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Otakon 2008 – the End Game

August 14th, 2008 Leave a comment Go to comments

A Pocketful of MemoriesOtakon 2008

I find it difficult to sit down and write about Otakon 2008 – it was such a fast paced con that much of what happened was a blur of epic proportions. A week of sleeping less than 4 hours a day tends to wear hard, and I’m certainly not 23 anymore. Still I wouldn’t have it any other way – I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was addicted to the pace of running an event.I’ve said that running any con, especially one the size of Otakon, is like surfing the wave of disaster. Every year is a test to see just how well you can ride the wave and guide everything to safety and success. We managed this year to have a fairly smooth wave.If I really wrote everything about the con, I could go on forever. So, here’s a fairly rambling write-up that will probably shorten as I start to forget things, and as the pace starts to blur things may get.. fuzzy…

Oh yeah, if you want to get to where I list people, go to the end.. If you just want to look at the behind the scenes pictures, go to the flickr gallery. And if you want to listen to me cluck the Robot Chicken Theme Song, that’s fine too.

The Tunnel to Baltimore

Tuesday – 30mph.

I was at work Tuesday until about 6pm, then spent another 4 hours working in my office on last minute paperwork. Its turned into a bit of a tradition, working late at work before heading off to a convention, just so I can avoid getting called while at the convention itself. Of course, it starts me off behind, with little sleep before a convention weekend and little to come.

Catching a late 10PM train, I end up getting into Baltimore around 1:30AM. I somehow make my way to the “Battle Bridge” – the suite where we set up guest operations every year. I link up with Jim, to find that everyone else has gone to bed. That’s ok, I take a shower and quietly set up shop in the center room, before falling over in a sleep deprived stupor.

Smiling Susanity

Wednesday – 40mph.

Wednesday morning rolls around to the tune of Jim’s phone, whose ring tone would become very familiar over the course of the week. We mutually stagger our way around the room waking up, and while Jim runs down to the hotel lobby to take care of some paperwork I manage to get dressed and start the paperwork that’s waiting for me. The next couple of hours consists of me realizing belatedly that I needed to finish some real life related paperwork before I could handle Otakon. This occupies me for an hour until Alice and Sean and company call us to go eat lunch.

Mmmmm, lunch at M&S. Sue said it best, every year Otakon is like a family reunion, and seeing people I hadn’t seen for age is always nice. We have a leisurely lunch, discussing the upcoming weekend and various internal processes that we absolutely had to get worked out, as well as catch up. Mind you, this is the curse of being a staff member – you never really get together without talking about the con at some point. Its programmed, its ingrained, it’s an addiction.

The Battle Bridge

I get back to the hotel room, and get back to work, answering last minute emails and such. Emails that pretty much say, “What do you mean we have a schedule change, the con starts in less than 40 hours??!!” and “ Wait, WHO is coming to the con?” are the norm at this hour. Alex shows up, we link up and walk the Dealers/Industry area to make sure everything’s in place, then we head back up to Battle Bridge and camp to continue work. Mike F. had linked up with us at some point, I send him off to handle a Kinko’s run. While Jim and others head off to play host to JAM Project, I order bad Chinese Food for myself and the other staffers who are wandering around getting errands done.
(No guilt Jim, just uh.. find us a better Chinese place.. I’m still wincing at Uncle whatever that place was…)

Okay, now things get blurry. At some point Jon (Kaveman) and Adam show up from Funimation, and we chat for a while. Various people show up and check in, and I stare at them mindlessly until I realize that we have their staff badges. I’m up until around 4AM printing and laminating badges, with a vague recollection of staggering downstairs to the lobby to use the laser printer, and small elves and faeries floating around in the air telling me to go to bed… Maybe the last part is an exaggeration, but it makes for a good story. To the sound of pixie dust I crash.

Con Chair has Wheels

Thursday – 55mph.

Good god, its already Thursday? The call of the front desk, by now rapidly becoming by most hated enemy in the world, wakes us up around 8am. I spend a few moments stumbling, before summoning the straight willpower to just wake up. This drew a certain amount of amusement from Jim, who is witness to me leaping upwards out of the bed like a jack in the box, only to stumble out the door and almost crash into the table in the main suite.

I stumble around to get dressed, knowing that people are going to be showing up any minute to the Battle Bridge. Mike F. pulls in, I send him off with materials to station himself in the lobby meeting room to laminate and hand out badges to Industry. From here on in, I’m running around checking in on Industry booths, grabbing a meal at the Galleria, holding impromptu meetings with Yaz and other people to figure out what they need for the con, and generally breaking in the sandals I’d just bought in record time.

Sometime around 1, I let Mike F. run off and take over the room. An hour later I give up, break that room down and go back to the Battle Bridge. Around 4, we move operations over to the convention center. The convention center is a madhouse – people are picking up their pre-reg badges, cats and dogs are flying through the sky, and in general the halls are coming together quickly. Sean and Alice hold their staff pep meeting, then we adjourn for a quick BoD meeting. I then link up with Oshi, who has managed to get through the hunt for staff badges and rooming. At some point Mike R. had linked up with me and gone over what we needed to do during the day, I have him working on some of the last of the paperwork while I give Oshi a quick behind-the-scenes tour to acclimate her rapidly to being on staff.

Rainbow over Otakon

Somewhere in all of this, I get caught up in a discussion with Video programming about several issues, and then Pony Canyon shows up to do a tour. In my distraction, I actually yell at Jim to hang on a second while he’s with Japanese Industry reps. -_-;;; This is a clear sign of how frazzled I was. I promptly do my best to make up for that gaffe.

Eventually we finish with Pony Canyon. Oshi spins off to take a nap, Mike R and I spin off to change, and Mike F. takes over the booth for the last two hours.

Throughout the day I’d also been trying to figure out where to put our chalk artist – this eventually falls apart as he gets delayed in the traffic that has been killing everyone’s schedule. Jen and I link up to take care of a hotel issue – and promptly get trapped in the Holiday Inn by a massive thunderstorm that snuck up on us. Darn you rain, darn you! Oh, by the way.. DAMNED HOLIDAY INN. Enough said. We snag a taxi to the Hyatt. The rain has already stopped, and there’s now a rainbow in the sky. Somewhat reassured as to how the con will go, I of course snap a photo, then run to get changed.

Priming the Staff 2

Despite some last minute whoopsies, the Thursday evening party goes off well. There was one horribly scary moment with someone taking a spill down the stairs, but thankfully it sounded much worse than it was. Guests filter in throughout the evening, and I chat at length with several industry members about the state of the industry.

Oh yes, it does need to be said again. DAMN YOU HOLIDAY INN. Enough said.

Eventually, Scott and Geoff and others show up, so we socialize even more. Unfortunately Kat feels under the weather, so I grab a strongbow and some food and shuttle it back.

Somewhere along the line I change into my pajamas, only to find several American guests popping in to socialize. How embarrassing – I’m in a sleeveless T and walking around looking rather uh.. disheveled. Oops. I manage to feel like the older uncle that manages to embarrass the rest of the family at the reunion..

The rest of the evening is comprised of talking to the others who are still in the Battle Bridge, grabbing my laptop, and staying up until 4am again to finish the real life work that I hadn’t finished yet..

Eventually I stagger my way over to the spare bed and crash.

The Dealers Room Madness!

Friday – 100mph

The phone rings. Its 8am, and our chalk artist is here looking to get set up. Ohdamntheconishererushrushrush. I scramble to get everything together, frantically dive into the shower, get dressed, and scramble out the door to meet the man with his materials. Getting that squared away, I run upstairs to check on industry check-in, then scramble around to check on a couple of other things. By noon, the con’s in full swing, I’ve been sitting with Mike R. and Oshi going over what else is coming.

The next five hours are a spinning whirlwind of the three of us spinning off to do various duties, alternating between bathroom trips, checking on people, meeting VIP guests, and generally just holding the fort. By 6:30 we’ve spun off the remaining industry badges to the special needs desk and assigned different work to everyone.

Flashbacks in the Arena

Somewhere around now, I find out what our registration numbers are. By 5pm, we had already matched the paid memberships of the previous year. This is exceedingly good news that I run around to share with everyone I can. Eventually, Oshi is allowed to stop and get some rest, especially when it turns out that she has a fever and needs SLEEP. Mike R. holds the fort, and I escort an industry member and some of our staff to the Arena for the JAM concert.

Ahh, the JAM concert. I have nothing to do with the planning and logistics with the concert, yet despite all this just being on the show floor seems to encourage the occasional question. Literally 5 minutes after I arrive someone was told to ask me for help. AI YA! That being said, Mike Lee and crew, along with DSL were doing a smash job at the Arena preparing for the concert.

JAM Concert - Lights!

Its funny – this weekend was the first time I’d stepped foot in the Arena after the 2004 L’Arc concert. It brought back more memories than I’d expected, and I had to refrain from feeling like I was going to get run over by Japanese women again. Even the staff seating was in the same place!

The lights went down, the band came on, and the crowd had fun. Unfortunately I had to run after the third song – so I never did have a chance to see how the concert progressed. I also didn’t push myself that last bit to say hi to the band, given that I’d met them and their handlers in Japan. Shame on me, I still randomly get bashful at strange moments.

I run over to where the other Japanese Guests are sitting, and scarf down an hour’s worth of food at Fugo de Chao in about 15 minutes. Jim runs to the Arena to make his appearance, and I grab the check. (I’m proud that I made sure none of the Japanese guests ever had the opportunity to try and steal it..) The guests and I decide to walk back to the hotel, to work off some of the food.

Fireworks over the Harbor!

As we walk back, we happen to see fireworks popping over the Inner Harbor. Okay – back in 2004 I had said I would love to have fireworks over the Harbor to celebrate Otakon. I instead got Pyrotechnics in the Arena for the L’arc concert – and I was happy. However, the fireworks on Friday night, despite their being for the game at Camden Yards, made me happy. We’ll gladly take credit for scheduling the con during a winning game at Camden. Sure. That works.. I got my fireworks! HA! ;)

I run upstairs to find that a bit of a party had already started up at the Battle Bridge, and spend the rest of the evening chatting and socializing with everyone. It’s a fairly quiet party as Friday tends to be, and by 2:30AM I’m playing poker with Toshi from Bandai and Evan from ANN. Everyone wraps, people go to bed, we do a bit of cleaning, and I stagger to my bed. Mostly dead.

Send Help Need Coffee

Saturday – Light Speed

I don’t really remember falling asleep. Come to think of it, I don’t remember waking up. I only know that the hated front desk wake up call person is calling me and I’m going “3insdon4bnghGHHHH”. Don’t ask me how I pronounced numbers, I did. Stagger into the shower – and leave a written message on the steamed up walls. I’m sure this may have creeped out housekeeping. Oops.

Mike Ryan sees me briefly, and I assign him to cover Pony Canyon exclusively. I cast “summon Oshi”, and she and I run around checking on various matters, visiting certain panels that warrant careful monitoring, and do my part playing a social role and checking with everyone to make sure they’re staying alive. I hear tidbits about the Rakugo performer, but don’t get to see it. (sad face.) I pop in here and there to monitor how Pony Canyon and the Kano Sisters are going, field questions, talk to the spec ops team assigned to them, etc etc… All in all, doing what I usually do, keeping a pulse on things and interjecting where needed.

Speaking of that – can I say that despite me running around, this was an exceedingly smooth convention? Everyone I worked with was on the ball, and I’m happy to say that people like Mike R., Robin, Amanda, etc all managed to hit their curve balls without issue.

Kano Sisters

Back to Saturday. I monitor and surf the Kano Sister’s panel, playing the part of the huckster and encouraging people to go into the panel. Calling Press to cast “summon reporters”. And so on and so forth.

A note on the Kano Sisters – this has got to be the most public “ninja insertion” that we’ve ever staged. We pop them in for their panel and pop them out. In the three hours they’re on site they get more attention than some of our full weekend guests. This is on purpose – as these two are meant to be there to garner attention, so all in all it went well. We think they felt the spec ops staffers we assigned them were cute. ;)

Eventually its clear that they’re doing OK, so I run off to visit the art show and industry room. Everything seems to be running smoothly, and by about 7PM I find myself in an almost unprecedented place.

Beauty by Sunset

I have nothing to do. I meet with Jim and company to check, and we have several tasks but really… Other than a 9:30 need to open the Battle Bridge… I am actually free. Suddenly finding myself in this strange, unknown situation – I’m lost until Crissy comes to my rescue. By a miracle, she’s free as well, so we jaunt off to the harbor for a much needed respite of dinner, live music and charming company.

Eventually we link up for Oshi for a lightning fast reunion, then I walk Crissy back to the BCC so she can link up with her traveling group. My down time was to come to an end frightfully fast – as duty was calling and I had to run to the Hyatt..

Leaving Crissy behind at the BCC, I scramble back up to the Battle Bridge to open up shop. I get there just in time to have one of the American guests appear (Yuri, I believe), and we set things up quickly. (OMGthere’snobeeraughcleancleanunpackunpack) We have the oh so fun moment of realizing the ONLY host in the room is someone who doesn’t drink and therefore can’t exactly bartend.. WHOOPS.

Saturday Night in the Bridge

Ahh well. I scramble, Russian shows up and pitches in, and Callie comes to the rescue with the keys to the car and access to some more beer. Eventually JAM project shows up along with all of Bandai, we cheer them and the party’s off to a roll. Oshi rejoins the party somewhere around this time, along with Kat, and in general we socialize and relax until 4am. At some point Oshi scrambles off to walk off the party, then Jim and Kat crash..

… and then I realize one fatal flaw in my master plan.

I don’t drink. I’m the last person awake. Therefore, I get to clean up the room. I shuffle around at a snails pace, listening to the olympics and cleaning.

About an hour later the room is somewhat presentable. It takes this long because I’m pretty much a zombie now. One shower later, a scramble and tumble into my pajamas, and I crash on the bed.

I have a vague memory of Oshi popping by to grab her purse and go back to her room, and then…

Bandai's Insanity

Yes, Enter

Sunday – Redlined

Buzz buzz. Buzz buzz. I don’t know how I woke up. I don’t know what woke me up. Most likely, my body had gotten used to waking up around 8:30am. I pretty much walk around in a haze for about half an hour, desperately trying to wake up because it’s the last day and I know more studio VIP’s are coming today.

Oh wait, now I remember. My phone had started ringing. Again. There are still some details to be addressed with the Sunday concert, and some other fun business to take care of. I get dressed, somehow manage to put the radio on for the last time (sniffle), grab my things and dive out the door.

It’s a miracle I didn’t show up at the BCC in my pajamas, shoeless.

Mike R. is out and about helping me monitor things, and Mike F. is off spreading the last of the studio giveaways. The concert merchandising arrangements get going OK, and in short order I find that I only have to wait around for the final Studio visit to take place.

Oh yes, stopping by the Industry hall, Lauren and Aja hook me up with not one, not two, but THREE starbuck coffees. I shotgun these. They are gone in seconds. Pay attention, because this will become important.

Walking around for a bit more, I get a phone call that the Studio VIP’s are on their way. Ok, no problem. I check in with some people, try and drum up attendance for several panels, and generally do my thing. I get a phone call, grab the badges for the VIP’s, and run up to meet them.

… remember the coffee? Yes, you know where this is going. Right about now I get this wonderful sense of building pressure. However, it would simply not do to keep these folk waiting, so I run to the hall, make introductions, and generally grin and bear it. Thank the gods Taka suddenly appeared like a descending angel to help with interpretation. I take them on a whirlwind tour of the BCC, showing off about 1/3rd of the con and calling certain individuals to meet us in Con Ops.. (I was casting “summon” a lot this weekend..) The whole time, the pressure of the coffee is pounding on me, trying to control my legs, wanting to make me dance like a puppet on strings controlled by a vengeful demon..

Eventually its just too much. I beg Taka to escort the VIP’s to Convention Operations, and scramble to find a place to release the demons. At this point I discover a horrifying fact – when you absolutely positively need to find a relief for a potty emergency in the BCC, there’s about a 75% chance you are too far away to find it. One dance and five screams later, I find a place and nearly fall over with relief.

… Correction, I might have fallen over. I can’t really remember.

Final AT-Con count!

Enough said on that – I run back to con ops, and finish up the meeting with the VIPs, now joined by Alice and Jim. That gets wrapped up nicely, and I set off on a “special mission” with some other staff members to surf the dealer’s room. I didn’t buy anything myself in the Dealers Room this year – my mind was very much on my pending apartment lease and I managed to save every penny I could.

Next thing I know, its 5pm. I don’t know how this happened. I don’t even remember what I was doing while the feedback panel was occurring. I do recall running around, grabbing things, moving them around, etc.. But really, I don’t remember much about it. Once 5pm hits, it’s a mad dash to pack things and move them back to Battle Bridge, dealing with other fires that had cropped up, and eventually by 6:30, making my final walk of the BCC out public safety.

… Sentimental fool that I am, I choose to walk back, as I decide I want to make my final exit from the BCC in proper staff fashion. Of course, I get a couple of buzzes on the way, but all in all I have my walk, my sniffle, and my exit.

Eventually I get back to the battle bridge, I get dressed, and we roll with the Japanese guests out the door. Its about this time that a little ditty started going through my head. It kinda goes like this.

Attack of the Art

Guests getting their due

Live Music at Dead Dog

Bok bok bok bok Bok bok bok bok Bok bok bok bok Bok bok bok bok Bok bok bok bok. The Robot Chicken end theme, which had been going through my head over and over again, now is coming out of my mouth in the lobby of the Hyatt. It gets worse, as I start signing Monty Python. In cluck. And from what I can tell, decently.

I also see JAM project playing one of their own songs with Taka’s Ukulele, which only adds to the surrealness of the moment.

We head on over to the Radisson, where we promptly feed ourselves and celebrate yet another convention well and truly ended. Much love is given to the staff, and even more love is given to the guests, as we applaud every single guest that was good enough to join us, as well as some of the industry members. JAM Project, subject of one of the standing ovations, looks startled as I suspect they did not KNOW they were going to get singled out. Maruyama stands on his chair. Much fun is had.

I also got to see Sean and Alice and Kat and Rea and others get their due and just reward for their service to the convention. Big plushies were handed out, and so were little plaques as Sean gave his Hiroko-chans out. Alice got very emotional, which really made a lot of us get emotional too.

… Sean gave me a Hiroko-chan too, noting that I’d be leaving after 10 years… If you’ve read this far, chances are you know this. I had a hard time controlling my emotions, and I think it was probably clear as hell in my voice that I was not going to be able to say much without breaking my “stoic Asian man” act… But I will say this – I still say that there is no way I could do anything without the help of ALL of my staff and all of the convention staff. Every moment and accomplishment that I’m being given credit for, proper credit is due to the hard working staff, and they should be proud of themselves. I just push here and there to see it done.

We break shortly, and eat some more, and I spend some time talking to people who I hadn’t seen all convention. I manage to NOT walk over and say hi to the Japanese guests again (Augh! Damned language barrier!) but do talk to everyone else. Eventually we break to the Battle bridge.

And find that the guests are in full swing there too. No sleep for us, NO SLEEP! We spend the rest of the evening chatting and socializing and in general unwinding from a very long weekend. At some point I manage to knock over a drink, get inadvertently groped by the chairman, gossip with the president, and get a very manly goodbye hug from an industry rep, all without having any drink myself.

Remember, enough sleep dep has similar cognitive effects to that of alcohol intoxication. There’s a reason why I do a good drunk impression…

At some point, it hits 4am. Folks have started filtering out, with the exception of some of the Sunday Japanese acts sitting in the secondary room chatting.. and chatting. And chatting. … they’re young. They won’t ever sleep.

And here, we find the flaw to my master plan again. I’m the only person who is awake who isn’t drunk and holding their liver in their hand. …. Yup. I spend the next 45 minutes desperately trying to clean up, and pretty much failing my cleaning roll. I’m so tired that its probably comedic to watch my vain stumbling around, thinking I could clean when really, all I could do was move things around uselessly. By about 5am, I’ve satisfied myself with basically moving all the garbage to the kitchen area, but doing nothing else.

And the kids are still awake. Sorry Jim. I’d love to bail you out, but I can’t anymore. I fall into my pajamas and fall into Jim’s bed, and next thing I know…

Monte Cristo

Posing on the Fountains

Monday – Easing Down

I hear the phone ring. Its Jim’s phone. I launch myself to my feet, scrambling for the phone, and run into the other room to dump the phone on Jim’s bed. I then look at the clock and panic, since its 8AM, and I need to get ready to go to the BCC.

… its 8AM, and I really need to get to the BCC.

……. Wait a minute. Its Monday.

I stagger back to the bed, and crash for another hour. Eventually, I wake up, and Jim manages to get us another two hours to get out of the room. The next four hours are a blur of us cleaning, cleaning, talking con business (because recap starts pretty much the moment the con is over), and getting out of the room.

We stroll over to Burke’s for the traditional Monday post-con meal, chatting, socializing, and talking about the insanity of the just past weekend. With a bit of tearfulness, we start to say goodbye to everyone.

The rest of the day doesn’t bear discussion, because its not necessary. Suffice it to say we slowly get everyone back where they need to go. Poor Fufei is asleep in the car, we lose Russian to a black hole, and eventually I’m getting my Amtrak ticket to go home.

A three hour train ride and a one hour wait for a taxi later, and I’m home.

Packing away Otakon 2008

Bye Bye!

The Last Con – Reboot

I said it a long time ago and I say it again now. You make your own con. This is a phrase that applies to everyone who goes to these things. Whether you are an attendee, a gofer, a staffer or a guest, you have the biggest part to say in what your experience is like. No one person can entertain you if you’re not willing to entertain yourself, and no one convention is going to be able to set everything up for you. Whatever role you have taken on, your experience is in no small part dictated by your own actions.

This phrase is particularly telling in this year, my last year staffing conventions. Its funny that I said that to Mr. Hong so long ago, because I and the other dedicated staffers went and took this phrase to the next step. We made our own con – and even if we don’t get to enjoy it ourselves we made it for the public, for the fans and for the guests. Someone asked me why we do it – perhaps this is why. Our enjoyment comes from seeing everyone else enjoying the convention that we helped create.

My experiences this year would have not been possible without the friends that I worked with all year. Naming them all is impossible. Con Chair Sean, President Alice, Relations Leader Jim, Publications Kat, my essential second Mike Ryan, my walking shadow Oshi, my industry room guru Alex, Lee and his exhibitions team, the always powerful John Nadzam, the entire Board of Directors, Mike Flury, Omar, Bob and Walt in Logistics, Mike Lee and his excellent crew, Scott, Geoff T., Richard, Fufei, Kaki, Mer and the Panels Team, Marie and Jason and Desmond and the rest of Video, Amanda and Press, Robin and the green room team, Susan and Evelyn for Breakdown, the list really goes on and on. A special mention to the only non-staff I spent any time with this weekend, Crissy, whose wonderful company on Saturday gave me the boost I needed to make it through the rest of the weekend.

I’m sure I’ve neglected to mention someone, and I’m horribly sorry. Suffice it to say that this con needs every single one of you, and it wouldn’t exist without you.

I’ve spent 10 years working Otakon, and they’ve been wonderful years. There has been an extraordinary amount of stress, but there’s been plenty of fun and memories in return. I’m going to miss surfing the wave, but I’m looking forward to seeing how 2009 turns out, and actually attending the convention for once.

Is this really my last convention? As all things go, whose to say what will happen in the future? Suffice it to say that I have far too many friends with Otakon to disappear. You’ll be seeing me around, here and there, clucking away. XD

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