volunteers could jam to music while making the program books, and un-jamming the stapler. This would go on until Friday morning.

Later, the tech crew would be mostly ready, and opening ceremonies would begin, roughly a little after eight pm. This was always a feat. I still say I am not very good at it, and I am just waiting until Bruce and Cheryl find someone better. I have been saying that for five years, I know, but someday they will have a real Emcee and planning. It always ends up being some sort of corny convention variety hour, with me, Bruce, Cheryl, half of security, and they usually a singing act. Recently, I managed to get my own group, Strange Tea, in there somewhere. Oh, there is someone I must be forgetting to thank... now who was it...?

Dan Alt, Boy Wonder The tech crew! Yes, the tech crew! You can't forget them. They changed a little over the years, but for the most part it was Rogue, Dan, Brian, Kangal, with assorted helps of sorts from volunteers like Hal, Allon, and Albedo. They were awesome, and threw the best dances on Friday and Saturday nights, which I would sit and mediate to Trent Reznor, Art of Noise, and assorted techno/goth/industrial music, with a dash of pop and grunge for flavor.

Saturday, the ballroom was open for dancing and self-defense panels. Later, it hosted the costume call, which I judge despite the undeserved abuse I hurl out to poor costumers. I would sit in the back, listening to the tech crew snicker and make comments, only to have me steal them and take all the glory for it. And no matter how old we become, Dan Alt and I are *so* glad we missed that Scotsman. But in the Scotsman's defense, Adrienne, if you dish it out, you have to be able to take it. :)

And when it was all over on the dog day of Sunday, closing ceremonies led into the packing everything back into the red bus. Full closure. Often, because of taking care of a grouchy child who hadn't slept or ate properly in the last three days, I have left before these ceremonies. Sometimes this child is my son, sometimes it is my own self.

They're hiding underwater...

Cthulhu's Private Spa

It was nice to have a pool there. Unless your room bordered the pool, that was another story. But assuming you never had to deal with the chlorine gas seeming into your room... you could witness it directly by swimming in water impregnated with the lethal element. But the pool was more than just a place to kill bacteria and turn your eyes red.

It hosted a few pool parties, most sanctioned, some not. Sadly (or thankfully), not any skinny-dipping occurred here (that I know of), but I suppose that was because of either it was in the public center of everything, or fears of exposing other membranes to the harsh acidity. There was usually a bored life guard watching it all from the ease of her lounge chair. Most memorable were Team Chicken Salad's Pirate Pool parties, and the Cthulhu balloon animal sacrifice at FanTek's only HalloweenCon. I saw bellydance shows and dance parties there. I even saw goths swimming, shattering one stereotype I had believed before (they don't use swimsuits, they actually swim in garments like tee-shirts and shorts, reminiscent of bathing wear from the early 1900's). One even remarked how it bleached her hair better than peroxide.

Then of course, there was the jacuzzi. Usually well-guarded by undercover security people (that's their story and they are sticking to it), this cauldron of people stew was very rarely empty, and made a nice relaxing area near the computer and LARP rooms. Closed only by the occasional costume makeup incident, it was the place you had go, if only once.

The area had a sauna and exercise room, but no one ever went there, except LARPers, for some reason. But only because the sauna was supposed to be some place in Hell, and the weight-room was some sort of always-empty function room for unplanned gatherings that you didn't want to be public (to the other team, at least). The other two places to hangout was the ping pong table and miniature golf area, usually inhabited by children. And then there was the foosball table, which for some unexplained reason, was in its own gazebo.

Security Central at 3am

"Base Alpha? Is Anyone at Base Alpha?"

One of the best-kept secrets in FanTek is security central. I discovered it back at EveCon 4, and despite having never done security work since CastleCon 3, I always stop by to catch up on the local "behind-the-scenes" stuff. I have learned the most amazing things there. I have learned techniques of how to deal with all kinds of situations that occur in fandom. Luckily, with a con currently as small at FanTek's, the security issues are usually nothing more than someone's busted ankle or dealing with someone crying alone near the pool. But we have had our share of mishaps, and while most of them shouldn't be public (to forgive those who I am sure by now in retrospect are very, very sorry), I have learned a great deal about fandom's "darker side," which is no different than the mundane side. In fact, half our problems were mundane issues, like dealing drunken mundanes, small fires, and "okay, who spilled this, and what exactly is it?" I have met and talked to psychologists, paramedics, EMTs, and the police and collected various war stories from other cons and places past.

But you can't be expected to get qualified volunteers to work conventions without some brand of humor. There is the famous "cheez whiz" shift, which although the history of the name is somewhat varied, the statutes remain the same. Some rovers played a game of "Marco polo" with different words. "Oscar..." "Meyer..." "Hot dog..." "Weiner..." One year I recall it was "story-time" with various supermarket rags like Weekly World News and the Star. "Aliens mated with my weedwacker," was one of my favorites.

Last year, some yutz on a Usenet board said he resented how FanTek was always reminding him to eat, drink plenty of fluids, and get some rest. While I didn't respond to his whining, I will say to anyone else who thinks this is odd would be made go through a convention, dealing with the people who are in various states of unconsciousness because they forgot to take care of themselves. Security in Disneyworld in Orlando agree with this one. You are away from home, focusing on fun and games, and not remembering to eat and drink with being merry. Some people will "merry" themselves into the hospital room, in some sort of denial trance stating they are fine, and they like having lost the ability to sweat and their pallor means that can save on the whiteface makeup. Thankfully, once we started telling people to take care of themselves while having fun, the incidences of dehydration and exhaustion nearly vanished. FanTek likes and cares about its attendees. Having a drug and alcohol-free convention has also seriously reduced those types of incidences as well. I can't even remember the last time we had to deal with chemically-inhibited fen... although mundanes in the hotel bar are another matter.

Best friends 4-ever! [Had to insert something that typically sappy with a photo montage... you understand...]

New Friends, Fresh Faces...           (...New Blood, Fresh Meat...)

I have met a ton of new friends, and re-discovered old ones in those four and a half years. Man, can I name them all? There are so many, and with the names they have, it's like some sort of Pokèmon poster. I know I will miss listing some of them, but the list starts out with Aaron, and probably ends with Zorak. Some of the more memorable ones are Jeni, Simon, Kenny, Sara, Griffyn, Bambi, Kimber, Julie, cjae, Velvet, Conrad, Mirhage, Matt, Hal (two of them), Chuck, Richard, Amber, Heather, Redstar, Jewel, Eric, Trish, Phil, Greyhawk (who is not Tynie), Mouse, Crazy Horse, Kristen, Chris (several of that name), Ida, Jenny, Cindy, Sharon, Reading, Adrian (the male one), Tiffany, Steve, Mark, Rose, Stu (who is not Greyhawk), Raven, Tiger Eyes, Paul (more than one of them, too), Venora, Lisa, John, Daphne, Lije, Dan, Commander Seth, Anne, Kevin, Gorm (and the rest of TCC), Wendy (not Testaburger), Angel, Kaitlin, Alex, Draggie, Argon, Lydia, and Riachu. Okay, sorry, Riachu is a Pokèmon, not anyone in fandom I have met... yet. Hm... is that name already taken? Sorry, where was I? And that list is just part of the people I met in Frederick. That doesn't even come close to the people I have known before Frederick and from different cons. Some of them I haven't seen for years.

Heather and CR playing foosball I enjoyed meeting new people at my readings, panels, talks, judging, and auctions. I loved meeting people in the hallway, video room, con suite, merchant's room, lobby, pool, jacuzzi, and the various parties I was invited to or crashed. My son also got to meet people as he grew from five years of age to nine, like Heather, Tasha, Cindy, John, Alex, Kaitlin, Adrian, and other children of fandom. Christine went from just helping out at the babysitter room to running the art show with Jeni. It was because of meeting Mark in the art show that I bridged over to Katsucon, and now run their registration. But that's why I like fandom, and especially FanTek in particular: FRIENDSHIP. Other cons may have their high-falootin' guests and shows, but FanTek has always had the friend thing down pat. This is the #1 reason I still go. My inflated ego is only secondary... :)

Yes, Frederick is gone. After outgrowing the hotel, and having to deal with their declining management, we are taking the plunge back to the shark-infested waters of the DC Metro area. We will have good times and bad ones, and while we may lose the cozy feel of a smaller con, we will pick up many new friends, and learn many new things!

Here's to another four and a half years of good memories yet to come!

Your pal,

Punkie ... a.k.a. "Riachu"

[ Home ] [ What's New ] [ About Me ] [ My Writings ] [ Web Links ] [ Post Office ]