Friday, June 8, 2012

The World That Was: World Steam Expo Convention Report, Part 1

I'm back! Well, okay, technically I've been back from World Steam Expo for more than a week. It's taken me this long to write my convention report because the instant I got home, I discovered that the Sekrit Project had been suddenly shifted into overdrive, and what I thought I had six weeks to finish now had to be done in two. So there hasn't been much time for anything around the ancestral abode except pacing, swearing, and bouts of furious, sekrit work.

But that's mostly behind me now! I can finally share my impressions about the convention. In short, I had a fantastic time. The convention was lively and interesting, the staff was delightful, and I got to meet some truly wonderful people.

In truth, the extended weekend got off to a hectic start. I flew back from Raleigh on Wednesday, thinking I'd have a whole day to switch mental gears, unpack, do laundry, pack again, and then be ready to head out on Friday. It was a good plan, a fine plan - and then I went to check on my flight itinerary and discovered that, no, my plane was leaving for Detroit on Thursday.

I won't lie. Panic ensued. Then unpacking, laundry, more packing, and then the umpty-dozen other things that had to get seen to before I could disappear from home for another five days. I'd originally toyed with the idea of trying to put together a Steampunk outfit to walk around in, but there just wasn't time, and frankly, if I wasn't going to be able to do the costume right, I wasn't going to do it at all. This proved to be a wise choice, because the costumes on display at the convention were amazing. I was better off in t-shirts and jeans than trying to keep up with such a crowd of stunningly fashionable folk.

But I am getting ahead of myself. The flight to Detroit went well, and after some minor shenanigans on my part I managed to link up with my ride to the hotel. More shenanigans ensued as we tried to navigate the twisty ways around all the highway work between airport and hotel, but my intrepid driver got us through the maze without incident. Getting in a day early was actually kind of nice, because it gave me time to get settled in, meet the staff and find my way around the hotel without feeling rushed. After getting settled into my room, I took my laptop downstairs to the bar, ordered dinner, and watched a steady stream of early convention goers and a few fellow guests trickle into the hotel. I also put in some work on the chapter I was planning to read at my panel on Sunday. Before I knew it, midnight had come round, and it was time to amble off to bed.

The following day I was back down in the lobby at noon to meet convention staffer and good friend Arica, who whisked me from the hotel and over to the local Games Workshop store, where I was warmly welcomed by the manager, Michael Bell, and a few of the local gamers. I spent a couple of hours at the store, chatting with folks who came by on their lunch hours to get books signed. Everyone was absolutely great, and before I knew it, Arica and I had to hop back in the car and get back to the hotel in time for opening ceremonies.

Now, I've been to a lot of conventions in my time, and I've been a guest at quite a few, but I've never been part of opening ceremonies before. I had no idea what to expect. Presumably, I thought, there would be introductions of one sort or another, a bit of applause, and then hooray! Convention time! Whoo!

But, no. This was a big affair inside the main ballroom, with a stage, and professional lighting, and follow spots, and a sound system, and… I found myself backstage with many of the other guests (League of Steam! Steam Powered Giraffe! Abney Park!), and we were brought out one by one to introduce ourselves and tell the crowd about what we’d be up to that weekend.

Not a problem, I thought. It’s not like I’m a stranger to the stage. I rehearse in my head all the things I want to say, sprinkle it with a few jokes, and I’m ready to go!

And then my name’s called. I bound on stage, those hot lights hit me in the face and I forget every damn thing I intended to say. Genius. I think I managed to improv something halfway informative and entertaining; it was one of those surreal moments of embarrassment where I could sense that my mouth was moving, and sounds were coming out, but they weren’t being vetted by my brain for approval. Thankfully, the crowd was good-natured, and let me go without pelting me with the odd toothy gear or bit of rotted fruit.

As the convention began in earnest, I returned once again to the hotel bar for dinner and a bit of relaxation (read: Scotch). Arica and her husband Trevor, both dressed to the nines, stopped by, and we chatted until the bar wound down and it was time for me to crawl back to my bed.

Thus ends part the first of the convention report! If you’re still awake at this point, tune in Sunday for the riveting conclusion!

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