ConJose, the 2002 Worldcon

ConJosé, the 60th annual World Science Fiction Convention, was held at the San José McEnery Convention Center, the Fairmont Hotel and several other hotels in downtown San José, California, over the weekend of August 29-September 2, 2002. Because my youngest brother lives in San José, we did not get a room in any of the hotels, and instead stayed at his place and commuted each day via the light-rail system.

We arrived at his place on Tuesday, August 27, after a long cross-country drive. Because it wasn't economically feasable to have our merchandise shipped, we drove our crampacked van all the way from Indianapolis over three and a half days. By the time we arrived, we were both exhausted, so after a quick jump on the Internet to e-mail my mom and let her know we'd arrived safely, we grabbed some sleep to rest and refresh ourself. In the evening my brother drove me down to the convention center so I could get a better idea of the route.

We got up bright and early on Wednesday to drive down to the convention center and set up our dealers' tables. We thought we were getting there early, but we arrived to discover that they were already loading in and there was a line several vehicles deep. I went up to the dealer control table to see if I could get the paperwork done ahead of time, but they didn't want to start that until our number actually came up in the line. However, when it finally did, the dealers' room people were very happy to find that I had all the necessary information for our state sales tax permit, and they just had to copy a few items of information. Some of the other people at the table then didn't have the necessary materials, and were sent to the offices of the California Board of Equalization (yes, that's the name they give their state tax department -- insert pinko jokes here at will) just down the street to get their paperwork.

However, we did have trouble getting our badges and dealers' ribbons. They were misfiled and only later were located, so I thought we weren't going to be able to get them until later.

When we did finally get our badges, they were in very nice vinyl holders with two zippered pouches in the back and a fancy drawstring to wear them around our necks. However, there was one small snag -- the adhesive on our dealers' ribbons didn't stick very well to the slick back of the badge holder. But, as every fan knows, duct tape holds the universe together -- and is useful for making sure ribbons don't fall off badge holders.

In the meantime, we had load-in and setup to accomplish. Due to union restrictions and the sheer logistical nightmare of having to get all the dealers through the loading dock in a reasonable amount of time, we had to follow a strict system. When we got to the loading dock, we had to load all our merchandise onto wooden pallets. These were then taken to our tables via forklift by the union people. We had enough merchandise that it took us three pallets to get everything in, but we were able to get it all in within a surprisingly short time. Then we just had to get set up.

That proved to be a little more interesting than we'd anticipated, because the con had a miscommunication with the decorator. Instead of the standard-width tables we were supposed to be getting, they had sent narrow tables. Thus we were given a choice between a limited number of table-extenders and getting additional free tables with which we could double our table width. We chose the latter, but that meant that I had to use two sheets to cover each table instead of just one.

Once we got that taken care of, the wider tables gave us plenty of room to set out merchandise. In spite of all the extra merchandise we'd taken with us, we were able to put out at least one of almost every thing in stock. We also had a generous area at the back of each doubled-up table to put our own records and other working materials while doing business.

Our tables set up, I made a quick phone call to set up an appointment with an oil-change place my brother had located for us. Then we walked back to the parking lot where we'd parked the van while setting up (according to the rules, we had to move our vehicle out of the loading dock area just as soon as it was unloaded). When we did get to it, we managed to get lost leaving the downtown area. I was just about to make an emergency call to my brother when we came across a street I recognized from a map he'd printed up for us. I was able to use that to successfully guide us to the oil-change place, where we got the van's oil changed.

After we got the oil change on the van, we headed back to my brother's place, where I did some Internet stuff until time for supper. We went out to a really nice seafood place, and also did a few errands and picked up additional supplies to replace what we'd used up during the trip. My brother also drove us by the lot for the light-rail so we'd know where to go in the morning. Those things done, we headed back to get a good night's sleep in preparation for the real beginning of Worldcon.

On Thursday morning we got up bright and early to head off for the first day of the convention. We didn't know how long the light-rail system would take to get us there, so we allowed plenty of extra time to get our tickets from the automated ticket machine and catch the trolley. Thus we arrived at the convention center a little early, and had anticipated having to wait, and maybe to have some time to look at the freebie tables.

Instead, they had the door to the dealers' room open and wre going ahead and letting dealers in early. So we hurried on in and got our tables opened for business. The early start also gave us a chance to look around at some of the other dealers' merchandise. This is especially good at a Worldcon, which will have such a huge dealers' room that it can take a lot of time to do more than just a glancing pass through it.

I also had some time to get my art onto the art show. For some unknown reason they did not allow us to set up our art on Wednesday, as has been the usual practice at Worldcons. Instead they waited until Thursday, so that the art show was closed to the public for most of that day and we lost that time for potential sales. Because of the way the Worldcon art show was run this year, I'd had to send in my information on what pieces I'd be showing ahead of time, via the Internet. Thus my bid sheets were aleady printed and waiting for me, and I didn't have to take a lot of time writing up bid sheets.

However, all was not well. Although the bid sheets were all in order, the control sheet showed me as having paid only $5 of my hanging fee, when I was fairly sure that I'd paid the entire $25. Because of the nature of the error, I figured that it was probably just a typo, so I went to the control desk and asked about getting it corrected. Getting to someone with the authority to correct it took more time than the actual correction, and they assured me that it would be no problem at all.

Art taken care of, I hurried back to the dealers' room to take care of business. We got some fairly good sales during that period, and I also met with several of my friends, including some I only get to see at Worldcons, since they generally do not attend the Midwestern conventions I attend. I briefly saw Sherwood Smith, but she was busy at the SFWA table and couldn't talk for long.

I also put some copies of the flier for the reissue of the Sime~Gen books onto the freebie table. By that time, they had the first issue of the con newsletter out and on the pegboards. This Worldcon's newsletter was entitled "The dot.con Daily," a cute acknowledgement that SanJosé is in the heart of Silicon Valley, the home of the computer industry and the location of many Internet businesses.

However, another usual part of the Worldcon -- the voodoo message board -- wasn't ready yet. This is a system by which con attendees can leave messages for one another, and is almost essential in a convention of this size, where people can easily miss each other in the crowd. Apparently there had been some kind of glitch in getting the membership list printed up so that we could mark ourselves in and indicate that we'd left messages for other people. (Eventually they gave up on getting a printout and fell back on the simple expedient of tearing the membership list pages from a spare copy of the souvenier program book).

While we were in the dealers' room, we also started identifying and gathering up books from our stock for author signings. I kept the tables and took care of customers while my husband actually did the standing in line. The last signing of the day extended past the time when the dealers' room closed that we were worried we might end up having to shlepp that bag of books around with us all evening long. Fortunately, they were still letting dealers go in and out when he got done, so we could take the books back to the table before we left. He got back while I was talking with Jacqueline Lichtenberg, catching up about the latest news on the re-issue of the Sime~Gen novels and discussing plans for the party on Friday night.

After the dealers' room closed for the day, we headed out for supper. We discovered that the Mongolian barbeque my brother had suggested was out of business, so we located a Chinese place and got a good meal. Thus fortified, we headed for the Fairmont to check out the parties.

Our first stop was the SFWA suite, where I established my credentials as a SFWA member (albeit an associate) and got my husband guest priveleges. Sherwood Smith was there, so we sat and visited with her for a while. We also helped carry some sodas from the storage closet to replentish the supply in the tub.

After that we checked out the ASFA suite, which was on the same floor. We also saw some of the parties before we decided it was getting late enough that we needed to catch the trolley back to my brother's before it went to the once-an-hour schedule.

On Friday, we decided that we could give ourselves a little more sleeping time. Instead we ended up running late and hurried getting to the light-rail station. When we arrived at the convention center, we had another unhappy surprise waiting for us. The escalators had not been turned on yet. Because my husband has problems with his knees, he cannot climb stairs easily, so we had to find an elevator to get to the second floor. He was irritated enough to go to the ofice and complain about the situation.

When we did get into the dealers' room, we got our tables opened and ready for business. Sales were slow, particularly for a convention of this size, and I spent a fair amount of time reading the Sword and Sorceress anthology I had just acquired from another dealer (this completed my collection of the Sword and Sorceress anthologies, which I had been hunting over the last several years).

In the evening we had a bit of a scramble to get through the Larry Niven signing. Because we have a number of his books in our stock and because of the three-book limit per trip through the line, we needed as many extra bodies as possible to get everything through in time. And since the dealers' room was already closed and locked down by the time we were done, we couldn't take them back to our table. Fortunately, a friend of ours let us store the bags of books in his room so that we wouldn't have to schlepp them to all the parties that evening and then all the way back on the light-rail, then to the dealers' room the next day. However, we did have to schlepp the hardcover Harry Turtledove books we needed to get signed first thing the next morning, but that was a manageable load instead of a back-breaking one.

We were going to go to the milk and cookies reading that Sherwood Smith and several other writers were having. However, after about fifteen minutes there I started getting strong vibes that we should leave and go on a hunt for some substantial food (as in, meat). So we headed upstairs for the con suite in hopes that they might be serving sandwich fixings or other substantial foods.

That was a major mistake. First, the elevators were already getting crowded and we had a terrible time finding one that would take us to the con suite. When we got up there, the place was so crowded that it was an absolute zoo. I was getting sensory overload just having to force my way through the crowds enough to grab some meat and cheese (they'd run out of bread, so we had to just roll up the meat and eat it that way), so I got back out into the hallway to catch some breathing space. But even that area was pretty crowded, and I ended up talking to another person who was having similar troubles.

However, we had some time to kill before the Sime~Gen party began at 9PM, so once we caught an elevator, we headed down to the I-5 in '05 hoax bid party for laughs. We hung out there and got some munchies, as well as cute "under construction" stickers for our badges. We joked about our own experiences with road construction zones on our trip out.

Then it was time for the Sime~Gen party. By that time the elevators were a complete insanity, and we ended up sitting for several minutes in the elevator lobby waiting while we could hear the elevators going past in their shafts but never stopping. Finally, after several people in wheelchairs had joined us, I got fed up enough to call the front desk and point out that we had people with mobility problems waiting for an elevator. The front desk person told us to use the service elevator, and with a little looking I was able to locate it and get to the floor where the Sime~Gen party was supposed to be.

Then the real fun began. There was a sign on that elevator lobby saying that the party had been relocated to the sixth floor. So we went back to the freight elevator and went down there, where we located several familiar faces. According to them, the hotel had mistakenly given our party host a room in the quiet wing of that floor, instead of the party area, so everything had to be moved to a new location.

However, the new room turned out to be on a quiet floor, which meant that we were going to have to be moved yet again. So it was off to the freight elevator to take all of us and our cart crammed with party supplies to the new location.

This proved to be room 1701, and Jacqueline Lichtenberg immediately commented upon the auspicious associations of that number with the starship Enterprise, and the Star Trek roots of Sime~Gen. So we settled in and set up the room as rapidly as we could manage to get things into place. In the usual tradition of Sime~Gen parties, there were plenty of interesting munchies and a nice big cooler full of pop. We had a drawing for various door prizes, and the publisher of Meisha Merlin Books, who is reprinting all eight of the Sime~Gen novels and bringing out new ones, gave a talk about his vision for the series.

After a while we finaly took off, because we wanted to stop by the artists reception before heading back to my brother's place. We stopped briefly at the elevator lobby and determined that we were not going to be able to obtain a regular passenger elevator, so we went to the service elevator and got to the ground floor.

When we got to the convention center, the escalators were turned off, so we had to find an elevator to get to the second floor and the art show. By that time most of the really good stuff was gone from the buffet, but we did get some fruits and cheeses before we took a look around the art show. There were a lot of really interesting pieces up.

While we were leaving, we heard one of the maintenence people telling another to shut down the elevators in a certain number of minutes. They seemed completely oblivious to the fact that the artists' reception was still going on, and that there were several people in wheelchairs up there, who would be trapped without a working elevator. For all that the state of California is so big on politically correct language about disability, like saying "differently abled" instead of "disabled," when it comes to practical day-to-day disability assistance, their public buildings score really bad.

We did get down without trouble, and caught our trolley back to my brother's place. We decided to leave the Harry Turtledove books in the van rather than carrying them into the house and back out, which meant one fewer step to go through in the morning.

That was probably a good choice, because Saturday morning was a hairy mess. I was tired and we soon were running late.

On the light-rail going in, I got to hear a story that did lighten my heart. A Mexican-American lady was quite proudly telling the story of how her grandson had saved the life of a little girl who was drowning in a pool. None of the adults had noticed the girl was in trouble, so little Cortez got the attention of the lifeguard, who got her out safely. The grandmother commented that we hear so much about young people who do bad things, and don't hear enough about the young people who do good things, and thus get a distorted view of youth.

By the time we arrived at the convention center, the Harry Turtledove signing was already starting. However, we didn't have that long of a wait and was able to get them all signed in good time to get our tables opened and ready for business before the dealers' room opened to the general public.

When we found a copy of the latest edition of the con newsletter, it had a snippy little note that we were not to use the service elevators in the hotels because this made it difficult for the staff to do their job. We noted that we wouldn't have to use the service elevators if we could just get a passenger elevator.

Sales were slow on Saturday, although we spent a lot of time standing in lines and getting signatures from various authors. I saw Sherwood Smith briefly, but she was hurrying to something else and didn't have time to talk. I spent the whole afternoon waiting for her to come by, since a bunch of us from her newsgroup were planning to get together to eat after her reading in the lounge. Since that was scheduled for right when the dealers' room was closing, I couldn't attend, but I'd thought we were going to arrange to get me he information as to where to meet.

When the dealers' room closed and no one had come by to let me know, I began to wonder if I'd been forgotten. Visions of being excluded ran through my mind as we searched all over for Sherwood. We went to the suite, but nobody there knew where she'd gone when she'd finished her reading. We went down to the SFWA suite, but no one there had seen her. I ran back to the convention center in case she'd gone to meet us outside the dealers' room, but nobody there had seen her. I was really beginning to despair and dread the thought of having to eat by ourselves while everybody else was having fun, when I managed to intercept her coming through the pedestrian mall beside the Fairmont. It turned out that she'd completely forgotten about the dinner date when she discovered that she needed to get her son to the Masquerade earlier than planned if he was to participate. So we quickly re-set the dinner date for Sunday evening.

With that problem setled, I headed back up to the SFWA suite to figure out what to do for supper. Adrienne Gormley and I talked about some of the outrageous problems that were giving the con the nickname of "ConJokey" and would probably become the subject of filks and fannish legends. She gave me directions to a nice place further down on the pedestrian mall.

Our supper expedition quickly turned into yet another misadventure when we could not locate the sandwich shop. We finally gave up and went back to a cheap Chinese place where we were able to get a nice filling meal for relatively little.

After that we returned to the SFWA suite to relax for a while. Adrienne let us know that she had been mistaken about the sandwich shop. It was another block beyond where we'd gone, and it closed at 5PM, since it primarily served the office lunch crowd. We reassured her that we'd been able to secure a good meal for relatively little.

After we sat around and visited for a while there, we went over to the ASFA suite. There I did a drawing in the birthday album for Frank Kelly Freas. This I developed from a doodle in my sketchbook, one that I'd done in the margin of my notes from a panel at last year's Worldcon in Philedelphia. Then we went down to his birthday party and wished him well in person.

However, we left shortly afterward because we wanted to be out of the Fairmont before the Masquerade let out and hordes of people swarmed out of the Civic Auditorium. By doing so we were able to get an elevator reasonably easily, and got to the light-rail station with very little trouble.

By Sunday we were dragging and had some trouble getting up and moving in time to catch the trolley which would get us to the convention center when the dealers' room opened for dealer preparations. While we were riding in, a young couple noticed us putting on our convention badges and asked us about Worldcon. They were science fiction fans, but they hadn't even heard that the convention would be happening. We made some suggestions about possible ways they could get the news about future conventions, including Worldcons.

When we arrived at the convention center, we got our tables opened and ready for business. Then it was just a matter of keeping customers taken care of while we also got all the various books signed that we wanted. While I was sitting at our tables, I kept hearing a screech that sounded like a monkey or bird. At first I thought that it was just some kind of toy or noisemaker, but then I saw a parrot sitting on a man's shoulder.

Not long afterward, a number of fursuiters came wandering through in their full-body fursuits. There was a skunk (complete with the huge bushy tail), a leopard and a wolf. They didn't talk, just walked around pretending like they were the animals they were dressed as, albeit walking on their hind legs.

After the dealers' room closed, we were able to successfully meet with Sherwood and her friends. Then came the problem of deciding what restaurant to go to, since several people in the group had mutually exclusive dietary restrictions. We finally ended up splitting the group, and we went to the restaurant in the Hilton attached to the convention center. That turned out to be something of a mistake, because it took us forever just to get a table. Once we did, the service was grindingly slow and the prices were eye-poppingly expensive. I ended up having the appetizer shrimp platter, since there was absolutely nothing on the dinner menu that I liked, and I was not going to pay fifteen or twenty bucks for something that would be work to get eaten. I decided that if it was too small and I was still hungry when I was done, we could just go up to the SFWA suite and fill up on munchies.

With the long waits, I did get a chance to talk to Sherwood about my novel in progress, although this was limited by the fact that we weren't able to sit beside each other and had to talk around other people. Once we had eaten and finally got the check taken care of (and that was another problem, since the waiter was balky about wanting to give the two of us a separate check, and we wanted to be able to pay by credit card instead of cash and have a separate receipt for our business records come tax time), it was late enough that we decided not to even bother going to the SFWA suite or anything else in the Fairmont. So we just headed back toward the light-rail stop.

However, we decided to go over to the convention center first and use the restroom. On the way through, we noticed some little splotches of throwup on the floor. I made some jokes about some cat harfing a hairball, which was what it looked like. When I got to the women's restroom, I found a huge disgusting mess in one of the sinks. I ended up gagging my throat so raw from the sight and stench that when I got back to my brother's place, I had to get a hard candy to suck on so I could ease my throat.

Since this was going to be our last night at my brother's place, we carried as much of our stuff out to the van as we could that evening, so we wouldn't have to mess with it in the morning. We also said our good-byes, since my brother usually didn't even get up as early as we had to be leaving, so we wouldn't even see him that morning.

On Monday morning we carried all our stuff out to the van and drove down to the convention center. Once we'd gotten parked in the parking lot directly across from the convention center, we went to the Crown Plaza hotel to meet Sherwood and get some stuff she'd brought for us. We got a little time to talk, although both of us regretted that yet again an entire convention had gone by with only tidbits of time for us to hang out and talk. Since she had several things to get done before she had to hit the road for the long and harrowing trip back to the Los Angeles area, we had to say our good-byes. She did sign and inscribe a copy of the new combined edition of Crown Duel for me, which was a real plus.

Then it was time to get to the dealers' room and get our tables opened for one last day of business. We had some pretty good sales, although we were still a little short of the sales we needed to cover al the expenses of our long trip.

I also had to get my unsold art off the art show. Although at the previous year's Worldcon I'd done quite well in the art show, this year was something of a disappointment. I sold only four pieces, all for minimum bid, compared to eight the previous year. At least I did cover my hanging fee and have a little extra beyond the cost of materials, but I'd been hoping for continued success. I attributed the poor sales to the soft economy.

When I got back, it was time to start packing. Because we needed to get to Bakersfield that evening if we were to get through the desert during the next morning, we needed to be able to load out as soon as possible. Thus we needed to have everything packed and ready to put on pallets the moment they were distributed.

Finally the dealers' room was closed, and the announcement was made to clear the room so that dealers could load out. Once everybody else was out, they brought around the pallets and the union guys started coming around with the forklifts to take them out. We quickly snagged three pallets and got them loaded. Then my husband went over to the parking lot to get our van and get it into position at the loading dock, while I remained at the table to direct the union guys in getting our pallets.

They picked up the first pallet shortly thereafter, and I was thoroughally expecting them to come for the other two shortly thereafter, since I had a couple of items I was hand-carrying because they were fragile. When they didn't come after a while, I became worried, and went to take a look. I soon discovered a mess -- one of our book boxes had broken in transit and dumped a whole stack of book boxes all over the place. They'd had to quickly dump the books back into the boxes higglety-pigglety to keep from jamming the ramp for other dealers. We seemed to have all the books in good shape, but they were all out of order and we'd have to go back through them when we got home.

When the union guys came to pick the second and third pallets up, they took the additional precaution of wrapping duct tape around the load to help prevent stuff from dumping all over the place. I was really impressed with their thoughtfulness in this regard

We then got the remainder of our stuff loaded into our van. We'd actually sold enough to make an impressive reduction in the amount of stuff we had crammed in there. We went back in to make one last check of our dealers' tables and be sure we hadn't forgotten anything. Then we headed out for the long drive back east to home.

Copyright 2012 by Leigh Kimmel

Permission is granted for reproduction in fanzines and other non-profit fannish publications.

For permission to quote or reprint in other venues, contact Leigh Kimmel

Last updated October 21, 2012.