Tampa Bay Comic Con 2017

Tampa Bay Comic Con is the big summer convention held in the Tampa Bay Convention Center down in Tampa, Florida. Usually it's held over the first weekend of August, but this year it moved back a week to July 28-20, 2017. This was a problem because Florida Supercon had to move to that weekend as a result of the Miami Beach Convention Center being under construction and their need to use a different convention center in Ft. Lauderdale. Although it might seem to be no big deal, it appears the two conventions were just close enough that they interfered with each other.

Because the trip to Tampa is so long, we had to leave on Tuesday morning. I hadn't had the greatest night's sleep beforehand, so I was a little tired setting out. At first things seemed to be going well, but as we got down into Tennessee and started getting into the mountains, I noticed the van's temperature gauge creeping upward. Because I didn't want to find out the hard way just where its tipping point is (the point where it goes really fast from a little too hot to overheating or nearly so, and can be very difficult to get to go back down), I turned off the air conditioning. However, that meant a warm and unpleasant drive.

We stopped in Knoxville and visited the Vitamin World there and picked up some stuff. Then we continued to Chattanooga. At first I thought the engine temperature was doing better and left the air conditioning on. However, that proved to be a mistake, and I had to not just turn off the air conditioning, but also dial up the hot air on the blower to draw some heat off the engine. So we had a few very unpleasant miles to go before it cooled back down.

Still, I was glad to get to Chattanooga and get checked into our hotel room. I had a little trouble getting all the merchandise off our luggage, but once we got in, I even had some writing time, which was very welcome.

Wednesday I made sure to check the coolant level on the van. However, the level in the reservoir seemed fine, which raised the question of what was causing the engine to run hot. Had something been damaged in some of our earlier problems this past year?

There was nothing to do but carry out our personal possessions and hit the road south to Tampa. When we reached Atlanta, we got caught in a massive backup, which meant turning off the air conditioning again and suffering through the hot and muggy Atlanta summer as we pushed our way around the snarl. I was not looking forward to driving through Florida without air conditioning, but once we got out of the mountains and down past Macon, we started having a lot less trouble. So either it doesn't like the higher altitudes or it doesn't like the grades. Either of which would be a serious problem if we do go to the Worldcon in San Jose next year, since we'd have to go through some mountains somewhere.

When we arrived at our hotel in the outskirts of Tampa, we got an unhappy surprise: they had rented out their one and only handicap-accessible room, and we were simply out of luck. We pointed out to them that we had specifically requested a handicap-accessible room in our reservation, but the desk clerk told us that requests were just that, to be fulfilled if available. After much pressuring, he finally got his manager to agree to take some money off the cost of the room night, but we were pretty well disgusted enough we never wanted to stay in that hotel again.

Even with that trouble, I did manage to get some writing done. So the night wasn't completely wasted, even if we were less than pleased with the state of our room.

The next morning we had breakfast, then gathered up our belongings and got checked out. The Courtyard by Marriott didn't have a room ready for us yet, but instead of acting like that was just our misfortune and we could suck it, they arranged to put our luggage in checked baggage until one would be. So I piled all the heat-sensitive stuff onto a luggage card, then took the van over to the parking lot before settling in to wait.

While I was doing that, I got a panicked call from home. It seems that the post office had returned the letter for an upcoming con that still has us mail physical checks for dealer space. So I had to write to the person running the dealers' room at that convention to see how much space they had left, and whether this emergency was a crisis or a hassle. By that time they finally had a room available for us, so we could get our possessions into the room and have lunch. I also did a little writing before it was time to head down to the convention center and get loaded in.

As usual there was the annoying mix of picky-ass rules and confusion making things difficult at the loading dock. We weren't supposed to get in before 2PM, so we went to wait at a parking lot nearby -- and then other people started going in about ten minutes before 2. So we had to hurry and get in line, which put us about fifteen minutes late actually getting in, at which point they had us park on the opposite side of the dock from our booth location. As a result, it took nearly four hours just to get everything hauled in. Then I had to take the van back to the hotel's parking lot and get back to the convention center before I could even start building structures. Because of all those mixups, I didn't even have t-shirts in their hutches by the time we needed to call it quits so we could still catch the hotel shuttle.

At least we got a decent night's sleep in the hotel's good beds, which was a definite plus. But we still had to move in a hurry Friday morning to get back to the convention center when they reopened so we could continue setup. And toil as we might, we still had several stacks of boxes in the aisles when the staff came through yelling at us that they were about to open the doors and we had to get everything inside our space. So I had to pause the process of unpacking and just move the boxes, then try to get as much as possible up while people were beginning to filter in.

And filter was the operative word. Unlike 2016, when people started pouring in almost as soon as the doors opened, the level of foot traffic was definitely lukewarm. As a result, I had several opportunities to put out merchandise when the traffic level slackened. While it was good to get additional product out, it was worrying to have sales coming in at such a paltry level. We'd stocked up pretty heavily for this show, anticipating levels of sales comparable to 2017, and we were going to have those bills coming due over the following month. Not a good situation to be in.

By the time the doors closed for the evening, I was feeling very definitely concerned. We were getting sales, but at about half the level we'd been anticipating. But there was nothing to do at that point except head back to our hotel for the evening. We were able to get back quickly enough that we even decided to soak for a while in the hotel's hot tub, which was a welcome relief from the aches and pains of all the work we'd done. After that we had supper and I did some more writing.

On Saturday just getting to the convention center proved to be a challenge. The Tampa police had blocked off the access to the usual pickup point, and after much searching the shuttle bus driver finally dropped us off at the Marriott Waterfront Hotel. At least it got us to the convention center, but my husband's legs were not handling all the walking very well.

Once we got into the exhibit hall, my first order of business was to get the signs up and get some pictures taken to help update our website. By the time I put my camera back into my computer bag, a staff member was coming around on a little electric truck, telling everybody it was almost time for the doors to open and everyone to come in. So I got no opportunity whatsoever to look around and see who else was there.

Sales did pick up compared to Friday, but they remained stubbornly below what they should've been. By the time the day ended, I could tell that we were going to be hurting, badly if we didn't get some serious sales on Sunday. I was beginning to really regret having stocked up so heavily, because we really weren't selling that much of our newest lines of product.

When we closed for the evening, we then had the problem of getting back to the hotel. Thanks to the roadblocks, the shuttle driver had us go back to the Marriott Waterfront for pickup, and it still took him forever to get to us. As a result, there was no question of us getting another soak in the hot tub. We just had supper and I did some writing on a story that I'd set aside almost a month earlier.

Sunday we had to get stuff packed up and out of the room before we could take off for the convention center. That proved a little more interesting than expected, mostly because one item didn't want to stay on top of the cart and kept falling off. I had to retrieve it several times before I got it to the van. At least it wasn't raining, but by the time I got the cart back to the hotel and we got checked out, I was pretty frustrated with the whole affair.

At least Sunday morning I was able to get our tables open and ready for business quickly enough that I could take at least a glancing look through the vendor hall. I noticed at least ten other t-shirt dealers, which made me glad that we'd cut our t-shirt stock down to the bone to make room for figurines and other products, rather than the other way around.

Sunday sales were better than I'd been afraid they might be, but they remained stubbornly below target. Even so, people kept buying even after I started packing some of our more fragile small items, which is unusual. Oftentimes, starting packing effectively becomes a signal for people to stop buying. However, as we entered the last hour of sales, traffic tapered off, which was a marked change. Last year, we had a number of people still buying even as the staff was closing the doors.

Because we'd increased the numbers of our small, fragile figurines, packing took forever. Finally I was able to retrieve the van and start loading stuff out, but it was already getting dark and the rain clouds were coming in from the west. By the last few loads, we were actually getting rain, which made it complicated to keep things from getting soaked and damaged.

By the time we finally got loaded up and ready to leave, it was almost midnight. At least this time I knew how to get out to our Sunday night hotel in the outskirts of Tampa without getting lost like we did the first year we went. Even so, it was almost 1AM by the time we got there and checked in. I scribbled a couple of lines just to say I'd written, then we turned in to grab as much sleep as we could manage.

Monday morning it was still raining, but thanks to the awning over the entrance at the hotel, I was able to arrange all the boxes in the middle for a much better ride. That way we didn't have a box loose between our seats like we had the night before.

However, I was still tired enough that I needed a lot of caffeine to keep driving. We stopped at Gainesville and got the money deposited, which was a harsh disappointment. We deposited less than half of what we'd put in last year, at which point I knew the next month or so was going to be rough.

When we got to the Agricultural Inspection Station, I expected to be waved on through. Instead, I was told to pull over so they could take a look. The inspector seemed a little doubtful about my carrying t-shirts and porcelains until I opened the back door and he could see the boxes inside. He asked if I did shows, and I told him I was returning from Tampa Bay Comic Con. He seemed satisfied at that point and finally let me go. I was very relieved to get out of there.

In Macon, Georgia we decided to stop at a local Walmart and get some more caffeinated pop, since we were running low and I did not want to risk running out altogether. Even with the additional caffeine, I was still pretty much wiped out by the time we got to Chattanooga. I managed to get us parked at the hotel, but I was shaking from exhaustion while I stood in the lobby getting us checked in. I got a few lines scribbled, and then was very glad to turn in for the night.

Tuesday I actually felt alert and refreshed when I got up. I got our things out to the van and arranged without too much trouble, and I thought all was well. However, by the time we reached Knoxville, I was really feeling the drag of weariness. When we stopped at the mall, we decided to take a break and rest for a while. Then we went over to Vitamin World to redeem our second coupon, only to discover they were inexplicably closed. After some discussion we decided that the person who was supposed to work had been sick and wasn't able to find a substitute.

With no sign that it would reopen soon, we had no choice but press on, knowing the coupon would expire before we could use it. A bit north of Knoxville we found a Walmart where I was able to snag a packet of deli meat for lunch, along with additional energy drinks. At first they seemed to be working, but as we pushed through Kentucky, I was getting increasingly fuzzy around the edges. I was pretty much hanging on by my fingernails all the way through Lexington.

We pulled in at the rest stop just north of Lexington and I got booths arranged for another con that tends to fill up very rapidly. Then I decided we were going to stay and rest as long as it took for me to recover to the point I was confident that I was safe to drive again.

That took just about an hour, and even then, I needed the last energy drink to keep going past Cincinnati and up I-74 to home. I was able to get our personal belongings carried in and supper made, but that was it. Still, I was very happy to have made it home safely and without incident.

Copyright 2017 by Leigh Kimmel

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Last updated August 11, 2017.