Dragoncon 18 was held in Atlanta, Georgia over the weekend of September 3-6, 2004. This convention is so huge that its programming space fills several downtown Atlanta hotels, and the membership uses even more hotels for sleeping space. Because of its sheer size, we decided to give it a chance, since we didn't want to try to do the Boston worldcon, due to traffic and other issues.
Because Dragoncon is so huge, load-in for dealers and exhibitors takes place on the Thursday before the convention proper begins. And because we had so far to go, we headed out on Wednesday.
We almost didn't get there at all. We had just gotten out of Indianapolis and were heading south on I-65 when we rounded a curve to see a red pickup down in the median. Then we noticed the cop car sitting only halfway over into the median, with only his front flashers on so we didn't see him until we were almost on him. Worse, we had a semi right beside us. Fortunately, the driver of the semi noticed what was going on and pulled over, leaving us with just enough room to get around the cop car. Recovering control was a little tricky, but we did it, and with rattled nerves we continued on.
Fortunately, the rest of the trip was uneventful, taking us up into the mountains, then back down into Atlanta, which is in a hilly area. But as soon as we got to our hotel, we discovered that parking was going to be a nightmare. Atlanta is simply not set up to handle big vehicles like our van. We only got it parked in the hotel's parking garage because they let us use one of the handicapped spaces on the first floor.
Once we got our stuff into our sleeping room, we had supper. Then we rested for a while before actually turning in for the night.
Thursday started bright and early as we headed over to the Marriott and found out that we could go ahead and start loading in. So we headed back to the Super8 and got our van, then got into the loading dock. We had to load in through the freight elevator, which meant a fair amount of waiting, especially since they didn't have anyone to make sure the freight elevator was used efficiently. Near the end, there were several times when people forgot to shut the doors so that it could go back down to be used by other people.
Once we got everything in, we had to take the van out of the loading dock and get it parked. We also had to get all our stuff set up, which was a major challenge because of the extremely small space we had to work with. We hadn't even brought most of our books, but we also had a lot of consignment stuff, and a much smaller area to work with. Not to mention that we had almost no backspace to store merchandise and boxes. As a result, setting up took much longer than usual. By the time we got everything in place, it was already time for supper, so we headed back to the Super8 for the night. We decided to just stay put and rest before the con really started.
Because the exhibitors' hall didn't open until noon, we were able to sleep a little later on Friday than we would be able to do later. We also had time to go over to the Atlanta Public Library, which was just a block away from the hotel, and check our e-mail.
When we got to the Marriott, we got our booth open and ready for business. We also got to discover that the people in the booth next to us had an even closer call, with their van actually being hit and totalled by a semi on their way down. Two of them had received relatively minor injuries, and they were able to rent a U-Haul, pile all their merchandise in, and continue on their way to the con. The picture of their van with the front totally smashed was absolutely shuddersome.
The first hour was for the "Eternal Members," who had bought lifetime memberships in a program that has since been discontinued. However, there were relatively few of them, and we didn't get any business. We just stood around watching the people who were crowding at the doors, eager to come in.
All that changed an hour later when the doors opened to the con-going public. We were on our feet virtually the whole time, helping one customer after another. We did get a lot of people just looking, but enough people actually bought stuff that we were quite pleased with our sales. We even sold a number of the books we'd brought with us.
When the exhibitors' hall closed, we decided to head over to the con suite and check it out. We were able to get chili dogs and popcorn, although they didn't seem to have anything to drink that didn't have caffine.
Afterward, we headed back to the Super8 and ate our real supper. Then we rested for a little while before turning in for the night. We also had a little difficulty getting enough towels and washcloths out of the hotel, which turned out to be a result of the hurricane, which had further overloaded the hotel with Floridans seeking refuge in a city already crowded by the con.
Saturday morning we got up early and had the hotel's continental breakfast. Then we were going to catch the free courtesy shuttle that the con was providing, since my husband's knees were taking the hills really badly. But we waited for over twenty minutes, and it was getting closer to the time for the exhibitors' hall to open, and we couldn't wait any longer. So we went ahead and hiked the whole way over.
Sales were pretty good on Saturday, and we were busy the whole time. But we didn't have quite as many sales as we were hoping for based upon Friday's business, which was a little worrisome.
Yet again we decided to go up to the con suite after the exhibitors' hall closed for the night. However, this time we arrived to find the con suite closed for "cleaning." We were told that it would open in ten minutes, but that ten minutes soon stretched into nearly an hour. One of the con suite people kept coming out and ordering people to clear the area in front of the door, and finally ordered everyone to form an orderly line. The way he went about it had an air of someone who enjoys ordering other people around. We did stay around long enough to get our hot dogs and popcorn, but we decided that we weren't going to feed his ego again, and that we'd skip the con suite on Sunday.
Afterward we headed back to the Super8 and had our real supper. Then we rested for a little while before turning in for the night.
Sunday morning we got the hotel's continental breakfast. While we were there, we talked to a guy who knows the con suite guy, and agreed that it was very probably a case of ego and power/control issues.
This time the courtesy bus was actually waiting in front of the hotel, so we rode it over to the Marriott. Our feet were a lot better off for it. However, we had another frightening close call. We were stopped at a light when the driver suddenly hit the horn real hard. Apparently someone was zipping down a one-way street the wrong way, totally oblivious to the danger of a head-on collission they were creating. The driver said that it was probably a Floridan, up from the hurricane and not taking the necessary extra precautions in a strange city.
Sunday's sales were disturbingly slow. Although we were fairly busy, there was a much larger proportion of "be-backs" and very small sales compared to the earlier days. Some of it seemed to be related to anxiety about Hurricane Frances, and some of it seemed to be economic. Also, a lot of people had already spent all their money at the first few tables they encountered, and no longer had any money to spare.
When the exhibitors' hall closed for the night, we caught the courtesy bus back to the Super8. There we ate our supper and turned in for the evening.
On Monday we got breakfast again at the hotel's continental breakfast. There I spoke with a couple who were up from Florida, riding the storm out and not even sure what they'd be returning to. Yet they had still taken the time to pick upand return some money dropped by someone in an elaborate costume that made it impossible to bend over. It was just a little humbling to encounter such compassion from someone under so much stress.
Then we got our personal belongings out of our sleeping room and loaded into our van. After that I caught the courtesy shuttle over to the Marriott while my husband waited until our roommate woke up and got out, so that we could get checked out of the room. I had to open our booth alone, but I was able to do it quickly enough that I finally had some actual time to look around. I hadn't even seen most of the booths.
My husband got in just as they were ready to open to the con-going public. Sales were really slow, especially for the last day of a con. Usually we have a slight upsurge after everyone's settled up their hotel bills and the various auctions are over. However, we were getting almost nothing in the way of sales, so we decided to go ahead and start packing early. With Hurricane Frances heading north toward Atlanta, we wanted to get out of town as quickly as possible. We may have lost a few sales we might have otherwise made, but there wasn't much choice.
We got the packing finished just as they closed the dealers' room. We'd gotten a good spot in the loading dock, but no sooner than we'd gotten the first load out, we were told that we had to move the van to the side overhang because the hotel was getting a delivery. We were rather annoyed that the hotel would schedule a delivery when they knew perfectly well Dragoncon dealers and exhibitors would be loading out. Furthermore, to get to the new location, we had to get everything out a door that had a drop of several inches, enough to make taking carts through very difficult.
After much effort and irritation we finally got everything loaded out and hit the road north. The winds were atrocious all the way up, making the van difficult to handle. We stopped for the night in Chattanooga.
The next morning we awoke to find pouring down rain, the northern extent of Frances. Even diminished to a tropical storm by being over land, it was still heavy enough to make driving difficult. We were very glad when we got far enough north to be out of it.
Even then, our problems weren't over. At Nashville we ran into a seven-mile backup. A big truck had run over a car, blocking the right two lanes. Then a car had run out of gas in the backup and was blocking the leftmost lane. When we finally got home, I was very glad to be back.
Copyright 2012 by Leigh Kimmel
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Last updated October 21, 2012.