Baycon

This year BayCon started off shaky, with scheduling problems, sudden cancellations by Guests of Honor Mercedes Lackey and Larry Dixon right before the convention, and the poorly announced absence of Fan GOH Fred Patten, also due to health reasons. Luckily it came together quite nicely and seemed to run reasonably smoothly, settling in to its second year in its new home at the Hyatt Regency Santa Clara. I spent Friday watching posts and tweets of friends who were already at the hotel and feeling increasingly restless as I received the occasional “Are you here yet?” text message.

At around 3 p.m. my boss kindly let everyone start their weekend, and I scurried out to do some Hail Mary costume shopping before heading home to finish packing. I failed utterly at getting my printer working and so, to my immense frustration, ended up with zero new pieces for the art show and none of the older but thematically appropriate Steampunk ones I had planned to hang. I did get in a short lie down, which was sorely needed after several days of late nights, and which helped my mood considerably. At around 9 p.m. Anthony and Deb Kopec pulled up outside my house in the Dadmobile and we hit the road.

When we arrived at the hotel the bar lounge was packed with a huge karaoke crowd, which seemed to be having a ball. I fled up to the room to unpack and get settled in until someone pointed out that registration closed in under half an hour. We rushed down to get our badges and program packets, then got changed into something more con-appropriate and headed to the party floor. Hilariously the hallways on the entire third floor were wrapped in plastic. The Hyatt was literally using “protection” to interact with BayCon.

My first stop was the Fanzine Lounge, natch. Leigh Ann Hildebrand, Jason Schachat and mirabile dictu, even Chris Garcia were all there as well as a bunch of other good folks. The place was pretty packed so I took the opportunity to wander the party floor a couple of times. I should probably have gone to bed a little earlier to be fresh for my 11:30 a.m. panel, but with so many people having a head start, having been on site since Thursday, I felt the need to catch up.

As people came and went I found myself moving from one spot to another in the Fanzine Lounge, and noticed a disturbing sensation: the room was vibrating. When I commented on this several other people including Leigh Ann agreed it was kinda distracting or even downright annoying. It was mostly confined to the back right side, but it was pretty weird. Eventually, a little after 3 a.m., Leigh Ann and I arranged to meet at 10:30 to prepare for our panel and I headed off to bed.

Like all good things, the idea of the panel was born from earlier lounge discussions. We had been discussing the increasing number of Steampunk costumes over the past few cons and the pretty much rhetorical question, “Can any outfit at all be made Steampunk by slapping some goggles on it?” (Hint: pretty much.) The discussion had turned into a more elaborate game of looking at friends and passers-by and discussing what would need to be changed or added to make them Steampunk. It turned out to be a lot of fun and most people were quite into it when we explained what we were doing, so Leigh Ann suggested doing it as a panel where we would get items from dealers and collect volunteers from the audience. The panel was planned for early in the weekend, so the ideas discussed could be implemented by the audience members if they wanted.

We went through the Dealer’s Room and borrowed one of each of the following: goggles, glasses, and pith helmet from Alter Years, corset/waistcincher from Pendragon, top hat with leather hatband from Magic Velvets, rusty wrench and leather gloves from Dark Gifts, and vest and layered skirt from Kristy Smart.

When we arrived at the panel room I was surprised to find that it was intimidatingly full, and even had people hanging in the doorway . We met our fellow panelists: Karen Tully and Trystan Bass were already known to us, and our X factor panelist, Kay Tracy, also turned out to be very enthusiastic and willing to have fun. Kay had also brought a bunch of props which included some essential items which slipped our minds (pocket watch, raygun), and also some that had not occurred to us at all (telescope, cowboy hat, golden phoenix feather, and a big brass doo-dah of ornate design but no immediately apparent use). We spent the next hour getting volunteers, usually in the least Steampunky outfits we could manage, and accessorizing them up. When the audience clapped approval that signaled we were done, and they mostly kept us honest by withholding when the results were unsatisfactory. There was also a lot of shouting of requests (the top hat was the big favorite, more popular than the goggles even) and even one item loaned from a nice lady in the second row (a hair clip).

Our only (near) failure was someone who insisted no goggles or eye wear of any type, despite the panel’s name (Would You Like Goggles With That?). We gave it a game go and I think the pith helmet and telescope worked quite nicely but she seemed unsatisfied with the whole experience. Most everyone else did seem to have a good time and took both the (hopefully) successes and (sometimes ridiculous) failures in the not-terribly-serious spirit in which they were intended. I tossed my brown leather belt into the pile and it came in handy, and we even used Leigh Ann’s burnt velvet scarf to create a bustle for someone. I think the crown of our achievements was probably the Jedi who ended up with a cowboy hat, belt and raygun (plus goggles, natch).

We took lots of pictures and discussed a bit about where to get certain items, and what simple ideas worked. Then as we wrapped it up, Leigh Ann gave a good closing statement about how in spite the silliness of the panel, the point was this: Have fun with it, don’t be afraid to play with the genre, and don’t let Serious Costumers tell you that you’re doing it Wrong if you are happy with the end result.

Having survived my first outing as a Real Panelist in front of a room full of people, I was able to feel less pathetic about being a Bad Artist with a Horrid Computer Who Hates Me, Clearly. I ran over to the art show and hung the pieces that I did have with me and swore to myself this would be the last time I showed up with nothing new — even if I have to have originals every time. I chatted with some folks and took a look at some of the rest of the show. Ed Monroe had two new paintings including a lovely one depicting the Golden Gate Bridge at night with a dragon perched atop one of the towers. There were some L.A. Williams prints I had not seen before, and some really neat laser etched pieces, which I almost bid on.

I then took some time to properly check out the Dealer’s Room, which had clearly been selected with the Steampunk theme in mind with more clothes and less media than usual. I bought some feathers from Realm of Regalia and beads from Don Simpson but unfortunately could not find the item I really wanted: a cowboy hat for my Sunday night costume. I eventually gave up and headed over to the Fanzine Lounge to decorate for the Saturday Night Sekrit Theme: DiscoSteam! We put up purple and gold decorations and a somewhat steamed-up disco ball and Jason had the brilliant idea of covering the lights with a pink film for atmosphere. Although I didn’t have the time or resources for true excess, it was all appropriately tacky by the time I left.

I took a nap next and woke from that to see the normally stylish Joe Price wearing a blue coat over a black shirt, collar out and top buttons undone. He gave me his best Disco-Stu pose and vanished, leaving me to consider what I had wrought. I dressed up in gold, with a sequined headband, and helped outfit my other roomies in equally appropriate gear. A flurry of gold chains, headbands and glitter later, we headed down to the Lounge. On the way we ran into Leo Schwab who had done us the honor of putting aside his normally impeccable dress sense and was sporting a gold lab coat, black ruffled shirt with open collar, and his clockwork vest. I decided I rather enjoy talking people into doing silly things; the power is heady.

We hung out in the Lounge for a while, although it was once again pretty busy. I checked out the RIP Battlestar Galactica party for a bit, and the Klingons, but both were crowded as well. I went back to the Lounge in time to see Johanna arrive in her Steamglampunk outfit she had made especially for the theme, complete with Union Jack top and heels and bouffant hair. It was fabulous and I do hope she continues refining it. It was still pretty crowded so I ended up heading down to the dance with the Kopecs, Bill Baronlaw and Mr. Price, meeting Jade Falcon and Eric Anderson along the way. We danced some, then left for a bit when the DJ switch made things a little too loud and thumpy for our tastes. I wandered back down a little later before eventually heading up to bed at about 3 a.m. again. When I got to the room the roomies were in their jammies watching the tail end of The Magnificent Seven. We watched Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson & Co. do their thing. After that, Predator was on so we of course had to watch that as well. KQED seems to play the best late night movies during BayCon every year.

Sunday I took advantage of my wide open schedule and woke up nice and late. The breakfast buffet was long over so I settled for lunch with the gang, then hit the clothes swap. This year the swap was confined to a room that was being used for other programming as well. The space was small and only available for an hour, so it was not nearly as fun as the poolside event I had last gone to at the Marriott location two years ago. I got rid of a bag of random stuff, and after a quick scour through the available piles I found a petticoat and a shirt. Then I rushed over for the second half of the Hardware Costuming panel with Bryan Little, Mette Hedin and Andrew Trembley as well as our Goggles co-panelist Kay Tracy. The panel was more about finding resources than a how-to as I had hoped, but was still quite entertaining.

I had figured a nap was the next order of business but for various reasons ended up having a drink with David Moyce at the hotel bar instead. While we were chatting with the bar manager, Bill Baronlaw wandered over in his Thing #1 costume. When he left, the bar manager asked, “Wasn’t he the guy dressed as a bunny earlier?” When we said yes, she commented, “I thought so. Huh — I had heard he would be dressed as a belly dancer later.” We chuckled, but a few minutes later someone said they were heading to the Belly Dance Jam to see Bill in his belly dancer costume. This being the thing that makes the Hyatt so incredible and makes up for some of the architecturally unavoidable inconvenience: the staff. They wear ribbons on their namebadges, and are more in the loop about con events involving my own friends than I am. Incredible.

I now was officially out of time for a nap so David, Leigh Ann and I grabbed a quick bite of dinner and committed some small but satisfying bits of subversion before heading our separate ways. I got changed into something a little girlier and stopped by to join in wishing Bryan and Mette a happy anniversary. I had hoped to catch a bit of the Tempest performance as well but ended up in the Lounge instead, and soon enough it was getting into the late evening. I got a text from Anthony saying the gang was getting into their costumes for the night, this being our Travelling Medicine Show Wagon group hall costume. I made it upstairs and found them mostly ready to go. Deb (The Professor) looked wonderful in the corset she had bought from Pendragon earlier in the day and sporting some nice steamy touches in her hair, Mr. Price (The Barker) was sharp in a long black Victorian coat and a bowler, and Anthony (The Wagon) had strapped on his excellent Box of Miracles which contained our Monstrum Remedium, gambling paraphernalia, and other appropriate props. I had clearly wasted a lot of my pre-con prep time but did manage to put together a decent outfit as The Enforcer. I still need a black hat to complete the look, but as a group we made a decent Medicine Show. The centerpiece was definitely Anthony and his props which also included a zombie-control headpiece that glowed green and an audio beltpiece which played some seriously creepy old Victrola music.

Looks aside, I made a terrible guard for the wagon, as it wandered off every time I turned my back for a second. But we did manage a fair amount of wandering and posing for pictures and I’d love to do it again. We stopped at the Whiskey Bros. party and I tried one of the tastings. About half of the whiskeys were not to my taste but at least two were very good and one of them was really lovely. I was having a very good time, but as the evening progressed it was weird to wander in and out of different rooms and conversations throughout the night and hear how the evening was going unhappily weird in spots for an unusually large number of my friends.

At around 3 a.m. once again things started winding down, and after some interesting (well, not really) experiments with 70s prog-rock cleared the room there were just a handful of us in the Lounge, including Leigh Ann, Jason Schachat and myself. We put on the Fanzine Lounge soundtrack, the Indigo Girls performance of Jesus Christ Superstar, and that helped the mood. Anthony and later Radar joined us in their jammies, as did Jean for a little bit after being unable to sleep due to the excessive vibration of her room, which was next door to the Lounge and suffering from the same effect. Shortly after she went back to bed we were joined by some obnoxious pirates whom we had to eject from the room. We kept the door ajar after that and were joined by an off-duty Flare guy called Scott (I think) later on. We just hung out until it was 6 a.m. and time for breakfast. It was all freshly laid out, we were the first patrons there, and it was the perfect ending for an odd night.

On the way back up to the room I got a very necessary late checkout, then caught a few hours of sleep. I woke up feeling surprisingly good and while the more sensible roomies got their own breakfasts, Anthony and I cleared out of the room in plenty of time. I picked up my art from the Art Show, did a last round of the Dealer’s Room, and headed back up to the Lounge for the last hour or so of goodbyes, as people trickled through and plans for upcoming cons were hatched. Seattle Steamcon is definitely a go, for starters.

~España Sheriff

SF/SF Issue #87, June 10, 2009