Westercon 61

The drive out to Las Vegas was quite pleasant if you like watching the landscape, which I do, but the temperature was already high for my tender San Franciscan sensibilities even before we left Los Angeles, and by the time we crossed the Nevada border it was sweltering. I asked Tadao to stop at one of the big malls along the way so I could pick up some sandals, and changed from my black tee and jeans into white skirt, tank top and flip flops, which helped immensely and became my daytime uniform for the rest of the week.

Arriving at the JW Marriott Resort, we pulled into the lot in front of the convention area and immediately ran into (or almost over) Chris Garcia, and seconds later Leigh Ann Hildebrand. We all complained about the heat for a minute and then ran off to unpack and get settled in.

The place was pretty swank and the rooms impressively large. The walk-in closet and the lovely large tub were the highlights, and went a long way towards making me feel better about the comparatively high price of the room. The beds seemed nice and comfy, to me anyway (there were complaints from others), and the staff were all very friendly. The only rub, room-wise, turned out to be the AC, which turned on and off loudly and randomly no matter what settings were changed and even when I attempted to turn it off entirely. Being woken up repeatedly by what sounded like a giant truck rolling through the room made me less than chipper in the already tricky mornings.

Once unpacked I headed down to get my badge, hang my art, and get the lay of the land. The convention center was in an adjacent building accessible, Vegas-style, through the casino area. Along the way were the restaurants, first the swank ones where I did not eat, and then the Irish Pub, the Buffet, a Starbucks and a 24- hour cafe. The pub turned out to be surprisingly good, with a good singer one night and a terrible band the next, and the buffet was middling but cheap. The fact that the cafe was open all night gave me the warm fuzzies, and the food was surprisingly decent and reasonably priced by Bay Area standards.

Faced with the choice between going through the smoke filled casino or the unreasonably hot outdoors, I generally split the difference and passed through the casino on the way in and the heat on the way back, griping about both equally. The convention center itself appeared to be appropriately sized for the Westercon needs. Registration and the fan tables were in a large hallway space surrounded by the ballrooms and meeting rooms, so that everything was quite near everything else. The Art Show was past the Dealer’s Room in a divided large room, which seems to be a common layout at Westercons and one which I rather like. I was a little alarmed when I walked into the Dealer’s Room and saw that there were only about a dozen tables; however, I did end up buying some reasonably-priced pulp magazines.

The Art Show, on the other hand, was a pleasant surprise, not huge but larger than I had expected — partly because of the IATSE display, and with a good variety. Familiar entries like Theresa Mather and Elisa Mitchell were on display along with some presumably local artists that were unfamiliar to me. Chris Bauer helped me hang my stuff and we spent some time chatting about some of the art on display. Additionally I made a special point of walking through the entire show, since prior to the con John Hertz had gotten me to agree to do a docent tour on Saturday. I kept the tour on the DL and it ended up just being Hertz and I, thank goodness, but it was still interesting to take a more critical look at the various displays and I rather enjoyed my test runs as well.

Done with Reg and Art Show, my next stop was the Fanzine Lounge, which was going strong with Chris, Leigh Ann and Jason Schachat present along with Kevin and Andy, John Hertz, and a few other folks. Hertz immediately earned himself a hardcore fandom ribbon by donating a lovely bottle of gin to the lounge. Andy was busy writing something for the newsletter and things were pretty lively all around. I hung around for a bit but sleep deprivation was kicking in so I went off to take a nap, missing opening ceremonies and Tadao’s Elvis act, alas. I slept on and off right until nearly eleven, thanks to the aforementioned AC issues, but eventually headed out to see how the party floor was shaping up.

A pall was cast by the news of the car accident which killed Roberta “Bert” Carlson, treasurer of the Seattle bid, and things were generally quiet. I was disappointed to see that the Fanzine Lounge After Dark, located on the party floor, was closed, although I suppose I could have helped prevent that had I not been asleep and all. We wandered by the Con Suite where folks were playing jenga and chatting. All the seats appeared to be taken, though, so Tadao and I ended up heading for the cafe to grab some food, then checked the Lounge one more time on the way back and called it a night.

The rest of the convention picked up a little but generally followed a similar pattern. I spent time in the Fanzine Lounge but didn’t hit any panels. “The Match Game SF After Dark” was very fun, if a bit longer than I expected. The party floor was livelier on the following nights, with even Seattle opening its doors to a very nice spread and a good party with a lovely steampunk ambience.

The After Dark Lounge was the last party open on Friday, but got beat by Xanadu on Saturday, and on Sunday we were open and active but mainly just catching up on the Venture Brothers. The Con Suite was going strong the times I dropped in, although I didn’t discover until later that it had Internet access which would have been useful to me.

I skipped the Masquerade on Saturday, which had a half dozen entries. With only a few parties I did make it to all of them at least briefly. I chatted with some new folks, some from Seattle and some from the Bay Area, but I’m not sure if I actually spent much time with anyone from Vegas. On Sunday the results from site selection came down and Confirmation in Pasadena won the bid, so Christian Maguire and the other LA folks were in high spirits.

So all in all I had a very nice weekend, although I’m not sure I had a great con. Attendance was reportedly in the low 300s, and hanging with other BAreans at the Pub is fun but not necessarily something I’d spend $165 a night on again. The low attendance numbers were only partly the issue. Having the large spread-out hotel and convention center made it seemed sparser than it was, with fannish activity clustered at two ends and a bunch of stuff in between that contributed to a somewhat disconnected feeling and allowed few opportunities for walk-by conversations. It felt as though I was visiting from elsewhere rather than being immersed, the way I am at a good con.

I’m not sure I’d rush back to Vegas, even at $100 a night, but I enjoyed myself and sold two pieces in the art show, so for my first out-of-state con I could certainly have done a lot worse.

~España Sheriff

SF/SF Issue #70, July 23, 2008