I just ended a day of volunteering with Heroes and Villains Fan Fest in Seacaucus, New Jersey. It was quite a treck to get here (10 hours in the car) but we arrived ahead of the storm. We had a lot of fun despite The Great Blizzard of 2016 that caused New York City and the state of New Jersey to declare states of emergency. We arrived Thursday and spent the morning and afternoon of Friday doing setup. It was also a great experience in the power of social media following a disaster. I live in a very boring part of the country, so I have never been part of that kind of event. It’s clear to me now how important platforms like Twitter are to getting people organized.
Setting up a con is a lot like being in the military and deploying to the field. Things have to be unpacked, set up, and logistical issues abound. Hardware was disassembled and packed in a rush at the end of the last exercise, so things are missing, mislabeled, or broken. This is true of military units, and it’s equally true of conference volunteers. In these situations I usually take charge of something, partly to help others, but mostly to be able to focus on something and not be bossed around by others. In this particular case, I played a role in building autograph booths. Each autograph booth consists of a series of railings that form a kind of human corral, similar to the line at a bank or a roller coaster. I gathered a small group of volunteers, whom I later named “The Booth Bandits” and we set about building or helping others to build booths. It quickly became apparent to me that the details and precise measurements that go into booth building are not my forte. Diligence and attention to detail are my wife’s bread and butter, so with her as the architect of each booth, I shifted my focus to getting the materials needed to keep that bandits moving. It was fun, we had many laughs, including establishing our base of operations, known as BanditHQ.
The next day, Saturday, was when the storm hit. Nearly 3 feet of snow buried the New York Metro Area, and the Governor of New Jersey initiated a travel ban for the roads until 7am Sunday. Not to be deterred, social networks were engaged, and the people stranded in their hotel rooms began having informal parties in the lobbies of their hotels. People began to travel to other nearby hotels, and before long people were cosplaying, playing games, and generally having a good time without the con. We played Fluxx for a couple of hours and it was a blast. The climax of the event was Saturday afternoon, when Stephen Amell, John Barrowman, Katrina Law and Robbie Amell were spotted at a local restaurant (one of the few restaurants that was still open). Within minutes the restaurant was packed with fans, and the harried but good natured staff did their best to seat and serve everyone. Outside the restaurant, people were making snow angels, including Katrina Law and John Barrowman.
Saturday night, after much work to change venues to the closed Expo Center, we attended the Nocking Point Winery Mixer, hosted by Steven Amell and his partners at the winery. There were drinks and live music, including a few duets with Stephen Amell and John Barrowman. Before I say anymore, I want to convey that these dudes aren’t just actors, they are entertainers. The medium matters not. If you put these cats in front of an audience, they will entertain. Rather than describe the shenanegans, I will just embed some videos, but I doubt that they will capture the magic of the evening.
One interesting story from the evening was that a woman who attended the party enjoyed herself a bit too much and her girlfriends were having a bit of trouble getting her back to the hotel. I offered to help her, since I have lots of experience carrying injured soldiers and kick boxers, as well as drunk hackers and twinks. I got her to the elevators at our hotel, since we were headed the same way, and she and her friends were very thankful.
On Sunday, the Expo Center re-opened, and the con was on in full. We had to show up for orientation at 7AM, all of us nursing hangovers. I would put my physical and mental health for that day at about “Thursday at Defcon.” I had been assigned to work Katie Cassidy’s booth, but to be honest, the prospect didn’t intrigue me, mostly because I am not a fan of hers. I am sure she is a great person and everything, I just ship Olicity and that’s that. Sara Lance (Caity Lotz) was a better Black Canary in my opinion, and Caity couldn’t get a flight, so I just wasn’t into the idea of celebrity work. Fortunately, I got the opportunity to work at the information desk where I was able to enjoy myself quite a bit.
The information booth was a lot of fun. I got to answer questions and help people find things, and after a while I figured out how to joke with people coming to the con. My favorite gag was to tell the people who needed to find the ticketing booths to walk up to one of the ticketing people and tell them that their hair looked nice before handing over their confirmations. Then once they got their badges or wristbands, I would tell them that the password to get past the door was “cantaloupe.” My goal was to have one of the Expo Center’s security people ask someone why the attendees were talking about cantaloupes. It didn’t work. The other great thing about working the information booth was that I lucked my way into a free staff photo op, which let me, my wife and our friend get a photo with Stephen Amell and John Barrowman.
The best moment for me was when a young Japanese girl came up to the booth. She was completely lost. She had never been to a con before, and she had no confidence in her ability to speak English, even though she spoke English very well. Rather than give her a bunch of directions, I just helped her with her wristband and escorted her through the exit on to the expo floor.
Later in the day, when I went to talk to my wife, Chrisha, she told me about her own encounter with a young Japanese girl who was a huge John Barrowman fan, but she was so nervous about meeting him that she was in tears and just froze up in the autograph line. Chrisha talked to her as she went through the line and then basically pushed her in front of John. When it was over, the girl was so glad that Chrisha encouraged her that she gave her a big hug and followed her on Twitter.
I told Chrisha my tale of a nervous Japanese girl, and I wondered if they were the same person. A couple of hours later, the girl that I had escorted came up to thank me for my help. She was positively ecstatic about meeting John, and showed me a picture from her photo op with him. John had his leg around her, and she had her hand on his butt. It was the cutest thing ever. And to top it off, she said “I’m so sorry. I couldn’t help it. I touched his butt.”
The girl went on to mention that another volunteer helped her get to John Barrowman, and when I mentioned that Chrisha was my wife she looked stunned. Then I took her over to the ladies in ticketing to show them her picture with John, which was met with a chorus of gleeful screams as every one of the ticketing ladies gushed over the photo.
As the con ended, we helped tear down the booths and pack things up. Again, it was reminiscent of my days in the Army. Watching the HVFF staff trying to roll up the giant bouncy castles to fit into their bags for transport was like watching a someone going through your own childhood trauma 🙂 In retrospect I should have snapped a picture of their ordeal. We loaded things up as best we could, absent a lot of direction in the chaos. Everyone was thankful for the help with tear down. I enjoyed the experience immensely. I think that working a con might actually be more fun than attending. This has also been my experience at Defcon. Working a booth for Dualcore is way more fun than standing in line for talks that will end up online anyway.