Westercon 63: Pasadena

The drive down to Westercon started on an auspicious note. Leigh Ann Hildebrand had rented a car which came with XM satellite radio, which meant we were freed from the shackles of the “All Indigo Girls, All the Time” playlist. It was a break from tradition, but one I was willing to risk and so we sped down to Pasadena to the sounds of the New Wave, tweeting all the way.

Downtown Pasadena appears to be one of the more civilized places in the Los Angeles metropolitan area, with the Pasadena Hilton just a few blocks from a business strip which had drug stores, restaurants, grocery stores and, handily for our needs, a Target and a BevMo.

The architecture of the hotel is a little odd and makes the building seem older than it is (apparently it was built in 1970); however the lobby and bar areas had obviously been redecorated pretty recently and looked quite chic. The rest of the hotel had an interesting not-quite retro but not-quire-modern vibe, with low ceilings and narrow halls that felt oddly subterranean. As Leigh Ann put it, the function space on the ground floor was a “maze of twisty little passages, all alike,” and this in turn had the curious effect of causing almost every function space to be at the end of a hallway somehow.

We got in late on Wednesday night and did little more than check in and unpack. And if that doesnít sound like much, you must not pack the way we do. Thursday morning was the only time we made it down to the restaurant in time for breakfast; the buffet was decent but nothing to write home about. There was a good omelet guy, but the poor man was stuck in a stiffling hot corner he obviously could not wait to escape. Over the course of the weekend, the hotel food was consistently mediocre, the ingredients average and combinations bland. However, at least the restaurant staff was courteous and efficient, the bar area was a barren wasteland with lackluster service of increasingly comical proportions, culminating in a Fawlty Towers-esque experience on Sunday when the World’s Oldest (Putatively) Living Waiter did his best to avoid eye contact for an hour or two and finally disappeared out the kitchen door, never to be seen again.

In any case, after breakfast I hung my art with Leigh Ann’s kind assistance and did a circuit of the Dealer’s Room to pick up some fanzines, since my collection is based almost entirely of what I have printed from efanzines.com and a small selection of other zines from the past five years or so. Only one vendor was selling them, and they were mostly a bit out of my price range but I did find an issue of Reluctant Famulus and something called Pretentious Science Fiction Quarterly, which I simply could not resist. The Dealer’s Room was a decent one considering the size of the convention and had at least four booksellers, new and used, plus a lot of filk and jewelery. I picked up a silver bracelet at Springtime Creations and a simple beaded bracelet from Dawno’s which matched two of my outfits perfectly.

Done shopping, we found our way over to Registration then to get our badges and set up the daytime lounge, which was a conference room (not our favorite layout) with some extremely comfortable chairs. I set up the fanzines, including five of the six current nominees, since I brought along an mp3 player with some Starship Sofa and other podcasts on it. Unfortunately, the room didn’t quite lend itself to displaying that option properly. I definitely need to figure out a better Listening Station setup.

We hung in the Lounge for a few hours until Jason Schachat finally arrived. We got him checked in and pretty soon it was time to set up the PM Lounge. We had researched potential themes for the Lounge before the convention and had stumbled on the amazing story of one Jack Parsons, nee Marvel Whiteside Parsons, a JPL scientist, OTO member and fan who lived and worked in Pasadena up until his death in 1952. His home during the most colorful of these years was just down the road from the Westercon hotel, at 1003 S. Orange Grove Blvd.

So, we made a #1003 sign for the door, put on a playlist of 1940s-1952 tunes and dedicated our lounge to Parson’s memory and the concept that the modern foibles of fandom are really not so modern after all, and really just another part of our fannish heritage.

As Leigh Ann likes to say, “the Fanzine Lounge PM does not serve alcohol but we do drink it” and so we had brought along just coffee and tea, the former being Three Olives Espresso Vodka and the latter Jeremiah Weed Sweet Tea Vodka, both excellent with just ice and water, or with cream in the coffee if that’s your thing. These were both very tasty, not too sweet and very easy to mix weak or strong.

The first night was reasonably successful, but it was early days yet, and so I was sad but not surprised when things started winding down relatively early. We closed the doors at about 2:00 a.m. and had our last early night.

This meant we were up early enough to watch the Ghana-Uruguay World Cup game, although not early enough for breakfast. The restaurant had one screen in the corner, normally turned down enough not to irritate me (restaurants with inescapable screens are one of my pet peeves) and strategically placed near a service door from which various hotel staffers would periodically appear. Kitchen, reception, management would all pop in for a few minutes to catch up on the game and look around guiltily before disappearing again, only to be replaced by the next eager soccer fan moments later.

The AM lounge was a little busier on Friday, we were pretty bad about getting it open at a reasonable hour on any of the days, but the convention didn’t have any spare gophers and we had discussed with them that our primary responsibility would be the PM lounge. Still, I felt guilty when Milt Stevens and other fine fanzine folks dropped by. I also wish I had a better variety of zines. While I did manage to pack a pretty decent number of zines, it would be nice to have a broader and deeper collection for when we don’t have Garcia’s handy.

We hung out as folks wandered in and out, including the chair of the upcoming Raleigh NASFiC, Warren Buff, who was charming. The conversation topics included anime, videogames, Poul Anderson’s The High Crusade (book and film), and even occasionally fanzine matters, and soon enough it was time for my only panel of the convention, the Yipe! panel.

The panel was actually entitled “The Modern Fanzine?” but it had Kevin Roche, Jason Schachat and myself on it, and no description, so it was de facto about Yipe! The audience was small but lively and the discussion ended up involving pretty much everyone in the room. I had brought along some color issues of the zine, and Jason and Kevin discussed the technical details whenever I failed to distract them sufficiently. All in all it was a good time for us, and hopefully for the audience as well.

Done with that I headed out into the world to find some more half & half for the coffee, having been told there was a Rite Aid nearby. It wasn’t that far, but was a little further than I’d have preferred given the SoCal heat, so I was glad when I returned to find that my co- Loungers had made the executive decision of ordering Thai food delivery rather than braving the hotel restaurant again. So we were able to enjoy a leisurely and delicious meal before we got changed into our evening wear (red floor-length gown for Leigh Ann, red silk cocktail dress for me, it was a theme thing). Should you be in the same position, I recommend the Bua Na Thai Cuisine restaurant in Pasadena.

My next responsibility for the day was the PM version of the Match Game, which turned out to be a ton of fun, despite my initial trepidations. It probably helped that I wasn’t the only newbie. We had Warren Buff in the top row with Kevin and Andy as well. We had a ball, and the audience seemed appreciative so hopefully it wasn’t just us.

The evening Lounge on Friday was on a bebop soundtrack, which ended up being everyone’s favorite playlist, I think.

Unfortunately, the evening was marred for me by an interpersonal issue, and for those of you who were in the Lounge at the time and were bystanders to the incident, I am very sorry if that was uncomfortable. I prefer to keep my private life out of the Lounge. Unfortunately, in this case, the lounge PM was also my hotel room. So my customary solution of simply removing myself from the upsetting situation was simply not feasible.

Aside from that, however, the evening was a good one overall and even included a spontaneous ritual in the Lounge, which I like to think fit well with the theme. Earlier in the evening, I got a chance to catch up briefly with Tim and Serena Powers who were aware of the Parsons legacy already, natch, and later in the evening things picked up again and the Lounge went late into the early morning hours.

On Saturday, I had a packed schedule, starting with a docent tour of the art show. As it turns out, no one was waiting when I got there, so I begged off and went to find some food instead. Then it was time for the daytime version of Match Game. I was tired and not dressed up, and therefore not as enthusiastic initially about doing it again, but it was just as fun the second time around. We all agreed that Kevin Standlee was really on for this game, so I was in a fine mood by the time that ended.

I had considered a nap after this so I would be at my best for my other big responsibility of the weekend: my first ever turn as a Masquerade judge. However, time got away from me and in the end I had time for neither sleep nor food. I did, however, get changed into evening wear.

The experience was very interesting. The other presentation judges where Joni Dashoff, whom I had previously corresponded with on Anticipation business but never met in person, and Kevin Roche, who had stepped in at the last minute in place of John Hertz who was not able to make it to Westercon this year.

There were 12 entries, of which three were exhibition only, but it was a pretty decent showing. Our Best in Show ended up being someone who had made their costume at the con. The deliberations were friendly and the other judges seemed to try their best not to steamroll me with their experience. I felt as though we got done reasonably quickly and in fact got back before the halftime Bohnoffsí concert was done, but someone did ask me later what took us so long, so perhaps it just seemed quick to me.

Getting on stage to be introduced had been a bit squirmy for me, but getting up there with the other judges to present the rosettes was another matter entirely. It was great to see and share peoplesí excitement.

I was happy but very hungry by the time it was all over, and when I got upstairs, I was touched to find that Leigh Ann and Chaz had brought me some Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles from their offsite dinner excursion. I am a big-time fried chicken fan and visiting Roscoe’s has been a goal for a while. It was delicious and fortified me for another fun long night, the last proper one for the con.

Sunday morning is always bittersweet and this was no exception. After (eventually) getting a bite to eat, Leigh Ann headed off to her last panel of the weekend, and Jason and I intended to spend our last few hours in the daytime Lounge, except it turned out it had been occupied by a writers group for some reason (did I mention how comfy those chairs were?).

I had to pick up my art anyway so I went to do that and after a while Jason made the executive decision of simply packing the fanzines and other equipment and heading back upstairs. I joined him and Tadao up there, and eventually Leigh Ann and Allison Lonsdale came by and we spent some time just hanging out before I headed out for a few hours into Old Town Pasadena to visit with my brothers.

When I got back, I had once again managed to skip eating, since our planned family dinner had ended up at a bar that had no food and we were too lazy to go elsewhere given that it was July 4th. However, thoughts of food vanished from my mind when I found that while my back was turned, the Fanzine Lounge’s Little Pony had stopped by for a visit and things had gotten a little… out of control. Ponies only look sweet and innocent, folks.

We had essentially been volunteered as the Dead Dog, since we were the last space available after the Consuite packed up. By the time we opened the doors, there were folks waiting in the hall (since the Consuite room was just two doors down) and soon enough the room was full and some few edibles (thanks Consuite) and drinkables (thanks Tadao!) were supplied.

As is often the case, there was a whole host of Bay Area folks including John and Chris O, Kevin Roche and Andy Trembley, and Kevin Standlee who had meant to leave earlier but suffered some vehicular setbacks. But we did manage to squeeze in some L.A. folks as well, even a few non-SMOFs, just for chuckles.

At around midnight, we spun the delivery roulette and got lucky again with a place called Wockano, of all things. I nommed the sushi and chow fun happily as things slowly wound down as people wandered off to pack or sleep and finally even our own stalwart Jason headed off into the night, to everyone’s dismay, leaving nothing to be done but call it a con.

~España Sheriff

SF/SF Issue #107, July 28, 2010