Metacon is an anime and pop-culture convention held every year in Minneapolis, usually near Labor Day. This year it was held over the weekend of September 4-6, 2015.
We left on Tuesday so we could stay the night with family in the Bloomington-Normal area. Since one of the churches in our area has a lunch ministry on Tuesdays, we decided to go straight from there rather than go back home. However, that meant we were hurrying a little to get moving, and I almost left the power cord for my laptop. I realized it just as we were about to pull out of the neighborhood, so we were able to quick go back home and grab it.
The church is in a neighborhood where they're doing a lot of road construction, and were scheduled to have their water shut off in the afternoon so work could be done on the water mains. Because there are a number of people depend on that ministry for their meal (as opposed to enjoying the fellowship), the organizers had set things up to give everyone a sack lunch. Because we got there early, before the water was turned off, we were able to eat in the fellowship hall, but after the water was turned off, everyone else was handed their lunch at the door and sent on their way with the blessing.
After we ate, we hit the road west. We stopped in Champaign so we could redeem a Vitamin World coupon. Even so, we arrived at my folks' place in plenty of time and I was able to get all our laundry washed. We had supper and visited while I got some mending done and some online searching. I also got a little done on my novel, although not nearly as much as I would've liked.
The next morning we got up extra early to hit the road as soon as possible. We even ate breakfast bars on the road so we could eke out a little more time.
Most of the drive was uneventful, but we did run into some pretty heavy rain just west of Eau Claire. Not as torrential as the ones we went through in 2013 on our way to AniMinneapolis, but enough to be a nuisance.
We'd been making pretty good time all the way, but that changed as we got into St Paul. It was right at rush hour, and all of a sudden everything started jamming up on us. As we were working our way through the city, this one woman came off a ramp and pulled into the lane right in front of us. Fortunately, the lane on the other side of me was clear and I was able to get into it without losing control of our heavily loaded van. Still, I was very shaken as I continued on my way.
Because of the heavy traffic, we got to our hotel just in time for supper. We'd been thinking about doing some shopping, but we decided to just have supper and settle in for the night. I checked some information on upcoming cons on the Internet and got a little work done on my novel.
On Thursday we got up and had the hotel's complimentary breakfast. I'd seen the size of the breakfast nook and hoped they might serve some protein items: if not sausage or bacon, at least boiled eggs. But no, it was all carbs except for the yogurt and the bagel toppings.
After breakfast we headed over to the mall to get some shopping done. We got more yellow pads to ledger sales, and they turned out to be much cheaper than expected. Then we used some gift cards to buy much-needed clothes.
We returned to our hotel to eat lunch and get supper ready to take with us. I did some work on my con reports, which had backed up quite abominably.
Then we headed downtown to find the con hotel and figure out how exactly we were supposed to get into the loading dock for load-in. We made a wrong turn and got lost, but managed to find ourselves again. It was a good thing we'd allowed some extra time, because it took several tries to figure out the proper approach to the loading dock. Even then, there was no evidence of activity, so we ended up taking another route to get to the front entrance so my husband could go in and look for someone in authority. While we waited, I worked on con reports.
When we did get into the loading dock, it soon became obvious this hotel was not set up to handle the logistics of loading in dealers for a convention, and the concom had done nothing to work around it. The loading dock was so tiny that only a few dealers could be in any given time, between two and four depending on their size. Worse, it had a very steep incline, such that we ended up unloading everything but the big gridwalls out the middle because we were afraid the stacks of boxes might topple and crash into a pile of shattered porcelains.
By the time we got to the end of the van, we were getting hassled by dealers' room staff about how much longer we would be there. I was able to reassure them that we had only a few more things, so they didn't force us to move and go back in line for the last few things. Still, they wanted us gone the minute we had everything out, which left stuff stacked by the loading dock door.
I found the parking lot reasonably easy, but made a wrong turn walking back to the hotel. I was able to sort it out, but I still lost a fair amount of time in the process. As a result, we didn't even have all our structures built by the time they closed the dealers' room for the night and shooed us out.
We headed back to the other hotel and our sleeping room to have supper and wind down before going to bed. I did a little work on my novel.
On Friday we got up as early as we could manage to get back to the dealers' room as soon as it opened, since we still had a lot of setting up to do. We did eat the hotel's complimentary breakfast, although we didn't have much time to enjoy it.
Once we got to the main hotel, I dropped my husband off and got the van parked. At least this time I knew the right way to walk to get back quickly, and they were just opening the roll-up door when I arrived. A lot of dealers still needed to load in, which goes to show just how bad their logistical arrangements were.
By the time we were completely set up, we already had customers on the floor. We even made a couple of sales while we were trying to get all our boxes and stuff squared away. However, I did notice that sales seemed rather slow for the size the convention was claimed to be.
In the middle of the afternoon I slipped off during a slow period to get some cup ramen at their con suite. Unlike a lot of anime cons, Metacon actually provides food for its members, and a little pick-me-up was really welcome.
After the dealers' room closed for the evening, we drove back to our hotel to wind down before bedtime. I got my novel out and did some work on it, and put in the beginnings of a couple of restock orders.
On Saturday we got ourselves ready for what is typically the most brisk sales day of the con. Since we wouldn't have to fight rush hour traffic, we took the Interstate this time. In the process, we discovered that some city streets would be closed on Sunday for an event. When we got to the con, we asked some dealers who were locals, and they said that there was a Twins game and most of the traffic would likely be concentrated near the stadium.
I also walked around the dealers' room and talked to some of the other dealers. This was when I discovered just how many dealers' tables were empty, after the con website had an announcement that both dealers' room and waitlist were closed, implying that they had more than enough dealers.
Once the doors opened, we had pretty good, steady business all day long. We also had someone come by who'd helped us load in at AniMinneapolis back in 2013, offering to help us load out.
By the end of the day, I could see we were still not at the break-even point, meaning it would be tricky to cover all the cons we wanted to buy tables for in the near future and meet our other financial obligations.
We headed back to the hotel and I updated our ongoing restock orders. I also did some work on my novel before turning in for the night.
On Sunday we got up and headed in to the con. This time we took surface streets to avoid the road closures. It also offered an opportunity to check the parking lot in case it was full. However, it turned out the place was almost empty, so I had no trouble dropping off my husband at the hotel and then finding a parking spot.
As we were walking around while waiting for the dealers' room to open, we heard about an altercation that had happened the previous day, just one aisle over. Apparently a guy was caught selling bootleg merchandise, and when the dealers' room staff called him on it, got all defensive and complained that several other dealers were also selling bootleg but weren't being bothered about it. When the con chair came down to insist on the issue, this guy took a swing at him. They ended up calling the cops, and when the dealer realized the cops were on the way and he was in way over his head, he decided to clear out.
When the doors opened, we continued to get reasonably steady sales, but not enough to bring us to the point we really needed to be at to consider the trip a success. In the middle of the afternoon I started packing the various small figures, since they take a lot of time and we hadn't had a lot of sales on them. It probably cut into our sales, but with the logistical issues, we didn't want to be loading until midnight when we'd need to be driving the next day.
By the time the doors closed, we had most of the fiddly stuff packed up. I packed the remaining ramune, which I'd been holding off on to the very end in hopes of getting a few more impulse buys. I was working fast, so I didn't get a perfectly tight repack, but we still went from seven to four boxes, which was progress on reducing the amount of ramune we have on hand when we have so many venues that don't let us sell it.
Then I walked over to the parking lot to retrieve the van and get into the loading dock. At least this con wasn't insisting we be fully packed before we could retrieve our vehicle, so I was able to start loading while my husband finished the packing. This made the process that much more efficient, and we were ready to return to our hotel early enough that we even had time to wind down and do a little computer work. I even jotted a few notes on my novel.
The next morning we decided not to push quite as hard. We got up a little later to get the hotel's complimentary breakfast, and then we took our time packing our personal belongings instead of pushing at a frantic pace. We also needed to go some distance to get to the Sam's Club with the best gas prices, and ended up going on to the southern beltway to get back to I-94, a trip that took us past the Bloomington Doubletree, as well as the Microtel where we'd gotten our sleeping room for AniMinneapolis back in 2013.
We were making pretty good time on I-94 at first, so I thought we'd be getting to my folks' place early. But as we approached the Wisconsin Dells, everything started jamming up and we ended up spending several hours creeping along. Now and then things would loosen up and I could get the van up to something approximating a reasonable cruising speed. But I'd have to keep a close eye on traffic, because it never lasted long and was apt to jam up very fast. I saw at least one wreck that suggested someone went on autopilot and failed to notice the impending jam-up until too late.
Traffic didn't really clear up until Rockford, when I-90 heads off to Chicago and I-39 is all by itself again. Especially given all the Illinois-plated cars I saw with the badges of various Chicago-suburb dealerships, I think a lot of the heavy traffic was people from the Chicago area taking one last vacation in the Dells and having to drive back home.
Even when traffic let up, we couldn't make the best time on I-39 because of all the road construction. By the time we got off at Hudson and got gas, it was dark. I had a hard time seeing Towanda-Barnes Road because it was too dark to see the little water tower at Indian Grove, and was turning on instinct as much as knowledge. Only when we drove into Towanda did I feel confident that we hadn't made a big mistake and I'd have to figure out how to get straightened out again when I hadn't lived in McLean County since 1996.
Even going around Bloomington-Normal we had to deal with road construction. I was very glad to finally roll into Heyworth and pull into my folks' driveway. I carried in the most critical stuff and started one of the most important loads of laundry. Then we sat down to a very belated family dinner with my folks. I also jotted down a few notes on my novel.
On Tuesday I ran a final load of laundry while we got ready. I was going to finalize my restock orders and send them in, but my folks' Internet was down. Apparently their phone company's DSL is really flaky, and they don't have that many other options. So I spent the morning going through our ledger to identify t-shirt sales for those restock orders. I also did some work on the novel, expanding on the ideas I'd thought about while driving through Wisconsin.
After lunch I carried our stuff back out to the van. The wind had really picked up and dark clouds were rolling in, not the most reassuring sight when I had to remove several merchandise boxes to get our suitcases and cooler into position. By the time I put the last few things in, the first raindrops were falling, and it was raining pretty hard by the time we actually got in and hit the road.
We didn't leave a moment too soon. As we got on US 136, the rain started pouring so hard I could hardly see the road in front of me. Rain was blowing in sheets in front of me, and the further we went, the more I wondered whether we might have driven right past the I-74 interchange.
Then I saw it and we got on. About halfway to Champaign-Urbana, we rolled out of the storm and we had clear weather the rest of the way to Indianapolis. I even had time to stop in Brownsburg and deposit the cash.
Copyright 2015 by Leigh Kimmel
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Last updated September 24, 2015.