Anime Matsuri X

Anime Matsuri is a big anime convention in Houston, Texas. This year it was held over the weekend of February 26-28, 2016 at the George R. Brown Convention Center in downtown Houston.

Because of the distance we needed to drive, we left on the Tuesday before the convention. We went down I-70 to Effingham, where we picked up I-57 and took it to I-55 at Sykeston, Missouri. It was neat to see all the places I remembered from my time in Southern Illinois, including Boomland, the huge fireworks store, restaurant and gas station.

Then we headed down toward Arkansas on I-55, heading toward Memphis. Near New Madrid we paused at a rest stop with an earthquake safety theme. Then we headed west on I-40 toward Little Rock, where we picked up I-30, which would take us to Texarkana and our stopping point for the night.

As we approached Texarkana, I thought we were making pretty good time. However, I must've jinxed things, because traffic then came to a complete standstill. Even when things got moving again, we had to creep along for some time. In the dark it was hard to tell, but I saw several cars that looked pretty mangled. Worse, somewhere in that mess another vehicle threw up a bit of debris, which hit our windshield and cracked it. So it looked like we were going to be dealing with windshield repair or even replacement when we got home.

By the time we finally arrived at the Super 8, I was so tired that I got lost while trying to get moved from the canopy to a proper parking space. The weird setup on Texas roads didn't help, but I finally found a place to turn around and got back where I needed to be. I even had a little writing time before we went to bed.

The next morning we ate the complimentary breakfast and hit the road. Here we left the Interstate system and followed US and state highways down through the Texas piney woods, which is a very different sort of woodland from the deciduous forests I'm used to, or even the coniferous forests I saw out in Montana and Idaho on our trip to Spokane and the 2015 Worldcon.

As we approached Houston, the US highway became an Interstate, another segment of I-69. It grew steadily wider as we got closer to the city, until finally we got onto I-610 to go around to I-45 and our hotel.

The Sleep Inn was a nice place, but they had an absolutely tiny parking lot. We were able to secure a decent parking spot, but I could tell that if the lot got close to full, we might well have trouble finding a spot long enough that the back end of our van wouldn't hang out into the aisle.

Still, we got there early enough that there was plenty of time to relax and work on my writing. I pulled out a story I'd been trying to get done and did a little more on it.

Thursday morning we got up and had breakfast. Unfortunately they didn't bring out the burrito fixings until just as I finished eating, and I didn't have room for anything more.

Because we couldn't load in until later in the afternoon, we went out to the lobby and sat for a while so Housekeeping could clean our room. I did some work on my novel.

Finally it was time to head over to the convention center. We'd allowed some extra time, but we missed a critical turn and used it up very quickly on an impromptu and unwelcome tour of downtown Houston. We even went past the Catholic Co-Cathedral, which is the seat of a cardinal. By the time we finally got straightened up, we had lost almost an hour of setup time

Worse, there were some serious problems with communications. I was operating under the assumption that we wouldn't be allowed to bring vehicles onto the floor. However, some people were so I asked if it would be OK and was told by the promoter's team that it would be fine.

But I'd no more than driven in and taken a few items out when convention center security showed up, demanding that all vehicles be removed from the floor, immediately. I was annoyed, but it wasn't where I could buck it, so I took the van back out. At least I was able to get back to the same parking spot I'd left, but it was still time lost and hassle I didn't need.

Once we got everything in, we started building our structures. Having a corner booth made it easier to arrange the t-shirt structures, but it still took a lot of work. We also had an item broken because it popped out on its own when the other item in the box was removed. I gathered up the pieces in hopes of putting it back together and being able to sell it, if only at a reduced price.

When the dealers' room closed for the evening and we headed back to the hotel, we got lost again. We could see the hotel, but couldn't find a connecting road that would get us to it. By the time we worked out the trick, I was pretty well exasperated with the streets in that part of Houston.

At least I was able to get in a little wind-down in before we turned in for the night. Still, it made for a short night and we needed to get back to the convention center as early as possible and finish setting up. At least the hotel had a good, solid breakfast with plenty of protein to carry me through the morning.

Once the doors opened, people started flowing in, but sales were painfully slow. By the time the dealers' room closed for the evening, we'd done so little business that I was sick with misery. After the disaster of Capricon, we desperately needed a good con to get us back on our feet. Had I instead sunk us by going to another losing con?

That put a real pall over my evening, even if I was able to get back without trouble this time around. It also didn't do much good for my ability to sleep. The numbers just kept running through my head, of all the bills we were going to need to pay, especially with no conventions in March.

On Saturday we got up and had the hotel breakfast. Then we headed downtown for another day of sales. This time parking was a real nightmare because there was another event downtown. I ended up parked several blocks away, and after I got in and talking with the dealers, I discovered that we could've parked in the lot by the loading dock for much less, just by showing my exhibitor badge.

We did see a pickup in sales, but not nearly as much as we'd hoped. Our tea sets and other porcelains were going pretty well, and we even sold several duplicates of some designs I'd accidentally double-ordered. But sales were still below where we had been hoping. I heard that the convention was having trouble as a result of a scandal and an unflattering article in the local paper.

I looked up the article, and was it ever a doozy. It seems the promoter has a history of unpaid debts and other indiscretions, and it resulted in a lot of the guests canceling. As a result, a lot of people who might otherwise have attended probably decided not to.

By the end of sales on Saturday we were still behind where we wanted to be. However, we'd finally reached the point where I no longer had to fear that we'd fall over a financial cliff as a result of going to the show. So I was feeling a lot better as we headed back to the hotel. I was actually able to write with some enjoyment instead of sick dread.

Sunday morning we had breakfast and headed downtown for the final day of the con. This time we knew to go to the lot by the loading docks, which enabled us to pick a spot that would give us a good position for loadout.

I dropped off a check with one of our wholesalers, who was selling there too. We talked a little about sales, and then I headed off to look around a little before the doors opened.

Sales remained slow, although they picked up right about the time we really needed to start packing the smaller, more delicate figurines and porcelains. That's always annoying because people become less eager to buy as soon as you start packing stuff. Typically they feel that they'll be interrupting you if they make a purchase, no matter how many times you reassure them that you're still selling. But with all the fragile stuff, we needed to get it packed early if we were going to have any hope of getting out in a timely fashion.

Once the exhibit hall closed, I had to start hauling everything out to the van. I was astonished that we had sold so few t-shirts that we didn't even empty a box. However, we did empty some boxes of porcelains -- but they wouldn't nest, so we didn't actually reduce the cargo volume that much. So it ended up being a real struggle to get everything to fit back into the van and still leave room for our personal belongings when we left.

Worse, my knee started acting up really bad on me. By the time I was hauling the last few loads out, I was just sort of stumping along on it, and the pain had become a numb ache. I was very glad to be able to head back to the hotel for the night.

On Monday we got up and had breakfast. Then we hauled our personal belongings back out and I had to struggle to get everything back in. For a moment I thought we might have to abandon some empty boxes, with a little creativity and firm persuasion I finally got all of them in.

Then we headed back north out of Houston and up through the Texas Piney Woods to Arkansas. At first it wasn't too bad, but by the time we hit Memphis, I was really running out of energy. However, we had to get all the way up to Sykeston to reach our hotel for the night, so there wasn't any choice except to just keep pushing on. By the time we got there, it was so late that we just took our pills and hit the hay. I did scribble a few notes on a story, but it was just a token bit.

On Tuesday we got up and had the hotel's complimentary breakfast. After the nice ones at the Sleep Inn, complete with bacon and burritos, having nothing but carbs was pretty disappointing. Worse, I had to deal with rain and high winds while getting our personal belongings back in the van.

The wind made for a very miserable drive up through Southern Illinois, and having a sore leg didn't make it any easier. There were several times we stopped at rest stops and I was just hobbling in and out of the building.

We stopped at a branch of our bank in Plainfield and made a decent-sized deposit. Then we continued across Indianapolis to hope. I hauled our personal belongings into the house and got supper going. I was very glad that I was no longer having to struggle to drive.

Copyright 2017 by Leigh Kimmel

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Last updated December 23, 2017.