Sunday, February 9, 2014

Sci-Fi Expo 2014: An exercise in controlled chaos

This is probably the quickest I've ever done a write-up after an event, but I wanted to get it all on the page while it was still fresh in my mind.

Today was the first day of Sci-Fi Expo at the Irving Convention Center. This has been one of my favourite local cons for a while - it's geared toward general sci-fi, there are guests from a variety of different sci-fi productions, and I've always had a really good time.

I had to skip last year because, well, I'm typically poor as dirt and can't afford a con so close after the holidays (which is why I skipped SpaceCity Con in Galveston in January, as well). So, I was really looking forward to going back this year, since I'd be there with a fresh tax return in hand, ready to be spent!

I arrived at the con around noon-thirty. Unlike the last time I was there, the registration area was inside this time instead of out front. Since I had pre-ordered my ticket, they ushered me into a much shorter, faster moving line, where they scanned the barcode directly from my phone and sent me quickly on my way. I was very happy about how quickly and easily I was able to get in, and that they were allowing pre-regs to bypass the insanely long lines for on-site registration (though, they had been split into cash lines and credit lines, and were being moved along at a good pace, as well).

Once I was inside, I immediately hit the dealer's room. I was on a mission to find a replacement TWOK era combadge pin, and a new rank pin, since I'd been promoted to Lt.Commander within the 1701st Fleet, and needed a new pin. I made several rounds of the dealer's room, running into several people that I knew and chatting with them for a bit. I even had the chance to say hello to Richard Jefferies, who I hadn't seen in a couple of years, but who still remembered me, and greeted me warmly and gave me a big hug.

But, no pins. In fact, there were only two dealers that had pins of any kind (that I saw). A good majority of the vendors were comic book vendors. This annoys me, and I'll tell you why - this was not a comicon. I understand that there's a lot of crossover in the sci-fi and comic crowds, and that fans of one are sometimes fans of the other. But, this was a sci-fi con. I was hoping to see the dealer's room I saw the last time I was there - action figures, ship models, replica weapons and jewelry, etc. And yes, there were some vendors there that had these things. But there were so many comic books. Maybe I was just so annoyed that no one had the pins I was looking for, that I only saw a wall of comic books thwarting my search. But, I think part of the problem was the layout of the room - half of it was dedicated to independent artists that were set up with their prints or were taking commissions for custom pieces. The con should have had an Artist Alley, separate from the commercial vendors, so they could have had more sci-fi, along with all the comic book dealers. But, I also understand that there is extremely limited space in the Irving Convention Center, which was only driven home by the pressing crowds throughout the entire building. Thankfully, one vendor in the room did have the rank pin I needed, as well as some TWOK-era pips (but no squeaks), so I did come home with a little bit of swag for all my searching.

I fled the dealer's room and attempted to meet up with a friend, who was on the 4th floor watch a Q&A panel. The elevators were reserved for the handicapped, exhibitors, and so forth, so the only way to the top floor is through a series of escalators. The one from the first to second floor is an astoundingly long escalator, as the convention hall's first floor is probably about as tall as a typical three or four story building. The second, third, and fourth floors are of a normal height, so the escalator ride between them is much shorter. However, once I reach the third floor, I met with a road block. For some reason, they had shut off the escalators going up, and were only letting VIP ticket holders to the top floor. The rest of us were left bunched into the narrow walkway between the up and down escalators, growing impatient as we waited for them to allow us up. Before they finally allowed us upstairs, a good 45 minutes later, they announced that the two upcoming panels, a Dr Who Q&A, and the Richard Dreyfus Q&A, were already full packed, and they wouldn't be allowing in any more General Admission ticket holders for lack of seating. At this time, it was about 1:30, and the Dreyfus panel didn't even start until 3! The only explanation was that they were not clearing the room between panels, and people were just camping out between panels so they wouldn't lose their seats.

Frustrated and hungry, I abandoned the escalator line and headed back to the ground floor and to the outside, where several food trucks had lined up to feed us. I waited another hour there to actually reach the trucks and get my food, by which time I was starved, and it was closing in on 3 o'clock. I had made a plan to be in the Grand Ballroom on the 4th floor by 3 so I could grab whatever seat was available and just camp out until the premier of Star Trek: Continues' second episode, Lolani. I scarfed my sliders and trekked back to the 4th floor. This time, there were security personnel stationed at the escalators on the first floor, only letting up a handful of people at a time. This meant a line of hundreds of people, snaking its way through the ground floor outside of the dealer's room, literally spiraling in on itself because we were running out of space.

Once I finally made it to the 4th, another odyssey through escalator lines, I found the first orange-shirted line baron and asked where Star Trek was going to be. A group of others heard me asking, and we all gathered together, ready to make a break for the ballroom and steak our claims to a chair. The orange shirt said we couldn't actually line up until around 4, and told us to head to the left to wait, where another orange shirt, oblivious of what we'd just been told by the other guy, ushered us into the Dreyfus panel, which was just starting, through a side door by the concession stand. I found my seat and planted my flag, ready to ride out the next two panels before ST:C started.

Dreyfus's panel was okay, but not overly memorable. The next panel was for someone named Stephen Amell, who is the lead character on a show called Arrow. I've never seen Arrow, so I had no idea what to expect, but I quickly gathered that it was based on the comic book character Green Arrow, and was running on the CW channel. While I was unfamiliar with the show, the panel was really, really enjoyable. The actor was engaging and clever, down to earth, and seemed to genuinely enjoy talking with his fans.

Between the panels, my suspicions were confirmed - they weren't clearing the room between panels, despite what the first orange shirt had told me. And, although GA seating and VIP seating were clearly separated, during the Arrow panel they allowed the GA ticket holders to move up in the VIP area, so I managed to secure myself a perfect seat right behind the projector where the ST:C episode would be shown.

The premier of the second episode of Star Trek: Continues was definitely the highlight of the con for me. After all of the headaches of escalator madness, it was definitely the payoff I'd been waiting for. The episode was fantastic, really capturing the spirit and feel of the original series. Vic Mignogna, who plays Kirk, is excellent in the role, and he, Chris White, the episode's director, and Todd Haberkorn, who plays Spock, stayed after the feature for a short Q&A panel, which was very enjoyable. You could really tell that all of them, especially Vic, have a deep love and respect for the original series, and want to do everything they can to recapture the essence of Star Trek. It was great to see, and it was fun to see Vic and Todd play off each other as Kirk and Spock during the panel. The promised the third episode would premier soon, and I'm greatly anticipating that!

After the con, a group of us headed to iHop for post-con foodings. We were all starved by this point, and by the time we got our food it was nearly 8:30. It was a great evening full of catching up and fun conversation, and was the best part of the entire day.

Also, I got to hold a piece of transparent aluminum. Any Trek fan will know why that's awesome.

I don't know if I'll be making the trip to Sci-Fi Expo next year. I love the Irving Convention Center, I think it's a fantastic building and the perfect setting for a sci-fi convention, but it simply cannot handle the extraordinary number of people that came flooding into the hall. If they relocate to a larger venue, like the Dallas Convention Center, I may go again, but they'll need to add more sci-fi vendors to balance out all the comic books. The Dallas Convention Center is also, thankfully, only one floor, so it will hopefully eliminate the complete chaos of the escalator situation. But, I'm also sure there will be some new form of chaos to take its place.

1 comment:

  1. They're moving their contract to the Dallas Convention Center for Comic Con in May. So far the guest list is four retreads so maybe I'll skip this one and let them figure out the new venue unless they add someone new