Here it is: Cthulhu Coffee's investigative report on it's first out-of-state (read: not Minnesota) convention. Ted and I had high hopes for Chicago's age-old and infamous WindyCon, expecting droves of fans and wild night like those we see in Minneapolis conventions. Alas, it was not to be. Here is our tragic tale, as told by the web minion, Melissa.
11102000 Friday morning I sprang from my Minneapolis bed-of-choice around 6:45 AM, anxious to get the eight-hour car ride over with before the inset of Chicago's evening rush hour. I checked with Jeff, Rick and Sharon to make sure the dogs were set for the weekend. Meanwhile, Ted slept (an unusual freak occurrence, since he is usually awake by 4:00 AM). I let the dogs out, fed them and our enormous cat. I let the dogs out again. Meanwhile, Ted slept. I logged in to grab my e-mail and play some logic games to while away my time. Meanwhile, Ted slept. I watched some election 2000 brouhaha on CNN. Meanwhile, Ted slept. I took a shower, got dressed, and brushed my dog. Meanwhile, Ted slept.
Finally (around 9:30 AM), Ted awoke, showered, packed, and was ready to go. We piled our gear into my trusty 1992 Honda Civic (the one with duct tape holding on the passenger side mirror), and armed with the Rand McNally road atlas and Ted's foggy childhood memories of Chicago, we set out for the Windy City.
I drove the entire trip out, which means that we made the eight hour trip to Schaumburg, IL in under seven hours, including our breakfast stop at the Perkins in Black River Falls, WI (you know, the one with the bright orange plastic moose by the side of I-94). We checked into the Hyatt Regency Woodfield (an excellent hotel with great service; highly recommended), dumped our bags in our room, and checked in at the convention downstairs.
The dealers' room was a bit different than the dealer's rooms I've been used to seeing at CONvergence and MiniCon. It was about a third of the size (a surprise, since I was expecting this convention to be larger than CONvergence), and for some reason, three or four of the 20 or so dealers were selling stuffed animals. Otherwise, the fare for sale was about the same: trading cards, action figures, bumper stickers, book, comics, jewelry. I immediately stumbled upon my souvenir for the weekend: an octopus puppet. Another addition to the Cthulhu Coffee cephalopod collection!
After inspecting the dealers' room, Ted and I attended opening ceremonies. We were surprised to learn that WindyCon, in fact, spun off of Minnesota's own MiniCon 27 years ago. We were also highly amused by the fact that WindyCon's chairperson considered MiniCon "huge" (although it once boasted of 5,000 attendees four years ago, its current attendance reaches only 300 - 500 people per year). Ted also noted that last time he attended WindyCon (about 10 years ago), it was a hopping place with around 2,000 attendees; from what we had seen already, we guessed that there were only 500 - 1000 people attending this convention. The crowd was also much older than our Minneapolis fans. Those facts, in addition to hearing the key speaker talk about events that happened 30 years ago (in lieu of talking about anything currently happening in the world), Ted and I agreed that this convention indeed had a "moribund population curve" (translation: fans here are leaving faster than they are being replaced, and thus attendance dwindles to nothing) (yes, we both have biology degrees).
Opening ceremonies included quick appearances from the featured guests, who included the artist Lubov, author Terry Brooks (who is a fantastic speaker, by the way), and Frederick Pohl. Terry Brooks amused everyone by giving a humorous, thoughtful speech about his toddler, who, when strapped into his car seat, insisted that the family car was being chased by Godzilla.
After the ceremonies, Ted and I wandered through the various few other features of the convention. We poked our head in the movie room (showing spy movies all weekend), scanned the dealers' room again (nothing new in the last hour), and browsed the sparse art show (unremarkable except for some huge canvases by Lubov, which were lovely). Finally, we decided to eat dinner in the hotel's restaurant, which was overpriced but quite good. Appropriately, we ate calamari.
After our feast, Ted and I decided to check out the night life of the convention. Unfortunately, there wasn't much of one to check out. The parties were not in a centralized place, so it was difficult to party surf. Plus, since there wasn't much incentive to party surf, most parties seemed to turn into just small groups of friends, not very inviting to people new to the convention. And Consuite just sucked (a couple of adjoining rooms and a few plates of snacks -- Ted and I are used to a Consuite that takes up half a floor and provides sandwiches, soup, and chili). There were a couple exceptions to the party suckage, of course. The Babylon 5 viewing room was packed full of people and had a nice setup. The CapriCon room people were very nice and invited us in to learn how to make a rocket ship out of origami (never underestimate the raw power of origami). But, even so, Ted and I returned to our own room within an hour and sat down to watch the news media tangle over the election brouhaha. It was more exciting.
A few hours later, Ted's old high school friend Rebecca came to visit us, and we sat in the hotel bar for a few hours. That was, by far, the most entertaining part of the day. The three of us chatted until 2:00 AM, then Rebecca went home and Ted and I called it a day.
11112000 Ted and I woke up nice and late (around 11:00 AM or so) and set out in search of food. We found it, once again, in the hotel restaurant. Great French onion soup!
We then set out in search of, well, anything interesting. We attended a series of new movie previews, during which we got lots and lots of free stuff, including light-up yo-yos. That was good. That was followed up by a bad improv comedy group. That was atrocious (and painful for ex-actors such as Ted and I). We then set out to look for anything else interesting. We looked in a couple panels (boring), we looked in the dealers' room again (seen that), we poked our heads in the movie room (old James Bond film, near the end; nah). So, since I had never learned how to use a yo-yo in my youth, Ted and I filled the rest of the afternoon with yo-yo lessons near the third floor elevators. After I mastered the basics of the yo-yo (it took several hours), we were bored enough to take a nap.
When we woke up, it was about time for masquerade, which is something I always look forward to at Minneapolis conventions. After all, Ted and I both fondly remember some amazing costumes that have been built by a few of our cohorts, such as the perennial Ming the Merciless costume (worn by George), an Intel Pentium chip costume filled with fiberoptics and sporting a Borg symbol (built and worn by James), and a spectacular Forbidden Planet robot (masterfully pieced together by our friend Dex, a professional SFX artist). So, Masquerade was a must. Wearing high hopes once again, we sat in the small auditorium and waited for the usual two-to-three-hour extravaganza of costuming and presentations. We got six costumes, and the presentation took under half an hour. I think four of the costumes were made by the two people, modeled by their children. There was a rather masterful Victorian dress and a weird quasi-Victorian/Aztec outfit, but they were the only real works of art there. The rest of the outfits were rather decent kid's Halloween costumes: a great Rocky the Rooster (from Chicken Run) who danced to the Super Chicken song, and a rather good Presto (not a great costume, but the kid gets points for referring to the Dungeons and Dragons Saturday morning cartoon). Yup, that was pretty much it.
So, our hopes for entertainment dashed again, Ted and I wandered back to the hotel room and watched the end of American Beauty on HBO (during which I broke my newly acquired yo-yo -- so much for that). About an hour later, Ted managed to get Rebecca to come back to the hotel, and I managed to get Jason to gather some more friends (including Jim of flayrah.com) and take us all out to dinner at -- I think the name was -- Dave and Buster's (as Jason puts it, "it's Chuck E. Cheese with booze."). THAT was a riot. We all had many, many drinks and lots and lots of food, and then attacked the immense arcade of video games, shooting galleries, and skeeball. I highly recommend such activities.
After the bar closed, the whole gaggle of us went back to the hotel and sat in the lobby. Rebecca and Ted reminisced about the yesteryear glory of WindyCon and their Chicago youth, while Jason and I reminisced about our computer follies in Minneapolis before he emigrated to Chicago. We were all having a great chat about everything in general (and bemoaning the death of WindyCon) when a convention-goer with a video camera wandered past our group.
"What do you love about WindyCon?" she asked, training the camera on our group.
We all groaned and shifted uncomfortably. "You are asking the WRONG group of people!" Ted laughed.
The woman paused, then asked us what we honestly thought. So, we all launched into our own little arguments about lack of new attendees, moribund population curves, poor organization of parties, and all the other little gripes we all had. The woman nodded, taping all of our thoughts, and mentioned that yes, she also remembered the glory days of WindyCon, and yes, she agreed it has certainly gone downhill. She thanked us for our honesty and went in search of another group of people to film.
Shortly afterwards, we all dispersed (after sending Jason's buddies home with a few Cthulhu Coffee mugs), and Ted and I crashed in our hotel room. It was 3:00 AM, after all.
11122000 Ted and I awoke as early as we could the next morning and checked out of the hotel. After all, we had to beat a winter storm back to Minneapolis (traversing Wisconsin during a blizzard sucks). Fortunately, the grave warnings of snow merely gave way to rain, and it rained all the way back to Minneapolis.
As soon as we arrived back home, Ted said, "Now, let's review. We're NOT going back next year, are we?"
And that is the sad story of WindyCon.