Once upon a time, Chattacon was held at the Read House in Chattanooga, Tennessee. It was a good-sized regional convention with attendance in the 1500 range. I don’ t know what their numbers were this year, but it seemed sparse. Chattacon now makes its home in the Chattanooga Choo Choo Holiday Inn.
The Choo Choo is a converted railway station on 24 acres, with a decommissioned wood-burning locomotive on display. (I’m told the train was built in 1880, and last used by the Smoky Mountain Railroad in 1940s) There are passenger cars that have been converted into sleeping rooms. The accommodations are spread out, but the staff is helpful and cheery. We were in “Hotel III”, and aside from having a wait for the bell cart and attendant, it was a painless check-in.
We had a mutual brain TILT moment when we first entered the hallway of Hotel III. The long, narrow corridor was brightly decorated, and strangely reminiscent of The Shining. Fortunately for us, there were no Twins in that corridor. They only appeared in our imagination, and our fingers remained mute and still. The secure wireless connection sucked wind, but other unsecured connections were available.
In the Beginning was Registration…
I have many expletives in mind regarding the Registration process. We were lab rats in a maze. My compadre, Amber, had pre-registered. I had not. We went into the hotel lobby, and entered Pandelerium. What at first appeared to be the end of long lines in front of registration tables were actually clusters of folks (say that very fast) waiting…. A lovely lady from Registration emerged from the tables to shepherd us On Site registrants to actual tables. It was only then that it became apparent what we were all waiting for…
Ah, but yes you do, if you want to get into the convention areas. There’s the proverbial rub. Computer glitch after computer glitch meant that I waited for my badge from 6:00-9:15PM. Yes, Virginia, I waited for 3 hours and 15 minutes. That’s not the end of the story. You may recall that I said Amber was pre-registered. During a system hiccup, her pre-registered check-in was lost, and she had to start over again. She discovered this when my badge printed from one of the lovely parallel-ported printers. Then, she was told, in 30-90 minutes, she’d get her badge. It was 6:00 PM déjà vu all over again, except that it was 9:00 PM now. They were out of Program schedules and Program Books.
We spent our time socializing with friendly fen in waiting, including my old pal, writer Wendy Webb.
At 10:40PM (yes, that would be 4 hours and 40 minutes!), Amber got her badge. However, they were out of lanyards, schedules, and Program Books. We did obtain a map with helpful designations, such as “Mundanes.” The badges were LOVELY works of art. We missed the entire Friday night schedule of programming because we needed our stinkin’ artsy fartsy badges!!!
We were so exhausted by the time we were done that we didn’t even go to the Con Suite to get free beer or attend any of the advertised room parties.
One of the highlights of our afternoon was a Tom Smith workshop on DAWs (Digital Audio Workstations), aka how to make and record music on your laptop without spending a small fortune. He was informative, with contagious enthusiasm. He’s also a heckuva nice guy (you can pay me later, Tom). He’ll be sorry he told us we could email him if we had any questions!
Tom Smith also did a fun, crowd-pleasing concert, and even perpetrated (um, I mean performed) his material to many new listeners. He was a busy guy, as he MC’d the tiny Masquerade on Saturday night.
The Dealers Room was decent, and we made our first drive-by of it to see what we might want to buy later… ALL the Dealers were friendly. ALL OF THEM. What a nice surprise to feel as if they actually wanted our business! Sadly, we never made it to the art show.
Many of us who did other stuff during the Masquerade and planned to return to the open filk afterwards were disappointed to find the Conference Center hallways rolled up and silent by 11:00 PM. Arc Attack (the Tesla Coil music folk) was giving a concert in the Con Suite building…and the free beer was flowing.
On the way back to our room, as we traversed the long walkway between train car rooms back to “Hotel III”, we agreed that the view was not dissimilar to that of The Warriors. We were as sober as proverbial judges, and freezing our butts off. The strange juxtaposition of The Shining, The Warriors, and “yall come” was just a tad disorienting.
It was time to pack up and check out all too soon. The Bell attendant couldn’t find a cart. Soooo he came up and helped us to carry our stuff to a golf cart, and drove us to our car! YEAH! We made Choo Choo gift shop purchases for kids, and unsuccessfully attempted to get breakfast (they were setting up for lunch, but not ready). We went back to the Dealers Room and did a little more shopping. We had another brief conversation with Tom Smith, and ran into writer Rob Sommers. Then we had to make the difficult choice between attending the final guest panel, and feeding our faces away from the hotel. Our faces won. We took off.
The only thing not to like at Chattacon was the registration madness. In many other ways, it reminded me of conventions of old, where fans talked to each other “just cuz”. In fact, that’s the single biggest factor that causes me to say I would return to Chattacon. EVERYONE was friendly, whether staff members or fans…sober, drunk, or tired.
About the badge problem: I volunteer to bring the magic markers next year!! Who’s up for bringing the perforated cards or stick-ons?