Last weekend was the Oklahoma Steampunk Exposition.
I was not a Con Chair or anything. I was very firmly told I was "just a vendor".
But you know me. I couldn't leave it at that. So I insinuated my way into the con, writing the press release, handing over a copy of my precious media contact list, handing out hundreds of the OSE informational bookmarks, worming my way into the panels, and just generally making a nuisance of myself.
On the day of OSE itself, I arrived at 7:00 am for set up, just to be sure I was the first one there!
And a good thing, too, because the hotel hadn't done a thing to get the vendor space ready. So I hauled out trash, swept the carpet (where were the vacuum cleaners? Hiding, I'm sure!), and hauled tables around. I had the place nearly set up when the hotel people arrived to set up, so I sweet-talked them into finding me more tables and moving the extra chairs out of the way. By the end of all of this, all the vendors ended up with slightly more space than was promised them.
Did this stop them from complaining?
Of course not!
Complaining, for some people, is what they do to help them breathe. If they didn't complain, they'd suffocate.
Some of the complaints were of the "not really a valid complaint, just flapping lips" variety. These complaints made me happy because it meant they didn't have anything real to complain about that con staff could fix. These were complaints like the hotel plumbing, or the hotel layout, or parking.
Then there were the complaints I could fix, and happily did: broken table, too hot, too cold, moving to a different space, setting up slightly different from what I'd arranged, removing tables because they didn't need any, adding chairs because they needed more, locking or unlocking doors, shooing smokers away from the outside doors, that sort of thing.
And then there were the complaints that I could sort, kind of fix - not enough traffic. I made signs and others on the staff embiggened them and added color and stuff, and one of the guests took it upon himself to be town crier and herd people towards the vendor room, so traffic flow increased and so did sales.
But in the end, it was up to the vendors themselves to increase their own sales. The con didn't guarantee them riches and fame, only an opportunity to hawk their products. I think the con did a fair job of that.
I probably made the least money of any vendor out there. This does not bother me. I didn't expect people to want many of my products because I was the only vendor of my kind there. And it was my very first time ever vending. It was an experiment for me, to test the waters before I retired and maybe took up vending full time. Or part time. Or something. I learned from it, which was more valuable to me than the money I made. I owe the Feds about $6.00 in sales tax. I think. Maybe less. I have to look it up.
So, the vendors really had it pretty good, at least from my perspective as a vendor, too.
I was also a panelist. And that kind of sucked because the panels had a lot of "stuff" I had to haul for them for a long way through the hotel, and I had to squeeze my over-laden body through some scarily narrow places where hotel housekeeping blocked the way. Nothing the con could have done about that except maybe lend me a few minions they didn't have to be my bearers.
I knew going in I'd have to fund the panels myself and not expect any donations to defray the cost, so I resigned myself to eating Ramen and wildcrafted foods all month to pay for them. Good thing I'm an expert wildcrafter!
I did a panel on absinthe - the history, the methods, the recipe, the culture, the ritual, the mystique, the films and books and art. The original venue was going to be in the wide open atrium, but I nixed that and went all prima donna and demanded a limited access room. I had someone check ages at the door because everyone there had to be over 21. The con was sweet and indulged my demands. The panel culminated in people getting to taste a sample of absinthe after watching the ritual preparation of it. That went really well. There was a lot of interest in it. People wanted to know more about absinthe and I think I could have gone on another hour about it, but I wrapped it up with the sampling.
And immediately after the Absinthe panel I went straight into the Steampunk Tea Party.
Fortunately the con was very kind to me and allowed me to hold the Steampunk Tea in the same room I'd had the Absinthe panel in. So as I was setting things up, making the cucumber sandwiches and deviled eggs and slicing the tea cake and setting out the scones and cookies and brewing the tea, I talked about steampunk tea, what I was doing and why and how to make it steamy. I shared some of the history of tea, and had people examine and smell the real tea leaves and discussed the proper tea brewing temperatures and how to tell what the temperatures were without using a thermometer (shrimp eyes, fish eyes, dancing pearls, raging torrent, dead water), how to make a tea buddy for carrying their tea things around, and how to improvise a steampunk tea from a vending machine.
I think that went over well, too.
And then it was time to pack up and leave.
I only saw 2 places the entire con: the vending room and the panel room, with the places between a blur of dashing through in order to get things done.
I did get a brief chance to pause and attend my costumer's guild meeting! It was great to see them and I'm glad they made it to the event, there were some amazing costumes there and tons of new costuming ideas, accessories, and more!
Everyone I spoke to enjoyed themselves at the con, which makes me happy. That means there's enough interest for one next year.
Sadly, unless I win the lottery, I will not be the one sponsoring it. But I do hope to have a more active part in planning it.
I think, and I don't believe I'm being too egotistical here, that if I had been pushier, had squirmed my way deeper into the staff and been louder, some of the mistakes that happened could have been averted.
The people who sponsored this con had never done a con before, not like this, not on this scale, and they chose good people to help with it, but ignored all us old fogies with decades of experience.
And we let them shout us down and do the con their way.
I bought a mustache from Ta-Da (wonderful women, love them to pieces!) so I could put it on when I am being the heavy, and I think I may wear it out next year!
This con had so many of the things I loved about the early years of the SF cons - the freshness, the gosh-wow factor, the ooohs and aaahs, and the OMG- Gotta have it/ gotta do it!