Sasquan is the 73rd World Science Fiction Convention (Worldcon), and was held over the weekend of August 19-23, 2015 at the Spokane Convention Center and the Doubletree Hotel. This year's Worldcon turned out to be of record size, at least in part thanks to the enormous controversy about the Hugo Awards, and particularly the Sad Puppies and Rabid Puppies campaigns. However, the vast majority of that increase was in supporting memberships, so we dealers didn't realize a large increase in potential customers.
Because we were hauling a van full of merchandise across the country, we hit the road the previous Friday. We only went as far as the Bloomington-Normal, Illinois area the first night because we wanted to spend the night with my family. My parents are both in declining health, and I want to grab the chance to visit them when I can.
While I was on the Internet that evening, the button on my laptop's mouse died on me. What made it particularly aggravating was knowing that we had three brand-new and unopened mice at home in Indianapolis. I'd been having a little trouble with my mouse before we left and had wondered when I'd need to replace it, but hadn't thought to bring a spare mouse with me, so I was stuck using the trackpad.
On Saturday morning we hit the road early and had breakfast on the go. We stopped in Bloomington to get gas, then headed west on I-74 toward Iowa.
In the evening we rolled into Chamberlain, South Dakota, where we had a room for the night. We were most decidedly into hilly country, and the parking lot was quite uneven. Our room was nice and spacious, and we had a microwave oven to heat up supper. However, the Internet connection was down, so my husband went looking around for what he thought was a business center. Instead he discovered that they had an indoor pool with a hot tub.
We headed over to it and got a good soak in. I had fun watching the three buckets that were hung over the swimming pool. As they filled with water, they'd tip over and pour water all over the swimmers. Afterward we headed back to the room, where I did some work on my novel before we turned in for the night.
Sunday we got up early and had the hotel's complimentary breakfast. Then we got back on the road, heading toward Montana. Shortly after Rapid City, we left the Interstate to follow a US highway that was supposed to shorten the distance. It was some very pretty country, but we went through enough towns that the slower speed limits negated any time savings.
By the time we got back onto I-90, we were very definitely into mountains. However they weren't nearly as rugged as I'd expected for the northern Rockies, more like the ones I'd seen in the southern route, or the Appalachians. A lot of them even were pasture for cattle.
However, that changed after we crossed the Continental Divide. Suddenly the mountains became very rugged and were covered with evergreens rather than pasturage.
We rolled into Butte right in time for supper and checked into our hotel. It had been an EconoLodge, but had become a Motel 6 just weeks before our trip. It was a decent place, but very bare-bones and with a feeling of decline. I did get some writing done in the evening.
In the morning we had breakfast bars and hit the road. We drove to Missoula, where we'd found a GMC dealership. They warned us that they probably couldn't get to us until after noon, so we settled in for a long stay only to have them get the van in and out before 11AM. So we hit the road for the last part of the drive earlier than expected.
As it turned out, that was a very good thing. When we hit the Idaho state line, we ran into some truly nasty road construction. There were Jersey barriers on either side of the single lane, and a strong downhill grade out of the Bitterroots. Worse, there were so many curves that it made me think they'd laid out the route by letting a giant snake slither down the mountains and paving the trail it made.
By the time we got out of that road construction, I was very ready to be done driving. We did manage to get gas before crossing the Washington state line into high prices.
When we got to Spokane, we went over to the convention center and scoped out the area before checking into the hotel where we were staying. That place was a real crapsack, and to make things worse, they were resurfacing the parking lot. There was also a nasty musty smell in our room, like it hadn't been cleaned properly in ages.
We had supper and then tried to get some work done. I did a decent amount of work on my novel, although the icky smell in the air made concentration difficult. We also discovered that the sink drain was pretty well clogged.
On Tuesday we got up and had the hotel's complimentary breakfast. I considered it extremely disappointing, and had trouble finding anything I actually wanted to eat. We also managed to lock ourselves out of our room, thanks to a communication failure, and had to get new keys.
Then we headed over to the Red Lion Hotel, where we were supposed to form up for load-in. We got there early enough to be second in line, and I settled in to work on con reports while we waited for time to load in.
At 9AM we got to drive into the convention center loading dock. As soon as I opened the back doors of the van, I could tell that part of the load had shifted and I would have to be very careful unloading to prevent boxes of fragile stuff from crashing down and breaking.
We were supposed to load our stuff on pallets to be hauled in by forklift, but there were several problems with the procedure. We had trouble getting pallets, and then they had only three forklifts running. As a result, we had several points in which we were stuck waiting because we couldn't move on to the next step until someone else did something.
However, we did end up feeling less tired by the time everything was loaded in than we would've had we hauled everything in cartload by cartload. I took the van back to the hotel and hiked to the convention center, where I set to work building our structures and getting everything into place. We were done in time to head back to the hotel for a late supper. However, my husband soon found that the supposedly walkable distance was more than his legs and feet could handle. Worse, when we got back we discovered that the maids hadn't even touched our room (although maintenance had unclogged the sink). We had to go to the front desk to get fresh towels.
That evening the hotel's WiFi started really acting up. My husband played some games on the iPad while I worked on my novel. This sort of thing is why I am very wary of storing all one's data on the cloud, as opposed to using it for backing up or sharing data -- what do you do when you need to work on something and the Internet is down?
On Wednesday morning we got up and had yet another iffy hotel breakfast. The WiFi was still dead, so we headed over to the convention center in hopes of using their WiFi. However, the staff was adamant that no one was to get in before 9AM, so we got stuck sitting on a bench outside waiting. I did some work on con reports, so the time wasn't a complete loss.
Once we got in, we put a few last-minute things up. Then I had some time to walk around and meet some other dealers. I looked at the new t-shirt designs our wholesalers were offering, planning our next order. I also talked business with a lot of people.
I also wanted to get some social-media buzz up on the countdown deal I was doing for Khuldhar's War. I fired up my latop and was beginning to write a LiveJournal post when it just shut down on me. So I had to quick find an outlet and restart it so I could finish. It was giving me a "service battery" message, which was very strange considering that the battery is still in low double-digit charge cycles. I saw some stuff online that suggests it might just be a glitch in the calibration, not the battery itself, and would be amenable to software fixes.
When the doors opened, we actually had some pretty decent traffic. I knew we wouldn't have the crowds we get for the big comic cons, but after two painfully small sf cons earlier this year, I wasn't sure what to expect. It was good to have solid traffic and decent sales, although a lot of people were just looking at this point.
When I went out to buy more time at the parking lot, the sky was this weird yellowish color, and the sun was red while still high in the sky. It was a really freaky feeling, but I knew there were wildfires in the area, so I figured it was the smoke in the air refracting the light, similar to the greenish color of the sky before a tornado.
After the dealers' room closed for the evening, we headed over to the con suite. It was crowded enough that our luggage cart was a real pain to work around. It was even worse when we tried to catch the shuttle bus to the party hotel. We decided that on future nights, we'd take our stuff back to the van after the dealers' room closed for the night.
The party hotel was a long way from the rest of the con, apparently as a result of corkage issues. We lost a good chunk of our time waiting for the Helsinki party to open. Then we went to the DC bid party and talked to them about parking issues. At least this concom is thinking about the issues of parking large vehicles (such as what dealers are apt to drive), and not leaving us to our own devices.
As the evening wore on, I went back to retrieve the van and pick up my husband. That meant figuring my way back to the parking lot, which looked very different from when I was a passenger. We also had the problem of connecting for pickup. By the time we got back to the hotel, I was ready for bed, but I made sure to get a few words in on my novel.
On Thursday we didn't push so hard to get moving early. We arrived just in time to be let in and got our tables open for business. I did a little looking around, but didn't have a lot of time to kill.
Sales seemed a little slower, but maybe I was just starting the day tired and my feet noticed it more when I was stuck standing around. By the time the dealers' room closed for the evening, it hurt just walking over to the lot to renew my parking receipt and drop off our stuff. I walked back to the con suite and just sort of collapsed in a chair. It was all I could do to get up to eat some food I could see on the table in front of me.
Later they brought in some pasta catered by a local restaurant. By that time I'd noshed enough on the salad stuff that I wasn't all that hungry. I did have a little, but that was all I could hold.
Then we headed over to the party hotel, but that was a colossal waste of time. The Japan party was an hour late in opening, and the New Orleans party was postponed until Friday. We went back to our hotel a little annoyed, and got even more so when we discovered the maids had missed our room a second time. The WiFi was completely dead, so I pulled out a notebook and did some more notes on my novel before turning in for the night.
On Friday we were happy to discover that the hotel had finally gotten their act together and had the WiFi working again. As a result, I was able to get some sales information off to our consignor before we headed back to the convention center.
I noticed as we drove to the convention center that the sun was still reddish even while fairly high in the sky, which suggested we were getting a fair amount of smoke from the wildfires to the west of Spokane. We parked and headed over to the convention center, but had to wait for about fifteen minutes in the chilly air before the doors opened and we could go in.
We got our tables open and I did some more looking around, since I didn't have to do laptop stuff on the convention center WiFi. Then the doors opened and we started doing business. I noticed several times just how yellow the light through the windows was getting.
In the afternoon I went to the Elizabeth Bear signing, which had some really long lines. We had a bunch of books to sign, which meant I'd need to go through the line multiple times -- and then I discovered that Alma Alexander and Stan Schmidt were signing at the same time. I was hoping to get through with Elizabeth Bear in time to get to their lines, but as I made the third and final trip, I could see I wasn't going to have time. But another person in line mentioned to Alma Alexander that I was missing her autographing, and she went to our booth afterward and signed them there. And as it turned out, Stan Schmidt had already signed the only book of his that we had.
By this point, the odor of smoke was quite noticeable within the convention center. The view through the windows looked obviously smoky, and I heard that they'd had to shut off the smoke alarm system to prevent false alarms.
By the time the dealers' room closed for the evening, the air was thick with smoke. I walked over to the parking lot to drop off our stuff and update our parking slip, and the smoke had blotted out the sun. I started spinning a narrative about walking through a post-apocalyptic landscape, and bits of ash fell on me while I was at the van. When I got back to the convention center, I took a couple of pictures of the smoke-shrouded skyline.
Then I headed up to the con suite to join my husband for supper. This time they had a variety of meatballs, which we could have on rice or on submarine sandwich buns.
After that we caught the bus to the party hotel. We'd hoped to see the San Jose party, but they were running behind. We did get to the Heinlein Society party, where we had chili. We also got to the Sime~Gen Party, but neither Jacqueline Lichtenberg nor Jean Lorrah were there, so we'd carried their books with us for nothing.
Then we headed back to our hotel. At least this time the maids had done our room, so it wasn't a colossal dump. I did a little writing before we turned in for the night.
On Saturday we went to the hotel's complimentary breakfast simply because we were annoyed with their grudging attitude toward providing amenities. Then we headed over to the convention center to get in on the breakfast for the dealers. There was a brief mixup when we thought that catering had dropped the ball on us, until we discovered that the food was in the back of the room rather than the front.
Then we got our tables open and settled in to do business. We had some fairly decent sales, although they tended to come in spurts.
In the afternoon I went to stand in line for some more autographs. The line for Robert Silverberg was so long I decided not to even try to get any of his books done, but that may have been a mistake, because I was pretty close to the front and probably could have gotten through one time and still gotten the others done, especially after Kris Rusch canceled.
Then I headed back to our booth to keep things going until it closed for the evening. We finally had some substantial book sales, which did take down our book stock a decent amount. We also sold some t-shirts, which will help reduce the bulk we have to haul back over the Rockies. However, we didn't see a lot of reduction in the little fiddly stuff that takes so much time to pack up.
When the dealers' room closed for the night, I hauled our cart of stuff back to the van and got a fresh parking slip. At least the air was a lot clearer than it had been on Friday, so it was a far more pleasant trip.
When I got to the con suite, I was happily surprised to discover that this time they'd catered a chef to carve a huge roast for us. The main con suite was so full that we ended up in one of the overflow rooms, where we could supplement our meal with salad and munchies.
Afterward we decided to just skip the parties and head back to the hotel, because we both needed to catch up on our sleep. We arrived to make the unhappy discovery that the maids had missed our room yet again. This time the desk clerk told me I had to bring my dirty towels back to get clean ones. We were pretty thoroughly fed up at that point.
I tried to do some bookwork, but soon discovered I was too sleepy to deal with numbers. I did get a little work done on my novel before we turned in for the night.
The next morning we made one last trip to the breakfast nook for what they passed off as food. Then we took our stuff out to the van and got checked out, vowing we'd never, ever stay there again.
We got to the convention center and got things open for business. Sales were slow, but picked up right about the time I needed to go off for some signings. I got a little work done on my novel while waiting for the Kate Elliott signing, which was good because I didn't have a moment's spare time after that.
Because this con wouldn't let us retrieve our vehicle and start loading until we were packed, we had to start packing the small fiddly stuff early if we were to have any hope of being on the road at a reasonable hour. We thought we could get them to cut us some slack because my husband can't lift heavy loads. But no, the dealers' room coordinator insisted that she had to hold everyone to the same rules (except one dealer was allowed to bring his vehicle and start loading while another person on his team was still packing, but they're con insiders).
Fortunately a friend of ours dropped by and pitched in to get all the t-shirts boxed up, which cut some of the time. But they were still grumbling about clearing us to load out when the structures weren't disassembled yet, because they didn't understand how late in they process those items are packed.
We weren't the only dealer who was having problems with these procedures. One of our wholesalers was right by the door, and as I passed through, he vented his frustration about being expected to pack while the forklifts were going in and out right where he needed to pile merchandise.
When I finally did get to retrieve our van, I got more hurry up and wait at the marshalling point. I arrived just as they'd sent three vehicles to the loading dock, so I had to sit until there were more openings. I used the time as best I could, moving our personal possessions into the front passenger seat and setting up the tie-downs in the middle of the cargo hold.
Finally I got my card and was able to drive over to the loading dock. However, the hurry up and wait wasn't done yet. Now I had to stand in line and wait for a forklift to become available to move all our pallets to the van. Even when they did, I was receiving them in the wrong order, which hampered my ability to work efficiently. The pallet with the big gridwall panels was one of the last to arrive, and by that point a bunch of other pallets were between it and the van, so I had to work my way around them.
By the time we were finally finished loading and ready to pull out, we were almost an hour behind schedule. The air was hazy with smoke from the wildfires, and as we drove east toward the state line, there were patches of smoke almost like fog.
We stopped at the Idaho rest stop, amidst towering evergreens that filled the air with a welcome resin scent. I talked with another traveler about what a blessing it was to have a nice place to pause and to have clean water and a tidy place to pause.
After that we had to go through the construction zone in the Bitterroots. At least going uphill I wasn't worried about the van speeding up just from the heavy load. But I was very glad to get across the state line into Montana, although we still had over a hundred miles to go to get to our hotel reservation for the night.
By the time we got in at our hotel, we were so exhausted we just wanted to get to sleep. However, I was aching so bad that I got only fitful sleep. It was particularly frustrating because this hotel actually had a hot tub, but it closed for the night mere minutes after we arrived. If we'd left on schedule, we would've had an opportunity to soak out our aches and pains, and I might've gotten a solid night's sleep.
However, there was nothing to do the next day but force ourselves out of bed and press on to our next stop of the journey. At least this hotel had a reasonably good breakfast, so we got a good start on the day.
As we drove through what felt like endless expanses of Montana, one problem of substituting caffeine for sleep became intensely acute. Rest stops were few and far between, and caffeine is a diuretic as well as a stimulant. There were several points at which I was in considerable distress by the time we got to a place where I could use a restroom.
It was just nightfall when we got to Rapid City, South Dakota. We'd used reward points to get a free stay at a nice place, and they actually had a pool with a hot tub. Since we had some time before we needed to turn in for the night, we headed down for a good soak. I think it did help me relax and get ready for a good night's sleep. I also got an actual page of notes done on my novel.
The next morning we headed down for the hotel's complimentary breakfast. They had a wide variety of foods, and even real china and silverware. We enjoyed it so much that we didn't really push hard to get moving, which turned out to be a mistake. The long trip across South Dakota and Minnesota turned out to take more time than we'd expected, and it was getting dark by the time we got to Iowa. So we got to our next hotel just in time for bed, and I only got a few words jotted down on my novel.
The next morning we got another nice breakfast, and then we headed over to my folks' place. We had one very close call in Peoria when we needed to get from I-80 to I-74. There were road construction signs, and I'd dutifully gotten over into the left-hand lane. But the actual construction began after the ramp, so I needed to get over to it, except people were passing me on the right. I was barely able to get on the ramp before I ran out of time,
When we arrived at my folks' place, they were running errands. We just carried in our stuff and I started a load of laundry, and then we both took naps. In the evening we visited a little and I did a little more work on my novel.
On Thursday I did our final load of laundry, and then it was time to say good-bye. At least our trip back to Indianapolis went pretty smoothly, and we even were able to stop by the Brownsburg branch of our bank on the way in and make a fairly nice cash deposit before they closed.
Copyright 2015 by Leigh Kimmel
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Last updated September 24, 2015.