Friday, kateshort drove me down to the commuter bus station on her way to work so I could catch a 7:15 A.M. bus to the CTA train station in Rosemont, and walk the half mile or so from there to the Crowne Plaza O'Hare, where the Ides of March gaming convention was held this year; the main events are Dungeons & Dragons (Living Greyhawk and Living Arcanis) and d20 (Living Force) games, with some HeroClix and the like on the side. The con is run by some long-time friends of mine (chiefly docstout and elonden), and since my D&D skillz are too rusty to reliably referee a game (due in large part to having no time while I was in grad school), I volunteer to help with whatever else they need.
Usually that involves helping in the convention headquarters, running paperwork out to and retrieving it from the game masters and fetching snacks & drinks for them (we're proud of how well we treat our GMs), but this year it mostly involved working the registration desk, which basically consists of long hours of complete boredom punctuated with episodes of sheer chaos. Unfortunately for me, that also involves handling other people's money. While I can do sums pretty quickly in my head and can count money relatively fast, since this is my only experience working as what amounts to a retail cashier, all of that goes away when: it's not my money, I have someone standing in front of me, and any mistakes reflect poorly on me and the convention and can cause what we in the biz call a "situation." Or the money drawer could come out short, which in the long run is almost as bad.
All day Friday (7:30 A.M. to 10:00 P.M.--after working 9-5 on Thusday and having choir rehearsal from 7 to almost 9 P.M.) and most of Saturday (starting at 6:00 A.M.), I was on the registration desk. I sketched a rough map of the hotel to show first-time attendees how to get from the registration area to the gaming area (it's quite easy to get there, but you can't see one area from the other, so it's easy to get initially confused), and as you can see, I ended up doodling all over it. (I ran out of room below the "registration" area and left off the pool, though, so it's not quite as accurate as it should have been. Oh well.) I'd also brought an 850 page book to read, and managed to put quite a dent in it. By Saturday afternoon, almost all of the preregistered participants had picked up their packets, and walk-ups had trickled down to nearly nil, so we didn't really need 3-4 people at registration and I excused myself to head down to HQ, where this year's HQ staff & runners had everything pretty much under control, so I was only needed here and there to spell them when they weren't feeling well or were needed elsewhere. So I got quite a bit more reading done.
This was the convention's sixth year, and was probably the best year yet. In years past, I've become known (or infamous, if you prefer) for putting together a treatise titled "Building a Better Con," pointing out what went wrong and how to fix it, what went okay but could be improved, and what went well and should not be changed. (Since I'm usually stationed in HQ and frequently have to tour the convention floor, I usually can get a relatively good handle on what's going on.) This year, so much went well from what I could see--at least as far as things under the convention's control are concerned--that I was tempted to discontinue that tradition this year, though ended up going ahead and writing up a few points anyway. There were some little things that could be tweaked, but no really serious issues.
There was also a Lane Bryant convention in the same hotel (and about a dozen other random meetings, classes, etc., as you'd expect in this sort of place), and since one of our friends happened to show up in a suit, the hotel assumed whe was with LB and comp'ed her parking (which, since this is Rosemont, near O'Hare and across the street from the Donald E. Stevents Convention Center--where WizardWorld Chicago is held--is not cheap). There was a beautician's convention at the convention center. Down the hall from the room we used for HQ there was a model call with a photographer. Add to that Ides' almost 200 gamers, and there was quite a mix of people.
Friday night, there was a manicuring class in the meeting room next to our HQ, and the smell of chemicals (probably chiefly acetone) got so bad that everyone in HQ got headaches and a really bad high. Even people who said they normally can't smell anything noticed it. The hotel engineer/janitor/etc. we initially tracked down to complain about it obviously didn't have much English and didn't seem to think it was enough of a problem to do anything about in a timely manner. However, once one of our staff found the hotel's night manager for conventions, brought her into the room so she could smell it for herself, and pointed out that the fire marshal probably wouldn't be too pleased with the situation (someone called this "the Chicago method" of getting problems fixed), she shot off like a rocket, shooed out the remaining manicurists (who apparently were hanging around after their class was done, practicing techniques for airbrushing nails), brought over one of the higher-ranking engineers to see what the hotel could do to air out our room and basically bent over backwards to make sure we were accomodated. (Since the con took up three of the hotel's five ballrooms, and has been there for three years in a row now, and there was arguably a health risk involved, it was in certainly in the hotel's best interest to take care of us!) The night manager handed out her business card to the three of us who were withstanding the fumes and keeping HQ open while those who'd been coping with it for the previous couple of hours got some fresh air, and the engineer turned up the AC in the room to air it out. (As the stinking cloud dissipated, some of it ended up getting pushed up the nearby escalator into the hotel's food court, which I'm sure didn't do much for sales of their high-priced sandwiches and pizza.)
Saturday was relatively uneventful, thankfully. The air in HQ was refreshingly cool and clean. That evening, elonden, another friend, and myself went over to the hotel's restaurant for dinner. There were supposed to be four of us, but as the convention organizer, docstout ended up ditching us for some schmoozing over dinner with some people from New York and at least one representative from the company that puts out the Living Arcanis campaign (since LA is a growing part of the convention). The night manager was there, recognized me from the night before, and--seemingly under the impression that I was the convention organizer--came over and gave us each a free drink from the bar. They didn't stock any of my first choice of wine (Riesling), so I went with some other white wine that was okay but didn't stick in my mind; a Chardonnay, I think. The other two got an appletini and, if I remember correctly, some sort of a chocolate mocha mixed drink that came in a martini class. After HQ closed down for the night, there was a suite party with copious amounts of alcohol. Since I had to fly out the next day, I put in an appearance, hung out for a bit, then headed to bed without touching any of it. (The party ended up lasting all night into the next morning, and hotel security only got called twice...)
Sunday morning, the convention started back up at 7:00 A.M. I checked out and hung out in HQ, helping out a bit with some of the paperwork. I had to catch a 12:45 P.M. flight out of O'Hare, so around 10:30 A.M. I caught the hotel's shuttle to the airport.
I wish I'd been able to attend the whole convention, but with a work-related conference running Sunday through Wednesday, work had to take precedence over fun.
Feudalism: Serf & Turf