Duckon XII was held over the weekend of June 6-8 at the Raddison Hotel Lincolnwood (the old "Purple Hyatt" of early Capricon lore) in Lincolnwood, IL, one of the northern Chicago suburbs. This is a big building with a striking pale purple tile facade. Unfortunately, it is also an older hotel and has a lot of problems as a result of it being an older building that simply hasn't kept up with the times. Duckon has been having a lot of trouble finding good hotels, and has been moving from one hotel to another for the last several years.
Duckon typically has a wide variety of activities. Along with the usual dealers' room, con suite, art show, filking, and programming, there are also dedicated tracks for Klingons and for mad scientists. In the early years of Duckon, there was also a strong furry (anthropomorphic animal fandom) presence, but after they started their own convention, Midwest FurFest, there had no longer been a dedicatd furry track or Furry GoH. This year that changed, and once again there was a strong furry presence. This change caught me by surprise, since I would have made a point to bring and display some furry art if I'd known ahead of time.
We arrived at the hotel shortly before noon on Friday after struggling through traffic from my parents' place in the south suburbs, where we'd stayed the previous night. When we arrived, we stopped by the front desk, but found that our room wasn't ready yet. So we located the dealers' room to start carrying in our merchandise. To do so we had to get to the lower level, which was a problem because my husband cannot climb stairs as a result of a knee injury, and the elevator to which the front desk people directed us could be accessed only by climbing several steps. He pulled himself up them slowly and painfully, and when we got to the dealers' room, we got someone down there to show us another elevator that goes straight from the lower level to the actual main floor instead of the semi-raised floor in front of the hotel restaurant and bar.
Once we'd located the dealers' room and scoped out the unloading arrangements, we moved our van to the loading dock to start the load-in process. The loading dock arrangement was a bit of a pain. The loading dock was a single long, narrow bay in which vehicles could be "stacked,'" but those further in would be blocked by those in front of them and couldn't leave. Also, commercial deliveries had priority for actually backing up to the loading dock platform. Due to some scheduling mishaps, commercial deliveries that should have been completed earlier were running late and had to compete for the single loading dock. We thought we'd be able to pull into the loading dock and unload directly into the hotel, but we'd no sooner pulled in one load than we were told we had to move to let a delivery truck in. So we had to move the van back outside and make longer trips.
Also, the freight elevator which we had to use to move our merchandise to the lower level wasn't working properly. When it went to the lower level, it wouldn't always stop flush with the floor. Often it would stop a few inches above the floor, and the operator would have to open the inner grating and slam it to get the elevator to go to floor level. Another trick used to persuade it to go to level was to pull on the chain that controlled the counterweight, which would compensate for whatever was causing it to hang up. Fortunately, the con had designated a gopher as full-time elevator operator, which spared us dealers the problem of learning the tricks for dealing with a recalciterant freight elevator.
Midway through the process of loading in our merchandise, it began to spit rain. So we had to keep our books covered to protect them from rain damage. This was especially important when we were carrying in the boxes of new hardcovers, which would lose their value as new books if they got water damage, whereas used books would only lose value if severely damaged by rain. The precipitation grew steadily heavier until we had to carry the last two loads in fairly steady rain.
Once we got everything in, we had to get set up. Because this hotel has six-foot tables rather than the more common eight-foot tables, this was more difficult than usual. We had to squeeze everything in as tightly as possible and make the very best possible use of every crumb of available table space. Once we got everything set out, we didn't have enough room under and behind our tables to store all the boxes. So we consolidated our backstock into as few of boxes as possible and carried two loads of empty boxes back out to store in the van. It was still spitting rain, and I noticed rain marks on the boxes when I got them into the van.
I also had to get my art onto the art show. Since they were very busy when I first got there, I got a control sheet and the necessary bid sheets and took them to the dealers' room to actually fill out. When everything was ready, I took it back to the art show and set up my art. I had a bit of trouble paying my fees because the person taking care of it was also dealing with several other problems, but I finally got it taken care of and returned to the dealers' room.
By the time we were finished with all our set-up, the hotel finally had our room ready, so we got checked in and our personal belongings into the room. Since the dealers' room was open by this time, I covered the tables while my husband took care of the hotel room and calling to order a pizza. We didn't get all that many sales, so I had plenty of time to sit and start my con report on my Palm Pilot.
After the dealers' room closed, we went up to the room and ate our pizza for supper. On the way up, we made the unhappy discovery that one of the two elevators in our tower had broken down, leaving everyone to use the single remaining elevator. We later met the young woman who'd been stuck in it when it broke, and had to be rescued by prying the doors open.
After supper we went down to the hot tub for a soak. However, the heater on the hot tub was apparently not working, so the hot tub was about the temperature of rather coolish bathwater. We stayed for a little while before giving up and heading back up to our room.
After we got dressed, we decided to visit the con suite and the parties. When we headed that way, we made a very unpleasant discovery. The hotel had placed the smoking area in the one and only pathway to the tower in which the parties were being held. Thus we had to duck through some very polluted air to get to the elevator.
The con suite was smaller than typical for a Duckon, and didn't have nearly the variety of foods that I'd learned to expect from previous Duckons. We stayed for a while, but seats were really hard to come by.
The parties were fairly good. We went to the Mad Scientist party and the General Technics suite, both of which had good food and weird gadgets. We also dropped by the MSFFA party, which had the usual Hawaiian theme and live band. There was also a Furry party, which even had the heads of some fursuits on display. They were on the fifth floor of the main tower rather than being in the east tower like the rest of the parties, so we got to see the broken elevator sitting there, dark and shut down. After the parties we turned in for the night.
Saturday morning we got up and had breakfast. Then we visited the con suite to get a little more food before going down to the dealers' room to open our tables for business. All day long, we had spurts of sales interspersed with periods of relative inactivity in which I did some writing.. The biggest hassle was having to dig through all the backstock crammed in under our tables after every book sale.
For lunch we had the leftover pizza from our supper. Because the hotel was being really pissy about outside food, I decided to sneak it into the dealers' room by covering the pizza box with my shawl. When I went up to our room to retrieve it, I got on the elevator that had earlier been boken, and had been fixed. However, it was still shaking when it started, which made me uneasy. I got up and down with the pizza without incident, but I fully expected it to break again very soon.
While I was sitting table by myself, I met several of my friends, including Jessica Bester, with whom I talked about a graphic-novel project that she and Heather Letterman are working on. I also struck up a lengthy conversation with a Chicago-area librarian about the past and current state of area libraries. Later, a young man came to our tables with a copy of John Ringo's Hell's Faire in hand, and told him to make sure to look at the CD-ROM included with the book because I have a story on it in the"Posleen Fanfic" folder, entitled "Food Will Win This War." We had a lengthy discussion about fanfic in various universes, whether authorized by the original creators or not. (In the case of my story, John Ringo had made a general invitation on Baen's Bar for writers to give him stories for a possible authorized fanthology, so there wasn't the copyright issue that frequently makes the writing of fanfic a questionable activity. And according to an announcement that John Ringo made on Baen's Bar on Thursday before Duckon, the print-on-paper anthology is definitely going to be happening, so there is a strong likelihood that my story will see real print, as well as the CD-ROM format).
When the dealers' room closed, the dealers' room co-ordinator told everyone to please hurry and leave so the dealers could get supper. Then someone made a joke that any non-dealers still in the room two minutes after closing would be used as supper. It was astonishing how quickly everyone headed out.
After dropping some personal possessions off in our room, we walked down to a Chinese restaurant a few blocks down Touhy Avenue from the hotel. We had originally been planning to call them and order from their delivery menu, but when we discovered just how close it was, we decided to just walk to it and save any possible delivery charges. Since it was a sit-down restaurant rather than a buffet, I brought my Palm Pilot and keyboard to occupy myself while waiting for our food. They let us split a single order without any special charge, and the food was so plentiful that we even had food left over, which we were able to take with us for a lunch the next day. I got a fortune cookie that said that it was time to consolidate projects instead of expanding, and I commented that this might be just as well when one considered that I was up for jury duty the week immediately following the convention, and I had three articles under contract with deadlines at the end of the month, which might be difficult to complete if I got put on a lengthy and complicated trial.
After supper we went back to the hotel and rested for a while before going down to the hot tub. Although the hot tub was hotter than it had been on Friday, this was not saying a whole lot. This time it was about the temperature of a reasonably decent bath, which is still not what I expect of a hot tub. I've gotten bathwater hotter than that. So we stayed for a while and talked with some other con members before giving up and heading back to our room.
When we decided to go back down to attend the Chocolate Ritual, we discovered that the elevator which had broken down on Friday had broken down yet again, leaving our tower with only one elevator again. This development meant more delays and aggravations. But we still were able to get to the Chocolate Ritual on time, and enjoyed that delightful parody of both Wiccan and Christian rituals. There was plenty of chocolate to be had afterward, including some very good dark chocolate.
After the Chocolate Ritual, we went over to the main tower for the parties. This time we avoided the smoking area by using a staff area on the lower level that took us to the lower-level entrance to the elevators in that tower. We didn't encounter any hotel employees, but if we had, we were fully planning to tell them that we were doing it because of the smoking area that was right in the middle of the only public access to that tower.
Yet again, the con suite really didn't have that much to eat, so we didn't stay there very long. But the parties were vary good. In one very active party we encontered Mad Mike (Michael Z. Williamson, author and blade dealer, also from Indianapolis), who had just gotten back from National Guard drill in Terre Haute and was telling all about all the nasty wrecks he'd seen on the way, including one that could be a Darwin Award candidate (stupid four-wheeler had tangled with an 18-wheeler and gotten completely run over, to the point that the cops were hosing blood off the pavement).
The General Technics suite was open again, and had some ginger-flavored Altoids (a brand of very strong mint imported from England). I made a joke about them being "cocaine for Lizards," referring to the reptilian aliens in Harry Turtledove's WorldWar and Colonization alternate history series. AnimeCentral (the Chicago-area Japanese animation convention) was showing clips from several different series. One was a very poignant one about two children made homeless by World War II,while the other was apparently a fantasy set in a giant mega-tree, with little magical beings that rather resembled the stereotypical "gray" alien.
We also went over to the Furry lounge before turning in for the night. There I encountered a young man who was drawing a very handsome rendition of a cat-person. When I complimented him on his work, he said he didn't think of himself as much of an artist.
I also talked with one of the fursuiters who'd been walking around the dealers' room earlier, and ended up showing him the mini-sketchbook that I had in my purse (my main sketchbook, which is much larger, was in my backpack, which I had left in the room). He admired the sketches of various animals that I'd made in some pet stores at various times. I also mentioned that I have several older sketchbooks at home whilch I've filled up. I also offered to show him some finished furry art on wooden plaques that I hadn't put on the art show because I hadn't realized there would be such a strong furry presence. However, he said that he had to hit the road very early Sunday, before the dealers' room opened to the public, and he didn't want to put me to any inconvenience of bringing art to the door to show him. After that we headed back to our room and called it a night.
Sunday morning we got up and got our personal belongings out of the room before the crush for the single working elevator in our tower became unmanageable. Then we went up to the con suite, but the variety of food available was quite underwhelming. So we headed back to the room to get our last few belongings before checking out of the hotel and going to the dealers' room. We got up without too much trouble, but getting back down became a nightmare. Twice we had to let the elevator go by without us because it was simply too full between people and luggage. While we were waiting, a hotel employee "helpfully" suggested that we might want to resort to the stairs. My husband responded that he is not able to use the stairs because of his injured knees. Finally we secured an elevator, and my husband went to check out and complain about the continual unsolved complaints, while I went ahead to the dealers' room and got our tables opened. Although the hotel supposedly had a money-back 100% satisfaction guarantee, when we put our complaints to them, they quibbled and waffled their way out of it. We decided to write to Radisson's corporate headquarters and complain about our bad experience.
In the dealers' room, we encountered another dealer who'd stayed in a cheaper place down the road and had a much better experience. He'd been talking to the manager, and had arranged a possible deal for an even further reduced rate if we could get enough people from the con to room there. So we talked around the dealers' room to find other dealers who'd be interested in taking him up on the offer.
When the dealers' room finally did open, sales were relatively slow and disapointing. We ate our leftover Chinese food from the previous night's supper as our lunch, and I went to the art show and retrieved my unsold art. I was happily surprised to discover that two of my pieces had sold just before the art show had closed. When the treasurer asked me if I'd like to get my check immediately, I promptly agreed, explaining that we were having financial problems as a result of very poor sales in the dealers' room. Several people offered sympathy at our problems.
After I got back to the dealers' room and put the art away, we had two substantial sales, which really helped our money situation. However, we had a long trip home and way too little time to get there, so we needed to start packing while we were still open. We continued to sell even as we were packing up.
Because we'd had to take a number of our boxes out to the van as a result of limited backspace behind our table, I had to go out and retrieve them so we could pack. Since there was no one working the freight elevator yet, I had to go clear out through the corridors and use the passenger elevator. As a result, I had to go through the smoking area on each trip out to the van. On the second time in, one of the concom members who was sitting there told me that next year the smoking area would be located by the bar, away from the general traffic area. On a less happy note, it had begun to rain, and several of the boxes got rather damp in the process of bringing them in.
Just before the dealers' room was about to close, we had an elementary school teacher who is doing a gifted program show up and want to buy some science fiction books to use in her gifted reading class. They all had to be science fiction, not fantasy or horror, and they all had to be suitable for young people, with no sex or other objectionable elements. She kept dithering about which books she wanted to buy, and ran back and forth between us and several other dealers asking opinions, until it was almost half an hour past closing time. The dealers' room co-ordinator finally simply told her that she had to complete her purchase and leave because the dealers had only a liminted amount of time to load out. So she let us add up the remainder of her purchase and she wrote us a check for a fairly substantial amount.
With that final purchase completed, we got the van moved to the loading dock and started loading things out. By that time it was raining quite steadily, which made the process of loading out trickier, since we have books that have to be protected from water damage. But that wasn't all of our worries. We had just got one load out when the freight elevator decided to quit entirely and they had to get their maintenence person there to get it working again. During that time we lost a good ten to fifteen minutes in fretful waiting.
Fortunately we were able to secure a gopher to help us, so I was able to stay in the dealers' room and get things ready while my husband and the gopher took loads out and put them in the van. Even so, we still had substantial delays while we waited for the freight elevator, often in a line several deep of other dealers trying to get their merchandise out.
Worse, our poor faithful old handcart, which had served us for the past five years, was breaking down. We'd been able to repair previous problems like the supports that warped under the weight of loads of books, but this time the metal tubes themselves were splitting, which simply wasn't going to be fixable. Since there was no other option for finishing this particular load-out, we had to carefully nurse it along with each load, but we both agreed that it would have to be replaced before our next convention.
Midway through the load-out process, we had to move our van to let another dealer get their vehicle pulled in. Then our gopher had to leave, so we had to carry several loads out by ourselves. Then, for the last several loads, a couple of friends pitched in to carry some additional items and we got everything out a little more quickly than we'd anticipated. Still, we were running later than we'd been hoping to get out by almost an hour.
Then we had to get out of Chicago and back home. That was a little easier said than done, since we'd no sooner gotten on I-94 than we hit a massive backup and had to creep along in traffic. Since I was in the passenger seat, I decided to get out my cell phone and my jury duty summons and find out whether I needed to report in. After listening very carefully to their recorded message, I was very happy to discover that my group was excused for Monday, and I would have at least one day of blessed respite before possibly having to report in on Tuesday.
Once traffic finally got to moving at a better clip, we ran back into the rain. We held back to let a big truck in, only to have a minivan cut in front of us and nearly cause a wreck. We barely got braked in time, but the whole van shook as my husband struggled to maintain control. Not long after that, the rain became so heavy that we could scarcely see the road in front of us. But by the time I-90 split back off and we headed toward Indiana, we ran out of the rain again and even had dry pavement. Fortunately, we got the rest of the way home without further incident.
Copyright 2012 by Leigh Kimmel
Permission is granted for reproduction in fanzines and other non-profit fannish publications.
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Last updated October 21, 2012.