I had more fun this weekend than I have in years! Patty and I attended this year’s World Science Fiction Convention in Kansas City.
Patty had said that she would be at my mom’s house in Belleville around one, and I got there a little before.
She got caught in construction work traffic in Indiana, and we didn’t get on the road until three. Traffic was terrible, not just through St Louis but all the way there. We decided to go straight to the convention; we could check in to the hotel later.
We got parked (finally), and went in through the light rain, which would be a hard rain later, and cold wind. There inside the building sat Dr. Who’s Tardis! There was a door handle, and Patty decided to see if it would open. She walked up to it, and it moved away!
That was the first really cool thing we saw, but not the coolest by far.
We got to the place to get our badges, and oops: I forgot the magic numbers: the membership and PIN numbers. All I could do was hope we could get in, anyway -- I had the emails from worldcon on my phone.
It turned in not to be a problem, as they had us in their computer systems. Patty’s name tag said “Patty McGrew”, mine said simply “mcgrew”. A helpful lady in a scooter gave us the lowdown on everything. I asked where the nearest drinking fountain was, and she said that bottled water, soda, and snacks were free in the exhibit hall.
I got a bottle of water and Patty got a soda. We wandered around and came across a life sized cardboard cutout of an astronaut, and someone said a real astronaut was there. There was a fellow in a business suit, the first business suit I’d seen and asked him if he were the astronaut.
“No, she is,” he said, gesturing towards a trim, fit, attractive black woman in a green dress.
I’ve never been one to be starstruck. I’d met dozens, probably hundreds of celebrities while pumping gas for Disney World between 1980 and 1985 – major league baseball, basketball, and football players; professional golfers, more than one who became irate because I didn’t recognize them, despite the fact that I’ve hated that sport since my first job at age sixteen, working as a groundskeeper (“If anybody has to work that damned hard for me to play a silly game, I’m done with golf”); Rock and pop stars (one of whom, Cris Cross, was a complete and total jerk, but most were pleasant enough)...
And Movie stars. My favorite movie star was Buddy Hackett, a really nice guy. Knowing he had done Disney movies, I told him if he were an employee I could give him a discount. He said he had before and may be again. “Yes,” I said, “I recognized you” and told him my favorite movie was Mad Mad World. He grimaced.
“I hated that movie,” he said. “It was hot, half the actors were not very nice and Mickey Rooney was an asshole and Jim Backus...” (the actor who played the rich guy in Gilligan’s Island) “...was always flubbing his lines because he was always drunk.
“My favorite movie was The Love bug,” he said. “we had SO much fun making that movie!” He had quite a few tales about that movie.
He said he was there to talk to the brass about an upcoming movie, which he didn’t name but was The Little Mermaid, where he played... I’ve forgotten, I took my kids when they were little.
It was a very pleasant conversation. He gave me his credit card, I ran it through the machine, the old-fashioned kind with carbon paper, returned his card, thanked him, and he drove off. I mentioned to my co-workers, who all were star-struck, who I had just served. They didn’t believe me, so I showed them the card receipt and they all went ape-shit.
John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd stopped by and the star-struck dummies I worked with kept pestering them and they kept repeating that they’d never heard of those guys. “Guys, if they say they’re not John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd they’re not!”
As they were leaving, one of them winked and thanked me. The morons I worked with seemed not to realize that the only difference between them and us was that they had better jobs.
And then I met NASA engineer and astronaut Jeanette J. Epps at Worldcon, and for the first time in my life I WAS star-struck. This woman had been in outer space (or rather, will be in 2018)! I had a very pleasant conversation with her. She asked if I wrote science fiction, and I told her “yeah, but I read more of it than I write.” It seems she was as impressed by meeting a science fiction writer as I was by meeting an astronaut! At her questioning I told her Sputnik launched when I was six, I watched Armstrong land on the moon, and while living in Florida I saw every shuttle launch before the Challenger accident... and the look on her face told me no astronaut likes to think of that.
She said she was envious, to see all that history with my own eyes. I told her I was envious of folks Patty’s age. “Now, only a select, elite few ever make it to space but by the time Patty is my age, space will be open to everyone.”
By then, the word “astronaut” would be as disused as the word “Aviator” is now, as everyone would be able to visit space. After all, there was no such thing as an airplane when my grandmother was born, the first airplane flight being six months later, and she flew on several planes and saw men in space land on the moon. Yuri Gagarin flew into space twenty six years before Patty was born.
We talked of America’s inability to send people to space (I got the idea that she didn’t like Russian rockets) and I countered that at least we could launch cargo, and would soon have our own capsule. “Three of them,” she said. I took Patty’s picture with her and shook her hand. She indicated she wanted to see us again the next day (today; the awards are presented tonight; I’m typing a draft in the hotel and will finish when we get home) and I assured her we’d be back. I intend to give her a copy of Nobots if I see her today.
As Patty and I walked off, I realized that for the first time in my life I was star-struck. This woman was not only an engineer (all the astronauts are, if I’m not mistaken, scientists and engineers) but an astronaut! “That alone was worth the price of admission,” I told Patty with a huge smile on my face, and she was as impressed as I was.
Dr. Epps was one of the few black people I saw there. There were more Chinese alone, and Japanese, than black people. I saw more blacks in my hotel than in the teeming masses at the convention. I met one black fellow later, an overweight gentleman who said he was an actor from New York. For all I know, he was in Hamilton.
S/N ran a piece last week about “racism in SF” and I can tell you that there are few black SF writers because black SF fans are almost nonexistent.
The crowd was almost as Caucasian as a Donald Trump rally.
Most of the night was that good. I took Patty’s picture as she sat on the throne from Game of Thrones, she took my picture with some alien Japanese monster. However, the weather got to me – it got cold outside, and with the huge building’s air conditioning it was cold inside and my arthritis started aching terribly. But the pain didn’t stop me from having a great time.
There was a very short man in a Jedi robe, a woman with a robotic baby dragon, and lots of booths put up by cities hoping to host a worldcon. Dublin wants it in 2019, and God if it’s there I want to go! Ireland’s on my bucket list, anyway.
They were raffling stuff off, some of it really expensive stuff, so we each got a ticket.
We didn’t win anything.
After the raffle we drove to the hotel, checked in, and went to our rooms.
I’d gotten to bed about two, and since I can’t seem to sleep when it’s light I got up about seven. There was a strange small coffeemaker, two packets that said they were coffee, but no basket.
So I took the elevator down to the lobby, hoping to find coffee. Coffeeless, I pushed the wrong button on the elevator and it stopped on the second floor, and there were two computers for guests. I decided to write when I was awake enough; the previous night I had regretted not bringing a computer.
Not only was there coffee, there was breakfast. I got a cup of coffee and went back up to my room to read and watch the news. Back down for more coffee and carrying a thumb drive, and on the way back up I stopped on the second floor to write.
No such luck, there were two young teens at the two computers. So I went back up to read some more. Patty was sleeping and wouldn’t wake up. It was her rental car, and I considered taking a cab to the convention center, but didn’t.
While reading, I heard strange sounds outside the window, three stories down. Looking out through the screen, I saw the Kids on skateboards. Good, I could write!
My coffee was empty after writing for a half hour or so, so I went back downstairs to fill my cup, and back to my room, again considering a cab. It was eight-thirty, so I called Patty’s phone again. This time she answered, and I informed her that she had twenty minutes to get breakfast.
She came back up after breakfast and said she needed to lay down a little while and would be half an hour or so. She said she wasn’t feeling well, which was understandable since she’d driven from Cincinnati to Kansas City the day before, and we’d been at the convention until after midnight.
Oddly, despite only sleeping five hours the night before, I was fine, wide awake.
We got to the convention about eleven-thirty or so, too late to meet Dr. Epps again. But we discovered that the daytime was a lot more busy and had a lot more to see – and buy. I bought three tee shirts, and so many books I won’t be at the library for months. One was Star Prince Charlie, co-written by Poul Anderson and Gordon Dickson, signed by its editor. At least, I think it’s the editor’s signature. There was all sorts of cool stuff, like the bridge of the Enterprise and a huge sculpture of the part of the Death Star that Luke Skywalker blew up, made from Legos and including Luke’s and another pilot’s craft.
The illustration here is from one of the tee shirts I bought. The title of the book the robot is reading is “Tomorrow is Now”, which makes me wonder if the artist has read Yesterday’s Tomorrows. If so, I’m flattered.
Then I met David Gerrold, who has been writing and selling science fiction since he was twelve, which is an interesting story in itself. He had written a screenplay called The Trouble with Tribbles and sent it, unsolicited, to Paramount. Paramount, like all film studios, return unsolicited manuscripts unopened.
However, they had no script for the next Star Trek episode and were becoming panicked. They read, then after several rewrites, filmed the script. He’s been making a living at it ever since. The September issue of S&SF is dedicated to him, and he signed a copy of it and I bought it from him.
There were more nerds than I’d ever seen at once, far more. And every one of them was smiling. I had pleasant conversations with several people, including a gentleman from the Kansas City library.
Carrying around what felt like fifty pounds of books and short on sleep, I decided to get the car keys from Patty and put the swag in the trunk.
I must have walked around for miles carrying that load trying to find the car. Hot and tired I was stumbling like a drunk, and when I fell down I decided it was time to surrender, and staggered back to the convention center, still hauling my load.
I ran across the librarian, who grinned and said, as has been written in so many science fiction stories and comic books, “So – We meet again!”
I stumbled back in and got a bottle of water and sat on a couch towards the back of the hall; my back was killing me. I tried to call Patty, but she wasn’t answering. I was starting to worry, as my phone battery was getting low, and she had my battery charging battery in her purse. Ten minutes later, my water empty, I decided to get a beer. I tried calling again – no luck. I sat back down on the couch again as my phone rang; it was Patty. I told her where I was and she couldn’t find me.
“Do you know where that big screen is?” she asked. I answered “Yes, I can see it from here.”
“Stand under it!” I did, and she found me. We sat at a table by the screen and I plugged my phone into the charging battery. There was a heavy black man in a polo shirt, one of the incredibly few black people there. There was an engineering company logo on his shirt.
“So,” I asked, “Are you an engineer?”
“No, but I play one on television.”
Patty had gone for snacks and I had a pleasant conversation with the actor, about SF in general and the convention in general.
Patty came back with some veggies; raw broccoli and cherry tomatoes and cheese. We ate it and walked around some more.
There were a couple dozen people in various science fiction costumes. One was a very short man in a Jedi outfit that I mentioned earlier. I could swear I’ve seen the guy on-screen somewhere.
We decided we’d seen everything there was to see there by three, so went back to the tables by the screen. It had been beaming some sort of thing that was going on in the auditorium the night before, but only a static photo now. We had a conversation with a couple of folks who looked about my age, two men and a woman. The woman and one man and I talked about science fiction and art, the other man, who was with the woman, was largely silent. Patty had gone to the restroom.
I decided to get a slice of pizza and a beer at the Papa Johns booth, which looked like a permanent part of the place. A very small four piece pizza was eight bucks, and a pint can of Budweiser was six, twice what a Guinness was in any bar at home. But I was having too much fun to worry about my bank balance or credit card bills.
I ate one slice, and nobody else wanted any. The three left, and a while later we made our way to the auditorium to watch the Hugos be presented. “Too bad we got here too late to see Dr. Epps again,” I said.
“I saw her when you were looking for the car,” she said, “but she was with people looking busy so I didn’t bother her.”
We got pretty good seats toward the front, but it was still forty five minutes before the ceremonies started. I used the rest room and got another beer, this time a Corona; beer choices were pretty limited.
Finally it started. The Master of Ceremonies was Pat Cadigan, a woman who had won a hugo decades ago, and she would have made a pretty good stand-up comedian.
She came on stage holding a bull whip and after telling everyone to silence their phones, admonished us “Don’t make me use this!” Her whip was the center of many jokes by many people on stage.
I’d been disappointed since 2012 when I read The Martian that it hadn’t gotten the Hugo it deserved, and apparently I wasn’t alone, because Andy Wier got two of them this year. One was “best new writer”, probably since it was years too late to award it for the book, and one for Best Long Version Photoplay for the movie version, that even beat Star Wars!
Mr. Wier wasn’t there. An astronaut in his astronaut uniform accepted the award in his place for “best new writer”.
When “Best Long Version Photoplay” came around, another astronaut in uniform accepted it for him: None other than Dr. Epps! I gave her a standing ovation, but no one else did.
I haven’t had that much fun in years! I spent a fortune, but it was worth every penny.