ConGlomeration 2014

ConGlomeration is the annual science fiction convention in Louisville, Kentucky. This year it was held over the weekend of April 11-13, 2014 at the Louisville Ramada Plaza Hotel and Convention Center, where it has been most of its history (although many of those years it was a Clarion).

Since we wanted to be able to start loading in promptly when the doors opened Friday morning, we drove down Thursday night. Most of the trip went pretty well, but as we got closer to Louisville, we started running into road construction, which slowed us down. Just north of the river, we saw a sign warning of extreme congestion in the construction near the bridge, so we decided to take one of the bypass routes in hope of making better time.

We got there in good time and stopped by the convention center, where we were able to get into the dealers' room and take a look at the table layout. However, the dealers' room coordinator was still at work, so we couldn't find out which tables were ours or verify that there would be some kind of security wall between the dealers' room and main events, which share the big main room.

After our visit to the convention center, we headed off to get checked into our sleeping room. Because we'd had several bad experiences with the con hotel botching reservations (including one with the new management, which gave us a room accessible only by stairs after being told my husband needed disability access), we stayed at a nearby Sleep Inn. The first room we were given had a very definite odor, almost like cigarette smoke, although it was supposed to be a non-smoking room. So the desk clerk switched us to another room right beside it, which didn't have any odor, and we moved our possessions in.

Then we headed back to the convention center in hopes of catching the dealers' room coordinator. We went back and forth between dealers' room and con suite several times, and generally hung out until he arrived and we verified that yes, we had the same tables we'd had in the past. Thus we were able to do some planning on how we'd set things up, which would make our load-in a little more organized.

We returned to our sleeping room for the evening and I made supper. In the process I discovered that the three ramen cups I'd brought for my suppers had gone missing from the food bags. While trying to find a WalMart that was supposed to be down the road, I discovered the local Sam's Club and bought an entire case of shrimp ramen cups. I also took the opportunity to get gas for the van, which meant we wouldn't have to worry about it on the way back.

On Friday morning we got up early to get the hotel breakfast as soon as they started serving. Then we headed over to the convention center so we could be ready to start loading in the moment they opened the big doors. We got a couple of good helpers and a second cart, which really speeded up the process of load-in.

Even so, it still took us longer to get set up because we now have additional display structures to build, thanks to acquiring a huge set of additional hutch gridwalls. Being able to increase the verticality of our setup also meant that, instead of having to struggle to get all our merchandise out and having a lot left over as backstock, we ended up running short of merchandise and having to struggle to avoid winding up with ugly bare spots in our layout. Part of it was being on the tail end of a three-con sequence, which meant that we were short or entirely out of several lines of merchandise that had sold particularly well. But a lot of it was just plain having more effective space.

Then I had to get my art onto the art show. Since it was almost time for the dealers' room to open, I got the paperwork and took it back to our dealers' tables to fill out. This way I could set it aside and deal with customers as necessary.

However, sales were slow, although it may have been just a matter of perception as a result of having become accustomed to the heavy sales traffic at anime conventions. I had to consciously remind myself that at science fiction conventions most people tend to window-shop the first day, trying to decide how they'll spend their money, and are less likely to give in to impulse buying.

On the other hand, I spent a lot of time visiting with friends, many of whom I hadn't seen in the year since the last ConGlomeration. I'd been fighting a cold ever since we got back from Shutocon at the beginning of the week, and loading in had dried my throat out more than I'd realized. By the time the dealers' room closed and we headed over to the con suite to have supper and visit, my voice had become noticeably hoarse.

There weren't any parties, so after hanging out for a while, we headed back to our sleeping room. By the time we went to bed, I was hardly talking above a whisper. Not a good sign for the beginning of a con.

When I woke up on Saturday, I'd hoped my voice would recover, but it was pretty obvious I'd overdone it. It took a real effort to get any volume, and even that was an ugly croak that would come and go.

We got to the convention center early enough that we could go to the con suite and hang out for a while before we needed to get to the dealers' room. I got myself a cup of green tea and dissolved a hard candy in it as a substitute for honey, hoping that it would help soothe my throat enough that I'd be able to do business.

However, by the time we got over to the dealers' room it was obvious I was going to have serious difficulty carrying on business. At least we didn't have to deal with anybody playing music at excessive volume like Nippon Academy at Eville-con two weeks earlier, but it still took an effort to speak aloud. Fortunately one of the volunteers noticed my plight and brought me two more cups of green tea, which I gratefully sipped.

During the afternoon, a representative from another convention came by our setup and invited us to their dealers' room. We asked a number of technical questions about their dealers' room operations, not easy when I could barely croak out words, and finally decided to go ahead and add the convention to our lineup.

After the dealers' room closed for the evening, we headed over to the con suite to hang out and munch. We'd hoped that there'd be some parties, but nobody knew of any happening. Someone said that the Ghostbusters crew had wanted to hold a party, but couldn't round up enough people to do one. I'd halfway hoped someone would throw a Yuri's Night party, since April 12 is the anniversary of Gagarin's historic spaceflight, but nobody was doing that either. Finally we ended up heading back to our sleeping room to take it easy. I got out my laptop and went on the website of one of our wholesalers, where I started pulling together a restock order.

On Sunday we had to get our personal possessions out of our sleeping room and get checked out in good time. I was still hoarse, although I wasn't nearly as bad off as I had been Saturday.

I also got the unhappy news of the death of Pat Collins, wife of astronaut Michael Collins. It's particularly sad because theirs was one of the relatively few astronaut marriages that didn't fail as the stigma on divorce faded in the 1970's. It didn't bum me out as hard as the news of the deaths of Neil Armstrong or Scott Carpenter in the two previous years, but it still made me concerned about Mike Collins, since I've seen far too many times when, after one member of a long-married couple passes on, the other follows within a few years. And these days, 83, isn't all that old.

We managed to get to the convention center early enough to drop by the con suite and munch a little on the breakfast foods. Then we headed over to the dealers' room to open our tables. I'd thought I'd left my shawl there the previous night, but discovered it was nowhere to be seen. i even checked under the tables, amidst the boxes of backstock, but without success.

So I headed over to the con suite, thinking that maybe I'd left it there while we were hanging out, hoping to find out about a party or two. However, nobody had seen it there either. So I called the hotel's front desk, hoping that maybe someone had found it and turned it in there. No joy. In desperation, I called the hotel where we'd stayed, thinking that maybe it had somehow gotten laid on the white sheets and missed. Since we were still in town, we could just drive over after we got done loading out, and wouldn't have the hassles of getting it shipped to us. However, the news wasn't good there either. They'd cleaned the room, but nobody had found anything that didn't belong.

When it came time to start packing our merchandise to load out, I kept watching in hope that it had just fallen into a box and been missed. But the further we went in packing, the more obvious it became that it hadn't slipped into any of the boxes.

By the time I was loading out the unsold merchandise, I had pretty well given up any hopes of ever seeing it again. I told myself I could find something similar on eBay or one of the wholesale sites, but I knew it wouldn't be the same. Mine had been my grandmother's, and a replacement bought from one or another Chinese exporter wouldn't fully satisfy.

And then one of the volunteers came looking for me. She had my shawl, and told me that it had been found under a stairwell. How it may have gotten there, I have no idea, and I'm not sure I want to know, whether it was a thief with a pang of conscience or a mischievous kid. I was just glad that it had come back to me after all.

With some good helpers, we were able to get everything carried out in time to make a brief visit to the con suite before we had to hit the road. We decided not to risk the traffic on I-65 over the Ohio River, so we went over to catch I-264 and I-265 again. We made pretty good time most of the way, but as we were getting into Johnson County, we hit a horrible backup. For a while, traffic was almost completely stopped -- and we'd just missed the last exit. So there was nothing for us to do but creep along, hoping that we'd get to the next exit soon.

As it turned out, the wreck that had caused the congestion was before the next exit, and it was a nasty one. One car had completely burned out, and I could only hope that everyone had gotten out of it safely.

Because of the delay, we decided to stop at the next exit and get a sandwich at Subway rather than try to get home for a late supper. We ate on the road and got home before it became too late.

Copyright 2014 by Leigh Kimmel

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Last updated April 19, 2014.