Monday, September 24, 2007


So, from Thursday through Sunday, I was in Dallas, Texas, at FenCon. For those of you who might be unfamiliar with science fiction conventions, these are gatherings of folks who like the stuff. There are fans, writers, editors, artists, musicians, costumers. There are panels, presentations, masquerades, cabarets, and room parties. There is an art show, featuring fantasy and science fiction art; a dealers' room, where you can buy books, tapes, CDs, DVDs, swords, rayguns, comics, T-shirts, and jewelry, among other things.

Cons range from small to huge, a couple hundred people, to several thousand.

FenCon was at the Crowne Plaza, in North Dallas (Addison), Texas. It was big enough to draw a fair-sized crowd, not so big that it was unwieldy.

Guest of Honor: Connie Willis
Music Guest of Honor: Tom Smith
Fen Guest of Honor: Kathleen Sloan
Artist Guest of Honor: David Mattingly
Toastmaster: Steve Perry
Special Guest: Toni Weisskopf
Lone Star Shindig Guest: Jarrod Davis

As these things go, this one was great. The concom and staff worked hard, and things ran smoothly. The activities were confined to one floor, which made it easy. Everybody I encountered was polite, enthusiastic, and I had a fine ole time. Save for a couple of always-happens-sooner-or-later technical glitches with computers and sound during the masquerade, which made it necessary for me to vamp and do some frantic stand-up until the musical guest of honor Tom took pity on me and stepped up to save my ass, it all ran like Swiss clockwork.

My job, as toastmaster, entailed being on panels and introducing the guests, as well as MC-ing the masquerade and cabaret. Plus I had to sit in the bar now and then and drink beer. And I learned that one of the biggest differences between Dallas and Portland was, when you asked where the nearest Starbucks was, they said, "Well, go out front, take a left, about half a mile down the road."

In Portland, you just say, "Two blocks," and if somebody says, "Which direction?" you say, "Doesn't matter ..."

And when I hiked on up to the Starbucks, I didn't see anybody else on the sidewalk, save two other out-of-towners from the hotel, looking for drinkable coffee ...

Apparently nobody walks anywhere in North Dallas.

When I walked the dogs Thursday morning before I went to the airport, it was forty-six degrees and clear in Portland. When I got to Dallas, it was ninety-two degrees and smoggy ...

Hardly anybody at the hotel spoke with a yee-haw accent. I learned that's because hardly anybody who lives in Dallas is actually from Texas. As I was checking out, there was a guy next to me, cowboy boots, blue jeans, the belt buckle, who looked as if his nose had been broken a few times. Obviously Texan. He asked me about that guy he saw who looked exactly like Captain Jack Sparrow, right down to the drunken walk. I explained about science fiction cons, and the fact that the fellow in the costume was drunk, because that was real rum in that bottled he carried, but I was smiling to myself as I did, because

The broke-nose guy was from Sydney, Australia, had an Aussie accent thick as they come ...

They put on a good show, the kids in Texas. Good as any con I've ever attended.


steve-vh said...

And they didn't find the drikable coffee at Starbucks either, right?

Steve Perry said...

Starbucks gets a lot of flak, some of it deserved. Yeah, there is better coffee out there. But: Until Starbucks, if you didn't brew it yourself, the only place to get a good cup of coffee in most of the U.S. was at a Turkish restaurant, and those were in short supply.

Most of what passed for coffee before then (outside the deep south) made dishwater look appealing. If you can see the spoon through a cupful of liquid, it ain't coffee.

Real coffee, you can stand the spoon up, and it'll stay there ...

Yeah, there are a few places now where you can get good coffee out, but there are still a majority of establishments where it looks like weak tea, and tastes worse.

Starbucks, whatever else it did, raised the bar for coffee in places where it never would have risen otherwise. We make better at home, but compared to the average pot of hotel coffee? Starbucks is a gift from God.

Dan Moran said...

I'm with Steve. I've been making my own cappuccino since long before Starbucks started showing up in Los Angeles, but as much as I travel, I'm really grateful for its existence.

I got good coffee on the 5 freeway halfway to San Francisco a couple weeks ago -- and again coming back, this time down the 101. In parts of the world where no one had ever heard of cappuccino, 20 years ago.

nimrodd said...

As a member of the FenCon staff, it was great to have you here and I'm glad you had a good time. Look forward to seeing you at a convention sometimes in the future; maybe one where I'm not running an art show and can therefore attend some of your panels.


Steve Perry said...

Ah, you didn't miss much. I'm a fairly bland speaker.

I appreciate the hauling around you and the missus did, though. And I did get her to autograph one of her stories.

steve-vh said...

Agreed Steve. Starbucks raised the bar but for those of us who really enjoy good coffee, it's also like a plague that enters town and kills off the good little independants, like eating their own young.

So,here's a poll. What's the most unexpected place you got a great cup of coffee? Myself? Had to be Cebu Grand Hotel, PI.

Brad said...

It was great meeting you and having a chance to just talk. And drink a few beers, of course.

Best cup of coffee? Small travel hotel in the mountains of Maharashtra, India.

Dan Moran said...

Place w/best, most unexpected coffee? New Mexico, early '80s. Burger joint off some dead little one-lane highway -- dude had a hand press cappuccino maker. He charged more for the coffee than for the burger and fries, and he was right to.

Steve Perry said...

I always liked the story about the zen monastery perched on a mountain in Japan.

When you go there, you can get a cup of coffee. There are two kinds: The two dollar cup, or the two *hundred* dollar cup.

What is the difference?

A hundred and ninety eight dollars.
Otherwise, they are exactly the same ...

For me, I can't say I've ever been surprised by finding really good coffee unexpectedly. If the quality of the food is outstanding, by the time I finish eating and am ready for coffee, it's not a surprise if it's good.

In places where the food is really crappy, I don't recall ever getting a great cup of coffee.

If I go to a little place that specializes in coffee, like, say, a coffee house, I hope it's gonna be tasty, and that's the default mind-set. I've been disappointed, but that's more the norm than being pleasantly surprised.

In an ideal world, I wouldn't expect anything, just see what was there, but I confess I don't always manage that. Old debbil Expectation is always lurking out there just past the campfire's light, waiting for me ...