And This is Why I Owe My Wife a Huge Geek Debt of Awesome Proportions

Posted: September 10, 2015 in Conventions, Dragon Con, Dragon*Con, Entertainment, Family, Holidays, Life, Needless Things

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I’m a huge fan of Dragon Con. Ask anyone who knows me well. They’ll tell you that I’m practically a walking, talking, breathing advert for the convention during the parts of the year that I’m not there and enjoying myself at my favorite home away from home. In the last few years, I’ve even had more than a few people call me, depending on how kindly disposed they were towards me, either the most loyal or most fanatical fan of the convention that they know of. But the weird thing (The funny thing?) about this is that if I had gotten my way about it, I would never have been a fan at all

Originally published on Needless Things

[Upfront disclaimer – I have been volunteering at Dragon Con since 2014]

1

Here’s the thing about me. I’m not a big convention person. I don’t mean that to say I’m not a fan of going to conventions. I’m actually a huge fan of getting together with my fellow geeks under one roof and enjoying all the various genre stuff we love together. No, by that mean that I just have never had a great love of conventions after they grew past a certain size.

I had kind of decided some time ago that the perfect convention, for me, was no larger than, at the absolute top, the 4,000 to 5,000 attendee range, and, honestly, I actually preferred slightly smaller. That’s not a range I came up with in an arbitrary manner.

My experiences with a number of conventions from the late 1980s to the late 1990s went as follows. I enjoyed the smaller fan conventions. I liked the vibe and the fan connectivity at these events. I liked the fact that there were things to do there covering all level of fan events. You know, like how-to stuff done by people closer to your experience range in ‘X’ field who were able to tell you the tricks they had learned to get over hurdles you were still trying to work out, panels that were goofy but smart discussions about growing up on a favorite comic book series or toyline, or things that were more hands-on and interactive.

Don’t get me wrong, I also liked the big attraction for many of having celebrities at the conventions. I loved getting to meet the people who created the things I enjoyed growing up and being able to thank them for the years of enjoyment they gave me. I loved seeing people talk about the crazy days on the set of whatever movie or show they worked on. However, for me, the right kind of convention was and always will be the ones that feel more fan-driven and have strong feelings of fan energy and fan connectivity.

Unfortunately, my experience with a few cons (no names) made me think that you just couldn’t have that small, fan-driven convention vibe after you reached a certain point in the convention growth process. As some cons grew larger, they needed to physically get bigger. To physically get bigger, they needed to shell out more money. To keep earning a profit, they needed to draw more people to their now physically bigger, more expensive convention. How some cons I’ve had experiences with over the years did that was by going after bigger attractions and bigger guests. They then went after creating bigger ways to showcase the bigger guests.

Occasionally, the need to do this was by cutting out some of the smaller, more fan-driven activities to make room for the bigger stuff. I understood the reasoning behind it. The bigger the attractions, the more people you draw and the bigger you can grow. I also understand for a lot of fans out there the bigger attractions equal bigger enjoyment for them. I’m kind of one of those fans, but I value that really cool fan connectivity and vibe/energy a little more, and it seemed like that was getting lost in the growth of some of the cons that I had experiences with back then. So, basically, I decided to start sticking to smaller conventions.

In 2004, I met a girl that I started dating. We got along well enough and we shared more than a few common geek loves even if she lacked the key genre love to be a long-term relationship prospect. This woman simply had absolutely no appreciation of quality horror whatsoever. None. It was her one major character flaw that would do us in as a couple. But she did have a thing for this convention in the southeast known as Dragon*Con.

I’d heard of Dragon*Con before I met her. I’d been told about it years earlier, sometime in the very early 1990s, by a coworker who moved up my way from his hometown down on the South Carolina/Georgia state line area. To hear him talk about it, it sounded like a really fun convention, just not quite sound fun enough to, on my back then much more limited budget, shell out for the hotel costs, the 12 hour drive, and the unknown food costs I’d be facing on top of the price of admission into a really nice sounding but kind of small convention. I had such cons locally and it wasn’t as hard or as expensive to get to the local ones. I put this Dragon*Con thing out of my mind.

I heard about it again around a decade later. I’d long been a fan of Peter David’s work and I’d followed his editorial writing from his But I Digress column in the old Comic Buyer’s Guide over to his website. He’d mentioned his experiences at the convention as a guest quite favorably in the column at least a couple of times and he wrote daily updates for his (I think) 2003 visit on his website. He made it sound great, but he also made it sound like it had gotten rather big. I looked it up. It had gotten rather big. It had gotten big enough that now I wasn’t sure I wanted to spend the money to go given my experiences with other cons over a certain attendee size.

But this girl I was dating at the time was very pushy about it. She’d lived down that way, worked just down the road from where the convention is now located, and she loved the convention. She really pushed for us to go, but I was able to dodge going by playing the finances card. She was coming out of a bad spot and was a bit short on play money. I’d just bought my first home and also had to cover a few emergency expenditures. I somewhat exaggerated my poor financial situation, playing that card quite convincingly, and we skipped that year.

By 2005, that girl was my wife and had access to my bank account. I’m still not sure how the horror thing didn’t get in the way… I wasn’t quite going to be able to play that card again. As it was, things happened in that year causing us to be we legitimately tight enough finances that we had to pass up the idea of going for that Labor Day weekend’s con. So, of course, several months later, she worked out a way to play a financial trump card move of her own.

As soon as our tax returns hit the bank account in early 2006, she hopped online and had two memberships ordered and paid for almost faster than the keyboard could keep up. They’re nonrefundable if you didn’t already know. I tried to play the hotel costs card, but she got me in checkmate by working out the use of her parent’s timeshare located about 20 or so minutes outside of the downtown. We would be staying there for free during the convention. The only possible complication now would be my not getting the requested time off from work. I’m not entirely sure she didn’t put a call in to my Shift Sergeant on the evening I had promised her I’d put the leave activity request in. I’d never before gotten a time-off request at that job approved as fast as this one was approved. I was going to Dragon*Con.

Despite my best efforts, I was going to be driving the way the hell down to Georgia from Virginia trip to mix and mingle with, at that time, just slightly more than 20,000 people at a big, crowded convention.

It was at that point I started doing some additional net research on the con, trying to get a better feel for what the con would be like from reading up on as much fan chatter and geek news coverage I could find. I wasn’t exactly super thrilled with the idea of going at the time, but I decided to grin and make the best of it.

So, a few months later I found myself driving the long road to Atlanta. We got into my wife’s parent’s timeshare, zipped into town to grab our memberships, and killed time that evening by looking for a place to eat. The next morning we headed back into the city, found a parking place, and headed on in through the Peachtree Street doors of the Hyatt to walk into my first Dragon*Con.

2

Whoa…

As impressive as Friday was, Saturday was all the more impressive. To my very great and pleasant surprise, all the big-ticket attractions were there but they had kept intact and in place pretty much all of the stuff I loved finding and doing at smaller cons from their smaller days. It was absolutely a big convention, but it fiercely held on to its fan-driven heart, soul, and feel.

Not only were there so many things to do that I went slightly crazy trying to do and see everything I wanted to do and see, but there was an amazing energy permeating the place. The fan vibe and energy you find at smaller cons was still there but magnified to the nth degree. It was like a giant metaphorical hug and slap on the back welcoming you to con and telling you to make yourself a part of the family. We did. Or, well, I did seeing as how my wife had been family for a while by that point (and had been a lot more pleasant than she could have been about me keeping her from her family reunion for as long as I did.)

I don’t think I’ve ever been the same since. That’s a good thing by the way.

I’ve talked about (now minus the *) Dragon Con to a lot of people over the years. One of the consensus opinions I’ve come across is Dragon Con is a convention that creates three types of people. There’s a very small amount of people who, for whatever reason, just don’t get it. Maybe they go looking for a certain kind of big convention and, since Dragon Con isn’t that for them, can’t find what they’re looking for. There are all of the people who get it. Finally, on top of that, there are the people who really get it in a way that maybe only the words “severe addiction” properly describes but without any of the negative connotations these words carry. I’m in the third group.

When we left the convention that Monday evening, I had come to two conclusions. The first, in answer to my wife asking me what I thought of my first Dragon*Con as we were driving away, was that this was going to be my annual four day home away from home from now on. The second, much to the relief of my wife’s ears, was my swearing I was never again going to drive around in downtown Atlanta any more than I absolutely had to drive. My wife has never heard me curse while driving the way I did that year while trying to get from the downtown area back up onto the highway every day. Really. Ask her. She’ll confirm this.

Dragon Con is my favorite convention. Period. End of story. Full stop.

For a little over four days every year, it’s also my favorite place to be. A large part of that isn’t just the convention itself, but everything we walk away from the convention with every year we go.

For us, Dragon Con is family. We have friends that we can sometimes only see at Dragon Con, and certainly only see all in one place when there. We always leave the convention with more friends than we had before the trip down. It’s also “family” because it’s in the family. We have two kids who ask us if it’s time for Dragon Con more often than they ask us if it’s time for Christmas or Halloween. I also find a lot of stuff there that I would have never heard of at almost any other convention that I go to that often becomes some of my favorite geek things.

My connections to and from the convention have worked their way into other parts of my life as well. Back in 2013, I was working on some stuff that had me searching out Dragon Con related materials on the World Wide Web. One of those search hits found me the ESO Dragon Con Khan Report. That introduced me to the ESO Network. That introduced me to Needless Things. So, yeah, you can blame Dragon Con for you having to read all of this on Needless Things today.

Anyhow, yeah, I absolutely fought going to Dragon Con. I certainly wouldn’t have gone if I’d had my way, but I’m way more than a just a little glad that I finally did. I’m probably about overdue for thanking my wife for that again as well.

Jerry Chandler is in Atlanta as you read this (assuming you’re reading this on the day it goes live.) You won’t see him because he’s in a tiny little room doing volunteer stuff, but he’ll be out and about during various days of the con; hopefully in the area of at least a couple of ESO and Needless Things related panels. If you say “hi” to him, he promises he won’t bite. Well, not much at least.

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