Con-x-Treme

Before I start, let me address the issue of ghosting, because I know it’s a sensitive subject and I know that I could have written that the con chair personally whapped us over the head and stole our wallets and there would still be fans who would shake their heads and say, “Well, you still should have bought a badge…” I disagree, but I know where you’re coming from.

While there is no way in hell I would ever pay a cent to encourage the delusions of the people behind this train wreck, I do know that there were people there that weekend who were making an honest effort, and getting very little in return from those at the top. So everyone in my party has quite happily agreed to put their money where their mouth is and individually pay the full weekend rate of $50 to one of the groups which in my opinion were treated quite poorly for their efforts.

Still with me? Excellent. (And if not, then no peeking, for shame!)

Calling Con-X-Treme the worst convention I have ever been to would be pure hyperbole ― not because I have attended a worse convention, but because it would assume that Con-X-Treme was, in fact, a convention. Traditionally conventions include at least one of the following: programming, guests, and attendees; and to toss about those terms in relation to what I saw at this non-event would be a crime against the English language.

The omens were bad enough: rumors swirled concerning verbal contracts teetering on the edge of dissolution, hurt feelings and alienation of former allies, staff defections, and at least one person claiming shenanigans related to their intellectual property. Additionally, promotion had been sporadic and misdirected, with even Doubletree regulars expressing surprise that there was a convention happening that weekend. Even ignoring all of this, the website showed a distinct lack of focus and even of basic information. Rather than a schedule, there was a page that, with all the sincerity of a carnival barker, showcased a list subtitled “Things You May Encounter” …obfuscating the fact that you might not encounter any one of them.

But the fannish rumor mill tends to spin mountains out of molehills and a lot of the parties involved were not my closest acquaintances, so my cohorts and I decided to give it a chance. A new Doubletree convention was something to be excited about, and for my own part the anime angle intrigued me. I’ve been wanting to go to an anime convention for a while now, and attending one at the good old Doubletree, while still riding the high of BayCon and Westercon, seemed like a sure thing.

I rode down on Friday with Mr. Price, who is a bit of a martial arts aficionado and was curious about the Saturday contest. Before we even arrived, Chris Garcia called to say he was already there, which seemed like a happy omen. Then a little later Ophelia called to see what I was doing, and I informed her about the convention and told her to meet us at the Doubletree.

As is traditional with this type of event, we camped out in the Coffee Garden, near the edge for maximum visibility — which gave us a grand view of nothing and nobody. About an hour in, a lonely Klingon came by and informed us that their bar was open, but this was the only fan we saw during our entire meal.

We headed upstairs to see if people were simply hiding from the water polo conference we were sharing the hotel with, and discovered the BASFA room, hosted by Ed Stokke. Now, I will grant you that Ed is a party just by himself. But I don’t think that means that I can legitimately call what we encountered a party, so much as two people in a room: Ed and a staff member whose name I can’t remember.

Since my roommates and I constituted nearly half of the attendees I had seen so far, I decided not to worry about badges until the next day when, by Ghu, I would find out where they were hiding the con. Garcia (who did buy a badge) and the rest of us sat around and chatted until my roommates Ace and Lazer arrived carrying two huge bottles, one of rum and one of vodka, which they donated to the BASFA bar by way of thanking them for being the only thing going.

At this point we were easily the biggest Friday event at the con. While chatting on the deserted terrace, our words were drowned out by the loudest music I have ever heard at the Doubletree. A DJ was set up near the end of the terrace, and since he was the only person out there other than us, we assumed he was simply testing his equipment for the following night. After a couple of minutes our assumption was proven incorrect, and we fled inside to escape the eardrum-shattering racket.

As we settled in to resume our conversation, two hotel security officers and a San Jose police officer politely poked their heads through the door and asked if they could use our room to access the balcony to speak with the DJ. They went to do that, and we were able to hear the DJ state that the contract with the hotel allowed him to go till 1 a.m. The gentlemen of the law politely disabused him of that notion, thanked us kindly for granting them access to the terrace, and that was the end of the music for the rest of the weekend.

Despite this, and Garcia managing to almost kill himself on a plate glass window to everyone’s shock, horror and helpless laughter (he’s OK; we’re not that evil), we chatted and generally entertained each other until around 1:00 a.m. Then we headed over to Denny’s for some much-needed greasy food.

Saturday I rose a little more hopeful. After a hearty breakfast during which we were again surrounded by nothing but mundanes and empty tables, we headed over to the ballroom area, where registration is normally located.

And there it was, with two people standing around near it. Since this was as many actual attendees as we’d seen in one place at one time, this actually cheered me up a little.

Whistling to drown out the crickets and kicking aside some tumbleweeds, we walked past the Art Show, which was apparently not set up yet. We kept going past the Dealers’ Room, which appeared to have about half a dozen tables set up. Even if there had not been a gopher at the door, none of us was interested in crossing the threshold and committing to con membership just yet, so we walked back past the handful of tables in the Artists’ Ghetto, feeling slightly guilty for not stopping since we appeared to be the only people in the hallway who were not there exhibiting.

As we walked back past the Art Show room, which was still empty and did not have a gopher posted at the door, we noticed a lady with her little dog heading in. The eagle-eyed Lazer, who is more observant than I, pointed out that she was looking at something on the white-tablecloth-covered banquet tables set up in the room. I squinted and realized to my dismay that she was right. This apparently empty and totally unsupervised room was the Art Show, after all.

Rather than bother with that crazy art establishment conformist BS, this convention had thought outside the box and laid the art out flat on the tables. Not sculptures, mind you, but regular matted 2-D art, lying on tables in an empty room with no supervision inside or out. I paused for a second and thanked whatever gods there may be that I had not shown up on Friday with art to hang. I could only imagine what would have gone through my mind. Thankfully I was told later that there were only a couple of artists in the show, so either not too many people were conned into showing, or those who were turned on their heels and left when they saw what I saw.

Heading up the stairs to see if the Taiko was likely to happen (we had heard drumming on and off briefly during breakfast), we passed two girls with parasols in very nice costumes, and in what would become a recurring thought, I felt bad when I saw their badges. Not because I had not bought one (had I done that I would have felt much, much worse), but at the thought of these kids having spent their money on this. Over the weekend, I personally saw four or five cosplay kids with badges. They looked great, and the fact that they got ripped off is one of the things that bothers me most about this whole sorry affair. (The accounts I heard of the Masquerade told of six entries, with no A/V set-up whatsoever, no microphone for the announcer, and no music but what was provided by the dozen or so audience members singing.)

Needless to say, at the top of the stairs there was a whole lot more nothing. The martial arts tournament had two people inside and, I kid you not, a sleeping gopher at the door, who woke up just long enough to see us wandering to the very end of the hall and call over, “There’s nothing over there!” like some gloomy soothsayer.

Finally, just to be thorough, we hit the back hallway where the gaming room usually is.

The anime room held one person, presumably the staffer in charge of it, and no one had bothered to post a schedule on the door. The gaming room was likewise only occupied by one person.

At the tables in the hallway, a fan was painting miniatures, and she mentioned that she would be giving a demonstration later on. This was the first bit of actual programming we’d heard anything about, and naturally I could find nothing on the website about it.

We wished her luck and headed back to the room. On the way we ran into a friend who told us of the latest person to have made it to the con just to turn around after getting into a confrontation of some sort with the con chair. He then mentioned that he had thought about leaving as well, and we foolishly encouraged him to stay.

We grabbed some coffees and our books and spent an hour or so reading before going to the room to take a nap. Upon waking I looked at the clock, and my first conscious thought was disappointment at how early it still was, barely 5:30 p.m. We eventually perambulated down and out of the hotel.

Yes, we left the hotel during a convention. To add insult to injury, the Coffee Garden has changed its menu, and although the breakfast buffet has improved with more juice choices and cute little Danishes, the lunch and dinner choices are underwhelming for the price.

We wandered around in the San Jose heat taking funny photos and looking for food. Eventually we found a little Indian restaurant that was right in the middle of setting up for a little girl’s birthday party. They had a section open to regular customers, so we ordered some very tasty dishes including the awesomely named Chicken 65 and some lovely, lovely curry, and enjoyed watching the kids in their bright saris and listening to the awesome Indian/hip-hop/industrial music coming from the party.

Yes, you read that right: not content with condemning ourselves to Fannish Hell for ghosting, we confirmed our contempt for the Rules of Civilized Society by crashing a five-year-old’s birthday party! And it felt gooood!

As the sun set, we meandered back to the hotel, taking the long route until Garcia called to say he had a box of donuts and a bottle of scotch. I swooned and we all picked up our pace.

Back at our room we decided we might as well dress up a bit to make things feel more festive, and blow some time. When we approached the party hall, a gopher was on duty to check badges. As we prepared to slink back to our room in our Sunday best, clutching our wine bottles, he asked if we had a badge, a bracelet, or were staying on that floor. We happily declared that as a matter of fact, we were staying in 217, down and across from what appeared to be staff feed. I cheerfully (but erroneously) took this to mean that the powers that be were trying to make the best of a bad situation by freeing up the party floor, and added a point back into their column.

We first wandered over to the BASFA party, which was empty, so we popped over to the other party, The Black Hole, and over the next hour or so we drank with the Klingons and a few other people. Despite witnessing some rather scary non-convention-related folks going in and out of an adjacent room, the atmosphere was fun and relaxed ― until things rather suddenly fell apart. Starting when a staff member, apparently drunk (the same one who had been checking badges earlier, now at least off-duty) tried to grab my friend inappropriately and then managed to spill my drink all over me when I moved him away from her. We immediately left the room for the terrace, but this incident set the tone for the rest of the night.

The next half hour or so was a farce of incompetent and aggressive staff members making things extremely unpleasant both in and out of the convention-controlled areas, misstating verifiable facts and being exceedingly creepy. And it saddens me to report that it was not just us ghosts, the lowest of the low, but at least a few other folks who had every right to be there that had to deal with this boorish behavior.

Things got stupider and stupider until the assembled staff managed to eject all us pariahs. I stood at the threshold of the party floor facing the elevators, looking at my fellow ghosts and a half dozen friends, and realized that there were quite likely as many people standing in front of me as there were behind me on the so-called party floor.

I took the opportunity to congratulate one of the more difficult staff members on a successful convention and was pleased to see the con chair a little ways down the hall, giving me the chance to pass along further congratulations and to single out specific staff members for their zealous efforts.

Done with that, and since the night was still young, our band of ghosts, friendly staff members, and random volunteers headed back to our guest room and drank wine, ate cheese and chatted until around 2 a.m., which my sources tell me was about as late as the official parties lasted.

Hell, we even managed to have a little martial arts exhibition of our own. Perhaps I should have charged admission.

~España Sheriff

SF/SF Issue #49, August 15, 2007