Anime Crossroads 2

The second Anime Crossroads was held over the weekend of September 24-26, 2010 at the Indianapolis Marriott East. Usually the second year of a convention goes better than the first because you've worked out the problems you discovered the first time around. However, things weren't so simple for Anime Crossroads.

The first sign of trouble came Thursday afternoon, when I went to the website to check the forums for last-minute announcements about the staff meeting that was to be held that evening. However, I got an error message saying that the site could not be found. Talk about that sinking feeling -- I started wondering if something very bad had happened. I was pretty sure the show was still going on, but one of the warning signs of a company going under is often their website vanishing.

Thus it was with no small amount of trepidation that we went over to the hotel after supper that evening. When we saw some of the other concom members, including staffers up from Atlanta, there was a real release of tension. Apparently the webhosting company that had been hosting their website had gone belly-up, leaving them without a working website, but the con was still on.

The staff meeting was a pretty basic, informal one held right there in the big ballroom that would house the dealers, artists and several other ongoing activities. Introductions were made, particularly of several new people the Atlanta cadre were bringing in to fill new positions, such as the senior staff of the maid cafe (a snack bar where you could buy cup ramen and other Japanese snack foods and have them served to you by young women dressed in maid costumes).

Once the staff meeting was over, we started helping the dealers who'd arrived early to get their merchandise in. Because we'd had so much trouble the previous year with a shortage of handcarts, this year we brought our own (suitably marked to identify it) and let dealers use it. Having that extra cart certainly sped things up, and we had everyone's stuff inside in reasonably good time so we could go home and get some sleep.

On Friday we headed in early to help with the rest of dealer setup. Once the dealers' room actually opened to the general con membership, I settled in at the door to check badges. At first things were slow enough that I could make notes for stories during lull times, but as traffic increased, I had to set that aside and concentrate on watching people.

Later in the afternoon I got tired enough that stuff started sliding past me even when I was doing nothing but watching. So the department head told me to take a break and get something to eat from the staff lounge. Once I did that, I went around to see the sights of the convention.

I did do a little more door watching before the dealers' room closed for the night. At least this year the dealers were a lot more organized and got their tables closed in a reasonable amount of time, so we were able to get home and get supper at a reasonable hour.

Saturday morning we returned to discover that the hotel's HVAC system was dripping onto some displays, so we had to quick move several dealers and artists to places where their merchandise would not be damaged. At least that situation was resolved quickly, but it took longer to deal with some questions of the legitimacy of some dealers' merchandise. I got the impression that some people felt the accusations were not merely false but malicious, intended to remove competitors by being difficult to refute. Because it got so heated and took so long to resolve, the dealers' room ended up opening late, and the con members who were waiting at the door were not happy.

On the other hand, the con chair did issue a directive that the US Army 38th Infantry Division, which was having a returning-stateside meeting in the hotel the same weekend, was to be given free run ot the convention as thanks for their service. They turned out to have a number of anime fans among their number, and were great fun to share the hotel with. In my years in fandom I've had some real horror stories of sharing hotels with mundane groups that were obnoxious toward the fans, but these troops were wonderful neighbors and I was proud to have the privilege of sharing the hotel with them.

During slow periods I pulled out a sketchbook and did some sketching, since I'd found it inspiring to hang out in the artists' alley. However, I got a harsh wake-up call on just how rusty my skills had become over the years. I took a whole page just to practice eyes from various angles.

At least things went fairly smoothly after the initial rough spot, and I got a couple of chances to get food from the staff lounge. When the dealers' room closed for the evening, we headed home to have supper and take care of some necessary things before turning in for the night.

On Sunday we got back to the hotel bright and early to get the dealers' room going. We hadn't been open long when there was a sudden to-do at the manga library. The next thing I knew, they were closing the manga library and carting all the books away. It made everyone uneasy, with a waiting-for-the-other-shoe-to-drop tenseness.

Later I heard from someone in the know that someone had brought some valuable books back and had dropped them on the floor without any care for them, and the librarian had sternly requested that this person handle them more gently. The person took umbrage and complained to senior staff. When the librarian argued her case, the staffer took the objector's part and told the librarian that she and the library were gone.

I'm of very mixed feelings about the handling of this incident. On one hand, I can understand the notion that the customer is right by definition. On the other hand, the manga library collection includes a lot of valuable stuff entrusted to it by other people, so the librarian has an obligation to see to it that everything is returned in the same condition. If the librarian doesn't have the authority to enforce certain basic expectations about the proper treatment of the books, she's caught between a rock and a hard place.

When the dealers' room closed at the end of the con, we got out our cart and helped dealers get their unsold merchandise back out of the room. This time the process worked quite smoothly, and I ended up talking with some of the volunteers while loose ends were being tied up. We got onto the subject of how the creepiest villains are often played by actors who are really nice people. I offered the example of Walter Koenig, whose portrayal of PSI Cop Al Bester in Babylon 5 is absulutely chilling, but who's a real cool guy in person. I mentioned how I'd met him at ConGlomeration in 2008.

Before the dead dog party there was an exceedingly fraught staff meeting. Apparently some of the local staff had not met the expectations of the senior staff from Atlanta, and as a result everyone was going to have to reapply for their positions. Additionally, attendance had not met expectations. While the problem of the dead website was acknowledged as a contributing factor, it was not considered to be the principal or most important one. We all needed to really push the con using guerilla marketing strategies, and it was our responsibility to educate ourselves on the methods. And if attendance increases did not meet expectations, the amenities provided by the con for its volunteer staffers would shrink accordingly.

Speaking of amenities, we also got a sharp reminder that anime conventions represent a very different subculture than the science fiction conventions I'm used to. I had an introduction to it the previous year when I nearly got my head bitten off for asking where the con suite was, and discovered there was no con suite here. This year someone had suggested the possibility of providing free bowls of white rice to attendees who couldn't afford to buy meals -- rice could be purchased in bulk at minimal cost from Sam's Club and cooked in an automatic rice cooker. The concom adamantly rejected the notion, responding that anyone who couldn't budget their money to provide their meals deserved to go hungry -- it wouldn't hurt a healthy person to go hungry for a couple of days and the misery of an empty belly would help the lesson of financial self-control to stick.

At the end of the meeting the pizza for the dead dog party arrived. This time they had ordered a more adequate number of pizzas for the crowd and had instituted some line control to make sure the first few people didn't gobble up everything and leave the later ones with crumbs. However, after that horribly fraught staff meeting, my stomach was knotted up so tight that I could barely get around one piece of pizza, let alone the two we were allowed. So we just headed home, and about an hour later my stomach finally unknotted, leaving me ravenously hungry with nothing to eat.

Copyright 2012 by Leigh Kimmel

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Last updated October 21, 2012.