I had the pleasure of attending my first Dragon*Con (DC) in downtown Atlanta this past weekend. I have been wanting to attend for years but never got up the gumption to brave the crowds, weirdness, and expense. Besides, I’ve been happily attending the fabulous Decatur Book Festival instead with my wife for the past several years.
This year, however, the wife gave me a free pass to go off on my own for a Saturday. She said she had school work to do, but I think she was tired of listening to my broken promises of attending DC and then my whiny regret for once again missing out.
With next to no planning, I got up early on Saturday and MARTA’d down to Peachtree Center to see what all the fuss was about. People were already gathering for the big parade when I arrived around 9am, but I had to register first.
Registration gave me my first taste of the sad state of logistics and communication that is Dragon*Con. Having read the website registration FAQ, I knew that registration was at the Sheraton, but when I got there I found a hot mess.
Aliens, toons, demons, robots, and even some humans swarmed everywhere. Lines of bodies shuffled in every direction. I looked and looked for signage or some indication as to where to register but found none. I didn’t know what all the lines were for, but I assumed they were various panels.
Already lost, I made my way to a bank of doors but found them locked. As a group exited, I pushed my way in, hoping to find some guidance inside. Nope, just more people.
A corridor led to a large ballroom set up in the style of Disney: rows of roped aisles that bent back on themselves over and over again. And again, more and more people.
I’d found the registration room but also realized I’d come in from the wrong direction. I also got the first inkling that the 100,000 or so people milling around outside were in line to get into this room. Oops.
Well, I didn’t feel bad enough to actually leave and go wait in a five hour line, so I walked to the head of the room and got into the line proper. Not much later, I was back outside, gaping at the amount of line I had inadvertently (mostly) avoided.
The day turned out to be quite enjoyable, given that I’d kept my expectations to a minimum and planned no further than getting downtown and contacting a couple friends who weren’t expecting me (thanks, Ryan and Michelle, for letting me tag along!).
The costumes were the star of the show. The zaniness and variety of outfits and characters gave the whole convention an air of otherworldliness. Even standing in line was made more enjoyable because there was a constant parade of costumes to gawk at.
But most of what filled the day were panels (and the lines to get into them). First up was William Shatner. While it was awesome to see the legend in person, his talk was quite boring and rambling. The man just had very little of interest to say.
Next was more Trek: a panel featuring The Next Generation characters Q, Warf, Troi, and Data. I grew up on TNG, so this was a real treat. Even better, these guys were entertaining. Though they had little of value to say, they did so with enjoyable camaraderie. You could tell these guys were true friends.
A Fraggle Rock panel was fun, especially when they busted out the Red and Mokey puppets (muppets?).
One of the highlights of the day came next as we watched Mythbusters Jamie and Adam talk about what they do best: blow stuff up. Unfortunately, the panel was preceded by the low of the day: more terrible logistics.
It was explained to me by my experienced DC tour guides that lines usually started forming one hour before the event. However, people often showed up before the official line forming and congregated in a “blob.” That blob would then be reshaped into a line once things got official.
So, we found a group of people who were blobbing for Mythbusters, and we hung out for about half an hour or so. Eventually, we started moving, and we were excited to know that we’d be near the front of the line.
Oh, how foolish we were. As we followed our fellow blob members, we exited the building and were surprised to see a line had already formed outside. Then we turned a corner and saw that the line was quite long. Then we turned another corner and another corner, and my jaw just kept dropping. We walked down the city block that the hotel occupied, passing a river of people and seeking its end. We turned the corner and walked almost another city block before finally finding it. When had this line formed? How were we supposed to know?
We nearly gave up, all but certain that the ballroom couldn’t handle even half of the mass of people we’d just slogged past. Luckily, we persevered and were thrilled when we were admitted to the very back section of the ballroom. The stage was about 100 yards away, but we could watch the action on a giant screen above us.
Needless to say, the line logistics irked me. Not the length of the lines, mind you, but the lack of signage and communication about the lines. First registration, then my complete inability to even find the line for the Fraggle Rock panel (Turns out it formed by a locked, unmarked back door outside the hotel. How silly of me!). Finally, waiting in the wrong line/blob for Mythbusters as the real one got longer and longer.
The Dragon*Con logistics team can learn something from the Decatur Book Festival. Granted, DBF doesn’t have the size or crowds that DC has to contend with, but the DBF is run exceedingly well. Every stage has a stage captain with a stage team (all volunteers). The stages are clearly indicated with excellent signage directing the way and labeling the entrances. The stage team is knowledgable and able to help guide you where you need to be. And one subtle but very useful detail is that the stages are all numbered sequentially – even though the venue names vary greatly because they are located in different buildings and businesses, one can simply refer to “Stage 3” instead of “Marriott Ballroom A” or “Stage 7” instead of “Decatur Recreation Center Studio.”
I highly encourage the DC team to contact the DBF team and have a pow-wow. I’m also available and enjoy a good logistics challenge, so feel free to contact me. ;)
Moving on, my next panel was for Falling Skies. Though I love the show, the cast members in attendance were minor, and I ended up leaving early out of boredom.
Thus, I had some extra time before my final event. Wandering around the Hyatt, I stumbled upon a true gem: the DC art show. Amazing is the word that comes to mind. Tons of incredible fantasy and sci-fi artwork by true artists. I really enjoyed walking up and down the aisles by myself.
Luckily, the gallery closed and they kicked us all out. I say luckily because I just barely made it in for the last panel, and this turned out to be my favorite of the day.
Entitled “Who Is Jon Snow?”, we were warned as we entered that the event would contain spoilers and was meant for the book readers, not the show watchers. There were no celebrities, just two mediators who directed a group discussion about Jon Snow’s heritage and other mysteries of Westeros.
The attendees blew me away with their knowledge of the books and brought up some very interesting theories that I hadn’t considered (I realized how little thought I’d put into the book series when I heard these people discussing intricate details). I even had a pleasant surprise when one of my internal stereotypes was demolished as a redneckish guy spoke, southern drawl and all, very intelligently on the series and brought up an excellent point that had the whole room buzzing with excitement.
After that, it was time to head home. The lobby had filled up with amazing costumes and onlookers, but I had to say goodbye. The day had been a lot of work and a bit of tedium, but it was also a lot of fun. I don’t know that I could handle a whole weekend, but I’m looking forward to another one-day excursion to the fantasy, sci-fi, bizarro world that is Dragon*Con. Next year.