Those Wacky Americans and Their Cons
by Tommy Ferguson
Potlatch, eh? Buckets of fun, people, absolute scads of fun was had and the strange thing is I had even more fun getting there. "Really, Tommy, surely you jest . . . ?"
I stayed in Vancouver for a few days before travelling down to Seattle for Potlatch on the Friday. I hit Vancouver, and that is not a simile, on Wednesday night and crashed in my hotel at 11:30 p.m. local time. No idea what was about in the real world. I stayed in English bay, just beside Stanley Park, in a very inexpensive hotel recommended by one of the local fans -- who I met for lunch there the following day. Thursday morning, yeah you heard right, Thursday morning I got up for breakfast, to be greeted by my server ("Hi, I'm Sun Microsystems; I'll be your server for today . . .") would I like a window seat? I could barely see the windows at that time of the morning so nodded a vague assent.
She showed me to my table poured me coffee, without asking if I wanted any, and left me there. So windows, eh? I'd arrived in the thick of night and my view was essentially a Monty Python brick wall so I checked out the view. Well fuck me pink and call me medium rare -- English Bay, Stanley Park and the whole works was just sitting out side my window. I didn't have to crane my neck to see it all, peer through trees to catch a glimpse or any of that -- it was just laid out there, nice and neat especially for me. There was even a large Clapboard sign: "This view purposely assembled by hand for Tommy Ferguson." I fell in love with Vancouver, there and then.
Breakfast was a quick and hurried affair, I had to get out there. Seaweed. Waves splashing the shore. Gulls and cormorants squealing. That seaside breeze which cuts your face to ribbons. Mountains in the distance, beach in the foreground and water in between. I was transported to previous articles I've written. This was Fahan in Donegal, pure and simple. Well, the coffee was better, but you'd hardly notice. I checked out the beach, walked a few miles around Stanley Park, took a complete roll of film in the space of two hours and just felt my shoulders ease, my stride lengthen and my lungs begin to work to their capacity again. Toronto just doesn't have this shit in the winter. Ahhh, halcyon hours . . .
Vancouver is really cool. I will think about moving out there next year, if my plans don't work out. Even in the depths of winter it has bright sunshine and blue skies. Plus there is all that geography, something that I am missing in Toronto; the subtle subliminal absence of mountains and terrain, just a uniform flatness. I guess that contributes to my bouts of homesickness. After jogging a couple of miles around Stanley Park the following morning (I just couldn't let that opportunity go to waste) I caught the bus to Seattle.
Potlatch. Defined in the program book as: "A ceremonial feast of the Northwest Pacific Coast Indians, marked by the hosts lavish distribution of gifts." The convention lived up to its moniker in the registration package: two free books (decent books to boot -- Ursula LeGuin's Four Ways to Forgiveness and Connie Willis' Remake), some stuff from Archie McPhee (see later), and loads of bits and bobs from local companies and services. I picked this up on the Saturday as after travelling 5 hours on the coach from Vancouver I arrived late on Friday night, sick tired and fucked off at the local taxi person. Apparently hitting the sack at midnight on Friday meant that I missed a great bash which started in the consuite and apparently didn't end. So it goes . . .
Checking out my goodies in the program room (Victorian Utopias panel discussion -- turgid until the Q&A session) I was approached by Andy Hooper: "Hi Tommy." "Er, Hi . . . um," sneaks a look at the badge, ". . . Andy, yeah, great to meet you at last." Shit this guy is good, I hadn't said a word or anything. "We haven't met, how did you know . . ." Apparently Andy is not all-knowing in fandom and the "Flannery's Pub, Ballinrobe, Ireland" tee shirt I was wearing was a bit of a give away.
We chatted for a while, met a bunch of people (Jerry Kaufman, with the Novacon 24 refrain: "Ah, you're Tommy Ferguson . . .") and then grabbed some lunch, a free shower and a bunch of shopping: comics and music before a hitting the con again. Andy turned out to be a nice guy. Shock, horror . . . His written persona, which can be somewhat abrasive, turned into an interesting and friendly guy in person. Of course he may have been chemically altered, but lets not spoil the image.
So Saturday night rolled around as it inevitably does. Met Victor Gonzalez and talked Joyce for a while. Met Spike Parsons who isn't a guy. Met Lesley Reece, much to my surprise. The con disco ("Fans Can't Dance," © me) had some cool music that I sat and listened to and no-one danced to; then some slightly worse music which most people danced to and I left to. So bar & con suite. I got to meet Janice Murray and Alan Rosenthal, a bunch of local fans who seem to just hang out, AP and Randy, Jeannes Gomoll and Bowman (wicked conversation, wicked . . .) chairman Luke McGuff and a whole bunch of fun people. This was turning into a right name fest, but lots of fun nonetheless.
Saturday night is always the highlight of any con for me - get dressed up, a few beers and then wander the party circuit to meet and greet. Potlatch's Saturday night was loads of fun. All these new people, who knew each other but not me, conversations I naturally floated into and out of, and that wacky American con thing of free beer. I seem to recall 4:30 a.m. on my watch as I fell asleep.
Sunday started early -- 9:30 a.m. No, honest. Yeah, I realize it is hard to believe, but Jerry Kaufman, Kate Schaefer and Jae Leslie Adams can assert the fact that Tommy Ferguson actually surfaced before lunch on the Sunday of a convention. Okay, okay -- surfaced before lunch on a Sunday. Why? What dragged me from my pit and the never-ending sleep of the Ferg? Nothing so inconsequential as food, I hear you say? Well, yes actually. The buffet brunch thing that Potlatch seems to do every year was at 11:00 (I mean, Jesus!) and I had stupidly paid in advance for, what turned out to be, the last ticket. Damned if I was going to waste that opportunity. So much orange juice and coffee ensued and what may, or may not, have been witty and entertaining conversation on my part. I certainly enjoyed meeting my fellow diners. In my condition though I kept seeing Maureen Kincaid Speller instead of Kate Schaefer. Weird.
The Clarion West auction duly followed and I picked up some interesting and choice items, one of which is a gift so will have to remain secret. I'm happy to say I got a nearly complete run of John Berry's Wing Window which I was told I sorely needed by an auctioneer and, for once, this advice turned out to be true and not a cheap, money grabbing auctioneer ruse. As if Tom Whitmore would stoop so low! The usual jollity ensued at the auction and everyone seemed happy, Clarion West especially, as a huge bunch of money was raised.
Sunday evening: The Long Dark Teatime of the Soul. Like Belfast, probably the entire world, Seattle is dead on Sunday afternoons and evenings. So AP, Randy, a friend of theirs who may be called Shona and I took a trip to Archie McPhee's, a shop that sells stuff. Elvis Playing Cards, glow in the dark Madonna's, boxing nuns, plastic animals etc. Kitsch to the max and great fun. Bought a cool t-shirt: Old style Soviet image of Lenin exhorting the masses, with the caption "Marxism for the People." Of course, there is a rough, marker drawn mustache and glasses of Groucho scrawled on the head of Lenin. Fun.
We then did a quick tour of Seattle's brew Pubs Big Time Brewery and The Elysium -- way cool joints -- and back to the con. Bar and con suite. Parties. Beer. People. After unsuccessfully trying to light a lighter numerous times, to much frivolity, I was inducted into some secret cult of cigarette lighters. I hope someone reminds me of that as I went to great expense lighting cigarettes for Lesley Reece all night attempting to prove my worthiness. Later, when the beer was all gone, David Hartwell entertained a bunch of us, including Amy Thomson whose books I promise to read, with publishing stories and all sorts of Science Fiction stuff. At midnight he turfed us out, pausing only to mention that if anyone wanted to take a beer . . . All that time, if only I'd known!
And so to bed.
Monday. Travelling to Vancouver and thence Toronto. Tuesday, 8:30 a.m. -- arrive in Toronto.
Wednesday -- 3 p.m. wake up again. Wednesday -- 5 p.m. Start my new job. Life goes down hill from here on in.
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