Well, none of the Plokta cabal could afford to attend this year's Worldcon in San Antonio. However, determined to bring you rapid reportage of critical fannish events, we asked Patty Wells to tell us about it.
In which less of a con report appears, than a series of vignettes detailing the lighter side of being a hotel liaison at a Worldcon. Everyone has their own Worldcon and this one was uniquely mine.
My son Sean is impressed that we receive a gift basket when we check in. I explain that since I'm working with the hotel, I appear on their VIP list. He wants to know if he's a VIP.
The Chairman and Ops staff start the con worried about fans kidnapping the giant stuffed armadillo who plays the piano on the second floor escalator landing at the Marriott Rivercenter. The hotel says this happens all the time, they even get ransom notes for him from some groups. All in all, it is amongst the least of my worries.
By Wednesday we've figured out the weakness of the two Marriotts. The Front Desk appears to not be working in the same dimension as the rest of us and has messed up amazing numbers of check-ins. Kim Marks Brown, who had been checking suites and blocking has moved to a sofa and love seat directly facing the front desk. She sets out stacks of computer print-outs and glares at the staff when they screw up. We keep stressing this with Debbie Brandt, our convention services manager, a woman who's patiently been able to solve our other problems.
Wednesday is the heaviest set-up day for the convention. It is also my wedding anniversary. After a day in the convention center without seeing my spouse, followed by a dinner with the kids and Ben Yalow and Martin Easterbrook discussing the state of the Worldcon, this would seem a dismal anniversary. And so it might have been had I not, just for once, taken advantage of my position with Facilities. It happens that Babysitting needed a sleeping room for Wednesday, to provide staff childcare. At 5pm Laurie Mann hands me the keys to the room, saying it's empty and they don't need it for the night as they get the kiddie suite in the morning. Would I please return the keys to the desk? "Why yes, I would, I'll be happy to," I say, remembering that the room is one door down from the room which Marc and I are sharing with three children who sleep lightly. I didn't say I'd return them immediately, I think, marvelling at the serendipity involved. I save this surprise for the husband for after dinner and return the keys in the morning.
Bill Parker, head of tech has showed up with an interesting problem. He's had to bring his iguana, Velcro, for the weekend and isn't sure that housekeeping will pay attention to his 'Do Not Disturb' sign. We save this item for last when talking to our Stella, our rooms coordinator, assuring her that all Velcro wants to do is sit under a sun lamp and not be disturbed. We are assured that this request is not a problem. She'll make the housekeeping staff stay out. There is a tone in her voice that makes me wonder exactly how she intends to do this. Bill is most worried that they'll leave the door open and Velcro will escape. "And the iguana is found committing an exceedingly unnatural act with the stuffed armadillo" is not actually in the smofcon game, but is my first thought.
Friday: the front desk continues to screw up. The armadillo is still playing the piano without missing a note. He has, however, acquired a hall costume award ribbon. Not bad for a member of the hotel staff.
I return from the convention center to hear that one of the front desk screw-ups involves Gardner Dozois being turned away and sent to the Hyatt. Ben has explained to Debbie who this person is and has thoughtfully said that he hopes, should Gardner have another Hugo win, that he doesn't mention the hotel. It is a masterful move, judging by her expression. I, however, can tell Ben's actually worried that Gardner will mention our names.
Another hotel meeting to straighten out screw-ups at the front desk makes me late to take Sean out on his birthday. I mention it to Debbie. Never miss a good guilt trip I say. My, my, Sean and I return hours later to find a wrapped birthday present, cookies and milk waiting for him. I tell him now he's a VIP with the hotel. That's a nice birthday gift.
On Tuesday the contract elevator maintenance folks had assured us that we could not break their elevators. Ben told them it would take two days. He was wrongit only takes one. Since our back-up plan, suggested by their infinitely cool head of Loss Prevention Lester Washington, is to use the service elevators this is done in a limited fashion on Friday night when there is no big event.
I hear that the housekeeping staff has been told that Bill has a live dragon in his room, and not to disturb it. I never get confirmation of this, although it recalls Stella's tone of voice to me. I feel it should be true, regardless of silly details like reality.
On the night of the Hugos Debbie has made us signs pointing towards the service elevators and we have friendly elevator party hosts. I look around for the uncovered spot that needs coverage and end up at the service corridor entrance getting people past the point where there aren't enough signs. This involves shouting, which doesn't become me, unless I have a stupid line. In no time at all I'm shouting, "Express elevators to 19, 34, and the Bottomless Pit of Doom." When immediately asked whether there are any good parties in the Bottomless Pit of Doom, I suggest that patrons leave their wallets with me and find out. No takers.
When it dawns on people that delivering the Hugo nominees/winners to the party on the 38th floor would be a nice gesture, I start yelling, "Party Elevators to 19, 34, Bottomless Pit of Doom, sometimes 38." George RR Martin walks up with his Hugo and his entourage. I can tell these six or eight ladies are his entourage; they tell me so as they fawn appropriately. I then add, "And people with rockets can go anywhere they please," to my instructions.
This all seems a little odd to the nice Security, sorry, Loss Prevention, man who walks in. He politely, but frantically, indicates that we can't do this. This is the other reason I wanted to keep an eye on the service elevators. I smile sweetly, and explain that Mr. Washington authorized it and the Convention Services Rep had the signs made. He looks uncertain. Twenty fans are avidly watching to see if we're going to fight.
He calls in on his radio, listens intently for a minute, turns to the crowd, smiles and elegantly motions them into the elevators saying, "Go right ahead". He manages a slight bow in my direction. I bat my eyes at him since I like guys with class. We later compare notes on his daughter's karate classes and my son's fencing. It's a grand example of how to make friends at Worldcon.
Steve and Giulia were pleased to discover that 1998 is International Year of Reading
After getting bored with the Bottomless Pit I finish the evening by telling those waiting that the elevators haven't eaten the last bunch of fen I gave it. But it's OK, they're probably full by now. As a precaution I am still offering to take people's wallets for them but alas, I still get no takers.
Velcro is spending the day in tech storage under the sun lamp in the Tech Office. Debbie, Gae Ellen, and I are talking when a Banquet staff person asks about the creature in the room where they need to replace the ceiling tiles. They thought it was stuffed until it turned around and stared at them. One of them won't go back in there. Debbie, who has been nothing but cool and professional throughout our dealings, is excited, grabbing my wrist and going, "Really, it's alive and it's in 5. Let's see it." But when she gets there she's nervous about going in, and one of her staff has to put an arm around her shoulder and push her in. We finally end up with three banquet staff and Debbie staring at Velcro. Velcro is basking under her sun lamp, doing her best imitation of cheap plastic luggage. She has no idea that she's made the lives of much of the hotel staff more exciting.
At halftime of the masquerade a request is made for those who had won hall costume awards to come on stage and be acknowledged. I remember that my friend the armadillo has one, and surely should come onstage. I hightail it down the escalator and attempt to pick up the armadillo. Even though he's my height and much bigger around I might have managed, except that he turns out to be attached to the piano bench. Not a problem. A friend from the Pacific NW, Leroy Berven is coming down the escalator. "Hey, Leroy, want to help me lift an armadillo," I say seductively. It works wonderfully as a, well, pick-up line. A fan I've never met before, who just happens to be taking a photo of the armadillo is also pressed into service. Yet another example of making a new friend. We look very fetching riding up the escalator; me in the lead Leroy's wife Sue as guide for my bearers and the armadillo hoisted up by the piano bench.
A rover at the top of the stairs motions at the folks behind me. I carefully point out that they're with me, and that the armadillo is heading up to go on stage. It's great fun to take him backstage and point out that this is my friend, he won a hall-costume award and wants to be recognized. His name is Armand Dillo.
He is brought on stage as the wonderful MC, Suzanne, reads a hastily hand-written list of hall costume winners. She looks tired, and my kids want to know if she realizes she's announcing a stuffed toy. Xena, Warrior Princess knows. She comes out next and throws her disk around him and retrieves it. They make a cute couple.
Armand is then carried back through a cheering crowd, a few of whom chant, "Armand, Armand." As we head down the escalator it is a magic fannish moment. My other magic moment comes when I head into Ops. I am summarily lectured for not telling them that I was removing the armadillo.
"Not a fair collar," says I. "I told a rover where my friend and I were going before I ever stepped off the escalator. Not my fault he didn't call it in." I am then queried on whether I told hotel security. I did, I'm a good girl, I am. But I am seriously amused that I can sign for anything with the hotel, but might not be responsible enough for an armadillo. Fred, the new friend I made by dragooning him into carrying Armand, is thrilled. He hasn't been led into a life of crime by a woman before, nor has he ever been an accessory to armadillo theft. We speculate whether that's a hanging offence in Texas.
Armadillo Rustlingùprobably a hanging offence in Texas
I spend the rest of the con telling my armadillo story. A non con-running friend gently tells me that I may be enjoying it just a little too hysterically. I explain that I've not gotten busted by Ops in a long time. Generally I don't get caught when I misbehave.
There's one more front desk/party blocking snafu late Sunday night. I tell the young man at the desk that I'd always thought a hand shake with the resident manager indicating that there'd be no more problems was sufficient. The mundane is paid off to be quiet, sorry compensated, but we're still not happy. This time when we meet with the manager in the morning, I'm playing the bad cop. I receive a nice card from the manager with Riverwalk boat cruise tickets for the family. All these years of being good cop to Ben's bad, and I never realized how rewarding bad could be. I tell Sean the entire family are VIPs now. His eyes light up. And, oh yes, the manager comped an extra night to keep the staff lounge open for a Monday dead dog. It's another few hundred dollars comped. But that's nothing nearly so hard, nor so awesome as a mommy impressing a jaded nine year old. Who says your dreams can't come true at the Worldcon.
During the dead dog parties I get to deliver the kind of line I've waited for years for. The Libertarians are having a party on a non-party floor. They want to speak to someone about party floors and see our contract. This sounds like fun. After the rude one yells at me until the polite one tells him to stop, I point out the party blocking. The screamer starts in on his individual contract with the hotel and how that should work.
I washed my mousemat and now I can't do a thing with it
"Look," I say, "We can discuss politics, or we can discuss the way the universe works tonight." It's not only a good line, but the nice party-thrower and I come to an understanding that will keep the party from being busted. Later I am asked why I didn't just let them be closed down after someone yelled at me. "I find acting like an adult is more satisfying with people like that," is my explanation.
Somewhere in that idea is an explanation of why I like being a hotel liaison. In the stories above is the explanation of why I like working Worldcons.
-- Patty Wells
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