Windycon 44

Windycon is a fan-run science fiction convention held every year around Veterans' Day in the Chicago area. It is one of the longest-running science fiction conventions in the Midwest, and I have many happy memories of going to it back in the 1990's, when it was at the Hyatt by Woodfield Mall.

This year it was held over the weekend of November 10-12, 2017 at the Westin Lombard Yorktown in Lombard, Illinois, one of the northern suburbs of Chicago. Because we needed to be ready to load in as early as possible if we were going to have any hope of getting sales in on Friday, we drove up on Thursday. We made pretty good time until we were actually in the Chicago area. The Jane Byrne Interchange is still a backed-up mess of road construction, and we got caught in the middle of it.

Once we got through that snarl, we were able to move fairly well, and we got to the hotel in good time. I carried stuff in and mopped up some unpleasant spillage, then we settled in. I was going to do some writing, but I had picked up a nasty headache and ended up just crawling into bed and sleeping until the problem muscles relaxed. By suppertime I was feeling better, and I even got some writing done in the evening.

On Friday we headed over to the main hotel, hoping that this year they'd have the tables ready and we'd be able to load in early. However, they were adamant about the official start time, and weren't going to budge until one of the really well-known dealers suggested that we should start staging stuff in the hallway to reduce the time it would take us to get set up. Suddenly they decided to cut us a whole hour's slack -- but we really needed to be starting several hours early, like the previous dealers' room head let us do, if we were going to have any hope of being ready by the time the doors opened.

I pushed so hard on loading in and setting up that I had no chance to eat lunch, and by mid-afternoon I was famishing from hunger. I ended up literally collapsing in front of our table of books and sitting crosslegged, cramming raisins into my mouth in a desperate effort to raise my energy level to something manageable. We did manage to get finished setting up before the dealers' room closed, and even made a couple of sales. But I was pretty shaky as we headed over to the con suite to have supper and hang out until the parties started.

They had some sandwich fixings, but they no longer had the ramen which I'd been really hoping for as something to unknot my stomach and make it willing to accept real food. I tried to eat my lunch, but ended up gagging on it, because my stomach simply would not unknot.

I did do a little munching at the parties, which helped me feel somewhat better. However, by this point we were having serious doubts about ever coming back, at least as dealers. Then we headed back to our hotel room and I jotted down a few notes on a novel, just to be able to say I had written.

On Saturday we got up and had the hotel's complimentary breakfast, then headed over to the main hotel and had a second breakfast in the con suite. I even had some lox on my bagels, since the taste was interesting and I could use some protein after the previous day's near starvation.

Then we headed to the dealers' room, where we got signs up and put out a few last-minute items. When the doors opened, people started dribbling in, but sales remained stubbornly slow and meager. It became increasingly clear that we weren't going to make our sales targets, or even our expenses. So I began to warn people that if they wanted something, they'd do well to buy it now, because we probably wouldn't be coming back again.

After the dealers' room closed, we went up to the memorial for Bill Surrett. We all agreed on how much of a figure of Chicago fandom he'd been. I remarked on how I kept expecting to see him at the door of the dealers' room, where he often did volunteer duty.

After it was over, we headed downstairs to the con suite, where we sat around and visited. I did some more fiddling with one of my novels, although I didn't really produce much in the way of useful text. We went to a few parties, but we really weren't feeling up to much. After a while we decided to just head back to the other hotel and turn in early.

On Sunday we had the hotel's complimentary breakfast, then got ready and carted out our personal belongings before checking out. Then we headed over to the main hotel, where we discovered that the dealers' room opened an hour later than it had on Saturday. This meant we wouldn't have such a rush, and would actually have a little time to hang out in the con suite and visit with people. However, it meant an hour's less sales time, which was not a good thing at a con where we were already way behind where we needed to be to even break even.

When we finally got into the dealers' room, I went ahead and boxed up some fairy figurines that had gotten absolutely no interest all weekend. I figured that the less we had to get packed before closing, the sooner we'd be out of there.

I also talked with some other dealers, who were not happy about their sales either. One of them remarked on how there were so few younger people there, and most of them were the children and grandchildren of the earlier generation of fans. This means that the convention isn't bringing in new blood, and as a result will shrink as older fen no longer come. We talked about how Windycon's concom isn't reaching out beyond the people they already know, and particularly aren't reaching the host of younger people who are going to anime and comic cons all over the Midwest, and who might enjoy the more relaxed atmosphere of a fan-run convention, with its approachable Guests of Honor quite unlike the celebrities behind velvet ropes.

Once the dealers' room finally opened, we got some traffic and made some sales. However, I started packing the rest of our figurines right after lunch, concentrating on the ones that had received little or no attention and moving on to the ones that had gotten interest, but no firm commitment to buy. I actually thought we were doing well on getting packed, but when the doors closed, we still had an awful lot of stuff that needed boxing.

Finally we had enough packed that I could retrieve the van and carry stuff out. It wasn't bad when I was just carrying out the big gridwall sections, but when I loaded the first books on the cart and was heading out, it suddenly became almost impossible to move. I looked down and to my surprise I discovered one of the tires had gone completely flat. Since there was no way to air it up at the convention, I had to grab one of the hotel carts and try to get things out that way. However, I then had to deal with the hassles of getting a cart that long to turn in a confined space.

As other dealers finished and pulled out, I moved forward until I was right in front of the door and could park the cart just inside the door and carry everything to the van. Even so, we were running so far behind that the dealers' room head finally helped me carry the last couple of loads, simply because he wanted to get home and couldn't leave until everyone was out. It didn't help that things weren't packing the same way going out as they had come, and I was not entirely confident we had a stable load. But I didn't have time to fiddle endlessly with it, so we got our personal belongings into the van and hit the road for Merrillville.

At the same time I was sort of bummed at having to say good-bye to a convention I've always enjoyed. But after such a severe flop, we really couldn't justify going back as dealers, and these days we don't have the money to go just to have fun. Maybe one of these days, if my indie writing career reaches the point that we could go and write it off as advertising, I might be able to think about it again. But most likely I'll probably just send advertising fliers next year, and hope that I'll see a corresponding uptick in book sales online.

At least we made good time going through Chicago. Traffic on the Jane Byrne Interchange was flowing reasonably smoothly, and we got to our hotel in Merrillville in plenty of time to take a soak in the hot tub. It was nice and hot, and went a long way to relaxing our sore muscles. After that, we had supper and I did a little writing before turning in for the night and trying to get at least a little sleep.

On Monday we ate breakfast, then checked out and tried to find the local branch of our bank. However, that proved easier said than done, and after a few wrong turns, we decided to head back to the mall and see if the person at Vitamin World knew how to get there.

As it turned out, she was able to give us far better directions than we'd gotten previously (they gave a local street number for US 30, which threw us completely off). I was able to get the deposit made, pathetic as it might be, and then we jumped back on I-65 to drive home.

We thought we'd find cheaper gas further south, but the prices were going up instead. Finally we decided to just stop and get enough gas to make sure we could get back to Indianapolis safely.

I was fairly awake most of the trip. But right around Lebanon I suddenly got incredibly tired, to the point it was all I could do to keep my eyes open. I was ready to dig out another Monster just to stay awake. I was most definitely glad to pull into our driveway and not have to do any more driving for the day.

Copyright 2017 by Leigh Kimmel

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Last updated November 27, 2017.