Visioncon is a large media-oriented science fiction convention held every year in the Ozark Mountains region of Missouri. In most years it has been held in Springfield, but as a result of their former hotel being sold to a developer and demolished with almost no notice, this year it was relocated to the Radisson in Branson, Missouri, and was held over the weekend of February 28-March 2, 2014.
Because it is such a long trip, we made it over the course of two days, leaving on Tuesday after leaving our cat at the vet clinic. We made it to my parents' place in Illinois in good time that afternoon, and had supper with them. It's good to see them again, but sometimes it hurts to realize they aren't getting any younger, and the infirmities of age are creeping up on them.
On Wednesday we hit the road for Springfield, where we have some friends. We stopped on the way in Collinsville to get some stuff at the WalMart that's just down the road from the convention center where Archon is held. Then we headed across Missouri and into the Ozarks. At least this time I knew the van would not like climbing the mountains, and was ready to take it off cruise control as soon as it started having trouble.
We made good time and found our friend's new apartment without too much trouble. It was good to be able to visit and catch up on news since the last time we'd seen one another. Because we knew we'd be driving down to Branson to load in the next day, we did turn in fairly early.
The next day we got the news that the dealers' room director had arrived early and we could start loading in early. So we quick packed our stuff and headed down to Branson. We were following another friend who knew the way, but they missed the critical turn to get to the hotel, and we ended up all having to turn around and go back several blocks. It's beautiful country, but very steep, to the point that the parking lot around the hotel had multiple terraced levels. It made me nervous to have to drive that big, heavy van around, and I wondered if it would stop properly at the edge of a parking spot. I sure didn't want it to go right over the edge and tumble down to a lower level.
However, we were able to get in place without incident, and we had some real good help loading us in. There was a little step at the door to the dealers' room, so we had a whole bunch of people just carrying everything in and piling it at our tables. As a result, we were able to get everything set up in good time and were able to get to the nearby cheap motel where we were staying the nights and get checked in before supper. It was rather nice to have some time to ourselves in the evening.
The next morning we did have to get up fairly early to get the complimentary breakfast at the hotel where we were staying. However, we didn't have a rush to get to the dealers' room, so we could take it easy for a change.
On the other hand, that may have been a mistake, because the dealer next to us hadn't even arrived when we finished setting up the previous night. When we did arrive, we discovered that they'd set up to take up every inch of what they considered their space, including some that we considered common backspace for moving behind our tables. Their attitude was that it was our responsibility to make sure that we had a passageway to our backspace within our own space, and they were very reluctant to make any adjustments whatsoever in their setup to accommodate our need to get behind our tables. We finally got them to move one gridwall panel just enough that we could squeeze through, but it's a good thing neither of us are particularly large.
When the dealers' room opened, sales were slow. I think part of this may have been the dampening effect of having Author Guest of Honor Aaron Allston have a sudden fatal heart attack right after he'd arrived at the con. I know I was bummed, since I'd enjoyed a number of his works, particularly Doc Sidhe, and was looking forward to speaking with him.
However, the slow sales didn't mean much writing time for me, for the simple reason that I was feeling really tired and having difficulty concentrating. Even after we closed our tables for the night and headed back to the other hotel and our sleeping room, all my efforts to write felt like crap. So I ended up turning in early.
Saturday morning we got up fairly early to get our breakfast. Then we decided to just walk over to the main hotel, since they were across the street from each other and the weather was looking nice. We got our tables opened for business and settled in. At first things were slow, but by afternoon things got really busy.
The weather forecast for Sunday also started becoming exceedingly worrisome. So we decided to see if we could extend our stay an additional night so that we didn't have to drive back to Springfield in slick roads in the dark. At least part of it was my being nervous after our horrible experience on the way to ConFusion. I sure didn't want to slide off on one of those narrow, windy mountain roads where the ditch is more on the order of a ravine.
Still, we tried to take it easy Saturday evening. I at least felt a little more alert, and did some more satisfactory writing. Still, we decided to turn in early.
By the time we got up on Sunday, it was already spitting wintry mix, which made the drive over to the main hotel a little uneasy-making. However, we certainly wanted the van in position to load out, since we had a lot of unsold merchandise.
Once we got our tables open, the business was fairly slow, so we decided to start packing fairly early. Because we didn't have a lot of backspace, I'd had to take most of our empty boxes back out to the van, so now I needed to retrieve them. By this point it was sleeting hard little pellets that were accumulating on the pavement and making it difficult to pull the handcart. Once we started carrying out merchandise, the sleet picked up to the point I was having to sweep it out of the van every time I opened the door to put in boxes. The sleet was actively painful whenever it hit our faces.
At least we had good help carrying out, but then one of our helpers had a medical emergency, which was very frightening. Fortunately, someone else had the necessary medicine to get the situation under control, but that helper was no longer able to do any of the physical labor of carrying out, just as things were getting really arduous. But another person pitched in, and we were able to get everything loaded before the deadline to get stuff out. Then we had to get the van back over to the other hotel for the night. The parking lot was slick, but at least the road between the two places had been plowed, so we were able to very carefully ease the van over there and get back to our room. I nearly lost our red insulated lunch bag when it fell off our luggage cart, but I noticed it was missing and went back to check and retrieved it.
Our friends decided to go ahead and return to Springfield, although we made it very clear they were welcome to stay the extra night as well rather than take unnecessary risks. However, they needed to be back, so they agreed to text message us as soon as they arrived. I was very glad to see those texts come through and know they were safe, even if the drive had been scary. It made me feel like we'd made the right decision to stay, since the van doesn't handle nearly as well as either of their vehicles.
It must've relaxed me, because that night I was able to get a critical turning point unstuck in "A Separate War." I got several pages written and felt reasonably confident I'd be able to keep moving when I got home.
Monday morning, we got up to discover that the temperature had plummeted during the night and the sleet had turned into light, fluffy snow. Thankfully the hotel owners had gotten enough of the parking lot dug out that we were able to carefully ease the van out to the street.
The worst part of the trip was getting out of Branson. By the time we got to Springfield, the roads were pretty well clear. Although our friends were open to our staying an extra night, we decided to just pick up our bedding and head on to my parents' place. However, we had a little mixup in communications with my folks, and I ended up getting a couple of calls from my dad while we were on the road. I called him back from the next rest area and we got stuff sorted out.
Even so, we still made good time to my folks' place, and we had supper with them. I also got all the accumulated dirty clothes through the laundry, which is always a good thing.
On Tuesday we headed back home. There was some snow in the fields, but the roads were fine. The cat was very glad to be retrieved from the vet clinic, although she remained a little miffed at us for a while. Still, on the whole it was a successful convention, if not quite as profitable as the previous year, probably because of the weather and the loss of the Author Guest of Honor.
Copyright 2014 by Leigh Kimmel
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Last updated April 19, 2014.