Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Remembering My Very First Dragon*Con

Since Dragon*Con was this past weekend, and my newsfeed and Twitter have been inundated with photos and updates, I've been flooded with memories of Cons past. This little trip down memory lane got me thinking about how influential my first Con was for me, so I give you the ups and downs of my very first Dragon*Con:

The badge art for my first Con is probably my least favorite of all of them.
Once, many years ago, I was a fresh-faced nerd who answered an ad in an artsy, offbeat, Atlanta newspaper called Creative Loafing for volunteer "actors" for a brand new haunted house doing a free preview at Dragon*Con. This was back in the summer of 1997 (though it feels like it was longer ago). I was a teenager, and though I'd heard of Dragon*Con, I had never been. There was no pay. Our only compensation was a t-shirt and a badge to the Con, which was certainly enough for me to jump at the opportunity. Few people remember that Netherworld Haunted House started off as a tiny, much too brightly lit, guided walk through in an upper level ballroom at the Westin Peachtree Plaza (one of the first annex hotels the Con had started using just the year before for gaming tournaments).

Yep, I kept the t-shirt all these years. 
Since I worked the preview (and managed not to completely screw up), I was guaranteed a job when the House officially opened the following month. I worked at Netherworld for a few more years as the company grew. What I loved so much about it was that it had been created by special effects artists (many of the original props in the House were actually left overs from movies the guys had worked on, like 'Pet Cemetery' and 'The Patriot'). It was at Netherworld that I decided that I wanted to be a special effects makeup artist. Years later I was still picking up random makeup gigs (my favorite will always be the couple of years I worked at Universal Orlando's Halloween Horror Nights; I met some of the most amazing people there), and none of that would have happened if I had never answered that ad. 

One of the only other non-tournament things to happen in the Westin that year was a short performance by a local, Atlanta band called The Changelings. I'm fairly sure they were brought in by the guys from Netherworld since the House's soundtrack featured their music. They're still a relatively underground band, but I have been in love with them since their performance at that Con nonetheless. Their music is as haunting as it is intelligent, and I highly recommend giving them a listen.

The Changelings performing at the Anne Rice Ball in 2000.
Outside of my commitment to Netherworld, I had an entire weekend of Con to enjoy, and I'm not ashamed to admit that I was a bit overwhelmed. I spent a lot of time in the Con Suite soaking up the free snacks, and watching movies. I didn't exactly have any money to speak of, so while the dealer's and artist's rooms were beautiful and fun and eye catching, they were also a kind of torture, so I didn't spend much time in them. Most of my time was spent drooling over the costumes and chatting with the random people I ran into from the Live-action Role-playing game I had started playing earlier in the year.

Dawn Contest winner from '99 (I couldn't find '97, but you get the idea)
Now, not all of my first Con was fun. I learned a lot that weekend about protecting myself, and to never let my guard down. I quickly developed a system with my boyfriend to avoid the insane amount of creepy, older guys leering at me. He wasn't allowed to stray further than eye shot because the only way I could make a lot of these guys leave me alone was if I was able to point to (and in some cases introduce them to) a boyfriend. Apparently I had to prove that they were encroaching on another man's territory for them to take no for an answer. (For those of you keeping track, this super fun aspect of Con life for females hasn't changed over the years.) On Saturday afternoon though, while my boyfriend was at work, I met a guy my age who seemed really harmless and nice, so we spent the rest of the day hanging out. Hell, he was practically throwing free neck rubs at me and I figured there was safety in numbers, so I was happy to wander around with him. Looking back, I was an idiot. I thought I had made a new friend; turned out I had met my first stalker. Who knew?! It took me three years to completely rid myself of that guy, and I still keep an eye out for him when I'm at Cons and other places he's likely to be. One rule that I developed after that experience was the No Touching Rule. Essentially, if I don't know you, you don't touch me. It's that simple. I've been militant in upholding that rule, and it has served me well throughout several aspects of my life. I get called a "stuck up bitch" a lot, but I'm ok with that. 

Despite the life lesson in being too friendly, my first Con was fantastic. For a geek just starting to realize that there really were other geeks out there, it was like finding Mecca. I felt at home. So much so, that I didn't miss a Dragon*Con from 1997 to 2008. I didn't always have a room, or even a badge, but I was always there. Getting there proved more difficult when I moved to New Orleans and took a job that had me working every holiday, but now that I'm free, you bet your ass I'll be back at my beloved Dragon*Con very soon. I miss the people and (more importantly) the dangerously delicious Apple Pie.

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