Tampa Bay Comic Con 2015

Tampa Bay Comic Con is held every year in the Tampa Bay Convention Center down in Tampa, Florida. This year it happened over the weekend of July 31 to August 2, 2015.

Because it's a two-day trip from Indianapolis, we left on Tuesday morning. We just about didn't make it out of Indianapolis. As we were driving down Post Road to I-74, a silver SUV pulled out from a stop sign right in front of us. Apparently the driver thought it was a four-way stop and assumed I'd have to stop. Fortunately I was able to slow down and swerve around him without losing control of our heavily-laden van, because if we'd broadsided him, our trip would've been over right then.

All the same, I was still pretty shook up at our close call as we drove down I-74 toward Cincinnatti. At least the weather was reasonably good at first, but as we got closer to Chattanooga, we started running into rain.

We stopped for the night at a hotel in Chattanooga, just north of the Georgia state line. We were given a disability-accessible room with a huge roll-in shower. We had supper there, then went on the Internet for a while. I also pulled out a novel I'd been working on and got about a page written by hand.

Wednesday morning we went to get the complimentary breakfast only to find the breakfast nook a madhouse. A tour bus had stopped for the night and everybody was hurrying to get breakfast at once, which meant the place was so crowded I felt we were walking on top of each other. We didn't get that much to eat, and I was a bit downhearted about it.

Then we carried our stuff back out and hit the road. The drive wasn't bad until we got past Atlanta. Then we started running into heavy rain. Just north of the Florida state line we hit some rain so heavy we could hardly see in front of us. This year we had to stop at the agricultural inspection station, but as soon as I said we were hauling t-shirts and ceramics, the guy waved us right through.

We ran into further rain on the way to Tampa, but it stopped before we got to the hotel. At least I was able to get everything in without needing to tarp it.

We settled in for the evening and had supper. Then I did some more work on my novel before we turned in for the night.

On Thursday morning we could take a little more time, since we couldn't check in at the downtown hotel until 1PM and load-in didn't start until 2PM. So I did some work on my novel while we waited, since we'd be setting up until bedtime.

When we got to the downtown hotel, we were able to leave the van in the loading area while we took our stuff to the room and put our food in the fridge. Then we headed to the convention center, hoping to be at the front of the load-in line. However, we had a miscue and ended up having to wait a fair amount of time before getting into place.

That meant we got only two loads in before it started raining. At least we got all the boxes in that I had to set on the concrete in order to get to the cart, so none of that merchandise took damage. The next load I grabbed some tubs, figuring they wouldn't be at as much risk of being damaged by water.

By the time I got them in, the rain had gone from sprinkles to a torrential downpour. I tried to get one more load in, but succeeded only in getting soaked before I had to retreat back inside and watch for a break. We lost at least half an hour to that downpour, and if only I'd thought to bring our gridwall units in on that last trip, we could've done some setup during that time instead of losing it altogether.

Even after the rain slacked up enough that it was possible to resume load-in, there was so much water on the concrete that we were still wading in water about an inch or two deep because the drains couldn't catch up. When we finally got unloaded and it was time to take the van to the parking lot, I was still so wet and miserable that I didn't even turn on the air conditioning.

I was able to catch the hotel shuttle bus back to the convention center, and they even took me up to the loading dock. Then we had to dig in on set-up, wet clothes and all. With the rain delay, we were just finishing building our structures when they announced that the exhibit hall would be closing for the night.

At least we were able to call the hotel shuttle to pick us up, because my husband was having enough trouble with his legs that he might not have made it back on foot. We were both very glad to get out of our wet clothes and ready for bed.

The next morning we got up and ready for breakfast, only to discover that our bagels had molded on the trip down. There was nothing to be done but toss them in the trash and dig out the Pop-tarts we always carry as a backup breakfast.

Then we caught the shuttle bus back to the convention center, where we buckled down on getting all our merchandise out. I ended up building one more structure for t-shirts, since we'd added a few new designs since our last big con.

When the doors opened to the regular attendees, we were getting pretty good traffic, if not overwhelming. We had a huge Hallmark ornament sale from someone who'd missed a bunch of them during a period of hard times. A sale like that is welcome, but not the sort of thing you can count on at every event. But we were also getting a decent amount of the smaller sales that are a dealer's bread and butter.

When the dealers' room closed for the night, we called the shuttle to take us back to the hotel. Once we got there, we had supper and got ready for the next day's business. I also did some more work on my novel.

On Saturday we had to get up extra early and get moving because the dealers' room opened at 8AM. The organizers were anticipating a huge crowd and wanted to give them something to do once they were through registration.

Last year the extra hour was pretty much a waste for us, for the simple reason that it took so long for people to trickle upstairs that we didn't see any appreciable sales bump for the extra hour of early. This year, people seemed to have figured things out, and we started to see foot traffic almost as soon as the doors opened.

By the middle of the day, we were so crazy busy that we had no real time to restock, let alone rest and refresh ourselves. In fact, we lost sales because we couldn't keep up with the flow of customers. I'd be helping one person and someone else would come by and I'd have to ask them to wait. By the time I'd get done with the first person, the second would've given up. And that was with record rainfall, which had to have kept some people from coming who'd planned to.

On the other hand, the storms did seem to help our t-shirt sales. We had a number of people buy a t-shirt specifically to have a dry garment to change into. They'd gotten completely soaked just walking from the parking lot to the convention center and were soaked.

I also noticed that the air in the exhibit hall seemed to be extremely dry, probably because they had the dehumdification systems cranked to deal with all the rainwater people were dragging in. Because I was constantly talking with customers, my throat was getting quite scratchy. And we were so busy that my ability to take bathroom breaks was very limited, so I was just taking sips of my pop, barely enough to keep my throat moist. So I was noticeably hoarse by the time evening rolled around.

Once the dealers' room closed for the evening, we called the shuttle to take us back to the hotel. I was very glad to finally get off my feet. I counted our money and did a little bookwork, and got a little work done on the novel before turning in for the night.

On Sunday the dealers' room didn't open until 9AM, but we needed to get our stuff out of the room and get checked out. As I was taking the cart full of personal belongings out to our van, the sky was looking very dark, as if it were getting ready to rain. I was putting the last few things in as it started to spit rain, and by the time I got back to the hotel, it was coming down in earnest.

We returned to the convention center in rain. Because we didn't have to be there so early, I was able to restock our displays from backstock and still have a little time to look around, if not enough to see everything.

Sunday's crowd might not be as big as Saturday's, but it was still enough to keep us busy. We wanted to start packing the fragile stuff a little early, but we were still so busy that I wasn't any way near done with it when the doors closed. We even had some last-minute sales after they closed the doors.

Once we were down to just t-shirts, I went to get the van. However, the hotel shuttle took longer than anticipated, so it was pretty late by the time I got the van into the loading dock and ready to carry stuff out. At least my husband had been able to secure some help for packing the t-shirts, but it was clear they had no idea how to go about it. The t-shirts weren't even in stacks, just loose piles. Some boxes were bursting at the seams, while others were almost empty, to the point I had my doubts about their ability to support anything put on top of them. With as much as we'd sold, we should have had two or three empty boxes. Instead, every box had stuff in it, which meant no space savings on the return trip.

With all the delays, we were loading until well after dark. At least we were able to secure a flatbed cart, which simplified the process of loading. I was able to put our cart away and get some other merchandise in place in front of it without too much hassle.

At least this time we didn't get lost on our way out to the Sleep Inn and were able to get there at a reasonable hour. I counted our money and did a little bookwork, and even did a few token words on my novel, just to be able to say I'd worked on it.

On Monday it was time to hit the road north. It was raining when we checked out, and for a goodly part of our northward journey. At least we got a break in Gainesvillle when we stopped at a branch of our bank to deposit our cash. As I was talking to the teller about our success, she mentioned being a fan and wanting to attend, but having to miss because of family commitments. She's hoping to go next year, so I encouraged her to look up our booth.

When we got to the agricultural inspection station, we had to go through, but the guy didn't even bother to open the window to ask what we were hauling. He just waved us through with this look on his face like, oh no, it's the t-shirt lady again.

When we got to Atlanta, we hit a really nasty traffic snarl-up. The digital signboard warning about it was right after the exit we could've used to escape it, so we spent the next hour creeping through traffic to the next exit. Some people were trying to drive on the shoulder, but it had a lot of debris and I saw at least one woman get a flat tire. I also saw a guy's car overheat to the point steam was pouring out.

By the time we got worked around the mess and back on our way, we'd lost enough time that we didn't get to Chattanooga until late. I'd planned to do some bookwork, but my math brain was completely fried by then. So I did a few token words on my novel and turned in for the night.

On Tuesday morning we had breakfast. At least this time the breakfast room was much quieter. Then we got going, heading back home.

At least the final leg of the trip was reasonably quiet. We had to drop off some consignment merchandise on the way, but still got back home right about supper time, and were very glad to be back home.

Copyright 2015 by Leigh Kimmel

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Last updated September 24, 2015.