To Be Fair, I Was Left Unsupervised: A Disjointed Chronicle of 79th World Science Fiction Convention, Discon III

By Chris M. Barkley:

DAY ONE

The day started out as pretty dreary to fly out of Cincinnati. The morning was punctuated by heavy rain showers and overcast skies. But, as the morning progressed, the skies cleared from the west and the sun revealed itself in full splendor.

My partner Juli and I received our first bit of DisCon III news just before we boarded our plane. Kevin Standlee reported on the geographic distribution of the 2023 Site Selection ballots in advance of the end of voting on Friday. The fact that this dispatch reflected that the Chengdu bid was projected to win in a landslide caused a HUGE kerfuffle online and at DisCon III. So much so that the upper management of DisCon III, asked that the post be removed and/or redacted online. And shortly thereafter, it was.   

I must note here that Kevin Standlee has been a very good friend of mine over the past twenty plus years and that my heart goes out to him. But I fear that he has done the Worldcon and the Site Selection process a great disservice by his actions. 

This development came on the heels of an editorial published Tuesday on File 770 by the distinguished UK fan Colin Harris, who suggested that if the bid from Chengdu did win that the fan community should take a deep breath and accept the results of the election. 

I have heard a great many good things about the members of Chengdu bid, in the earnest efforts to become a part of the worldwide community of fandom and their work towards winning the 2023 bid. I applaud their efforts, but I must say that my only fear, along with many others, is not any racial animus towards Chinese fans but that the authoritarian government of the People’s Republic of China may interfere with the convention committee, its members and its programming.
 
(Thursday morning addendum: Kevin Standlee has been removed as the Chair of WSFS Business Meeting and also been fired as an advisor from 2023 Winnipeg bid for in an announcement on the JOF Facebook page, “acting without consulting the bid’s senior management”. )    

Well, counting Wednesday, there are three more days of voting to go. As NBC’s statistical analyst (and khaki pants advocate) Steve Kornacki will tell you, the early vote may be in but all of the precincts have yet to be heard from and that it’s still anyone’s race. We’ll find out for sure by late Friday night or very early Saturday morning. Watch This Space. 

The flight was smooth and the landing was only slightly terrifying. Being seated on the left side of the plane, Juli and I were treated to a 45 second tour of all of the classic tourist sights anyone could want; the Capitol Building, the National Mall, the Washington Monument, the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials AND the Watergate apartment and business complex. So much for sightseeing! 

As we were strolling through National Airport in search of the taxi station, we spied a cute CNBC kiosk. We didn’t stop to shop but I am imagining that all of the Brian Williams items have been marked down ninety percent. Just Sayin’…

At first sight, the Omni Shoreham Hotel looks quite massive; it is at least several hundred yards long and ten stories high. The exterior looks rather modern but the interior has the feel of an older hotel. Inside we found a spacious area around the lobby but it feels rather smaller as you journey inwards. Which leads me to the first of several criticisms of the hotel, the elevators are dreadfully small. So I can only imagine how chaotic things are going to get as people want to go to parties, programming events or checking in and out. 

Accessibility for the disabled was a hot topic before the convention and the Omni Shoreham’s deficiencies were on full display as I noticed many individuals struggling to get to Opening Ceremonies. This is not to say that accessible services are non-existent, but it is sorely in short supply abound the entire hotel. Did I mention that those elevators are REALLY SMALL?

Easily getting through Registration has never been a hallmark of any convention and DisCon III was no exception. The incredibly long line stretched from the Western part of the Promenade all the way to the Eastern Promenade elevator bank. Juli and I entered the end of the line around 2:30 p.m. After fifteen minutes, I decided to go forward to investigate why. 

What I found were two people seated at a station near the Registration Desk checking everyone’s Covid-19 vaccination cards. Only two. Around the corner, there were only two or three people relentlessly processing convention badges. 

It was at this moment that DisCon III was critically short of volunteers. Everyone reading this knows that Worldcons are run by volunteers. 

I, for one, refuse to completely blame DisCon III for the shortage of people working the convention. They have been begging for help for months and due to the pandemic and moving the convention date to December has decimated the number of people who normally would have volunteered. 

(Personal Note: I was asked to head up the Press Office earlier this year but I declined because I was unable to persuade the people I usually work with to come to DisCon III. This was the impetus for me to write the Press Office Manual and its anecdotal notes that were published here several months ago.)

But here we are. And we will have to make do with the resources we have on hand.   

ON the bright side, EVERYONE was masked and distancing as well as they could. 

At around 3:30 p.m., I was beginning to think that Juli and I wouldn’t make it to Opening Ceremonies so I took some drastic action. I hated to cut through the throngs of people waiting but I went to the Press Office (which was conveniently located near Registration), made the acquaintance of Kevin, the Deputy Head of the office, who provided us with press ribbons and made sure Juli and I got our badges. We then rushed off to find the Regency Ballroom, which was located on a lower level of the hotel.

And Opening Ceremonies were a splendid affair, hosted by Ulysses E. Campbell, and featuring a performance from the Duke Ellington School of the Arts Show Choir (who serenaded the group with a medley of Christmas carols, complete with choreography!) and an honor guard as well. I was personally delighted that the recipient of this year’s Big Heart Award was given to longtime fan Linda Deneroff, who was absolutely stunned and speechless (a rare occurrence, I assure you) as she accepted her plaque. 

The event climaxed with Sebastian Martorana’s incredibly informative presentation on how he fashioned this year’s Hugo Award base, which were made from the same sort of marble from Baltimore that was used to construct the top portions of the Washington Monument.  

Unfortunately, we had to leave right afterwards because it was 5:15 p.m. and my first panel, “What Makes A Classic A Classic,” was due to start at 5:30. There was another mad dash to find the Calvert Room, which we found with minutes to spare.

What followed was a wild and wooly hour about how the panel felt about what makes our favorite works of sf and fantasy classics. Our Moderator was Shaun Duke of the Skiffy and Fanty podcast and featured myself (singing, wut?!?!?), author, scholar and editor Ellen Kushner, collector and writer Bradford Lyau and the legendary fan editor and writer John Hertz. A full audio version will be posted on File 770 sometime in the next day or so.     

Finding dinner was strangely fortuitous; Robert’s, the restaurant located in the atrium of the hotel, told Juli that they were closing at 7:00 p.m. due to a lack of serving personnel and supplies. You would have thought that the hotel would have made plans for extra service with a major convention starting that week. Well, noted and logged… 

That threw us both for a loop. After seeing the meager offerings at the pop up takeaway in another corner of the hotel, we decided to go to one of the eateries on the corner of Calvert Street and Connecticut Avenue.

On our way out the door, we encountered mega-fan Bobbi Armbruster, her husband Warren, Kathi Overton and her partner John Pomeranz. They all enthusiastically endorsed going to The Gourmand Grill, a Mexican American place that was a short walk right around the corner.      

It was a rather small place down a steep set of stairs but Juli and I were totally enchanted by the atmosphere, the affordable menus and the incredibly helpful wait staff.

When someone canceled an order of Chipotle Shrimp, our server offered it to us at no extra charge. I had the Fish and Chips and Juli had the Meatball appetizer with a small side salad. Everything was eagerly devoured. I am quite certain we will be returning before the end of the convention.

At around 8:30 p.m., I wanted to go find the Con Suite. Juli was feeling rather tired and decided to retire to our room.

After a bit of confusion about its location, I was told that the Con-Suite was located in Room 840 in the Western part of the hotel. Upon arrival, I was informed that they had closed at 8:30. A passerby did mention that there was a party being held by a group called TANSTAAFL on the fifth floor.

While I was there, I was asked by Dave McCarty to engage in a contest. Once he outlined what it was all about, I enthusiastically accepted the challenge. What is it? What is it all about? I’ll explain in a future post, AFTER I have performed my part. Laters!

I snacked on a few dessert items and then I decided to call it a day at around 10 p.m.

After seeing what happened today, I knew tomorrow would be more of the same, if not more so. 

More As It Happens, Your Faithful Correspondent

Chris B.

On Site Head Count: Not Available.

Luminaries Spotted Today: Nancy Kress, Dave McCarty, John Picacio, Marah Searle-Kovacevic, Tammy Coxen, Greg Ketter, Ellen Kushner, John Hertz, Andrew Porter, Lt. Colonel Jonathan Brazee (Ret.), Kathi Overton, John Pomeranz and Michael J. Walsh.

20 thoughts on “To Be Fair, I Was Left Unsupervised: A Disjointed Chronicle of 79th World Science Fiction Convention, Discon III

  1. Cora Buhlert: Rich Lynch sent me a close-up but it needs color-correction. I’ve asked about that.

  2. If Chengdu wins, they win; end of story. If things are as they appear I hope it works out for the folks on the ground. Since the current regime in Beijing is on a Born-Again Maoist kick, I would also not be surprised if it was aborted. If there is a 2023 NASFiC (say, Winnipeg) they should be ready for any eventuality.

  3. As for the character of the hotel, keep in mind that this was never meant to be the main venue; just the overflow. However, this was the hotel for which the organizers still had a contract, and who were interested in having a December event.

  4. Does the speaker’s podium look good in person? In photos like the ones on this post, it looks like it has been actively used since 1939.

  5. @Red Panda Fraction
    Thank you.

    @rcade

    Does the speaker’s podium look good in person? In photos like the ones on this post, it looks like it has been actively used since 1939.

    Franklin D. Roosevelt himself spoke at this very podium during his inauguration ball. No, I’m kidding, but it sure looks that way.

    Regarding the hotel, I have obviously only seen photos, but from the pics I suspect it is an older building. It’s also furnished in that oppulent faux historical style that you find in some upscale US hotels as well as in film sets to denote “These are rich people”.

    However, it was never supposed to be the main hotel and the reasons for losing the other hotel were entirely beyond DisCon III’s control.

  6. As one of the people frantically working those Registration computers on Wednesday, my opinion (for what it’s worth) is that a great deal of the problem was insufficient advance preparation and set-up. Other than moving in some supplies, set-up didn’t really start on Tuesday until around noon (for a planned 3pm opening) and at 3pm the brand new chromebooks were in the process of being unboxed and set up. There were other logistical details that could have taken some of the load off the line-movement, but from where I was sitting, the Covid Vax check was not a limiting step, even though it may have looked that way from the line. The primary limiting step was the number of reg stations and the fact that badge content was hand-entered for each badge.

    There had been an attempt to create badges for pre-reg in advance, but it got as far as printing label sheets — organized in order of member number. Even if there hadn’t been printer problems that resulted in missing label sheets and cut-off text, this wouldn’t have sped up the process, as there would be no efficient way to organize the badges into groups for easy sorting, given that people couldn’t be guaranteed to have their member number handy. I’m confident that typing and printing an ad hoc label took less time than paging through a box of numerically-organized label sheets or pre-stickered badges would have taken. Some time could have been saved if the member database could have generated the labels automatically from a hierarchical option of “badge name” > “preferred name” > “legal name”. But this evidently was not technically possible.

  7. The restaurant did not close at 7pm due to lack of personnel and supplies. what they were actually telling people is that they couldn’t be seated because the restaurant was full. After about an hour when people finished their meals and left, other people were seated ad the restaurant and bar remained open until around 1am.

    I was there and spoke with the Executive Steward.

  8. Heather, thanks for that clear explanation. I’m still not entirely clear why there couldn’t have been a volunteer, perhaps armed with a membership list, going down that queue saying ‘have your membership number ready, it’s accessible from the website, if you’re stuck let me come and help you find it…’

    Not only is events registration a well-understood problem with established solutions, it’s trivial to get extra manpower for queue-busting (and indeed other convention areas) by going down the line going ‘would anyone like to skip the queue in return for a volunteering commitment’?

    Meanwhile, we implemented a virtual queue in the virtual con for fans who felt they were missing out.

  9. Cora

    It’s definitely an older Hotel, proud of it’s History (signs and little historical bits everywhere), which has led to some challenges as a result of the hotel unexpectedly becoming the primary con hotel

  10. @Carhy.

    At 7pm there were at least 5 open tables in this small/moderate dinner room and people were being turned away being told noone else could be seated. Not taking names for later seating but told no additional diners would be served. Obviously our mileage varied but I would stand by the report.

  11. Unfortunately the virtual con was hard to navigate on iOS devices. I could get it on Firefox on my iMac and due to having a house guest, I do not have total access to my office so thankfully my brother in law leant me a Microsoft Surface tablet. I could not get my iOS devices to work on any browser. I tried lifting some privacy restrictions and that still did not work. I blame the IT folks who set this up. Things like this should be tested on a variety of favorite devices. This means that folks who wanted to participate in the virtual con and only had their iPhones were mostly out of luck.

  12. Since I decided not to attend Discon3 (though I held on to my attending membership), I was interested in reading Chris and other reports on the con. I was particularly interested in reading about Opening Ceremonies, specifically the performance from the Duke Ellington School of the Arts. I have read a few online commentators stating that they felt that the religious aspects of some of the material performed by the students was inappropriate for a Worldcon Opening Ceremony. Had it had been advertised as a Christmas performance, it might have been different.

    As I wasn’t there, and did not watch in online (and, so far, I have not discovered if Discon3 is archiving the virtual portion of the program and, if so, how to acess it), I do not know what I would have thought had I attended. I do know that I feel that Opening Ceremonies is not a proper venue for any type of religious celebration (I would have felt the same way about a Hanukkah celebration). I am also well aware that some Christmas music was written by members of the religion I follow (so please don’t point it out again), but that does not change the fact that Christmas is not a secular holiday and does celebrate one particular religion. Therefore I am interested in how Chris and others who were there felt about this.

  13. As for the possibility of having the 2023 Worldcon in Cheng Du China, we don’t know what the world will be like in 2023. I checked to see if you could fly there from San Francisco and the answer was that the Chinese government has really tight COVID policies so United used to fly there and is not now. I hope COVID is not an issue in 2023. As for the nature of the Chinese government, ten years ago, there would not be so much concern. The Arc of Freedom is bending the wrong way in China right now. It has been more free in the past.

    Also if the Chinese do something foolish, Americans may simply just not go or could be encouraged not to go by the government. Several Anglophone nations are having a diplomatic boycott of the Olympics so anything could happen. I hope they have a virtual con, I do plan on buying attending if they win. I would like to see China but I also would like to see Iran. Sometimes circumstances prevent travel.

  14. Shrike58:

    “Since the current regime in Beijing is on a Born-Again Maoist kick…”

    There’s nothing Maoist about the current regime in Beijing.

  15. I see in another entry that there is now a Library Censorship Tip Hotline here in the U. S. Good thing it isn’t needed anywhere else in the world where literary conventions are planned to be held….

    As for the nature of the Chinese government, ten years ago, there would not be so much concern.

    Try walking through Tian An Min Square with a a flatscreen computer showing local millennials what happened right where they’re standing as one western film crew did. See how quickly a uniformed police officer shows up to threaten you with arrest and tries to confiscate your electronics, and how quickly his backup appears as well.

    There would have been no diffenence ten years ago.

    This past summer during the Hong Kong student demonstrations a student was interviewed — she spoke unaccented English, had been born in Hong Kong, had lived there all her life, loved Hong Kong, and wanted to live nowhere else…but she also wanted something else you can’t get in Cheng-du, clearly and unmistakably, without having to say anything else.

    She was wearing a Captain America t-shirt.

    Probably nobody but Mike will see this, but it required writing, even if it has scrolled off the list of comments.

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