A Day of Wonder
Can’t really call it an Age of Wonder, we weren’t there that long (and I didn’t spy a single Skeksis), but Dawn and I have concluded our “business trip” up to WonderCon this past weekend. On the minus side, we spent more time driving than actually being out on the convention floor. On the plus side, the drive itself was quite nice, and a jaunt down memory lane for yours truly as I recalled family roadtrips of my childhood. I’ve always loved the beaches and hills of Central California, and a tour up Highway 101 offers satisfying amounts of both. The Golden State Freeway between Los Angeles and San Francisco is a barren wasteland by comparison, which my sainted mother says is in part because its status as a major route is much more recent, only opening in its current state in 1972. In fact, it’s a matter of record that facilities were so few and far between for a time that cars would routinely run out of gas due to a lack of fill stations.
On to the convention itself… much more crowded than we had anticipated! This wasn’t a huge problem, since we were there only to attend and observe and figure out if we might want to try to exhibit in the future, but one of my friends who has attended in previous years said that it was noticeably more crowded, to the point he had troubles getting into a film presentation panel he was supposed to report on. He expects that from San Diego, but the sudden upsurge in population (and thus, lines) at WonderCon blindsided him.
My existing theory on this is that everyone who missed the boat for getting their San Diego passes on Feb. 9th opted to go to WonderCon instead. But on the other hand, don’t get me wrong… we were there on what would traditionally be the busiest day (Saturday) and they still had passes for sale on site and panels you could slip into without worrying about capacity limits. So there was still a decent measure of “small convention” feel to it despite the jostling on the exhibit floor. I mean, to be fair, the exhibit floor itself was far, far smaller than the space that SDCC takes up, to the point where I was able to burn through it in a single day, even though I stopped to chat with people several times and took time out for lunch.
Oh, lunch. Lunch was the sole downer of the day. Maybe I’ve just gotten used to being treated fairly well by nearby establishments during conventions (or at least as professionally as any other patron), but the Chevy’s restaurant across from the Moscone Center has earned a special place in Hell. We were seated almost immediately, led out to the patio (note we did not request this… important later…) to our table where we settled in to check out the menus and munch on the complimentary tortilla chips…
And that’s where the trouble began. First, 20 minutes of salty chip munching went by before someone took our drink orders. Then we were asked if we were paying by cash or credit… we weren’t sure why a sit-down restaurant was asking that up front, but supposed maybe they wanted to know if we wanted to open a tab for cocktails, so told them no, no alcohol today, and chose the cash option since we figured it would be quicker and more convenient while they were busy. So at that point, the waitress took the food orders…
And another half hour passed before we saw her again. When we did, she slapped one of those faux leather containers for the check down in front of us. I blinked, figuring she had gotten her tables mixed up.
“Excuse me, we haven’t gotten our food yet.”
Rather than an oopsie, I sat there dumbfounded as she proceeded to explain to me that they have such problems with convention people on the patio running off without paying that when they want to pay cash, they have to pay ahead of time.
This was the first time this policy had been articulated to us. Remember, we did not ask to be seated on the patio, and thought cash was just going to be a convenient option (if we’d chosen credit, we might have found out sooner as they would have demanded to hold the card up front until we were done). Perhaps worst of all, this meant that after nearly an hour of waiting, they hadn’t even started on our food yet.
At that point, I asked them to please tally up our sodas and iced teas, put down enough money for that, and we left. But for me it wasn’t just the slowness of service and lack of communication, I had a problem with the whole policy, and I told the manager as much when she came out to ask if everything was okay. No. No, it was not okay. It was, frankly, incredibly insulting and unwelcoming, especially since it was made clear that this was something only being applied because we were obvious convention attendees. Perhaps I’m sheltered, but in my 37 years on this Earth I have never run into any other restaurant of the sit-down, here’s-your-menu wait staffed variety that requires payment up front. Even on their busiest occasions. And to be selective about it? I mean, can you imagine a restaurant enforcing a policy like that on their black patrons, because their experiences say something negative about them? They’d be sued out of their eyeballs.
I’m not going to claim convention attendees never skip out on checks, but I’m sure there’s an amount of non-attendees who do the same. Restaurants tend to account for this, the same way retail stores account for the fact that a certain amount of shoplifting will occur. Christ on a cracker, Dick’s Last Resort down in San Diego is an intentionally rude place and even they trust their patrons (including convention patrons) enough to bring the check at the end. If I’m expected to pay up front, I might as well hit the Baja Fresh or McDonald’s and at least get it quick.
But hey, if you’re gonna do it, at least tell your customers up front. That way they can find somewhere more decent to eat before you waste an hour or more of their time.
So anyhow, that bad experience almost shot my Day of Wonder all to hell, or at least threatened to reduce my wondering to “What the hell?!”, but fortunately it was a rewarding experience otherwise. I hit up a couple of good panels and we bought good things from people we knew, and people we didn’t know. In particular, I sought out Daniel M. Davis of Steam Crow and bought his beautiful Monster Commute book which I had lacked the cash for when we first met him at DesignerCon last year. Also, when we were at SDCC ’10 I’d picked up a freebie table offering called Miserable Dastards which I found quite entertaining, but never got around to the booth it came from… at WonderCon, not only did I stumble across the booth, but I found writer Richard A. Hamilton present and accounted for and was able to both buy his volume 1 collection and tell him how much I had enjoyed the first issue. Then there was our great chat with Ryan Reiter, who was down promoting his second annual ZomBCon and was very excited when we told him about Zombie Ranch, or at least excited enough to trade a copy of the comic for a t-shirt and poster. I don’t think we’d actually be able to make it up there this year, but for anyone in the Seattle area it seems like a brain-munching good time. Last year Bruce Campbell even held a special ceremony for zombies wanting to renew their wedding vows, which Dawn and I could only watch jealously from afar.
And like I said, I did manage to burn through the whole floor in one day. At San Diego I can’t accomplish that in five days. I’m sure I missed some things and missed some shoutouts (Rebecca Hicks, Travis Hanson, and Mark Dos Santos were all usual suspects in attendance). I know I missed out on seeing all but a couple members of the following group, to where I didn’t even realize they were a group until I saw the pictures today:
Yep, it’s a gender reversed JLA, and the men are in on the act as well as the ladies. A word of warning should you follow the link to the bigger picture, Power Boy shares his canonical counterpart’s inclination to strain against the fabric of the suit, just in a different area. But hey, I guess if comic artists can show nipples and ‘toe poking through on the girls, it’s only fair…
See you next week, as our tale of the Zombie Ranch continues!